Saturday, November 1, 2008

We DON'T Need School?!

Anyone who's ever woken up thinking, "man, I wish I didn't have to go to school today," is going to love this article I'm posting about.

"Against School," by John Taylor Gatto, talks about why the modern system of education is not necessarily the best way for people to gain knowledge. This quote from H. L. Mencken (one of the most influential American writers in the first half of the 20th century) that Gatto cites in the article gives a general idea about the direction Gatto aims to take the reader. According to Mencken, public education does not aim

to fill the young of the species with knowledge and awaken their intelligence. ... Nothing could be further from the truth. The aim ... is simply to reduce as many individuals as possible to the same safe level, to breed and train a standardized citizenry, to put down dissent and originality. That is its aim in the United States... and that is its aim everywhere else.

Gatto continues by stating that the foundation of our modern education system is based on the Prussian military system. Yes, you read that correctly. The Prussian military system.

I'm not calling for a revolt against public education here. But as a woman who has had her fair share of days feeling constricted by the high school system, I think it's important to note that the now internationalized system of public education is far from perfect. By recognizing that and understanding where the foundation for public education came from, maybe we can work towards adjusting the system so that it works better to accommodate the coming generations.

There's always room for improvement.

Links:

12 comments:

Aaron said...

If you like this article I highly recommend reading "The Underground History of American Education" also by Gatto. I've read some parts of it multiple times because it took me so long to see through the haze of an entire lifetime believing that public education as it is currently configured a flawed but necessary institution. How far I've come since then. Perhaps you will travel down a similar road too.

Cheers,

Aaron

Nicholas Karavatos said...

Fortunately I went to a graduate school with a bunch old Reds and anarchists, where the moto was "Education for a Just, Sacred, and Sustainable World."

Prussia is fun to bring up whenever someone gets fixated on the eternity of the nation-state. "Huh?"

Of course, I'm always surprised at the amount of students who step into my classes having never even considered questioning a single premise or assumption they've been given; or stare back at me with frightened eyes when I tell them they will have to imagine their own theses after choosing their own topics. No, no, please tell me what to do and think!

OK, it has gotten better. And it's better here than it was in Oman.

Have you ever seen this book:
*The Teenage Liberation Handbook: How To Quit School And Get A Real Life And Education*
by Grace Llewellyn
http://www.akpress.org/1997/items/teenageliberationhandbook

ITEM OVERVIEW
"Your life, time, and brain should belong to YOU, not an institution. This handbook is for everyone who has ever gone to school, but it is especially a book for teenagers and people with teenagers in their lives. It includes some good reasons to think about quitting school; how to reclaim your natural ability to learn and teach yourself; how to get your parents' support, keep your friends, and stay out of legal trouble; how to design a personalized education you can get excited about; how to go to college without going to high-school, and much more. To say this is a valuable resource is a staggering understatement. Now in a new, second, revised, expanded international edition!"

During my first year of college I went to a Gary Snyder poetry reading. He talked about de-educating yourself. He claimed it took about as many years to de-educate yourself as you spent being educated. I considered that advice as I lived in the so-called real world for a decade between undergraduate and graduate school.

My take on it is not to trade one rut for another.

Anonymous said...

oh yeah, I know. I was homeschooled which is fairly different from school but there is this new thing people are keen on called 'unschooling' where you don't even have a curriculum - parents just sort of incorporate education into their kids lives. I'm not sure how successful it is but its an idea anyway.

Anyway of all the stuff I know and skills I have, probably the majority of it comes from just reading or people, not classrooms.

Katharine

Anonymous said...

I think it all depends on who you are as a person. You can't go around calling for a ban on classroom education simply because it didn't work for a some people. I mean sure, it's not perfect, and I'll probably be among the first to ditch it for Katharine's 'unschooling' technique (never underestimate what you can learn/accomplish by lying around in a field all day), but let's face it, class room education got most people to where they are today. While it's arguable that they may have been able to achieve more had they had their own way, they may also have achieved less.

Wait, what am I saying? I hate classroom education. Bring out the pitchforks!

Omar H

Anonymous said...

That's most of the whole premise of Education, and not just High School.

In fact, that's what "Alumni" means. Illuminated and enlightened by the system. I'm told American Uni's are mostly left-leaning, apart from in the economics department where the emphasis is on support free trade.

When I was in High School just months ago, we were taught that Global Warming was an undisputed fact, in actuality backed up by very little evidence. Ok, there's the polar ice-caps and so on, but they've been melting for as long as history.

Still, what other alternatives our there? Home Schooling leads to even perhaps unintentional indoctrination by our parents, and privatization of the education system would make schools too expensive and less egalitarian in the choosing of which Students they enrol, which has already happened in the UK.

But to bring up an issue Nicholas Karavatos made, I would fear that without an albeit flawed system to control us, there is a people not growing up knowing certain basic facts, such as Plant Reproduction or Osmosis.

Hey, who needs to know that stuff anyway?
Plants can wither and die.
In my garden, they tend to take my advice.

Paul

Nour Merza said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Nour Merza said...

Dr. J posted his comment on Facebook, and I'm pasting it here on his behalf:

"I'm going to be odd man out on this one. I think classrooms, when used to foster autonomy, are excellent ways for people to learn and be social at the same time.

I agree, though, that many school systems use poorly designed accountability measures to make classrooms constricting and grade-focused. Even still, good teachers supported by open-minded families can make classrooms work.

Paul, global warming *is* a fact. Anthropogenic global warming is a hypothesis, based on very strong correlation between anthropogenic emissions and global warming. You are right it's a hypothesis, but so are most new theories. So far, it's a highly useful one that has not been disproved and has acquired consensus among the vast majority of climate scientists.

The fact is, warming leads to all sorts of problems, and warming is happening, correlated to anthropogenic emissions. We can sit on our butts about it, or try to head off the worst effects. That's where a useful hypothesis comes in. Do we want to lose 30% of the world's species and deal with hundreds of millions of climare refugees by late century? Then we use the best hypothesis we've got. It's the human thing to do.

I should add: strictly speaking *all* theories in science are hypotheses."

Nour Merza said...

And thanks for the links, Aaron and Prof. Karavatos!

Nicholas Karavatos said...

Here's iconoclastic comedian George Carlin riffing on so-called education:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oI5EY5kqiBU&feature=related

And I think the best part of "schooling" is gathering people together in a spirit of exploration.

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