Don't let your schooling interfere with your education.
~ Pete Seeger

Saturday, May 23, 2009

Why Do We Homeschool?**

This video interview of John Taylor Gatto gets at the reasons our kids don't go to compulsory schooling. It's about ½ hour long, and the link is through a site that appears to be Libertarian in nature. I don't endorse Libertarianism, which tends to empower corporations over people. I wish I could have figured out how to embed this vid in my blog, but it's not YouTube, and so it goes.

I've blogged on Gatto a bit before. He's a former teacher of the year who wrote some books like "The Underground History of American Education," which made sense of the misery of my own experience with compulsory schooling (beyond the confusion and subsequent peer harassment of gender dissonance).

To sum up, the reason school reform never works for long is because school does what it's really meant to do very well. Compulsory school (public and private) is very successful at the job to which it is set by our cultural elite – the corporate puppetmasters who create the consumerist economy. That job is to produce a compliant, predictable workforce that lacks meaning, purpose, and initiative, and is blindly subservient to authority.

Reforming education within the current system is a hopeless task. Bad as Bush's bipartisan "No Child Left Behind" policy is, tweaking it to mitigate some of the worst aspects won't do much. The problem is the system of compulsory schooling this country has adopted, and the solution cannot be found within that system at all. It can only be found in dismantling the system – in giving children options, in making school a choice, in trusting our children to learn what they need to learn in order to navigate in our high tech society and natural world.

Imagine if we unleashed the creative force of our children and adolescents, allowing them to explore the world with wide open eyes, to channel their energy into their passions, instead of squelching that energy in the barren institutions of our schools and channeling it into despair, rebellion, and subservience to authority.

Of course, you can't imagine – because the results would be completely unpredictable. That's what happened in America back in 1776. That's the whole point of compulsory schooling. Our corporate puppetmasters* don't want a repeat.


*Worth noting that the descent of our nation out of democracy and freedom, and into fascism, was really enabled and made inevitable by both compulsory schooling and the 1886 Supreme Court decision of Santa Clara vs. Southern Pacific Railroad, which was used to establish the legal idiocy that corporations are persons protected by the 14th Amendment, even though the ruling did not say that. The abuse of that ruling enabled the rise of a corporate elite – further empowered by the methods Edward Bernays advocated in his book, "Propaganda" – which gradually insinuated itself into government, and ended up basically taking full control of government under Ronald Reagan. We've been a fully functional fascist society since 1981, if not earlier, and it doesn't matter whether the president is a Democrat or a Republican, that's the way it's been since.


**This post was inspired by my recent conversation with Pearl, a conservative "marriage defender" who's probably further on the right side of the aisle than I am on the left. I'm a queer liberal Democrat anti-religious pro-marriage-equality trans woman, she's a conservative Republican (I assume) LDS anti-gay-marriage cis woman, yet on this we can agree.


jill o said...

Interesting perspective.

As an aspiring teacher sometimes it is hard to watch (I'm a sub) the types of things kids get stuck with. They usually don't get too many choices in the matter.

I go back and forth with my thinking. As a whole, children do need to learn to read and do basic math. There are certain things which will leave a child helpless if you don't take the time to teach them. Many of the children I teach would choose to check their e-mail all day or play video games all day if it wasn't for school. I'm sure only a small percentage would actually show up for school if it was an option. Just like if work was an option, how many of us would actually show up?

There needs to be a balance between giving children choices and giving them guidance. We must be careful to remember that children are not yet adults and need guidance in making decisions.

I don't know if students are actually blindly subservient as I've met many who aren't.

To me, as a future teacher, the point isn't exactly producing a work force which simply conforms. It's giving students the basic tools they need to make the best of themselves. It's also a point, in some cases, of rescue.

If some of these kids were not at school all day who would be taking care of them? Especially if their parents have full-time jobs and are not in the picture and cannot afford day-care?

The percentage of children on reduced/free lunch continues to rise. Some children go home to places we can't even imagine. I'm not saying the role of schools should be caretaking. The question needs to be asked: who will overtake that role when students are home alone by themselves playing video games all day? We would just need a plan.

If there aren't teachers, if the parents aren't involved and don't care, if there aren't adults investing in those kids, then how are those children going to be wise enough to make the better choices?

Today, as an adult, I am grateful for the way my parents and some of my teachers were involved in my life. I feel without them I would not have reached to achieve so much. When I am in the classroom and can help a student achieve the same feeling of success, I have no doubt in the good I am doing. They are not doing it for me or some corporation, they are doing it to take pride in themselves and their abilities.

I do think 6th grade on should be a choice, however. Students who are a bit older should have the opportunity to begin pursuing their passions.

David Carrel said...

I was going to ask you what you thought about having a choice in schooling, but I think you might have answered.
If the government allowed various schools, public, private, charter, etc. to be funded by the government as well so that people had a choice in which school they go to and thereby create competitiveness between schools to have the best education, I think that our children (by the way Seda, our baby is a girl) will have a better education.
That may not be exactly what you were heading for, but that is just my brief, not really educated, opinion.
Oh, one other thing; the education here in Brazil is not really good at all, but one thing that I do like is that they can take courses in school that qualifies them for entry level jobs right around the age that they start working.

Seda said...

Thanks for your thoughtful and insightful comments.

You're absolutely right that "children do need to learn to read and do basic math" - but it really doesn't take that much time to teach them, if it's done at the child's pace. I see this very strongly in my own children. I have only two, and they share the same genetic parentage and learning environment, yet they learn with very different styles. My six-year-old reads much better than my eight-year-old; we just introduced him to the alphabet, showed him how to sound out the letters phonetically, read a lot to him out loud, and turned him loose. 90% of his skill in reading is self-taught. Same with Trin. He hasn't taken to reading much. Am I worried? Not at all. He reads at grade level (whereas his brother reads about 10 or 12 grades ahead), but so what? When he gets motivated to learn, he'll do so.

In fact, children are by nature highly motivated to learn the mysteries, rituals, and workings of the adults in their lives. Email and video games only last so long - usually about six months past "dropping out" of school - before real life regains interest. And if work were an option? my guess is most adults would opt in - but the work they did would then be interesting and meaningful. I know I would.

You say, "To me...the point [is] giving students the basic tools they need to make the best of themselves. It's also a point, in some cases, of rescue."

Exactly. The problem is not with the teachers, most of whom are dedicated, creative individuals who do much to mitigate the defects of the system. The problem is the system. Teachers have my great respect and gratitude for their work and love and all the genuine compassion they share with their students.

"If some of these kids were not at school all day who would be taking care of them? Especially if their parents have full-time jobs and are not in the picture and cannot afford day-care?"

Exactly. I am very fortunate to have a union job with decent pay that allows us (just barely) to get by on one paycheck. Most people are not so fortunate. We've had almost 30 years of Republican economic policy eroding the middle class, and now most families need two paychecks to get by. Imagine universal health care, universal advanced education (NOT coerced), etc. Imagine a strong unionized workforce. Imagine a simpler lifestyle. It doesn't have to be this way.

I also am grateful for some of my teachers - those who weren't burned out. They weren't doing it for the corporations. They were doing it out of love and purpose, to make my life better. But they worked inside a system that was designed by the corporations, for the corporations. Read Gatto. The teachers are as much as or more of victims as the kids.

Yay! Congratulations! What's her name?

As for schools, I don't think competition will help them much. Making them child-centered would help them, though. Making them smaller, and more decentralized; giving the teachers more choices in how they work, and small class sizes; offering apprenticeship opportunities as children enter the teen years. All of these would do far more for children, society, and education than simply funding all kinds of different schools and forcing kids to choose one. That's just putting window-dressing on the system we've got now. Again, the problem IS the system. "Nothing of benefit to the individual was ever obtained through coercion." (I think it was Socrates who said that.)

jill o said...

Thank you very much for the dialogue!

Your responses are wise and thought out.

Systems generally do work to produce at least a similar output, leaving little room for divergence.

I have started beginning to feel that students should perhaps not be placed in classes according to age, but moreso according to where they are at in different subject areas. This way, if a first grader is reading at a third grade level, he could be in reading third grade chapter books instead of picture books.

There are so many ways education could be better.

Anonymous said...

I was homeschooled for about three years total. It has its ups and downs for sure. The downs were mostly our nomadic lifestyle. We were homeschooled because it becamse easier to learn at home when we were moving so much and switching school districts. The bad part was the moving left little opportunity to make friends which left us three kids longing for more of a social life.

The ups were all the GREAT things that school should be. 1- We scored very well on our mandatory state testing each year, and were able to learn in environments that suited us best. 2- I was able to read my science book on my bed with my feet dangling. 3- Recess was an hour long. 4- Lunch was with mom. 5- Mom was patient.

I think I am a fan of private ART based schools that explore children's creativity in addition to learning the basics. Thanks for stirring thoughts.

Seda said...

Mixing grades and ages so that kids are working at their own level is a good idea. I think that if you just mixed the whole bunch together, regardless of ability, it would be even better. Then older or more advanced kids could help teach younger ones (a natural process I witness in my kids), which effectively helps the teacher by allowing her to focus more completely on what's needed, helps the younger or less-advanced child learn, AND helps the more advanced child learn - one of the best ways to learn something is to teach it.

So, maybe if you had six classes, 1st through 6th grades, instead of breaking them up like that you break them up into 6 combinations of grades 1-6; or (3) 1st -3rd classes, and (3) 4th - 6th classes.

Of course, that also adds a level of complexity for the teacher, who has to teach multiple levels at the same time. It used to be very common, though, and back in those days kids read better and did math better - though spelling has become considerably more creative with the advent of text messaging!

Seda said...

Art IS one of the basics.

Good luck in CF!

anne said...

Hey girl,

I homeschooled because my kid had a brain. It's a logical consequence of trying to provide reading and writing and 'rithmatic to those who would otherwise be making shoes or shoveling dirt. If you have an intelligent child and put him in a situation where he (she, too) is going to be held back to the lowest level of learning, even if the other kids are not stupid, just uninterested, then, you are holding back your child, unless the child is smart enough to defy you and the system.

Why go through the waste? Smart kids can learn in 1/10th the time at home as in school and have all that other time for play or learning more. Max sat down this semester and taught himself Calculus. Not bad for homeschool. Now he can test out of it in college and do something more fun.

If you have a smart kid, keep her out of school. School is death to brains.

I cannot be more vehement about it--I wasted twelve years doing it.

Teaching is great, though. But the kids should be with you because they want to learn, not because they're not supposed to be out on the streets and you're their jailer.

Every time I hear about a school bus attack or a school attack I feel for those kids. If they had been at home, well...

I'm trying not to rant.


Security is mostly a superstition. It does not exist in nature, nor do the children of men as a whole experience it. Avoiding danger is no safer in the long run than outright exposure. Life is either a daring adventure, or nothing. To keep our faces toward change and behave like free spirits in the presence of fate is strength undefeatable.
~Helen Keller

Reading List for Information about Transpeople

  • Becoming a Visible Man, by Jamison Green
  • Conundrum, by Jan Morris
  • Gender Outlaw, by Kate Bornstein
  • My Husband Betty, by Helen Boyd
  • Right Side Out, by Annah Moore
  • She's Not There, by Jennifer Boylan
  • The Riddle of Gender, by Deborah Rudacille
  • Trans Liberation, by Leslie Feinberg
  • Transgender Emergence, by Arlene Istar Lev
  • Transgender Warriors, by Leslie Feinberg
  • Transition and Beyond, by Reid Vanderburgh
  • True Selves, by Mildred Brown
  • What Becomes You, by Aaron Link Raz and Hilda Raz
  • Whipping Girl, by Julia Serano
I have come into this world to see this:
the sword drop from men's hands even at the height
of their arc of anger
because we have finally realized there is just one flesh to wound
and it is His - the Christ's, our