Is school lindy?
If breakfast isn't lindy because no one in early history ate it, where does that leave our schools?
In the past year or so, I've noticed people on Twitter talking about whether or not things are ‘lindy’. A New York Times article on the topic explains that this is, "gleaning more wisdom from antiquity" and is derived from the lindy effect which is,
"a theorized phenomenon by which the future life expectancy of some non-perishable things, like a technology or an idea, is proportional to their current age." - Wikipedia
So, the longer something has been around, the longer it is likely to last. I think inherent in this is the idea that if something has been around for a long time, then it must have been repeatedly tested and shown to be of benefit to people.
In popular discourse about the lindy effect, people have conversations about whether certain things are lindy or not. For example, Paul Skallas, a major proponent of lindy culture, says breakfast is not lindy because it was unknown in early history. People that are into lindy think that living in a lindy way can help us to make better choices and not be distracted by things that are new, not proven, and unlikely to last a long time.
So, is school lindy?
Children and young people throughout human history have played, supported their families to gather and hunt food, worked in fields, industry and homes, and learned informally from their family and social group.
Alongside this, schools in various forms have existed across the world in different time periods from early civilisation onwards, though, it seems, often only to transmit theological ideas to rich boys so that they could become religious leaders. (I feel obliged to provide a huge caveat that I have a lot to learn on this topic, so please forgive me for a crass generalisation).
The idea of universal, compulsory public education is pretty new. It developed gradually in Europe, from the early 16th century into the 19th, with great influence from Protestantism. It was viewed as a way to impart morals and general knowledge, often without time for play but with plenty of time for corporal punishment.
Throughout the 19th and 20th centuries, schools gradually evolved towards how they are today; more humane, more secular, less corporal but still focussed on transmitting knowledge to students and, more-or-less, compulsory. In England, school attendance is enforced through a system of orders, fines, and prosecution.
The history of schools is intertwined with the history of industrialisation, work, and capitalism. People campaigned against child labour and it was curtailed through legislation, so children started to attend school all day instead — handily providing a safe(r) place for them to be whilst their parents worked. In Britain it is now common to see schooling’s primary purpose as promoting social mobility - i.e. to help young people into better paid work than their parental predecessors (though, it should be noted, that evidence to support this is patchy).
Back to lindy. Are schools lindy? Unlike breakfast, they have been around since early history, and in their present form serve a clear purpose as an enabler for a functioning capitalist society. But can something that has obtained longevity through coercion rather than through the expression of free will truly be lindy? It may have benefits for working parents and capitalism, but does it really have a net benefit for the young people themselves?
There are signs that people's faith in schools is diminishing -- more people are home educating their children, and it seems, at least anecdotally, much more common for the ill effects of school to be discussed amongst parents, especially with schools being unable to adequately support young people's mental health. Even respectable institutions like The Times are calling for a “schooling reset”.
Perhaps, in the coming years, pressure will push schools to become more humane and focussed on student well-being. This is certainly beginning to happen in the workplace, with many companies now claiming to put staff well-being first. I fear it will be extremely difficult to make large gains in this area without significant systemic changes to school budgets, assessment, and teacher working conditions. So perhaps instead, we'll continue to see more people voting with their feet and opting out of the system through home education, which just might be the most lindy of all educational forms.
Note: I cribbed my school history from this blog by Peter Gray, which goes into a lot more detail, and also a bit from Britannica, as I felt the blog omitted the history of schools prior to the 16th century.