Why Our Coercive System of Schooling Should Topple

Written by Peter Gray.

I’ve been called a crazy optimist, a Pollyanna, a romantic idealist. How can I believe that our system of compulsory schooling is about to collapse? People point out that in many ways the schooling system is stronger now than ever. It occupies more of children’s time, gobbles up more public funds, employs more people, and is more firmly controlled by government – and at ever-higher levels of government – than has ever been true in the past. So why do I believe it’s going to collapse – slowly at first and then more rapidly – over the next ten years or so? Here are four reasons:

1. Our coercive schools have become increasingly and ever more obviously harmful to kids.

Decades ago, schools were tolerable primarily because they didn’t take too much of young people’s time. Children and teens had much time after school, on weekends, and all summer long for self-directed pursuits. But over the years, the school system has intruded increasingly, and ever more disruptively, into children’s and families’ lives. The length of the school year has increased (it now averages 5 weeks longer than in the 1950s). The number of years of required attendance has increased. The amount of homework has increased immensely, especially in elementary schools. Recesses have been reduced, or even been eliminated. Creative activities, such as art and music, have regularly been dropped from curricula in favor of more time for worksheets and test preparation. Teachers have been given less freedom to depart from the standard curriculum, and ever-greater pressure has been placed on children to score high on standardized tests.

Children now often spend more time at school and at homework than their parents spend at their full-time jobs, and the work of schooling is often more burdensome and stress-inducing than that of a typical adult job. A century ago we came to the conclusion that full-time child labor was child abuse, so we outlawed it; but now school is the equivalent of full-time child labor.

The increased time, tedium, and stress of schooling is bringing many kids to the breaking point or beyond, and more and more people are becoming aware of that. It can no longer be believed that schooling is a benign experience for children. The evidence that it induces pathology is overwhelming. Here is just some of that evidence:

  • A large-scale study involving hundreds of students from many school districts, using an experience sampling method, revealed that students were less happy in school than in any other setting in which they regularly found themselves.1
  • Verbal abuse from teachers is a common occurrence. In one survey, for example, 64% of middle school students reported experiencing stress symptoms because of verbal abuse from teachers.2 Another study revealed that nearly 30% of boys are verbally abused by teachers in kindergarten, and the abuse increased in years after that.3 Surveys of adults indicate that between 50% and 60% recall school-related experiences that, in their view, were psychologically traumatic.4
  • In a study in which adults were interviewed to find out about positive, peak learning experiences occurring in their schooling, few could recall such experiences, but many recalled negative experiences, which interfered with rather than supported their development.5
  • Hair cortisol levels in young children were found to be significantly higher in samples taken two months after starting elementary school than in samples taken two months prior to starting elementary school.6 Hair cortisol level is reflective of chronic stress, the sort of stress that can seriously impair physical growth and health.
  • A large-scale national survey conducted by the American Psychological Association (reported here) revealed that U.S. teenagers feel more stressed-out than do adults and that school is by far the main cause of their stress (noted by 83% of the sample). In the same study, 27% of teens reported experiencing “extreme stress” during the school year, compared to 13% reporting that during the summer.
  • The rate of emergency mental health visits leading to at least one overnight stay (the sort of visits that derive from serious breakdowns or attempted suicide) at a children’s medical center was found to be more than twice as high during school months as compared to summer vacation months (here).
  • At present, 20% of school-aged boys are given the diagnosis ADHD, a “disorder” that is largely defined in terms of failure to adapt to the tedium of schooling, and most of that group are treated with strong drugs to get them to adapt (here).

It is not unreasonable to say that standard schooling is state-sanctioned (or even state-mandated) child abuse. More and more people are coming to that realization, and that is why more and more people are looking for ways to remove their children from the schools. (For more about the harm done by standard schooling, see here.)

2. Evidence has mounted that children and adolescents can educate themselves remarkably well without coercive schooling.

Summerhill (the famous boarding school for Self-Directed Education founded by A.S. Neill) has been operating in England for nearly a century. Sudbury Valley (the famous day school for Self-Directed Education founded by Daniel Greenberg and others) has been operating in Massachusetts for nearly half a century, and dozens of other schools have been modeled after it. Forty years have elapsed since the educator and philosopher John Holt coined the term unschooling to describe the homeschooling practice of allowing children to pursue their own interests, with no imposed curriculum.

Over the last few decades, many thousands of young people, from a wide range of backgrounds, have educated themselves through these means, and follow-up studies have shown that they are doing very well in life. They have had no apparent difficulty being admitted to or adjusting to the demands of traditional higher education, if they choose to pursue it, and they have been successful in the full range of careers that we value in our society. As adults, they generally report that their experience with Self-Directed Education benefitted them by allowing them to develop their own interests (which often turned into careers) and by fostering such traits as personal responsibility, initiative, creativity, curiosity, critical thinking, and ability to communicate well with people regardless of status.7 [Note: I have elaborated on the biological foundations for Self-Directed Education, and the reasons why it works so well, in many previous posts, but for concise definitions and explanations see here and here.]

In recent years, partly because of increased awareness of the success of Self-Directed Education and partly because of the growing toxicity of coercive schools, ever more families are choosing Self-Directed Education for their children. As more families are choosing it, many others are getting to know people who have chosen it and can see firsthand the evidence of its success. At some point, when everyone sees the evidence, the gates will open and the coercive schools will begin to empty out. People will begin to demand that some of the public funds currently spent on coercive schools be spent on learning centers and other facilities that support Self-Directed Education, so all families, regardless of income, will have that option.

3. Self-Directed Education is easier to pursue now than it was in the past.

Self-Directed Education is becoming ever easier to pursue. One reason for this lies in the increased numbers of families taking this route and, consequently, the increased acceptability of Self-Directed Education in the culture at large. The availability of schools and learning centers designed for Self-Directed Education has been increasing, and the number of homeschoolers engaged in Self-Directed Education has likewise been increasing. As Self-Directed Education becomes more common, as more and more people, including education authorities, know young people taking this route and see their success, the social barriers against it are decreasing.

Another reason for the increased ease of Self-Directed Education lies in technology. Today, anyone with a computer and Internet connection can access essentially all the world’s information. Self-directed learners who want to pursue almost any subject can find articles, videos, discussion groups, and even online courses devoted to it. They can gain information and share thoughts with experts and novices alike, throughout the world, who have interests akin to theirs. Students in standard schools must study just what the school dictates, in just the ways that the school decides; but self-directed learners can find subjects and means of study that match their own particular interests and styles of learning. Self-directed learners are not held back by the slow pace of a school course, nor are they rushed ahead when they want more time to think about and delve deeply into any given aspect of the interest they’re pursuing.

4. Changes in the economy favor the skills developed by Self-Directed Education.

Because of changes in how we make our livings, the skills exercised by coercive schooling are even less valuable, and those exercised by Self-Directed Education are even more valuable, now than they were in the past. We don’t need people who can memorize and regurgitate lots of information; we have Google for that. We don’t need many people to do routine, tedious tasks dictated by others; we have robots for that.

What we do need, and will continue to need, are people who think critically and creatively, innovate, ask and answer questions that nobody else has thought of, and bring moral values and a passionate sense of purpose into the workplace. These are the kinds of skills that are continuously honed in Self-Directed Education. In coercive schools, the requirement that everyone follow the same curriculum, motivated by reward and punishment rather than genuine interest, guarantees that most students will not develop passionate interests, deep understanding, or a sense of purpose other than that of making it through the next hoop.

“Okay,” I hear some say, “these are all good reasons why our forced system of schooling should topple soon; but will it topple soon?” Yes, it will, because it really is reaching the end of the line. In fact, much of the increased odiousness of school has come about precisely because of the increased recognition that our schools are failing. Stupidly, in recent times we’ve tried to “fix” the schools by doing more of what doesn’t work. But that can’t go on forever. The revolution will come not because authorities within the coercive school system become enlightened, but because a growing number of families who are victims of that system will realize that they have an option – a good option – and they will take it.

But let’s not just wait for that social change to occur; let’s push it along. Let’s develop an organized movement to inform people about this option and how they can pursue it. That’s the purpose of a new nonprofit organization that I’m a part of – the Alliance for Self-Directed Education. Maybe you’d like to join it.


1 Csíkszentmihályi, M., & Hunter, J. (2003). Happiness in everyday life: The uses of experience sampling. Journal of Happiness Studies, 4, 185–199.

2 Irwin A. Hyman & Donna C. Perone (1998). The Other Side of Student Violence: Educator Policies and Practices That May Contribute to Student Misbehavior. Journal of School Psychology, 36, 7-27.

3Brengden, M., Wanner, B., & Vitaro, F. (2006). Verbal abuse by the teacher and child adjustment from kindergarten through grade 6. Pediatrics, 117, 1585-1598.

4 A. G. McEachern, O. Aluede & M. C. Kenny (2008). Emotional abuse in the classroom: Implications and interventions for counselors. Journal of Counseling and Development 86, 3-10.

5 K. Olson. Wounded by School. Teachers’ College Press, 2009.

6 Groeneveld et al (2013). Children’s hair cortisol as a biomarker of stress at school entry. Stress: The International Journal on the Biology of Stress, 16, 711-715.

7 See research studies reported in: (a) American Journal of Education, 94, pp 182-213; (b) Other Education: The Journal of Educational Alternatives, 4, 33-53; and (c) Book by Greenberg, D., & Sadofsky, M. Legacy of Trust: Life after the Sudbury Valley School Experience; and (d) book by Greenberg, D., Sadofsky, M., & Lempka, J. The Pursuit of Happiness: The Lives of Sudbury Valley Alumni.)

Adapted from the Alliance for Self-Directed Education.

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Political Means and Economic Means

Written by Gary Galles.

March 30th (2014) marked the 150th anniversary of the birth of someone who introduced a crucial distinction in understanding political reality–sociologist Franz Oppenheimer. In The State (my English translation of which is celebrating its 100th anniversary this year), he contrasted the “political means” and the “economic means.”

There are two fundamentally opposed means whereby man…is impelled to obtain the necessary means for satisfying his desires. These are work and robbery, one’s own labor and the forcible appropriation of the labor of others…I propose…to call one’s own labor and the equivalent exchange of one’s own labor for the labor of others, the “economic means”…while the unrequited appropriation of the labor of others will be called the “political means.”

Oppenheimer directed his distinction toward developing the conquest theory of the state.

All world history…presents…a contest…between the economic and the political means…The state is an organization of the political means…forced by a victorious group of men on a defeated group, with the sole purpose of regulating the dominion of the victorious group over the vanquished.

Oppenheimer drew some very important conclusions about the relationship between the nature of society and the nature of the State.

[A]lways, in its essence, is the “State” the same. Its purpose…the political means… Its form…dominion.

Wherever opportunity offers, and man possesses the power, he prefers political to economic means…

By the “State,” I do not mean the human aggregation…as it properly should be. I mean…that summation of privileges and dominating positions which are brought in to being by extra economic power…I mean by Society…all purely natural relations and institutions between man and man…

The “state” is the fully developed political means, society the fully developed economic means…in the “freemen’s citizenship,” there will be no “state” but only “society.”

The “state” of the future will be “society” guided by self-government.

Franz Oppenheimer’s insights were particularly influential on Albert Jay Nock. Particularly in Our Enemy the State, Nock expanded on them, arguing that the State (in contrast with the voluntary arrangements people make to live together, which he called government) was based on theft, so that “the State is fundamentally anti-social.”

The State has said to society…I shall confiscate your power, and exercise it to suit myself.

[T]he interests of the State and the interests of society…are directly opposed…

The State…has invariably, as Madison said, turned every contingency into a resource for depleting social power and enhancing State power…

There are two methods…whereby man’s needs and desires can be satisfied. One is the production and exchange of wealth…the economic means. The other is the uncompensated appropriation of wealth produced by others…the political means.

The State…is the organization of the political means…[which] stands as primarily a distributor of economic advantage, an arbiter of exploitation…an irresponsible and all‑powerful agency standing always ready to be put into use for the service of one set of economic interests as against another.

The State is not…a social institution administered in an anti‑social way. It is an anti‑social institution…

State power has an unbroken record of inability to do anything efficiently, economically, disinterestedly or honestly; yet when the slightest dissatisfaction arises over any exercise of social power, the aid of the agent least qualified to give aid is immediately called for.

Under a regime of actual individualism, actually free competition, actual laissez‑faire–a regime which, as we have seen, cannot possibly coexist with the State–a serious or continuous misuse of social power would be virtually impracticable.

The distinction between the economic (voluntary) means and the political (coercive) means offers individuals a powerful tool in understanding society. As Nock wrote, “as long as the State makes the seizure of wealth a matter of legalized privilege, so long will the squabble for that privilege go on.” Therefore, restraining State power is essential to society, because “The weaker the State is, the less power it has to commit crime.” Having moved far along a mistaken path, recognizing that insight grows ever more important.

Originally published at Mises.org.

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Politics without Romance? Yes and No

James Buchanan, a pioneer in the development of public choice, viewed his approach to the study of government and politics as the analysis of “politics without romance.” But Jim couldn’t really live without the romance, and no sooner had he expelled it out the front door than he let it in the back door, calling it “constitutional political economy” and supposing that “constitutional level” politics, related to the most basic rules for collective decision making, could be separated from and made more durable than the “rent-seeking” decision-making related to ordinary politics.

My understanding of political history led me to conclude that Jim was engaged in wishful thinking in the “constitutional political economy” phase of his project. In my view, constitutional issues are as constantly and as hotly contested as the issues of ordinary politics—politics is politics, and political actors seize every instrument available for attaining their ends.

Yes, one can adopt a constitution that makes its amendment difficult, but that very feature explains why, from the outset, political actors in the United States of America usually undertook to amend the U.S. Constitution not by explicit, formal amendment in accordance with the stipulations expressed in the original document, but by judicial reinterpretation of legal and constitutional meanings. Judges that make law, as opposed to merely interpreting it, are not, as many conservatives imagine, a relatively recent occurrence for which Progressives or New Dealers are to blame. Such judicial law making goes back at least to the Marshall court of more than 200 years ago, and conservative justices practice it as well as progressive ones.

Notice how, today, appointments to the Supreme Court elicit such fierce politicking. (Indeed, this heated wrangling has been the case for a long time.) Such would not be the case if there were no judicial law making. All sides expect it, however, and act accordingly.

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Acceptance vs. Tolerance

Written by Scott Noelle.

Acceptance is one of your greatest sources of Power. Without it, you couldn’t receive or own anything, handle unexpected change, or listen effectively.

In general, acceptance means being at peace with What Is. When you refuse to accept something, you sacrifice your peace.

Non-acceptance creates resistance and shifts your focus away from what you want, toward what you don’t want.

Can you see, then, how you disempower and undermine yourself when you deem your child’s behavior “unacceptable”?

It’s entirely possible to accept something while choosing not to tolerate it. For example, if your child were trying to hit you, you could accept (make peace with) that — even while using protective force to prevent the hitting.

The difference is how you feel in the process:

  • Tolerance without acceptance leads to resentment.
  • Tolerance with acceptance leads to appreciation.
  • INtolerance without acceptance leads to conflict.
  • INtolerance with acceptance leads to creativity.

In other words, when you accept What Is — AND you’re clear that you want a change — it’s easy to solve problems creatively.

Originally published at DailyGroove.com.

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Kids Learn Naturally: Why Compulsory Schooling is Unneccessary and Even Harmful, A Case Study

Written by Graham Smith.

The unschooling path is not the easy road. In fact, it is akin to taking a brambly forest path when a brand new five-lane freeway lies outside the door. Sure, the freeway is easy and convenient. The problem is, you don’t really see much of anything.

Here in Japan, the typical approach to child rearing is as follows:

  • Have kid.
  • Wait until kid is 6 months to 1 year old.
  • Put them into government-sponsored daycare and get back on the hamster wheel generating money for the state.

Now, admittedly, this assessment ignores much of the positive aspect of approaches to child rearing in Japan, such as the emphasis on the importance of breastfeeding, skin-to-skin contact, co-sleeping, healthy eating and a relatively high awareness as regarding vaccine risks.

That said, Japan, like all other developed nations, gets it dreadfully wrong when it comes to “education.”

Before I get into the meat of this report, I’d like to share a few quotes from one of my heroes, the late master educator and lifelong learner/former public school teacher, John Holt:

“We destroy the love of learning in children, which is so strong when they are small, by encouraging and compelling them to work for petty and contemptible rewards, gold stars, or papers marked 100 and tacked to the wall, or A’s on report cards, or honor rolls, or dean’s lists, or Phi Beta Kappa keys, in short, for the ignoble satisfaction of feeling that they are better than someone else.”

“The true test of character is not how much we know how to do, but how we behave when we don’t know what to do.”

“We can best help children learn, not by deciding what we think they should learn and thinking of ingenious ways to teach it to them, but by making the world, as far as we can, accessible to them, paying serious attention to what they do, answering their questions–if they have any–and helping them explore the things they are most interested in.”

Kids learn naturally. Everybody does. Schooling is not necessary for learning.

This should really be a “duh” kind of statement, but surprisingly, due to the remarkable amount of statist (government) brainwash the average individual is exposed to from the time they pop out of the womb to adulthood, most individuals come to view compulsory public education as a kind of natural part of life. Sun, moon, trees, school.

This is remarkable, not only in view of what actually goes on at these public centers of “education,” but also in view of the fact that compulsory education is a relatively recent phenomenon. Ubiquitous mandatory public schooling in the U.S. is less than 100 years old, with the final state to adopt legislation requiring attendance being Mississippi in 1918. Even after these mandates, attendance requirements remained much more lax and flexible than today, often allowing children to work on their family’s farm and be more engaged in day-to-day community life. (Source.)

I quote John Taylor Gatto, probably the only award winning public school teacher to have the cops called on him at an award acceptance speech. This snippet is from a speech he gave at his reception of the New York State Teacher of the Year Award, called “The 7-Lesson Schoolteacher:”

Think of all the great natural sequences like learning to walk and learning to talk, following the progression of light from sunrise to sunset, witnessing the ancient procedures of a farm, a smithy, or a shoemaker, watching your mother prepare a Thanksgiving feast–all of the parts are in perfect harmony with each other, each action justifies itself and illuminates the past and future. School sequences aren’t like that, not inside a single class and not among the total menu of daily classes. School sequences are crazy.

I highly recommend reading this speech. It’s amazing for its depth of insight and clarity. Mr. Gatto did not remain a public school teacher for very long after this, if I am not mistaken. In his own admission, he tried to sabotage his job as much as possible by actually educating kids and affording them on-site job experience by allowing them passes to miss his class.

My Son, Isaiah–An Informal Case Study

Isn’t it amazing that you learned to speak your native language fluently with no textbook to “teach” you? Isn’t it amazing that you learned all those complex and disjointed rules of grammar without even trying!? I mean, people study English for years and years as a second language and still can’t grok the overall basic structure and proper usage.

I came out of my mom as a ball of flesh with no knowledge, textbooks or “teachers” and could speak better English than most foreigners by age 3 or 4. I have been studying Japanese for 7 years now and still have to ask my 4-year-old son now what he means by this or that Japanese word or usage.

Life is learning. Language has a definite purpose for us, and utility. In short, learning the language our mommy and daddy use to communicate has meaning. We need to get that milk! We need our blessed diaper changed! This language stuff gets shit done!

Without meaning, “education” is a breathtakingly inane and pathetic waste of an individual’s time.

My son, up until the time of “dropping out” of his preschool/daycare center, was speaking largely Japanese. He spent most of the day around Japanese speakers (his peers, teachers, and so on) and so this makes a lot of sense. What is the use of learning a language you don’t use? There is no meaning here.

Once he became bored with the preschool, however, and told his mother and I he didn’t wish to attend anymore, something “strange” happened: I noticed an almost immediate jump in his English language ability. In about 3-months’ time, after being home with me more often and hearing me speak to him in English, he speaks to me now almost exclusively in my native tongue, and is making it his own.

What’s more, he goes out of his way to ask me to translate words, sentences, and phrases for him so he can remember them and use them next time. Anytime he doesn’t know how to say something, he asks me in Japanese: “Daddy, how do you say ________ in English? Now remember, I am not prompting him to do this. English now has a utility for him and he is making it his own. This is a public school “educator’s” fantasy, is it not? The reason kids are not taking this kind of initiative at the public schools, generally speaking, is easy to see. To them, the curriculum is meaningless to their own lives. And, indeed, their individual, unrepeatable, organic and beautifully unique lives and experiences are not respected as such. They are simply meant to “fall in line.”

(As a brief aside, I can remember trying to learn algebra in high school and feeling extremely stupid. I thought something was wrong with me because I was not interested and continually failed to answer the teacher’s prompts when called upon. It wasn’t until I got to college and had a wonderful Sri Lankan professor tell me that “numbers are beautiful” that I started to get it. She made the whole thing approachable and illuminated numerical connections to patterns in nature and philosophy. I wasn’t stupid, after all. This teacher, unlike my teacher in high school, just managed to show me numbers in a new way that made sense to me, and inspired me.)

A Video to Illustrate

Notice how Isaiah repeats my English translation of what he conveys in Japanese with no prompts or cajoling to do so. Learning is always an individual experience that occurs naturally. It is not an exaggeration to say that life is learning.

Isaiah says: “Koopa だけ get inside だよ” (Only Koopa can get inside).
My reply: “Only Koopa can?”
Isaiah: “うん、そうだよ” (Yes, that’s right.) “Only Koopa can.”

I don’t “teach.” I just provide the resource. He can take it or leave it as he deems necessary and meaningful to his own individual path.

Closing: Why Public School is Poison, and Antithetical to Real Learning

I have had friends argue that the public school system has saved many children who are from low socioeconomic backgrounds, dysfunctional families, and abusive relationships. One such friend spent a significant amount of time working with “delinquent” and disadvantaged youth at a center in Canada. He saw a lot, and I certainly acknowledge that public schools can, in certain instances, be a kind of safe-haven and springboard to opportunity for certain children from extremely tough, abusive, and impoverished backgrounds. All that said, it is my view that private schools could do it 1,000 times better, if the legal red tape of state restrictions and requirements were removed, and the free market in education were allowed to function. It is not within the scope of this article to dive into all this now, however.

Suffice it to say that school is, overall, a place detrimental to the healthy development of children. Anyone who reads the history of public schooling can see that this is no accident. Compulsory, state-sponsored “education” is designed to confuse, disenfranchise, and discourage. A class of little worker bees is needed. Real critical thinking and a passion for life are detrimental to this aim.

The science is out. Child psychology and experts in human learning processes have weighed in: KIDS DON’T LEARN LIKE THIS. In spite of all the evidence, empirical, anecdotal, and otherwise, the big, outdated, greasy engine of state-sponsored education grinds on, oily and putrid, smashing the minds of this planet’s number one, most valuable resource: the open minds of children ready and excited to learn and to be alive.

The moral of this story?


Thanks for stopping by today. If you found value in this article I certainly appreciate your upvote. Also, I would like to encourage to you to read more by these great thinkers:

John Holt
John Taylor Gatto
A.S. Neill

Originally published at steemit.com.

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Success Follows Learning and Doing

Written by Connor Boyack.

I don’t know what I’m doing.

This is a message I try to convey when speaking to teenagers. It’s intimidating, this grown up stuff. Adults do a lot of adulting. That seems daunting. And they think we’ve got it figured out.

Fact is, I don’t.

For example, I’m now the CEO of a successful non-profit making a huge impact on people’s lives for the better.

I didn’t learn how to do that in school. I didn’t study it in a book. I didn’t have a mentor to hold my hand along the way.

Every day has presented challenges. I figure them out to the best of my ability. I ask questions, or I pretend like I already know the answer. I move forward, rather than sit still. I experiment, innovate, and don’t assume that others know what they’re doing, or that I should follow them.

I didn’t earn a degree in non-profit management. I didn’t research this field extensively before entering it.

And yet, somehow, it’s worked. I’ve learned. We’ve had success. Many have been impressed. (Many have also been angry… #sorrynotsorry)

The point is, the world is a crazy place and your life trajectory may take a number of different turns. Entire industries now dominate the market that didn’t exist two decades ago—and the pioneers moving those areas forward didn’t learn what they now do in school, because it didn’t even exist back then.

This truth is quite reassuring for those in the rising generation, I think, because if there’s one thing we adults are good at, it’s pretending like we know what we’re doing.

Quite often, we don’t.

Originally published at Facebook.com.

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