Category Archives: Democratic Education

Today is a Slow Day

Excuse mistakes – I’m taking quite a chunk of my time to do this, and I don’t wish to waste anymore on editing.=^_^=

I’m in college now, and I like it. People are friendly for the most part. It is very diverse for a school in such a secluded location.

The bad part comes out here: there is a heavy drinking culture and smoking. The administration has made steps to address that with smoking zones, and there is a club on campus that I joined (SEAL, Students Engaged and Awake to Life) that has a focus of drug free activities. Also, much of the partying and drinking happens at the river way far in the back of campus, and while it is refreshing during the day – I stay clear of that area at night. Anyway…

I lost my baggage (the airline actually) so the first night I slept with just a jacket. However I was “compensated” by meeting two other Californians that very night, who live close to my hometown. 🙂 During orientation we were made to hit the ground running with interesting activities – tours, teaching us to make hummus quesadillas, a goofy meet-and-greet ice breaker. I have met a lot of interesting people, and during this past week have heard interesting conversations. William Shakespeare is either a clever contractor, or a secret guild of writers, or a clever man from the future. John F. Kennedy was killed because his policies aggravated the mafia and the military industrial complex; there were two Lee Oswalds; there’s was a lot of conning, none of which was done by the government as conspiracy theory would have you believe. Interesting stuff, but I take it with a grain of salt anyway. I’ve also seen alot of radical people: a green peace volunteer, a fellow anarchist, and some atheists and Buddhists. Even the school’s “chapel” looks like a hindu/buddhist/pagan sanctuary, although it is traditionally affiliated with the Methodist church.

It is very multicultural here (given that it is Vermont) with 21 international students and quite a number of African American students. I guess by very I mean that I was expecting to be one of perhaps only three “black people.” Because of the multiculturalism here, I have been challenging my beliefs of about race, or rather, my mother’s views about it that I have absorbed. So, I have already seen the Human Genographic Project, which presents genetic and geographic evidence as to how humans have come to look differently and develop certain traits over time after moving out from Africa. That really opened my eyes up about the blurriness of “race.” But here at Green Mountain, I have heard and seen a few things that have expanded upon this. On move in day, my roommate’s family was helping her move in. It was a woman and a little boy. The woman was blond and “white,” the little boy was “black,” and had a British accent. Then a man came in who looked Hispanic, but he had a British accent. Then my roommate came in. The man and the boy are whole and half brothers respectively. The woman is her aunt, and my roommate looks “white” also by the way. She lived in London, then Maine, and then Spain, and she speaks Spanish. I was confused and intrigued.

Similar things happened when I was at dinner. A blond, “white” girl was asked about her ethnic background. She said Puertorican and Irish. Then I was asked, and I said, “Jamaican, Panamanian, Irish, and Scottish.” My friend then told me after dinner that he is Italian and Mexican. Going back in time, I saw a random guy who looked African American – he is from Zimbabwe though. Then at some point my mom gave me a phone call, and she ended up asking if my roommate is “white.” I told her that I don’t know how to define that anymore, basically I couldn’t give her an answer.

Wow, what a tangent. Since this is an environmental school, my introductory writing course, “Images of Nature,” involves reading and trips that are meant to engage me in natural thinking. Right now in the early stages of “A Sense of Nature,” the reading is about seeing nature. There are “cold” and factual scientific ways of viewing nature, fully alert ways, spiritual ways – but not the spiritual “spirit” way. Ugh, I don’t really know how to articulate it right now – I read it this morning. Nature and humans who are included in nature are not separate, and the give and take push and pull interactions between us a nature is the “spiritual realm,” much unlike the monotheist or Christian view of spirit being separate and nature being brought about to serve humans only. All of this literature about seeing nature makes me realize how disconnected I am having grown up in a county of Los Angeles. I’ve come from a place that has completely imposed itself upon pre-historic nature, with our own more complex nature. The urban world never gives much thought to what the other nature can provide, and what we can give. I notice that as more leaves fall and I am nearing my first real autumn, I kick them away as if they don’t belong. I wonder why they are falling and then I realize that Vermont is not seasonless like Los Angeles. I am starting to pay attention to sounds and motions – and bugs are not freaking me out like before – even spiders.

So yeah, what else. There is a farm here on campus that is fossil free. There are chores that students can help out with – either early in the morning or in the evenings. I am tempted to go, but I feel like I “don’t belong” because of my industrial upbringing, although they say that beginners are encouraged and welcomed as it is a learning farm. It was very humid for the past few days and today it was rainy and windy – I was unnerved by all of these changes.

A lot of people go barefoot or wear sandals, something I used to feel very comfortable doing as a child until my parents complained that that was nasty and will make people talk about the family. Now my feet feel very sore and tender against the smallest rock or stick as I venture into my old ways.

My other classes are beginning music, drawing, and systems thinking: create positive change. The last one is my favorite, as I feel I am being challenged toward a whole new way of thinking. Contrary to the strict boundaries of industrial modern thinking, the approaches to systems thinking I am learning are methods that realize the complexity, uncertainty, and dynamic being of everything. I wish I could explain everything about this class right now, but I still have a lot of reading to do, and it is only the beginning week of the semester. However, there are some tenants I learned in one reading, “Dancing With Systems,” by Donella Meadows, that I would like to share with you:

1. Get the beat.
Before you disturb the system in any way, watch how it behaves. Starting with the behavior of the system forces you to focus on facts, not theories. It keeps you from falling too quickly into your own beliefs or misconceptions, or those of others. It’s amazing how many misconceptions there can be.

2. Listen to the wisdom of the system.
Aid and encourage the forces and structures that help the system run itself. Don’t be an unthinking intervener and destroy the system’s own self-maintenance capacities. Before you charge in to make things better, pay attention to the value of what’s already there.

3. Expose your mental models to the open air.
Remember, always, that everything you know, and everything everyone knows, is only a model. Get your model out there where it can be shot at. Invite others to challenge your assumptions and add their own.

4. Stay humble. Stay a learner.
Working with systems—on the computer, in nature, among people, in organizations—constantly reminds me of how incomplete my mental models are, how complex the world is, and how much I don’t know. The thing to do when you don’t know is not to bluff and not to freeze, but to learn.

5. Honor and protect information.
A decision-maker can’t respond to information he or she doesn’t have, can’t respond accurately to information that is inaccurate, can’t respond in a timely way to information that is late.  If I could, I would add an Eleventh Commandment: Thou shalt not distort, delay, or sequester information.

6. Locate responsibility in the system.
Look for the ways the system creates its own behavior. …sometimes blaming or trying to control the outside influence blinds one to the easier task of increasing responsibility within the system.

7. Make feedback policies for feedback systems.
You can imagine why a dynamic, self-adjusting system cannot be gov- erned by a static, unbending policy. It’s easier, more effective, and usually much cheaper to design policies that change depending on the state of the system.

8. Pay attention to what is important, not just what is quantifiable.
Our culture, obsessed with numbers, has given us the idea that what we can measure is more important than what we can’t measure. …Don’t be stopped by the “if you can’t define it and measure it, I don’t have to pay attention to it” ploy. No one can precisely define or measure justice, democracy, security, freedom, truth, or love.

9. Go for the good of the whole.
Don’t maximize parts of systems or subsystems while ignoring the whole.

10. Expand time horizons.
In the strict systems sense, there is no long-term/short-term distinction. Phenomena at different time scales are nested within each other. Actions taken now have some immediate
effects and some that radiate out for decades to come.

11. Expand thought horizons.
Defy the disciplines. In spite of what you majored in, or what the textbooks say, or what you think you’re an expert at, follow a sys- tem wherever it leads. It will be sure to lead across traditional disciplinary lines.

12. Expand the boundary of caring.

13. Celebrate complexity.
Let’s face it, the universe is messy. It is nonlinear, turbulent, and chaotic. It is dynamic.

14. Hold fast to the goal of goodness.
We know what to do about eroding goals. Don’t weigh the bad news more heavily than the good. And keep standards absolute.

You can read the whole article here.

I know that was a lot, but the main reason why I joined the class was that I saw so many parallels between this discipline and the goals and approaches of democratic and alternative education. I also joined this class as another critical step to challenging myself to do something and understand myself and my goals. I like things here so far…

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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.

My Blog of Effort has Moved

My blogging about education has been moved to democraticeducation.org (IDEA, institute of democratic education). With this move, this blog runs the risk of becoming an online diary. I don’t really like that idea.

Change. I like it, but have grown to learn to hate it. Reassessment is a good thing. Being open minded is the best thing ever. Well, I could turn to Sustainability, Free-thought, or Art, or a mixture of my interests. I just don’t think it makes sense to continue to concentrate my alternative education ideas here when they can contribute to an actual alternative organization.

I’ll be doing some double posting and posting original ideas, mostly in Op-Ed, sometimes in The Pulse. I am appreciative, but I sort of feel like the oddball there. They all have their black and white photo with the chopped out background replaced with a white one. And then when I saw their bios, I thought, wow these people are generous. Then I realized when I signed on, that the bios were written by the bloggers, but in third person. I dunno, that seems kind of rigid, but I passed it off as professionalism – I have seen other blogs, like the ones on Psychology Today, that do the same thing, except the person remains in color.

So yeah, it’s a togetherness thing – great. Anyway, I’m doing educational stuff over there, life stuff over here. I’ll figure it out my dear, seven readers.

Summary of things that can Help

Democratic Education And Free Schools

  • The personalized and dynamic nature of democratic education makes it difficult to define. There is no “accepted” definition of what exactly democratic education means (and, in our opinion, we hope no authority ever presumes to claim an exact definition). However, it might help to provide a brief description of what it is not as well as varying perspectives on what it is. Democratic education, as we see it and in the context of this directory, does not refer to an authoritarian approach involving a hierarchical structure and pre-determined course-work designed to create “citizens of a democracy.”
  • Democratic education is an educational approach grounded in respect for human rights and a broad interpretation of learning, in which young people have the freedom to organize their daily activities, and in which there is equality and democratic decision-making among young people and adults.

– A.E.R.O.

Specialized Schools

  • Schools that have their curriculum concentrated into one or a few fields and crafts, such as science or art.

Homeschooling or Unschooling

  • Homeschooling is when parents take charge of teaching their children. The trickiness with this type of education is that if the parents have been traditionally schooled, the child will suffer under some rigidity (required textbooks, or even insistence on taking tracking tests). There is also the slight concern that the parents may only be schooling their kids as a means to impose their own ideals and beliefs onto them, which doesn’t really help a child’s intellectual growth or social maturity. If homeschooling is taken liberally, and is not always conducted at home then that’s great. Even the parents can learn at that point.
  • Which leads to my next explanation: unschooling. This is “homeschooling” generally, but it is “child-led.” The kids make up their day in terms of what they’d like to discover or learn. Parents and others available, including fellow children then proceed to give the learner guidance. The things unschoolers do are different from person to person, even within the same household. It’s for all ages, and in the end gets counted down as life experience.

Holistic Education

  • Holistic education aims to nurture and develop the varied but interrelated capacities of the human being .  Thus while it addresses the intellectual development, it is equally concerned about the child’s development as a physical, emotional, artistic, social, moral, and spiritual being.  It aims to create a person who is well-rounded — in a broad sense — healthy, a human being who has developed each aspect of his or her humanity.  The aim of holistic education is not merely to fill the child with information, to develop academic  and job skills, and to prepare the child to fit into the prevailing economic and social system.  Rather it is to help the young person develop into a free, creative, compassionate being who can participate fully in the life of the community.  — Dr. Ron Miller, Goddard College, VT
  • This is why since I am being pressured to go to college right away, Goddard is one of my main choices. They value liberal education and intellectual freedom and diversity.

Liberal Boarding Schools

  • The Highland School is the closest I can find to a liberal boarding school. The biggest issue with boarding schools is money. Since we unfortunately live in a world dominated by an infinite and constantly unattainable supply of this inanimate object, life must be a struggle. If boarding schools were free, as all education institutions should be, they would suck, because the government just can’t take on that much financial responsibility in the realms of education. If they were also tax (or tuition?) free, then they’d really suck, because people would not spend their time donating to the point that all boarding schools can be highly sophisticated.
  • Secondly, boarding schools have to be strict since, before the student arrived time management and responsibility was handled for them in k-x years of schooling. They wouldn’t know how to handle the freedom.
  • Plus sides: You’re more likely to achieve specialization at a boarding school. You eventually gain more maturity once you get used to being away from your parents. The curriculum is more mature. It’s like mini-college (although I detest what colleges have become, I do acknowledge that it’s better than anything traditional k-12 can provide enforce).

Elimination of standardized tests. Intelligence is NOT a sport…unless you’re on a debate team. Trivia retention is, but remembering trivia is not learning, but merely storing. Learning should not be a big competition, because naturally some people will be left out and ultimately deterred from learning and will lose faith in themselves. It’s inevitable that we will have an average person with limited ability or skill, but if testing and competing is eliminated that won’t be of concern. The real deal would thus become a task of working with what you have and accepting differences.

There’s more to think about of course, but I’ll leave my ideas and opinions for another day. Oh by the way, I am now an academic tutor for an elementary school. What a fateful opportunity to go back and see how things are going on the lower levels of traditional education. I’ll be reporting.

Update – 2010: There is also A.S. Neil’s Summer Hill School in the UK. It is another democratic boarding school. A great one at that, that I hear has really influenced democratic education here in the States.