Moontower #73

I kinda hated school as a kid. Sunday nights were sad. Like funerals where the weekend was laid to rest.

Why did I hate school?

It was a tiresome place to be. The waking up early didn’t help. I discovered the snooze alarm at an early age. But that could have been overcome if the destination was fun. But it wasn’t. I was bored. That’s not an “I was too smart for school” flex. It’s just that I liked playing more. I think the only aspect of school that kept me sane is the fact that I’m a pleaser. I’m happiest when I get approval. Getting good grades was a way to do that, at least from adults.

As I got to high school, getting good grades was a path to a good college which was a path to a good job, which was a path to money. I didn’t think much beyond that (money or lack thereof was a source of baggage and well beyond the scope of this post). My scholastic life started with A’s as a path to approval and ended with a 4.0 as a path to money.

Education As A Byproduct

If I learned anything along the way it was an accidental outcome of trying to win the report card tournament. Inverting, good grades are a lossy way to measure learning. The correlation between getting good grades and learning is pretty hazy.

Here’s a non-exhaustive list of what good grades actually indicate:

  • Horsepower that’s well-matched to school: Reading, spelling, and arithmetic are easier if your parents are good at them and you’re not dyslexic.
  • Obedience: Your homework makes it to the teacher’s desk without a dog eating it.
  • Competitiveness: You heard ranks were being assigned to humans so you paid attention.
  • Fear: You were afraid of short term pain (getting grounded) or long term pain (being broke).

And finally,

  • Some actual learning. You could use this “reading” thing to follow Nintendo Power‘s instructions to defeat Ganon. You finally found a use for English class.

Notice how good grades are driven by extrinsic motivation more than a desire to learn. That’s a shame because losing a desire to learn was not inevitable. We are built to learn. Not for any grand reasons necessarily. We don’t need to pretend we emerge from the womb with little monk minds ready to contemplate the mysteries of the world. Learning is just the tool by which we solve problems.

If you have ever witnessed the frustration of a gesturing, prelinguistic child you know the power of motivation. Learning words has a direct bearing on the solution to the problem the child is solving for — nuanced communication. If a child points to her belly because she has a stomachache and mom thinks she’s just hungry the child realizes words are more effective than charades. Necessity, meet your baby, invention.

In contrast to a toddler’s home environment, the school environment concocts contrived problems that feel irrelevant. This makes actual learning an inefficient way to get what they want — good grades. School severs the link between learning and solution. It has replaced this link with “good grades are a solution to getting approval/eliminating pain”.  My most pressing problem in the confined setting is how do I get my parents or teacher off my back so I can do what I want. Not how long it took train A to overtake train B if A is moving twice as fast B.

For the kids who aren’t totally defeated by the seeming irrelevance of their education, getting good grades becomes an all-consuming priority. Not learning. We dangled “approval” in front of a child instead of a pertinent goal that would call for actual learning. To a social animal in a group setting, the returns to approval dwarf the returns to true understanding. This is a recipe for an underwhelming formal education.

Instead, we used our capacity to learn to onboard the wrong lessons.

I have been wrestling with an irony I keep seeing in others:

People who call themselves lifelong learners didn’t actually start learning until after they were out of school. (Raises hand)

I published a new post which remixes some riffs on education that have been simmering in mind. It’s heavily inspired by writing from Nabeel Qureshi and Eliezer Yudkowsky.


  1. What school teaches us
  2. What we mean by learning
  3. What’s necessary to learn
  4. How to actually learn

To read more here’s We Don’t Need No Education (Link)

The Money Angle

  • The Most Important Number In Personal Finance

    It’s not net worth or passive income or portfolio return or savings rate.

    Nick Maggiulli considers a ratio I’d never thought of. In tinkering with the idea I ended up creating a social security website login. You’ll see why. (Link)

  • Corporate Governance “Dark Arts”

    Mike Puangmulai keeps his eye on company directors and management for tells. They have a repertoire of legal but underhanded moves at their disposal to enrich themselves. Mike looks for director behavior that signifies a stock may be set to make a move. If you want to read the tea leaves you’ll need to study the “dark arts”.

    In the 5th installment of his series on the dark arts, Mike breaks down how Kodak may have telegraphed the announcement that sent its stock soaring from $2.50 to $33. (Link)

Last Call

  • Google is caught red-handed falling for Genius’ “corporate entrapment”. (h/t Byrne’s daily letter)

    Genius Media Group was pretty clever when it used digital watermarks to show that Google had been copying its huge collection of song lyrics. One of those watermarks spelled “redhanded” in Morse code. That Google was caught lifting another site’s song lyrics made international news — and even merited a mention during Congress’ Big Tech hearing late last month. But was Google’s alleged scraping (direct or indirect) illegal? On Monday, a New York federal judge dismissed claims by Genius.

    This reminded me of how cartographers deliberately small errors in their maps to spot forgeries. (Link)

  • My favorite discovery this week is

    These are 10-minute videos recorded from people’s windows. A window in Lucerne, Switzerland. The view from a Taipei hi-rise. A busy street in Brooklyn. Hawaii, Ghana, Normandy, Madrid, Amsterdam. This is just the best site. It was started during Covid to give people an escape. The only downside is there are only about 50 windows. I’ve cycled through them all. I think I need a trip. (Link)

From my actual life 

My close friend Rebecca wrote to our college crew this week:

They say that trauma is passed down from one generation to the next. One week ago a whole new generation of Lebanese children experienced an unbelievable trauma as the most destructive non-atomic explosion in history tore through Beirut.  In an instant, all of the scenes from my own childhood that I thought we had left behind were flooding my phone.

To all of you who have reached out, I cannot thank you enough.  My family and friends are all safe although some are injured and many have sustained serious property damage.

I write today to humbly ask for your support so that the Lebanese people know they are not alone.  In coordination with the Center for Arab American Philanthropy, I have launched the Lebanon Relief Campaign to give you one central location where you can donate to a group of vetted NGOs doing amazing work on the ground in Lebanon. 

Every bit helps in the quest to raise $100,000. I’m proud of our college network for helping the families jarred by a senseless disaster. I’m especially proud of Rebecca for taking the initiative to put this together so the rest of us can easily give.

Learn more about the campaign and its beneficiaries. All donations will be tax-deductible through CAAP. (Link)

Our friend Ruby from college and her family has endured the unimaginable. My college friend readers already know the story. Many others, especially in tech or in NYC, have seen it in the news.

But Ruby wants you to know Fahim Saleh not as just a tech entrepreneur but as a brother, son, and friend. Her tribute is beautiful. Parts of it are so real you will need to halt yourself to imagine and feel. Read Mourning My Baby Brother, Fahim. (Link)

I didn’t know Fahim other than his images from Ruby’s Instagram feed over the years. But her words matched up well with the light in his eyes and smile.

I’m sharing because Ruby wants people to know him. And her family wants the word spread with the hashtag #justiceforFahim.

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