MISSION STATEMENT: Our goals are: to restore to school teachers and students the autonomy and independence needed to maintain a healthy and hospitable school environment, and to children and parents the constitutional rights of full and complete citizenship appropriate to their age;

to debunk the pernicious myths surrounding schooling and education that persist and that function to perpetually proscribe progress and enlightenment;

to increase awareness and knowledge through research and informational and educational programs among the general public and within schools of the science and knowledge that has the potential to radically transform schooling, education, and ultimately society, and

to dismantle through legal actions, the superstructure that creates the authoritarian bureaucracy which chronically leads to great harm to children and to our nation.  

 

Who we are/What we are about:

          It is a safe assumption made by most people that, if parents weren’t forced by law to send their kids to school as our typical schools currently exist in most places around the US, and if parents were to choose to allow their children to stay home or do something other than attend schools, those children would indeed elect not to attend. It is also a safe assumption, that nearly all parents would still feel a powerful need to compel their children to attend school even in the absence of a legal requirement, since school is seen (however wrongly) as the place to become educated and as a resource where their progeny can be properly supervised and socialized.

 

        Young kids and especially teens generally prefer NOT to follow orders, listen to adults, work at studying, stay quietly in one place, or be forced to leave their cell phones, computers, and others devices and toys behind. Children, much like adults are inclined to avoid discomfort, being controlled and ordered around, rigid or rigorous routines, and repetitive tasks or drudgery. Many would be anywhere else BUT school if they wouldn’t face truancy charges and if their parents and most others didn’t believe that school and education are synonymous.

 

SCHOOLS HAVE FACED CHRONIC PROBLEMS & FAILURES

        Despite a strong faith among the general public in the quality of education provided by our schools, the affection that many have for their own school, and the necessity of attendance by all children of specified ages, most of us are acutely aware that they have been plagued by constant conflicts, controversies, claims of various kinds and degress of malaise and dysfunction, and even accusations of corruption or virulent politics. Regardless of how anyone feels, the reality is that the history is replete with difficult issues and dilemmas and there are no easy solutions. It is easy to blame teachers, parents, a lack of resources, or the students themselves, and those things do indeed happen all too often. However, only those who are completely irrational will deny that there are structural, institutional, legal, and philosophical flaws with the existing paradigm.

 

THE GOOD NEWS - CHANGE IS POSSIBLE

            We on the ACES team (this site is associated with AUTHENTIC CHOICES IN EDUCATION & SCHOOLING, Inc., a nonprofit organized to improve education and schools) have as a primary objective the implementation and facilitation of the ONLY effective changes that will allow for schools to become more inviting, hospitable, beneficial, productive, and educational so that children would have a strong natural desire to attend regularly. We believe schools can be places where young people of all ages thrive and learn and where they would enjoy meaningful relationships which contribute to strong character, self-discipline, and self-respect, while at the same time providing highly effective instructional and educational opportunities. They cannot do that as presently structured with any regularity and consistency.

 

CHOICE IN EDUCATION MEANS YOU OWN IT

          When we speak of authentic choices, we are not referring to the “school choice movement”, as the popular effort has become known which involves flexibility in the placement of students according to their preference and according to school reputation. We claim that in order for education to be owned by the individual child, and for school to be regarded by children as a privilege and an opportunity, each child must be afforded the chance of initiating their daily attendance on the basis of some intrinsic and personal motivation or goal, even if that is merely a consequence of the parents’ decision to require their attendance voluntarily. Furthermore, it is a sad reality that the ostensible choices given to students in schools currently are artificial, superficial, and extremely limited and patronizing. 

 

          Ultimately, the issue of compulsory attendance boils down to a question of who has power and who controls how children’s lives will be affected. We are highly accustomed to thinking that children are not capable of exercising power over their own lives. No one who cares about their welfare and understands their vulnerability would suggest that they should not be subject to reasonable and sensible rules and restrictions during childhood.

 

           However, children who are not continuously physically restrained or totally repressed do in fact possess power by virtue of their ability to withdraw, disrupt, damage, and assault or insult. By setting up conditions that are destined to invite challenges and to pit the power of children against their guardians we guarantee a continual power struggle that results in losses all around and makes schooling much more about behavioral control than about learning or education.

 

COMPULSORY SCHOOLING IS NOT A MOOT QUESTION

             A list of questions and answers will follow this introduction. A most significant question is never asked, however, which we will be referring to often. That question is whether or not the issue of compulsory school attendance is a settled matter. The definitive answer is that the issue is still a highly relevant and crucial matter that begs a more thorough and insightful analysis.

              It is no secret that the attendance laws were originally pushed through in an aggressive promotional effort by wealthy zealots with inordinate power and influence who had a religious, economic, or nationalist agenda and whose motives did not include anything resembling an education for the masses. The movers and shakers behind the proposed legislation were paternalistic business tycoons and a contingent of true believers who saw social engineering as the solution to the perplexing new problems brought by urbanization and the Industrial Revolution (think Bill Gates, Mark Zukerberg, Michael Bloomberg, etc.). The heavy-handed approach they took in the mid-nineteenth century may have accomplished some positive purposes that helped usher in a new and modern existence for many with respect to training and conditioning, but education was NOT ever one of their goals.

 

PLATO SAID IT ELOQUENTLY – WHY DO WE DOUBT IT?

          The following quote from Plato’s Republic is quite clear and unquestionably accurate:

"The elements of instruction...should be presented to the mind in childhood, but not with any compulsion; for a freeman should be a freeman too in the acquisition of knowledge. ...Knowledge which is acquired under compulsion has no hold on the mind. Therefore, do not use compulsion, but let early education be rather a sort of amusement; this will better enable you to find out the natural bent of the child."

 

THE SCHOOL REFORM TRAIN NEVER LEFT THE STATION

          We will show how the laws that compel attendance in school defeat their own stated and unspoken purposes. We will expose the fact that “school reform” has not ever been a possibility under the unworkable paradigm adopted well over a century ago in most states. School reform, or “educational reform” remains an impossible illusion except for very restricted token experiments and exceptional alternatives designed to distract and lower the pressure on officials and authorities to solve insoluble problems under mandatory attendance laws.

 

         The “reform” train never left the station because the emergency brake has been locked securely in place. The power to effect innovation has never been applied to drive the wheels. Progress toward a more effective and child-friendly (or child-centered, to use the popular lingo) school environment has been too much of a threat and too disruptive of the power structure to be permitted, despite innumerable attempts for well over a century and a plethora of scientifically validated concepts and strategies that would otherwise make a world of difference.

 

LAWS SET IN CEMENT THE RELATIONSHIPS & THE LIMITATIONS

              Making the schooling and training of all children a matter of law and the legally assigned province of the state in each location thereby made state authority and the authority of its officials and agents a permanent and immutable feature. Change can only take place if it poses no significant or perceived challenge to that power and authority or to the daily rituals and restrictions associated with an authoritarian bureaucracy. Autonomy for teachers or students is by definition a challenge to authority.

 

             The following four quotes from psychologist Bruno Bettelheim should give us a clue about the dangers inherent in a coercive and compulsory attendance law setting the stage for an authoritarian bureaucracy. He is speaking about autonomy (which is absent in schools) and how crucial it is to a meaningful and useful existence:

           “Whether in childhood or adulthood if one finds it impossible, first to influence one's social and physical environment, and later to make decisions on how and when to modify it, this is harmful if not devastating to the human personality..."

 

             "Ones sense of identity, the conviction of being a unique individual, with lasting and deeply meaningful relations to a few others; with a particular life history that one has shaped and been shaped by; a respect for one's work and a pleasure in one's competence at it; with memories peculiar to one's personal experience, preferred tasks, tastes and pleasures---all these are at the heart of man's autonomous existence. Instead of merely allowing him to conform to the reasonable demands of society without losing his identity, they make it a rewarding experience, quite often a creative one."

              "...Liberty demands not only equality of opportunity but a variety of them. It also means a tolerance for those who fail to conform to standards that may be culturally desirable but are not essential for society to continue. Present day society often fails to offer this tolerance."

 

This quote from Albert Einstein reinforces the points made above:

                "One had to cram all this stuff into one's mind, whether one liked it or not. This coercion had such a deterring effect that, after I had passed the final examination, I found the consideration of any scientific problems distasteful to me for an entire year... It is in fact nothing short of a miracle that the modern methods of instruction have not yet entirely strangled the holy curiosity of inquiry; for this delicate little plant, aside from stimulation, stands mainly in need of freedom; without this it goes to wrack and ruin without fail. It is a very grave mistake to think that the enjoyment of seeing and searching can be promoted by means of coercion and a sense of duty. To the contrary, I believe that it would be possible to rob even a healthy beast of prey of its voraciousness, if it were possible, with the aid of a whip, to force the beast to devour continuously, even when not hungry---especially if the food, handed out under such coercion, were to be selected accordingly,"

Albert Einstein (quoted in Examining in Harvard College)

 

FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS & COMMONLY MISPERCEIVED ISSUES OR ERRONEOUS THINKING RELATIVE TO SCHOOLS & EDUCATION:

Question 1: How has the world that children inhabit and experience today changed from the past and what does that mean for how schools conduct their business and interact with students? 

      ANSWER: The world has indeed changed and it is crucial for schools to adapt. However, children still have much in common with the children of decades and centuries ago. It is the responsibility of the school to deal with children as they find them and as they experience the world without undue duress, neglect, or abuse. Children hunger for meaningful direction and information and they are oriented as always toward understanding their world, learning new things, and gaining valid knowledge about themselves, their friends and families, and their world.                                     The problems with which schools have been plagued perennially do not lie in the novel distractions and obsessions of new technologies or an old reluctance of students to apply themselves. Their problems are the result of a sclerotic and immutable framework. When children are given the stimulation, encouragement, instruction, and autonomy that they need when they need it in a healthy and hospitable environment, they are invariably anxious to please and to incorporate information and knowledge into their already considerable and comprehensive perspectives and knowledge base. It is simply wrong to operate on the assumption that children will resist education or learning.

 

Question 2: Isn’t the neglect on the part of many otheriwse caring and capable parents or on the part of certain other dreadfully inadequate parents to prepare children for school and for the work that must be done and their failure to teach students proper respect, diligence, discipline, and the basic principles of language, as well as social and behavioral rules beforehand, one of the biggest problems faced in schools? 

 ANSWER: NO, not really. The favorite pastime of those who claim to be educators is pointing the finger at parents and others, or in blaming external social and cultural factors for the failures built into the school apparatus. The solution is not to blame the parents or the “educators” or teachers instead, either. But, while many parents are indeed completely inadequate in the performance of their parental duties and most are too preoccupied with bare survival, work, and various other duties and obligations, the laws requiring them to send their children to school usurp their parental rights and thereby place the full responsibility for their instruction, training, and welfare upon the state and its officials by default.

             In a perfect world parents would send perfect children to perfect schools. But the world is far from perfect. Schools must take children in their human imperfection and with whatever problems they bring. It is part of their charter and mandate to do whatever possible to advance the capabilities, skills, and character of each and every attendee. The truth is also, that the vast majority of parents attended similar schools with nearly identical problems and shortcomings as a consequence of these same laws. They were not given the knowledge, experience, training, or education required to become the best parents that they might be in the circumstances in which they find themselves. At least some of the reasons they lack the skills needed to rear their children better are identical to the reasons why the schools of today are failing to accomplish the most basic training for so many.

 

Question 3: Since education in the US is ostensibly free and schools are there to offer ample learning and educational opportunities, shouldn’t students be expected to sit down, shut up, and take full advantage of their best chance of becoming the best person they can be?       

Answer: Yes, and no; mostly no. This is best answered by breaking it down into several component parts:

               (A) People of all ages do not learn as well in a classroom with others or as part of a group being instructed by a teacher or following a set curriculum. Mass education is a misnomer. It is impossible by definition to educate a group of students in confined spaces with one set of instructional materials or one lecture set or a single approach and plan. In addition to the problems of distraction, diffusion, and the lack of individual attention, the inevitable result is a lowest common denominator effect, rote instruction or memory work, and a program of naked indoctrination focused on behavior and attitude.  

                    These three quotes from The Lives of Children, by George Dennison are instructive and apropos here:

           "The preferences of children lie close to their actual needs"

 

             "...And so the teacher cannot merely instruct, for in the whole of life there is no occasion within which mere information, divorced from use and the meanings of experience, appears as a motive sufficient in itself. The task of the educator is to provide experience. In order to do this, he must first interact with his students, not as a teacher, but as a person; for there is no other way to provide the second essential of experience, which is continuity. Dewey does not mean here merely the continuity of a curriculum, but the continuity of lives within which the school itself is but one of many functions. Now certain conditions are indispensable to interaction and continuity. If the teacher is to interact, he must know his students individually. But how can he know them unless they are free to reveal themselves, each one in his uniqueness? From considerations such as these, follow the structure of the school, the freedoms, responsibilities, and relationships I have described in earlier chapters."

p.256.

               "I would like to close this book with a word to parents and teachers, for we are not faced today by simple choices among methods of mass instruction---as if any of them were working---but by the Biblical question in all its severity: "If the salt hath lost its savor, wherewith shall it be salted?' This is as much as to say that any hope for a new spirit in education lies quite outside the present establishment. It lies among parents themselves, and in revitalized communities, and among younger teachers. I would like to say why this is so, why our school professionals, taken as a class, an institutionalized center of power, are fundamentally incompetent and must be displaced. My purpose is not to castigate the bureaucrats, but to recall parents and teachers to an awareness of one crucial truth, a truth that should be, but is not, the gut-wisdom of everyone: that in humane affairs---and education is par excellence a humane pursuit---there is no such thing as competence without love. This is the sort of statement that strikes many people, and especially our technocrats, as being sentimental, and so I would like to speak of it in some detail and make clear its truth. And I want to stress that I am not speaking here of excellence of performance, but of mere competence. Let me stress, too---because the question of competence comes down in the end to the characteristics of individuals---that I am not saying that among our fifty thousand bureaucrats there are no persons of real worth. The issue is precisely that of the effect of the institution upon the individual. The institution, the educational system in all its branches, is corrupting to the individual, and though the corruption may in many cases take the form of considerable expertise, the fact remains that competence is destroyed.

In naming love as the necessary base of competence in humane affairs, I am referring not only to the emotion of love, nor just to the moral actions and feelings that belong to caring, but to loving and caring in the very generalized, primitive sense in which they constitute a background condition of life, as we say of young children that they live 'as if in love,' and as adults, when they are simplified by disasters and extreme demands, reveal a constructive energy and compassion which are obviously generalized and basic." p. 275-276. 

 

                  (B) The concept of “basics” or of a “common core curriculum” is pure bunk founded on a completely erroneous and outdated idea of learning. We hear a lot about “getting back to basics”, or complaints that the “basics have been neglected in favor of social learning or something more sophisticated or entertaining.                                                                                                      

              Each child at any age has understandings and conceptions that are idiosyncratic and unique. The basics are different for each and every child. No reduced formula or distilled pre-ordained “basics” exist that can be applied to diverse individuals or groups of individuals. The child formulates questions and has curiosity or conclusions that require testing (by the child) based on previous experience and knowledge (yes, even the youngest child possesses knowledge!). Only an adult or other person with affectionate and intimate connections to that child can elicit and answer those specific and particular questions.                                                         

                    (C)  Learning instructional, informational, practical, or academic material or skills generally requires intense concentration, disciplined effort, commitment, a degree of repetition, a functioning memory, a reasonably healthy body, mind, and attitude, and a cognitive schema into which it can be fit logically and with comprehension. This is often described as work and is compared to occupational endeavors practiced by adults in their employment or profession. It is a gross mistake however, to make that negative comparison and to portray learning as bitter medicine or an unpleasant and onerous repetitive or rote task that must be endured and suffered in the interest of distant and diffuse future goals.                   It is also a grave mistake to ignore the usually positive and affirming emotional or psychological component of learning. The belief that children cannot be trusted to pursue knowledge or to subject themselves to learning experiences that demand effort and attention without being prodded and pressed is a vestige of a very misguided and sorry era of human evolution. Utilizing coercion and browbeating in schools (due primarily to unconstitutional laws and a pathological mythology) is not only highly counterproductive; it is the antithesis of education. Education involves leading, not pushing from behind with a bulldozer.                            

 

                   D: Compulsory school attendance is predicated on an anachronistic image of knowledge and of learning or the acquisition of knowledge that is derived from false (however brilliant for his time) ideas espoused by the great philosopher, Descartes. Descartes claimed that knowledge is disembodied. He posited a separation between mind and body (or brain and body) that made sense given the primitive state of physical science at the time, but that is bizarre given the state of knowledge about cognition today. Knowledge does not float around in some ephemeral space external to the brain and body! Knowledge does not reside unchanged and unchangeable as a gift from god or gods.                The information or symbols in books, literature, and other “media” has therefore been viewed as knowledge since Descartes, and as such has been supposed to be transferrable or transmissible to students more or less intact. This is profoundly important and a profoundly mistaken conception of knowledge acquisition. Knowledge is embodied. It exists ONLY in a human body/brain. NO knowledge exists that is not embodied. Knowledge can only exist within the synapses of the brain or the physical manifestation of the mind of a living and breathing human being.

               To the extent that education is the acquisition of knowledge, ALL of the following are essential and rudimentary; perception, experience, cognition, emotion, sensory input and output, physical motion, and memory. Setting motionless at a desk or merely absorbing information through the visual or auditory channel is an extremely limiting and often boring and barren process. The student/child is constantly processing a phenomenal amount of data and sensory input in a more normal environment.

                To avoid confusion and overload the student must be permitted to integrate everything at a pace and via a medium that is appropriate and comfortable. Schooling in a rigid authoritarian framework can NEVER deliver education with these conditions. Conversely, schooling under compulsory attendance can ONLY happen where an authoritarian milieu facilitates legal requirements.                                                                                                                   

                    (E) The most egregious thing about asking the question whether children should be held to certain academic, intellectual, behavioral, or testing standards determined by supposed experts, is that blaming the victim for unfulfilled goals is presumed to be acceptable. The child is a convenient and entirely defenseless target in most instances when practices and policies inevitably go awry. The child is labeled as lazy, over-active, unmotivated, uncooperative, too highly distractible, or handicapped by some fabricated “learning disability”, when in fact the school has failed miserably in providing for the child’s needs and nature.

 

Question 4:  What kind of alternative do you suggest for schooling or for dealing with youth if they are no longer bound by law to attend?

             Answer:  Some variation on this theme is most commonly asked by skeptical people who have assumed we are extreme Libertarians or fanatics of some sort. (We are not). The question is actually somewhat silly. The alternative to forced attendance is voluntary attendance. Period! There is a plethora of alternatives in most states, if not in all states, falling generally under the rubric of “free schools”. Throughout the past centuries a solid record of achievement has been established within those exceptional schools where the handicaps of authoritarianism and bureaucracy have been temporarily suspended, starting with Socrates meeting young people where he found them and giving them his thoughts and stimulating them to think their own thoughts.                                                            

          Given the ‘cult of school’ that encompasses nearly everyone in the US, any parent that would refuse to send their child to school, if schools were forced to compete for students and if the element of arbitrary authority were eliminated, would be a rare parent indeed. Existing laws that protect children against educational neglect, abuse, or exploitation are and would be available in those few cases. The culture and character of schools would suddenly be subject to change, once legal impediments and formal and informal vested interests were dispensed with.

          The number of young people who have dropped out, who are suspended or expelled, or who are otherwise not in attendance, often for the most specious of reasons on any given day is astounding. School is no longer a privilege or the sure ticket to success. However, restoring the rights of children and their parents would serve to restore those institutions to an elevated status. That is, in part why we are here to serve and inform.

 

Question 5:

          Don’t you think that blaming every problem that we have in schools on compulsory school attendance laws is a gross over-simplification, and don’t you recognize that there are a whole range of complex and complicated problems as a consequence of social, technological, political, and demographic changes in the last fifty years or so that make the job of educating much more difficult?

              Answer:

          We try to be careful not to make over-generalized statements that isolate this one major mistake as the sole cause of myriad problems. Anytime large missions are undertaken that affect masses of people there are sure to be huge glitches and setbacks that create doubt about the whole concept. Military people have some classic expressions to describe this common phenomenon that we won’t repeat here. No such ambitious and well-intentioned operation could possibly have a record of achievement even approaching perfection or a 100% success rate.                     However, that is precisely why we are so opposed to the element of coercion! If you know there will be human factors and logistical factors and social factors that cannot be controlled completely (or even moderately) and if you know that the granting of immense and primarily autocratic power over virtually every aspect of an institution (indeed, this is why it’s called an institution!) opens the door wide to excesses, abuses, excuses, and regimentation, why would you set in the stone of law the requirement for all children to participate, for all parents to relinquish their parental responsibilities, and all teachers to take their place just above students in a pernicious pecking order? The invitation to disaster could not be more direct if it were hand-delivered on a silver platter.

 

Note: These Questions and answers might be moved to the FAQ page. There will definitely be more questions and answers there, although there has only been time for a few so far.

 

Note: This website will be evolving and expanding for an indeterminate period, depending on time, resources, and the amount of assistance available. Currently, it is the product primarily of just one principal author and one or two technical assistants. Some pages will clearly not be completed or have a conclusion or satisfactory summary until time allows. It has been decided however, that the message as it exists so far is important enough and well-enough organized to date to merit publication in order to inform and involve others who may find it inspiring and motivational.

 

ADDITIONAL DISCLAIMER: This website is not about teacher bashing or blaming teacher unions or for that matter the denigration or criticism of any individuals or groups for the obvious problems in schools. We have all had our share of good teachers and even some great teachers whom we have loved. While there are reasons why the public schools have become havens for those few teachers who are not well qualified, the vast majority are highly competent professionals, dedicated, caring, and willing to learn all they can about their field or their special subject matter. The chronic problems are structural and built into the framework that establishes our institutions as top-down bureaucracies. Teachers are typically victims of a systematic assault on autonomy and on organic processes and normal relationships because of external factors caused by the legal framework that dictates arbitrary conditions.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


 

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School Fools, the Reform Charade Parade &

 “Tipping Point” Pointers

                                            

Let me start by saying that I am disgusted and completely demoralized by the gross failure of so-called educators, school officials, scholars and researchers, to accept the reality that so urgently faces them every day with respect to schooling and education. Their complete impotence in their failure to protect millions of children from abuses, incompetence, disillusionment and cynicism should disqualify them from being privileged to spend time with students or having any say in their schooling.

The immutable politics of authoritarian and bureaucratic institutions and the associated boredom and disengagement are known to be inimical in many ways to students. Yet, no one dares name and directly oppose the core problem in order to even start a dialogue about finally implementing authentic change.

I am likewise disappointed more than words can express by supposed “experts”, alternative schooling advocates, journalists, and others (including most parents and researchers), who unthinkingly buy into the institutionalized school hype and who are co-opted by the school administrators, board members, and other school boosters at the expense of students. The premise that education can be forced on children and that school is synonymous with education is our first and most hazardous error.

Everywhere one looks in the field of schooling, which has come to be (incorrectly) identified as the “field of education”, one can see little else but denial, irresponsible resignation, and an acceptance of mediocrity and failure. A bizarre capacity for contradiction and cognitive dissonance is routine, par for the course. School fools are the educational quacks who repeat an endless cycle of hand wringing about how bad things are (things are even worse than they can imagine) and then in the next breath dismiss the bad news as if it was inconsequential. They are suddenly elated and exuberant about how phenomenally wonderful things will be the day after tomorrow (in their dreams!) as if major impediments could merely disappear in a flash.

Criticisms run the gamut as chronic problems and failures are well-documented and rebroadcast far and wide, leading many to demand changes, known generally as “school reform”. Still, denial is the fallback position and reforms never materialize on any scale or for any appreciable period. The complaints and facts are somehow drowned out by the joyous chorus of an imaginary bright future in the coming new phase brought on by excitable gurus and bright new leaders with all manner of fads, pet projects and “flavors of the week”. Life goes on as if there is really nothing at all wrong.

We have as a people a love/hate relationship with schools. We nearly universally conflate schooling with education despite the fact that schooling is in many respects antithetical to anything that can legitimately be called education. Education cannot be mass produced as if in a factory. That is a fact that cannot be denied no matter how hard we try to pretend it isn’t true. “We” simultaneously recognize that schools are doing inestimable harm and share many characteristics with prisons, while we claim that they are the great American success story and marvelous invention for progress!

Dark Matter Matters

Physicists tell us that there is a mysterious material in our universe that is invisible, which is only detectable by observing its effect on the tangible or visible material that has been observed or discovered. They believe it is definitely there but it not quite like any material that can be found in the periodic table.

There is a widespread mythology relative to schools that which has an uncanny resemblance to dark matter in that it is everywhere in the school and education universe, yet is unseen and known only by its effects. This powerful mythology has profoundly enveloped every student and every adult who has been a student. It has myriad elements and aspects that despite being patently and demonstrably false have led to the creation of world views or ‘phenomenological fields’ that unconsciously and almost universally equate school with education automatically, even though schools are designed specifically to impede the more organic educational processes.

Yes, you read it correctly. Schools are NOT designed to speed children along in their learning, discovery, critical thinking skills, social development, or cognitive growth. They are not even good for health and physical development on the whole, and that has been well known and proclaimed by the more perceptive scholars for decades.

There is a ‘cult of school’ in which the reality of failure only increases the resolve of the heavily indoctrinated true believers to invest more faith and confidence in the potential of the schools to magically save us from ourselves. The primary operating thesis behind these awful institutions is a lack of faith in children.

Few people involved with schooling acknowledge the innate talent, intelligence, and capacity for good of children generally. Along with a firm conviction that young people must normally be controlled, programmed, disciplined, and behavior-modified like performing circus animals, the self-identified “educators” believe that children cannot think without their step-by-step instruction.

The popular consensus is that children should be provided with representative glimpses of reality through instruction, lectures, and drill, which replace and modify the more vivid and real pictures they are forming with the aid of their own experience, personal educational efforts, and exposure to the real world (which is completely dissimilar to the contrived school environment) despite assumptions and claims to the contrary. If life were indeed like school, suicide would become much more prevalent.

 

A Fundamental Myth for Starters

One anachronism of major significance that lies at the root of our conundrum is the naive belief that there are people who can break down subjects, disciplines, or skills into subparts or “basics” for all children of certain ages, grades, or levels of development. These supposedly inexperienced, ignorant, and uneducated children can then be taught this formulated and predigested rudimentary material in phases, while grouped together in confined spaces, forming building blocks on which understanding and utility for the children are allegedly built.

Obviously, there is some truth to the idea of finding concepts and basic principles or skill sets that are easier for novices to grasp and work with or to practice over and over in order to advance their capabilities. Teaching relies on making the complex less confusing, intimidating, or incomprehensible, and practice usually makes perfect.

However, children undergo processes from birth if not before birth in which they are forming some fairly sophisticated conceptualizations about all manner of things. There are numerous dimensions along which they will have formed patterns of thought and cognition and highly intricate systems that work synergistically. It is foolhardy to think that large numbers of children can be slow-walked through the identical steps at the same pace without having a clear sense of where each individual child falls along a continuum.

The supposition that basics can be spelled out with uniformity and simplicity ignores several features of learning and knowledge accumulation which are well known to researchers, psychologists, and true educators, which make the focus on manufactured basics irrelevant and counterproductive.

Children vary widely in how they use and understand language. They employ dozens of methods and mechanisms for approaching new ideas and they have almost universally developed “theories” or ideas, beliefs, feelings, perceptions, attitudes, and sensations relative to various aspects of life and knowledge that are quite radically unique and idiosyncratic long before entering school.

If an adult who hopes to be effective in teaching does not become intimately aware with respect to the thought processes, conceptualizations, and knowledge of each individual child being mentored, all sorts of barriers are erected causing disorder and disengagement. Confusion reigns in classrooms and particularly within the minds of vulnerable children (which typically also includes those who are exceptionally “gifted” academically or intellectually) thanks to their collective conditioning and spoon fed Pablum. Boredom is rampant in classrooms regardless of sugar-coated techniques designed to artificially turn learning into fun.

Academicians, researchers, and scholars have made a similar error with IQ testing. When tests are administered to measure intelligence, only a limited few aspects of intelligence can be measured in this way and only with regard to certain cultural facets and with regard to certain individuals whose language experience and capabilities match those expected by test designers. Such tests have led to ludicrous types of discrimination and favoritism and do real damage to confidence and self-esteem on the part of many, while giving a false sense of superiority to others.

A Second Fundamental Myth That Follows from the First

Schools as we know them require a curriculum. Without plans and officially approved content and course designs with specific designated steps to be followed, the belief on the part of these bureaucrats that students are progressing and learning what is deemed as appropriate and acceptable would always be hounded by a constant fear of misdirection and pandemonium. The constant worry about contamination; wasted effort and time; inadequate learning regimens or the teaching of harmful or ineffective content would stop the authorities in their tracks. 

A helter-skelter route of development resulting in a lack of uniformity, consistency, testability, or continuity is to be anticipated by school officials and “experts” in any school where an authority is not micro-managing every aspect for every participant. An organization must be organized. An institution must institute somehow. A school must have its rules, authority, content, and discipline if it is mandated and chartered by the state.

Unfortunately, just as with the “basics” myth, imposing a curriculum that is structured by external “experts”, administered by teachers who have their own peculiarities and idiosyncrasies, and engineered to direct whole groups of students, each who have their own perspectives and needs, the messages get lost in the mad shuffle. There is no element of integration or relevance to particular students’ lives and cognition. Material is predigested and Dead on Arrival.

 The problem is not that there is a curriculum; the problem is that a curriculum that is not organically grown in the school through the intimate interactions of teacher and student following the specific interests and questions posed by students can engage only a few students who are adequately primed to find its content useful and comprehensible.

An equally troubling issue is that a curriculum developed to be dispensed to all students under the auspices of the state and as part of the official school production has the distinct characteristics of a program of indoctrination. It is not possible to present content in this context and to incorporate it into a testing regime as anything other than indoctrination.

A Third Myth – But Who’s Counting – There are Too Many to Count

Another of the myths that is quite fundamental and endemic to schools as we know them is the underlying presumption that children must be brought, kicking and screaming if necessary, to a learning environment. This cynical concept has a very long history and deep roots in religion and tradition.

The image of children as unruly, willful, or wild animals needing to be tamed and controlled can be traced to back even before the concept of “original sin” became the dominant western view. We have been gripped by the not-so-subtle message behind the laws requiring school attendance in every state, which wrongly supposes that real disciplined study and learning is bad tasting medicine that must be forced down the throats of uncooperative or willful children for them to become properly educated and civilized.

Paternalism is generally motivated by good intentions, sincere concern, and a desire to protect. However, when it is institutionalized and perverted by a need to control and by a fundamental lack of respect and regard, it can quickly become a decidedly destructive influence. This, coupled with the innate need on the part of all children for a degree of independence and freedom of exploration and unfettered learning on one’s own terms leads to an unsustainable circumstance.

Children who feel constrained, confined, and conscripted into a holy enterprise that they don’t see as worthy of their time and attention must be cajoled, badgered, browbeaten (or actually physically beaten!) into submission and into participating if they don’t happen to be among the few who relish that kind of group and group-think experience. Tolstoy wrote essays on education in 1862 delineating the reasons why attendance laws would be catastrophic. His predictions were spot-on and continue to be in evidence in schools daily.

An overwhelming body of research provides ample proof that children are anxious to learn. They know the difference between trivia, meaningless drivel, memory work, and busy work as opposed to genuine learning and teaching. True educators know that children and young adults are thrilled to gain insights, make actual discoveries or accrue bona fide knowledge, and to apply their whole being to solving problems and expanding their fields of awareness. Therefore, two opposing philosophies clash on a daily basis. One insults children as incompetent and indolent, while the other revels in their innate capabilities.

The more enlightened people in and around schools struggle valiantly to find ways to create conditions for authentic educational opportunity. Many of the others offer lip service and tepid support for a more humane and “liberal” approach. Yet, the two schools of thought encompass profoundly divergent beliefs and feelings with just the one perverted by misanthropic and anachronistic concepts continuously reinforced by law and consensus.

The doubts and fears of the traditionalists and misinformed benefactors cannot be overcome despite their best efforts to figure out where they went wrong. If they could interact with students on a one-on-one basis all the time in much smaller classes, they might be able to change their bad habits, but that isn’t going to happen for the vast majority.

Myth Number Four

In the interest of time and space, we will stop at myth number four. For any more, readers will have to get a copy of the book coming in a year or two (or, twenty years at the current rate of progress).

Myth number four is also essentially as fundamental as the other three discussed. This one is an all-encompassing view of knowledge that is centuries out of date. The way that we have all learned to think about knowledge through a million messages and cues within our culture is that it is something we must get second-hand from others. Whether it is from the great masters today or of the past, or whether from one exceptional teacher or from books and other media provided by these knowledgeable people, we are never allowed to think of ourselves as a primary source of knowledge. Schools pretend to dispense knowledge like so much rice and beans.

There is a mystical quality to this idea of borrowed knowledge, since those creators of such special and elevated knowledge ostensibly derived their revered knowledge and wisdom from some unearthly superiority or from a god or gods, making them authorities or originators on a wholly different plane from ourselves. This is pure bunk, of course.

No one should denigrate the value of the ideas and conceptualizations that can be found in books and other sources, or the brilliance of great leaders, teachers, and masters in various fields. When we are taught and properly informed by others we are stimulated and changed in our thinking and knowledge.

But, we are not ever receiving knowledge as it was recorded in some totally intact, unaltered form that is on loan from a source and superimposed somehow upon our brain. Regardless of age, we receive information, data, language, images, or conceptualizations that must be integrated with the significant knowledge we already possess as a result of our cognitive powers and creations. This new coherent picture is further modified, interpreted, and processed to create new and original knowledge in the process, whether correct or incorrect, useful or not useful.

The process is extremely complex in that what we perceive and experience in our conscious minds depends upon many factors, including our belief systems, conceptual grasp or familiarity, emotional makeup, language ability or limitations, memories, current physical state and attentional status, etc. This process begins at or before birth. A one-to-one correspondence from the knowledge of others to our own is impossible and would not be desirable even if it were possible, since that would lead to stasis.

Neuroscience and other research studies have shown very convincingly that cognition is a result of interactions between synapses within the body and most significantly the brain as a function of both internal and external stimulation. Knowledge is not something external to the body that can be absorbed or copied and recopied, and it certainly doesn’t come from a deity which transmits via some mysterious mental telepathy.

Knowledge is embodied. Anything that is not embodied is mere information, symbols, or data. This has phenomenal implications for education. It means that the way we think about schooling and education are and for generations have been radically erroneous. The kinds of things being proposed for “school reform” will never move the needle a bit in a hundred years – literally.

The Would-be Fixers and the Cult of the Alternative Cures Advocates

School reform has been the watchword almost since schools were first established. We won’t waste precious time here talking about how thousands of attempts to fix the chronic problems of schools have only compounded the problems for generations. Presumably, anyone who has read this far is well aware of the gross failures of reform efforts.

Educational reform is impossible because, for one thing, schools are not the real problem. We will most probably always need schools to offer certain services and to train and indoctrinate young people into the society and culture. The problem, to start with is the false assumption that schools can offer meaningful education on a mass scale to all. The problem is that myths are perpetuated by the schools themselves, where vulnerable children are a captive audience in the literal sense and where the state has a death grip on every aspect because of attendance laws that require an authoritarian bureaucracy.

When laws mandate attendance, there must be a power structure to guarantee enforcement. The entire apparatus must be rigidly controlled to maintain the illusion that a valid service is being provided. Meaningful reform requires a dismantling of the power structure and the complete elimination of the ability of well-meaning but misguided teachers and others to dictate to children and to arbitrarily superimpose upon them their beliefs and ideas about all manner of things. This cannot begin to happen while laws are on the books requiring attendance. Nevertheless, the would-be reformers keep coming at an astonishing pace.

Currently, we have a new crop of saviors who have put their faith and all their marbles into “un-schooling”, “de-schooling”, home schooling, “free schools”, and now, “Self-Directed Education”. There is no education that is not self-directed, in fact.

However, these cheerful people will not be disabused of the powerful belief that the outdated model of schooling that is prevalent today will be abandoned by the general public simply because it is so destructive and pathological! Their “tipping point” hypothesis posits that traditional schooling is being rejected at an accelerating rate, which will quickly (in perhaps a decade) result in empty schools of the traditional type to be replaced by wonderful new community centers, or other places in which children enjoy the autonomy, respect, and authentic educational opportunity that children need to thrive and become whole individuals.

This brave new world would be great, except that their optimism is utopian and ludicrous on its face. A preponderance of scientific evidence proves beyond all reasonable doubt that climate destabilization is a result of human activity, yet there are large numbers of people around the country who are and will remain dyed-in-the-wool climate deniers. How does anyone convince themselves that the schools will self-destruct due to obvious failures?

Traditional schools have maintained an overwhelming monopoly for many decades because they methodically and incessantly hype their own crucial importance and sacred merit to children who are subjected to a sort of mass hypnosis and whose parents are nearly all devoted converts despite their own bad experiences in nearly identical schools. People typically value their school experience highly because of the myths referred to above, especially the myth that as children they are inadequate, indolent, and desperately in need of discipline and academic instruction of the kind offered. Nostalgia plays tricks on the mind, as well. The messages are drilled into our consciousness through myriad exposures and means.

The people in the alternative “movement” disappoint and disgust me more than the traditionalists and would-be reformers, even though I agree with them completely on almost every issue with respect to the mis-education of students and the need for freedom in schools or in alternative situations. They have become a new cult. They are unable to recognize how unrealistic their objectives are for the majority, now and in the future, because they prefer the same sort of magical thinking that characterizes very young children.

Furthermore, they take a completely passive approach and refuse to engage in fighting the one primary thing that has disadvantaged innumerable children and destroyed many lives. Many of them are former teachers or professionals and they have the support of enthusiastic researchers and scientists. These zealots and their cohorts in the science community have uniformly acknowledged that children have a right to be protected from the abuses and neglect prevalent in many if not most schools, but most don’t see the forest for the trees. They refuse to act.

The alternative cultists, who fervently believe that the schools will become an anachronism because of the recognition by so many people that traditional schooling is harmful, sit patiently waiting for a tipping point or “critical mass” when everyone will simply opt out and abandon the public schools in favor of their various models. They have big conferences and encourage each other, all the while believing passionately in the coming miracle.

Never mind that this is absurd because the schools create their own demand very effectively and train students to disavow and ignore their never-ending cycles of failure as jaundiced “negativity”. Their most optimistic projection is for this astonishing transformation to take place in a decade or two. Meanwhile, they are willing to happily stand by while irreparable damage is done to millions in production-line schools and as privatizers organize to turn schools into profit-making businesses. They acquiesce as a solid block of do-nothings in the futile pretension there is nothing they could do to effectively put up a powerful resistance against the denial of constitutional rights to innumerable young citizens who (they acknowledge) deserve authentic opportunities for education.

One of the leaders of this small anti-school cult is a brilliant and well-known psychologist. He has a Psychology Today blog and has written a great book entitled, “Free to Learn”. The blog is “Freedom to Learn”. He wrote an excellent article with incredible eloquence and clarity entitled, “School is Prison” about two years ago, which essentially stated what I’ve said for many years. More people are willing to listen to what he has to say than will ever listen to a zealot heretic such as myself. However, to think that some majority will buy into the notion that school is prison without some catalyzing event is asking for the spectacular.

The psychologist’s name is Dr. Peter Gray. While I believe that he is on the right track and we should strive towards the ideals we both evangelize, there are powerful undercurrents and oceanic level streams that move about half of all citizens in the exact opposite direction with great force and influence. Those other people have a radically different and quite immutable view of children, human nature, society, and politics.

Dr. Gray believes that all learning, instruction, or academics should be seen as play and that jobs and careers will ultimately be regarded more as play than work and school must be voluntary, if I have understood him correctly. I lean a bit more towards the satisfaction available from work.

My argument with Dr. Gray, expressed many times however, is that the phenomenon he has witnessed in which public sentiments have been turning toward more autonomy for students and away from traditional authoritarian bureaucracies, while exciting and beneficial to a fortunate few children and families, relies on the awareness and proclivities of a particular type of parent and on fortuitous circumstances which will never become the norm without a structural change brought about through legal action. Traditional authoritarian bureaucracies don’t wither away and they don’t relinquish power or rely too much on displaying their merits to the naïve world.

Setting up model schools and expecting large numbers of people to accept their definitions of success or of appropriate policies is just plain foolish. Believing there will be a mass exodus from the obsessively directing to the freedom loving models is magical thinking. The affinity that millions of people have for paternalism, controlling environments, rigid discipline, official and formal “accountability”, measurability of “progress”, mythological religious and moral standards, etc., etc., is here to stay unless something changes in the way the world actually works under laws and traditions.

My position is that children are citizens with rights and privileges that can’t be denied on the basis of age discrimination merely because they are categorized as uneducated or ignorant minors and particularly if the institutions that promise to educate them are proven through irrefutable empirical evidence to have totally missed the mark for a sizeable percentage. This is a constitutional issue.

Compulsory attendance in prison-like schools or even being forced to attend idyllic alternative schools that cater to needs and offer all play and no work clearly constitutes a clear violation of rights, regardless of other considerations. There are very few circumstances in which the coercion of children to participate in activities over long periods of time could ever be justified in a free society.

Of no less significance is the fact that for any state to require attendance and to usurp the rights of parents to make childrearing and education decisions as the authority under which the content of schooling is administered and managed automatically and irrevocably makes instruction into indoctrination. The belief that mass education is remotely a possibility as stated earlier is pure fantasy. Groups are not amenable to education; their circumstances are ripe for dogma, doctrine, and official propaganda.

School reformers have tried every imaginable tactic to circumvent the problems associated with the authoritarian habits of administrators and officials to no avail. Authoritarianism is an indelible feature of mandatory attendance law. Democracy suffers, since children who have been subjected to this conditioning for twelve years have no conception of democratic processes.

There will always be people who recognize the damaging effects of power, control, authority, and the undue influence of moralistic posturing. But, the temporary or severely limited “experiments” that are allowed as alternatives will never get past the first stages in terms of widespread acceptance and application. This is how the universe works.

It's Time for a Paradigmatic Shift in Our Thinking About Education

We are long overdue for a paradigm shift in how we view schools and education. We need a real revolution that is more about separating education from school than reforming school. Schools serve indispensable purposes. They provide training; socialization and social services; instruction and guidance relative to basic skills such as hygiene, work habits, attitudes, and morals, as well as essential babysitting services. To the extent that parents are in control and aware, schools can also provide a type of indoctrination desired for their offspring, including religious indoctrination, as long as the state is not internally involved and the school is not in any respect an extension or tool of the state.

All the things that schools offer as services rendered to willing consumers can be supportive of and make valuable contributions toward education. However, education is something that must be pursued as a consequence of the individual initiative of the child or the parent, and must be consciously chosen, preferably by the family as a unit.

It is in our national interest, as we have most recently learned the hard way, to have citizens who are not bamboozled, brainwashed, or indoctrinated through governmental coercion or control and who are capable of meaningful critical thought. It is essential to get past the pernicious mythology that has perpetuated itself and infiltrated every aspect of our lives.

Education and coercion are antithetical. We can’t stress that too much or say it too many times. Laws that force children to be anywhere they do not willingly choose to be for thousands of hours over twelve formative years and where the state determines every aspect of their experience and every movement they are permitted to make are a priori undemocratic and profoundly damaging in myriad ways. They ensure the force-feeding of something other than edifying education.

The schools have an extraordinary influence over individuals and throughout the social order. Their graduates will not ever easily relinquish the nostalgic sentiments and deeply embedded belief that schooling is the road to salvation and to happiness for any and all. The changes that must take place will not be the result of enlightenment through example or from proselytizing disciples from alternative school or un-school advocates.

The changes must come as a logical conclusion of the freedom and autonomy ordered by courts after due deliberation and evidence offered justifying the reinstatement of the constitutional rights of students. As with Brown v. Board and busing issues, the courts MUST take this to the people and vice versa. Science, in conjunction with the legal process, must be utilized to demand the rights, privileges, and liberties that will only then be demonstrated to enhance educational opportunity and turn schools into hospitable places at long last.  

SUMMARY – A MESSAGE OF GENUINE HOPE

My statement at the beginning that I am disgusted and demoralized was a gross understatement. I am enraged to a point bordering on insanity. One very rarely ever hears a person who is identified as an educator, immediately after admitting the veracity of reports and statistics delineating the disastrous conditions within many schools and the massive failures of our “system”, who doesn’t reflexively dismiss all the bad news as if it doesn’t really matter. These people invariably start babbling in platitudes and with great optimism about how things will change in the near future for the better as a response to truthful facts and information. These school cultists compulsively revert to blithe happy talk without fail.

There have been innumerable public discussions, media sponsored panels or town halls with illustrious guests with national coverage, university lectures and presentations, and radio and television talk shows wherein the stated reason for the event is the deplorable state of affairs in schools and education. Yet, one could safely bet a million dollars that the audience will walk   away with a song in their heart every time because of the glorious hype and promises about the magnificent changes just around the corner.

I have known and worked with a significant number of the victims of mis-education. I have seen up close and personal how schools handicap a sizable percentage of students. Bad parenting and various social influences do their share of harm without question.

However, if education were happening much in schools and if they were living remotely up to their promise, they would be mitigating the extent and severity of the long list of problems. They would be reducing mental illness and dysfunction, not exacerbating those things immensely. Schools are for fish.

I am most angry with the people who should know better. Professors and professionals should know better. The media should know after generations of sameness that they’ve been used to sell bold lies and false hopes. School staff and officials have to either be incredibly foolish and naïve, or they are participating willingly in a great criminal fraud.

However, the people who have let me down the most and who I believe are most culpable today are those people active in the alternative community who have been preaching for decades about the harm done by schools and who have established or praised all manner of alternatives for a tiny contingent of lucky kids, yet who adamantly refuse to act like adults and face the hard reality of millions of children incarcerated in those dysfunctional places. It is irresponsible and childish to accept the risk that these travesties will continue a day longer than necessary.

The mantra for all of these people is, “our children are our future”. They all claim to love children and have the utmost concern for them. One hopes that they sincerely do. However, if they truly believe the facts and statistics that reveal that schooling on the whole as it is practiced is inimical to the welfare and progress of children and if they truly care about all children, there is one and only one course of action.

There is no time to wait for a gradual shift in attitudes and beliefs, since the cancer is malignant and deep in the tissues already. The fight to remove the attendance laws is so long overdue that a major assault must be launched post haste and the battle must persist without cessation until children are free and full citizens.

There are reasons to hope that this war against irrationality can happen. At some point, powerful organizations with adequate resources and personnel will get this message. I’ve tried to establish a nonprofit that can appeal to organizations such as George Soros’ “Open Society Foundation”. I intend to find the meager resources necessary to launch in the new year, although to date I haven’t been able to scrape up even the several hundred dollars necessary because of family and other obligations.

The best weapon in the arsenal however, is the incredibly effective social media and Internet platforms that will soon deliver this message to legions of young people who sense their powerlessness acutely and experience the demoralization and debasement of schooling daily. For generations, the anger generated among students has been misdirected. Frustrations have been turned inward against many of them in the form of guilt and self-loathing. We can change all that. In the meantime, good people must become educated, informed, and enlightened. That is why this article is here. Do YOU get it?