Login Join IOPS

Why the Left Should Support Unschooling Part I

forest
  • Written by:
  • Published on:
  • Categories:
  • Comments:
  • Share:

“We can’t solve problems by using the same kind of thinking we used when we created them”

Albert Einstein

 

Schooling the Masses: For Better or Worse?

A great many educators see teaching as separate to government, to the point of assertions that they “don’t deal in politics, they just teach”. But the school system and the state are mirror images of each other. Education and governance are inextricably intertwined. If we are looking to change society, we should look to schools, and vice versa – schools are training our children to accept the world as it is: hierarchical, authoritarian, Darwinian and bullying. If we want a different world, we need to raise our children in the environment we wish them to create as adults. We can submit to the established system through school and society, or we can model democracy and freedom in our education system, and give children a template to model society on as adults.

Pedagogy is central to politics. Plato, Aristotle, Rousseau, De Montaigne, Einstein and numerous others knew that education is the foundation of all society. We cannot talk about class or democracy without coming back to education. Those at the forefront of education reform today are vocal about the impact of education on the most pressing issues: Henry Grioux looks in his work at the connection between poverty, education, militarization, incarceration, higher education, and jobs. John Taylor Gatto writes that "The social issues attendant upon [education] (family, workplace, prisons, the economy, social welfare, racism, industrial society, media addiction, and technology, to name a few) are all so enmeshed and intertwined with schooling that it is not possible to approach one without touching upon the others.” Hitler knew the power of education: “And this new Reich will give its youth to no one, but will itself take youth and give to youth its own education and its own upbringing.”

Education was designed to have an impact on society, and we funnel children into the system earlier and earlier. But is it having the impact that we want? In the early 1970’s, Raymond and Dorothy Moore reviewed over 8,000 studies on early childhood education and the physical and mental development of children. They found that formal schooling before ages 8–12 not only lacked effectiveness, but was actually harmful to children. The Moores found that formal schooling was damaging young children academically, socially, mentally, and even physiologically. They presented evidence that childhood problems such as juvenile delinquency, nearsightedness, increased enrolment of students in special education classes, and behavioural problems were the result of increasingly earlier enrolment of students.

Jonas Himmelstrand says that 92% of Swedish children attend daycare full time from the age of 18 months, only leaving to start school. “Sweden has offered a comprehensive daycare system since 1975; since the early ’90s, negative outcomes for children and adolescents are on the rise in areas of health and behaviour… Psychosomatic disorders and mild psychological problems are escalating among Swedish youth at a faster rate than in any of 11 comparable European countries. Such disorders have tripled among girls over the last 25 years. Education outcomes in Swedish schools have fallen from the top position 30 years ago, to merely average amongst OECD nations today. Behaviour problems in Swedish classrooms are among the worst in Europe.”

Teacher expectations of individual children is also a lottery which can dramatically affect performance. In one experiment, several children chosen at random were presented to the teacher as about to experience an intellectual growth spurt. They outshone their classmates in intelligence tests 2 years later. “The teacher’s increased expectation of a certain child’s intelligence resulted in that child getting more sympathetic attention which in turn produced a significant improvement in that child’s performance”. Conversely, children are hindered when no one expects them to perform well in the first place. 

Senator Ted Kennedy's office once released a paper claiming that prior to compulsory education, the Massachusetts state literacy rate was 98%. It has never reached that level since. Adam Gopnik writes, “For a great many poor people in America, particularly poor black men, prison is a destination that braids through an ordinary life, much as high school and college do for rich white ones. More than half of all black men without a high-school diploma go to prison at some time in their lives.”

To believe that the education system was designed for the sake of children is a fundamental mistake. We educate now, and always have educated, for he sake of the state. Public schools are modeled after a Prussian system geared towards creating compliant soldiers. The system was modified during the industrial revolution to train people for the work force. Schools are factories by any other name. The ultimate aim of school is to teach you that you - the individual, the masses - are not in control.


Schooling the Masses: For Citizen or State?

Why, asks John Holt, are children not able to take the high-school equivalency exam early? If a child can demonstrate at age 13 that he knows what is required of a high-school graduate, why can he not sit the exam and graduate from school? “There is only one answer: because the school is primarily a custodial institution. It is not there to serve the children.”

So why did the state institute mass schooling? It was not simply because children were lacking an education – literacy levels were never so high as prior to formal teaching. In 1820’s America, Democrats envisioned schools as “an agency for eliminating all privilege and destroying all elites by giving all men the same good education”. They believed in an education supported by taxes, as an instrument of democracy, according to some; others believe the movement was a way to protect the class advantage of the elite, providing trained, compliant workers for industry. Alvin Toffler writes, “Built on the factory model, mass education taught basic reading, writing, and arithmetic, a bit of history and other subjects. This was the ‘overt curriculum’. But beneath it lay an invisible or ‘covert curriculum’ that was far more basic. It consisted, and still does in most industrial nations, of three courses: one in punctuality, one in obedience, and one in rote, repetitive work. Factory labor demanded workers who showed up on time, especially assembly-line hands. It demanded workers who would take orders from a management hierarchy without questioning. And it demanded men and women prepared to slave away at machines or in offices, performing brutally repetitious operations.”

Public schools have variously been seen as a way to make good, quiescent taxpayers out of future citizens and voters; as a way to keep children out of the work force so as not to compete with adults; as a machine which would sort and funnel children according to the needs of industry; as an attempt to Christianize the populace; as an attack on private education; and as a way to homogenize ethnically, culturally, and religiously diverse populations. In the US especially there is still a battle over whose values should be subsidized by taxpayers. 

Whilst there was much opposition to compulsory schooling in the early stages, over the next 50 years the Industrial Revolution took men away from the home for long periods of the day, child rearing became the responsibility of mothers alone for the first time in history, and combined with the pressures of running a household, school became a welcome option for parents. It was a positive change for many poor children, who often worked long hours for low wages, in harsh conditions in industry and agriculture. George Monbiot describes these children's lives as “characteristically wretched: farmed out to wet nurses, sometimes put to work in factories and mines, beaten, neglected, often abandoned as infants. In his book A History of Childhood, Colin Heywood reports that ‘the scale of abandonment in certain towns was simply staggering’, reaching one third or a half of all the children born in some European cities. Street gangs of feral youths caused as much moral panic in late 19th-century England as they do today.” In countries today where education is not compulsory for children, there is still child labour. School has removed children from mines, factories and workhouses. 

But however benevolent its origins, there exists a large volume of research showing that schools today are ‘highly ineffective’ in improving social mobility. An adult’s success in life can be predicted by their ability level on their first day of primary school. Yet it has been shown that children educated outside of the school system are not impacted whatsoever by racial, social, economic or parental educational levels. This is quite incredible. So why do we see these differences in our schools? It strongly suggests that school, regardless of intentions, nurtures and exaggerates class differences. 

Education is politicised. But not to the ends of the people. We need to awaken and realise this. School has been described as the most ambitious piece of social engineering in history. Jonathan Kozol rejects the popular rhetoric of failing schools; he believes that schools “succeed extremely well in their role of national indoctrination”. 

Education was designed to fulfill an economic need, and still does so – grade curves are adjusted constantly to relieve or increase economic pressures. Our curricula are designed with business, not scholarship in mind. From the UK Commons Select Committee: 

The British Chambers of Commerce (BCC) is the national body for a powerful and influential Network... Representing 100,000 businesses who together employ more than 5 million employees, the British Chambers of Commerce is the Ultimate Business Network… this is a useful opportunity to bring forward concerns that businesses have raised regarding exam procedures… Low business confidence is largely the result of poor levels of soft skills in school leavers. This often includes poor levels of literacy, punctuality and ability to concentrate. The education system works best when businesses are able to work closely with schools, colleges and the wider training system… The BCC’s work with businesses… suggests that companies do not see the education system in its current form as providing young people with the “employability” skills they require. Providing young people with a fundamental understanding of business and enterprise will serve them well in later life—and needs to be at the heart of the education system.

Or as John Fowles described it in 1964: “Our present educational systems are all paramilitary. Their aim is to produce servants or soldiers who obey without question and who accepts their training as the best possible training. Those who are most successful in the state are those who have the most interest in prolonging the state as it is; they are also those who have the most say in the educational system, and in particular by ensuring that the educational product they want is the most highly rewarded.” 

The education-industrial complex increasingly displays many of the behaviours of a business monopoly. A single ‘firm’ (the state) controls all output in the market; it provides a unique product; restrictions are placed on entry into and exit out of the ‘industry’. Author and Educator Clark Aldrich adds: 

·       Schools try to standardize as completely as possible the offerings. Students are expected to change to meet the needs of the offering, as opposed to the other way round.

·       Larger administrations are created in which the middle layer does not teach but ‘manages’.

·       Many staff members within the school system (similar to the fate of people who work within such traditional monopolies such as AT&T decades ago or Facebook today) are overwhelmed by unrealistic and unfair burdens and expectations.

·       Schools use internal metrics to evaluate success that no one outside the school cares about.

·       The primary function of schools is to push children to consume more school hours (at the lowest possible cost of delivery), not to help them outside of the school.

·       Schools truly believe their approach is the only approach.

·       Schools seek to crush competition, such as vouchers and homeschooling. They will continue to employ powerful, legally enforced tools to penalize truancy and other ‘anti-social’ behavior. Proxies will publish reports critical of new approaches. 

An institution that is working for the benefit of the people should be working to make itself obsolete: Are doctors merely treating the symptoms, or are they making serious progress towards educating the population to perfect health, such they need treat injuries not avoidable disease? Are we employing people to clear the rubbish or trying to avoid producing rubbish altogether? Are tradesmen fixing products or looking for designs which no longer need repairing? Are governments empowering the people such that they need not be governed? Are schools teaching us to educate ourselves? We should not be investing in self-perpetuating models. We should support those who are working toward their own obsolescence. 

Aldrich points out that “no monopoly has reformed itself. It is only through competition among entirely different entities that new ideas are nurtured and given the opportunity to evolve. (At first any new ideas are inevitably called ‘naïve’ and ‘impractical’ or even ‘dangerous’ by existing practitioners).” Schools serve to perpetuate the myth of consumption and endless progress, as Ivan Illich described in Deschooling Society.  Schools train us to be consumers, to accept that our needs be fulfilled by others, to rely on others to provide what we need, and to be constantly looking for something ‘new’. Illich saw that schooling was being used in developing nations to create new elites with a consumerist mentality. Schools were the path to legitimise hierarchy, endless progress and consumption.

And this economic imperative is beside the insidious social conditioning which goes on in schools. Ivan Illich warned years ago that “People who submit to the standards of others for the measure of their own personal growth soon apply the same ruler to themselves. They no longer have to be put in their place, but put themselves into their assigned slots, squeeze themselves into the niche which they have been taught to seek, and, in the very process, put their fellows into their places, too, until everybody and everything fits”.  They continue to promote social hierarchy from within.

The emphasis of conformity over critical faculty ensures the success of the school system and the continuity of social hierarchy. School teaches us to be subservient, to look outside ourselves for leadership. It instills a belief in straightforward, right and wrong answers, in authority having the one correct answer, having a monopoly on truth. It is dangerous.

Society will not change significantly if children continue to be trained in the methods of the old order. School is a training ground for acceptance of the class system, acceptance of domination by illegitimate authority, acceptance of inequality, acceptance of your place in society.

The question is whether we can reform schools sufficiently to support a new political paradigm, or whether they are too much a part of the capitalist system itself to be rescued.

Gatto does not believe that the institution of school is necessarily worth saving. “I don't think we'll get rid of schools anytime soon, certainly not in my lifetime, but if we're going to change what is rapidly becoming a disaster of ignorance, we need to realize that the school institution ‘schools’ very well, but it does not ‘educate’ - that's inherent in the design of the thing.”

We can improve and reform, but ultimately any education system that is modeled on schools as we currently conceive of them is merely that: reform. Many teachers are aware of the limitations of the current system, many try to change it with the limited power they have - to make it more democratic, less hierarchical, more student led, more reflexive and less grade oriented.  But as Kozol chides, “They are not willing to confront… the one, exclusive and historic function of a system that runs counter to these goals”.

And so, whilst seeing the problems with schools in their entirety, the vast majority are still trying to make education adapt to the world as it is – reforming education to better fit the ‘emerging economy’, or to make students happier and less pressured by removing testing, or to improve grades and ‘success’ as it is currently measured by implementing more effective teaching techniques. All these efforts are focused on re-forming education to better cope with a changing world, as if education is at the mercy of outside forces to which it must adapt. But in education, we have a tool to change the world itself. Education can train students to accept the status quo, or it can show them a democratic, egalitarian and cooperative way of being. 

As long as the current capitalist value system is in place, it is nigh on impossible to separate our ideal vision of education from the conveyor belt of schooling which supports it. And yet we must. So long as we limit our discussion of education to schools, we limit our ability to imagine new ways of living and learning.

 

Discussion 26 Comments

  • LedSuit ' 12th Nov 2012

    Haven't read whole thing yet Rosi, but welcome your blog. Education today and in the past meets the needs of current modes of thought and institutions outside in the "real" world. It merely tries to separate the worthy from the unworthy. Those willing to play the game and those radicals, independent thinkers, or unruly dissidents and rabble rousers who must be isolated and nipped in the bud. Jeff Schmidt's book Disciplined Minds furthers such notions applicable to further education. The pressure on children is immense and the pressure on parents increases daily. Both are not helpful and exacerbate further problems that can easily steam roll into very major ones.

    Education, schooling, embraces all the spheres and is vitally important, critical to a future just and equitable society

  • David Jones 13th Nov 2012

    Hi Rosi,

    just echoing what James said above - I think education is really important. Like you I live in the UK and I've spent the last few years doing a PhD and watching the tuition fees situation play out (for any non-UK folks reading - in the last few fees for undergraduates have been increased dramatically and students can now expect to graduate around £50 000 in debt). One can see how student's perceptions and expectation of the role of universities is being molded by these fees in the interests of the power system. Students understandably don't want to get into tens of thousands worth of debt without some guarantee of a career able to pay it off (just think about who has the funds to offer such a career - that's right, elites interested in maintaining the status quo), which forces them to collude in degrading their university experience from a rounded education into a glorified job training investment.

    Here is Jeff Schmidt, who James mentioned:

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fw7W5DM2ep0&feature=relmfu .

    In the above talk he calls upon academics to use their dormant academic freedoms to challenge the academic status quo. I think it is important that they begin to speak out if our young people are going to inherit any sort of decent future. I read an article in the guardian newspaper yesterday calling on UK academics to do this and it mentioned the group "Council for the Defence of British Universities", who are having their inaugural meeting TODAY:

    http://cdbu.org.uk/ .

    • David Jones 13th Nov 2012

      On a more personal note: In Jeff Schmidt's talk (linked above) he mentions soviet physicist Andrei Sakharov looking out of his window from his desk at armed guards marching scientist political prisoners to their jobs as he was doing his work on physics. The research I've now completed after three years just happens to be based upon one of Sakharov's famous papers. Like Sakharov, I've had enough of watching an oppressive system out of the window whist I am left free to pursue creative work...

      With that in mind, I'd love to hear a little more about your experiences in academia and how you managed to "escape" from the "rat race" (I read your bio). I think you might be a little further down the road along a similar trajectory to me and your experiences might help me (and other people coming out of university?) to assess our options. What does being an "unschooler" involve? How do you make a living exactly? If you don't mind my asking!

    • 13th Nov 2012

      I don't mind you asking at all! In terms of academia, what really disillusioned me was the marking (grading) system, and how meaningless and arbitrary it was. To be told as an academic that you must give out an even spread of grades, so that a particularly good class must still receive the full range of A-D grades, as must a particularly poor class. Whilst I dislike grading people at all, even within the logic of the system, it becomes meaningless year on year. An A grade student in one year group may be the equivalent of a B or C grade student in another year group, yet on paper there is nothing to distinguish the one A from the other. The grade only bears any meaning in regard to that particular group in that particular subject at that particular time. Yet this grade affects how people feel about the course, their knowledge, their self esteem, and they are stuck with it for life as if it is a mark of them as a person. Some students genuinely enjoy the class, but many are so focussed on the final grade, that they lose the enjoyment of the course itself. The marking system dominates any real sense of scholarship. Of course there are many other restrictions that I disliked about academia, but that really struck me as summing up the system for students - it was about the end product, getting a certain grade to take to employers to prove your worth, as if it could be summed up with one letter.
      I'd come across home education before, and I always knew that if I had kids I would go down that path. And the more I looked into it, the more the research backed up what I felt instinctively about the damage that grading does, and how futile it is to dictate what another person must learn. I often felt so excited about a module, only to find that the lecturer's direction with it is not the one I was hoping for, yet I was obliged to follow the module outcomes to pass. So much enthusiasm and creativity is lost. You have to go so far through academia before you can really follow your own thought processes, and I'm not convinced that ever fully happens due to grant applications etc. There were academics doing their best to circumvent this, with modules that were marked by the students themselves for example, but they were still heavily restricted in what they could do.
      So, unschooling is a form of home educating children which is child led, and does not proscribe anything the child should do. We use online classes, real life classes, music teachers, pick and choose from curricula when it suits us, talk about anything and everything, read a lot, watch films, play games, all the things you do as a kid when you have free time and are learning without even realising you are doing it. That doesn't mean I don't life a finger - it is a very fine line between not forcing anything, and exposing her to things I think would interest her, making sure resources are there just before she wants them, answering questions she has even if I'm in the middle of something else, because you can never guess where the conversation will lead, knowing enough to maintain her interest in something or help her think through a topic. It seems to work - my daughter taught herself to read, write, type, and her online friends assume she is 5 years older than she is. She bounces out of bed asking to learn Latin out of the blue, and at 11pm when I really want to sleep she is nagging me to do more maths. Other days we do nothing but watch films and eat ice cream and talk about why there are not more women prime ministers. My partner and I both work from home (he for money, me for ideals!) so we can fit work and life in as needs be. My partner had book deals while an academic, which he has continued to secure since leaving the university. I do know of people who home educate as single parents, or whilst on benefits, and maybe that is one way to actually see your family and make a living - the beauty of home education is its flexibility.
      One thing I have noticed is the very high proportion of teachers in the home education community, many of whom tutor from home to make a living. Nearly all of us have given up a guaranteed, full time wage, but the freedom that comes with it - not being tied to work hours, school runs, dictated holidays - is wonderful, and the enforced 'poverty' means a much simpler lifestyle, which in itself is a blessing. There is suddenly time to spend hours growing your own food, or whatever you might choose to do.
      So maybe not the most helpful answer for your own situation, and sorry to go on so long!

    • 13th Nov 2012

      Hi David,
      Did you also see the article in the Guardian about the large drop in university applications amongst the middle class due to raised tuition fees? I'm in danger of going off on tangents about student loans, but you know as well as I do how prohibitive it is all becoming. The money I did manage to pay off has been swallowed back up in interest payments since I left work to raise my daughter, which seems particularly unfair to women, and makes me disinclined to ever officially enter the workforce again.
      I do reference the Council for the Defence of British Universities in the second part of this blog, it will be interesting to see what impact they have. The campaign against tax payers funding research which is then locked behind paywalls is very important too I think.
      Thank you for the Jeff Schmidt link, I'll watch it now!

    • David Jones 15th Nov 2012

      Thanks for your answers Rosi.

      I would definitely consider private tutoring as an option. I can empathize with the reasons you become disillusioned with academia, too. Unfortunately tuition fees are only going to make the factors you mentioned a whole lot worse...

      Another question - do you know much about any moves towards alternative university models happening at the moment? I've heard people are increasingly taking courses online to try and bypass the crippling levels of debt traditional university courses are saddling them with. Do you happen to know about anything interesting out there worth checking out? I'd thought about undergraduate physics teaching as part of some sort of alternative university model... dunno if this sort of thing exists or not though!

    • David Jones 15th Nov 2012

      there *was* the Open University, but that "loophole" is now being closed:

      http://www.guardian.co.uk/education/2011/aug/08/open-university-fees-rise .

      Still, I assume people will come along and try to set up alternatives?

    • 15th Nov 2012

      Firstly, if where you live is anything like here, there is a lack of physics and maths tutors! I know several ex students who have developed science-based shows and do the Cheltenham and Edinburgh Science Show circuit, as well as regularly visiting schools who love to have a STEM activity available.
      In terms of alternative university models,
      it may be worth trying to start some online classes where you are? I know a lot of universities are offering e-learning, though in my experience it was very much a reproduction of course notes online, whilst nowadays it is a lot more dynamic depending on the institution. Did you see this Guardian piece? http://www.guardian.co.uk/education/2012/nov/11/online-free-learning-end-of-university
      There are projects around such as this: http://universityforstrategicoptimism.wordpress.com/about/
      Also an article in the Times Higher which lists several alternative projects here: http://www.timeshighereducation.co.uk/story.asp?storycode=418786
      Feels like now is the time to start something!

  • Matthew Grinder 13th Nov 2012


    I don't see the following as much of an argument:

    "The question is whether we can reform schools sufficiently to support a new political paradigm, or whether they are too much a part of the capitalist system itself to be rescued.

    Gatto does not believe that the institution of school is necessarily worth saving. “I don't think we'll get rid of schools anytime soon, certainly not in my lifetime, but if we're going to change what is rapidly becoming a disaster of ignorance, we need to realize that the school institution ‘schools’ very well, but it does not ‘educate’ - that's inherent in the design of the thing.”

    We can improve and reform, but ultimately any education system that is modeled on schools as we currently conceive of them is merely that: reform. Many teachers are aware of the limitations of the current system, many try to change it with the limited power they have - to make it more democratic, less hierarchical, more student led, more reflexive and less grade oriented. But as Kozol chides, “They are not willing to confront… the one, exclusive and historic function of a system that runs counter to these goals”."

    Why can't schools exist in a participatory society? Why can't we still teach in classrooms in a participatory society?

    I'm not in favor of schooling at home for several reasons,now or in a participatory society: (1) Children will miss being socialized. Children need to interact with their peers. Schooling them at home would rob them of that experience. (2)it seems inefficient, one parent must be homebound, unable to work if they wish to, educating all day. (3) What about the quality of education? Why do you assume parents are able to deliver the facts needed for a proper education? WE will need students knowing many things in a participatory society too. What if the parent has no skills in higher math, in acting, or whatever?

    • 13th Nov 2012

      Matthew,
      Thanks for your comment. Why do you “not see it as much of an argument”?

      I did not say that we can’t teach in classrooms in a participatory society, or whichever society we create. Every home educator I know uses classrooms in some form or another. That is the nature of group learning. In the second part of this blog I discuss the online classrooms that are being used by home educators and schools alike, and that are seen by some as the next revolution in schooling.

      1) Children will miss being socialized. Children need to interact with their peers. Schooling them at home would rob them of that experience.
      There is a huge amount of misunderstanding around what home education actually is.
      The idea that home education equates to being kept in solitary confinement is pervasive but misguided. Parents do not want to spend their days isolated from the world and other people any more than children do. Why do you assume that not going to school means you do not interact with other children? We meet children of the same age and a variety of other ages at Scouts, riding lessons, dance classes, learning co-ops, in the village, computer classes, all those places that schooled children meet and play. Home educators have play dates with individual children and day-long meet ups with groups of other home educators several times a week. Some home educators arrange learning co-ops for one or many subjects.
      Individual schools do not represent a cross section of society, and even in schools where a diversity of social class and ethnic background is present, pupils rarely mix with an entire cohort, but rather socialize with a limited selection of children with a common parental background. Home educated children often have friends of a wider variety of ages and backgrounds than schooled children. Studies have shown that home educated children perform more highly than their schooled counterparts on social development and interaction with others.

      (2) It seems inefficient, one parent must be homebound, unable to work if they wish to, educating all day.
      What do you mean by ‘inefficient’? If both parents wish to work, no one is stopping them - I am not suggesting that it is compulsory to home educate, any more than it should be compulsory to be educated in school. What I am advocating is broadening our horizons to see the possibilities that home education presents, and to support the ideas and discoveries coming from the home educating community. As it happens, most home educating families I know have at least one parent working from home for all or part of the week. They see this as a freedom, not a curse. The majority of home educating parents do not ‘educate all day’ because when a child has individual attention you simply do not need to spend hours slogging through a subject that can be learned in ten minutes. Many of us are unschoolers who do not use formal lessons; learning is integrated with life and is not a separate chore but fun. Our society is being demolished by the separation of work, education and family life. Communities are abandoned for the best part of the day as people go their separate ways to office and school. It is incredibly isolating for the elderly, new mothers, the unemployed. Working from home is on the increase, and combined with home educators our towns can start to resemble a much more vital and complete community.
      Just for the sake of argument, if schools were to disappear completely, parents would still be free to work as childcare could be shared in a more traditional way between extended family, mentors, neighbourhood teachers etc. It is important maybe to distinguish between school as an institution, and classes/ teachers/ mentors as something which can exist outside of the school system.

      3) What about the quality of education? Why do you assume parents are able to deliver the facts needed for a proper education? WE will need students knowing many things in a participatory society too. What if the parent has no skills in higher math, in acting, or whatever?
      Again, every home educator I know uses professionals to teach certain things as the need arises, whether it be a maths tutor or a language teacher fluent in their chosen language or a riding instructor or a drama class. Parents see themselves as facilitators as much as teachers. However, studies have also shown that home educated students achieve comparably (actually higher) than their schooled counterparts regardless of parental education levels. Given the research that shows time and again that home educated students perform better on SATs than their schooled counterparts, however the parents choose to teach, whatever their background, it is clearly not harming their children’s education.

    • Matthew Grinder 14th Nov 2012

      I say it's not much of an argument because it's just an assertion. Saying something is so does not make it so.

      I guess I don't understand what you are proposing. You say that the current education system isn't a good one, I couldn't agree more. However, I don't know what you think education should be like in a participatory society.

      Are you proposing that, in a participatory society, there should be no buildings set aside for children's education with soccer fields, monkey bars, gymnasiums, classrooms, offices and teachers? If so, why not? Why can't you build and dedicate this space to education? Why is it impossible for a school to do a good job in a participatory society? WHat is it about such a building that makes it impossible to educate in a desirable manner?

      I am wondering if you are throwing out the baby with the bathwater.

    • 15th Nov 2012

      Well if I had said "school is bad therefore education is bad" then yes, that would be throwing the baby out with the bathwater. But what I am saying is that according to many studies, education outside of the school system repeatedly produces better results - better in terms of academics, socialisation, thinking skills, happiness, civic engagement etc, so we should be questioning what it is about schools that prevents them from achieving comparably with education outside of school. That is what I'm starting to address in these two blogs.

      In a participatory society, I would expect that an education 'system' would reflect the choice of a fully informed society, who were aware of every method of education, including but not limited to, schools. I say 'system' because that in itself would not be a given. Different cultures and communities may choose to educate differently. (There is the start of a discussion about what a participatory education would look like in the forum here: http://www.iopsociety.org/forum/kinship/education/). The main problem with schools, and the reason it makes them hard to transform, is that they dictate what must be learned and when, which is in opposition to the best learning experiences, which stem from our choosing to learn something and feeling motivated, engaged and passionate. This CAN happen in school, but it is the lucky few who find they are being told to learn something at the time they particularly want and need to. It is unavoidable when marshalling such large numbers of children as schools do, that the running of the place becomes as much about crowd control as engaging children in learning. Not the teachers fault, but the nature of the system. There is much more about the history of schools, and why I think that by their very nature they are damaging, here: http://www.radicalplanet.net/Radical_Planet/The_Effects_of_School.html

      In terms of the physical apparatus of schools - somewhere for learners to gather, an office with information about classes, playgrounds, sports fields, labs, art rooms, teachers, experts, mentors - these can all exist, and do exist, both inside and outside of schools. I use the home education community as an example of a sector of society who make use of all these things without being part of the school system itself. And perhaps because they use them on a basis of desire not coercion, they get better results.
      Many schools offer flexi-schooling where a child makes use of science or maths or sports classes. But one of the main differences between schools and independent classes is the mix of ages and backgrounds, which is so enriching to all the participants. Why not have communities that offer classes and access to teachers and facilities in the same way that adult education does, with a variety of people in the class, integrated with the community, in a way that one large building in its own grounds inevitably isolates itself (Reggio Emilia schools in Italy try to address this by making the school very open to the community both structurally and via parents). There are increasing numbers of online classes, accredited or otherwise, learning co-operatives, community classes, all sorts of educational environments that are accessed by home educators. We should look at these methods of learning as a whole - in terms of the classroom experience and the wider context of the class - and try to understand why they are producing such impressive results for home educators. It is only by comparative research that we are going to appreciate what is going on in schools, and home educators are the best control group we have available.

      In home educating families, the parents are engaged in learning for the love of it too, there is an atmosphere of enquiry and passion for knowledge in the whole house, it is what people 'do', so children grow up wanting to imitate the adults and follow their passions and learn, because it is the most natural thing. Coercion is not required. That, to me, is the basis of a participatory education. How we implement that would be for individuals to decide once they were aware of all the options. So I am not advocating home education as the finished product, but as an illuminating alternative on the way to what would ideally be an ever evolving, unrestrictive way of educating.

    • Matthew Grinder 15th Nov 2012

      "produces better results - better in terms of academics, socialisation, thinking skills, happiness, civic engagement etc,"

      The evidence for this isn't clear. There is no standardised testing for home education, therefore in comparing the SAT's you might just be getting the best and brightest for home education and comparing them to the average from everywhere else. Also, how many poor and disadvantaged parents home school? Children with more advantaed parents tend to do better. Again a selection effect. Also, when I looked over this in Wikipedia, it wasn't clear to me where the studies were done? Were they all done in the US? I couldn't find that out.

      "The main problem with schools, and the reason it makes them hard to transform, is that they dictate what must be learned and when" No they don't. The ministry of education does this (or the equivalent in different countries). A participatory economy would also put demands on what must be learned. A parecon would need literate children, with skills in math and science, etc. Plus the ability to think for themselves and learn to conduct oneself at a meeting. The needs would be different, but demands from the economy would still be there.

      "The main problem with schools, and the reason it makes them hard to transform, is that they dictate what must be learned and when, which is in opposition to the best learning experiences, which stem from our choosing to learn something and feeling motivated, engaged and passionate. This CAN happen in school, but it is the lucky few who find they are being told to learn something at the time they particularly want and need to. It is unavoidable when marshalling such large numbers of children as schools do, that the running of the place becomes as much about crowd control as engaging children in learning."

      here you engage with my question, and I don't see why the crowd control problem couldn't be dealt with well in a parecon.

      If some people want to home school in a parecon, I have no problenm, but I don't see the reason to bans schools from a parecon.

    • 15th Nov 2012

      •"The evidence for this isn't clear. There is no standardised testing for home education, therefore in comparing the SAT's you might just be getting the best and brightest for home education and comparing them to the average from everywhere else. Also, how many poor and disadvantaged parents home school? Children with more advantaged parents tend to do better. Again a selection effect."

      Published research is subject to certain standards and procedures to ensure parity, as you well know. Why assume this is not the case in relation to studies on home education?
      Children with more advantaged parents do better IN SCHOOL, which is exactly the point. Research suggests this is not the case outside of school. From a UK study: “A breakdown of social classes amongst the [home educated] cohort shows a spread from classes 1–8 (Class 1 being the highest social class and Class 8 the lowest) with over one third of families from social classes 3–8… Children from the lower end of the socio-economic class scale significantly outscored those from the upper spectrum of the scale.”
      There is not as large a body of research available on home education as there is for school. But what IS available certainly justifies, even demands, much more investigation and comparative research into schools and home education.

      •"Also, when I looked over this in Wikipedia, it wasn't clear to me where the studies were done? Were they all done in the US? I couldn't find that out."

      Studies conducted in the US, the UK, Canada and Australia spring to mind. A selection of studies can be found here: http://edyourself.org/research/ and here: http://www.nheri.org/

      •"The main problem with schools, and the reason it makes them hard to transform, is that they dictate what must be learned and when" No they don't. The ministry of education does this (or the equivalent in different countries)."

      I must have been imagining all those times in school I was told that I had to learn maths at a particular time of day, or English, or French, or whatever lesson it was. Isn’t that how schools tend to function? A child walks into a classroom at a set time to be told they must now learn ‘x’?

      •"A participatory economy would also put demands on what must be learned. A parecon would need literate children, with skills in math and science, etc. Plus the ability to think for themselves and learn to conduct oneself at a meeting. The needs would be different, but demands from the economy would still be there."

      I don’t see how any of these things are the sole preserve of schools? Of course, however we learn, we exist within society with all its demands. Learning outside the school system simply opens up our choices. Why do you imply that a child cannot become literate in maths, science, independent thought and social norms outside of the classroom?
      The main point is that if we want to shape the economy in the manner of our choosing, rather than one that is imposed, we need to step outside of the system that schools us to accept the dominant economic mode. If society can only respond to economic needs through the filter of schools, we have a serious democratic deficit, and a closed system. The economy dictates certain requirements, schools are tailored to that end, pupils have a limited skill set dictated by business, and the freedom to break out of that system is stifled. And now I’m repeating what I have said in the piece above. We seem to be going round in circles…


      •"I don't see why the crowd control problem couldn't be dealt with well in a parecon."

      For the simple reason that there are only so many children you can have in a group, and still enable them all to contribute fully, allowing them to lead the conversation in the direction THEY desire, rather than a teacher dictating. We all know how much results improve with reduced class sizes, and that is why those who can afford it pay for individual tuition. If there are enough children in one class to require any sort of crowd control, there are too many for an optimal learning experience.

      •"If some people want to home school in a parecon, I have no problem, but I don't see the reason to bans schools from a parecon."

      You seem to be willfully ignoring what I say. I have not said that we should ban schools. I said we should support unschooling. I don’t think schools are a viable option, as I have spent the entire two parts of this blog and a whole website explaining. That is my opinion. Some agree, some don’t. In a participatory society, as I have said several times, I would envision people choosing how to school from a much wider variety of options than most people are currently aware exist.

  • LedSuit ' 13th Nov 2012

    "All these efforts are focused on re-forming education to better cope with a changing world, as if education is at the mercy of outside forces to which it must adapt. But in education, we have a tool to change the world itself. Education can train students to accept the status quo, or it can show them a democratic, egalitarian and cooperative way of being."

    I would say it still is at the mercy of outside forces to which it must adapt. While the world does change on some levels the basic relations in the spheres of influence remain fairly constant. The education process reflects what one is being educated for.The powers that be don't want that to change.

    However I do agree that education could, should show a democratic, egalitarian and cooperative way of being. Chomsky has also spoken of these things and I thank David for the Schmidt video. Didn't know of it.

    Home schooling can be for some but not for others. Home schooling also doesn't necessarily mean what is being taught is coming from a more egalitarian, democratic or participatory perspective. That would depend on what is being taught and how. I would say participatory and democratic dynamics could be applied to home schooling or schooling taking place within learning institutions outside of family units. I also think Matthew makes good points re home schooling.

    It seems that education can/could be used to reform the current system so as to provide opportunities and ways of thinking that could enable, abet and provide a strong drive for further reform in the future, hopefully heading in the direction of a participatory society. A society that won't throw out institutions per se, but rearrange or change the dynamics and relations within them to suit and fit the dynamics and relations of a participatory society.

    So far the education system is designed to abet, enhance and fit with the current system outside of it. In some ways IOPS is also a kind of educational facility- not just a revolutionary organisation- offering a new set of theories, visions and strategies that have to be learnt or understood. A new way of thinking about human relations that is in accord with a participatory society. These offer ideas for building new ways of learning and education which is where it all seems to start.

    Actually the more I think about it, all activist or revolutionary organisations seem to be learning institutions of some sort.

    • 13th Nov 2012

      "The education process reflects what one is being educated for. The powers that be don't want that to change" - James, I take your point, but I that is exactly why we need to reclaim education. The powers that be don't want the entire capitalist system to change either, which is why IOPS exists! If the school system is at the mercy of outside forces to the point that it cannot be rescued, what do you suggest we do about that? My answer is to refuse to use that system. If anyone has a better idea, let's hear it! I'm not presenting this as a finished solution, but as a step on the way.

      "It seems that education can/could be used to reform the current system so as to provide opportunities and ways of thinking that could enable, abet and provide a strong drive for further reform in the future, hopefully heading in the direction of a participatory society." I think this is what Chavez is doing. They are trying to embody the ideals of co-operation, justice and equality through their schools, but of course given that is the ethos of the government the schools are free to follow suit. We are not in that position for the time being, so we must find other ways to promote these qualities in the face of a society which does everything but.

      "Actually the more I think about it, all activist or revolutionary organisations seem to be learning institutions of some sort." I agree. That is what home educators believe too - there are these learning opportunities in every organisation, class, discussion, group we take part in. That we learn from our peers, from mentors, from those who have gone before. And crucially, it does not begin and end at set times of day or set ages. The most valuable learning is organic, constant, and cannot be proscribed. It is not until we feel motivated, involved and passionate that we truly engage with a subject. And that is something that has to come from the learner, not from an outside authority dictating that something must be learnt.

    • LedSuit ' 14th Nov 2012

      Rosi,

      Yeah, I was really just stating the bleeding obvious. This statement of yours rang very true for me, particularly inregard to my experience in music teaching.

      " It is not until we feel motivated, involved and passionate that we truly engage with a subject. And that is something that has to come from the learner, not from an outside authority dictating that something must be learnt."

      It is a statement that rang true for me when I was a student at school and uni. It is something that remains with me in my teaching, one to one, of music/guitar.

      I don't really have a view one way or another regarding home schooling as yet. Suffice to say I am pretty much open to anything that endeavours to break the strangle hold that the current system has over the education process. I want to read up on it all, and like to read Giroux when I see articles at ZNet. Got some Gatto on the way. As a music teacher I shun the examination system and don't mark. I had approx 3 run ins with the head of the "jazz" dept, at a tertiary institution I taught at for a number of years, regarding marking and material played in one of my performance groups. In fact, I had been there longer than he, since it started really, started my own guitar workshop class etc. After the run ins , I wasn't hired the following year. Not saying there weren't other factors, nor suggesting direct correlation, but it probably helped!! I don't much like formal education institutions as they are in our current society. They work much the same way that the media does as outlined by Chomsky and Herman in Manufacturing Consent. As Jonathan Cook says about his time at The Guardian,

      "We were Guardian worker bees or drones: we had Guardian 'ethos'.Those who didn't were picked off, like straggler fish caught by a shark."

      There I go stating the bleeding obvious again. I think your blogs and info re education really important Rosi. Along with all the posters.

    • 14th Nov 2012

      I don't think you are stating the obvious! For all that Giroux and Gatto are inspiring, it doesn't bring the reality home until we hear about the experience of your music teaching for example, or Guardian writers at ground level. These examples of day to day internal politics really show how hard it is to innovate and disagree, for whatever reason.
      Thanks for the encouragement!

  • 13th Nov 2012

    Ok, this is a very interesting PAIR of posts. I write as someone who has taught science and maths at all levels of education in the UK, from primary to post-graduate. I know a little about home education, and I am aware of the limited cliches that people utter wrt to home schooling.

    There is a stigma with home education, of course, as in the US it is embraced by dinosaur-denying neo-liberal fundamentalists. But it would seem knee-jerk indeed if the left were to reject home education merely because of its rank association with biblical literalists.

    I have read parts I and II of Rosi's excellent piece. In reference to Matthew Grinder's points: (1) one imagines the question of socialisation (surely a no-brainer?) has also occurred to home educating parents, since it is such a Pavlovian cliche wrt home ed, and steps can clearly be taken to ameliorate this, as Rosi has pointed out. Wrt (2) one would have thought that the home schooled child is less homebound that a pupil is schoolbound, and a dedicated parent likewise no more tied to "teaching all day" (heaven forbid!) than a teacher?! (I'm not sure what inefficient means in this context; does it mean 'not earning for the economy' or 'not earning for the household'? Clearly, home educating parents would have taken this decision on board). And lastly wrt (3) if "facts" were all that was needed of a "proper education" I would say that was straightforward enough. I am always wary when someone plays the expert/novice card, as it often seems to limit the potential of ordinary people to participate. Why can't parents pick up the all-important "facts" for themselves? And even go further and develop analysis, critical thinking and problem solving? My experience would suggest parents are capable and have the potential to work with their children to a common educational goal. Besides, I am struck by the quote on this matter from Rosi's original article:

    "But however benevolent its origins, there exists a large volume of research showing that schools today are ‘highly ineffective’ in improving social mobility. An adult’s success in life can be predicted by their ability level on their first day of primary school. Yet it has been shown that children educated outside of the school system are not impacted whatsoever by racial, social, economic or parental educational levels. This is quite incredible. So why do we see these differences in our schools? It strongly suggests that school, regardless of intentions, nurtures and exaggerates class differences"

  • 13th Nov 2012

    A further thought on the expert/novice issue. Rosi quotes, in the SECOND PART of her piece, the recent Guardian article about the massive uptake in home schooling through free online courses provided by some US universities. It is interesting to note that, of the 23,000 students who graduated the Artificial Intelligence course, all 400 of the top marks were online students, one a bus-driver from Sheffield, and none of whom were exposed to the class-contact 'expertise' of the campus tutor. Something of a victory for the autodidacts.

  • Lambert Meertens 19th Nov 2012

    Almost all people I know who had extensive education have jobs that have very little to do with what they received training for for, for many years.

    Would it help, in a participatory society, if we stop requiring workers to have diplomas in order to be allowed to work? If a job requires workers to have identifiable knowledge, skills, or know-how, let the hiring institution test applicants on the actual requirements for the job, rather than relying on diplomas and degrees. When having a diploma is no longer a sought-after end term of schooling, it frees education from the phenomenon of teaching after the test and gives equal rights to self-education and home ed/home schooling.

    Another idea I'd like to mention that I think may also contribute to unschooling, and even deschooling society as envisioned by Illich, is not to have one single long educational track well into adulthood, but to make it the social and cultural norm to let young people around the age of 18 start working and find their way around in society, to resume further study and possibly specialization, if they are so inclined, a couple of years later. The assumption is that the choice for continuing education then can be informed and motivated by an actual personal need. A simple implementation would be that everyone gets educational vouchers when they are born, but not enough to continue beyond age 18. But you can earn more vouchers by working.

    • 19th Nov 2012

      I think there is a lot to be said for working before you continue into higher education. I did it myself, and I think it made me more politically, socially and culturally aware, more understanding of potential jobs I might choose, and simply let me find where my interests really lay. We are shown such a relatively limited spectrum of options in school, and the pressure to continue to higher education, even though it may not be in our best interests, is immense in many schools. I know so many people who followed one path through university and on to a career, who admit that in retrospect they wish they had done something quite different. That strikes me as a result of being rushed into making a life changing decision, combined with the pressure of expectation from teachers, family etc. We often don't have the strength to follow our own path when we are reliant on the goodwill and support (financial or otherwise) of family. This would also be mitigated by a period of working and independence.

      It would be very interesting to see how education changed if diplomas were no longer required. It reminds me of those companies who recruit amongst the gaming community for instance, because they want certain computer skills; they are not as interested in a degree which says you are capable, so much as someone who has lived and breathed those skills.
      I think it would free education up hugely if we lost the focus on testing. Finland is a good example of a country which comes out top in the PISA tables, and does not believe in testing. When asked how teachers were made accountable for the success or otherwise of their teaching, the Finns replied that they have no word for accountability; “Accountability is something that is left when responsibility has been subtracted.”

    • Lambert Meertens 19th Nov 2012

      I love that last saying. It is great! A pity that a Finn has to know English to say this. Just for fun, I had Google Translate do a roundtrip English → Finnish → English, and this is what came out: Responsibility is something that is left when responsibility has been reduced.

      If diplomas are no longer required, students have no incentive in taking classes other than actually learning something. To survive, schools will be forced to make school engaging. At least, that is what I expect a major effect to be.

      I wonder, do you agree that deschooling society as advocated by Ivan Illich is desirable, and that what I propose would very likely contribute to that?

  • 21st Nov 2012

    They really are the same thing in Finnish then!
    I do agree that deschooling society is desirable; the more choice and variety we have available in terms of education, the more likely everyone is to find a style of teaching and those subjects that really inspire them. I think rejecting testing as far as is possible would be a great help, as would interrupting the educational track as you describe it. Higher education having a greater mix of ages and experiences can only help contribute to a deschooled society.

    I think part of the problem we have is that education is seen as something we have imposed on us as children, which we then graduate from at a given age, and never have to do again. We need a culture which sees education as lifelong, as a passion, as something that adults do and children aspire to do (it is instinctive after all to want to copy our elders).

  • Lambert Meertens 24th Nov 2012

    I just found an interesting (and funny) TED talk by Sir Ken Robinson, entitled, "Do schools kill creativity?". You can watch it here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iG9CE55wbtY.