Category Archives: Radical Education
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.
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.
Does the right to a formal and compulsory education make any sense at all? Even if you claim you’re doing it in the person’s best interests (assuming you know what that person’s interests and desires are), that doesn’t put the person in any sort of choice in the matter. So what is a right? A dictionary definition of a right is: Conforming with or conformable to justice, law, or morality.
Rights obviously aren’t what I thought they were. I thought a right was a choice, you know, like the right to remain silent before you are put on trial for something (which has to do with the law doesn’t it?).
Here is an unnecessarily long confusing “legal” definition:
In an abstract sense, justice, ethical correctness, or harmony with the rules of law or the principles of morals. In a concrete legal sense, a power, privilege, demand, or claim possessed by a particular person by virtue of law.
So people can only live by the rules of law even if what they would do otherwise is totally harmless to the life and well being of other citizens. By choosing to be self educated in any way not authorized by government regulation then, a person is not acting in accordance to the law. OOOOhhhhh, so that’s why people can be fined or jailed for not sending youth to school. That’s why “unschoolers” have to dive under the ruse of a government authorized homeschooling license in order to allow themselves to grow learn and develop in unhindered ways.
If people simply allowed youth to just grow up and learn from their parents and outer community, from visiting museums and libraries and other places, by choice of desiring such experience, they are being unlawful, and therefore punishment is necessary.
Is this good and fair, especially to young children who have no idea of what they are being put into – no chance to grow and make some sort of decisions on their own? And no, school is the LAST place where you learn to make your own choices. In school everyone BUT YOU matters:
When it comes to time
When it comes to food
When it comes to the people you’re with half the day
When it comes to receiving information and knowledge
There are NO choices.
This same concept is now slowly being applied to college attendance. Oh sure, you don’t HAVE to go to college, but if you don’t you will be deemed incompetent and rejected by “potential employers.” You will be shunned by all of your closest friends and family for not having obtained the highest honor in the United States – more certification to prove to others that you are worthwhile.
Or this get up for boys: It’s either college or the military! People are so used to a lack of choice and a lack of creativity that they say these sorts of things often. And that’s another thing, why do men HAVE to sign up to kill other people, even if they may not want to? Why do they get in trouble if they don’t? So what, they have the RIGHT to sign up to kill?
Are these “rights” safeguards? Do they really help advance humanity? Oh let’s force everyone to do what we the government wants them to do. That way we increase the chances that they will do it better and the way we want them to, in our own favor, and a bit in their own favor over time. And what’s the favor? The accumulation of money, credit (digital or otherwise), and wealth!!! That’s why we have systems in which the citizens must go through long trials of providing ever-increasing proof that they are worthwhile according to the standards WE set for them! Glorious intangible money dressed up as something actually there to guide our tangible lives by! The global economy! The American dream! And besides, we can’t possibly be acting wrong because they have CHOICES! They could have voted us out if they weren’t pleased! They have inalienable RIGHTS, which really means they have the inalienable opportunity to act in accordance to the ever changing laws that we hold over their lives!
Maybe I’m taking this out of context. Maybe these rights ensure that I really do get happiness. Maybe war is good and necessary to solve our complex problems. Maybe choice doesn’t exist, especially for the youth! By being young, foolish and unaware of life in any way beyond my own, I deserved to have things imposed on me beyond basic necessities. I deserved not to be taken seriously or have a say in my life. Now that I’m an adult I shouldn’t fret because I finally get the choices I was never allowed to make (except drinking, in which I must be a slightly OLDER adult to have the “right” to participate in). By going to school for twelve years and receiving lessons against my will, things that have no effect on my memory, learning to follow the will of authorities often seen to be incompetent and intolerant of other views, I can flourish into a respectful and accomplished citizen. I am equipped with the tools to provide a comfortable life for myself physically, emotionally, morally and intellectually because of this. And now I am grateful to go to school some more (with a few freedoms now) to improve upon this and contribute to the nation. Gee, I sure do have a lot to learn about the democracy I live in. With all of this inherent undeniable freedom I have clearly missed the points!
I’m not asking for perfection – but is reasonable improvement too much to ask for?
I found an article in the Huffington Post about inappropriate representations of unschooling, a form of youth-led learning, and an actual example of an unschooled person. These are interesting articles – I’m going to look into getting a news feed widget.
The next bit of news is that I’m slowly but surely indulging in an college course presented by Yale University’s Open Courseware. OCW’s are free lectures and courses made available to the public by colleges. For the most part they are presented by Ivy Leagues and other prestigious schools and it honestly has that component of self promotion, but it’s still free knowledge. I have been thinking about death and existence for a while now, and looking at it and examining it from an academic standpoint is comforting. The course is taught by Professor Shelly Kagan.
I enjoy this course because it gets me to challenge my beliefs and I’m not being forced to do it. I told my mom about the course and she frowned and asked why I would want to study such a thing. Then she asked if it was for my actual college education. I sighed and said, “No, not everything has a purpose in that way.” I remember going to my local library to have books ordered from the Central Library, or as I call it – the real library with real resources and stocked shelves. When the woman at the information desk looked at the titles she kind of laughed. I said it was for a class and she remarked, “It has to be.”
The main thing the Shelly is getting students to look at at this point is the existence of the soul and what role the soul has on death and our perception of what death means. There is the dualist view which many of us have, that we are body and soul. Then there is the physical view, which says that while we are unique and have evolved consciousness, we are just physical, we are just our body. I’ve believed in souls for a long time and now if someone were to ask me if I had one, I would say I am not sure. It’s odd, but I’m okay with not being sure. Picking things apart and figuring out why people believe what they believe interests me.
However this also got me to thinking about how many people don’t question these things and prefer not to. Lately I’ve been treating religion and faith the same way I treat the existence of a soul. I’m not sure, but I’m open to questioning it and figuring out it’s value and why it should be considered valuable. Which brings me to remember that recently I was asked if I believed in sin. I said no and for the life of the questioner that didn’t make sense. I tried to explain why but failed. I don’t know it just doesn’t make sense to me. Of course there are things that happen that are negative and lead to negative consequences, and those things should be corrected or avoided, but I don’t believe in it in the religious way. Maybe that is because I am questioning souls. If there are no souls, then sin as an abstract act of the spirit is pointless because what we call sinful acts are then only limited in the physical material world.
I fall more and more out of traditional faith everyday, and that will sadly lead to problems with me and the people I meet in my life. Most people are strong believers in their faith, and in the United States, Christianity is the widespread faith. I just can’t bring myself to take it literally or even as the truth. While there is great philosophy contained in religious scriptures, I don’t feel it in the religious way. I wish there was another word to describe it – religiosity, but I can’t find it. Fervor? Either way, when people discover this, I will either be pitied or shunned or hated. People will feel terrible to know that I don’t believe what they believe, and that makes me want to pity myself. But I can’t wallow in the pity even though I try to – I know that I’m never go back to traditional faith ever again.
I put the bible on my summer reading list, for I am still curious. I’ll see how that goes. Then I’ll read the Qur’an, the Vedas, The Four Noble Truths/Eight Fold Path, and perhaps the Gnostic Gospels. I want to see what followers of faith are getting that I have not.
Previously Unreleased [january 30, 2010]
De-standardize them. Sure, we all have similarities, but more importantly every person is alone in their existence. Everyone’s inner interpretive world is different even to the smallest degree.
So I was watching Freedom Writers in my former American Government class when I realized what could be done in schools since schools as an institution are here to stay.
This film was about a teacher coming to a school in 1994 that had been recently integrated. The school was Woodrow Wilson high school in Long Beach, California. The integrated caused many disadvantaged “minorities” to come into the school and change the reputation of the school. Many of these kids had tough lives outside of school that left them feeling discouraged and on edge. Through a series of events (I don’t feel like giving a review here, watch the film if you haven’t done so) this young teacher makes it a point to make these kids’ (Freshman English class) school experience personally malleable and relate to their lives. Once the kids started to feel that their lives mattered in ways beyond the daily turmoil of their living, they began to care about other people and their communities. They made a difference; not for the sake of good scores or a reputation from the school district, but because they we’re inspired to make a genuine change in their lives and once they gained confidence, to make a difference in the lives of others.
Ways to make school a relative experience:
Advocate them, but avoid the compulsory aspect of it. People should be allowed to pursue a formal education, NOT jailed or fined if they don’t.
De-standardize and get involved in the real world. A man named Tom Bodett once said, “The difference between school and life? In school, you’re taught a lesson and then given a test. In life, you’re given a test that teaches you a lesson.” It is true that with certain things, like learning music, checking to see how you’re doing is necessary. But if schools are to be about life as I’m suggesting, then tests need to be eliminated and replaced with guidance and evaluation.
Get students to search for good qualities and talents that they can develop.
Make personal goals and and interests the focal point. In Obama’s education speeches I often hear him talk about what students, through their schooling, owe to America and the global economy. It seems that the nation comes before the individual. That’s backwards. If you don’t know what you really want, and if you don’t know and love yourself well enough to do so, then what makes people think that such individuals can contribute to the needs of an entire nation?
A good thing to promote in schools is self exploration. Dabbling in subject matter and trying new things until one thing fits. If people really took time out to think about what they’re good at, or what they enjoy, rather than grasping at ideals that others project onto them, then more people would be happy with their lives. School and youth is a great place and time to figure yourself out.
Ways to incorporate self exploration:
- Having lots of books around
- Allowing students more free form time with their friends and others. Interacting with others can give insight into who you are at a certain period in your life.
- Learning about personality theories and even taking assessments to look for patterns
- Making “extracurricular” activities “curricular” activities.
- Having personal evaluations of a student and his or her progress by a teacher or counselor, rather than putting him or her in a grading competition.
- field trips, field trips, field trips
- Have “homework” be time to develop interests and skills, with the option of reporting to a teacher, counselor or fellow student(s) for evaluation and advice
Teach subject matter that would help students master survival in the first world. This involves concepts such as finance and how to read legal documents. Typing classes. Cooking. Cleaning. The impact certain lifestyles have on the environment. Stress reduction skills and techniques. Effective communication and speaking. Healthy living. To be honest, the abstract subjects and concepts should honestly be left to those that need them for their careers, or simply enjoy them. It would be fine to have secondary classes for abstract subject matter, but let’s face it: most of us are or will be everyday citizens, in no need whatsoever of calculus or advanced physics to live (and I admit that visual art falls in this category too). I suppose that a person would make the argument that learning abstract subjects makes gives a person more intellect (I wouldn’t say “makes you smarter”) or gives you an edge over others, but is that really the point of your individual life?
*My point in this post was realization that traditional education isn’t going to be turned inside out as I would hope. Instead “radical” innovations must be made.