I’ve never been a fan of the standard education system, it’s fundamentally illogical. Kids spend years and years of their young lives being forced to learn the intricacies of subjects they have no interest in. We have our brains stuffed full of useless crap. When I was at school I was never taught basic first aid, but you can be damn sure I know the methods with which King Henry VIII got rid of/lost his six wives. Repeat after me… Divorced, beheaded, died, divorced, beheaded, zzzzzzzzz…

Full disclosure right now by the way, this article is 50% ripping off, and 50% expanding on an idea put forward by Dave Brown, AKA BoyInABand, a youtuber/rapper/man with majestic hair. He’s also pretty famous for his song, Don’t Stay In School, a track that summarises all of the unneccessary information he was forced to learn, while infinitely more valuable information was omitted from the syllabus.

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The biggest point that Dave makes across his videos that address the education system is this – nothing should be mandatory, if it won’t actually be relevant to your life the moment you step outside of the school gates. It’s a point that I’ve agreed with my entire life. I often wonder – would I be more successful now if every second of my childhood that was wasted learning unnecessary bullshit had been directed towards improving my skills in the subjects I planned to pursue in later life?

Many of us are aware of these problems, but unfortunately, the education system is a seemingly unstoppable entity. You go to a standard school and study the approved syllabus. There is no alternative. Or at least, that’s what I was always led to believe.

… education should be a fun, freeing experience, where students are encouraged to explore and become the best they can possibly be.

In a recent video, Dave discusses a fairly rare type of school, known as a “Sudbury School.” I’m going to give a cursory explanation of how these kinds of schools work, but I highly recommend you check out his video on the subject, so you have a complete understanding of what we’re talking about here.

In this type of school, mandatory coursework, top down management and standardised testing are all eliminated, in favour of a learning environment in which students are free to learn what they want to learn, however they want to learn it. In other words, all the pointless crap is kicked to the curb, in favour of… well, useful information. The kind of thing people are actually supposed to learn at school.

In a Sudbury school, there are no teachers. There’s just “staff”, who are treated equally to the students themselves. Decisions about the school’s organisation are decided via democratic methods, with both pupils and teachers alike having one vote each. Parents have little to no involvement in the management of the school, unless they are volunteers at the school.

One important point to note, is that students who study through alternative methods aren’t “weird”, or social outcasts, as is often assumed by people who suffered through the existing system. In fact, people educated through Sudbury schools are actually highly unlikely to suffer with social issues or behavioural problems, because they are allowed to mix with people both older and younger than them. They’re trusted to learn for themselves, to interact with other students by themselves, and they’re given the same level of importance as the staff in the school – all of this trust, leads to children who are confident and socially intelligent.

Max

Anyway, enough reiterating the points Dave Brown has already made. It’s time to start discussing the topic that we all come to sites like Indie Haven to discuss: Gaming.

One issue that people often raise when the concept of Sudbury schools is introduced, is that, if you give children a free reign to control their own educations, they will flock to the creative activities, and neglect the less conventionally “fun” subjects, such as science and maths. I was curious about how Sudbury schools would address video games. I mean, surely restricting student’s access to video games would be against the spirit of the Sudbury education?

So I looked it up, and found this article from the Clearwater School, a Sudbury school in Washington. It turns out, at this school, students are granted the opportunity to play video games as a form of education. And I’m not talking about those crappy educational games the teacher would pull out when they were too lazy (or hungover) to teach properly.

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We all had that one teacher who clearly didn’t want to be there.

Students can play any games they choose, and they’re only limited by “their personal preferences and the rules governing access to school computers and personal game systems.” Students don’t even have to abide by age ratings. So long as they take care not to upset others who may be offended or frightened by the content of a game, students are free to behead zombies in Resident Evil, stomp on turtles in Super Mario, or have sex with prostitutes in GTA to their heart’s content. Man, it’s a good thing they don’t have Parent Teacher Conferences. That would make one hell of an awkward meeting.

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Good news, Mr and Mrs Vandersmoot, little Timmy’s purchasing prostitutes at an 8th grade level.

Taken at face value, you’d be forgiven for thinking the idea sounds pretty stupid. I mean, letting kids play video games, instead of attending lessons? There’s clearly no way a child could ever learn core skills by playing video games. Video games don’t require reading comprehension. They don’t require problem-solving skills. They obviously can’t teach anyone about art, or music, or history.

Oh, no, wait a second… Yup, that’s absolute bullshit.

To understand how someone could learn core skills through video games, we first need to understand how human beings actually learn. It’s actually surprisingly simple. We learn things for one of two reasons. It’s either something we want to learn, or it’s something we need to learn. If you don’t want to learn something, and you don’t need to know it for any reason other than “there’s a test coming up at the end of the week,” then there’s no way in hell you’ll learn it. Trust me, I’m telling you this from experience – I spent five years of my life having the cos, sine and tan buttons on a calculator explained to me, and to this day, I still have no idea what any of them do.

Video games feature words that must be read. They have puzzles that must be solved. They even have kill streaks that must be counted. Core skills are required to enjoy them to their fullest extent. Let’s pretend we had a child who couldn’t read very well, and we let him play a relatively text heavy game like Undertale. Let’s assume for a second they’re enjoying the game. Well, because they’re enjoying the game, they’ll keep playing the game. They’ll keep reading, they’ll keep learning, and when the final credits roll, they’ll have become a better reader than they were when they started the game.

Undertale - teaching reading skills and, umm... safe handling of tools, apparently...

Undertale – teaching reading skills and, umm… safe handling of tools, apparently…

But then, let’s take this a step further. Sure, you might be able to use video games to teach core skills, but surely they can’t be used to teach something more complicated like say, advanced mathematics? Well, let’s say a student, or group of students were so interested in video games, they wanted to learn more about how video games are created. They could sit down in front of a game engine like Unity, or Ren’py, start copying YouTube tutorials, and create small game projects. Game development requires at least a basic knowledge of programming. Programming requires maths, so when that young game developer reaches the point where he’s producing a game that requires a ton of advanced mathematics to balance the difficulty, the student will learn the required mathematics. Not because someone essentially pointed a gun at their head and demanded they learn it, but because they wanted to learn it.

Obviously, I’m not recommending we drop all forms of education and just start plonking our children down in front of a PS4 in the hopes they’ll all grow up to be geniuses. Some students will learn best in other ways, and that’s the beauty of the Sudbury model. If the student isn’t having fun or learning effectively by playing a video game, then they’ll just put the controller down and go find something else to do.

Video games can teach a huge array of subjects. It can introduce topics that most people would never even think of studying on their own. Hell, watch any random video from The Game Theorists, and then tell me video games can’t be educational.

I’ll leave you with this point – who has ever studied the Three Kingdoms period of Chinese history from a textbook? It’s certainly wasn’t on any syllabus when I was at school. And yet, while I’m certainly no expert on the subject, I can tell you the names of the three kingdoms that were at war with one another. I can tell you the names of the three generals who lead each kingdom. I can tell you the names of some of the great battles that were fought at the time. And I didn’t learn any of that out of a textbook. I learnt it by playing Dynasty Warriors – possibly one of the dopiest video games ever created.

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Dynasty Warriors 8 is a great Chinese history lesson, provided you resist the temptation to hit the skip button and jump straight to the cartoon violence.

I learnt all of this while playing a video game, that involves charging through hordes of enemies, and knocking them flying with an unfathomably large sword. And that’s the most important point to take from this article. If you allow students the opportunity to learn the boring stuff on their own terms, it won’t feel like work. Anything can be educational, in the right hands. Whether it’s through books, films, or video games, education should be a fun, freeing experience, where students are encouraged to explore and become the best they can possibly be.

At the moment, it’s more like prison.

About The Author

Contributor

As a composer and video game enthusiast, Philip has spent years searching for a way to combine his passions for both music and gaming. Then, one day, he figured he could just write about them. He loves to over-analyse the way music helps to shape the player's emotional response in a game. He also loves to criticise bad control schemes, because... Well, they just get on his nerves.

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