Competence is something that cannot be taught from a book. It must be earned through practice.

The action-adverse environments of traditional schools do very little to encourage competence development. Students often grow up with only book knowledge, not ready to take on unfamiliar challenges.

In the 9th episode of the Success Without School series, co-hosts Deb Fillman of The Reason We Learn and Hannah Frankman of rebelEducator discuss building competence outside the school system.

Hannah and Deb go over why children learning in traditional schools skip over a major part of competence development, and how alternative schoolers can bridge this gap.

They recall instances where they had to help their students develop competence, Hannah as a coach at Praxis, and Deb while working at a school.

They discuss the value of teaching kids to raise questions, to learn on their own, and to maintain a high degree of self-agency, and how that helps kids develop into more competent adults.

The conversation concludes by covering actionable steps parents can take to help develop competence in their kids.

Topics Covered

  • How does Deb define “competence”? (1:55)
  • How does traditional schooling stifle competence? (3:57)
  • Hannah’s story of figuring out what to do when you don’t know what to do (8:38)
  • How teaching your kids how to learn is the greatest gift towards building competence (13:25)
  • Why we should teach kids to ask questions of their teachers and guides (19:14)
  • Hannah’s story of how she taught instruction-following college-aged kids the value of self agency (24:33)
  • How public schooling is killing ambition and emphasizing working towards very specific milestones(30:15)
  • How Deb taught her well-reading students to write just as well despite their doubts about their own ability (36:10)
  • Why competence can only be practiced and not taught (40:45)
  • Is the conflict-aversion mindset stifling the development of competence in kids? (43:30)
  • Final tips for parents on how to build competence in your kids (56:45)


Praxis: Praxis is a business skill-development bootcamp intended for high school graduates who want to enter the world of business without having to go through business school. Hannah worked as Praxis’s Program Manager, where she spent years managing their program development. . While working there, Hannah learned how to develop competence in coaching in spite of having less experience.

The Chronicles of Harris Burdick: This book by Chris Van Allsburg has beautiful illustrations that kids can use to weave stories. Deb used this book as an important tool to encourage some of her students who were good readers that they were good writers too.

Don’t Tell Me I Can’t: The autobiography of Cole Summers is an ambitious young homeschooler’s journey into navigating an impending environmental disaster, starting your own ranch, and learning to solve any problems that life can throw at you. Hannah recommends this as the number one book that parents thinking about homeschooling their kids should read.

Interesting Quotes

“Teaching your kids how to navigate situations that they have never seen before and they don’t know how to handle is one of the best gifts you can give them. It is pretty simple, and yet it is something that school teaches the antithesis of” – Hannah Frankman(13:25)

“Teachers are just human. They’re not magical people who know everything, and they’re not just bigger versions of you. They’re adults, but they’re still people, they’re still human beings. They might think that they have explained something the best way they coil have explained it, but it may not be the way that you need to hear it. So, without you asking questions, the teacher can’t know how to help you” – Deb Fillman (21:18)

“Competence (has to be learned) through action. You cannot learn competence through textbooks. There is no way you can sit down somewhere, read a book, and walk away feeling competent. Competence is a very physically grounding experience. Even if the work that you’re doing is all in your head or all virtual, it is still a real-world phenomenon. It is not something that exists in the hypothetical, academic, abstract.” – Hannah Frankman (40:45)

You can watch the entire episode on Youtube

Kovid Bhaduri

Kovid Bhaduri

Kovid Bhaduri is a self directed learner and the author of “A one stop guide to productivity”. He has previously worked in SEZ research and spends his free time playing music and learning economics.

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