PARENTS’ PAGES

 

 

Dear Parents,

            How does it make you feel when you take your child to school or when you attend parent-teacher conferences, special events, or when you are there for some other reason? Are the memories of your own school experience all pleasant? Do you feel anxious there? Do you feel completely comfortable and that you are as welcomed there as a parent, as they keep reassuring you?

 

Are you ever made to feel that you know less than the educators know about the school experience or is there ever a hint that you aren’t quite as qualified to exercise discretion with respect to your child’s education as they are, and therefore you should trust their judgment implicitly and not say too much or try to become too involved? Do you see real evidence that they are living up to the promises and the hype, or does it ever seem that the learning that goes on there isn’t truly making the grade for your child or making a difference in the lives of students?

 

WERE YOU INSPIRED OFTEN IN SCHOOL WHEN YOU WERE A STUDENT?

                Looking back at your own school days, did you and your friends develop a love of reading, of learning, of things intellectual, and of exploring for new knowledge and understanding? Or, were you frequently bored and disengaged in classes? Do you read now for pleasure or to learn new things outside of your job, as an adult, or did school turn you off and kill your sense of wonder? Was your curiosity frequently piqued and encouraged when you were a student? Were you ever made to feel lazy for your tendency to put off homework or when you didn’t get assignments completed on schedule, and when you did complete assignments, did it feel as if you were just faking it or playing to the teacher's ego or playing a fruitless game?   

 

DO YOU SEE ANY SIGNIFICANT CHANGES, OR DOES SCHOOL LOOK THE SAME TO YOU?

            For many generations the image that is presented to the public is one of constant improvement and innovation in schooling. A phenomenal number of new ideas have indeed been invented, promoted, debated, tested, and presented to the general public as splendid solutions to a wide variety of problems and conflicts. Teachers often cynically refer to these as the “flavor of the month” or as “pet projects”. Some are initially embraced and praised by teachers and some are the immediate object of criticism and scorn, but none have actually endured over the long term or spread to the majority of schools? There are good reasons why this is true which we will be analyzing here on a regular basis.

 

WHO SHOULD BE BLAMED WHEN CHILDREN DO NOT DO WELL IN SCHOOL?

                Parents sometimes blame teachers when their child doesn’t get good grades, acts up, or doesn’t seem to be “performing up to their potential”. Teachers, on the other hand blame parents quite often, claiming that they are not involved enough in their child’s academic development or supportive enough of their efforts to teach, and some claim that many parents are not adequately supportive of their own children in general or of their progress. Most often however, the student gets the brunt of the criticism when things go wrong. You surely remember that.

 

When “work” doesn’t get done or especially if there are problems with behavior or attitude, the responsible adults are most commonly convinced that the entire fault lies with the “irresponsible”, “immature”, or “poorly motivated” student. The trend has now been increasingly more toward labelling children as “learning disabled”, or as having ADHD, “hyperactivity”, or some medical or psychological condition that affects performance, learning, attention, or behavior.

This is called “Blaming the victim”.

 

Yet, pointing fingers does nothing to resolve issues, and in a majority of instances, the school has the primary responsibility and duty to deal with the reality within their institutions, whatever that happens to be. Rationalizations, denial, and evasion do not lead to any useful changes. But unfortunately, regardless of the approach or strategy taken, the causes of dysfunction and failure remain, because features built into our schools under compulsory attendance profoundly stymie reasonable and rational changes.

 

It isn’t possible to dictate by law that children WILL attend school, and to consequently establish the rules, restrictions, guidelines, and parameters for everything that will and will not occur in the school, and to then operate the schools as if teachers and students get to decide all of those crucial things on a daily basis as if they were in control of the process and of their own lives (except in the small minority of token “experiments” or model programs known as alternative schools or free schools and such where rules are relaxed in order to pacify critics, but where results are never determined to be definitive justification to expand and perpetuate the program).

 

Parental rights are usurped by the state when they are compelled to send their children to school. It quickly becomes the reasonable and traditional expectation of parents and everyone else alike as a result that the state and its schools now have the obligation to provide, not just schooling and training, but a superior and beneficial education. Likewise, the personnel of the schools come to believe that they are the official educators and too begrudge too much involvement of parents, all the while urging them to participate and criticizing them when they don't oversee and micromanage the entire process from the outside and after school hours.

 

One frequently hears the explanation that school is preparation for life and that kids must experience the unpleasantries of work, study, punching a clock, taking orders and boring drudgery, in order to be better able to deal with these things later as adults. What hogwash! No credible definition of education includes confinement, massive standardization, bureaucratic gridlock, subjugation, the memorization of trite and trivial factual material (for the sole purpose of passing tests) or the confusion of behavioral demands and discipline with academic discipline and excellence.

 

If life were like school, we’d surely all require antidepressants long before reaching adulthood. One doesn’t “prepare for life” for twelve years by suspending their developing personality and humanity. Youths do not become cultivated or enlightened by being made to feel imposed upon or by feeling like victims of injustice and abuse. They don’t flourish by comparing themselves to competitive workers in a dead-end, unproductive factory.

 

SELF-ESTEEM – IS THERE TOO MUCH EMPHASIS ON MANUFACTURING IT?

             One hears a lot of complaining nowadays about how school kids are too generously given pats on the back and constant praise merely to boost their self-esteem, despite their not having done much of anything to actually earn the praise. This ostensibly leads to a false sense of self-worth or competence, unrealistically high expectations of admiration and favors from others, and less incentive to work hard and long for rewards and praise. While some of us are not inclined to lose too much sleep over issues that seem a bit frivolous or petty, this is one that should be examined for hidden meaning.

 

Some people see this as a compromising of precious moral values or principles. But, regardless of the motivations behind the criticisms, there is every reason to think that giving praise when it has not been earned is teaching a bad lesson and is likely to devalue sincere effort, hard work and exceptional talent or skill. It’s hard to disagree with this logic.

 

Here again, we see the significance of studying the history and dynamics behind this practice, however. There are specific reasons why this practice has become so popular and there are substantial and constant factors within our schools that contribute to low levels of self-esteem among many students that need boosting to enable them to engage and that frequently profoundly de-motivate them.

 

If our school environments weren’t inherently inimical to the identity, ego, self-esteem and sense of competence of a significant fraction of the students in many classes, teachers and others would feel no need to artificially create self-esteem and self-confidence. We will address the issue of how and why these dynamics exist elsewhere on this site or at a later time, but we will briefly summarize here again for clarity.

 

The list of things that potentially undermine self-esteem is quite lengthy. The list of things that are almost guaranteed to make many students feel devalued or unappreciated or inadequate is nearly as long. To begin with many children feel overwhelmed and neglected in classrooms in which they would have to be exceptional and somewhat aggressive to get the attention they crave. Secondly, there is competition for much more than attention. They compete for approval and to satisfy expectations and pointless grades or gold stars (which they naturally adopt as their own expectations, regardless of how unrealistic or lacking in intrinsic value).

 

Thirdly, when they act according to their ordinary urges, inclinations and needs, they are at serious risk of humiliation in front of their peers and the teacher or other authority figures. If they have too much enthusiasm, energy, curiosity, anxiety, or aggression, or if they feel a need for greater stimulation (i.e. they become bored or fidgety) they are sure to be chastised or disciplined or lectured. Not a few are labelled as “hyperactive” or as having “ADHD” and drugged, and many are regarded as troublemakers and habitually misunderstood and mistreated.

 

As with all of the problems that are identified in schools, this conundrum is one more challenge for teachers, students and administrations that has no effective solution. We hate to be Johnnie-one-notes, but we are persuaded that ending the compulsory feature of school attendance would lead to circumstances wherein some, if not all, of the factors mentioned above would be mitigated. To eliminate the entire self-esteem deficit, we would have to design learning environments that allow much greater one-on-one attention and that avoid the problems of excessive competition and inordinate occurrences of scolding and punishment. That may sound impossible or utopian but we certainly could do much better than we do now, with the same budgetary restraints.

 

Schooling is an antiquated social concept that has unfortunately been confused with and equated mistakenly with study and learning. Schools are for fish! School is not a fitting place for study and learning. It is a miracle that they can manage some training and socialization.

 

Individuals must decide that they wish to study and learn as individuals, toward their own educational goals. Ideally, each has their own specific subject matters in mind, rather than merely a nebulous goal of “getting an education” or graduating and preparing for college or life. Teachers are absolutely essential at many points along the way, of course. They are often found in schools. Schools do indeed serve a number of valuable functions, such as training (not the same as education), socialization, indoctrination or enculturation, babysitting, etc. However, to the extent that groups are in attendance and subjected to regimentation, learning is likely to be compromised and profoundly diminished.

 

Tolstoy, the great Russian novelist, was a headmaster of a small school who adamantly opposed compulsory school attendance. He spoke in his many essays very plainly about what to expect. His prognostication has been ‘spot on’ for multitudes of students, never losing its relevance. He said about the student, “Schools present themselves to him as an institution for torturing children, --an institution in which they are deprived of their chief pleasure and youthful needs of free motion; where Gehorsam (obedience) and Ruhe (quiet) are the chief conditions; where he needs a special permission to go out “for a minute;” where every misdeed is punished with a ruler…or by the continuation of study, -- the more cruel condition for the child.” (Essays on Education, Tolstoy, 1862).

 

Earlier he says, “”Not only does such a school breed loathing for education, but in these six years it inculcates upon these pupils hypocrisy and deceit, arising from the unnatural position in which the pupils are placed, and that condition of incoherence and confusion of ideas, which is called the rudiments of education.”. Indeed! It is always about an agenda that the child is unlikely to identify with or have any intrinsic or authentic passion for, because everything comes from external sources.

 

The following essay was written months ago and was recently rediscovered in a document:

 

HOW DO WE GET PARENTS MORE INVOLVED IN EDUCATION?

            One hears this question being asked so often that there has never been any doubt that all school administrators and teachers want every parent to visit often and to take a very active role in the daily activities of the school. But, honestly, do parents fit in there? Do they REALLY want parents to show up and participate actively? Can parents be trusted and are they competent to provide useful help to teachers?

 

            It turns out that parents are only welcome in many schools if they show 'proper' deference to staff and are somewhat invisible and only for a particularly limited amount of time. Parents are an unknown quantity and other than bringing cookies and sodas for a pre-holiday party and being around briefly to show support and interest, they actually seem to have no place in the classroom. This is true for several reasons.

 

            Even parents that are professionals can’t find an adult sized chair in a classroom. It is supposed they lack the sort of specific training that would make them competent to actually act in any teaching or supervisory capacity unless they happen to be teachers. Their own child might be embarrassed by their presence and some uncomfortable moments are too likely for certain teachers when outsiders are there to witness the regular routine as it unfolds somewhat unpredictably.

 

             The parent who shows up in class (never without warning, since nearly all schools require advance notice or have sign-in rules now) will quickly notice that there is almost always a degree of unnatural and uncomfortable orderliness, regimentation and discipline that doesn’t allow for the interruption of distracting persons and deviations from the prescribed flow of activities. One may be helpful in passing out papers or in arranging chairs or a special activity during an exceptional or rare visit. But the teacher is in charge. Every minute is scheduled, organized and committed to the assigned tasks. All the outsider can do is observe silently, or possibly read to the class at the request of the teacher on infrequent occasions, or try to intervene with a child that requires special attention (never their own child and seldom in a meaningful or coherent way).

 

            If parents are discouraged from too much direct involvement in the classroom itself, then perhaps they can become involved in encouraging their child, in monitoring their progress and in supervising homework assignments, readings and project completion at a distance. This is all easier said than done. But the parent does indeed have a great deal of responsibility and ideally should remain actively engaged in the process. Ideally. Still, there are several factors that are frequently overlooked in all of this speculation about what parents should do.

 

            First, one cannot deny that there is a presumption built-in with mandatory attendance that the school has the expertise and the primary obligation to supervise (i.e., control) and provide the education to the student. They are the professionals. They get paid to do a job. They are specially trained. They interact with the child in the prescribed place and manner and the parent truly is removed for the most part, essentially as an outsider. One can try to participate and one can talk about the need for the parent to know everything that affects their child. But parents generally have things to do. They feel a wall of separation that is usually not at all imaginary or easily scaled.

 

            If the mother has been coming regularly to the school and doing whatever volunteer work that can be found for her, what happens when she is suddenly divorced or depressed and develops a problem with alcohol or prescription drugs? What happens if there is a charge of favoritism? Why should one parent be the only one who shows up and gives all her time, when others are attending to other priorities or slacking off in a coffee clutch? How does the teacher tell the parent that his approach doesn’t fit in when he is too abrupt, rude, paternalistic, or lenient? How many parents can a classroom hold, when there are barely seats enough and there is barely space enough for the students and all the necessary paraphernalia?

 

            This, in reality, is a non-issue that is too often used to make parents feel guilty and to make excuses for failures or to blame parents when there doesn’t seem to be anyone else to hold responsible. Most parents do feel completely inadequate because their own “education” (or, we would say, miseducation) in similar schools didn’t begin to prepare them for teaching their own kids academic material, let alone those of others. They were never quite comfortable in school and despite sometimes experiencing great nostalgia, they have little desire to go back to be reminded that it wasn’t as great for them as they have convinced themselves. Let’s be truthful; twelve years was more than enough for most of us!

 

            A more appropriate question might be to ask; why school? Homeschooling is an option for the small minority of parents that have enough free time and the patience and fortitude to meet all the qualifications and responsibilities. But if parents do not really fit in and schools don’t serve the purposes they were ostensibly designed for, then maybe other alternatives should be rigorously examined. Maybe more kids should be in vocational tracks. Maybe our social structures and philosophies will be forced to change. The place to start, however, is in removing the element of coercion and starting to talk about authentic education in place of the indoctrination now substituting for education in institutions beset by endless problems caused by the natural reluctance of children and opposition to their forced attendance.

 

              Managing a large number of students who are easily distracted or not fully engaged is an impossible task for any significant period of time. Trying to convey meaningful information to one, two, or three dozen children all with a different orientation, understanding, or perspective for six hours a day is masochism at its best. Parents should appreciate how difficult the teaching mandate is for anyone, but they should also understand that education is to be found elsewhere for the most part. When more people figure out that we have mythologized schooling and that education is not something for the state to provide or control (except by funding true and proven educational opportunity) we can get started on the road to change. The first step will be striking down attendance laws, I say for the one millionth time.

 

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.

 

 

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. 

© 2023 by The Voice Project. Proudly created with Wix.com

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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?