Self-study, Self-exploration, Self-empowerment

“We’re obsessed with grades because we’re obsessed with data.” – Schocken

Shimon Schocken . from

Today’s post is a continuation of some thoughts on independent learning: self-study, self-exploration, and self-empowerment.

Shimon Schocken is a former dean at Interdisciplinary Center (IDC) Herzliya. He’s also taught at NYU, Harvard and Stanford. His current project focuses on developing instructional materials for early-age maths education, which he thinks can be transformed using low-cost tablet computers. He uses his other life passion, mountain biking, to teach adolescent boys in Israel’s juvenile detention centers valuable life lessons through challenging bike rides in remote locations. He was co-organizer and program chair of TEDxTelAviv 2010.

In this TED video Schocken summarises his thoughts on the value of learning through practical activities and first-hand experiences, also using technology for independent study and learning to solve problems:

He’s quoted as saying,

“Educators don’t necessarily have to teach. Instead, they can provide an environment and resources that tease out your natural ability to learn on your own.”

“Self-study, self-exploration, self-empowerment – these are the virtues of a great education.”

“Grading takes away all the fun from failing.”

Schocken stresses the importance of learning from mistakes, and the importance of not being afraid to make mistakes. As such, he makes clear that continuous marking, grading and testing is inappropriate and unnecessary in schools, as these things create stress in most learners and reduce enjoyment of learning. However, he has said the following about the use of grades in entrance examinations for the professions, etc:

I am not categorically against grading. In fact, many students thrive in a competitive, grade-based system. At the same time, there is a huge population out there which is denied decent career opportunities because – for one reason or another – they do not fit the conventional college grade-based system. The new wave of open-admission web-based courses (like Nand2Tetris) is perfectly suited for such self-learners. Now, it seems to me that this revolution provides a unique opportunity to reform our grading practices. In the extreme, we can outsource grading completely. For example, we can demand that different professions will administer proficiency exams, given outside the academic system. Such exams will be written by committees consisting of university professors and industry experts. For example, it is not too difficult to write an annual set of exams that will qualify people as Java programmers or algorithm designers. Any person should get the opportunity to take whatever courses he or she wants in computer science, and then take these proficiency exams. These exams may well have grades like fail, pass, and high pass. This is just one out of many possible ways to reform traditional grading and make learning less stressful and more meritocratic. Here is another example: in our K12 math learning software, we use neither multiple-choice questions, nor explicit negative feedback like “incorrect” or “false”. Why? Because we want kids to feel safe to explore and make mistakes. When a child makes a mistake, e.g. failing to divide a pizza correctly to several equal slices, we reset and shake the pizza pie slightly, to indicate that the task was not completed. The feedback that we wish to convey is not “wrong answer”, but rather “nice try, keep trying”. To sum up, let’s not take the current grading system for granted; let’s think creatively about innovative ways to motivate learners and evaluate their ability to excel in different professions.

Comments on Schocken’s TED talk include these:

Thank you Shimon for so eloquently and simply demonstrating what is wrong with education systems and how to fix it. I believe the tide will turn, those who stand in front of classes will lead the way and administrators, politicians and the media will have to follow. As you say, students learn best when they have the courage to learn. They need a nurturing environment, the freedom to experiment, access to tools and time to reflect. They do not need a top down imposition of someone else’s will. I love learning but hated maths when I was at school (preferred words to numbers). To a large extent, I still mistrust numbers. Perhaps apps such as yours will alter my perception of maths. – Nicole Feledy

Society needs more people like Shimon. Our job is to spread the word to transition into a saner world. Grades are degrading. That’s one of the reasons why I support the Montessori education system (no grades, no competition, rather cooperation). – Humberto Palladino

Schocken is spot on with his observations about the problems in our education system and recognizing the power of being self-taught. I believe our goal should not be to graduate students that are good test takers and get good grades, but to graduate students that are experienced learners! Once you learn how to learn, anything is possible. – Ariana Friedlander

Maria Montessori would have applauded Simon Schocken had she still been alive; what he has achieved is what she has been trying to tell people ever since the beginning of the last century; we need to create an environment conducive to self learning which is driven by curiosity and eagerness and willingness. – Froukje Matthews

Years ago i read a quote from John Naisbitt that said, “In a world that is contantly changing, there is no one subject or set of subjects that will serve you for the foreseeable future, let alone for the rest of your life. The most important skill to acquire now is learning how to learn.” This could not be more true than in today’s world. – Gilda Goldner

These are not only great virtues of teachers, they are also found in a great business leaders, politicians and sports coaches. Branson does it at Virgin, Larry and Sergey at Google do it, Steve Job’s at Apple did it! Rather than dictating and micro managing workers and staff, empowering staff, creating an environment for them to thrive . . . ultimately creates a greater employee and employer. Shimon’s perspective is spot on! – Extraordinary Isextraordinary


About 3D Eye

Gary Foskett and Clare Blackhall are educationalists, writers and consultants. We work with schools and other organisations who share our vision of how schools, businesses, etc should work in the 21st Century. We also run courses and contribute to conferences - speaking about our three dimensional model of intelligences and how schools, colleges and universities can develop the full potential of all their staff and students. We also offer consultancy for businesses and public sector organisations to support staff training and organisational change and development. For more detailed information read our blog at or see our website at
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2 Responses to Self-study, Self-exploration, Self-empowerment

  1. eof737 says:

    “In a world that is constantly changing, there is no one subject or set of subjects that will serve you for the foreseeable future, let alone for the rest of your life. The most important skill to acquire now is learning how to learn.” That is a great quote and important goal for us all as learners. 🙂


    • 3D Eye says:

      Thanks, Elizabeth. The whole debate about WHAT children should learn is crazy. We all know the saying about leading horses to water and not being able to make them drink. It’s HOW children learn that’s important; and also – whether they even WANT to learn! If they DO want to learn, then we need to show them how to become self-motivated independent learners. And of course they want to learn about things that interest them. Eventually we can lead them to places they may not have discovered for themselves, but there will always be a need to co-determine learning priorities. The business of “cultural literacy” and “key facts” that we wrote about this week is complete elitist nonsense.


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