I woke up at 4am today to write. I’ve been doing that as a way to get time alone. It was great for a while, until my youngest son started waking up at 5am.

I said, “Can you think of something to do by yourself?”

Now he wakes up at 5am and composes music.

Who is this kid? He practices cello two hours a day. He practices piano a half hour a day. And now he’s composing music.

His composition teacher told him to write five bars of music. He has written fifty. And it reminds me of when I was in second grade and my teacher told us to write a one-page story. I wrote fifty pages. About a family that drives to Kansas. I couldn’t get to a satisfying resolution so the story just went on.

What I discovered is that I loved the process of writing. I didn’t care that the story would never end.

I realize that what my writing showed me is the same thing that my younger son’s compositions show: kids figure out what they should be doing by trying lots of stuff and then doing more of what is right for them.

If I were arguing in favor of school I’d say that forcing kids to do a lot of stuff they don’t like in school makes it more likely that they’ll stumble on what they do like. And this is largely how the workplace functions in one’s early 20s. You have no idea what you like so you do a wide range of entry level work until you stumble on something.

But then I think most of our work life isn’t this way. Most of our work life we know what we like and we teach ourselves the next thing we need to know in our path to mastery.

After age 25 or so, everyone has had enough time outside of school to start managing their own learning. They don’t need to do a range of things they don’t like to know what they do like.

So in fact, the painful extension of childhood well into everyone’s 20s that the New York Times calls emerging adulthood is actually the result of school being so completely irrelevant to life that kids are recuperating from it instead of living adult life.

But emerging adulthood is actually a relatively new concept from the 90s. So maybe, for the first half of the 20th century, school was good preparation for work because most people were factory workers or ladder climbers. But today most of us are knowledge workers, trying to recover from a childhood that goes on forever because school didn’t prepare us for what’s ahead.