EDUCATION SANS MYTHOLOGY
Tell the state governors that their National Guard units may stand down. Tell all law enforcement that there will be no need to request added funding in order to prepare for a war with rowdy youths. Tell your friends and family to relax; civilization is not ending; there is no reason to panic!
When compulsory attendance laws are struck down by the US Supreme Court, their absence will hardly be noticed just as their presence is seldom in our normal awareness. The differences will be gradual, benign, and quickly positive for all concerned. Indolent and mischievous youths are mostly a product of a dysfunctional system and of the absence of hospitable places for them to congregate and learn. Schools will adapt easily, and they will offer a much better experience post-compulsory attendance.
The question here, first and foremost, is what can we predict as the most likely scenario when the compulsory attendance laws are removed? When that finally happens, as it must and as it will when a substantial number of well-informed students become aware of how wrongly they have been treated and how empty the promises made to them have been in reality, what can we expect to take place in the various states?
Should we anticipate major disruptions and riots in the street? Will there be huge increases in children dropping out of schools at very early ages and being placed at risk in unsupervised situations? Will the development of some kind of elaborate and costly new institution or alternative social or community center become the new normal where children will just hang out and fritter away time? Will there be roving bands of youths, gangs, or a scary “Lord of the Flies” scenario? Or, should we hope for a quiet revolution leading to a Utopian future almost overnight?
None of us need succumb to overwhelming apprehension nor suppose that some mystery surrounds the removal of the attendance laws. Fears of impending doom are purely imaginary. We need only to look at the hundreds of prior examples, “excellent test cases”, and historical precedents to enable us to predict with ample confidence what to expect from eliminating those antiquated unconstitutional laws.
Taking away the compulsion to attend will take away the conspicuous compulsion and the pernicious elements of coercion and intimidation and with it the less visible but no less real authoritarian hierarchy that has no purpose other than the programming, conditioning, bullying, indoctrination, and oppression of children. That will create schools very similar to or identical to the many existing “alternative” or “free” schools where organic and democratic processes are currently in effect and have been in many cases for years. We have a smattering of excellent schools where freethinking children have been much less prone to uncooperative behavior and negative attention-getting or disruptive behaviors, but which remain outside the mainstream because of a perceived threat to convention and entrenched power.
When the vast majority of children suddenly stop feeling as if they are being pushed, prodded, cajoled, and browbeaten into learning the most natural and captivating skills, information, and truths pertinent to their own lives, what can we expect to result? When instead of talking in theoretical and hypothetical terms about intrinsic learning, the learning of reading, writing, and numeracy, and having one’s personal questions answered are actually intrinsic and organically satisfying, might we then have a sense of an actual educational revolution?
When the focus is no longer on joining the herd passively in providing the “correct” responses to stock questions presented at inopportune times under intense pressure merely because the mandating authority is compelled to validate its official role, will children then be able to own their education? Being told that school is a unique privilege while under duress or knowing that to abstain will bring drastic consequences is a far cry from being able to avail one’s self of the privilege to actively accomplish tangible and meaningful goals. If rather than being awarded gold stars and high marks for playing the game and crossing “t”s and dotting “i”s, one is actually able to see a coherent pattern emerging and feel a holistic sense of meaning, comprehension, connectivity, and continuity, isn’t education more likely to have a strong appeal?
Teachers in a paradigm that no longer includes the power structure and official impositions of bureaucratic institutions operated under the all-encompassing authority of the state will not be forced to suppress their natural inclinations to foster personal relationships wherein students are treated with dignity, decency, and respect. When children are pre-emptively chided and exposed to punishing and restricting circumstances solely because of their inferior age and status or because of what is anticipated from their peers and not for their own actual behavior as is the case now, in advance of their engagement in any disruption or mischief, they have ample reason to feel a compulsion to defy rules and resist constraints on their movements or speech.
We can rest assured that none of those frightening things listed above in paragraph four as inquiries relative to what might transpire could possibly result from this change in the laws. Schools will still be open for “business” as always and parents will still go to great lengths to get their children of all ages to the schools of their choice. Those schools will still be free of charge (save for taxes assessed to all citizens) because of uninterrupted local and federal financing. Education will still be highly valued throughout the society. Parents will still need and want their children to be trained and instructed in as many fields or subject areas as are possible, given available resources and staff. Yet, there will be no glorious transformation making schools or students perfect and perfectly satisfied overnight, either.
Liberty is the perfect antidote to subjugation and oppression. Forcing parents to subject their children to whatever conditions and “benefits” that official state operated institutions happen to offer them is paternalism and nationalistic. When children are disinclined to accept what they offer, it is indeed oppressive by definition. The evidence clearly shows that a high percentage of children do not exit these schools with the education or opportunities that have been promised for various reasons connected with the authoritarian character under the attendance requirement. Putting the blame on them, their parents, or even their teachers is a cop-out, to use a colloquial expression that all will understand. Education and personal growth are incompatible with and antithetical to coercive and punitive conditions. We cannot say it too many times.
Schools that no longer serve completely captive and largely disengaged groups of students will most definitely have a different character, environment, purpose, and orientation. Corrosive competition will be a foreign concept. The volumes of scholarly research that has clearly proven over and over that learning is enhanced and effectuated by autonomy and by the opportunity for students to take initiative will no longer conflict with the requirement to impose authority and discipline in accordance with the law. Discipline will most typically be enforced, to the extent that it is ever at issue, by students who have established their own mechanisms for keeping their precious occasions for learning and orderly discussion at a maximum and disorder and disruption at a minimum.
If we are rational and realistic, we understand that schools, no matter how much we invest and how intensely we try to create superior experiences and opportunities, will not make our society into a perfectly functioning and error-free or conflict-free paradise. Yet, schools where there is no external group of individuals with near-dictatorial power, and no remote set of “experts” determining what will and will not be the curriculum, and no standardized expectations for “instruction” or “drill” or for interactions between teachers and students, and no official gauges for measuring progress have a much greater capacity to satisfy the immediate and essential needs of students.
Schooling reforms and education reforms have been illusionary mirages almost exclusively, in part because of mythology, and in part because of institutionalized barriers to change. Precious little has changed in classrooms and in school practices and policies in the last century except for various superficial and inconsequential changes relative to changing technology and social conditions. Myths by their very nature fail to represent reality and do not stand up to valid scientific and rational or reality-based challenges. Myths are propagated and perpetuated in service to people and to ways of thinking and doing things that have become self-reinforcing and self-validating.
People have been talking about an educational revolution for at least the last quarter-century. Yet, a revolution that takes a millennium to complete hardly qualifies as a revolution. Progress has been glacial and sporadic because schooling has been mistaken for education and education has been grossly misunderstood and undervalued with respect to training and indoctrination.
When the mythology no longer holds sway and the laws no longer create the illusion that education can be decreed and declared as if it were a nutrition program for young minds, a true revolution in education will at least be possible and a revolution in schools will be guaranteed. Once schools are able to concentrate less on complying with mandates; directives; restrictions; arbitrary codes for everything from dress to which books, media, and materials they will use; how students will be expelled; what speech will be permitted or excluded, etc., etc., determined from anonymous or detached authorities and “experts”, and they are able to focus instead more on what students need or how their curiosity, aptitudes, and appetites can be satisfied, there will be a dramatic decrease in anomie, anxiety, abusiveness, anger, and illiteracy or semi-literacy.
Much more of the revolution will take place outside of school walls, since education happens when people are actively and purposefully pursuing their own objectives and seeking knowledge and skills for their own edification, enlightenment, and pleasure. School is a confining place and a busy space. Lectures and lessons are necessarily a minor part of one’s whole life experience. Movement, feeling, connection, and private rumination are far more relevant to cognitive, intellectual, and even academic growth and development.
We, along with others will be relentless in our presentation of challenges and the demands that officials, administrators, and others no longer subscribe to mythology and false narratives in schools and education that put children at risk or that mis-educate. While these individuals are responsible for the welfare of children, they can no longer find it too easy or convenient to hide behind the cloak of expertise, authority, ignorance and ambiguity, or victim blaming when their routine practices and policies often result in demonstrable harm.
The critical thinking and authentic exploration and expansion of knowledge that are at the heart of what constitutes education cannot flourish in any institution that requires children to assemble en masse and comply with onerous and imposing conditions and demands. While we are certain that no school can promise to educate the whole child to some standard or predetermined level, we believe that the only schools that can limit the repression of spirit and the discouragement to become well-educated by any reasonable definition are schools that operate autonomously with autonomous teachers and students who attend strictly by their own choice or their parents’ choice.