Every morning, on the second floor of a commercial building in Brooklyn Heights, N.Y., children come to a place where there is no school principal and textbooks are replaced by Internet-cruising Chromebooks. The students can learn economics by playing an online game of pretend-dictator meets pretend-financial crisis. Training in architectural design can begin in kindergarten as children build their own cardboard castles using templates from Google Images. This utopian vision of education reinvented-aptly named AltSchool, and backed by Silicon Valley investors-promises an ultra-personalized learning experience; one where each child is special and schooling consists of a series of independent projects attuned to each student’s idiosyncratic passions and abilities. While AltSchool may be the tech-savvy embodiment of education reinvented, the alternative-education trend is not new. Nearly a century ago, there was the first “democratic” boarding school, Summerhill, in Britain, where children established their own rules and did what they wanted. In a 1999 experiment in child-driven education, scientist Sugata Mitra planted a computer in the wall of an Indian slum in New Delhi and watched as children with no formal education and no training figured out the basic computer skills they would need to become secretaries. In rural Massachusetts, Sudbury-founded in 1968-is a school run entirely by children (and a handful of adult “staff”). What’s interesting is that Summerhill and Sudbury are the exceptions, as nearly all of the other “democratic” schools that took off in the same era have closed. Some observers, like psychologist Peter Gray and Sudbury staffer David Chanoff, blame it on parental paranoia. Parents decided to a stick with a sure thing-conventional schools that promise passing results-rather than gamble on alternative schools that promise glory but have no track record. But maybe the radical chic of alternative education is hiding a profound flaw. Proponents of institutions like AltSchool argue that the current educational system evolved for a world we’ve outgrown. That a system that teaches how to calculate residuals by hand and how to use the subjunctive tense in Spanish worked well for our ancestors, but in an era of computer-generated mathematical modeling and live-translation apps, such skills are irrelevant. The solution, they say, is to revamp the existing system that may have produced a Mark Zuckerburg or Elon Musk but didn’t produce enough of them. Instead of wasting effort on story time, let’s teach 5-year-olds about tax brackets so that they can be their own accountant when they launch a startup that will make Snapchat look as relevant as MySpace. But what if, as we evolved for a world we have outgrown, we evolved a brain complex enough to be aware of its own shortcomings and smart enough to know that we are not as smart as we think? Isn’t that the point of standard education-to know things, so that we realize how much we don’t know? Perhaps the fundamental problem with these alternative schools begins with the way they deify the individual student by producing highly personalized learning experiences designed to meet each child’s individual quirks and needs. At a certain point in the bell curve, this will work. If humanity falls on a bell-shaped spectrum with the upper extreme being those with spectacular abilities in certain domains-the 7’3″ wingspan of Milwaukee Bucks player Giannis Antetokounmpo or the temporal lobes of Amadeus Mozart-then surely those with exceptional talents should spend their lives fostering the one thing they trump the rest of the world in. Yet for everyone else, the problem with the anti-standardization movement is that each child becomes his or her own standard-except that it’s long before the child has had the chance to figure anything out. As Harvard social psychologist Dan Gilbert has often told his students, the No. 1 myth when it comes to intelligence is that genes that influence IQ are “intelligence genes.” Perhaps, he says, all you got from your parents was a gene that made you tolerant of a tedious adult talking at you for 1.5 hours at a time, twice a week. If that is true, then perhaps the greatest gift of “conventional” schooling is not the content of what is taught-because content can be outgrown-but the tolerance to be bad at something and do it anyway. To sit in a class you have no interest in because you are not the beginning and end of all wisdom and knowledge. And to be bored even, because it is in those lulls that the best ideas are born.