Neil de Grasse Tyson on the Education System

edited December 2016 in General

We have often discussed the uninspiring way that the education system recognises regurgitation rather than originality. Here, on Radio 4's 'The Life Scientific', Neil de Grasse Tyson describes his own experiences of the problem:

(Listen between 08:10 and 11:10.)


  • Actually I should say that I have been quite impressed by our children's Design Technology staff. Although they are indeed very focused on passing the exams, nevertheless they seem to have a genuine enthusiasm for this very practical subject which I think rubs off on the students.

  • Having listened to the clip, his comments are odd, to say the least. He says that he kept his interest in astronomy private and that he got good, but not exceptional grades. So how does he expect his teachers to have predicted that he would go on to do well - telepathy?

  • It's because the education system is designed to teach peasants how to be employees and to be followers rather than leaders. If you're born into the elite, you don't go to those schools.

  • While the first part of Hugh's comment would appear to be true, I am not so sure about the second part.

    I think I was (unfortunately) sent to one of the 'other' type of school. And I can assure you it was no better. Certainly it did not inspire the students to think for themselves. Fortunately that didn't stop me...

  • edited December 2016

    In response to Editor's comment, I think the reason that his teachers would never have predicted de Grasse Tyson's future success is that they weren't looking for his individual talents - they were simply measuring his conformity to the education system's narrow set of 'ideals'. The record shows that this system fails to identify or encourage productive individualism.

    I think this happens in all schools because the mechanics of learning and testing are the same. Where our education system encourages the polarisation of society is in the way that successful people tend to send their children to the same expensive schools. Although I accept that the teaching facilities are better at private schools the main 'benefit' of their costliness is the selection it provides. Whilst these children are brought up with a sense of confidence (because most people they know are successful) the opposite is true of the free schools where, as I think hugh is saying, children tend to leave with the impression that they are destined to be employees rather than leaders. The supreme example of this is Eaton College which has produced 19 British prime ministers and countless leaders in other fields. This is clearly not a coincidence and I think it isn't a result of the school's formal educational curriculum or the brilliance of its teachers, but rather a result of the opportunity that its students have to gain the society of the elite.

    My assessment of our education system is therefore: a) it doesn't identify or encourage talent and b) it artificially polarises society into masters and workers. Yes, we do need masters and workers but the present system is inefficient and sustains the class system which, like other forms of discrimination, should have been put behind us by now.

  • For the first part of your comment, the education system does have narrow ideals. But these are not set by teachers - they are set by politicians. Have a read of this.

    For the second part: There is no 'class' system, just pushy, strong-willed, selfish, determined, thick-skinned and ruthless parents moving heaven and earth to get their children into Eton (or the best school that they possibly can) so it is no surprise that their children inherit the same traits, which they then apply to their careers and children's education in turn.

    Schools don't separate their pupils into 'masters' and 'workers' - their parents do.

  • edited January 1

    Yes, I completely agree that it's no fault of the individual teachers and, as that article describes, it must be very disheartening for someone whose calling is to be an educator to find themselves in a professional situation where they "...feel rushed, nothing gets done properly; there is very little joy, and no time for reflection or creative thinking (in order to create meaningful activities for students)." I assume the responsibility lies with the people who design the curriculum and perhaps the politicians who direct them...I don't know how this works.

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