Category Archives: Bureaucracy

Building Credit

I often hear that the only way to get by in this country is by having credit. My dad says that I should get a credit card so that I can “build credit” by making certain expenses with that card. He told me that when he first came to the United States from Panama, he lived a cash only lifestyle. Things changed when one of the store owners/clerks asked why he did this. “I don’t see anything wrong with paying with money if I have saved enough of it,” he told the man. “Well what about building credit?” The clerk replied. The man reasoned that it is important to build credit, and that there is a safe way of doing so without going crazy with spending and running into debt. My dad took this advice.

My dad has a good head on his shoulders. After following this plan he has never fell into significant debt, or had to file for bankruptcy. Still, I believe he was taken advantage of by this man, who obviously would make a financial gain by encouraging a patron of his store to make transactions with a credit card. After recounting this story, my dad said that I could use a credit card to buy items that are too expensive to pay cash, like furniture. He made the point that there are many things I cannot accomplish without credit such as renting an apartment or car. A real case scenario confirmed this. When I went to Best Buy to get my first cell phone, I wasn’t able to buy a cell phone plan without a credit card. Since I did not have one, and my dad doesn’t think it’s wise to have a credit card and no job, we looked for a loophole. The only other option was to pay a large deposit of money that I did not have. My dad had just started a saving account for me, and we knew we wouldn’t touch that unless it was necessary. I settled for a crappy At&t gophone, complete with dropped calls and it had to get repaired once. The other gophones were probably of the same quality.

I understand the rationale behind the credit system. Businesses use it as a way to insure that their patrons are capable of paying for their products, making rent payments on time, and being a responsible consumer. In reality, it tempts people to live out of their means and always strive for an ever-escaping tomorrow. As someone who wants to get away from that, the credit system is just another hindrance to a less stressful lifestyle. It’s an entrapment when businesses leave the inferior products for those who don’t use credit, or not allow people to rent without credit. Rather than live an alternative to this system, not having credit just kicks me out instead.

My dad has really helped me stay conscious of credit, but there are parts of his plan I don’t agree with. He said I could build credit by buying things like tv’s or stereos (something he did) on credit, and by having at least one credit card once I have a job. Once I have that credit card, merely holding on to it for emergencies is not enough. To build credit I would have to spend with it. I do not want this at all. I do not plan on buying cable, a tv, a tablet, a new phone every year, or a car. I’m looking to head the opposite direction, which by today’s standards is seen as choosing poverty. Living within your means and not looking to raise your standard of living is social suicide. The whole idea of living here is to go higher and higher and higher, get more, and make more to get more and go higher. Even at the top you need to go on. The plane “never” stalls and drops back down – never even considers landing either.

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DIY Ecology Overview

…a world in which imperfection is accepted and dealt with. In which we don’t try so much to strive for what we don’t have and instead deal with what’s actually here. Innovation and improvisation is key. DIY culture is nothing new. In the area of ecology it is growing. In light of the protests in various parts of the world, and the threat of government bankruptcy, I am seriously questioning the story that we have come to believe about the nature of life here. The notion that never-ending monetary growth and ever-rising consumption is the best thing civilization has to offer is unsettling. Why has life become about earning a living instead of just living? So I want to do some writing and thinking about alternatives. I have already said much about democratic education, but I think there are other facets of life that also need to be decentralized. From this I have thought to call it “DIY Ecology,” or DE. I’m sure this has been coined elsewhere, but this is my version, and I am sure there are many others (it wouldn’t be DIY if there was only one methodology, now would it?). I make a distinction with DIY because society has already come to the realization that ecological stewardship and mindfulness is necessary for the survival of the planet and all the things it provides life for. However, my qualm is that the current ecological movement is at risk of becoming more commercialized. Ecology and permaculture is not a capital venture or an economic choice. It is an absolute necessity if we want to live more efficiently, conscientiously, and with emotional well-being. Rather than create markets of “innovations” that are inaccessible to most “consumers” in terms of creation and repair, we need to open the building and skill sharing to the people. We already have doses of DIY technology – open source, youtube, hacking. DE merges the technology with permaculture. We should use technology to make certain things easier, but at the same time focus on community, locality, the health of our environment, and frugal sustainability.

If a society like what I describe were to arise (and in some ways it is) it will probably develop in pockets and spread slowly. The following series is a half fictional, half underground hybrid of what is possible in society. The verb tense changes a lot – sorry in advance.

The United States.

The idea of a debt based economy is preposterous – why should our lives be based on never having enough? Unending growth of economy, money, and material goods is not possible. Yet politicians always talk about raising the economy and encouraging consumption in order to “boost” it. In the early stages of DE society, people sit around in unemployment, hoping for a bone to be thrown to them. But after much squalor, those who are ingenuous or most wanting to survive will find and learn various ways to live within their means.

This mean-based economy yields many things. Things once reserved for the poor or impoverished become respected. Clothing exchanges and “free stores” are popularized due to the realization that we already have enough clothing. The problem was that the monetary system unevenly distributes the amount of clothes available based on who could afford them, rather than based on who needed them. It also encouraged over-consumption through fallacious ad populum advertising (people were led to believe they needed more and more). The early 2000’s was the decade of throwback fashion anyway, and so that continued on with the increase in people trading and giving away clothing. Throwback fashion lead to skillshops and workshops where people who knew how to tailor and mend clothes helped and showed people how to make their clothes fit and look nice. Something that used to be a “college thing” was adapted by others, and people are satisfied with leaving unwanted clothes out in the open in “freeboxes” for others in to take. In order to keep up, stores like the salvation army and thrift stores became free stores – and tradeshops. Clothing centers like target/walmart/forever21/ross lost millions in profit or shutdown. Stores are broken into and clothing is taken and redistributed into the community. Sometimes groups get together to send surplus over to other states/countries once their own community learns to use the most of what it has. The euro-centric profit-based fashion system thus lost hold over the U.S., and people became okay looking how they wanted to look. Local fashions become more distinctive.

Infrastructure
Power companies, and places of infrastructure become more important than ever. But something happens. The aging of “the grid” finally catches up. Brown outs and black outs increase. This causes bosses to strategize with specialists about ways to deal with the problem. Power is purposefully shut off at 3am, 10pm, 2am – for x amount of hours depending on the density of the city. There is first gripe and protest, but public service campaigns revealing the weakness of the system are eventually understood. This causes a good thing. People re-learn the importance of nightfall. Companies change hours of operation so that workers only work during the day. This causes a slow down in the delivery of goods and services. People learn to deal with the time it takes to receive goods or they start relying on local services.

Trains, planes, and buses – I don’t know what that would look like without much money. Disorder at first, but then people will figure something out. Ethanol might finally triumph when the oil companies shut down. In real present times, people have figured out ways to convert used cooking oil into fuel. I dunno. With the lack of money, anarchistic tendencies develop, and what I mean is that people figure out ways to do things themselves without money or government directives. There have been times for instance, that I rode the metro bus and the driver decided to just let people get on, even when the change machine was working. Relying less on money might increase such tendencies. Perhaps first come first serve becomes important. Maybe the seniors and handicapped are taken from place to place for free at certain times of the day by para-transit volunteers. Carpooling may increase when the bus service becomes more scarce. Meet the new and old neighbors, they won’t bite.

Without gov’t money, street maintenance will decline, and cars will not be as useful as they once were. This causes a long period of service redistribution, in which the main buildings of schools, hospitals, markets, and other areas, once located “downtown,” are put into more local branches. Small businesses and tradeshops thrive and places to get goods. People who repair things become very important as the manufacturing system breaks down once the infrastructure breaks down.

FOOD!
Permaculture takes precedence when the delivery of goods slows down. Eco-villages, urban “farms” and community gardens are commonplace. “Food Not Lawns,” “Edible Estates,” and seed swaps are popularized. People get together to transform their neighborhoods into local food sources. In rural areas the same things are adopted, and farmers turn their attention to the nearest communities/cities now that they aren’t competing for money. Miracle grow and soil chemicals are no longer used when people use lawn-space to grow food. People get crafty and use the city-scape for food as well as art/design. So they line the streets with native plants and food. Also people learn to rely on edible weeds such as dandelion, purslane, lambs quarter, and young japanese knotweed. The homeless will have a lot of food available, and they will probably be on raw food diets from the food they steal (yes, they WILL steal the food, and they might redistribute it to others). Food Not Bombs initiatives gain ground. It is normal for neighbors to get together to cook and serve meals for the homeless.

Gangs and Drugs. These things will always be around. This is something I have NO understanding of. Will lack of money cause the drug cartel to lose power? I don’t know because addictive drugs are so powerful that people will do anything to get them. In a society that doesn’t use much money, will addictive drugs be freely handed out? Maybe drugs are used because the monetary society causes alienation and  too much stress. Maybe people who make drugs like meth or heroin will be alienated by their new communities which have come to know and depend on each other. maybe addictive drugs thrive because there is no community to put your time into. As far as gangs – they will rule certain areas by the threat of violence. This is obviously a negative thing. The communities strong enough to not back down and/or integrate gang members into their activities will do the best. Likewise a place that is deeply involved in a network of people might have a better chance of averting youth initiations. Communities of color will have the hardest fight with this issue. In some communities, the police might become gangs. This is more guesswork than anything else I am writing about.

Well, that’s it for now. My views are far from soundproof. It’s just fun to speculate.

A Perspective of Chinese Schooling

Having grown tired of partisan news and tabloid journalism, I recently started to watch Link TV. Link is an independent media network that reports and features documentaries about global news affairs. They will be featuring a documentary soon called Kindergarten. However, you can watch the full version online, which is what I did. I’ll be honest – it is a real tear-jerker with music in minor harmony and shots of distressed 2 to 4 year olds who have very little idea of what they’re parents got them into.  Upon close examination I saw that it highlights some of the facets of traditional education (minus exams): parental detachment due to work demands and the idea of school are surrogate parent; overcrowding and not meeting individual needs; among other things lack of peer to peer conflict resolution or the encouragement of choices. There are many astounding looks into they way these youth think about themselves, their situation, and others.

What appealed to me most about this film is that it reminded me of a twin experience I witnessed when I tutored 2nd graders at a local elementary school during my senior year – the only difference being that the kids I worked with did not come from wealthy families. I too had in inside look for an entire school year at the conditions and mindsets of young children shuffled into a situation without honest consideration of who they are or what they could do for themselves. I dealt with a student with severe depression, a child that was nearly mute for unknown reasons during the first semester. There was distressed and angry kid who bullied others because his “twin” made him do it (and his home life encouraged aggression). But this boy also loved art and drawing. There was a silent boy who loved math and could do much more than the class mandated, but a girl who was so confused by arithmetic that she would weep in frustration (she was later transferred out with another “slow” student and the teacher was extremely relieved). All of them were confused at how there was no more recess or play timed after middle school. I saw students outside of the class get punished before having a look into their conflicts, and much more.

Of course this was only one class I tutored for an extended period. I only had short stays in more sterile and quiet classes, as well as peeks on the playground and in the office. I can recall my own fuzzy memories of childhood  in private and public schools up until high school. I have heard the experiences of my brother and friends. I have only witnessed a fraction of this system, but I can see its detriments (and am working hard to see strengths such as positive teacher/student relationships).

Overall this film will not disappoint, and if anyone views it, please send in a review or discussion starter in the comments or (for the bloggers) in another post!

Thanks,

Zuleka

Schools as Battlefields for Justice? Teachers as Soldiers?

Previously unreleased, August 25th, 2010

“Put plain and simple, this country needs an army of great new teachers.” – Arne Duncan at the University of Virginia – 2009

“We will recruit an army of new teachers and develop innovative ways to reward teachers who are doing a great job, and we will reform No Child Left Behind so that we are supporting schools that need improvement, rather than punishing them.” – barackobama.com; education solutions

I guess this metaphor is supposed to be patriotic or nice. It’s not. As a person who thinks war is immature, ineffective, and negative, statements like this make me question the goals of such authority.

If the teachers are the army, then what war are they fighting? To recruit an army of teachers means that the teachers are seen as soldiers. In other talks these two men allude to the war being a war for “social justice,” or civil rights or something. Social justice as defined by thefreedictionary.com is as follows:

Social justice refers to the concept of a society in which justice is achieved in every aspect of society, rather than merely the administration of law. It is generally thought of as a world which affords individuals and groups fair treatment and an impartial share of the benefits of society. (Different proponents of social justice have developed different interpretations of what constitutes fair treatment and an impartial share.) It can also refer to the distribution of advantages and disadvantages within a society.

Social justice is both a philosophical problem and an important issue in politics, religion and civil society. Most individuals wish to live in a just society, but different political ideologies have different conceptions of what a ‘just society’ actually is. The term “social justice” is often employed by the political left to describe a society with a greater degree of economic egalitarianism, which may be achieved through progressive taxation, income redistribution, or property redistribution. The right wing also uses the term social justice, but generally believes that a just society is best achieved through the operation of a free market, which they believe provides equality of opportunity and promotes philanthropy and charity. Both the right and the left tend to agree on the importance of rule of law, human rights, and some form of a welfare safety net (though the left supports this last element to a greater extent than the right).

According to Cornell University Law School, civil rights are:

an enforceable right or privilege, which if interfered with by another gives rise to an action for injury. Examples of civil rights are freedom of speech, press, and assembly; the right to vote; freedom from involuntary servitude; and the right to equality in public places. Discrimination occurs when the civil rights of an individual are denied or interfered with because of their membership in a particular group or class. Statutes have been enacted to prevent discrimination based on a person’s race, sex, religion, age, previous condition of servitude, physical limitation, national origin, and in some instances sexual preference.

These are tricky concepts, but based on what these men say, teachers are the soldiers fighting the war for these sorts of things, or more of it ( because we have already come a long way in achieving social justice and civil rights). Gaining social justice is a struggle, but a war? I’m not sure if calling it that does any good. Why must there be war for and on every sector in society? Our whole culture is a war. On drugs. For justice. On terror. For peace (???).

Learning is not a war, it is an adventure. While it can be used as a tool to equip oneself with the awareness necessary to achieve justice, learning overall is discovery and intriguing challenge. What do these men really mean?

Where does this place school administrations and all the higher levels of bureaucracy? Are the teachers the Privates, while all others serve as the Generals, Lieutenants, and Sergeants? Most of all, what are the students? Like the citizens overseas that government leaders claim we want to provide with peace and civility, are the students just the group that needs to be fought for – to have things done to them because we don’t see them fit to achieve for themselves? Okay, so that was definitely a loaded question. 🙂 But seriously, it seems that this war metaphor is used too much. There even used to be a “war on hunger.” Hunger?

What do you guys think? Does the trail oddly make sense? Generals and leaders – Administration and the government -> Privates/Soldiers – teachers -> Civilians/those to be “aided” -> students = The War for Education

And I guess citizens are okay with this kind of language, or most likely, they don’t notice it well.

Misleading Course Title (?)

For my second semester in college I will be taking a class called, “Writing Seminar: Voices of Community.” So far I have one book for this class titled, “Composing a Civic Life: A Rhetoric and Readings for Inquiry of Action.” A seminar by definition* is, “A small group of advanced students in a college or graduate school engaged in original research or intensive study under the guidance of a professor who meets regularly with them to discuss their reports and findings.” So a writing seminar must be intensive study and research with a professor and a small group of advanced students on the topic of writing. Surely enough, the course description echoes this to an extent with, “Building on the writing skills developed in Images of Nature, Voices of Community provides students with more extensive practice in composition and revision. The course focuses on cultivating the conventions of Standard Written English and enriching students’ expressive and stylistic resources through a series of assignments that explore from diverse perspectives how the environment encompasses human relationships and communities. The critical thinking and communication skills learned in this course enable effective and informed participation in these communities.” I remember that when asking what professor would be good to take the class with, a friend of mine said to take so-and-so because she will really help me with my writing, and may even have my done with the 15 or so end semester paper before all of the other classes. In waiting to receive the book (and now that I’m on break I have no idea if it was properly shipped), I grew curious as to what it is about. I found a table of contents, and I was excited to see lines about global and local communities, a look into the reasons for going to college, and “engaged pedagogy.” I also like lines and chapters that suggest I can connect this to my journalism and logic classes. But when put in context with the course description, my friend’s advice, and experience with the first core class, Images of Nature, I have a feeling I’m in for a dull experience.

This is definitely pessimism. Whether it is grounded in reality has yet to be played out. The student capacity is 20 seats. That is definitely “small,” but only in a general way. It does not arrive at the intimate learning I desire. The group should be small enough that a track of viewpoints can be practically sustained over the course of the semester, giving the group (instructor included) opportunities to help to strengthen one another’s reasoning. I’d say 13 or less. But in my experience with Images of Nature, not even a small group setting can do much to bring this about if students do not put in any effort to tune in. It had about 10 students. My other classes have been blaze, preferring the stale air of lecture sessions to the discussion-based style that our classes are meant to exhibit. I am also disappointed about the course focus, because as a person curious about defining community and understanding effective community engagement, spending most of my time improving my writing skills seems like the wrong way focus on community. I understand that I will, as with Images of Nature, be writing in context of the topic of community, but I am still skeptical. Images of Nature was loaded with standardized expectations that make me question if professors are teaching core classes to instruct, or teaching to certain requirements such as final student papers that must be submitted into an online network for random review by removed “educators”*. Even the syllabus for Images of Nature was set to a standard teaching and learning expectation for all divisions of the classes – teachers had to edit in (and edit out) their own expectations, assignments and goals.

I realize that I have needs. I want to focus on enjoying what I learn, rather than running through a checklist of requirements. I want my college education to be a mix of critical reasoning and explorations of ways that I can engage in society. I want to use my education to develop the practice of work as play, innovation, and a challenge to look forward too. I have only seen weak sparks of these goals and concepts in my school. I do not want to believe that this is all up to me, and that “life is what I make of it.” That is only half of the game. People are dependent on healthy communities that can help us develop and communities that we can provide our support to. There has to be a balance.

*definition of seminar from thefreedictionary.com.
*On a side note of standardization, course evaluations at my school are a JOKE. They are merely forms that only vaguely allow for input about whether the course and instructor met your needs. Only in two of my classes (no, images of nature was not one of them) did my professors create their own evaluation processes that really got to the core of issues that students dealt with, and encouraged honest feedback about improvement.

Wal-Mart, The Epitome of “I Can’t.”

Now, Wal-Mart  is not an education or school guru, but this commercial must appeal to some critical aspect of schooling that parents can relate to? There are others just like this, which show mothers expressing just how uninvolved they are in their child’s education. Fathers don’t even come into the picture, so you can imagine what he “can’t” do.

“I can’t go to class with him. I can’t do his history report for him, or show the teachers how curious he is. That’s his job. My job is to give him everything he needs to succeed while staying within a budget…I love my job.” Cut to boy with his new affordable laptop. He’s getting applause from his teacher and the students in the class as he delivers a report.*

I can’t go to school with her. I can’t introduce her to new friends.” Cut to girl nervously asking “Can I sit here?” to a group of girls sitting together at lunch. “Sure, I like your top!” one of them answers. “Or tell everyone how amazing she is. But I can give her what she needs to feel good about herself without breaking my budget. All she has to do is be herself.” Cut to smiling girls walking arm-in-arm down the hallway.*

And there’s another silly one that essentially says: “I can’t help him come out of his shell. I can’t help him fit in”…but I sure can give him snacks! Snacks that save money are great, and maybe he can make friends over some baloney and milk, “because you never know when a sandwich is more than a sandwich!”

Right.

I can understand if this was a non-consumerist commercial about giving youth space to grow up and be themselves, heck the “daddy’s little girl” Subaru commercial is about that (to a very limited extent). These commercials don’t speak to that though. They really put into perspective that parents don’t play a significant in their children’s education. From the moment a child catches the bus or crosses that school gate, the next 6 or so hours are unseen and uninfluenced by parents and caregivers. Not all parents are like this of course, but many of them are at most expected to do some fundamentals when their child is a toddler, and afterward that they hand the child in to the compulsory school system. From that point they are only seen at scattered conferences, science fairs, sports games, PTA meetings, and graduations. Many parents just go to graduations. The odd thing is that it’s not like most of these parents don’t care. They often think the opposite, and try very hard to do something, and that usually involves getting the kids into the “best” school available, one with prestige, “rigorous” curricula, and high graduation rates. It is all external – this process of schooling – for everyone involved. A parent “caring” about their child’s education typically involves making sure their child is up to par or above par on all the external markers of success in the system. They ride their youth about grades, homework, and tests. Second to that is making sure their youth is not a behavior problem.

Either they got high grades and were good at science, or they got average grades and were okay in English. In this system it’s hard to go into depth. What is their learning style? Do they have a hobby that they can’t delve into because of curricula? Do they seem to get along with those in their age group or do they say how they mostly hang out with the older or younger kids? What subjects do they find so interesting that they want more time for them? Are these questions ever asked? Please tell me. Parents are somewhat useless in the schooling process in many ways except spending money. What are parents doing other than providing support and goods from a distance? Too often parents are not sufficiently part of the process of their youth’s learning or growth. There’s a huge barrier between what the parent sees, and what the youth experiences. The connection is weak. Because of this, I realize more than before that parent choice in education is very important. How can parent choice be achieved? I am not sure, but what bothers me about them receiving more choice is that they are going to bank on the standards and procedures that be of external motivation, “rigor,” and merely putting youth under the parents’ tough standards rather than the government’s. I say that because right now, “tough standards” and “accountability” are all most parents are familiar with or aware of. “Going with what you know” seems much easier than getting vulnerable and going through your own trail and error. If parents want what’s best for their kids, they’re going to have to do more than just buy things, wrestle with homework, and show up for the big events. I think that for more freedom to be involved in this institution, those who are most silenced and shut out – teachers, parents, AND students – all need freedom of voice, choice, and collaboration in approaches to education.

* Source of commercial transcripts: ClaireMysko.com “Back to School: The Brands, The Labels, and the Pressure to have the ‘Right’ Look”

What Ms. K Had to Say

***

One woman’s message to me about “Why People Don’t Understand Schooling.”

Entry Date: 2010-08-16 12:48 PM

There are some assumptions here which are naive at best. Not everyone does have access to the internet, or even to the rest of society. Sure, there are many things wrong with schools, but there are also many things right with them. Rather than advocate eliminating schools, which would hurt the least advantaged in our society, we might take some of the suggestions here and work to implement them in our public schools, so that all young people have access to varied experiences and methodologies. We can differentiate instruction, learning, and assessment. We can provide alternatives within the public system. We can guide young people toward self-directed learning, and so on. We can’t do any of these things unless we have free, public schools, and act to change them. As citizens in a (somewhat) democratic society, we have the power to change those things we don’t like. Rather than talk about dumping them, why not work on changing them?

***
My Response: This is exactly the misunderstanding I am talking about. You made a hefty amount of assumptions yourself, which was the whole point of the post. You have very little idea how I feel about education – not from that one post. I am not against public schools, I am against the type of schools we have now which don’t ever include youth choice and voice, and those schools are the mainstream. How can we raise youth in a so called democratic society that doesn’t even allow them to grow up with opportunity to vote and have say in what directly affects their lives?

Do public schools need to be dumped? Not really. They do need a major re-haul that reflects real democracy. Growing up in a system that doesn’t allow you any input or say, in which everyone has the power to decide things for your life except you, is NOT democratic.

You’re right, not everyone has access to the Internet, but when I was talking about technology, and how it is changing the public’s access to these things in places such as libraries, I was making a point that we are increasingly coming toward that point. Also look into things such as the hole in the wall project. and what Dr. Sugata Mitra had to say about its effects.
I do not advocate a complete dump. Here are some things I have thought about:
A Summary of some things that can help
Standards of Diversification
A follow-up to college inc.
Since Schools Aren’t Going Anywhere… (While that the title would appear to prove your point, I have since shifted in thought, and doubt I would want a system of education to vanish altogether. The contents actually show the desire to change rather than delete)
Other Forms of Progressive Education
College Life For Me
My Blog’s disclaimer:
Disclaimer: This is an experimental process of blurting out and sorting out my views and ideas. I have no facts, only opinions and references (links and videos). I’m blogging as a necessary step towards being fully involved in the free/democratic/progressive school movement and the other “alternatives” in society that make sense to me. FEEDBACK IS WELCOMED AND APPRECIATED!

You can also check out the wide array of various bloggers and websites I link to in my blog. Feel free to leave comments (on the blog) to these things.

***I can see how she would think, “against compulsory schooling” would mean, “against free public schools,” but no I didn’t mean that. Against compulsory schooling meant, “against the authoritarian nature of mainstream schools, public or private,” in which attendance and everything else is out of the control or input of the youth that system is supposed to serve.

People Don’t Understand Schooling

In relatively recent news, a high school valedictorian really criticized the nature of compulsory schools, and advocated a changed system of choice and autonomy. In response, I have seen many people say that she was wrong for this, and that although schools aren’t perfect, they do serve a great goal of educating all citizens. When people are critical of compulsory schooling, the response is generally this, “So what, you’re against education? You’re defending ignorance, and blind rebellion.”

No. People like myself, those proposing alternative free schools/democratic schools/holistic schools, or the “Valedictorian [who] speaks out against schooling,” are not against education or learning. We are against compulsory schooling. There is a difference between all these things. Learning is a process, or experience, that leads to education – the acquisition of knowledge. Schooling is a system, a specific environment (school) in which the acquisition of specific subjects and information is obligated to take place at specific times with specific outcomes for all. People against this system realize and propose that learning is not as narrow as we think it is. Learning is not something only invoked in a controlled environment. It happens outside of school buildings. It happens on the internet. It happens in a conversation, on a trip, or through reading a book. People against schooling encourage learning, not by the force of standards, curriculum, or career prospects, but rather, through will and intrinsic motivation. External motivation can be a jump-start toward a goal, but is only valuable up to a limited point. In order to learn and succeed, one seriously has to want the end result.

People also try to argue that without school, there would be no base of knowledge to rely on, and that people would be clueless and ignorant. This would be true – before the advent of the internet, and global electronic communication. In his “Open Letter to Educators,” Dan Brown highlights a great point that many people miss when they defend schools – facts are no longer restricted to schools or things such as physical libraries. We are reaching a point in our existence in which holding in all those facts is not necessary to survive in society. We have that breadth of information available to us for free AT places like libraries, and we can pay to buy laptops and internet connections at home. All cell phones now feature internet access. You can read news papers on smart phones, and phones such as the Black Berry have built in dictionary searches. Now sure, we are in the early stages of this eworld of information and communication, but we can only move forward. Point is, as the world of information and communication opens up for free more and more, the need to go to compulsory school to learn a base of knowledge will be useless. In a sense, it already is, but the government pitifully tries to hold to standards and rigid expectations of how information needs to be obtained, and where. People against schools realize that education is a free form occurrence hardly dependent on a physical space to learn in UNTIL you need to specialize, as with higher education. So schools are only necessary for depth, not breadth, and in lieu with the previous paragraph, that breadth is only meaningful if it is brought about by personal will and interest.

“Shakespeare is the greatest playwright. Everyone should read his work.” “Students need the classics. Students must be well rounded.” Humans are specializers, not generalizers. What use is it for our society to function, for everyone to be required to know the same amounts of things at the same time? Especially when much of this information is now readily accessible, and when people are expected to go off to study and work on what they care about anyway. Some people really like cooking, others really like math, or buildings things, and there are artists and writers. Some people like money and the way economics works. We all have inclinations and talents that push us one way or another. Although standardization’s goal is to have everyone learn the same thing and be on the same path for average knowledge, it fails because again, everyone is different and has a brain for grabbing different information, and it is not necessary to be standardized in “the real world.” The only place in which standardization and not deviating from the norm is valuable is in industrial, “blue collar” jobs, and at the typical “desk job.” But as more technology takes the place of human labor in these areas, creativity and innovation is needed more and more for the eworld of communication and exploration, for space exploration, for art jobs, for new technology, for architecture, for industrial DESIGN. Increased and changing aesthetics and efficiency is very valuable for the new way of society. The government mistakenly thinks that more standardization and indoctrination into our society of information is what will bring about innovators in these fields, but freedom and intrinsic motivation is more important. People need room to breathe, think and experiment outside of standard ways of doing things in order for the tweaks and creativity necessary for our lives to be enhanced. Change does not always come from standardization and knowing the same things. Those opposed to schooling see the detriment of standardization that is praised and enforced on the impressionable youth of our rapidly changing society.

Now, those opposed to standardization do not deny structure, for the most part. Humans are very sensitive and complex beings, and as our societies advance, we must deal with equally complex and sensitive systems. Having a certain amount of structure and familiar procedures in our daily lives can actually have us prepared to think outside the norm. Routines are valuable, but again, in most situations, being standardized in the same way becomes a problem. In many situations, having a variety of personality types and thinkers is critical to problem solving. One major qualm that opponents of compulsory schooling have is that uniform standardization does not prepare youth for the random occurrences of “real time” and “the real world.” The government needs to loosen up or break down the standards, allowing enough diversity of thought and action to penetrate school relationships and actions. Standardization does not take emotional and behavioral factors into account. School is often too much of a controlled environment, far different for what happens in the various environments outside of school. While standardization works for this environment, once youth move on to a different stage, or even a different controlled environment, such as college or a job, the rules change, and many are left unprepared to adjust quickly and appropriately, after 12 years of the same methods and treatment.

Another thing defenders of school don’t realize is that everyone is different. Now this seems obvious, but when you look at the nature of compulsory schools, the goal is to have everyone be the same in what they know or aspire to do. Government standards invariably describe what each student should know at each stage of the schooling system and process. It also sets the prescription of what level they should understand the favored information. Advocates of alternatives and learner centered education assert that this isn’t possible, and since the standardization of schooling, it doesn’t appear that the model student is ever lived out truly. It can appear as if standards work because many people graduate from the school system. However, democratic and alternative education advocates don’t see that as a success. Most students save for the valedictorian and a group of contenders probably did the basics to get by, or more realistically, performed at various levels of competence while still meeting the basics of the standards. In “low performing” schools, students get by to the next grade automatically, whether they individually meet the standard or not. People opposed to schooling assert and show through various alternative school models and programs, that learning and education takes place on a case by case basis. People learn in various ways, on various levels. Just look at multiple intelligence theory, emotional intelligence, and learning style theory. People have the aptitude and competence for some areas over others, and demonstrate their education in different ways. This intellectual diversity is crucial to innovation and creative developments, and trying to marginalize this leads to a lessening of creativity and out-of-the-box thinking.

Then there is the argument that, “If it was left up to me at that age [high school, middle school, etc.] I would have sat around and done nothing.” Now, this argument holds some weight and validity. Most youth as they get older in the schooling system probably would do nothing for a while if they suddenly stopped schooling. Actually, many youth do that while they are IN school, and IN a classroom. When a teacher is absent, the class slumps into apathy. On school breaks, students forget everything and they seek opportunities to play and do things relevant to them. The argument goes awry however, because of the reason for this apathy. Think about the lower grades, and children. Years of being told what, how, when, where, and why to learn have not settled into to these youths minds. What to THEY do when given a break? They play, explore, and discover. They are prone to asking more questions, and engaging in conversations about fantasy and possibility that lead them to wonder about life and the world around them. The very young are always looking to discover something that captures their interest. They may not go for depth right away, but they do search a wide array of things until eventually something does stick. But over time of having the learning process being decided for you by everyone but yourself, it starts to sink in that discovering things on your own is not possible, and maybe even useless in the face of the agenda set before you. When a youth seeks to learn something outside of the curriculum, it often is penalized and scorned as “slacking off.” Extracurriculars not done for college resume one-upmanship are also seen as useless. After having your outer school goals and interests put down continually, the experience can lead to apathy, a sort of learned helplessness brought about by lack of autonomy. Youth have no meaningful or powerful stake in their education. Proponents of alternative education assert that youth should have more to input.

This ties into the rebellion argument, saying that those against schooling are romanticizing opposition to authority, and encouraging rebellion for rebellion sake. This is far from the reality of views on this topic. Many, if not all alternatives usually seek to create an environment of empowerment and having a stake in choices made in ones life. Through learner choice and voice in education, students gain responsible freedom and understanding of their personal goals and desires. Many alternatives seek to create an environment of inquisition, in which students don’t take rules and those doling them out at face value. At democratic schools for instance, students vote on the rules of the school, and the hiring of staff. If offenses are committed, legitimate school trials are held to solve the matter and everyone present has say in how the conflict will be resolved. Often at these schools, other barriers such as age segregation are removed for more equality and realistic interactions. In unschooling, a form of homeschooling in which the youth has free reign and guidance from those around him or her to learn what he or she pleases, respect for the youth’s choices is a given. Again, running a muck with TV, video games, and apathy will most often occur in those who have been oppressed. It is a means of escape to finally do something, anything, of your own will before you have to go back to doing merely what you are told and expected to do. Now, for most who have been in the compulsory system, giving power to youth seems silly, but think about the society we live in. Isn’t the United States a democracy? Isn’t this country founded upon the motto of  “power to the people,” and “individual liberty?” Those against schooling argue that compulsory and standardized schools do not allow the freedom of choice and the power of voice necessary to raise citizens of a democracy. They are in opposition to the blatant authoritarianism and top down lack of freedom inherent in most schools.

Many arguments against the learner centered approach are weak if thoroughly examined. I make this bold claim because the rhetoric for their arguments often goes towards the easiest assertions based on the way things were in the past. We need basic facts and skills – but they don’t only come from schools. Technology has changed this access. Most kids would do nothing if given a chance to learn – only if their personal attempts to learn and discover are thwarted by the expectations and systems of those with power. You just want a rebellion – only if that’s what it takes to give youth the early experiences with power, choice, and autonomy necessary for democracy. People won’t even know what the basics are without school’s telling us what the basics are – as if we don’t realize that you cannot get along in modern society without reading, writing, comprehension, and basic math. Kids can’t just learn by themselves – as if parents, books, the internet, libraries, friends, mentors, internships, community organizations, tools and materials don’t exist or cannot be found without school.

Lastly let’s take a look AT computers and AT the internet. Who really taught those who grew up in the information age how to use the internet? Aside from educational games and sparse typing courses, many of use have self taught when it came to the internet, and we still do it. When the latest operating system comes out, do you learn how to use it at school? No, you need to get a feel for it and read the instructions on your own. Do teachers make you learn how to host a website, or do you delve into instructions, css, and html on your own? Is it necessary for everyone to know html and css to navigate the Internet at this point? Not really. Do you need to be a computer programmer to run anti-virus software? No. These are some of the most complex systems in our society, and we have come a long way through experimentation, with some taking interest in more complex parts of the system, and learning along the way. Education is a process and an experiment. It is not final or fixed, and that is what those against schooling really stand for.

A “Rainforest” Brain in a Sea of Standardization

I read two articles today that lifted and sank my heart. The first was an article in ODE Magazine (“for intelligent optimists”) written by Thomas Armstrong. It was an excerpt of his book, “Neurodiversity: Exploring the Extraordinary Gifts of Autism, ADHD, Dyslexia, and Other Brain Differences.” The second was an education article by Our Weekly, a newspaper about current events in the African American community that circulates in my town. The title of that article is, “California’s Education Transformation: New standards, programs, and funds introduced.”

The Ode article indeed was a source of optimism for me. Thomas argues that rather than focusing on the stigmas of psychological or developmental disorders, psychiatrists and others should start looking at the unseen abilities people with these issues have, the three disorders in the title of his book being the major contenders for investigation. Based on strides in neuroscience (neroplasticity and neurodiversity), Thomas likens the human brain to “more like an ecosystem than a machine.” He essentially says that just as different environments fluidly change from place to place, so to does the human brain lie on a continuum of potential and ability. He recalled from watching the scenery on his way to  Yosemite National Park that “The green fields did not stop cold to become brown foothills. Foothills didn’t abruptly become mountains. It all happened naturally along a continuum.” He says it’s the same way even with these disorders. Not everything is as black and white as we continue to hope for it to be. Humans are biological just like everything else in nature despite our need for concretion and completion. Nature is a fluid and flowing thing, and our brains follow suit.

Much of nature also works by adaption, and I will admit that with our industrial and technological progress, humanity understands adaptivity for everything but our our brains, until now. From season to season, environment to environment, organisms respond accordingly. Much of that is automatic, but in this article I believe Thomas’s argument in relation to neuroscience is that with current findings, people have the ability to adapt by will, rather than by influence or instinct. He notes that autistic people “are systematizers. rather than empathizers…[and] that they often work better with non-human factors such as machines, computers, schedules, maps, and other systems.” Someone with ADHD can be good in quick response situations and rapid-paced careers. Everyone is different and needs to find their place in their society, but having a developmental or mood disorder doesn’t mean you’re doomed or will never fit in. To provide people like this with opportunities to succeed, Thomas argues that it is important to look into other characteristics, environments, and skills that can benefit these people. Nothing is really one sided.

This is very important to consider, given the continual push for more standardization and the rising rates of disorders and grief. On that note I feel the key thing Thomas mentioned was this, “Instead of pretending that hidden away in a vault somewhere is a perfectly ‘normal’ brain, to which all other brains must be compared to…we need to admit that there is no standard brain, just as there is no standard flower, or standard cultural or racial group, and that, in fact, diversity among brains is just as wonderfully enriching as biodiversity and the diversity among cultures and races.” Here are seven tenants to realizing this neurodiversity, and doing something about it (number 4 strikes a chord in the theme of Malcolm Gladwell’s, “Outliers”; number 6 tunes in with Mark Hyman’s “The Ultramind Solution”):

  1. The human brain works more like an ecosystem than a machine
  2. Human beings and human brains exist along continuums of competence
  3. Human competence is defined by the values of the culture to which you belong
  4. Whether you are disabled or gifted depends largely on when and where you live
  5. Success in life is based upon adapting one’s brain to the needs of the surrounding environment [likewise…]
  6. Success in life depends upon modifying your surrounding environment to fit the needs of your unique brain
  7. Niche construction includes career and lifestyle choices and assistive technologies tailored to the needs of a neurodiverse individual
  8. Positive niche construction, directly modifies the brain which in turn enhances its ability to adapt to the environment

His article can be found here.

So time and time again I hear people discuss the fluidity of the individual over the standardization of all. I’ve also read segments of a book on neuroplasticity, “The Brain that Changes Itself.” And what does the California Department of education (CDE) do? They “Race to the top” after the external motivators of money, and will use that money to cash in on national academic standardization. State Superintendent of public instruction, Jack O’connell  will “adopt the Common Core Standards which were developed to establish consistent  and clear education standards for English language arts and mathematics that would better prepare students for success in the competitive economy.” I knew I wasn’t crazy in thinking education is only about a job, and that this new/global/competitive economy is cropping up fast and being tossed around as the ultimate goal for learners of the 21st century. “Common core standards are a set of guidelines that detail what students should know at each grade level,” the article reads. The overall goal with these implementations is to “close the achievement gap” in low economic areas, and “prepare all students for college and careers in the 21st century.” So, this is the third ring towards my “College is Mandatoryfears. California is a finalist for $700 million dollars in funding according to that article, and the state is getting ready along with 34 other states for “phase 2” of the race. The claim by the CDE is that adopting standards will cause schools to have new curriculum, better instruction tools, batter assessments and better ways to gauge accountability. Sounds great, but what about individual choice, ability, and interest. This Common Core Standard program also coincides with STEM, “student achievement in science technology, engineering, and mathematics. So to add insult to injury, there will be nationwide intellectual standardization, as well as emphasis on science in math rather than all subjects. This narrows things down more, and from the findings of the previous article and neuroscience, this is bad news for people who are different or have disorders.

Rather than look to see how people can live and benefit from things in various ways, the government looks to bring people even more into narrow unified systems, while those who are different or learning disabled become or continue to be the minority, only left with disability services or various forms of maladjustment in their lives. Alternative learner-centered education is in for a hard struggle I realize, as the people implementing these monetary-centered standards have money, the media, and tradition on their side.

What is the Purpose of Education?

What is the real point? Definitions of education say things about “a learning or teaching experience.” It is meant to be an experience that gives you knowledge about the world, and skills to apply that knowledge in various situations. When I hear about school however, I get the feeling that something else is understood by “education.”

On quite a few occasions I have pointed out president Obama’s use of the phrase “global economy” in his education speeches. When I see anything about his education plan, he brings that up, as well as “competition.” Beside his words, I often hear the phrase, “A high school diploma is not enough anymore.” It is understood unofficially that in order to get a secure “well-paying” job (as to what is a well paying job, look up top paying jobs) you need a college degree (in what I am not sure, possibly those top paying job areas). I am also seeing a surge of commercials by vocational schools and schools like DeVry and Everest, which claim to get you a degree in fast growing jobs as soon as possible so that you can join the workforce. Their selling point is often that they get you straight to the “hands-on” vocational information in their curriculum.  At college encouragement rallies for youth that I have attend, the hook is that you can make more money with a college degree. I hear conversations about students wanting this job or the other once they get out of college, because of the pay and sometimes (thankfully) interest in the subject. Many youth major in things they hope to get a job in.

So enough of these instances. My question is, “Why is this happening?” Am I missing something here? I thought education was just about learning and critical thinking, and of course you can apply that knowledge to practical things, like a job. That brings me back to what that man said in the film, “College Inc.” Maybe education really is a business, and nations can’t “afford” to waste time on people learning for the sake of academia and to “sit around and think.” This worries me. It puts me out of place with many people I know, who have this idea that education is just a tool and not process or end in itself.

What’s stranger is that as information becomes more publicly accessible and open source, learning to gain facts and information is no longer something that happens in an institution. If you want to learn about trees or math, look no further than your internet browser. This is great. The general population has this immense opportunity to learn. However, what does that mean for a school if you can get together with others and learn from online information? It seems to be that schools then would be built up more as a preparation for work. Leave learning for learning sake for hobbyists or radicals. Of course I’m just generalizing, but this is bugging me.

I don’t like work. I don’t know why. If I were able to work doing something I’m into, then sure I’ll work. However, my “line of work” wouldn’t be as secure or well paying as others. What can a studio artist or freelance writer do other than “work” hard with no hope of gaining anything but happiness? No money, especially starting out. I would have to be satisfied with low income anyway, so I’m at odds with this preparation for work thing. I would go to art school, and take music and writing and speaking classes on the side, but where will that get me in this “global economy?” Sure there are things like The Guggenheim Museum, and 3d Graphic Design & Animation, but…I’m not interested. I am not interested in using mainly technology in my art works. I also abhor megacities like Manhattan. I want to be contemporary with traditional materials – pencils and brushes. Should I force myself to be interested for greater chance of security and payment?

I am against change in one way, but for it in another, and that brings me to feel how hard it is to “know nothing of the world,” as my mom would say. I know very little of art. Guggenheim is not technology on steroids. I don’t know what work is like. I don’t understand how money is important. For the past 12 years I’ve been sheltered and exposed. Sheltered from “the world” at school and exposed to the life of emotional pain at home. I understand deceit and lying and emotional strife in interpersonal relationships, but know nothing about jobs or the workforce or things that matter at large. I know the alternatives and the things that matter to a select few.