Weapons of Mass Instruction
December 10, 2008 6:54 AM   Subscribe

John Taylor Gatto's newest book, Weapons of Mass Instruction, is out today. Gatto, a former New York State "Teacher of the Year" (1991), is a critic of state education and compulsory schooling in general: "When you take the free will out of education, that turns it into schooling."

Gatto laid out his comprehensive critical analysis of the current education system in his previous book The Underground History of American Education (free online edition), [previously]. He contends that the current education system was set up from the start to serve business and government interests by isolating children from the real world. "Only then could the necessary training in boredom and bewilderment begin. Such training is necessary to produce dependable consumers and dependent citizens who would always look for a teacher to tell them what to do in later life, even if that teacher was an ad man or television anchor." In a recent interview he summarized how he got started as a teacher, why he left the profession, why the current education system is a failure, and offers solutions to the problem.

Gatto is not alone in his crusade against compulsory schooling. A few, among the many worth mentioning, are: Grace Llewellyn author of The Teenage Liberation Handbook, sociology professor Stanley Aronowitz author of Against Schooling, environmentalist Derrick Jensen author of Walking on Water, Austrian philosopher Ivan Illich author of Deschooling Society, German philosopher Max Stirner author of The False Principle of our Education, and even Albert Einstein who wrote in his autobiographical notes:

"It is, in fact, nothing short of a miracle that the modern methods of instruction have not yet entirely strangled the holy curiosity of inquiry; for this delicate little plant, aside from stimulation, stands mainly in need of freedom; without this it goes to wreck and ruin without fail. It is a very grave mistake to think that the enjoyment of seeing and searching can be promoted by means of coercion and a sense of duty. To the contrary, I believe it would be possible to rob even a healthy beast of prey of its voraciousness, if it were possible, with the aid of a whip, to force the beast to devour continuously, even when not hungry, especially if the food, handed out under such coercion, were to be selected accordingly."
posted by symbollocks (129 comments total) 60 users marked this as a favorite
 
My parents were big fans of Gatto while I was growing up, so I didn't go to school until my sophomore year of high school. I did teach myself to read a bit after four and read books like a fiend, be it my dad's college biology textbook, our copy of the Encyclopedia Britannica, or whatever I could get out of the library- once, I read the entire Hardy Boys series over a four-day period.

I ended up taking a lot of crap from some of the local kids, who thought I was weird and knew too much- at one point in sixth grade I was quizzed by some kids about TV shows, to their great amusement, since I didn't even know who the Simpsons were.

The cool thing about homeschooling in my case was that I was able to follow my interests and circumvent the local elementary school, the mental poverty of which was/is just amazing. My mom was talking with their science teacher recently about how my uncle's brain research was published in the journal Science and the teacher gave her a completely blank stare: It turned out he didn't know what a journal was.
posted by dunkadunc at 7:18 AM on December 10, 2008 [9 favorites]


How is "the current system" compulsory when it provides so many rich mechanisms for non-traditional education through virtual classrooms (such as we have in Florida), homeschooling, private schools (that can teach whatever lopsided crap they want--like the Christian school I went to in 7th grade that for its history curriculum taught only the history of the spread of Christianity, not to mention that the earth is only 6000 or so years old)?

Sorry, but "compulsory education" is just one way to spin it; another equally valid way to see it is "universal access." And yes, with the increasing emphasis on standardized testing and benchmarking, public education has become more and more about forcing a certain kind of education on students. But that emphasis isn't a necessary feature of an effective education system.

And all children--whether their parents or any other meddling, embittered stingy or cynical grown-ups want it or not--should have the opportunity to get a good education. Education must be compulsory (to the extent it is) to protect universal access to education as a basic right. The only way you can protect universal access to education is by making attendance in education programs that meet at least minimal standards mandatory, or you'll end up with parents forcing their kids to forgo education to enter the workplace prematurely, like my grandparents' parents did to them--not to mention parents discouraging their kids from pursuing an education out of cultural or ideological prejudice.

If you want to make public education less restrictive and inhibiting, then relax the performance standards and let students who just sit in the back of the room slacking off progress through the system without penalty or move into non-academic tracks. Let students have more options in directing the course of their own studies after a certain point, like they have in college systems. But don't give society an excuse not even to provide the opportunity for an education.
posted by saulgoodman at 7:29 AM on December 10, 2008 [17 favorites]


The best thing school taught me was 1) a desire to learn and 2) the tools to learn on my own. Education is a process, not an end goal. So really does it matter what you learn or how, so long as its encouraging self-learning and skills for learning.
posted by stbalbach at 7:31 AM on December 10, 2008 [1 favorite]


Another home schooler here, I was never in a classroom (besides my father's, who teaches high school science) until I started taking college courses.

Oh, and a three week long typing class.

Not receiving "training in boredom and bewilderment" has hampered me in the short term, as I absolutely don't know when to shut the hell up but has proved invaluable in the long term (so far, anyway). The interaction with adults while I was a child and the lack of age segregation in my life helped me view everyone as equals, young and old, and that helps to break the "i'm older and automatically smarter" fallacy so many people have.

For rigorous surveys of the research into schooling, discipline, and even competition and cooperation, check out Alfie Kohn. Kohn, along with a tremendously awesome education professor, radically changed my views of schools, parenting, and children in general.

The Schools our Children Deserve

The Homework Myth

No Contest

Punished by Rewards
posted by burnfirewalls at 7:35 AM on December 10, 2008 [4 favorites]


Self-education is an absolute good. And usually self-catalyzing. But it is rarely self-initializing.

The problem with compulsory education isn't the compulsory, it's the education. We need to be teaching kids to love learning (and giving them the tools to do so). I don't want to indict with a broad brush like so many who don't have kids in school tend to do, but there are SOME activities/teachers who could be replaced by thumb-twiddling or robots and do just as much good.
posted by DU at 7:37 AM on December 10, 2008 [4 favorites]


This just out from Christopher Hedges on the state of current higher learning.

I am also the parent of four homeschooled children.
posted by pianomover at 7:41 AM on December 10, 2008 [2 favorites]


The real question is why "compulsory" education seems to work just fine in the UK, Europe, Asia, and Canada, but not here.
posted by Pastabagel at 7:54 AM on December 10, 2008 [6 favorites]


Pastabagel, speaking as a Canadian, I'd have to ask you to define "work." (And why you put scare quotes around compulsory, since that's what it is.)
posted by regicide is good for you at 7:59 AM on December 10, 2008 [3 favorites]


"When you take the free will out of education, that turns it into schooling."

Speaking as someone who has schooled many a busta at the dozens, dance-offs, and rap battles, I must concur. Being schooled is never voluntary, and it almost always results in humiliation.

Homeschoolers scare me (I have yet to meet one who is grounded in the real world, or who doesn't suffer from some bizarre narcissism), but I realize it can work. Still, I think kids need to be socialized (is that the right term?) and learn to interact with other kids. Plenty of smart folks watch the Simpsons; being ignorant of one's culture is neither an aid to interaction, nor is it a badge of honor. But the public and the social aspect of school is important. What we need is a culture of learning. I've seen countless kids who come from disadvantaged backgrounds succeed not because their parents were smart but because the parents encouraged the kids to learn. "God bless 'im, I can't understand half the stuff he talks about, but he's happy." Parents want their kids to have it better. We need to remove the cultural stigma, and ideas like entity models of intelligence ("either ya got it, or ya don't" talent-based thinking). I never had to work for a second in school, and I'm paying the price now. I was told I was gifted. I'd rather have been challenged and made to work.

But at least I went to public school, so I am social enough to have a support network for myself. I am someone for whom homeschooling would have been a bad idea.
posted by Eideteker at 8:04 AM on December 10, 2008 [9 favorites]


Crap, only preorders at this time; I was hoping to get this into my dad's hands by Christmas.
posted by BrianBoyko at 8:13 AM on December 10, 2008


For kids with pro-education parents who can and want to home-school and encourage them in other ways, self-directed learning is great, and compulsory education may be unnecessary.

My view is that (free) compulsory education is necessary to protect kids' educational interests from their parents. There's a principal-agent problem, and the parent can't (always) be trusted to pursue their kids' best interests without compulsion. US kids by and large benefit (or would benefit!) from a decent education, but sometimes it would nonetheless not seem worthwhile to their parents. Sometimes this is because they simply don't value education; other times they may prefer to keep the kids around the house for free labor (e.g. taking care of a large family). These amount to unfair impositions on the kid, and compulsory education is needed to check parents a little.
posted by grobstein at 8:16 AM on December 10, 2008 [18 favorites]


grobstein beat me to it, but I'll click Post Comment now anyway.

Compulsory education is one tool the state can use to give many children better lives. When school is compulsory, parents can't argue that their kids have to stay home learning nothing but how to shovel manure, scrub floors, pick rocks out of fields, and fetch pa another beer. It also gets kids out into public, where they can socialize with other kids while teachers have a look to see if they are fed and clothed adequately and are not abused. Often, the school lunch is the only hot meal kids get. And, by the way, going to school gives kids a chance to get an education.

If you can show that you take care of your children and give them an education, it's not compulsory at all: you stay home and learn.
posted by pracowity at 8:22 AM on December 10, 2008 [14 favorites]


grobstein: exactly my point, earlier.
posted by saulgoodman at 8:24 AM on December 10, 2008


Along grobstein's lines, I'd like to know if anyone has any sense of the research in best teaching practices within the current framework. In other words, what are the journals (::wink:: dunkadunc) saying.
posted by Hypnotic Chick at 8:30 AM on December 10, 2008


compulsory education is necessary to protect kids' educational interests from their parents.

I think this point highlights Gatto's argument perfectly: if compulsory education is necessary to protect kids' educational interests from their parents, who will protect kids' educational interests from their teachers and from the state?
posted by symbollocks at 8:32 AM on December 10, 2008 [5 favorites]


A lot of great comments so far in this thread -

I feel that I walked the line between compulsory education and home-schooling - my parents were pro-public schools education professors so I went to school during the day and received additional lessons at night. My father wanted me to be educated in civics and various histories prior to high school so he kept a "required reading" list and assigned additional homework (usually quite advanced from what I received at school).

My neighbor and friend who was at the time the same age as myself was entirely homeschooled. I remember wondering about that, fretting over it as a boy, specifically because of Mr. Vanorman. Mr. Vanorman was the science teacher and he was one of the few people I had met at that point in my life who knew more about a particular subject than my own dad. I was so glad I got to go to class with Mr. V, because I knew that he could teach me things my father couldn't. I remember thinking - my neighbor could never be smarter than his own parents - how terribly unfortunate for him.

Of course, I now know that my neighbor was being homeschooled because his folks believed that Jesus was right around the corner and their little boy needed to be apocalypse-ready, but we were good friends nonetheless. I'll never forget catching tadpoles with him - we were both 13 or so at the time - and when I told him we could save a few so they'd grow into frogs... the look he gave me, wide-eyed with disbelief. Unimaginable.

So, in short, I'm on the line. Everyone should educate their own kids outside of the classroom - but it's incredibly narcissistic to think you are capable of being the sole educator of another human being. You simply don't know enough.
posted by Baby_Balrog at 8:35 AM on December 10, 2008 [12 favorites]


as long as universal employment is the expectation, state funded education is practically compulsory. it's strange that in a nominally democratic society our schools are run like banana republics, or maybe that's not so strange...
posted by geos at 8:39 AM on December 10, 2008 [1 favorite]


Gatto's scholarship is perhaps, how should I put this, a bit iffy at times, and The Underground History wasn't want I wanted from a book with that title, but still he makes interesting points and he's an important figure for the democratic ed movement (if "movement" is even the right word).

People interested in points of view related to Gatto's might also want to check out Matt Hern, Chris Mercogliano, and the Alternative Education Resource Organization (tell Isaac I sent you).
posted by brennen at 8:39 AM on December 10, 2008 [2 favorites]


parents can't argue that their kids have to stay home learning nothing but how to shovel manure, scrub floors, pick rocks out of fields, and fetch pa another beer

in an urbanized post-industrial society this is a total red herring... in such a society children have no utility, hence schooling...
posted by geos at 8:42 AM on December 10, 2008


Sorry, saul. You're right, our points are the same, though our emphases are different. That thought's just been percolating through my head for a while.
posted by grobstein at 8:42 AM on December 10, 2008


Baby_Balrog writes "I'll never forget catching tadpoles with him - we were both 13 or so at the time - and when I told him we could save a few so they'd grow into frogs... the look he gave me, wide-eyed with disbelief. Unimaginable."

So you took advantage of his being home schooled to hoodwink him with your socialist evilutionst lies? Stay classy, Mr. Public Education.
posted by orthogonality at 8:43 AM on December 10, 2008 [2 favorites]


Sorry, saul. You're right, our points are the same

No apologies needed--you said it better and more directly.

posted by saulgoodman at 8:46 AM on December 10, 2008


I'd be more sympathetic to making education non-compulsory if I weren't aware of why it became so.
posted by Pope Guilty at 8:50 AM on December 10, 2008 [2 favorites]


you're a mensch
posted by grobstein at 8:50 AM on December 10, 2008


er, my previous small remark is directed to saulgoodman, though it may well be true of the Pope as well
posted by grobstein at 8:50 AM on December 10, 2008


Worst possible way to promote individual education: Make your first book's online navigation abominable and sell the second book for $25.
posted by l33tpolicywonk at 9:24 AM on December 10, 2008


While compulsory schooling might indoctrinate people into being consumers and while some people think that's bad, that doesn't mean that indocrination is prima facie wrong. At one point in Noam Chomsky's book Understanding Power he argues that nationwide compulsory school was introduced more or less to curb the South's segregationist tendencies after the Civil War - that it was put into place as a measure of subjugation, because the winners get to write the history and they want the losers to read it.

In the North, which had a lot more cities and factories, large collectivized schools weren't necessarily such a big deal, but in the South, which was far more rural and which had a lot more labor intensive industries like farming, it was quite a committment to take all the youths for most of the year and make them walk several miles away just to look at books. However, the upside was this: instead of having parents teach their kids one version of history thats unique to their own family, and then perpetuating that history throughout generations and never changing or adapting their viewpoints, you force everyone to go to the same school and listen to the same set of facts, that way even if they're hearing about the "War of Northern Aggression" at home, they're also hearing about "The Civil War" at school. A lot of them will ignore what they learn in school; some of them won't learn anything in school because their teachers will just be telling them what they learned at home anyway (because, after all, schools are only as good as their teachers) - but more people will be exposed to more viewpoints that way, and sooner or later some of them are going to wise up.

Honestly, I think that this forced emphasis on learning - which the South probably wouldn't have undertaken on its own - is the only thing that kept it nearly equal with the North, which was always more educated and industrialized and thus richer. If the schooling had been better, the South probably would have been better, too, but the South was too determined to handicap its own attempts at education.

Now I don't remember if Chomsky was arguing that this was just a byproduct of a social idea that came out at the time or a specific reason for instituting mandatory public schooling, but I think the point he raises is actually quite valid: there are a lot of ideas that people are going to get just from being at home but there are even more ideas that they will only encounter in a public sphere, so forcing them to enter into the public sphere is probably a good idea. After all, look at the creationism debate: everyone, Christian or not, knows the Adam and Eve version of creation and understands it pretty well. But how many people would know about evolution in general or in depth if they weren't forced to be exposed to it by a theoretically neutral third party?

And I think these points both raise real objections to the underlying premise of Gatto's argument: that indocrination is wrong. But don't we want to indoctrinate people with the idea that slavery is bad, and that non-white peoples are still people? Don't we want to tell people that there's room for science in the world, and that religion is not necessarily the only important thing in the world? If so - well, then, indoctrination becomes nothing more than a tool, one which is neither good nor bad, but just as good as its use.

Finally, the rich have always and will always educate their own because they have the resources and intentions to do so, and as long as that is the case, there needs to be public schools available for those that cannot do so on their own, otherwise we will return to a class gap that we have not known for over a hundred years. Poor people cannot afford tudors or Ivy Leagues without assistance, and if we shut down assistence to them because we are afraid they will become mindless consumers we're going to doom a lot of even the brightest and most motivated of them to a life of being a drone because they won't even have a baseline competitiveness with the people who were already born with a leg up.
posted by Kiablokirk at 9:30 AM on December 10, 2008 [11 favorites]


Eideteker, let me assure you that many home schoolers are perfectly well "socialized" - you just don't realize that they were home schooled because they don't sit in the corner and rock (the South Park episode featuring the home schooled kids was hilarious, though).

One of the most common barbs that my parents faced while home schooling (and I experienced, occasionally; even now a lot of my co-workers are surprised when I tell them) was that I was going to grow up to be a blathering idiot, unable to communicate, not having the ability to talk to other people, possibly crapping in my hand and throwing it.

These concerns assumed that the intensely structured, institutionalized socialization that goes on in schools is really superior to hanging out with your parents and, shockingly, also going out and interacting with others at libraries, shops, banks, friend's homes. Being segregated into ages and then socially controlled by authority figures isn't really conducive to learning how to function in groups any more than only talking to your parents does, and generally the home schoolers I knew got to experience a wider range of people, ideas and views just from going about a daily routine outside of the confines of school.

Before anyone jumps in with the "it'll prepare you for socialization in the Real World, where you're segregated by job and then socially controlled by authority figures" - are there random portals scattered around the globe through which there's a Fake World?

And before this comes off like a total grouch-fest, Eideteker, you said it: "What we need is a culture of learning...[and] we need to remove the cultural stigma, and ideas like entity models of intelligence."
posted by burnfirewalls at 9:36 AM on December 10, 2008 [10 favorites]


in an urbanized post-industrial society... children have no utility, hence schooling...

Farming chores are somewhat reduced, but there are still plenty of things people can make a kid do around the house or in a shop or on a farm. As long as there are family businesses, where mom and dad are the bosses 24 hours a day, there will be things kids can be forced to do for a buck.
posted by pracowity at 9:40 AM on December 10, 2008


At the first school I taught at, we'd have kids showing up on campus, shivering in the cold before the sun came up, and then would literally have to herd them off campus after school, lest they linger til sundown, because school was so much more preferable to their home lives.

But I understand that for every kid for whom school is a refuge, there is a kid for whom it is a hell of boredom and irrelevancy. As an English teacher, I have known that look, the look of "what the hell does To Kill a Mockingbird have to do with my life?" And yeah, it's the challenge of the teacher to make the kids care, but at some point you wonder if you aren't just wasting their time.

What we need is to bring back vocational ed. Allow kids who don't want to go to college get get good and prepared for work after school. To learn about things that they both a) enjoy and b) can profit from. My best friend HATED school. Used to come to school drunk and stoned to make it fun. The only classes he enjoyed? Ceramics and auto shop. This was a kid who loved working with his hands, and solving word problems about Johnny having x number of apples etc. was never going to seem relevant to him.

When he started going to plumbing school through the plumbers' union - I had never heard him talk about school like that before. There was an excitement, an eagerness. He wasn't just taking algebra, he was taking Plumber's Math.

I see the same thing in students I work with. In down times, group work sessions in class as I'm walking around, I'll talk to the kids one on one, get to know them, usually when they aren't doing the assignment. I'll inevitably ask them what they want to do after high school. To see kids get that "Aw fuck yeah!" look on their face about working on cars - the same look I get about the history of the English language, or Shakespeare, or high school Journalism - really tells me that what these kids crave is some choice in the direction of their education.

Of course, I learned long ago not to mention my opinion that some kids just don't want to go to college. In educational circles (especially at public schools) that'll get you in hot water.
posted by mdaugherty82 at 9:46 AM on December 10, 2008 [16 favorites]


much like healthcare, the education system in our country is badly in need of reform.

my public school education was AWFUL for many, many reasons including, but not limited to, a real lack of intellectual challenge. i'm no genius, but i made it through the majority of all 12 grades without doing much in the way of homework or studying - and i was in the "smart" classes.

some areas of states are better funded, staffed, accesssorized than others. it's how it is. but perhaps shouldn't be.

that said, my parents would not have been good homeschoolers. i certainly did pursue a lot of academic/intellectual interests outsdie of school (avid reader), but had a lack of like minded peers for socio-economic reasons.

i haven't read all the posts yet, but i will after work tonight. this is certainly a fascinating topic.
posted by sio42 at 9:56 AM on December 10, 2008


Home schooling is ok perhaps but then doesn't it have to meet the standards set by the state, making it compulsory too? Why should the state (govt) impose any standards, such as vacinations, driver licenses, draft registrations, social security numbers, etc etc?

Not many years ago, a kid dropped out of high school, or did not want to go to college, he or she could find a job in a local factory etc. Today, those jobs have gone overseas, so about all that is left is---right, the military or places making stuff for the military.

The drop out rate in California is horrendous....but then there are gangs one can join for companionship and shared values.

Above comment: do girls also get to drop out and work on cars? or become hookers, something not outsourced.
posted by Postroad at 10:00 AM on December 10, 2008 [1 favorite]


These concerns assumed that the intensely structured, institutionalized socialization that goes on in schools is really superior to hanging out with your parents and, shockingly, also going out and interacting with others at libraries, shops, banks, friend's homes. Being segregated into ages and then socially controlled by authority figures isn't really conducive to learning how to function in groups any more than only talking to your parents does, and generally the home schoolers I knew got to experience a wider range of people, ideas and views just from going about a daily routine outside of the confines of school.

That just isn't true. I attended school, and I accompanied my mother on errands and talked to other adults, and they aren't remotely comparable. The thing is that a classroom isn't socially controlled by the teacher - whether you can get on with and interest the other kids is completely up to you. (And it's a skill set that playing with neighbors and cousins and other captive-audiences doesn't fully prepare you for). The friendly librarian is socially controlled, because she's an adult and a professional and if you decide to tell her a story, she's going to act like you're interesting whether or not you are.
posted by moxiedoll at 10:10 AM on December 10, 2008 [1 favorite]


I really like Baby_Balrog's stance. I think that's how I'd want to educate my kids if I ever have em'. Public school for socializtion, and to teach them that part of life involves learning tolerance for boring shit. Perhaps they'd even get lucky and have a good teacher or two in the mix. I know I had an awesome math teacher in high school that I was too naive to realize was not only smarter, but much much wiser than I am. At the same time, I'd be damn sure my kids understand basic science, because the only teacher (with the exception of the aforementioned math whiz) I ever had before college who understood that science was not about memorizing facts was a crazy old drunk lady who had pretty much given up on teaching.

I'm glad my parents sent me to public school. I wish they'd pushed me to do more extracurricular academic activity, but I guess they figured I'd come to that on my own if I wanted to, and they were right.
posted by solipsophistocracy at 10:11 AM on December 10, 2008 [1 favorite]


Even though I didn't go to school, I was socialized plenty- the not knowing about the Simpsons was because we didn't have a TV, which really worked out for the best.

I did meet a bunch of other kids through our homeschooling group who fit into the homeschooler stereotype, though: Extremely conservative gun-nut Baptist parents, girls wearing the Little House on the Prairie dresses- but for the most part, the kids I knew through the group went off to university and do great things, I still keep in touch with a couple of them.

I also credit homeschooling with my healthy disregard for authority figures.
posted by dunkadunc at 11:09 AM on December 10, 2008


Public school for socializtion, and to teach them that part of life involves learning tolerance for boring shit.

I just can't see how the ends could possibly justify the means. We need to send kids away to school so they can learn to tolerate boring shit? For 6-8 hours a day, 5 days a week? Plus homework? Why not just put them in solitary confinement for weeks on end, that's surely a more efficient method for teaching that lesson.

The main problem with this take on education is that if you are "learning tolerance for boring shit" for that much of your life, at that tender of an age, it does fucked up things to you. You start to expect that most of life is tolerating boring shit, and then you can't imagine the world being any different, and you start to cop out with statements like "it's just how it is", and then you get depressed and you remain so for the rest of your life. It's a pattern I've seen acted out again and again and again and it scares the shit out of me. The function of school in this regard is as a factory for hopelessness, and it's worth noting that it's only one of many institutions in our society which fills that role. I've commented with this Huxley quote before, but it bears repeating:

"Within the next generation I believe that the world's leaders will discover that infant conditioning and narco-hypnosis are more efficient, as instruments of government, than clubs and prisons, and that the lust for power can be just as completely satisfied by suggesting people into loving their servitude as by flogging them and kicking them into obedience."
posted by symbollocks at 11:16 AM on December 10, 2008 [9 favorites]


All the jaw-droppingly weirdest kids I've ever met were homeschooled. I'm not talking about weird in a "I'm a bohemian art student with eclectic tastes" kind of way, I'm talking weird in a "I'm having sex with my sister" weird.

Full disclosure: I was homeschooled for third and fourth grade, but the idea of hooking up with my sister grosses me the fuck out.
posted by mullingitover at 11:19 AM on December 10, 2008


Education must be compulsory (to the extent it is) to protect universal access to education as a basic right.

Why? Do all Americans have to own guns in order to protect the 2nd Amendment? Are all citizens required to vote lest they lose their suffrage?
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 11:29 AM on December 10, 2008


Excellent post, symbollocks. You're a man after my own heart.

My horn? Consider it tooted.
posted by absalom at 11:35 AM on December 10, 2008


THAT'S IT I'VE HAD IT

If I hear one more person explain to me that "Homeschooling" is the answer for modern education, then I'm going to start hurling cats at people.

1) I know this isn't the exact stance of Gatto.

2) While I do agree that standarized testing is a nightmare and schools need to relax curriculum, his point is a classic overreaction to the point of overthrowing the system cause the system is broken.

Yes, homeschooling is a good option for some kids. If the public schools really are atrocious (not just bad, atrocious or even dangerous), the kid has a natural curiosity, the parents have the resources, and said parents are nutjobs; then the kid is probably an okay candidate for it.

But lets address a few issues:

A) public school is the only option for the vast majority of families because they're both working parents or are single working parents. A completely lack of any kind of supervision is not a good option for any kid, because

B) left to their own devices most kids will not do anything. The natural curiosity factor is the huge part of this. The belief that school is what eliminates a kid's natural curiosity is just freaking bullshit. It's something cultivated early on either by the child him/herself or the parents influence. More often than not children without a natural.

C) I went to a middle of the road public school. I loved my education and half my teachers were boring. Half my teachers were wonderful. My parents are both in public education and have been fighting the dumb systems implemented on them by politicians for the last 30 years. Gatto's solution is often treated with a simple "it's not one". This obviously bears mentioning as I have a vested interest in the success and failures of public education. Just saying.

D) lots of people already mentioned the importance of socialization in public schools.

E) most cases of homeschooling are influenced by religion. Isolating a kid in a religious mindset is, well, bad. Not because being relgious is bad. That's all well and good. It's just being isolated in one thought system is bad. In public education with all the standardization rigamarole (get up, bell rings, move along, etc), BUT you're still exposed to dozens to hundreds of different kinds of teachers and inspirational voices. This is the EXACT kind of intellectual freedom that's right there at your fingertips if you just recognize it. Whatever you learn on your own, either through books, or friends, or homeschooling has intrinsic value but it is STILL an ego-centric learning.

F) egocentric learning I find often leads to the following 1) know-it-all-ism, or the believe that self is the sole intellectual authority 2) libertarianism 3) objectivism, eek! and 4) just the complete inability to have a conversation where they're not right.

END) Like most things of this nature, Gatto is coming from a very sincere place. He looks at certain problems in education and thinks a free-flow overhaul is the best solution. It's JUST LIKE libertarianism, but it deeply misses the point of socialization.

Random ending note:
So one of my best friends was homeschooled. He displays none of the traits I mentioned above. However, he treats every single person like they're a member of his family. He's unfathomably generous and good natured. He also has absolutely no boundaries and thinks absolutely nothing of taking/borrowing your things, leaving places a mess, putting his feet all over your aunt's cabinets and leaving footprints. Like I said he treats everybody like a brother or sister, for better or worse. I just find it interesting as hell.

/Also I gotta run and can't proofread. Be kind.
posted by Lacking Subtlety at 11:38 AM on December 10, 2008 [5 favorites]


I should also note, for those who persist in validating most established homeshooler stereotypes, that there are a lot of people whose parents choose to homeschool them for a variety of different reasons and that these reasons are often telling in how well "socialized" their kids are.

Some parents choose to homeschool their children because they believe that public schools don't do a good enough job in indoctrinating them the "right" way. Other parents choose to homeschool because they don't believe any form of indoctrination is the "right" way. Can you see how one might lead to mal-socialization and one might not? Could fully indoctrinated kids have a harder time socializing than other kids? Might contact with other kids within a public classroom setting be irrelevant or (at least) a less important factor in determining how well socialized a kid is?
posted by symbollocks at 11:38 AM on December 10, 2008 [1 favorite]


I just can't see how the ends could possibly justify the means. We need to send kids away to school so they can learn to tolerate boring shit? For 6-8 hours a day, 5 days a week? Plus homework? Why not just put them in solitary confinement for weeks on end, that's surely a more efficient method for teaching that lesson.

I think the exact point is that it's not solitary confinement. Don't get me wrong, I know all too well that public schools have more than their share of foibles, but sometimes doing something sucky with other people can teach you a lot about cooperation and how to co-exist with your fellow humans when things aren't just peachy.

I don't mean to imply that my public school experience was necessarily great. I hated almost every minute of it from kindergarten through seventh grade. Around the time I was 13 or so though, I started to realize that we were all in the same boat, and that I'd be much happier making the best of a bad situation than letting myself become a melancholic drone in a broken system.
posted by solipsophistocracy at 11:41 AM on December 10, 2008


There are myriad problems with home schooling. But I get really annoyed by people saying that the weirdest people they know were all home schooled. I'm an adult, and in the time I've been out of college, I've met lots of adults. Most of them were relatively normal people. Some of them were very very weird. But what I don't know about them is what elementary/middle/high schools they went to. We might talk about their colleges, but for the most part, I've never talked with most people about their education prior to college. So the weird people I've met may be home schooled, but they might not have been either.

Perhaps I'm in the minority. Perhaps many people, upon meeting someone they consider weird ask them where they went to high school or something. Perhaps they just flat-out ask "were you home schooled?"

Perhaps they're talking about people they met when they themselves were in school. But there's a problem with that. I wasn't home schooled, but I was definitely a weird kid (albeit not in a sister-fucking way.) And I met a lot of kids that, at the time, I thought were weird. Now, being an adult, I think I probably wouldn't think they were so weird. It's risky to trust the judgment of adolescents, and also not always fair to make an assessment of a person when he or she is thirteen. (What does a "normal" thirteen-year-old look like?) It's especially risky to trust the judgment of a kid by another kid.

Are there weird people who were home schooled? Certainly. Are there weird people who went to public schools. Yup. Until I see some kind or legitimate data that shows that the ratio of "successful" people (and you can measure success however you want) is significantly higher for former public school students than former home schoolers, I'm going to say the jury is out.
posted by nushustu at 11:45 AM on December 10, 2008 [1 favorite]


What I sometimes despair about is the colossal waste on time for the pupils. How much does the average person really take with them in life from their 10 years (where I'm from) of education? They can read and do very basic math, and know the first things about the Second World War (we were in it) and fuck-all about the First (we were not in it) - or any other part of history. Seems to me that letting them roam free after learning to read and add and subtract would be about as useful as keeping them for another nine and a half years. I've been thinking about this more and more as my oldest is now four, and I hope with all my heart that she will find awesome teachers and come to love learning, and at the same time "fit in" socially. The alternatives are all to often horrible.
posted by Harald74 at 11:48 AM on December 10, 2008 [1 favorite]


Harald74, I would agree. The biggest problem, IMHO, with the public education system in the US is its inefficiency and how rigidly that inefficiency is enforced. Leaving out the super-geniuses who graduate high school at the age of 8 or whatever, it's just absurd to think that the vast majority of kids need to spend exactly 13 years in a school system, taking mostly the same classes as everyone else (especially prior to high school).

This isn't a problem everywhere: I know there are places that send high school students out to community colleges or job programs for half the day, but that could be more widespread. The high school that I went to was in a small rural town. I started taking the "advanced" classes early, and had nothing to take my senior year. There were literally no classes left open to me. However, I was socially kind of immature (and probably still am) and so definitely not ready to go off to college on my own. But instead of working out something where I went and had a job or whatever (there were no nearby colleges or anything) I got placed in four different office helper positions. I was basically free labor for the school for a year. That is total bullshit. While this isn't entirely the public school's fault (my parents should have pushed for some alternative) it would have been nice if SOMEBODY in some position of power had helped me with other options. But there was this assumption: you go to grades K-12, you take the classes when you're supposed to take them. If you take them early, well, tough for you when we keep you here until the end of your sentence anyway.
posted by nushustu at 12:04 PM on December 10, 2008 [3 favorites]


First, because this is giving me heartburn. There are arguments in favor of public school, but the socialization argument is not a fantastic one. Please don't employ this as your primary defense. People throughout human history were adequately socialized without being placed in a room with 30 other eight-year-olds for seven hours a day, five days a week. It's what humans do. We live in groups, and we socialize. If you want child-focused socialization, which is a historical anomaly anyway, American homeschoolers get plenty of opportunities. Playing with the neighbors is one way, but most of them also participate in things like Little League or community art classes. Many homeschoolers' associations will bring together a small group of children once a week for an age-appropriate chemistry lesson, or basketball, or whatever. Homeschoolers also tend to interact more evenly with groups of different ages.

Anecdotally, I can report that the homeschooled children I've known have been on average more self-possessed, more self-motivated, more self-reliant and reliable than other children of similar age and family income. I've met a few who seemed deficient in social skills. Of those, some were members of a fundamentalist religious homeschoolers' group primarily focused on Bible study. The others were children who were being homeschooled precisely because they were abnormally gifted, developmentally disabled, or had ADHD/autism/learning disabilities that made it difficult for them to function in a typical school anyway. A lot of children are homeschooled because they're in one way or another more than a standard deviation away from the norm, and it's affecting their ability to get through regular schooling.
posted by jeeves at 12:25 PM on December 10, 2008 [5 favorites]


Anyhow... What is John Taylor Gatto actually arguing against? Compulsory attendance of government schools? Compulsory attendance of government schools after a certain age? All legislation requiring that children receive some form of education until the age of 14 or 16? It's not clear to me.

I've read one or two of his essays. Maybe it's just his sensationalist style, but I wasn't terribly impressed. His arguments seem to comprise the following:
  • Public education in the United States is in a shambles.
  • Famous and important people in history like Thomas Jefferson didn't need public education in order to succeed!
  • Prussian authorities in the early 19th century wanted to indoctrinate the public into unthinking obedience to the state and the king. Our schooling is a lot like theirs.
  • There are books and papers from 1900-1930 when compulsory education became a popular cause. Some of them talk about the value of compulsory education for shaping a docile and socially integrated populace with a base level of competence, so that most people would be equipped to work, raise overall earnings, and provide elite business owners with a pool of valuable literate labor.
  • This is bad.
  • What government and business were really trying to push was not a politically and economically stable workforce with sufficient literacy to boost productivity and incomes. They probably wanted instead to secretly engineer "not only a harmless electorate and a servile labor force but also a virtual herd of mindless consumers" (essay in Harper's, 2003).
  • Now you know the shocking conspiracy to turn you into a consumer whore. You drone.
Well, we can at least agree on the fact that public American education is mediocre to poor, and that a lot of smart and famous people never went to public schools. And 19th century Prussian statist drives are frightening to think about. But in any discussion of education, indoctrination is a loaded word and it's more often used to cloud than to bring clarity.

The push for compulsory free education during 1900-1930 was also heavily intertwined with the development of legislation barring or discouraging child labor. We know that public education removes children from the workforce, and that longer compulsory education requirements keep thirteen-year-olds from being used as cheaper versions of adult labor.

And yes, compulsory public education was also used as a way to stabilize and integrate a potentially volatile economic underclass that was growing increasingly resentful of sharp class and income inequality. The increase in average educational attainment came because people who would otherwise not have gained any learning, or would have attended only a dame school for two or three years, got access to full primary and eventually secondary education. Incomes rose accordingly.

Public schooling in the United States is heavily stratified and on the whole does not do a particularly good job of exposing children to people of other racial or socioeconomic groups, which might have been one argument in its favor. It does expose children to (indoctrinate them in?) mainstream viewpoints. (Perhaps we should outlaw private religious schools because they teach one view of the world?)

So there are pluses and minuses. I tend to think that at least basic education should be freely available; it's a public good. We know that education (not synonymous with public schooling necessarily) has beneficial effects on health, longevity, income, quality of life, stability. A better question to ask is, does basic education need to be compulsory, or does it only need to be free/incentivized? And for whom? And what do we actually need to teach, and for how long?
posted by jeeves at 12:25 PM on December 10, 2008 [8 favorites]


much like healthcare, the education system in our country is badly in need of reform.

my public school education was AWFUL for many, many reasons including, but not limited to, a real lack of intellectual challenge. i'm no genius, but i made it through the majority of all 12 grades without doing much in the way of homework or studying - and i was in the "smart" classes.

some areas of states are better funded, staffed, accesssorized than others. it's how it is. but perhaps shouldn't be.

that said, my parents would not have been good homeschoolers. i certainly did pursue a lot of academic/intellectual interests outsdie of school (avid reader), but had a lack of like minded peers for socio-economic reasons.

i haven't read all the posts yet, but i will after work tonight. this is certainly a fascinating topic.
posted by sio42 at 9:56 AM on December 10 [+] [!]


To be honest I don't think this has much to do with public schools. I think this just means you're a rather smart person. If school doesn't challenge you on any level then there's only going to be a few areas for you to find intellectual stimulation. I can't imagine ANY kind of publically or privately funded school that will really challenge you in the way you seek. You move into a zone that will be propelled by your own initiative and that's just kind of the rub.

But I also ask, was there any teacher that ever spoke to you? Not necessarily inspired or challenged you, but put you in the frame of mind with some material where you go "I dig this". That kind of thing. That has an intrinsic value.

Also, how else was school awful? You say you didn't have any like minded peers, so how big was your school? In a mid-size school, you can find pretty much ANYONE with similar interests. So I don't really get it otherwise.
posted by Lacking Subtlety at 12:33 PM on December 10, 2008


Yes, homeschooling is a good option for some kids. If the public schools really are atrocious (not just bad, atrocious or even dangerous), the kid has a natural curiosity, the parents have the resources, and said parents are nutjobs; then the kid is probably an okay candidate for it.

Shit, I meant AREN'T.

That makes me sound like a jerk.
posted by Lacking Subtlety at 12:35 PM on December 10, 2008


A) public school is the only option for the vast majority of families because they're both working parents or are single working parents. A completely lack of any kind of supervision is not a good option for any kid, because

Absolutely, this is not a problem that can be completely solved on it's own. Now what do we do about this expectation that everyone should be employed? This is a VERY important tangentially related topic. Moving on, if school was just a daycare, it might be less bad, but it's an indoctrinaire/soul-sucking daycare, and this is the real issue. School's function as a daycare is extremely important for many parents, don't get me wrong. It's just like welfare: important now, but we should seek to eventually make it irrelevant if at all possible! And I think it is possible.

B) left to their own devices most kids will not do anything. The natural curiosity factor is the huge part of this. The belief that school is what eliminates a kid's natural curiosity is just freaking bullshit. It's something cultivated early on either by the child him/herself or the parents influence. More often than not children without a natural.

This is a HUGE topic that I may get around to addressing later. Sorry.

C) I went to a middle of the road public school. I loved my education and half my teachers were boring. Half my teachers were wonderful. My parents are both in public education and have been fighting the dumb systems implemented on them by politicians for the last 30 years. Gatto's solution is often treated with a simple "it's not one". This obviously bears mentioning as I have a vested interest in the success and failures of public education. Just saying.

It's too big to try and get done in one fell swoop, but that's obvious. Saying it's not a solution period is a bit of that manufactured hopelessness I was talking about upthread.

D) lots of people already mentioned the importance of socialization in public schools.

I addressed this in a previous comment on this thread. Plus, the socialization argument is never one I've seen thoroughly explained. It just seems like such a vague point to try and make. Can you (or anyone) point me to a comprehensive analysis of why public schools are essential for socialization? and what exactly socialization means in this context? and how it relates to socialization in other contexts (as in socialism)?

E) most cases of homeschooling are influenced by religion. Isolating a kid in a religious mindset is, well, bad. Not because being relgious is bad. That's all well and good. It's just being isolated in one thought system is bad. In public education with all the standardization rigamarole (get up, bell rings, move along, etc), BUT you're still exposed to dozens to hundreds of different kinds of teachers and inspirational voices. This is the EXACT kind of intellectual freedom that's right there at your fingertips if you just recognize it. Whatever you learn on your own, either through books, or friends, or homeschooling has intrinsic value but it is STILL an ego-centric learning.

Kids need exposure to the things their parents do. They need exposure to working adults. Robert Bly in Iron John talks about how if a young man never sees what his father does, then it creates a hole in his personality, a hole that he fills up with demons. This is the effect I think you are talking about. Kids need to see how the world works, and that means kids should have an opportunity to at least see, if not interact with, their parents work. This kind of goes back to your point A though. It also bet it has something to do with socialization.

F) egocentric learning I find often leads to the following 1) know-it-all-ism, or the believe that self is the sole intellectual authority 2) libertarianism 3) objectivism, eek! and 4) just the complete inability to have a conversation where they're not right.

So what's wrong with libertarianism? I'm a left-libertarian myself, so I have to take a little offense, but I'm more curious as to your objections to libertarianism (Oh, and I'm not a libertarian party "libertarian". That shit is a farce.). As far as objectivism goes, I don't consider myself one, but I can get along with one who takes objectivism to it's radical conclusions, not including Rand's own philosophy which I consider half-baked and shallow. Her definition of self is immutable, which is one of the problems, but this is a whole other topic, so don't get me started. About know-it-all-ism and an inability to have a conversation where they're not right: I think this has more to do with having grasped something that most kids don't get. Can you imagine? Rather than being frustrated with how most people are indoctrinated to be irrational through horrific coercion and trying to change the fact, it's easier to sit on a high horse and damn everybody as irrational by nature.
posted by symbollocks at 12:43 PM on December 10, 2008 [2 favorites]


symbollocks, great post and I will respond at lunch (west coast). gotta finish up some work first.
posted by Lacking Subtlety at 12:55 PM on December 10, 2008


I also credit homeschooling with my healthy disregard for authority figures.

I credit my public school education with my healthy disregard for authority.
posted by vibrotronica at 1:10 PM on December 10, 2008 [1 favorite]


John Taylor Gatto is my hero. I unschooled my kids until a few years ago. They go to school know but we still live by the no-bullshit approach he has about schooling in general.

as i said in a previous comment to an FPP, my kids are learning about schooling not so much schooling. it's been an interesting process and i have to thank gatto, along with a bunch of other unschoolers, for the inspiration.
posted by liza at 1:24 PM on December 10, 2008


vibrotronica: i concur
posted by symbollocks at 1:26 PM on December 10, 2008


Pastabagel: compulsory schooling isn't working out so well in Asia - high suicide rates, lack of innovation and flexibility. I regularly receive emails from young people who are being pushed to study Medicine (it's always Medicine) by their parents or teachers but would rather do something else; however, they feel powerless to speak out for themselves and are resorting to self-harm. I am aghast whenever a commentator in the West keeps going on about how Science and Maths scores in Asia are really high and how they should follow the Asian style, because I've seen first hand what the price for that is - lack of respect, lack of humanity, lack of learning.

There is no "culture of learning" in traditional schools, at least not in Malaysia. What you have is a "culture of exams" - you memorise stuff for the exams, regurgitate them on test papers, then forget about it. You memorise dates of wars and names of generals, but absolutely NO insight into why those wars happened in the first place. You're not allowed to question the teachers. You're indoctrinated into a racist, religiously biased viewpoint that discourages diversity - the worst racism I've ever had was in primary school, where the teachers openly scorned me for being a minority that was performing a lot better than the majority race, and different races were openly pitted against each other throughout my school life. You get seminars on "how to answer this text paper" but absolutely NONE on "how to manage your life after school". You're only encouraged to take extra-curriculars for the resume value - but you're meant to drop everything and study during your exam years. If you are sick, ill, depressed, tired, exhausted, near death, you're still expected to come to school - the only way you're allowed to stay home without scorn is if you're bedridden (and even then you have to study in your hospital bed!). Mental illnesses and disorders don't exist - if you have one, please don't take the exam here because you'll ruin our 100% pass rate (this happened to a classmate). Creativity, passion, and even doing good are discouraged - all that matters are your exams and your grades. If you're not in the Sciences, if you dare to prefer Literature to Biology, expect to be placed in the "last" class with those close to dropping out and have teachers ignore you, often missing classes.

It is torture. I wish I could say the above is hyperbole but it is exactly what happens in schools - and I was in one of the "best" schools. This system is implemented on a national level, subsidised and controlled by government (Malaysian schools have a national curriculum, national uniform, and a pretty similar set of rules and governing practices nationally).

Year after year after year, the news reports are the same: Student with one B or D jumps off a building and dies (usually hidden amongst the front-pagers of straight-As). Student with disability/mental disorder/etc gets straight As, what an inspiration! (But never anything about how school contributed to their disorder.) More students apply to study Medicine than any other subject, and tons are rejected because there's not enough space, but then they yell and yip about how they're "entitled" to a spot because they're a "high achiever" - never mind that they don't want to study Medicine in the first place! If they don't get into Harvard or Oxbridge they consider themselves failures in life. Gap years? Vocational school? No college? WHAT'S THAT HERESY?

I went back to my old school some years ago and talked to my juniors about how they had more options than they realised once school was over. They didn't have to be chained my their grades, they didn't have to study medicine, they didn't have to let school determine their life. The students CHEERED - massive reaction, considering we usually never do well with public speakers. Some of them went on to pursue their passion and are doing quite well as a direct result of the talk. The teachers glared, because I was undoing their mantra, but what mattered to me was empowering the students. They had not been empowered to learn, to create their life, to live - until I stepped in.

The tides are changing, slowly. But it's such a deep-set mindset that it's going to take ages to change.
posted by divabat at 1:33 PM on December 10, 2008 [8 favorites]


I also credit homeschooling with my healthy disregard for authority figures.

Public school, and its myriad petty tyrants, is perhaps the finest breeder of disdain for authority.

on preview: damn you, vibrotronica
posted by Pope Guilty at 1:36 PM on December 10, 2008 [3 favorites]


Also there seems to be a real inability to distinguish between public schooling and individual public schooling experiences going on in this thread. That sort of confusion goes on everywhere, but the inability to recognize the anecdotal for what it is seems pandemic in this argument.
posted by Pope Guilty at 1:38 PM on December 10, 2008 [2 favorites]


by the way, i think y'all are missing the point of anti-schooling people : it's not the mandatory education that is a problem, it's the mandatory/compulsory attendance. as i've said before, many states don't care if you're child learns anything as long as they have a # hours logged in school.

it's why when the NYC won it's funding case against the state, people where aghast to find out that NYS doesn't expect public school kids to have anything above 9th grade reading level because it's enough for a menial job. the fight over funding was that NYC was saying "we need more money to get kids reading levels up", whereas the state was arguing that wasn't the point of education law. they literally argued the core of education law was compulsory attendance. in other words, that schooling in NYS was about having warm bodies inside school regardless of the quality of education.

when i hear of the Joel Klein being considered for Secretary of Education, i shudder. nobody in NYS politics wants to wrap their minds around the possibility that education doesn't need 900 hours of schooling or, for that matter, marginally trained yet state certified and unionized teachers.
posted by liza at 1:40 PM on December 10, 2008


Whew ....

If people ever put as much energy and passion into actually *helping* schools be better as they do to expressing their long winded philosophies online, this country would not have an education crisis.

*Help! Find out what your community needs NOW:
- parents should be at their school every week (day?) watching, listening and serving on committees or volunteering services
- non-parents should visit their local school and work with the children, donate needed items, serve on committees

'No words, all action'
posted by Surfurrus at 1:46 PM on December 10, 2008


"there seems to be a real inability to distinguish between public schooling and individual public schooling experiences going on in this thread. That sort of confusion goes on everywhere, but the inability to recognize the anecdotal for what it is seems pandemic in this argument."

I'm with you on that, but I think some of that stems from negative views about home schooling being almost entirely anecdotal as well.
posted by nushustu at 1:46 PM on December 10, 2008 [1 favorite]


Education must be compulsory (to the extent it is) to protect universal access to education as a basic right.

Why? Do all Americans have to own guns in order to protect the 2nd Amendment? Are all citizens required to vote lest they lose their suffrage?


CD: I'm sure you've already figured out what's wrong with this, but just in case, I'll remind you gun ownership is not a right granted to 4-year olds, much less one that can be taken away irrevocably by a particular age. If a child is thwarted from achieving a minimal level of education by young adulthood, odds are, they're going to face an extremely uphill struggle ever achieving that level of education. It's simple science: In general, our brains become less flexible with the advance of age and we have a harder time learning.

For me, here's the bottom line: in the 19th century, before compulsory education was prevalent in the West, it's estimated literacy rates were in the range of 50--60%. With widespread compulsory education systems in place, those rates rose to nearly 100% (and even in the US with all the faults of our education system notwithstanding, they remain at 99%). That's a major accomplishment. Our education system works, people. It's far from perfect, but it works.

Stop and really imagine what it would be like to return to 19th century literacy rates--roughly 1 out of every 2 people you meet not being able to read or even do basic mathematics. Would there even be any use for the internet? You think people are ill-informed about history, science and current events now, one can only wonder how ill-informed they would be in such a world.
posted by saulgoodman at 1:52 PM on December 10, 2008 [1 favorite]


Man, saulgoodman.

This. Particularly this, for starters:
A five-year, $14 million study of U.S. adult literacy involving lengthy interviews of U.S. adults, the most comprehensive study of literacy ever commissioned by the U.S. government,[1] was released in September 1993. It involved lengthy interviews of over 26,700 adults statistically balanced for age, gender, ethnicity, education level, and location (urban, suburban, or rural) in 12 states across the U.S. and was designed to represent the U.S. population as a whole. This government study showed that 21% to 23% of adult Americans were not "able to locate information in text", could not "make low-level inferences using printed materials", and were unable to "integrate easily identifiable pieces of information." [emphasis mine]
I don't disagree with you that it's better to have everybody as educated as possible. But being able to read on a fourth-grade level doesn't really make you literate.
posted by nushustu at 2:02 PM on December 10, 2008 [2 favorites]


You know what? That came out considerably more bitchy than I intended. saulgoodman, my apologies. I think you're right in what you're saying, except for the idea that the US public education system working. While it could be worse, it could be much, much better.
posted by nushustu at 2:06 PM on December 10, 2008


it's an indoctrinaire/soul-sucking daycare

You know, as a high school teacher, this is why I'm ambivalent about posting in threads about education. I'd like to think I could bring my experience to the discussion, but at the same time it's a profession that invites a lot of emotional defense. The statement above makes me wonder:
1) When was the last time this person was in a school?
2) Am I soul-sucking my students? They all seem pretty content.
3) How come they did not mention this soul-sucking in my credential program? Should I seek out professional develop to better assist me in the sucking out of souls?

But I also ask, was there any teacher that ever spoke to you? Not necessarily inspired or challenged you, but put you in the frame of mind with some material where you go "I dig this". That kind of thing. That has an intrinsic value.

I had several. It's why I went into teaching.
posted by mdaugherty82 at 2:13 PM on December 10, 2008 [7 favorites]


*professional development

damn, that's embarassing, coming from the English teacher.
posted by mdaugherty82 at 2:15 PM on December 10, 2008


A) public school is the only option for the vast majority of families because they're both working parents or are single working parents. A completely lack of any kind of supervision is not a good option for any kid, because

Absolutely, this is not a problem that can be completely solved on it's own. Now what do we do about this expectation that everyone should be employed? This is a VERY important tangentially related topic. Moving on, if school was just a daycare, it might be less bad, but it's an indoctrinaire/soul-sucking daycare, and this is the real issue. School's function as a daycare is extremely important for many parents, don't get me wrong. It's just like welfare: important now, but we should seek to eventually make it irrelevant if at all possible! And I think it is possible.


The school as daycare thing, I agree isn't necessarily the worst thing. Especially in the inner city. A lot of the goal is to get them in a more positive safe environment then the streets. That's all there is to it. It's a kind of community protection. Also worth noting, to some people, school isn't an "indoctrinaire/soul-sucking" experience. Also, the vast majority of people meet their best friends in school by the way so that's also neat.

C) I went to a middle of the road public school. I loved my education and half my teachers were boring. Half my teachers were wonderful. My parents are both in public education and have been fighting the dumb systems implemented on them by politicians for the last 30 years. Gatto's solution is often treated with a simple "it's not one". This obviously bears mentioning as I have a vested interest in the success and failures of public education. Just saying.

It's too big to try and get done in one fell swoop, but that's obvious. Saying it's not a solution period is a bit of that manufactured hopelessness I was talking about upthread.


I'd disagree. My parents were talking solutions to improve the school system and not negate it. To Gatto the idea of A system is the problem.


D) lots of people already mentioned the importance of socialization in public schools.

I addressed this in a previous comment on this thread. Plus, the socialization argument is never one I've seen thoroughly explained. It just seems like such a vague point to try and make. Can you (or anyone) point me to a comprehensive analysis of why public schools are essential for socialization? and what exactly socialization means in this context? and how it relates to socialization in other contexts (as in socialism)?


The school socialization point is vague because I think most people are treating it as obvious. So stepping back, let's explain the obvious. There's social value in going to school because you're exposed to a various kinds of adults, all competently-intelligent (and every teacher has a basic intelligence so stop harping on that to those that do), and also exposed to a stunning variety of other kids. They're encouraged to get along, socialize, have class discussions, and interact with each other. OF COURSE it doesn't always happen like that. It's life and most classes don't have the resources. But it's an environment that's consistently designed to try to do those things.

E) most cases of homeschooling are influenced by religion. Isolating a kid in a religious mindset is, well, bad. Not because being relgious is bad. That's all well and good. It's just being isolated in one thought system is bad. In public education with all the standardization rigamarole (get up, bell rings, move along, etc), BUT you're still exposed to dozens to hundreds of different kinds of teachers and inspirational voices. This is the EXACT kind of intellectual freedom that's right there at your fingertips if you just recognize it. Whatever you learn on your own, either through books, or friends, or homeschooling has intrinsic value but it is STILL an ego-centric learning.

Kids need exposure to the things their parents do. They need exposure to working adults. Robert Bly in Iron John talks about how if a young man never sees what his father does, then it creates a hole in his personality, a hole that he fills up with demons. This is the effect I think you are talking about. Kids need to see how the world works, and that means kids should have an opportunity to at least see, if not interact with, their parents work. This kind of goes back to your point A though. It also bet it has something to do with socialization.


I don't get this one. They have "take your kid to work day" and all that stuff. Am I supposed to do that more? Parents would go nuts at work if their kids are around. I saw what my dad did once in a while. The Robert Bly stuff strikes as just daddy issue nonsense. I have no idea what this has to do with anything. HOWEVER, if you're lamenting the fact that parents spend WAYYYYYYYYY too much time away from their kids I'd of course agree, but that's not what this is about. Communicating with your parents is very important and all, but isn't that what I did every night after school? Once again. I don't get it.

F) egocentric learning I find often leads to the following 1) know-it-all-ism, or the believe that self is the sole intellectual authority 2) libertarianism 3) objectivism, eek! and 4) just the complete inability to have a conversation where they're not right.

So what's wrong with libertarianism? I'm a left-libertarian myself, so I have to take a little offense, but I'm more curious as to your objections to libertarianism (Oh, and I'm not a libertarian party "libertarian". That shit is a farce.). As far as objectivism goes, I don't consider myself one, but I can get along with one who takes objectivism to it's radical conclusions, not including Rand's own philosophy which I consider half-baked and shallow. Her definition of self is immutable, which is one of the problems, but this is a whole other topic, so don't get me started. About know-it-all-ism and an inability to have a conversation where they're not right: I think this has more to do with having grasped something that most kids don't get. Can you imagine? Rather than being frustrated with how most people are indoctrinated to be irrational through horrific coercion and trying to change the fact, it's easier to sit on a high horse and damn everybody as irrational by nature.
posted by symbollocks at 12:43 PM on December 10 [+] [!]


1. This was definitely the least fair thing I said, and I said it in abruptness. For that I apologize.
2. I've made lots of my sentiments about libertarianism clear before (I don't like it. It's not a system of government and that's exactly how libertarians treat it. It's something that raises a few valid points but ends up completely undermining society).
3. I equate home schooling with libertarianism because they both incorporate the old "what is good for me is good for all" thing. And a whole lot of other reasons I can't get into right now. Let's just say they have some major, huge intense problems.
posted by Lacking Subtlety at 2:36 PM on December 10, 2008


Also I'm going to just go out on a limb and make a nice big assumption; behind all these responses can we just ask the question:

Did you like school or not?

Me? I liked school.

Getting up early sucked. I hated getting up in the dark and coming home in the dark. The high school was old as hell and falling apart. I took all honors classes. I loved half of them. I did not like the other half. I got a D in chemistry. I did track and cross country. I was friends with lots of different groups of people. I got along with almost all of my classmates. I had two girlfriends. I read TS Elliott. I met the strangest kid I ever knew in my life. I met lots of people. There were a few rich kids mixed in with the townies, but it was pretty much a near-city suburban environment with a dark underbelly (note: rich kids doesn't mean bad, just talking socio-economics). I knew 11 kids with a heroin problem. There were two kids who had to be followed around by DEA agents. I started drinking beer. I had some amazing teachers. One of whom is the classic "unlearn" personality who (to some people's astonishment) managed to function within a public school paradigm. I burned my hand really bad on some lab equipment once.

In other words, it was a great experience. Dysfunctional parts and all.

It's an American institution and sometimes the value of an institution is in its very experience, for better or worse.
posted by Lacking Subtlety at 2:56 PM on December 10, 2008 [4 favorites]


Also I'm going to just go out on a limb and make a nice big assumption; behind all these responses can we just ask the question:

Did you like school or not?


I hated school, but as a human being with the faculty of reason, I can distinguish between anecdote and argument.
posted by Pope Guilty at 3:03 PM on December 10, 2008 [1 favorite]


Also I'm going to just go out on a limb and make a nice big assumption; behind all these responses can we just ask the question:

Did you like school or not?

I hated school, but as a human being with the faculty of reason, I can distinguish between anecdote and argument.


Haha. Nicely put.

But I should rather say, to what degree do you feel your experience in school effects your thoughts on how schools should reform/change/stay the same?
posted by Lacking Subtlety at 3:18 PM on December 10, 2008


I went to the sort of school that leaves clawmarks on one's soul for life. A petty hell of tiny devils, obsessed with one and only one endeavor: the domination and subjugation of you.

It wasn't a state school--my siblings who went to state school turned out much better, generally--it was a private (Christian, but non-denominational) school. A "GPS Rugby School" basically sums it up. All boys: lords (those good at sport), flies (those not), and lords of flies (the teaching staff). In retrospect there were activities for the nerds: a desultory attempt at a chess club, and a debate team whose achievements were recognized with a prize once a year, but every single fucking assembly, the football and cricket players were lauded and held up as examples for the rest of us. The sportsmasters would go on annual trips to trawl for outstanding examples of their own slouchbrow kind, bringing back the catch--occasionally able to read and write--on "sports scholarships" from rural communities or foreign countries. There was one in my senior year who was rumored to have a wife and kids at home in New Zealand. The general message was that academic achievement was all very well (although obedience was of infinitely greater importance) but the achievements that really mattered in life were performed on large stretches of flat grass. Teach, test, forget; train, compete, celebrate.

Personally, I spent much of my school years in the library. We were briefly allowed to play Dungeons and Dragons there ... until some fuckwit of a teacher or P&C member uncritically read an article in some Yank Crank magazine that implied that the game was the devil's work, and hence must be banned at school. Naturally, football, a risk to life and limb, was not subject to any such analysis. But they didn't seem to object to board games such as Diplomacy, so that was what we did instead. Just another petty humiliation - they seemed to have no, absolutely no, point at which they drew the line of respect for an individual boy's dignity or sense of self. Every petty aspect of your appearance and behavior was fair game. The hideous uniform, maroon and grey with vertical stripes, a prison uniform with a tie, whether it was deliberately designed to shame us or not, had that effect: the sort of outfit that implies compulsory imposition.

The school left me with not just a disdain for authority, but a raging hatred of it. In adulthood I've learned the need and uses for it--the idea that authority could be wisely used was a revelation--but I remain deeply suspicious of anyone who seeks control over others without clear purpose and clear limits. This wasn't a good lesson to learn, and I in no way consider one second of my actual schooling to have been worthwhile. I wouldn't set fire to it myself, but would gladly watch it burn. Everything I am as a person, everything of an academic nature that I have learned, is despite my schooling, not because of it.

In many ways my schooling ruined my life, wasted my "potential". There was, once, something there in me that could be described as potential. Perhaps there still is. But school taught me that nothing matters, and set me back decades. Anything you do, anything you care about, anything you are can and will be undone by any petty tyrant with the whim and "authority" to do it. Resistance is largely futile, and the slack-jawed sheep who surround you--who are you, unless you take considerable care not to be one--will not back you up. On the contrary, if the tyrant indicates a desire for it, they will pick up stones for you. They might "feel a bit uneasy" about it, but it is in the nature of a human to obey orders given to it, good or evil. Thus school.

That's the lesson of school: obey or be punished. Furthermore, ensure your kind obey, or you will all be punished together. But what other choice is there? What other way of ensuring human beings--who apparently exist to obey the duly constituted authority--can act collectively and pro-socially?

Gatto is right, but he's lacking in useful solutions. A society of self-directed and self-educated technolibertarians isn't a society. As others have pointed out, rather a lot of people, either dirt-stupid to start with or with the brains burned out of them by school experience, have given up entirely on the idea of educating themselves or their children; millions of near-mindless proles aren't a society either, they are a herd.

School must exist. The arguments for its abolition amount to libertarian fantasies: the world would be so excellent and wonderful if only everyone were smart, and ambitious, and nice to each other. It doesn't happen. School is needed to make the dumb employable; the problem is that it makes the smart resentful, depressed, and hostile. What would be ideal, is to make the dumb smart, by finding those things that they like to do and are good at, and the smart smarter, by the same means, and soak all of them in a warm bath of empathy and ethical conduct and a common purpose of improvement of each others' lives. But that's a total sea-change. What to do in the meantime?

Home-school, and formal school. Learning is natural to human beings and they will gladly go to it. A child can learn to read at age two or three or so, and if not told not to do so, will continue to read voraciously. Pretty much anything a person needs to know for some purpose they intend to carry out can be found in books and on the internet. So once the basics are there, which very much includes the concept of questioning what is read and heard, and comparing it to other things read and heard, "academic education" can be self-directed.

The only worthwhile thing one can learn at school, and not elsewhere unless it's also a herd environment (hence the weirdos described by others above) is socialization. How to get along with your fellow human beings. Being a friend, a leader who cares for the led, a follower who does not sign over his or her integrity by following. Making a little seed of self-respect that is immune to authoritarian torment, and growing that seed--along with the necessary social skills--to the point where you can stand up and say "No. This is wrong. I will not do it. We will not do it." and the sheep will fall in line behind you and pick up stones for you to aim (because that's how it works) and you having the wisdom to have them fling the stones, or not, as the purpose requires. Or if they don't ... knowing how to give off the signs and rituals of submission, going along to get along, taking the "cuts" of the cane without letting it touch your soul.

Too "Ender's Game"-ish? Maybe so. At the very least though, you can learn to be genuinely happy with and among other people. You can learn to see them as what they are, realize that you're one too, and love them anyway. That'd be school years well-spent.

So if you've read Gatto, and worried for your kid, and wondering what to do, may I commend this course of action to you: make sure your kid has the skills to be happy at school, and not at the expense of others. Make sure he/she has full access to information about anything he/she wants to do; if it's a dumb thing to do, it's dumb for reasons, because other people who did it received unpleasant results, not because "we say so". The rest will follow.
posted by aeschenkarnos at 3:20 PM on December 10, 2008 [8 favorites]


We decided to homeschool my son this year for kindergarten. Primarily because the head of the gifted and talented program in our ISD said that they had nothing that could match what he was already doing. But even if we had been willing to let him sit through learning the alphabet, when he already reads chapter books, what I could not tolerate was the fact that these kids had to get there at 7:30, they couldn't talk in the classroom (well, obviously), they couldn't talk in the halls, there was not talking in the lunchroom...and they only got a single 15 minute recess per day.

That's insane! Trapping 5 and 6 year olds in a cone of silence for almost 8 hours a day is teaching socialization? No! It's training them to be good little compliant cube monkeys. And that was the Gifted program...god only knows what happens in the regular programs.

We're applying to a private prep academy for his first through 12th grades, but if the economy doesn't improve, we won't be able to swing the tuition, in which case, we'll home school rather than public school.

My son just turned 6. He can explain the chemistry behind making volcanoes and silly putty, he can do addition and subtraction and we're working on the multiplication tables. Unlike most high school students, he can find most large countries on a globe and can tell you something about a lot of them. He can read a map, he can define most components of a sentence, although I've not taught him diagrams yet. He learned fractions by helping me cook. We've covered religion a little, but mostly we're still at the Sumarian stage of theology. He's still wrapping his head around the whole "gods walk among us" thing of the Egyptians and Greeks...gods are like Santa and I'm ok with that.

Do I think he would do well in a prep academy where the academics are tailored to his abilities? Oh yes. But I think he's doing brilliantly well as a home school student too.

Home school kids aren't any weirder than any other kids.
posted by dejah420 at 3:23 PM on December 10, 2008 [6 favorites]


Nice to see this thread still in action at 3:33 p.m.

I first saw it in the early a.m. as I was leaving to substitute teach a kindergarten in East Oakland.

Gatto was the keynote speaker at the California Homeschool Association's conference back in 1989. Our daughter had just finished Waldorf kindergarten and we had decided to go for homeschooling. His book then was Dumbing Us Down and the conference was held at a city college campus in Sacramento. He had just won "Teacher of the Year" and gave a rousing talk based pretty much on aforementioned book.

Nineteen plus years and three more children later, I still find his message inspiring, and I am, among other things, a teacher.

Can one homeschool, or in our case, unschool, and respect the value of public education as an option for others? Yes. Those who have mentioned the importance of such basics as breakfast and lunch or a better place than home are, in my humble opinion, absolutely correct. Many children are better off at school, mindnumbing as it can be. Sometimes the regular teachers leave notes for me : "---'s parents just separated and his/her father/mother is threatening to take him away. Do not release him to anyone but X"; "---will not participate with the other children; let him go lie on the rug." "Make sure A and B are never alone on the playground," etc.

Many children speak another language exclusively at home. Their parents often remain in the classroom and learn along with them.

Simply put, school can be a haven for children and their families at large.


Here in the SF Bay area, home/unschooling was for many years a fluid, active, ever-changing world/whirl of activities, "classes," friendships (all across ages) and various kinds of envelope pushing. The joke was always "Homeschoolers are never home," but that was sardonic/sarcastic too, because we were, if not at some park or museum or whatever, at somebody's home (we had Baking Day and BookTalk--pre-Oprah--for a kid's book and an adult or sometimes one-fit-all) sports, hikes, music, you name it.

My sons learned to read thanks to Pokemon cards. The first book one of them read was The Hobbit. My daughter, grown up now, cherishes her reading marathons at age nine.

All of them went to school at some point, or somehow. One is graduated from college and a grownup. My youngest has gone to "real school" since kinder (he did drop out of preschool--the only one to ever go) but that is right for him as he is markedly younger than the others, so it is his social world.

I remember when people used to ask me in the early days, "Why don't you send your kids to school?" and I would answer "Why do you send yours?"

There is much more to say but this is long enough, yes?
posted by emhutchinson at 4:09 PM on December 10, 2008 [4 favorites]


Correction: 1992--long ago
posted by emhutchinson at 4:11 PM on December 10, 2008


it's incredibly narcissistic to think you are capable of being the sole educator of another human being. You simply don't know enough.

i have never known a single homeschooler, ever--and i've known a whole lot--who think they are the sole "educator". in fact, most homeschooling parents recognize that there is a whole community around them that they can participate in more if they aren't locking their kids in a school all day. we hire (sometimes for free!) specialists for whatever our kid's into. off the top of my head: spanish, skiing, tae kwon do, piano, computer programming, grandpa for history afternoons, the neighbor lady for art, outdoor educators, another neighbor lady for trail-biking. not to mention internet-based resource folks, and classes, and ... i've taught classes (for free) to groups of homeschoolers in local history and natural history and Shakespeare and creative writing.

homeschoolers use their communities and create community themselves. there are a million homeschooling co-operatives out there. people help each other out. there are more group homeschooling events in my tiny urban metropolis than we'd *want* to be involved in.

(also, i am perfectly well-versed and capable of using the shift key, before that becomes the perennial way to accuse me of being a poor example. stylistic choice and all that. kiss my ass.)

i know there's always the one homeschooler you know who grew up in the wilds of Montana with no electricity and the one whose parents wanted to do everything possible to make sure he grew up all godly and shit, but ... *people*--you're all living in a tv-created fantasy of what homeschooling is all about.

and the more there are of us, the more the whole thing becomes easier for those who work and have a hard time. i resent the implication that it is only the rich and privileged who do it. it just ain't so. almost every homeschooling family i know has both parents working. i know single parents who do it successfully. and no, their children are not locked away at home by themselves. as for poverty: we ourselves are qualified to take public assistance, but don't. i know others who make very little, and who manage.

at any rate.

*Help! Find out what your community needs NOW:
- parents should be at their school every week (day?) watching, listening and serving on committees or volunteering services
- non-parents should visit their local school and work with the children, donate needed items, serve on committees


you know, i am a former teacher, present substitute. i have committed many years of my life to trying to make my career work within my conscience and my understanding of what is good education. saying that it is parents' jobs to prop up this fundamentally fucked up system is a load of crap. the idea that if only more parents *cared* enough, or if only the community loved us like we were a *center* of the community, or if only they gave us more money, then everything would be good again.

*it was never meant to work the way you think it was.*

it was never good!

i have to look kids in the eye who are bored and stifled and angry and can see through it all every week. and i gotta tell you, there's no way i'm going to lie anymore and tell them that's "just the way it is" and they just have to suck it up and deal with boredom and education is supposed to be painful and oh well that's life. no. more.

schools don't work to make kids lovers of learning and they certainly don't teach them to be good citizens who love the earth and their fellow humans.

it's time to move on.

make a million flowers bloom and all that.

and so yes, if you want to be a community member who goes into schools and tries to fix the system which is *archaic* and unscientific and whatever go ahead.

as for me, i'll be trying to build what comes *after*. not just homeschooling my partner's child and not just helping other families homeschool their children, but trying to free education from the belief that there's only one path to learning (and mediocrity is a-okay) and that's that.

we won't be able to run on the inefficiency of busing kids to underfunded expensive holding centers for much longer. we will have to educate them for a future where there are computers (try getting onto a computer at the best of schools without breakdowns and with appropriate speed and up-to-date technology. never mind more than 15 minutes). we'll have to be able to produce kids who can think and create, rather than training them to answer phones and sit in cubicles all day pretending to work (gee, wonder where folks learned that?). our schools have proved their failure for the majority over and over again.

and echoing a previous MeFi conversation: our literacy rate (whether you care about the metric or not) is going down in this country. it is not 99%, anymore. 97%. (gov. stat.)

so i'm over it, all that beating my head bloody against a bureaucracy that *doesn't want to change*. so are more and more kids, who are opting for virtual schools at an insane rate. choosing homeschooling or charters. why d'ya think? is it because schools are serving their needs so well?

in the end, it won't be up to all the pontificators. people will choose what's right for them, even if they're poor, and even if their parents work and even if mom doesn't know how to teach geometry. the world's a big place, and kids (and parents) are figuring it out. thank god.
posted by RedEmma at 4:18 PM on December 10, 2008 [11 favorites]


homeschoolers use their communities and create community themselves.

*You* do those things. Yay! Not everyone. The tough thing about talking about "homeschooling" is that we're basically talking about families. What are families like? Are they a good environment for kids? It's just as ridiculous to talk about what homeschooling is like, for good or ill - and there's the same tricky line because parents have rights with regard to their kids.... but kids are also people, with rights of their own. So you can feed your kid organic eggs or pop tarts of bologna sandwiches or send your kid to free breakfast - but if you don't feed your kid at all someone is going to come around and intervene. So too, it ought to be, with education.
posted by moxiedoll at 4:26 PM on December 10, 2008 [2 favorites]


Education must be compulsory (to the extent it is) to protect universal access to education as a basic right.

Most, perhaps all, discussion of rights is nothing more than rhetoric to pass along the conventions of society in the guise of eternal absolutes. Still, at least "life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness" sounds plausible. But, education? Come on. A right? As in, decreed by the cosmos? So, a Zulu? How about a 19th century Apache? Or a 5th century Hun? And not education from one's family and peers, but the right to a state funded education. The talk of "rights" is nothing more than a rhetorical ploy to make children's compulsory attendance at the educational institutions of the state an unquestionable presupposition.

A more reasonable approach is to call it the duty of the state. And the advocates of mandatory education don't like phrasing it that way because it raises questions about what we expect or desire from our government, and whether we are willing to be inconvenienced by the state fulfilling this responsibility. Calling it a 'right' makes it sound like we're taking what's ours by going to school, saying that the state is doing its duty indicates that something is done to the individual because of a bureaucracy's self appointed mission. And the state does have duties that infringe on the individual, e.g. secure borders and protection from invasion. Perhaps though, when we look at it from that angle, and weigh the costs and benefits, some of us may be inclined to relieve the state of this part of its burden

---

The thing is that a classroom isn't socially controlled by the teacher - whether you can get on with and interest the other kids is completely up to you. (And it's a skill set that playing with neighbors and cousins and other captive-audiences doesn't fully prepare you for).

School is an institution. It is about as artificial and removed from real life as it is possible to get. I'm not a big fan of the essay but this paragraph from Paul Graham's 'Why Nerds are Unpopular' hits the nail on the head,

"I think the important thing about the real world is not that it's populated by adults, but that it's very large, and the things you do have real effects. That's what school, prison, and ladies-who-lunch all lack. The inhabitants of all those worlds are trapped in little bubbles where nothing they do can have more than a local effect. Naturally these societies degenerate into savagery. They have no function for their form to follow." (emphasis mine)

That's why the socialization argument isn't very compelling. Children can get all the socialization they need in group activities with other children (sports, church, etc.), and in their leisure. They don't have to be forced to be in a room with a group of other kids that they may or not like. And it isn't a good analogue to the working world either. For most of us, whatever we do at work has a real effect, and even the bureaucrat goes home having done something meaningful in taking care of his family. It seems to me that kids determining to some extent their own learning and who they will spend time with is far closer to how the rest of their life will go than the schools are.

---

But don't we want to indoctrinate people with the idea that slavery is bad, and that non-white peoples are still people? Don't we want to tell people that there's room for science in the world, and that religion is not necessarily the only important thing in the world? If so - well, then, indoctrination becomes nothing more than a tool, one which is neither good nor bad, but just as good as its use.

I'm not sure that we do. Do you think someone from a deeply racist family will be convinced by a presentation in the auditorium that 'Sullivan High Has No Room For Racism!'? The Fundamentalists I've met who believe the world is 6,500 years old weren't won over by their high school science class. I think people change beliefs as a consequence of asking a question. And all the bullshit that comes out of schools about teaching "critical thinking" and "encouraging inquiry" is just lip service. I don't know about you, but I start to wonder or inquire because an event in my life aroused my curiosity, not because someone handed me a syllabus.

When it comes to passing along values, if that's part of what you mean by 'indoctrination', how can a school, where those values are taught as propositions, possibly compete with a family or community where the values are lived?

---

The belief that school is what eliminates a kid's natural curiosity is just freaking bullshit.

Hilarious.
posted by BigSky at 4:29 PM on December 10, 2008 [4 favorites]


Do you think someone from a deeply racist family will be convinced by a presentation in the auditorium that 'Sullivan High Has No Room For Racism!'?

You're taking a crabbed view of how schooling can influence people's attitudes -- it's not just by hokey messages conveyed by disrespected adults. It also works by socialization. Kids in schools can't help be exposed to prevailing attitudes, and will come to see them as normal and normative because their peers coordinate around them. Kids can easily become embarrassed if their parents' attitudes are far away from what's modeled by the other kids in school, and this changes their attitudes. Of course, this is not an unalloyed good. But there's every reason to believe it's a real effect.
posted by grobstein at 4:50 PM on December 10, 2008


We decided to homeschool my son this year for kindergarten. Primarily because the head of the gifted and talented program in our ISD said that they had nothing that could match what he was already doing. But even if we had been willing to let him sit through learning the alphabet, when he already reads chapter books, what I could not tolerate was the fact that these kids had to get there at 7:30, they couldn't talk in the classroom (well, obviously), they couldn't talk in the halls, there was not talking in the lunchroom...and they only got a single 15 minute recess per day.

That's insane! Trapping 5 and 6 year olds in a cone of silence for almost 8 hours a day is teaching socialization? No! It's training them to be good little compliant cube monkeys. And that was the Gifted program...god only knows what happens in the regular programs.

We're applying to a private prep academy for his first through 12th grades, but if the economy doesn't improve, we won't be able to swing the tuition, in which case, we'll home school rather than public school.

My son just turned 6. He can explain the chemistry behind making volcanoes and silly putty, he can do addition and subtraction and we're working on the multiplication tables. Unlike most high school students, he can find most large countries on a globe and can tell you something about a lot of them. He can read a map, he can define most components of a sentence, although I've not taught him diagrams yet. He learned fractions by helping me cook. We've covered religion a little, but mostly we're still at the Sumarian stage of theology. He's still wrapping his head around the whole "gods walk among us" thing of the Egyptians and Greeks...gods are like Santa and I'm ok with that.

Do I think he would do well in a prep academy where the academics are tailored to his abilities? Oh yes. But I think he's doing brilliantly well as a home school student too.

Home school kids aren't any weirder than any other kids.
posted by dejah420 at 3:23 PM on December 10 [2 favorites +] [!]


Worth noting: A six year old knowing all those things would make him weird to other kids.

You're seeing him through a parents eyes.

What's his relationship like with other kids? (this is a proverbial question, not really specific)

Also worth noting: What's wrong with a public school honors track? Where you're allowed to talk in the halls stuff (which is important).
posted by Lacking Subtlety at 5:05 PM on December 10, 2008


I'm spending way too much time reading these posts over and over again. I'm gonna go watch last week's 30 rock again.

SUBTLETY OUT
posted by Lacking Subtlety at 5:21 PM on December 10, 2008



This just out from Christopher Hedges on the state of current higher learning.

I am also the parent of four homeschooled children.


Thanks for posting this. I like this part especially:

The admissions process, as well as the staggering tuition costs, precludes most of the poor and working class. When my son got his SAT scores back last year, we were surprised to find that his critical reading score was lower than his math score. He dislikes math. He is an avid and perceptive reader. And so we did what many educated, middle-class families do. We hired an expensive tutor from The Princeton Review who taught him the tricks and techniques of taking standardized tests. The tutor told him things like “stop thinking about whether the passage is true. You are wasting test time thinking about the ideas. Just spit back what they tell you.” His reading score went up 130 points. Was he smarter? Was he a better reader? Did he become more intelligent? Is reading and answering multiple-choice questions while someone holds a stopwatch over you even an effective measure of intelligence? What about those families that do not have a few thousand dollars to hire a tutor? What chance do they have?


As best I can tell, coming from a public school that "tracked" students to upper, middle and lower levels of "achievement," there seems to be some type of reckoning coming that won't allow the ranking, classing and pigeon-holing of students to continue as it has in the past.

The education and economic systems are indeed intertwined so it's easy to understand the current problems in the US as a result of the failure of these systems. Both are not reflecting the way people want to learn and want to live, and instead serve the practical ends of the elites.
posted by peppito at 5:33 PM on December 10, 2008


Worth noting: A six year old knowing all those things would make him weird to other kids.

Don't you feel that it's problematic that a kid with a love for learning is seen as weird in society? I definitely got the "Weird kid" stuff because I loved to read things outside the school curriculum - but if I didn't, I wouldn't be able to function outside school.
posted by divabat at 5:34 PM on December 10, 2008 [4 favorites]


uhhhh, Lacking Subtlety, do you have children? to impose such restrictions on a 5 year old borders on child abuse. am sorry, but it's crazy to even think of forcing children into academic curricula without giving them time to be kids.

children, nay, humans learn all the time. without books, without teachers. they learn mostly through interaction with others. that's why mandatory warehousing of kids is such a fucked up concept --most kids are getting their "socialization" from other kids.

homeschooled kids? not at all. actually i would jokingly refer to our unschooling as raising "free-range kids". isn't it amazing that we worry more about the kinetic happiness of poultry than of our children?

for homeschool children, but especially unschoolers, "socialization" is a schooling construct that points to a lie : that kids somehow have to go to school to understand the dynamics of human social interaction.

now, if you're raising free-range kids, they get to know the newspaper stand guy down the block, the old lady from across the hall, the multi-age homeschooling kids with whom they spend hours playing soccer or attending workshops. they know how to deal with insolent waiters at restaurants or how not to joke about having a bomb in their backpack when going to the museum. they've already learned to read with the aid of bus and subway ads and they'll laugh at the stupidity of "if you see something, say something".

i just could go on and on and on.

if you ever meet my spawnage, you'll find they're the most laid back and comfortable little critters you'd ever met. they enjoy spending a good deal of time with each other, they enjoy engaging adults in conversation and really don't bat an eye when it comes to understanding what the social ettiquete is at restaurants, museum, offices, theaters, workshops or ... gasp! school.

it's not that they're "little adults". it's just that they had the first 9 and 6 years of their lives all the time in the world to be kids, learn to love learning and not believe the authoritarian hype of those who'd waste no time in telling them that without their authority as teachers, they were basically nothing.

honestly, it makes me sad that so many people think of themselves as so little and insignificant that they don't believe they're good enough to be their kids own mentors.

and, you know what, i know of no homeschooling or unschooling parent who would say,"yeah am all that my kids need and got". biggest. crock of. school.
posted by liza at 5:42 PM on December 10, 2008 [5 favorites]


Surfurrus: 'No words, all action'

I agree. Since he's oft-subject on mefi, so it's conspicuous by its absence, Dave Eggers' gave a TED talk that is refreshingly "get out there and do something".

For my part, I started a math circle at my daughter's school, am judging at the local FIRST Lego League tournament this weekend, and am about to volunteer at my local museum of science and industry, with the hopes of helping them build an exhibit making math exciting.

[previously]
posted by dylanjames at 7:09 PM on December 10, 2008 [1 favorite]


but if you don't feed your kid at all someone is going to come around and intervene. So too, it ought to be, with education.

educational neglect is a crime. funny how i can't sue my neighborhood school for same, even if my kid is left to sit doing nothing but breathing for large portions of the day.
posted by RedEmma at 7:26 PM on December 10, 2008 [4 favorites]


The question about homeschooling in a contemporary world is whether it fits with living as an adult in the modern world. When people were farmers or craftsmen or ran small businesses, children were "homeschooled", in that they learned the basics of the adult life from those around them, perhaps after having attended a small schoolhouse or something for the reading, writing, 'rithmetic part.

When everyone worked an office job, going to a regular place 6 hours a day to work with people, write reports, do essentially what you're told with a certain amount of controlled creativity, and get promoted, is pretty good preparation.
Now that more people work from home or have more flexible schedules thanks to all the methods of communication available to us, more people will try more flexible / autonomous kinds of preparation for adult life...

I'm not sure it is really rooted in philosophies of education.
posted by mdn at 7:46 PM on December 10, 2008 [2 favorites]


Surfurrus: No words, all action

For my part, even if it's more words than action, I maintain a blog about the topic and through there have counselled and assisted young people looking for another point of view. I also went back to talk to my school juniors, which helped immensely (and was an inspiration for the blog's formation). It's actually pretty easy to do - just ask the headmistress for an afternoon.

I don't know about the US, but in Malaysia if I tried to do a bit more activism in the policy/government/structural sense, such as lobbying for better schools or writing letters to government, I'd be ignored at best and thrown to jail for being a "threat to national security" at worst. (This is the same country that arrested a blogger for posting an upside-down JPG of the flag online, so it's not that big a stretch.) As it is I'm not sure what more I can post on my blog that won't get me arrested at the border and my parents deported. (We're all Malaysian PRs applying for citizenship; my parents have repeatedly warned me not to get "too political" as it could cost us any chance of getting Malaysian citizenship. Doesn't help that we have an original citizenship of a country Malaysia doesn't quite respect.)

What can I do? I don't want my peers to suffer the same way I did, and the system needs a hell of a lot of change, but I don't want to put my family in danger either.
posted by divabat at 8:47 PM on December 10, 2008


Kids in schools can't help be exposed to prevailing attitudes, and will come to see them as normal and normative because their peers coordinate around them. Kids can easily become embarrassed if their parents' attitudes are far away from what's modeled by the other kids in school, and this changes their attitudes. Of course, this is not an unalloyed good. But there's every reason to believe it's a real effect.

Life tends to do this too. It's not like public school is the necessary ingredient. Many of the kids who wouldn't get that experience except in a pubic school, were in a private one to begin with. Public school is rarely the only link.
posted by BigSky at 8:58 PM on December 10, 2008


Really interesting thread. First, I'm a little surprised nobody has mentioned Louis Althusser's concept of the I.S.A. (Ideological State Apparatus) with regards to the institution of schools:

"In Althusser’s view, our values, desires and preferences are inculcated in us by ideological practice, the sphere which has the defining property of constituting individuals as subjects. Ideological practice consists of an assortment of institutions called Ideological State Apparatuses (ISAs), which include the family, the media, religious organisations and, most importantly, the education system, as well as the received ideas they propagate. There is, however, no single ISA that produces in us the belief that we are self-conscious agents. Instead, we derive this belief in the course of learning what it is to be a daughter, a schoolchild, black, a steelworker, a councillor, and so forth."

In my experience, I think I was pretty lucky. I went to American public schools through eigth grade and had some really good and some really bad teachers. But both of my parents raised me to respect teachers, even when I knew (and my mom and pop knew) that I had a pretty lame one. Still, the attitude in my family was something like, stick it out this year and maybe next year it'll be better. It usually was. I went to private school for high school for various reasons, once of which being that my older sister got into some trouble (caught with pot a few times) and really hated the local public school. So, I went off to be educated by Quakers. Overall, it was a really great experience. I couldn't believe how much freedom we had as students. We actually had free periods. Not study hall, but a 50 minute block where we could do whatever we wanted, which included leaving campus to buy a Big Gulp, or, in my case, going to the cool back room in the library that had a stereo to do homework or read some science fiction. It blew my mind, not being treated like an inmate, even an inmate that my public school administrators grudingly had to accept was a high achiever who rarely got into any kind of trouble.

But here's the thing about Quaker school or any non-conventional learning environment, as mentioned a few times above -- it's not for everybody. Literally and figuratively. It was incredibly expensive, and for that I'll always be grateful (I had a partial scholarship for college, so my B.A. ended up being cheaper than my H.S. diploma). Also, I was a nerdy kid who, given total freedom, would rather read or play guitar than drink beer and party. (Well, up until my senior year at least.) A bit lazy too, since I didn't make it into an Ivy League college like roughly fifty percent of my senior class did.

The point being, some kids are never going to thrive in an open-ended environment. Doesn't mean they're stupid (although some of them are), but they do need to be "taught" how to be curious and how to learn for themselves. There are a plethora of educational theories out there, and I don't think any single one is "the way." Kids have different learning styles and degrees of innate curiosity. Matching teaching styles to their abilities is kind of the goal of any succesful educational system.

So lo and behold I became a high school teacher for two years. And guess what? Having gone to an awesome, open-ended, intellectually rigorous Quaker school pretty much ruined me as a teacher. I taught at a private school, albeit one that had much lower academic standards than what I was used to, along with an incredibly lousy principle who cared more about filling the athletic trophy display than anything else. I gave kids the benefit of the doubt, treated them almost like adults, and expected them to be capable of taking what I taught them and then going out and finding out more about a subject on their own, just like my many great Quaker school teachers had. Huge mistake. With some rare exceptions, these kids just weren't curious about things. They were simply unequipped for independent work and thinking. And frankly, I had little to no clue as to how one "teaches" curiosity, because my parents had instilled it in me, and in high school I was surrounded by high-functioning achievers/uber-nerds.

So I quit teaching high school and decided I'd never step into a classroom again. One economic recession/depression later, working a job I really hated, I decided to come to Korea and teach English to kindergartners. And for the most part I couldn't be happier. Funnily enough, I got a parental complaint early on that I wasn't hugging the children enough. Can you imagine that? Coming from a litigation-happy American system where you'll get your ass fired if you even pat a child to one where hugging and moderate displays of physical affection are actively encouraged? (Not that Korean public schools don't have a nasty reputation for corporal punishment.)

In short, public school was pretty good to me. Private high school was even better. But my parents were old-school. They respected teachers and education both for its own end and for its societal benefits (better job, better pay, better connections) in a way that I really don't think a lot of parents do any longer. They always told me the teacher was right, even when they knew he wasn't, if that makes any sense. And yeah, they bribed me to get good grades, but I don't think this ruined me in any way since I was already a naturally curious person. So at the end of the day, it really does come down to parenting IMO (spoken like a lazy teacher, I realize, but I don't think I'm too far off base here). If a kid simply shows up at school without caring about his or her personal development and success, a teacher can only do so much (but probably more than you might think). If a kid shows up at school with utter contempt for the teachers and the institution, probably learned from their parents in a highly anti-intellectual environment that is the United States these days, don't expect a thing. Indeed, bring back vocational education. It's simply idiotic to think that every kid needs to go to college, especially if they don't want to.
posted by bardic at 10:50 PM on December 10, 2008 [1 favorite]


The real question is why "compulsory" education seems to work just fine in the UK, Europe, Asia, and Canada, but not here.

The education system in Korea is utterly bankrupt and a total failure, in anything other than producing students who excel at taking tests.
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 11:52 PM on December 10, 2008 [1 favorite]


It seems that proponents of compulsory attendance can excuse the overall abysmal state of state schooling but want to restrict a parents option to experiment with homeschooling/unschooling, which is a method that has had at least as much historical success. If homeschooling failed anywhere nearly as often as public school, they might have a more valid argument.

Compulsory attendance has eerie similarities to involuntary servitude. As a free human being, if your presence at dictated location was compelled against your will, what would you call that?

Do you believe that the State has a greater interest in children than their parents? The simple fact is that children have legal guardians who are responsible for their well-being, that is generally not the State, and there are laws to replace legal guardians that fail to act in a child's best interest. The burden is on the State to prove public schools are in all childrens' best interest and they have never done so.

Furthermore, compulsory attendance laws are not child-labor laws. Child-labor laws exist independently.
posted by McGuillicuddy at 3:25 AM on December 11, 2008 [4 favorites]


schools don't work to make kids lovers of learning and they certainly don't teach them to be good citizens who love the earth and their fellow humans.

Schools shouldn't have to do that. That's part of what communities and families are supposed to teach kids, if that's what those communities and families believe in. Schools need to teach kids the basic tools they need to educate themselves--reading, writing, mathematics, critical thinking--and to provide access to resources students need to pursue whatever education path is best suited to their individual needs as they near adulthood.

Someone upthread noted that literacy rates in the US are at 97% now, not 99% (supposedly this is according to US government stats). Well, maybe you're one of that 1% who can't read this--though I assume you're not, since you can at least string words into reasonably intelligible sentences--but the US government stats cited here say otherwise. But regardless, before compulsory education became widespread in America, the rates were around 50%--and that's not just 50% functional illiteracy (to use one of those carefully minced term that critics of public funded schools like to insert into the debate when clouding the issue). That's 50% who couldn't read the sentence "The cat sat on the mat," and tell you it had something to do with a cat.

You can theorize, speculate, belly-ache, and anecdotalize the rest of the discussion all you want, but facts are facts. What on earth makes you think we wouldn't see a return to comparable literacy rates with the wholesale dismantling of the public school systems?

The truth is contemporary critics of public education and other long-established but recently troubled US institutions like the education system (those who aren't motivated by hidden ideological agendas, class-prejudices, or simple historical myopia) are often just intellectually lazy and nihilistic. Such people see a problem that seems intractable, due to a lack in their own imaginative powers, so they just throw up their hands and say "well, let's scrap the whole thing, y'all." Ironically, many of those who bring so much piss and vinegar to these kinds of discussions are benefactors of the very systems they now rail against, taking their own good fortunes for granted and becoming spoiled and resentful, like a belligerent child who turns a Monopoly board over and storms out of the room the moment another player buys Park Place despite having gloated over every dollar collected from the other players before the game turned.

There are serious problems with public education, sure, but so many of them have been introduced by political players who've never been sympathetic to the cause of universal public education in the first place--people whose sole motivation in all political concerns is to feed their insatiable appetites for easing their own tax burdens.

I don't have a problem with homeschooling, when its done in accordance with reasonable, minimal approved standards and there's some kind of oversight. In fact, I think it's a necessary component of a robust education system, because there are sometimes real-world circumstances that make traditional education a poor option for some. But it's not a viable substitute for an effective, comprehensive school system. For one thing, how are the bottom 50% of earners (with household incomes at or below $30,000 a year) supposed to be able to afford to work full-time while at the same time providing quality educations to their children? It's absurd to think they could.

And to imagine being part of the first generation of Americans to shirk our duty to provide such a system for our children and their children makes me sick to my stomach for what it implies about the decline of our sense of public duty and basic common sense.

You don't fix a leaky roof by tearing down the house. It might seem like a good idea at the time, but it's guaranteed to be more expensive in the long run.
posted by saulgoodman at 7:25 AM on December 11, 2008 [2 favorites]


Do you believe that the State has a greater interest in children than their parents?

As someone left to be raised by my grandparents because both my birth parents had too many drug problems and were otherwise too self-absorbed to be bothered, yes, I can say that in many cases, the state does have a greater interest in children--who ideally will become taxpaying, productive members of society--than do their parents.

I can't even count the number of kids I grew up with in similar or worse situations. In late elementary school and early high school, almost all of my closest friends were kids who had been more or less completely abandoned by their parents. Two of my closest friends, twins, had been literally abandoned at home for much of their childhood, sometimes for months at a time, while their mother went off to live with her latest new boyfriend.

Now it's my turn to contribute an anecdote: In 6th grade, the twins got in trouble with a teacher because they had both started wearing these matching Michael Jackson-style imitation-leather jackets to class everyday, even though it was spring. The teacher was concerned it was some kind of show of gang affiliation and reported them to the school administrators.

In fact, as I knew and finally explained to the teacher just too late to spare the twins a humiliating trip to the principle's office, they had been wearing those jackets every day for weeks, with no shirts on underneath, because they had no clean shirts left to wear.

I don't know the specifics, but soon after their trip to the principle's office, their mother showed up again for a while. She bought a used washer and dryer and taught them how to wash their own clothes.
posted by saulgoodman at 7:45 AM on December 11, 2008 [1 favorite]


Still, at least "life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness" sounds plausible. But, education? Come on. A right?

To say one has an inalienable right to "liberty," but not a right to education is absurd, just as it's absurd to say one has an inalienable right to life, but not to the basic health care required to preserve a life.
posted by saulgoodman at 7:56 AM on December 11, 2008 [1 favorite]


Someone upthread noted that literacy rates in the US are at 97% now, not 99% (supposedly this is according to US government stats). Well, maybe you're one of that 1% who can't read this--though I assume you're not, since you can at least string words into reasonably intelligible sentences--but the US government stats cited here say otherwise.
Again, yes, the government says that 99% of the US is literate, but they define "literate" as someone who can read on a fourth. grade. level. It's easy to claim an institution is successful if one's standards are set 2 centimeters above the ground.

You wouldn't say that X Motors is a successful automobile manufacturer just because their cars' wheels stay on 35% of the time. There are definitely good things about the public education system, but this literacy-rate business is not one of them.
posted by nushustu at 8:39 AM on December 11, 2008


the government says that 99% of the US is literate, but they define "literate" as someone who can read on a fourth. grade. level.

Again, someone who can read on a fourth grade level is still a major improvement over where 50% of the population was before compulsory education.
posted by saulgoodman at 9:12 AM on December 11, 2008




uhhhh, Lacking Subtlety, do you have children? to impose such restrictions on a 5 year old borders on child abuse. am sorry, but it's crazy to even think of forcing children into academic curricula without giving them time to be kids.

children, nay, humans learn all the time. without books, without teachers. they learn mostly through interaction with others. that's why mandatory warehousing of kids is such a fucked up concept --most kids are getting their "socialization" from other kids.

homeschooled kids? not at all. actually i would jokingly refer to our unschooling as raising "free-range kids". isn't it amazing that we worry more about the kinetic happiness of poultry than of our children?

for homeschool children, but especially unschoolers, "socialization" is a schooling construct that points to a lie : that kids somehow have to go to school to understand the dynamics of human social interaction.

now, if you're raising free-range kids, they get to know the newspaper stand guy down the block, the old lady from across the hall, the multi-age homeschooling kids with whom they spend hours playing soccer or attending workshops. they know how to deal with insolent waiters at restaurants or how not to joke about having a bomb in their backpack when going to the museum. they've already learned to read with the aid of bus and subway ads and they'll laugh at the stupidity of "if you see something, say something".

i just could go on and on and on.

if you ever meet my spawnage, you'll find they're the most laid back and comfortable little critters you'd ever met. they enjoy spending a good deal of time with each other, they enjoy engaging adults in conversation and really don't bat an eye when it comes to understanding what the social ettiquete is at restaurants, museum, offices, theaters, workshops or ... gasp! school.

it's not that they're "little adults". it's just that they had the first 9 and 6 years of their lives all the time in the world to be kids, learn to love learning and not believe the authoritarian hype of those who'd waste no time in telling them that without their authority as teachers, they were basically nothing.

honestly, it makes me sad that so many people think of themselves as so little and insignificant that they don't believe they're good enough to be their kids own mentors.

and, you know what, i know of no homeschooling or unschooling parent who would say,"yeah am all that my kids need and got". biggest. crock of. school.
posted by liza at 5:42 PM on December 10 [3 favorites +] [!]


Don't have kids, but will probably in a couple years or so.

I feel like I did most of my "being a kid" when I was at school with my friends. We had a real bond both in academia, classrooms, hallways, and sports fields.

Something no one seems to be mentioning is kids have a different side to them when they're away from their parents. And learning how to be away from one's parents is something critical. Also dealing with non-famial or friend zone adults. I'm curious why people don't seem to be including.

Kids meet a huge variety of people at school and a heck of a lot more kinds of intellectual adults than they would anywhere else. I went to public school AND i got to know the newspaper guy, etc etc. I could go on and on too.

How is it you know your kids are the most laid back and comfortable kids when not in your presence? Once again, more of a proverbial question.

A child's social ettiquete in restaurants etc, is something I always find more dependent on parents. I dont' get what that has to do with school. That's more basic human decency than socialization.

TEACHERS DO NOT "waste no time in telling them that without their authority as teachers, they were basically nothing" THAT IS SO INSULTING I CAN BARELY STAND IT.

And of COURSE Parents are their kids biggest mentors! I want you to understand that I think you're an excellent example of a parent. But I'm saying there is an intrinsic value to public school as well. It's not an authoritarian nightmare. It just sucks that you have to get up early. That's all.

I spend a huge amount of my life working with kids. (mostly inner city) I would like to meet your spawnage.
posted by Lacking Subtlety at 9:57 AM on December 11, 2008



I went to the sort of school that leaves clawmarks on one's soul for life....
..... not because "we say so". The rest will follow.
posted by aeschenkarnos at 3:20 PM on December 10 [7 favorites +] [!]

Yikes. Aeschenkarnos.

I believe you had what we call "The Nightmare Scenario"

There are much better school experiences out there.

You have my sympathies.
posted by Lacking Subtlety at 10:08 AM on December 11, 2008


I see two basic problems here. The first is that groups are different, and the second is resources.

I have no doubt that Gatto could teach his kids better in homeschooling than almost any teacher can do in the classroom. I also have no doubt that most of Gatto's friends could teach single kids better than the majority of teachers could teach a classroom - they know about teaching (from Gatto if no one else) and are probably erudite and interested. (And so could most of the population of Metafilter - if you weren't interested in learning things you wouldn't be here, and you probably won't get really obnoxious kids to teach or even more than a couple). But this isn't the majority of the population. More than half the population owns precisely no books (with the possible exceptions of The Holy Bible and phone books). Think of the damage religious homeschooling can do, and then add to that the parents aren't interested and don't want to teach. You've just wrecked the remaining educational chance of about half the population.

Then there's the resources. Teaching is a full-time job. Who teaches the kids who are neither upper nor middle class? It takes time, which takes money. And an adult who does not have to work. You've just wrecked even more education.

Sure, 10% of kids will win out of this - but the results for those whose parents are uninterested or ignorant will be terrible.

Now there are things that could be improved. I don't think anyone is disputing that. But returning from a system that produces about 65% functional literacy to one that produced only 50% with basic literacy is the wrong way to go. You (even more than the school voucher people) are trying to implement a "solution" that will make matters worse.
posted by Francis at 10:09 AM on December 11, 2008 [1 favorite]


"schools don't work to make kids lovers of learning and they certainly don't teach them to be good citizens who love the earth and their fellow humans."

Schools shouldn't have to do that. That's part of what communities and families are supposed to teach kids, if that's what those communities and families believe in. Schools need to teach kids the basic tools they need to educate themselves--reading, writing, mathematics, critical thinking--and to provide access to resources students need to pursue whatever education path is best suited to their individual needs as they near adulthood.


But these kids aren't getting this from their parents or their communities. Many, many parents don't have the time (either they're workaholics or--as you mentioned--they have to work two jobs just to provide sustenance for their kids) to even do basic parenting. Maybe these parents did/do love learning, but it hasn't exactly done them any good has it, because a love of learning is not valued by our society. So why would they teach their kids to love learning if society doesn't value that? All that matters is if you get good grades through high school, make it to a good college, graduate in four years and get a nice paying job with good benefits like a good little American. Genuine learning, your own interests, and a better world be damned.

You don't fix a leaky roof by tearing down the house. It might seem like a good idea at the time, but it's guaranteed to be more expensive in the long run.

I take the opposite view: having been poured so terribly, the foundation is crumbling, and it's time to build another house. We don't have to tear this one down before the next one is built, but let's not insist on delaying the inevitable forever: the day that roof caves in. I'm not even assuming the worst: that the roof has already caved in and we're scurrying around trying to figure out how to lift it back up for a little longer. Maybe that is where we're at.

Again, someone who can read on a fourth grade level is still a major improvement over where 50% of the population was before compulsory education.

Ah, literacy rates. Gatto says:

As many before him, Huey missed entirely the brilliant Greek insight that reading and understanding are two different things. Good reading is the fluent and effortless cracking of the symbol-sound code which puts understanding within easy reach. Understanding is the translation of that code into meaning.

It is for many people a natural and fairly harmless mistake. Since they read for meaning, the code-cracking step is forgotten. Forgotten, that is, by those who read well. For others, self-disgust and despair engendered by halting progress in decoding sounds sets into play a fatal chain of circumstances which endangers the relationship to print for a long time, sometimes wrecking it forever. If decoding is a painful effort, filled with frustrating errors, finally a point is reached when the reader says, in effect, to the devil with it.


I have to wonder if our ability to understand and grasp meaning has been slipping since compulsory education was instituted, despite literacy rates having risen. Unfortunately, there are no measurements for that, probably because it's not something that's valued in our society.

Also, I don't think anyone here is advocating simply deleting the school system. Revolution without revelation is tyranny.
posted by symbollocks at 10:20 AM on December 11, 2008 [3 favorites]


Again, someone who can read on a fourth grade level is still a major improvement over where 50% of the population was before compulsory education.

While compulsory education did play a huge role in getting the masses literate, I still think it's a little disingenuous to make blanket-praise for a system that is considered successful if it gets people reading 4th grade material by the 12th grade.
posted by nushustu at 10:21 AM on December 11, 2008


I have to wonder if our ability to understand and grasp meaning has been slipping since compulsory education was instituted, despite literacy rates having risen. Unfortunately, there are no measurements for that, probably because it's not something that's valued in our society.

symbollocks, YES. I tried to make this point when I quoted the paragraph above from the study that said that "21% to 23% of adult Americans were not able to locate information in text, could not make low-level inferences using printed materials, and were unable to integrate easily identifiable pieces of information." This point was lost on certain persons, apparently, and is exactly what I'm talking about.

One thing that the schools might consider is redefining their idea of literacy. As someone smarter than me said on another thread (paraphrased):

If one wanted to find out more about the life of Mozart, would one use

A) A dictionary
B) An encyclopedia
C) An atlas
D) An almanac

The answer, of course is E) Google. Which means that a person would need to be search-literate. How many public schools go into ANY detail on how to search effectively? Even just basic Boolean operators would be useful, but I don't see much of that occurring in the schools.
posted by nushustu at 10:31 AM on December 11, 2008


Unfortunately, there are no measurements for that, probably because it's not something that's valued in our society.

Yes, but how does that implicate the school system? The roots of the problems in the Us education system are cultural and social. Our educational institutions are in decline precisely because of the lack of cultural value ascribed to the kind of idealized education you describe.

It would be a critical mistake to mistake the patient for the sickness, and in the case of public education, I think that's exactly what critics like Gatto are doing: Schools aren't the cause of the declining interest in education--we just don't really appreciate the benefits of our educations as a society because we take them for granted. What becomes common becomes contemptible; it's just human nature.

There was barely any interest at all, among much of the population, in pursuing even basic education (apart from trades and vocational skills) before uniform school systems were widespread. The problem of much of the population not valuing education existed long before compulsory school attendance did.

Sure, sometimes you have to re-break a bone to reset the arm or leg. But you can't kill a patient and say it was necessary to cure them of the sickness. More effort needs to be put into improving how public schools actually work than in trying to discredit them and less effort should be spent diverting funding into private hands and trying to drag us backwards into the 19th century.
posted by saulgoodman at 10:53 AM on December 11, 2008


If education were compulsory, if it were humanly possible to compel another human to learn, there would be less debate. Compulsory education is only useful for debating a straw man, not a realistic description of the current environment.

No US state has compulsory education laws. They have compulsory attendance laws, as has already been alluded to and mostly ignored. Schools are not required to ensure a basic education to all students (because that would be impossible). Despite all the laws requiring schools make an effort to educate, all too often they don't even try to educate in a manner suited to the hardest to reach students.

If you want your child to attend a public school, nobody I know would prevent you from sending them*. If someone else that is not otherwise abusing their child wants to teach their child in a different manner, who are you to say they can't?

saulgoodman - Did you notice your tale of horrible parenting happened to a child in public school? So how does that relate to homeschool/unschooling? You seem eager to compel other people's freeborn children to attend a state institution because Child Protective Services is a failed bureaucracy in almost every state. Guess what? So is public school. Mostly because people want it to be all things to all children, instead of focusing on the students that are there willingly (or at least at the will of their legal guardian).

Also, anyone that argues that the State has a greater interest in children than their legal guardians fails to understand the framework of the law. Legal guardians, in nearly all respects except compulsory attendance, are the unquestioned decision-makers of their wards. If they fail, there are necessary and adequate laws in place to have them replaced.

* Some radical libertarians may advocate eliminating tuition-free public schools. I have never met one though.
posted by McGuillicuddy at 10:58 AM on December 11, 2008 [1 favorite]


The answer, of course is E) Google. Which means that a person would need to be search-literate. How many public schools go into ANY detail on how to search effectively?

In 2008 according to these statistics, 73.6% of North Americans were internet users. Amazing that so many functionally illiterate people are "search-literate" despite the failures of public education.
posted by saulgoodman at 11:02 AM on December 11, 2008


saulgoodman - Did you notice your tale of horrible parenting happened to a child in public school? So how does that relate to homeschool/unschooling?

It's not a tale to me. These kids were my closest friends. If there hadn't been compulsory school attendance, I don't know what would have happened to them. They slept over at my house sometimes, but they never wanted to stay, and we didn't have any authority to make them stay with us (plus my grandparents, like most other people in the community, tended to look at them as a lost cause already; we did occasionally buy them clothes and bring them food, but there wasn't much we could do). The only food they had to eat while their mom was away was food they got through the school's Free-and-Reduced Lunch program.

You seem eager to compel other people's freeborn children

Give me a break. "Freeborn children"? Children are only freeborn if their parents see fit to let them be free and to pretend otherwise is to deny the obvious.
posted by saulgoodman at 11:21 AM on December 11, 2008 [1 favorite]


You know what is obvious to me?
[T]hat all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness.
In other words, freeborn.
posted by McGuillicuddy at 11:36 AM on December 11, 2008


Also saul, I'm still not clear how your tale relates to compulsory attendance or homeschooling.

Is your contention that your friends would have been put to work on the back 40 at their parents plantation if not for compulsory attendance statutes? Forced to work in a sweatshop? I'm hope you realize there are other laws to deal with that.

You also likely realize that their mother and/or father could have homeschooled/unschooled the children if they desired to do so. Their parents did not have any interest in the children, therefore they sent them to public school. So your tale has no relevance to compulsory attendance or homeschooling and is simply an emotionally charged straw man.
posted by McGuillicuddy at 11:50 AM on December 11, 2008 [1 favorite]


saul,

I don't have the time presently to locate the numerous papers and articles about information literacy, and how the vast majority of people never bother with anything beyond single search terms, and how this means that not only students under 18, but also college and graduate students don't know the first thing about how to do research. I'll just link to an article or two on John Battelle's Searchblog, which sum up my thoughts on the subject nicely.
posted by nushustu at 11:59 AM on December 11, 2008


You know what is obvious to me?

[T]hat all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness


McGuillicuddy: Oh well, if it says it, it must be true, right? So a child is still free born because this says so, even if their parents lock them in a basement and never let them see light of day until they're 18?

Of course not. The clear point of that declaration of rights is to positively affirm the state's role in protecting certain basic rights against encroachment not only by the state itself but by anyone or thing who attempts to curtail them.

And yes, that means the state is obligated to intervene to protect those rights on our behalf even if those seeking to impinge on them are our own parents. Parents aren't allowed to kill their children, torment them for sport, or imprison them in basements. Not providing a child with access to at least basic education is a form of depriving them of their liberties--a child with no access to learning opportunities during the crucial developmental period when their learning capacities are at their peak will likely never be able to make up for the deficit.

Without basic education, they'll always be at a disadvantage in the workplace and in other aspects of their lives. But they didn't choose to disadvantage themselves; their parents made that choice. How can such a scenario and its outcome be viewed as compatible with any coherent concept of personal liberty?

the vast majority of people never bother with anything beyond single search terms, and how this means that not only students under 18, but also college and graduate students don't know the first thing about how to do research.

nushustu: See, this new turn of discussion just illustrates the point about how much we take the benefits of our education system for granted. Now our school systems are a total failure because a lot of Americans don't know how to Google very well? Do you honestly have no idea how much bigger the problems with education are in much of the world? Places where homeschooling (such as it is) and private schooling have been and continue to be the norm? IMO, what's really driving this debate is a recent cultural trend in which one of the world's most successful and privileged cultures is gradually losing sight of just how much it really has to lose if it keeps taking gains it's already made for granted.
posted by saulgoodman at 12:35 PM on December 11, 2008 [1 favorite]


saulgoodman - While education is key to personal development, the fact that states do not attempt to mandate basic education, rather they legislate attendance, should make it pretty clear that states have no right to compel parents to submit their children to a newfangled social experiment that has never been proven to be superior to parental control of education. Indeed, the failure rate for public school is undoubtedly higher than for homeschool/unschool.

And in case you missed it in your public school education, I would remind you that, in fact, the Founders were violently cutting the ties that bound them to their State in order to establish a more perfect union based on personal liberty and the pursuit of happiness. It is not the State that protects our inalienable Rights, including liberty, but our willingness to alter or abolish any State that would trample upon them.

Alas, in the current age, it seems the spirit is willing but the flesh is weak. That the State is the hand that rocks the cradle probably has something to do with that.
posted by McGuillicuddy at 1:22 PM on December 11, 2008


to compel parents to submit their children to a newfangled social experiment that has never been proven to be superior to parental control of education

New-fangled? Really? A system that's been universally adopted in America for over 100 years, with the first state adopting it as far back as June 14, 1642? What are you, 1000 years old?

I'm going to have to conclude you've just been winding me up all along.
posted by saulgoodman at 1:34 PM on December 11, 2008 [1 favorite]


Without basic education, they'll always be at a disadvantage in the workplace and in other aspects of their lives. But they didn't choose to disadvantage themselves; their parents made that choice. How can such a scenario and its outcome be viewed as compatible with any coherent concept of personal liberty?

You're assuming that their parents are more likely to disadvantage kids than the state (or are you just asking what will happen to kids whose parents don't care about them in a school system without compulsory attendance?). The state does have a vested interest in turning kids into functional adults, but not too functional. Just functional enough so that they will pay taxes and blindly quest after that american dream thingy. They'll still always be at a disadvantage (maybe a worse disadvantage than those kids before compulsory schooling) in learning how to live their lives beyond what they've been taught in school, and later beyond their job. This, I think, is a better way of measuring how effective education is, and also how destructive it can be.
posted by symbollocks at 1:59 PM on December 11, 2008


Okay so I haven't read all 100 or so comments in this thread but just to put my two cents in:

1. I believe every child should be educated. Homeschooling should be an option but there needs to be some way for the community to ensure that the child is really getting a good education - families should not simple be able to opt out of schooling unless they have a good alternative.

2. I happened to love school and I think it can be a good place where children are exposed to many new ideas and learn to do things they would not have otherwise had access to. I also agree with many of Gatto's arguments that school often crushes curiosity and trains people to be spoon-fed directions while getting them to grow accustomed to boredom or confusion or failure.

3. Vocational education has the germ of something good in it, namely, train students to do practical things, don't force them to be all about reading and writing if that's not their thing.

The problem is, reading and writing often aren't your thing in particular because you have bad reading and writing teachers, you are reading and writing below grade level, or your peer culture doesn't value reading and writing.

Students get tracked into vocational education when they aren't successful in the college-prep track, and often these are students from disadvantaged backgrounds who haven't succeeded because schools haven't done the work of making school work for them.

It is a cop-out to imagine that some people in a democratic society should be exempted from being highly literate. If self-governance is to work, everyone needs to know more than just how to make a living - they need to know how to think critically. This purpose of schooling is argued for less and less frequently these days.
posted by mai at 3:34 PM on December 11, 2008


The state does have a vested interest in turning kids into functional adults, but not too functional.

Oh, honestly. You're as much a crackpot as John Taylor Gatto.
posted by moxiedoll at 3:58 PM on December 11, 2008


you know, i am a former teacher, present substitute. i have committed many years of my life to trying to make my career work within my conscience and my understanding of what is good education. saying that it is parents' jobs to prop up this fundamentally fucked up system is a load of crap. the idea that if only more parents *cared* enough, or if only the community loved us like we were a *center* of the community, or if only they gave us more money, then everything would be good again.

*it was never meant to work the way you think it was.*

it was never good!

i have to look kids in the eye who are bored and stifled and angry and can see through it all every week. and i gotta tell you, there's no way i'm going to lie anymore and tell them that's "just the way it is" and they just have to suck it up and deal with boredom and education is supposed to be painful and oh well that's life. no. more.


I LOVE you, RedEmma. You pretty much summed up the way I felt in school and the way I feel about sending potential offspring TO school in one fell swoop. That's it. I refuse to have the liberal guilt thing about not supporting the public schools by sending my kids there...if I am going to be stifling their desire to learn in the same way I was stifled, it's nothing short of child abuse. I was bored out of my mind for 13+ years and I'm not going to make my kid go through the same thing.

As much as I appreciate the good teachers I had, they are more than outnumbered by the ultra-bads. You know, like the math teacher who put an equation (that was worked out in full at the back of the book) on the board WRONG, got told as much and said "Oh, is it?" And not in the Socratic style, my friends, he just plain didn't know. Wonder why I hate math to this day? Well, 13 years of public school is the short answer. And when I had to have my gifted and talented teacher advocate for me when I tried to drop down a level, math-class-wise, saying to the guidance staff "just because she is good at A does not mean she is good at B, and she does not have the basic skills needed to make it in this class, she needs remedial help" -- how do you think that made me feel? Not one bit fonder of algebra, that's for damn sure. Had I had good math teachers all along, I'm sure I would feel differently.

Getting forced into math classes too advanced for me made me hate school AND killed my grade point average, which cut off a lot of options for higher ed. So by the time I escaped from that hole, I was limited in where I could go to deploy the skills I DID have. This isn't like the helicopter parents who try to get their kids classified special ed in order to get extra time to take tests and stuff. This was educational malpractice. I studied myself to sleep every night to no avail, thinking I was the stupid one, and looking back on it now it just makes me ANGRY. I realize how those clueless administrators had an effect on where I was able to go to college because they insisted I fit into their one-size-fits-all wrapper for gifted kids. And I was in a GOOD school, I can only imagine what would've happened elsewhere, it would've been worse.

(Still a little angry and eponysterical here, can you tell?)
posted by bitter-girl.com at 4:44 PM on December 11, 2008 [1 favorite]


The state does have a vested interest in turning kids into functional adults, but not too functional.

Oh, honestly. You're as much a crackpot as John Taylor Gatto.


In some places that's actually pretty true. Malaysian university students aren't allowed by law to join organisations or associations without approval of the Head of the university - this law was enacted to curb the recruitment of student political leaders by the Opposition parties (there are university students that join the ruling party but they don't get into trouble, whereas the Opposition students are regularly rounded up.)
posted by divabat at 5:58 PM on December 11, 2008


Ok, ok, sloppy thinking (at least here in the US). Here's a better way of putting it: the state has many different interests in how children are schooled, and most of them are well-intentioned. But the fact of the matter is that the methods being used now do not produce an engaged citizenry. The methods in place now produce a mix of depressed, insufficiently literate, unthinking workers.

I studied myself to sleep every night to no avail, thinking I was the stupid one, and looking back on it now it just makes me ANGRY.

You certainly live up to your nick name don't you bitter-girl?

School creates so much psychological distress for so many people, and I think this is mainly because teachers and parents use fear mongering tactics to encourage children to learn. This needs to stop. USING FEAR TO MOTIVATE PEOPLE CAN BE PSYCHOLOGICALLY DAMAGING, ESPECIALLY TO CHILDREN.

Kids should never ever ever be told that because they got a [grade] in [class] that they should be concerned for their future because they might not get into college and that would be the end of the world. I was basically told similar things all throughout my school days, by both parents and teachers, who all assumed they knew what I wanted out of my education. They were clueless, and I suffered their wrath for it.
posted by symbollocks at 6:00 PM on December 11, 2008 [1 favorite]


Kids should never ever ever be told that because they got a [grade] in [class] that they should be concerned for their future because they might not get into college and that would be the end of the world.

Well, I think we can all agree there. That's why high stakes testing, all this emphasis on performance metrics, etc., to me, is fundamentally wrong-headed. But that still doesn't mean we don't need a public education system and checks to ensure all children have a shot at getting at least a reasonable level of basic education.

And bitter-girl: I'm sorry to hear you had such a bad experience, but I promise you, most of mine was worse. My first year of kindergarten I spoke only German and a little broken English so all the kids teased me relentlessly for the first couple of years. I spent most of my school years in the deep south, so I've had every possible bad experience you can imagine--here's just a sampling: a redneck guy once whipped out a buck knife and threatened to cut off my nuts on the back of a school bus just to see if I'd flinch; me and two other of my skater/punk friends were once chased off campus once in a dispute over a girl by a small mob of rednecks who caught us roaming the halls one day; on more than one occasion, a wannabe racist skinhead guy we knew who was actually crazy enough to do it started telling my friends he was going to bring a gun to school to kill me--luckily, the one day he actually did show up looking for me in person before the start of my first period class, I was out sick, and he apparently decided not to try again. And believe me, that's only the relatively innocent, tip-of-the-iceberg stuff. I won't even go into how boring and depressing the classes themselves were except to say, in my first two years, my friends and I were so bored we competed to see who could maintain the lowest GPA, and through my sophomore year, I was in the lead with a 0.371 (I later decided to knuckle down and got my GPA up to an average 3.75 for my junior and senior years, finishing with a solid C average overall).

But in the years since then, I've come to realize I learned more about real life during those years--lessons about dealing with difficult personalities, managing social adversity and relating to people with radically different backgrounds and perspectives from my own--than I could have ever learned otherwise. And though I didn't realize it or appreciate it then, I did gain essential skills and knowledge that I use every day, in my work and other aspects of my life. I've also come to realize that my own personal experience with education isn't a legitimate basis for forming a broader opinion about public education in general. My experience with public education is just one in a million. Anecdotes like these don't, and shouldn't, have very much weight in this debate.

Which leads me back to the facts. Ever since the adoption of compulsory education, America has prospered by every objective measure (particularly in the area of income equality, which has seen steady declines since the widespread adoption of compulsory public education, with only recent decades seeing reversals of those trends--perhaps not coincidentally, just as political and social support for uniform public education has begun to break down). Basic literacy rates in every country with compulsory public education are double what they are in developing countries without such systems. Standards of living in every such country are higher. Coincidence? Not likely.

In America, even profoundly stupid people across nearly every income level and socioeconomic category can read stop signs, operate cellphones and portable DVD players, follow simple instructions, make idiotic small-talk with other stupid people on elevators, and debate the merits of public education. Don't misunderestimate how much worse things would be if we couldn't even count on that.
posted by saulgoodman at 8:13 PM on December 11, 2008


uh, "income equality" --> "income inequality"

I'm sorry to keep grinding my axe on this stuff. It may be only because I recently came around to the realization that public education actually is an indispensable feature of our system myself, but I'm convinced of it now.
posted by saulgoodman at 9:34 PM on December 11, 2008


Education is at least as old as the human species. And the human species has been successfully educating themselves and each other for far longer than 1000 years. Public schools are newfangled by any historical analysis of education. So, saulgoodman, you're just winding yourself up by making up easily won arguments instead of dealing with what was actually said.

Modern public education does not date to 1642. That law, which dates to the Massachusetts Bay Colony, concerned "the ability to read and understand the principals of religion and the capital laws of the country" and learning a trade. However, those laws did not compel attendance in any manner, they compelled "educational" instruction (fundamentally religious instruction which fit the Puritan world-view).

The birth of something beginning to approximate the modern public school system dates to around 1852 and another Massachusetts politician, Horace Mann. Mann is widely celebrated as the "the father of American public education" and a statue of him stands in front of the State House in Boston. Of course, we've come a long way from the one room schoolhouses my great-aunt taught in to the (often barb-wire fenced) age-segregated school complexes of today.

There are better primary sources than what I've linked to above, you would find many of them in the works of John Taylor Gatto. Of course, it is easier to make up arguments he and others never put forward.
posted by McGuillicuddy at 4:10 AM on December 12, 2008


I should not have written that public school is new, as public education is an ancient tradition. For example, in ancient Greece, Socrates' and his students gave public lectures. However, without a doubt, compulsory attendance statutes are absolutely a newfangled social experiment in the historical context of education and governance. And that is even more true for modern age-segregated school complexes that resemble prisons more than the pastoral schoolhouses of the Massachusetts Bay Colony.
posted by McGuillicuddy at 4:39 AM on December 12, 2008


McGuillicuddy: Well, if the criticism is meant to be narrowly restricted against compulsory attendance laws, what's the point? As far as I know, every state in the union offers some form of elective homeschooling alternative. Parents who can demonstrate they are capable and willing to educate their children can; any parents who can't demonstrate those qualities have to allow their children to undergo some form of state-sponsored education. I don't see the controversy.
posted by saulgoodman at 6:58 AM on December 12, 2008


The problem I think is that these figures you list off are superficial. They don't capture reality sufficiently, and attempting to shoehorn reality into those figures is a recipe for disaster, a recipe for misunderstanding. Just like with literacy, where we see that an ability to read does not translate into an ability to comprehend and think critically. The ability to read a stop sign, use a cell phone, and operate a dvd player are things people would pick up and learn regardless of an education. Follow simple instructions? How is that ability dependent on public education? I think you are trying to make the case that these are things we take for granted that public education has given us, but I'm just not convinced by the proof you offer. Look at the ability to speak! Kids learn that before they get to kindergarten. It's a complex skill that all kids learn without specialists or teachers of any kind. If a kid can learn to speak a language, why can't they learn those other things you listed in a similar manner?

I also think there may be an element of confirmation bias involved in your argument. Standards of living are better in countries that have compulsory public education, therefore the standards of living must have been a result of compulsory public education. Could standards of living have been the result of some other factor, perhaps? What about imperialism? The countries you are talking about (well, the west in general, I think) have all been involved in the exploitation of third world countries to some degree, so it's a given that the standards of living in imperialist nations are higher than in those countries which they exploit, right? It's also a given that being in less dire circumstances would afford citizens of imperialist nations a better, more stable learning environment. They would be free from distress, at least when compared with the exploited countries.
posted by symbollocks at 7:12 AM on December 12, 2008


Furthermore: of what use is an ability to read and write without an ability to comprehend and think critically? You can't write a book with just a basic ability to read and write. The point is that people will pick up the skills that are necessary to them, and in this day and age reading and writing are necessary skills so they would be picked up in most cases. Back in the 30's reading and writing were less common of a skill because they were not necessary for day to day functioning. Nowadays it is.

Just like without a government I don't think we would slip back into the stone age, I don't think we would slip back into mass illiteracy without compulsory public education.
posted by symbollocks at 7:27 AM on December 12, 2008 [1 favorite]


Also, saul, nothing is obvious, which is the whole point of this conversation, so it seems pretty lame for you to assert that we're wonky for questioning the value of public education, and that our questioning is somehow undermining the value of education. A statist can say "obviously we need government" and an anarchist can say "obviously we don't" but that doesn't prove either of them right.
posted by symbollocks at 7:33 AM on December 12, 2008 [2 favorites]


But in the years since then, I've come to realize I learned more about real life during those years--lessons about dealing with difficult personalities, managing social adversity and relating to people with radically different backgrounds and perspectives from my own--than I could have ever learned otherwise.

Fair enough, saulgoodman, but I learned a hell of lot of those things working as a broker in a 99% male brokerage firm, and I got that job because I could pass a math test and owned a vagina. You shouldn't have had to go through that. No child should.

I've also come to realize that my own personal experience with education isn't a legitimate basis for forming a broader opinion about public education in general. My experience with public education is just one in a million. Anecdotes like these don't, and shouldn't, have very much weight in this debate.

My parents, as intelligent as they are in more practical matters, spent most of my school years trying to "socialize" me in relationship to the students and teachers I was forced to deal with every day. For example, getting called in to school and then having to explain to me it wasn't ok to point out all the words my teachers spelled wrong on the blackboard (newsflash: if you can't spell better than the children in your charge, maybe you shouldn't be teaching 3rd grade), that I should just sit there and be quiet. Getting sent to the principal's office for reading before class -- that was a good one, too.

I also got threats, I'm just not dwelling on that because I think that's other people's poor parenting skills showing up in their childrens' actions. My concern is the academics. It was bad enough when I went -- add in today's stupid testing regimes and I imagine it's even worse. I figured out how to read long before I went to kindergarten, and that's where I picked up most of my information from there on out.

School for me was about getting accused of stealing a dictionary (that I'd brought in from home) = first grade. Getting yelled at for walking 'wrong' = second grade. Being irritated my teachers couldn't spell = third grade. Having a teacher tell us if the Russians bombed tomorrow, she was going up on the school roof to get hit first because she didn't want to live through that = fourth grade. New school not believing I was in the gifted program in my old school and being forced into incredibly boring classes I'd done a million times before = fifth grade. Getting insulted by a teacher because I knew more than the other kids = sixth grade. And on and on and on and on.

You can say that's anecdotal, that's one person's experience, and it is, but it's not just me. Think about it this way: average class size is what, 25-something kids? There's a multiplier effect. For every person who's mocked for being ahead of the class, for every person who goes through the kinds of things I did, there are 20 times as many people witnessing it and internalizing the 'life lessons' there. Don't be smart, don't stand out, don't rock the educational boat. And that sucks.

Distilling what I do for a living now into one major skill -- I am a writer. I have been writing and creating and editing for as long as I can remember. I write books, I write articles, I edit a print magazine... go dig through my mom's attic and tell me what you find. I made books, I drew illustrations for them, I created my own stories inside them. Even when I could barely print, I was a budding writer. If I'd been able to work on my skills and craft in a more intensive way instead of spending my time worrying I was going to get my ass kicked on the school bus or being pressured into wearing the latest crap from the Limited instead of the camouflage stuff I preferred (hey, it was the 80s and I liked the A-Team), I would have come to my calling and true love, work-wise, much much earlier.

So, go ahead and send your kids to public school if you think that's best, but I am resolute in my opinion that it's nothing more than child abuse if you have a bright kid who needs more stimulation than 'normal' schooling is able to provide.
posted by bitter-girl.com at 7:39 AM on December 12, 2008 [5 favorites]


Parents who can demonstrate they are capable and willing to educate their children can; any parents who can't demonstrate those qualities have to allow their children to undergo some form of state-sponsored education. I don't see the controversy.

As I am endowed with inalienable Rights, it is never necessary to justify the pursuit of happiness to the State. Not mine and not my legal wards.

Quite the opposite, the burden is on the State to first demonstrate their own capacity and exigent need to provide education to all children. The public school system have failed again and again, but its apologists continue to insist that others give up their Rights and docilely comply as the State attempts mass indoctrination of children.

Furthermore, my interests outweigh the States interest in my legal wards unless the State can prove a failure to provide adequately for them. Refusing to cooperate with their failed bureaucracy is not proof of anything except a desire maintain my natural right to parental control of education.

The controversy is the State's unreasonable insistence that everyone comply with compulsory attendance. If you'd like to unquestioningly comply with the State, I won't interfere. But neither will I tolerate State interference with my own affairs.
posted by McGuillicuddy at 8:40 AM on December 12, 2008 [4 favorites]


Lacking Subtlety said: Worth noting: A six year old knowing all those things would make him weird to other kids. You're seeing him through a parents eyes. What's his relationship like with other kids? (this is a proverbial question, not really specific)

Also worth noting: What's wrong with a public school honors track? Where you're allowed to talk in the halls stuff (which is important).


He has a ton of friends. Our house is almost always overrun by the neighbor children. Neighbor kids have asked Boy to read to them, and teach them the words. (I wish you could see them all sitting around a book on the floor...it's fantastic.) He's in athletics, he rides around with us on his bike...he's not shunned...if anything, the other kids wish they could stay at our house and make slime and take notebooks to the arboretum to sketch plants or cameras to the zoo, or see the symphony rehearse.

And it was the honors track and the public school that was trapping kids in the cone of silence, and which said that they thought Boy was "too advanced and would be bored and therefore a behavior risk". Therefore, putting him there defeats the purpose of educating him...really.
posted by dejah420 at 5:42 PM on December 12, 2008


And it was the honors track and the public school that was trapping kids in the cone of silence, and which said that they thought Boy was "too advanced and would be bored and therefore a behavior risk". Therefore, putting him there defeats the purpose of educating him...really.

Gee, this sounds familiar. I remember the coordinator of our one gifted program, who argued that it was better to let me embroider in class as long as I was paying attention, because, as I remember her putting it to the other teachers "trust me, it'll be much much worse if she's bored." And that was great, and I love her for it (taking notes, embroidering and drinking coffee all at the same time made dull classes bearable), but wouldn't it have been better if they'd figured out a way to give me something challenging to do instead? And this was in honors classes, too!
posted by bitter-girl.com at 5:36 AM on December 13, 2008


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