The Value of Thinking like a 12-Year-Old: How we should improve our education system

Every time I do a bunch of education articles, such as I did recently for the election of 2019 critics write me and ask me for what solution I would support since I think that the current public education system is so screwed up. I often say these days that I think kids would be better off living in the woods without a public education classroom if the goal for them was to get smarter rather than sticking with what we have now. Government schools are so dysfunctional that they really should be considered a menace. For as much time and money that we put into the education of children too many of them enter adulthood ill prepared for the reality which should tell us everything we need to know. Therefore, people who are critical of me are only upset that I bring it up. But to answer their question, lets get to the basic foundation of the problem.

Recently I was reviewing some 3P techniques for a project I’m working on, its one of those Lean applications that are part of the long evolution of the Toyota systems research that has been going on for a long time yet has had lots of trouble taking root in the United States. That is actually the subject of a new book I’m working on called The Gunfighter’s Guide to Business. I’m not willing to throw the baby out with the bathwater like many might be willing to do, but we do need to understand why these things tend to work in Japan and China and not in the United States. Or do they really work at all, or is the key really just naturally engaged employees. And if so, then why are they engaged while others aren’t? I have it all worked out, but explaining it to people who are functioning from the wrong definitions of things is a bit more of a challenge. To be blunt, our public educations have taught our entire society all the wrong things and now we have a mess to clean up that will take centuries. So we might as well start somewhere.

The meaning of life is not to be born, learn how to read, write and perform rational thought only to throw all that out the window at puberty to get a mate, have sex, pop out a few kids then gradually die as the flower of our bodies wilt away into old age where even the universe spits at us once we’ve passed the years of reproduction. All that is wrong—and that is the basic pattern of understanding around the world of the cycles of life. Rather, we are born, we are given the opportunity to learn all we can before we are on the clock of responsibility, and we spend the rest of our lives functioning from what is left of that perfect period of childhood that we all have an opportunity to experience. However, most people don’t get such great childhoods and they grow up and into bitter adults who can’t problem solve their way out of a paper bag and end up intellectually crippled for life.

We should look at childhood as one of our highest states of consciousness and figure out why we are trying so hard as a civilization to grow up and away from this outlook. On that recent 3P investigation one of the key takeaways was that the classroom participants were told that they needed to reconnect with their 12-year-old self, because it was at this time that most of us were still open minded about problem solving and generally thinking outside the box. And that is the case with most children, they all start off pretty equal. As open books on brain development they all learn along a similar path and with great optimism. Just look at the kind of books that we provide to children seen at any bookstore. They are full of colors and positive images meant to inspire next step learning, to lure them to good new things to think about rather than boring, stagnant images. Then kids hit puberty, public schools are trying to teach sex in the fourth grade and earlier these days, and once kids are told that sex is their primary function and their social status within the classroom culture will determine who they get to mate with, that person begins a long decline that lasts the rest of their lives, and it is very tragic.

The 3P people observed from the Toyota culture in Japan that they are a playful people, and this is obvious while at the Tokyo airport. The billboard colors there are very positive and even their television in Japan is very childlike, meaning its experimental and positive about most everything. It has taken the Lean community many years of western thinking to get close to unlocking the real secrets of the Toyota culture. Its not just that they are organized and engaged in Japan, but that they don’t get hung up on silly stuff, they are much more like children than what we’d call adults in America. Children will try things and play with ideas where adults usually try to bend reality to their mode of thinking. Whatever it is that they learned and whoever they learned it from tends to limit the western mind rather than unleash it toward continued growth or at least sustaining what they were when they were children.

This is why I see so much positive growth in the geek culture in America where adults go to science fiction conventions dressed in cosplay and have fun going to midnight movies and making amusement parks part of their lifestyles. It’s the Peter Pan lesson of the approach that Tom Hanks showed in the movie Big where an actual kid was very successful in business because he thought like a child. We have been thinking about this problem for a long time, but still what holds us back is this assumption that by growing up we are supposed to get rid of our childhoods rather than trying to have the best one possible then carrying those memories throughout our entire life with the fuel to sustain us. The way we approach things now we empty ourselves of everything we built until puberty then seek to throw it all away so we can join some lifecycle mating custom that essentially ends by the time we are all aged 30. There is a lot of life to live after that age but most of us just don’t know what to do with ourselves so the gradual decline begins and we find ourselves stagnant and ineffective for the rest of our lives.

Our education system should be looking to make an Einstein out of every young mind. By the time kids leave the 12th grade if they maintained the rate of learning that they did up until around age 10, we should have lots of geniuses running around doing great things. Instead we end up with a bunch of flat thinkers who have to be told as 40 and 50 year olds that they need to reconnect with their 12-year-old selves so they can be effective at their jobs. If I had a nickel for every time someone told me to grow up, I’d have a lot of nickels. Many millions worth. But I’ve always bulked at that notion and am very happy to say that I never stopped thinking like a 12-year-old. Ever. I have always viewed the typical definition of adulthood as a loss of something valuable that we had as children but lost too soon in a premature death. So I’ve held onto mine as a treasure and that has certainly helped me in life be much more effective than in embracing the traditional trajectory of the aging process. And we do need to fix that notion. If our education system started looking at children as the highest level of thought out of the starting gate and could harness that energy instead of seeking to destroy it, I would feel differently. Until then, I’m dead set against the modern concepts of education, because they are not sufficient enough, and do not teach the right things.

Rich Hoffman