Category Archives: School

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

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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.

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…

Free to be you and free to be me? At school?

In regular schools, freedom is abnormal for the most part.

  1. You are told what to do for much of the school day. It may not be in a tyrannical fashion, but you still have little to no control over the activities you can engage in.
  2. You may be forced to wear uniforms.
  3. You cannot relieve yourself as the urge arises.
  4. You have no say in the rules that affect you at school.
  5. You cannot assess or evaluate your teachers or your situation. All inspections and decisions come from those above you.
  6. You are under specific guidelines on what, when, where, and how to learn.
  7. You cannot do projects you favor over those mandated by your teachers.
  8. You are told when to work alone, and when to work with others. You are told who to work with when you are doing group work.
  9. You are encouraged toward sameness. Even how triplets were all doing the same thing, including standing out, in the same way at the same time, hints at that aspect.
  10. If you don’t follow procedures, you run the risk of receiving detention, or having your “free time” (lunch play, recess) taken away or cut down. Apparently, these breaks are merely privileges.
  11. If you refuse to go to school (or school online, get homeschooling certification, etc.), your parents will be fined. At outstanding lengths of refusal, your parents can be jailed.
  12. You receive fines for being late.
  13. Many activities, such as pep rallies, are mandatory.
  14. After compulsory school is college, the military, trade school, or average work. Any other paths are seen as radical and aberrant.

Just look at the video, and think about what school is really like. Is that free?

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.