Friday, February 17, 2006

Reasons to Avoid Institutional Education

I hope to eventually write a few posts explaining why Kathy and I will be educating our children at home. But for now, let's just say I'm trying to avoid things like this:

When Emma arrived home the previous Saturday night clutching a goody bag from Glove Affair, my liberal credentials were instantly tested. One by one I pulled the following from her white plastic sack: a condom; pamphlets on masturbation, oral sex and intercourse; the "Rubber Bible," featuring alternative names for prophylactics, such as "gent tent" and "peenie beanie"; and an information wheel labeled "Condom Comebacks," which included a list of excuses boys might make for not wearing a condom and possible rejoinders a girl could offer.

Him: "It doesn't feel good."

Her: "I've got moves rubbers can't stop."

I tried to play it cool. As it turned out, I was a little too cool. While standing in the kitchen with my daughter and her friend, getting all the post-party gossip, I absentmindedly reached into the bag and handed my 8-year-old son a squishy red toy that resembled one of those ubiquitous M&M candy guys.

The girls burst out laughing. "What's so funny?" I asked. They snatched the trinket from my son and turned it upside down. Printed there was the web address stopthesores.org. This was no candy icon; it was a toy syphilis lesion, bright red, with feet...

Oakwood School in North Hollywood, where my daughter is in eighth grade, has been holding Glove Affair since 2000. In reality, it's not a "condom party" but a fundraiser for L.A. AIDS-prevention groups. This year, about 500 teens attended — half from other middle and high schools across the city.

The aim is for kids to understand that having sex is serious business and to help them become utterly at ease with condoms, right down to unrolling them correctly and learning to check the expiration date. Mickey Morgan, a social studies teacher at Oakwood who helps organize the event, says that's especially important for girls "so that it's not awkward for them to talk about safe sex with boys — when the time comes."



I've also been perusing the work of former teacher John Taylor Gatto (read his book here). Here a few choice quotes from Gatto:

From his essay, "Institutional Schooling Must Be Destroyed":

Forced schooling in America served a dual function: l) The creation of a mindless proletariat stripped of its traditions of lib-erty, independence, fidelity to God, loyalty to family and land. 2) The creation of a professional proletariat, suitably specialized to serve functionally in a highly centralized corporate/bureaucratic economy.

Next, a mass mind had to be created, a mind lacking critical dimen-sion dedicated to the proposition that one got ahead by pleasing authority, and trained to regard advancement principally as the road to increasing one's consumption. Forced schooling was (and is) the vehicle which drove the young to this end. The 20,000 walled and gated communities of America, a number rapidly growing, are only one of the tributes our disintegrating society pays to the class habits learned in school.


On "The Tyranny of Compulsory Education":

Let me speak to you about dumbness because that is what schools teach best. Old-fashioned dumbness used to be simple ignorance: you didn't know something, but there were ways to find out if you wanted to. Government-controlled schooling didn't eliminate dumbness - in fact, we now know that people read more fluently before we had forced schooling - but dumbness was transformed.

Now dumb people aren't just ignorant; they're the victims of the non-thought of secondhand ideas. Dumb people are now well-informed about the opinions of Time magazine and CBS, The New York Times and the President; their job is to choose which pre-thought thoughts, which received opinions, they like best. The élite in this new empire of ignorance are those who know the most pre-thought thoughts.

Mass dumbness is vital to modern society. The dumb person is wonderfully flexible clay for psychological shaping by market research, government policymakers; public-opinion leaders, and any other interest group. The more pre-thought thoughts a person has memorized, the easier it is to predict what choices he or she will make. What dumb people cannot do is think for themselves or ever be alone for very long without feeling crazy. That is the whole point of national forced schooling; we aren't supposed to be able to think for ourselves because independent thinking gets in the way of "professional" think-ing, which is believed to follow rules of scientific precision.


From his Harper's essay, "Against School":

Once you understand the logic behind modern schooling, its tricks and traps are fairly easy to avoid. School trains children to be employees and consumers; teach your own to be leaders and adventurers. School trains children to obey reflexively; teach your own to think critically and independently. Well-schooled kids have a low threshold for boredom; help your own to develop an inner life so that they'll never be bored. Urge them to take on the serious material, the grown-up material, in history, literature, philosophy, music, art, economics, theology - all the stuff schoolteachers know well enough to avoid. Challenge your kids with plenty of solitude so that they can learn to enjoy their own company, to conduct inner dialogues. Well-schooled people are conditioned to dread being alone, and they seek constant companionship through the TV, the computer, the cell phone, and through shallow friendships quickly acquired and quickly abandoned. Your children should have a more meaningful life, and they can.

First, though, we must wake up to what our schools really are: laboratories of experimentation on young minds, drill centers for the habits and attitudes that corporate society demands. Mandatory education serves children only incidentally; its real purpose is to turn them into servants. Don't let your own have their childhoods extended, not even for a day. If David Farragut could take command of a captured British warship as a pre-teen, if Thomas Edison could publish a broadsheet at the age of twelve, if Ben Franklin could apprentice himself to a printer at the same age (then put himself through a course of study that would choke a Yale senior
today), there's no telling what your own kids could do.

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