History of Self-Directed Education
The overwhelming majority of education throughout human history has been self-directed. Humans have a natural inclination to learn and assimilate in the culture in which they are immersed. They learn the tools and methods in which their culture functions and progresses, all without coercion or external motivation.
However, there are always examples of more experienced individuals passing on knowledge to less experienced individuals in every society. This is similar to what we know as a teacher guiding a student in gaining the knowledge the teacher has to impart. These systems are efficient and helpful in some contexts. Over time, educational institutions that specialize in direct instruction became more central to society, and children had less and less time to follow their interests and learn by choice.
Autodidacticism, a term that means self-directed learning, is common among people who we remember as doing great things. Leonardo DaVinci, Frida Kahlo, Frank Lloyd Wright, Nikola Tesla, and Frederick Douglass are just some examples of people who were driven to learn without prompting from others.
Rise of Compulsory Education
For the most part of the modern era, formal education was a privilege that only a small percentage of the population were allowed or could afford. In the late 19th century and early 20th century, free compulsory education became common in Western nations. Governments invested in free education for children because producing a workforce that could perform the functions of industrialized work was valuable to the economy.
In the beginning, state sponsored schools served small populations of students in one room schoolhouse style with mixed ages. As the population grew, and the demands of the industrial workforce increased, schools became more efficient at producing workers. The educational system borrowed concepts from the efficient assembly lines in factories; group items (students) by similar production stages (age), then add parts (standardized curriculum) at each assembly station (grade) until you get a finished product (high school graduate).
The set of knowledge that people are supposed to have mastered by high school graduation is determined by adults that analyze the needs of the economy that can be fulfilled by the upcoming generation. Theoretically. In reality, the mandatory curriculum is mostly based on tradition. The problem with this system is that high school graduates enter their adult lives prepared for the world as it was when the curriculum was written, which theoretically is about a decade past, but in reality is up to a century out of date.
Another problem with the adult designed curriculum is that it is very broad. The intention for the breadth of state curriculum is that students can have the background to enter whatever career they choose, and to expose students to a wide variety of ideas and career options. Although the intention is good, the