RE-EDUCATING THE COURTS

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          The US Supreme Court as well as the lower courts have relied on supposed "educational experts", tradition, and prevailing opinions and standards with respect to schools and education to determine the rights of students and the policies that are permitted in schools with regard to behavior, speech, dress, discipline, and other aspects of that experience within the institution or under its purview in the case of homeschooling and certain alternative schools. The courts are so far behind in their applications of the constitutional interpretations of law and policy that it is difficult to comprehend how they have failed to notice.

 

           Ageism, or age discrimination in reverse practiced by over-zealous adults imagining themselves to be teaching or "educating" children is rampant and destructive in schools. The use of punishments, exclusion, humiliation, intimidation, guilt and shame, and now, even dangerous drugs to inhibit normal activity and personal enthusiasm (mis-named hyper-activity in far too many cases) often rise to the level of cruel and unusual or risk permanent and irreparable damage to young people with ordinary needs and proclivities. The myth that the agenda or scheduled presentation of a particular teacher or program or school which is authorized and operated under the auspices of a government entity or in the implementation of its laws should be judged a priori to be of such great significance and urgent educational value that children with questions or emotional needs and insecurities or "discipline problems" should be further distressed and sidelined, being labelled as "distractions" or "discipline problems" is bizarre and misanthropic in the extreme.  

 

           The first thing that should inform us is the fact that there are no education experts. There are people who are well-schooled or who may have a legitimate claim to expertise in school administration, human behavior or psychology, sociology, neuroscience, and various other related disciplines. 

 

           But, education is ineffable.

           Think about that.

           Let it sink in.

           There are NO education experts. 

           Education is ineffable.

           Knowledge is ineffable.

           For each individual, knowledge and education are idiosyncratic and unique.

                    

           What that means is that education and knowledge cannot be pinned down with any degree of certitude or with any definitions that have truly meaningful and fully useful referents. They cannot be measured or fit into some kind of schemata or box. 

 

           To the extent that the experience and learning of individuals are not unique and idiosyncratic, they do not constitute education and may not qualify as the sort of knowledge that one should pursue.

 

           Here is a quote that should be remembered:

                      "The thing was a mystery - and we measured it!" (Author unknown)

 

           Thinking outside the box may require information and awareness               

            about how the box was created, it's parameters, and how it got

            into your mind/brain and that of others. Sometimes, the box has to

            go entirely or be replaced by another kind of box.

 

 

 

 

          Students of certain ages may rightly be considered as a special class of citizen. No one can argue that they may have needs and capacities that are quite different from those of most adults. In a group, organizational, or institutional setting, rules and restrictions may indeed be necessary for an orderly flow of scheduled or even spontaneous events and interactions, benefitting both the group as a whole and the individual child. It may be the agreement of those responsible for the children in attendance that the behavior of any one individual child may be monitored and controlled to some extent and that a child who is disruptive may be excluded from the group and removed to a location where that child may no longer may be able to cause an interruption or disruption of planned or supervised activities or exercises. However, the attendance of any particular child in that group or at that event or institution must be voluntary or should always be justified by some greater and some well-demonstrated public good, social necessity, or emergency. To claim that the attendance of a child or of all children present is for their edification, education, or training and future benefit and that they may be disciplined, punished, or involuntarily removed from the group by some arbitrary authority without adequate evidence and proven efficacy is to jeopardize the rights, dignity, personal security, autonomy, and social standing of that child or children.  

 

            Under a different constitution, under a different form of government, or in a different kind of social and cultural environment, conformity and unity within the group and prioritizing the social organization or collective over the individual might conceivably be preferred and satisfactory for consensus opinion. In certain highly exceptional circumstances even within a democracy and in our culture, the group process is regarded as crucial and may be of unusual importance, given some mission or particular endeavor, especially if the national interest or security is at stake. But, to allege that some class lesson, exercise, activity, or the ability of other class members to focus and concentrate is of such great import that one child's need for attention or for understanding and intervention must automatically and customarily be sacrificed is ludicrous and inimical to American ideals. 

 

            A teacher might like to believe that his or her words or presentation is of such significance and value to a large group of students at a specific moment in time that any lapse or interruption will hamper the educational pursuits of students. However that is typically more pure egotism and over-estimation of one's contribution than a valid representation of reality. If there are students whose engagement is meaningful and important to them, they will ordinarily have little reluctance to apply "peer pressure" on others to restore calm and quiet. But, to institutionalize prescriptions for silencing students as court-validated and routine in order to preclude any unauthorized "disruption" is a ruinous and counterproductive habit. Education that doesn't account for the occasional spontaneous or unscheduled diversion or distraction by those receiving it can only be called indoctrination. Yet, under compulsory attendance laws, this is how it must be. When the state has caused large groups of students to aggregate and cooperate with a planned curriculum in place, the schedule and the petty wishes of those appointed to administer that curriculum must have power and control over students that is all but unlimited.

 

            Two researchers reporting in the American Educational Research Journal remind those of us who are paying attention that there are innumerable classrooms in many districts where competition is over-emphasized, autonomy is nearly completely absent and students do not feel supported, recognized or engaged in the process. They state, in referring to self-determination theory (STD theory), “From the perspective of SDT, optimal learning outcomes occur in relation to how well the learning environment provides opportunities for the student to develop a sense of personal competence and autonomy and positive relationships with others. To the degree that school is experienced by students as supporting these fundamental needs, their engagement and achievement in school will be enhanced.” A little further on, they say, “Studies have shown that students with a greater sense of autonomy in school have better school outcomes such as classroom engagement, persistence, enjoyment, and achievement.” ("Adolescents’ Perceptions of School Environment, Engagement, and Academic Achievement in Middle School", American Educational Research Journal, 47, 3, 633 – 662. Holcombe & Wang, 2011).

 

              If only the “fundamental needs” for respect, encouragement, autonomy, etc. were miraculously made adequate after generations, students wouldn’t be forced to routinely process and learn negative lessons and cynical attitudes in droves. If only reality didn’t intrude on fantasy for researchers!

 

              Learning for each of us is a continuous process of synthesizing all manner of complex and integrated sensations, perceptions, observations, communications, feelings, thoughts and experience. The process starts before birth and, more than anyone ever imagined, involves the whole physical mind/body. Learning also naturally incorporates innumerable metaphors with referents in our individual physical universe, which are assimilated primarily through social interaction (“Philosophy in the Flesh”, Lakoff & Johnson, 1999). In the background lie innumerable inconspicuous traces of earlier commonplace or global concepts, both personal and social, which contribute to the formation of assumptions, beliefs, attitudes and orientations. Beliefs such as the idea that mind and body are separate and that people can or cannot be trusted are part of a phenomenal mental matrix based as much in physiology as in cognition. However, some of our most common and deeply ingrained concepts (and metaphors) are wholly erroneous.

 

           The mind-body dichotomy, for example has become an overpowering myth leading us down a treacherous path. A number of related ancient misconceptions have an inordinate influence on our institutions, culture and media. Common beliefs and false memes are deeply ingrained by perverse experiences, particularly in school. We have levels of collective denial and mistrust (paranoia) that would put any addict to shame.

MAKING THE CASE FOR THE CASE

            We are not aware of any legal case that has challenged compulsory school attendance for four or five decades. It is typically assumed by all those who might consider a lawsuit that the precedents that have been set by the lower courts and the US Supreme Court will be followed rigorously and that there is nothing new and potent enough in the way of persuasive arguments and evidence to pave the way for a successful attack on the attendance laws. The general public will not easily be shaken from their strong belief that children must be dragged to school kicking and screaming, if necessary, and that the schools offer genuine and essential educational opportunities. This despite endless research studies and empirical evidence that they fail miserably with respect to their stated mission and with respect to any number of objective indices.

             One way to enlighten the general public is to file a case and present the evidence. In cases involving highly sensitive or controversial issues, the discussion enters the public sphere quite quickly and readily. The justices clearly do take public sentiments (and irrational fears) into account and they are currently terribly dependent on the information, opinions, and hype that is offered by so-called educators and so-called experts.

 

             However, reams of research conducted by highly credentialed and reputable scholars and scientists can be found that show irrefutably that a substantial percentage of the children who attend are not well-served. Research is readily available that shows that, in a significant number of cases in a majority of schools, students suffer from anxiety and are damaged emotionally or psychologically; deficient in skills and training; discouraged about their academic or intellectual development and devoid of confidence or interest in furthering their "education" by either personal reading and study or formal schooling; inept with regard to establishing and maintaining relationships, including those related to the workplace; plagued by low self-esteem or guilt, shame, and self-blame relative to their grades, performance, and behavioral ratings, and often dazed and confused about social, political, moral, economic issues, and completely ignorant of world affairs and most of history. This sort of powerful indictment has never been brought before the courts to ask how forced attendance is justified given the high probability of negative consequences attributable specifically to the school experience.

             The constitutionality of compulsory attendance has not been effectively challenged since the laws were passed and there have been only a handful of cases dealing with special circumstances, such as the Yoder case involving the Amish in Wisconsin about fifty years ago. In addition to the empirical evidence proving that individuals are harmed and that schools fail to deliver on their mandates and promises precisely because of the coercion and resulting built-in authoritarianism and bureaucracy, it is time to present the argument that children are citizens from the moment of birth and that any imposition by government which subjects them to any formal and official "schooling", training, behavioral or mental or psychological modification or "education" required by law and overseen by the state is by definition, indoctrination and therefore, unconstitutional. If adults could not be compelled to attend schools and classes and to participate against their will absent military induction or the conviction of a serious crime, they cannot rightfully be forced to send their children to attend, nor can their children be forced to attend if the evidence does not convincingly document the profoundly necessary and effective benefit to the nation of such coercion and preponderant benefit to the child over his or her lifetime.

              There will soon be a new Supreme Court majority that is not ideologically biased or politically motivated. The time to address the chronic problems of schools and the repeated failures of reform attempts is nearly at hand. Without a concentrated legal attack from all angles the people in power will be enabled in perpetually making false promises and claims. Until this becomes a matter for the courts to decide and the vast body of research is tapped which exposes the myths and pretentions of the self-proclaimed educators and behavior modifiers, the authorities, aided by the army of members of the "Cult of School", will continue to sing the praises of the schools and maintain their monopoly on the institutions chartered by states and funded automatically, regardless of the level of victimization and failure. Furthermore, those who fully intend to turn public schools into private for-profit businesses will find it increasingly easier to convince more and more people that, since public schools are such disasters, they should be be permitted to push their pathological and exploitative designs with the full approval of the state and national governments.

 

             Following is a list of quotes referring to schooling from several well-known authors whose brilliance and knowledge with respect to education and schooling that illustrate not only how damaging traditional schooling is and how it undermines authentic educational experience, but also how long our failing paradigm has been doing profound damage to students: 

 

        "Some day, maybe, there will exist a well-informed, well-considered, and yet fervent public conviction that the most deadly of all possible sins is the mutilation of a child's spirit; for such mutilation undercuts the life principle of trust, without which every human act, may it feel ever so good and seem ever so right, is prone to perversion by destructive forms of conscientiousness,"

Erik Erickson

 

        "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."

Plato - The Republic

 

         "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..."

Bruno Bettelheim

 

           "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."

(Bruno) Bettelheim

 

            "...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."

(Bruno) Bettelheim

 

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

George Dennison

 

            From The Lives Of Children - George Dennison

            "...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. 

 

             In place of evolving and improving institutions, therefore, we now have completely misanthropic and sclerotic schools with permanent features dictated via strict legal codes. Impenetrable barriers grounded firmly in mythology exist to perpetuate the status quo and vigorously proscribe meaningful change even while proclaiming its absolute and urgent necessity. See, Duncan’s Alarm on ‘Failing’ Schools Raises Eyebrows". Education Week, 3/27, McNeil, 2011;

"IES Seeks Strategies to Rescue Chronically Failing Schools" Education Week, 3/27, Viadero, 2011). Even the word “innovation” has been hijacked by “new reformers” according to one blogger ("The Trouble with ‘Innovation’ in Schools. Huffington Post. Retrieved from http://www.huffingtonpost.com/gregory-michie/education-reform-innovation_b_844137.html, Mitchie, 2011).

 

               All the valid research in the world must be effectively disconnected from the actual operation of schools under the current state of affairs. Except in isolated instances where temporary “experiments” are set up, with failure guaranteed as a direct consequence of (unrealistic) litmus tests and unachievable cost-benefit criteria, recommendations for long-term or extensive applications are merely forgotten ("An Intellectual Retreat', North Dakota Journal of Education, Snyder, 1978).

 

              The reasons for all of this are not incomprehensible, by any means. A state government invariably wields overwhelming power with respect to private individuals. When parental responsibility is usurped for the ostensible purpose of education, state authorities are automatically obliged to define, both legally and practically, the precise parameters of that education in the process as official agents of government. They also automatically inherit a need at all levels to assure compliance, tacit acceptance, loyalty, legitimacy, surrender and servility on the part of both children AND parents. They must continually justify their ineffective application of power and promote what is offered.

 

        The results are a badly compromised process and a contaminated environment. The efforts of authorities to rationalize their actions and vindicate themselves, therefore, necessarily become nothing more than subtle and not-so-subtle persuasion. Naked propaganda and PR are their main preoccupations. Authentic education is no longer the focus or even a primary goal for many participants. Call it indoctrination, mind-control, intimidation, rationalization, outright deception, or anything else you wish. But don’t call it education.

 

             Here are a few more quotes in the same vein. Educational mal-practice borders on the criminal and should be considered gross negligence at the least. The courts should not be rubber-stamping this sort of malfeasance and fraud. Children deserve to be protected and school administrators should show results that justify coercion and compulsion or they should get behind the movement to remove compulsory attendance legislation.

 

             "Here again, however, the educator is wrestling with an extraordinarily difficult problem. Paul Woodring of the Ford Foundation says that a teacher can teach Shakespeare to the lower half of the class, but that in the process all that makes Shakespeare worth reading disappears. This phenomenon is not restricted to the lower half of the class: greatness in literature, by common consent, is the product of profound insight into the human condition. Adolescents are still in the process of achieving the human condition, and they cannot recognize the quality of insights into experiences they have not yet absorbed."

Martin Mayer in The Schools, p. 236. (Anchor paperback)

 

              "Not only are mathematics and grammar soul-destroying but so is every considerable mental effort in childhood, before the brain and the rest of the body have been properly developed and before life, the inward as well as the outward, has become so familiar to us that we are able to recognize it in descriptions and feel a natural desire for information about its affairs. By seeking, therefore, to implant in children the order and calm, the reflection and wisdom, of age, we are only inoculating them with death in the mental and physical weakness of age."

N. F. S. Grundtvig, nineteenth-century poet and politician. (Danish)

 

 

               "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)

 

 

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