Choose What is Right for You!

A teenager asked me what kind of educational plan I have for my son, Wesley. Honestly, I don’t like planning because it is merely an abstraction. However, to clarify things, here’s what I said:

“From a schooling point of view, I’ll teach him the most basic courses required by the U.S. education system that can be done in the home. That which also allows him to attend college later in life if he so chooses. Think of this as a backdoor route. Outside of that, most of his learning will be about life itself and how to navigate it.”

“The laws in China are quite different,” she remarked.

“Of course,” I said, “you should follow what is required by your country’s law.”

“Will you teach him until college?” she asked.

“At least until the end of elementary school. Afterwards, he can decide for himself. Children, when raised correctly, can, in fact, make their own decisions—like you.”

“Yes, my parents allow me to do the decision makings by myself. They also believe that a college education will give me more opportunities in the future.”

“In the past, that pattern has proven to be true. But things are changing—as you can see. And in twenty or thirty years from now, what you need to enter the job market, no one knows.”

“So, are they wrong?”

“There is no right or wrong. When I was a child, I, too, was being pushed by my parents to do what other kids were doing, studying, competing—whatever. Recently, I asked my mom whether all of what she had done to me has any value today—remember, I threw away my degree years ago—and she was silent. The point is, what your parents said seems true because of their experience. What you need to do now is know what’s right for you. Opportunities show up when you are ready for them. Look at me, I don’t ask parents around for classes. Parents ask me! If you look at people around you, they’re worried about landing a better job or avoid getting fired. Meanwhile, I’ve been refusing to accept more work because I want to spend more time with Wesley. And this is the most valuable education that I will instill to him: the Universe gives you ample opportunities every single moment. The only thing you have to do is be prepared. Keep in mind, one of those opportunities may just well be your talent or something new which you’ve never imagined.”

Sadly, what is society doing? They’re chasing opportunities. At least they “think” they are chasing opportunities. They compete with one another and they are constantly in conflict.

I love the quote which eloquently remarked, “Look to your father. If he is living a life of drudgery, a life of hypocrisy that is full of conflicts and escapes, and yet, you follow him, then consider yourself a fool.”

So kids, at the end of the day, if you do not choose what is right for you, the choice will be made for you. In that case sit back and “enjoy” the ride but keep your complaints to yourself.

Getting in Touch with Reality

Thousands of years ago, our paleo ancestors bulldozed their way through the thick jungle foliage seeking for their next meal. A leopard attacked from behind and ate one for lunch, unfortunately. The survivors told other dwellers. One elder shared a similar story, so the settlers realized a pattern. Giant felines eat people. Best to avoid them.

Another time, our ancestors discovered which berries were poisonous, which caused constipation and diarrhea, and which could be safely eaten. To survive and procreate, they learned patterns: which berries were dangerous, which were boozy, and which could ruin a perfect picnic.

The human brain is wired to seek such patterns. But while good for survival, these same pattern-seeking tendencies make us lousy at Seeing Reality.

Readers often think of me as pessimistic, hypocritical, and “anti-school” since I, myself, went through the traditional system and the fact that my duty as an educator is to teach future generations. Contrary to popular belief, I think some people will find objections of some sort or another. Had I not gone to school, people would object and say that I was none other than a school dropout. However, I would say my point of view is not pessimistic, or hypocritical, or “anti school” because I have never made a claim that there is a “one size fits all.” If I said that school is useless, that might be pessimistic. If I said that everybody should not go to school, that might be hypocritical. But I have said—on more than one occasion—that we are all unique, and different. Thus, not everybody should do the same thing.

The bizarre pattern within society where the majority of people get pigeonholed toward the same directive; where they end up studying the same limited number of subjects, get measured by the same limited number of sticks, and get dumped into the same limited number of careers, strikes me as a lack of diversity in our thinking about the different things people should be doing. Regardless, people will likely complain.

This pattern-seeking behavior that we have inherited from our neanderthal ancestral brains diminishes our capacity to ask questions about the nature of our doings. Start with WHY. Why am I doing this? Am I doing this because I’m being pushed by parents and peers? Am I doing this because I have good grades? Because it’s prestigious? Because it elevates my vanity? Or am I doing this because I am passionate about learning?

In any case, every coin has two sides. There are no right answers and there are no wrong answers. Alas, the majority’s retrospective is always leaning towards conformity, which is usually the opposite of their “true-self.” The key is, of course, self-awareness and understanding of what works for the person.

Speaking of Seeing Reality, I’m not in favor of the word “education” because it is such a hyper-inflated abstraction. I’m much in favor of learning. I’m very skeptical of credentialing or the abstraction called “education.” Hence, there are such granular questions: What is it that I am learning? Why am I learning it? Am I going to school because it’s the law? Or is it my parents’ demand? Is it an investment for the future? Or is it a house tournament where I’m beating other people because grades have become the sole academic currency?

I think once people leap beyond the word “education” where they’re living in today, the future will be one where people can explain it more clearly. Words are pointers, they’re not descriptions. Tragically, people fell into idolatry because they think that is where knowledge is embedded.


“What is the fruit of these teachings? Only the most beautiful and proper harvest of the truly educated—tranquility, fearlessness, and freedom. We should not trust the masses who say only the free can be educated, but rather the lovers of wisdom who say that only the educated are free.”

                                                 — Epictetus

“There is no end of books to read, just as there is no end of roads to travel. It is impossible for anyone to ever know all there is to know.”


                                                 — Chinese Proverb

A few days ago my friend said, “When I was a child, I didn’t have many opportunities to learn many things. I wanted to learn music, but there weren’t many teachers. So I just studied the bare minimum. Now, if you look around, institutions are everywhere. Parents are chasing famous schools. They want children to pursue many different things. Someone I know is working hard to make sure her son performs well in sports so that he could get into a good college.” And she asked, “Do you think these are good or bad?”

“Both good and bad,” I said. “Good because people have more choices. If they want to learn a new skill, they could find a teacher right around the corner. Bad because more choices will confuse them. Many will try to capture everything that is out there instead of focusing on what matters.”

“You know, parents hope children can do many things because other children can also do many things,” she countered.

“Sure, they want their kids to be the jack of all trades, but master of none,” I replied. One can surely do many things but it is quite difficult to be a master of oneself.

In high school I was a pretty good swimmer. I really thought I was going to make it to the State Championship. At the final meet, I was shaken up. The guys there were unbelievably fast. I tried hard, but I knew it was hopeless. The point of this story is not to say that you should give up and don’t try, but instead, focus on what your child is good at. If you’re kid is a talented sport prodigy, then go for it. I’m happy for you. Mazel tov! But if s/he is chasing to shave off three seconds and s/he’s been doing it for the past four years, you might want to rethink about other alternatives.

When I came to China seven years ago, I didn’t have anyone else to turn to. It was either I make it or I don’t. I felt like I was being thrown into a forest—alone. I couldn’t speak Mandarin. I had no idea how to communicate with people. I didn’t know anybody. Any “normal” human being would try to seek out friends or follow others. But I didn’t. I kept the anxieties, worries, expectations, and fears to myself. On top of that, the nature of my work taught me to be away from friends. The only people I had were my colleagues. I’d go out when “normal” people were working in the office, and I’d work when they were going out and socializing. However, this is no conclusion that I was anti-social. It meant that I had to understand myself. It meant that I had to be able to navigate through the forest without being supported by others. Once I was able to be with myself—without being broken emotionally from within—the feelings, the anxieties, the fears, and the worries slowly dissipated. Duly note that being alone does not mean being lonely. They are two different things. Being alone means to be content with yourself. To be self-reliant. To be self-sufficient. To be trustworthy to yourself. Loneliness is to be reliant on others, to be insufficient to yourself, to be untrustworthy to yourself.

It is difficult to trust yourself, to have a strong heart. Imagine you’re a parent sitting at the dinner table with many other parents. Suddenly, one says, “I just got a call from my son that he is doing well in Cornell.” And another says, “My daughter is taking a double major in Stanford.” And you ask yourself: where does your child fit in all this? Would you be willing to say that your kid goes to an average school and that s/he is happy with the course load and gets enough time to pursue his/her craft? You would if you trust you child. But in order to do that you have to trust yourself. When you trust yourself, other people’s opinions become insignificant. When you trust yourself, their ideas turn to dust. You grow to be alone. You become your true-self. And nothing else matters!

It takes a very independent mind and strong personality to uncouple one’s perception from how one is regarded by others. The majority of people are so caught up with the approbation from others. The extent to which we and our circumstances are respected by society at large decisively influences how we view ourselves. As Blaise Pascal observed, “We do not care about our reputation in towns where we are only passing through. But when we have to stay some time we do care.”

Do you know how easy it is to see whether parents have trust in themselves? From the way they teach their children. Let me explain.

A mother and her son are walking together to a music class. Following each step, his mother would perpetually lecture every detail she could about how much time and money she has spent raising him to be a great person. Then an elderly man overheard her plangent voice, approached them, and said, “Kids are so unfortunate these days. They do not even have time for themselves.”

In response, the mother said, “When my son grows up he will surely find that what I’ve been encouraging him to learn is useful in life. He will appreciate the arts, literature, and music to attain peace within his heart.”

“And have you experienced that feeling yourself, ma’am?” asked the old gentleman.

“No, but a famous musician convinced me and I believed him,” she replied.

Are we so crippled inwardly that we tell our children to look at others and duplicate their persona? Are we that confused about ourselves? First, don’t ever ask your kids to follow someone else other than you. Second, the musician said what he said because he knows his true-self and that is his way of expressing himself, his talent—maybe. When parents know their true-self, kids follow them. Those who are fishing skills right and left are confused, unfortunately.

I hear parents say this a lot: “I don’t want my child to make the same mistakes I made.” And I usually respond by asking them whether they felt they’ve learned from their mistakes, and if they had to do it all over again, whether they would choose not to make these mistakes—and thus not have learned from them. Sometimes this leads to the parent suggesting that s/he is worried that the child will turn out like them. Would it be okay if your child turned out like you? I mean it’s your child, your DNA. How can you possibly expect your fruit to be like that of somebody else? The apple does not fall far from the tree, remember? If one is incapable of accepting this, then why be a parent?

All these questions have meaning only if parenting is mere vanity; arrogance and self-righteousness like any other.

For I feel that nothing is impossible for the true parent.

10 Reasons to Personalize Your Children’s Education

Caveat: Mostly notes to myself. Keep in mind, your circumstance and limitation, because, your fruit and resolution may vary. I don’t loathe personalized learning over institutional learning. In fact, I don’t have to prove a point to anybody. I do, however, have a position on the matter. Some of the ideas mentioned herein can easily be accomplished if one attends a more flexible private institution. As I can only offer an experience but never a conclusion, I don’t expect you to be persuaded by my observations. So what I said must be thoroughly examined by you.

Without further ado, here are my ten reasons.

1. More Family Time—Because This One’s Personal

Many people think it’s selfish to take kids out of school and teach at home. Newsflash: it’s not selfish if you want to spend more time with your kids. It’s following your natural instincts, since you and your children are meant to be together anyway.

One of the greatest gifts you can give to your children is time. Of course it’s easy to get caught up in the daily routines and want to shoo the kids away (a.k.a. by putting them in school). Why not, instead, bring your kids along with you as you go about your daily tasks? Teach them what you’re doing. You can ask them to help sort out papers for your business orders, or, assist you cooking in the kitchen. Teach them and you will instill valuable life skills.

I choose personalized education because I want more time with my son. I’ll read with him; play games with him. I wish to bring him to my meditation retreats. I wish to go hiking together; laugh with one another. I wish to teach him the many possibilities life has to offer. And, more importantly, I wish that he’ll be free as a bird.

I will teach him to understand that life is not based on the law of scarcity. That success does not evolve over competition all the time—whatever the price.

I will instill the clarity that how well he does in school is never a determinant of how well he’ll do in life. That life is not a narrow path of either Stanford or Burger King. That winning is internal contentment, not external achievement.

Any child who spends an hour or two each day with an adult he or she likes, who is interested in the world, and likes to talk about it, will on most days learn far more from their talks than he or she would learn in a week of school.

2. Self-Driven Learning

Kids are “wired” for control. Whether they’re growing up in San Francisco, London, or Shanghai, they have the “natural right” to direct their education and, most important, their life.

As clinical neuropsychologist William Stixrud, PhD remarked: “Without a healthy sense of control, kids feel powerless and overwhelmed and will often become passive or resigned.”

Children are at risk of becoming anxious, ballistic, wrathful, and self-destructive when parents deny their ability to make meaningful choices. Without the sense of control, inner conflict will take its toll.

What’s worse is not merely parental pressure. The formal school system does not permit such liberty. Meaning: kids have to attend classes they didn’t choose; they are taught by random instructors; they have to be obedient in class and eat on a schedule; they are required to rely on the whims of their teachers for permission to go to the bathroom.

I choose personalized education because it gives children autonomy to do the things they want. It gives them the choice to voluntarily do their homework without being coerced by parents or teachers. And because those who have such privilege will be happier, less stressed, and, ultimately, more capable of navigating life.

John Taylor Gatto once said, “You either learn your way toward writing your own script in life, or you unwittingly become an actor in someone else’s script.”

3. Communication

When someone says:

“But how will children learn to socialize without schooling?”

It shows they are confused about the social interactions in school. Children are limited to age groups where teachers control how, when, and where children speak.

Forced association is NOT socialization. It is, for lack of a better word, BRAINWASHING.

In case you’re not aware, children being boxed in a room all day doesn’t make them flourish and become well-rounded.

I choose personalized education because children will always have the opportunity to communicate with people of all ages and not limited to a single group of segregated individuals.

Children will have the freedom to connect with people “outside the box” from friends to mentors, from neighbors to their chosen instructors, and from coaches to members of the community.

4. Flexibility

The typical life of a high school senior usually consists of keeping up with his final high school courses, filling out college admissions forms, gathering letters of recommendations, applying for scholarships, and perhaps, a part-time job, or, maybe even squeezing a bit of social life in between. A very busy person indeed.

Before he notices, high school is finished, summer is over, and he’s off to college. As he becomes accustomed to living on his own, setting his own schedule, and choosing his own courses, he realizes that he never really considered why he’s going to college, and finds himself wondering what on earth he is going to do with the rest of his life.

Does this sound familiar?

Most secondary schools spend very little time helping students evaluate their strengths and interests and decide what to do once they finish school. Even if they do seemingly try to help, most teenagers have very little time and space to think seriously and realistically about their intentions.

If you personalize your children’s education, the picture is a little prettier. Even the most rigid and structured home curriculum leaves teens plenty of time to explore and decide for themselves what to do with their time.

I choose personalized education because it gives parents the flexibility to tailor a program based on the child’s needs. More significantly, it gives children authority on how to use and manage their time.

They can enroll in classes at a local community college when they’re fourteen. Institutions like Harvard Extension School and many others even allow learners to attend without a high school diploma.

They have the opportunity to scout for mentors to work and learn from. They'll get ahead much faster when they're taught by successful people.

They can try out different jobs. With real experience doing meaningful work, they free themselves from the stereotypical assumptions about college, jobs, and of course, opportunities. They can refute the general assumption that college is the only acceptable option. They can also discover—as well as investigate—numerous possibilities beyond the typical high school graduate.

Heck, they even have the opt to delay college for a while until they gain more clarity over their interests and goals. Maybe they’d like to have some work or volunteer experience before they decide on a career direction, or perhaps they want to travel around the world before continuing their formal education.

Sometimes they’d even forgo college entirely. A craft or hobby they started a few years ago may have developed nicely into a profitable business, or they may have an interest in a field that doesn’t require a college education. Whatever their reasons may be, they have the privilege and flexibility.

5. Mental Health Issues


True stories:

Jenny, a fifteen-year-old high school student, walks from her family’s tiny and crowded apartment in Beijing, to her public school every day. She starts school Monday to Friday, from 8:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m., and then she’s off to homework class until her mother picks her up around 6:30 p.m. upon leaving the office. At home, Jenny still has a few more pages of unfinished homework, two or three lessons to review, and practice her daily piano for two hours before going to bed at midnight. At school, Jenny finds it difficult to concentrate, has trouble retaining lessons, and her grades, well below average, are slipping to the point where her parents abuse her physically.

Fifteen-year-old Max lives in a multimillion-dollar mansion and attends a posh private school in suburban San Francisco. His parents hope that he will make the cutoff for the National Merit Scholarship when he takes the PSAT next year, so he manages to fit in test prep between football practice, bi-weekly chess club meetings, volunteering for Big Brothers Big Sisters, and three to four hours of homework each night. He finds himself talking back to his parents and retorting at his classmates, and he complains of frequent migraines.

We all know to worry about Jenny. She has a tough road ahead. What we don’t know is we should worry about Max, too.

Jenny is battling chronic sleep deprivation, while Max is undergoing toxic stress every single day. Teenage years are important milestones in brain development, and both Jenny and Max are at risk of endangering their long-term mental and physical health.

Today, you’d be one successful parent to have raised a child who is without any psychological glitch.

I choose personalized education because I want children to be healthy and happy, to enjoy their childhood, to have less stress, to play with friends, to spend more time with their family; in other words, to live a normal life.

6.  Setting-up Life

Learning institutions condition children to be graded on arbitrary numbers by arbitrary instructors. Their learning system is unauthentic because it relies on memorization and wrote learning.

Students are not measured by their understanding of the learning materials, but how they score on random selection of associated facts. They are not measured by how much effort they’ve put into practicing or how much they’ve improved, but by whether another kid in class happened to get a better test score last week.

Of course, these are good exercises if you happen to live in a “controlled” ecosystem: a world with a myriad of ifs and thens. Unfortunately, the “real world” is chaotic. Reality is volatile and constantly changes. One moment everything seems to fall in place, another moment everything crumbles into pieces. That is life—unfortunately!

Alas, spending nearly two decades in an augur setting, being confined in a building all day has no bearing whatsoever towards understanding life.

I choose personalized education because I want children to redefine their entire life as educational experiences instead of probing into irrelevant materials and competing in intellectual gymnastics via weekly quizzes and examinations.

Going out to play can be societal development and physical education.

Grocery shopping becomes consumer math and nutrition cultivation.

Cooking and baking together builds cooperative and hands-on learning.

Completing household chores develops responsibility and time management skills.

Library trips are research instruction and resource identification.

Weekend excursions and month-long vacations instill cultural immersion and diversity.

Remember: You cannot reap the individuality of your children if you duplicate their education.

7. No Authority: Your Life, Your Race, and Therefore, Your Pace

You have a healthy child. I get it. You’re lucky. But some people aren’t.

When I was in high school, I volunteered teaching children with physical disability. I wept whenever I saw them. I wished that I’d never have to bear one for the rest of my life. Are schools willing to accommodate these unfortunate children? Some do. Most won’t.

I’ve also worked with children suffering from mental illnesses. They were always anxious. They had trouble focusing. And sometimes, self-destructive. What are schools doing about it? Nothing!

In fact, society labels them, and would place them in “special” learning centers.

What if your child is neither of the above—it’s just that she learns at a slower pace? In schools, if you can’t keep up with the crowd, your grades will be poor, and you might end up repeating a whole year.

Or what if your child is smarter than the norm? A genius who challenges the teachers and the status quo? Well, most likely he’ll get sent to the principal’s office for insubordination and disorderly conduct.

There are others. More and more children are becoming ambassadors, athletes, entrepreneurs, public figures—whatever. Should parents take away their interests for the sake of conformity?

No matter the circumstances, I choose personalized education because it takes authority out of the picture. It gives learners the freedom to pace themselves according to each individual trait and condition. It gives students the ability to choose what tools and resources work for them.

You know, it’s perfectly normal to learn about dinosaurs when you are forty. You don’t need to know them when you’re five or six. It’s fine to start fractions when you are fifteen. You don’t have to study them when you’re seven. And if you’re lucky enough to raise naturally gifted children, it’s your privilege to take them to college classes at nine or ten, and to allow them graduate university before they turn eighteen.

Remember: Thomas Edison and Albert Einstein were both deranged pupils.

Perhaps, this dependance on an outside authority to tell us what to learn, when to learn, where to learn, who to learn from, and why should we learn is an effect of own schooling.

Once upon a time, a student said, “My school teacher always advises me to get better grades, so I can go to a good school and, later, get a good job.”

“That is your teacher’s self-projection,” I humbly replied.

“You don’t think that’s true?” she countered.

“Everything works,” I said. “You need to figure out what works for you. Don’t simply draw a conclusion based on someone else’s words.”

8. Learning Resources

Schools use textbooks.

But how do you tell whether the textbooks are any good?

Is this history book widely used in schools because of its excellence or its publisher’s marketing skills?

Is that three-year-old science book good, or is it out of date already?

What if your child is fascinated by the Renaissance? Or what if he’s interested in Einstein’s Theory of Relativity?—something that is not commonly taught in primary nor secondary schools.

What if your child learns better using multimedia and technology instead of books? What if she prefers learning through observation and experience? Or with cooperative and hands-on learning? What do you do?

I choose personalized education because children have access to vast learning resources. They become voracious with research. They become inquisitive about authenthicity. They become more involved within the community. They become self-reliant. And as a result, some even go the extra mile and manage to turn themselves inside out into public figures and prominent members of society.

Just to tantalize you, here’s a tiny sampling of what’s available besides the usual “textbook” material.

  • Public and University Libraries - Check out a mountain of books. Scout for videos, magazines, and pamphlets. Volunteer. Sometimes I even took naps.
  • Community Resources - Studios. Clubs. Local theaters. Symphony halls. And so on.
  • Bookstores - New, used, trade, or even rare books, they’ve got them all.
  • Museums and Cultural Sites - Work. Volunteer. Spend time in the galleries. Join a group. Take a tour. Etc.
  • Medical Facilities - Do research for a staff. Volunteer. Shadow a doctor.
  • Agriculture - Visit a farm. Learn the methods and techniques of urban farming.
  • Manufacturing - Interested in automobiles? Email Elon Musk and ask for a tour of his Tesla factory. Apply for an internship. You may even land a job.
  • Civics and Government - Attend a trial for a day. Take a ride with a police officer or fire fighter. Write to a government official. Volunteer in a political campaign.
  • Sports and Outdoor Facilities - Youth sports league: baseball, soccer, basketball; you name it. Visit (or volunteer in) parks and nature centers.
  • Nonprofit Organizations - Youth groups, food banks, Red Cross, Habitat for Humanity, Special Olympic; the list is endless.
  • Travel - Follow the Oregon Trail. Visit the Silk Road. Or, you might just visit the back road and interesting locals: maple sugar making, candle factory, cheese making, beer brewing, and so on.
  • Special Interest Groups - Do TED talks. Join local cultural and ethnic societies. Play chess in parks. Participate in drama clubs.
  • The Internet - Everything you need is here; from the Smithsonian to the Library of Congress, from blogs to YouTube, from Google Scholars to free Harvard and MIT lectures.

And the list goes on...

9. Safety

Then there’s the issue of safety. Over the past several decades, gun violence in U.S. schools have been on the rise. Since 2013, there’s been 290 school shootings. Last year, in 2018, there were 20 documented incidents. That puts us at a rate of ONE shooting every fortnight.

Gun violence is not the only issue, however. There are millions of unreported bullying cases happening across schools.

To put things into perspective:

43.5% of accused school shooter were bullied. 70% of them are describes as loners. And more than 3.5 million people in the U.S. are diagnosed with schizophrenia.

From the above data, there seems to be a direct correlation between non-associative students being bullied and, as a result, were diagnosed with some form of destructive mental illness.

You will never know when someone might just snap...

There’s more. Drug abuse is also becoming more and more prevalent among teenagers. Amidst the reported cases, 15% were done by middle schoolers, 33% by sophomores, and 44% by high school seniors. The more reason to pull your kids out of school.

One last thing: sexual assault and physical abuse. Sexual misconduct to a minor is any parent’s worse nightmare. Many psychological effects of child sexual abuse are seen in children of any age, including behavioral, cognitive and psychological effects. Substance abuse, eating disorders and low self-esteem can also occur as a result of child sexual abuse.

I choose personalized education because children have the right to safety. They should be in a learning environment that is peaceful and non-violent, away from the guns, bullies, sexual and physical abuse, as well as drugs.

And last but not least... 👇🏼

10.Location Independent

Three more real accounts:

Alex lives in Shanghai with his mother and little sister. While his father, well, he lives and works in Hong Kong. Alex’s parents are still together, but because schools in Hong Kong are highly competitive, his parents had decided to enroll him in one of Shanghai’s prestigious and less stressful international schools. His father would fly back to visit the family during the holidays. Both Alex and his sister are growing up without a father.

Jim and Laura travel nine or more months of the year together for work. They spend from a few weeks to five or six months in each location, but they keep their permanent residence in New York. It is very difficult to take along everything they’d like. Their son, Daniel, have to start over making new friends often and leave his close friends behind. They have to follow state regulations in locations where they spend more than a few weeks and put Daniel in different schools. Even though travel opens up a whole world of possibilities for learning, it makes their daily lives much harder.

George and Kara and their three beautiful daughters have been relocated to a rural Sumatran village in Indonesia. George is an environmentalist and a professional nature photographer. Their lodging is surrounded by dirt and unpaved road, and is at least 20 miles away from the nearest town with a decent education facility. The daughters spend five hours each day, six days a week, walking from home then taking the bus to school, and back. One hundred and twenty-five hours a month. In one hundred twenty-five hours, kids can WRITE a book, LEARN a new skill, spend TIME with family, START a business. ONE month. Now imagine TWELVE.

Three different families, three different conditions, but with the same problem: geographic restriction.

I choose personalized education because your geographic location becomes irrelevant. Your children can focus on learning no matter where your family lives.

Want to take that three months vacation trekking the Appalachian Trail? Go for it! While you’re at it, take the kids with you. They’ll learn more about the natural world than any school could offer. Do your hikes in the morning and they’ll keep up with their tasks later in the day.

You’re a nomad and you move a lot. I feel envious of you. Personalize your children’s education and they can follow whenever you bounce from one place to another. They can’t go wrong by following their parents. Quite possibly, they will receive the most valuable life education ever learned.

Are you a military family stationed overseas? Is your family living a few miles out of the nearest town?  Does your family live on a fifty-foot ketch and sails around the world? Don’t worry! Because online personalized education can be done even if you’re geographically isolated—as long as you are connected.

In Closing

“Education need not be formal.

But then, how important is school?

I barely made passing grade while attending the University of Washington.”

                                                        — Bruce Lee

“It is well to remember from time to time that nothing worth knowing can be taught.”

                                                        — Oscar Wilde

Since we do not know what knowledge will be needed in the future, it is senseless to implant everything and prepare in advance. Instead, we should encourage children who love learning to instill whatever needs to be learned.

If adults continually force children to fulfill their prescriptions, they will become anxious and timid. They will use all their energy, not to explore the unknown, but to escape the pressure we put on them. It is far more fruitful to evaluate their intentions than it is to force our cravings, as forcing is always short-lived.

Our role as parents is not to force them to follow a “guide” that we’ve laid out for them—which by the way, a guide should be voluntary, not mandatory.

Instead, we should help them develop the necessary skills to determine the kind of life that is right for them. We should modify their education, not by which courses to enroll, but by what they need according to each individual trait. This is what I mean by personalizing their education.

We should help them discover the things they love and what motivates them. We should move away from a model that is dependent on parental pressure to the one that nurtures the child’s voraciousness. After all, they need to swim their own race and make their own independent decisions—but also correct their course, if necessary—for the rest of their lives.

What I am trying to say is: Trust Children. But in order to do that we must learn to trust ourselves. And since as children we were taught to be untrustworthy, this is the most difficult thing to accomplish.

Our greatest calamity is that we know too much. We “think” we know and that is our misfortune; so we never discover.


A Dialogue on Learning, Schooling, and Enlightenment

Questioner: It seems the book that my daughter uses is a little easy and mainly focuses on literature. I wonder if we could find a subject or topic or series that my daughter would be interested in for a comparatively long period of time. And I also wish she could have the ability to produce her own critical thinking ability.

Answerer: Your daughter’s behavior is perfectly normal. The reason she hinders from continuing is because she has no interest in the subject. We tried exploring TED last time, and, as you can see, she refused to continue learning it. I believe TED is very good, but it’s not for everybody. That said, there are two ways we can approach this. First, we let her direct the learning (as I said, if you want your daughter to find her interest, you have to trust her). This means the result will be abstract. There is no set agenda. Everything that we do will be trial and error. Nevertheless, everything will be completely pure learning. Second, we can direct her to a certain subject, and insist her to finish it whether she is interested or not. She’ll learn things but most of the time the retention (memory) will be very low since it has nothing to do with her interest. Or we can direct her to a subject and keep providing her with something new whenever she gets disinterested. The problem with the second path is there is not always the interest in learning. So to answer your question: critical thinking flourishes naturally when the pupil is curious and is interested in studying the subject. We don’t need to force it.

Q: Not force, but guide. A boy once asked the famous Chinese pianist, Lang Lang, “How could you find interest in the boring practice?” And Lang Lang said, “How could you find interest without boring practice?” If that is force, then we don't need any school.

A: Yes, you need to put in the hours. But some are born to seek by themself. Others, need a guide. Just as there are people who don’t go to school and have found their way. For Lang Lang, it’s probably part of his culture that he found his way.

Q: Tell me, are all your students forced to follow your system?

A: I actually don’t follow any system. I just use a book as a guide because the parents want some progress (vocabulary, grammar, etc.)

Q: Kids are easily driven to quit. And most people need school to guide them.

A: Kids quit easily because they are being forced to do something they don’t want. And when they quit, parents begin to worry.

Q: Then there will be no pianist in the world. Because every kid in the world feels the boredom from practice.

A: I talked to a former student about this a while back. Basically, you have to understand that boredom is part of the equation. There can be no joy without boredom. When you can understand them as one, there is no boredom or joy. The endgame is, however, only the talented one makes the cut. You can put in hours and hours each day, but if you’re not “that good” at playing, you still can’t be a good pianist. If what you meant by persisting boredom is true, then everybody would be a world-class pianist. Because they would just put in the hours and they’ll become famous.

Q: We don't need to be world famous. When one becomes an adult, or an elderly, he or she will surely enjoy the happiness that piano can take him or her. And that is enough.

A: In my opinion, piano is not for everybody, just like TED.

Q: I asked my daughter to continue piano for many reasons. First, she said she likes piano and would like to learn. She took the initiative, not me. Second, though practice is boring, she enjoys playing in the theater very much. She always pushed me to register for the performance in the assembly.

A: Okay, you need to make sure she isn’t doing it because she is afraid of you. That’s more important. If she really enjoys them, then go for it.

Q: She also tried lots of other things, such as Chinese calligraphy, skateboarding, etc. And she had quit a lot as well. I also agreed.

A: Try this: don’t tell her to do anything. Will she touch the piano when she has nothing to do? Only then you will see her true color.

Q: She will! She even reminded me sometimes. Maybe she doesn't like piano, but she likes the feeling when performing in the theater.

A: People do many things for several reasons. Some for pride, others for fame and fortune. But all these are fickle. They are only “temporary happiness”. The true person is the one who enjoys the process as a whole. This person feels alive doing it, so he or she is in another place.

Q: Everybody is different. And also there is no one correct way in the life.

A: Yes, everybody is different, so we cannot simply compare one with the other. Some people need school, others don’t. So we just have to find which one is correct for us. But to say that everybody has to get a college degree before doing something else is not natural to me.

Q: Even temporary happiness makes life whole. And 99.9% of people are very ordinary. We enjoy every small pieces of happiness that life brings to us.

A: Happiness and sorrow are one. If you understand that, then there is no happiness nor sorrow. They are created only in your mind.

Q: I don't understand, and I don't wish to pursue this. We only live once. I hope my daughters could enjoy a very common and simple happiness. I don't want to use their life to search for something special. If my search turned out to be a failure, what should I say to them?

A: To understand is your choice. This is the simplest form. People just make it complicated.

Q: I just follow the common norm and try my best to enjoy them.

A: But then you don’t know what true happiness is... what if the “common norm” doesn’t lead you to the answer? This is the reason, I think, why 99.9% of people are mediocre.

Q: We are! You know, mediocre doesn't mean unhappy.

A: Of course not. The choice is always yours to make. In the end, the guider must know where to go before he or she can guide his or her children. Until then, it’s merely someone else’s words — a theory.

Q: Sure! But comparatively, a common way is a safer way.

A: Define safe.

Q: I don't want to use their life to take a risk, such as homeschooling. Of course, it’s not safe at all in China, to say the least.

A: I can’t say what is safe for me is the same definition as yours. But I’ll be a father soon and I know I won’t put my son through the same route as everybody else. As you said, everybody is different. To me losing 1,000 yuan is a big deal. For other people, it’s small change. It wasn’t hard making the decision because I know what’s going on in schools inside out. Also, I would not let other people teach my kid knowing that they probably have no idea what life is. I told my wife the same thing and she agreed. I don’t see why doing something that is out of the ordinary is “risky” for some people. For me, if you do something that is different, it tells me that you have an independent state of mind.

Q: Then your kid won’t be able to have friends and socialize.

A: He will make friends with the right people from all ages and in the right environment. Again, some children are more introvert than others. You can’t push someone who is naturally quiet to socialize. If you do, he or she will be timid. When you look at your daughter’s level, she is fit to study in 3rd or 4th grade level. But the school system won’t allow that. If you remember what I’ve said in the past, school is slowing some people down.

Q: Maybe in academic she could pursue slightly higher. I’m more worried about her level of thinking and maturity. She’ll also have difficulty making friends with her classmates.

A: The problem is the environment — that includes her friends.

Q: Yes.

A: So that’s another problem with school. If she is surrounded by mature friends, then she’ll be mature as well.

Q: Maybe. But people must learn to work with others.

A: Work with others in what way? What if you don’t like this person or this person is making you unhappy? If you force yourself because you believe in the dogma “you must learn to work with others” then you’ll be depressed. You work with like minded people.

Q: At least you should know how to restrain yourself.

A: Many people who choose this route are depressed. Look, it’s all about self-awareness. One has to know oneself before one can learn to work with others.

Understand: Everybody is different. What we — as parents — think is important for our children may or may not have any future bearing in their life. That said, we must first know where to go in order to guide our children. However, we cannot decide which path they must take.