I'm Zak Slayback, the author of the 2016 book The End of School: Reclaiming Education from the Classroom, and a regular speaker on topics of social change, entrepreneurship, and professional development. I've been involved in a number of early-stage startups, including Praxis, where I served as Business Development Director for several years. I was one of the most-read writers on Education for LinkedIn in 2015.
As Business Development Director at Praxis, I helped place dozens of young people into high-ticket apprenticeships at startups and high-growth businesses across the United States.
I wrote the foreword to the 2017 edition of John Taylor Gatto's famous book, Dumbing Us Down. I'm the director of a coaching program for mid-stage professionals who want to upgrade their health, wealth, and wisdom.
I've appeared on numerous radio programs, Fox News, Fox Business, The Blaze, and Michelle Malkin Investigates.
Ask me anything!
What got you so interested in education?
That's a great question! I sometimes reflect on this because I think we're really bad at understanding our own histories. People often rewrite their own histories to make them more interesting or heroic than they were - not intentionally, it's just one of our psychological biases.
For me, it was kind of like how many people get into Ayn Rand. They have this itch that is difficult to understand and describe for years and then they come across her work and realize there's somebody who has put all of their thoughts into eloquent words.
I was always really annoyed by how schooling worked growing up. I grew up in the era of No Child Left Behind and remember the courses where I was experiencing a real sense of growth and learning being cut and reduced for classes like mathematics or for English - which themselves were watered down to support the testing curricula. Something was off about it but I could never really put it into great words.
Then I got to college at Penn and saw all of these bright, ambitious people watering down their ambitions and what they want to do to all do the same thing. They went from being hyper-productive and hyper-creative to all competing for the same internships at Goldman Sachs and Google. That was off, too.
As part of my working at Praxis, I decided to delve into more education literature to figure out what exactly was wrong and why. I read John Holt, Peter Gray, John Taylor Gatto, Ivan Illich. I consumed their content to get a fuller picture of what education was supposed to be and how it was wrong and off.
It was Gatto that gave me my Rand moment. I read Weapons of Mass Instruction and realized he had put into words everything that I had felt for nearly a decade.
So, the TL;DR is this: I saw "education" hurting people more than it was helping them (myself included) and knew something must be off with it. As I dove deeper into it, I realized that the schooling system was fundamentally flawed. Education should make you a better, more flourishing person - not a more anxious, stressed, and unhappy person.
Hello Zak, Thank you for doing this Ask Me Anything Session. What are the best opportunities to get an education out of school, overlooked right now?
It depends on the level of the game about which you're asking.
At K-12, I think that it has never, ever been easier to opt-out of the compulsory system through what is legally considered homeschooling. To homeschool, you don't need a curriculum exactly like that in a compulsory school and you don't need certified teachers. Give children access to technology and people doing things today. Help them find mentors. Take them out into the real world and let them have the opportunity to try out working.
Set up a co-op in your town. Just create a meeting place where people who have opted out of the compulsory system can come and meet together, can share insights, and can make the connections that will be beneficial for participants.
It's considerably easier to "homeschool" than people think once you move past the limiting beliefs people have about their own ability to make it happen.
Sudbury schools are also becoming more common. That's one style of education with which I am most happy:
Beyond K-12: there are numerous programs if you want something more structured and depending on what you want to do: Praxis (startup apprenticeship), UnCollege (Gap year), Draper University, Make School (coding school).
But honestly, I also think that with sufficient accountability, an ambitious young person can build a fruitful and fulfilling education and career outside of these programs. Know what you want. Set your goals. Find models and mentors. Go and build stuff. Write. Speak. The access to the educational materials and the people has never been better. There's no excuse for a young person today to not be building themselves towards the future they want to live. None.
The biggest gap I see is in young people knowing what they want. When they know what they want and they have the right accountability systems set up, they can achieve amazing things with the resources already available to them.
Beyond higher ed: Keep pushing yourself. Challenge yourself to hit goals every day, week, month, and year. People lose track of goals once they are outside of school because school imposes those goals on you. Setting the right goals and marshaling the resources to hit those goals is like a muscle - if you don't use it, it will get weaker.
I am a fan of some seminars and professional development programs. A good program will have a track record of success, will cost enough to be painful (so that you spend more energy to get value out of it), and will expose you to resources that you wouldn't otherwise stumble across.
Hi Zak, Who are some of your favorite big thinkers and why?
This is a great question, Dan.
I'd say I always have a rotating stock of thinkers I like to revisit and who heavily influence my worldview. These are the people who help me ask the right questions and understand how the systems around us work:
Aristotle (recommendation: Nicomachean Ethics)
Ayn Rand (recommendation: The Fountainhead)
John Taylor Gatto (recommendation: Dumbing Us Down)
Friedrich Hayek (recommendation: "The Use of Knowledge in Society" or "Cosmos & Taxis")
CS Lewis (recommendation: The Great Divorce)
Nassim Nicholas Taleb (recommendation: Antifragile)
Thinkers I have recently started exploring and whom I enjoy:
Rene Girard (recommendation: Things Hidden Since the Foundation of the World)
Tony Robbins (recommendation: Awaken the Giant Within)
Robert Greene (recommendation: Mastery)
James Carse (recommendation: Finite and Infinite Games)
Jordan B. Peterson (recommendation: Bible Lecture Series)
I may reply again if somebody isn't coming to mind. Of course, I love a lot of thinkers like Hazlitt, Orison Swett Marden, and the staple liberty thinkers.
Hey Zak. To what do you attribute your productivity and energy, and does this differ from other busy, productive people you encounter?
A lot of it is just doing things. You get momentum from accomplishing tasks.
Some of the least productive people I know sit around and read about productivity or motivation or energy but then never set goals and strive towards the accomplishment of goals.
One very important thing to remember is that fulfillment and success (as feelings and experiences) come from progress towards the accomplishment of goals, not from the accomplishment of goals.
Set things you want to get done and work towards them. As you chip away at these things, you find it easier to chip away at bigger things. Self-efficacy is a muscle that is developed over time.
I set results I want to hit every two weeks, review why I want to generate those results, and list the things I can do towards the accomplishment of those results.
As for writing, specifically: READ.
If you want to be a writer, read.
EVERYTHING I write is a remix of all the things I have read. That's how writing works. You bring things into the mind and they mull and stew with the other things you've brought in and new combinations come out.
It's rare that I meet highly productive people who don't have a strong reason for doing what they're doing. They may not have highly explicit goals (though they often do), but they do have a strong sense of meaning. That's important.
You seem to read a lot of non-fiction and deal in reason. What are your thoughts on the value of reading fiction? Do you find value in it? Any recommendations?
I admit that I don't read as much fiction as I probably should. The best fiction is that which can express points that are either too nuanced or too in-your-face to do well in nonfiction. A friend and I were discussing this last night, actually. The best fiction expresses points that could be done in non-fiction but people probably would not read or would not absorb well. Michael Crichton is the example my friend gave (I actually have not read any of his work).
I think CS Lewis is a good example of this, actually. I enjoy his work immensely.
Zack, how would you currently rate the various threats to liberty out there today? Left, right, indifference, politics in general? What do you think?
I'm not sure I fully understand the question - do you want me to rank-order the 4 categories you gave?
Regardless, I'm not really a fan of labeling right-or-left statism because they seem to both collapse into each other as they move closer to authoritarianism.
That being said, both the right and left probably offer more than liberty-oriented people first give them credit. Conservatism offers us pause when we are quick to look at the tyranny of traditions and reminds us that those traditions are probably a lot more complex than we first see. Liberalism tells us to push boundaries and try new things.
My worry with ID'ing one type of collectivism over the other is that, historically, it seems like people then swing towards the other type of collectivism really quickly.
Collectivism = bad.
Hey Zak! What do you think is the most ineffective way to learn something? What do you think is the most effective way? Should someone approach learning art history the same way they'd approach learning civil engineering or marketing?
The reality is that people really do learn differently.
I have met people who cannot learn from group projects and only from lectures.
I think most people learn well through doing and from working WITH masters of the craft.
Operative word here: WITH. Learning FROM masters of the craft doesn't always work becuase people are not very good at remembering their own path towards mastery. Follow them as they grow and learn from their mistakes.
Zak, 1) what do you consider the main/most important action items in the deschooling process? 2) how do you implement discipline and structure in your daily activities?
1) Learning how to set proper goals outside of coercion. To what do you need to strive and how do you set milestones to get there?
2) On my most productive days, I review what needs to be done the night prior, right before going to bed. I then make sure that the most important things are scheduled in on Google Calendar. Also, when something is very important to me, I announce I am working on it so that I don't not complete it. I find that to be a strong motivator.
What's an effective alternative to K-12 schooling (other than homeschooling)?
I like Sudbury Schools:
Peter Gray's book Free to Learn goes into good detail on why these succeed.
What does a typical day look like for you?
What do you recommend a liberty-minded teacher do when working in a highly regulated and coercive system? (I'm from Australia and we don't seem to have the freedom to experiment with schooling that you guys have across the Pacific).