Public Education

…is prison for children and teachers:

…there are no public schools in America that I know of. They’re reeducation camps for people that weren’t educated in the first place, maybe, or little prisons, or pleasure domes for creepy teachers, or places where tubby women work out their neuroses about eating on helpless children at lunchtime — but there’s not much schooling going on in school. A public school is a really expensive, but shabby and ineffectual, private school that collects their tuition with the threat of eviction from your house.

The teachers in public school are as much at the mercy of this weird situation as the students. A teacher recently told us she has to keep a dossier on every child in the class, every day. That’s the Stasi, not Goodbye, Mr. Chips. They said that it’s not possible, really, so they have to make stuff up to finish it. All that time is subtracted from what little time they have for the kids in the first place. The teachers don’t know where all these weird directives come from any more than you do. They just don’t want to get fired for forgetting to rat out little Timmy if he chews his Pop-Tart in to a recognizable weapon-like shape. They go along to get along.

Peter Gray concurs:

Children come into the world beautifully designed to direct their own education. They are endowed by nature with powerful educative instincts, including curiosity, playfulness, sociability, attentiveness to the activities around them, desire to grow up and desire to do what older children and adults can do.

The evidence for all this as it applies to little children lies before the eyes of anyone who has watched a child grow from birth up to school age. Through their own efforts, children learn to walk, run, jump and climb. They learn from scratch their native language, and with that, they learn to assert their will, argue, amuse, annoy, befriend, charm and ask questions. Through questioning and exploring, they acquire an enormous amount of knowledge about the physical and social world around them, and in their play, they practice skills that promote their physical, intellectual, social and emotional development. They do all this before anyone, in any systematic way, tries to teach them anything.

This amazing drive and capacity to learn does not turn itself off when children turn 5 or 6. We turn it off with our coercive system of schooling. The biggest, most enduring lesson of our system of schooling is that learning is work, to be avoided when possible.

The focus of my own research has been on learning in children who are of “school age,” but who aren’t sent to school, or not to school as conventionally understood. I’ve examined how children learn in cultures that don’t have schools, especially hunter-gatherer cultures, the kinds of cultures in which our species evolved. I’ve also studied learning in our culture by children who are trusted to take charge of their own education and are provided with the opportunity and means to educate themselves. In these settings, children’s natural curiosity and zest for learning persist all the way through childhood and adolescence, and into adulthood.

It’s a century-old disaster, and one (as usual) foisted on us by the “progressives.”

10 thoughts on “Public Education”

  1. I was as much home schooled as public schooled — back before the current “reforms” were instituted. People seemed impressed by my intellect and learning.

    “Education” has become far more authoritarian in my lifetime. It hasn’t worked — at least for society as a whole. It might be good for the time being for the people at the top — but even that could change. Think July 14, 1789 — now celebrated by the French as Bastille Day.

  2. The second quote sounds like it is part of that free range children movement. I am not sure that is a better way to go. Did Rand link something on it a while back? IIRC the kid was into music and making medieval armor.

    1. Growing up, I wasn’t a free range child when it came to education. However, by the time I was 13, I was doing things that would get parents arrested for child neglect today. For example, I’d go camping, alone or with friends, without adult supervision for a week or more. Imagine that, somehow I survived. Of course, I sometimes wonder how most boys make it past puberty alive. Too many of today’s children are being smothered by helicopter parents. They need time for unstructured play and to learn from their mistakes. Aviation Saying: “Judgment comes from experience. Experience comes from bad judgment.”

      As for education, I imagine home schooling allows for much greater flexibility than will ever be possible in any school, public or private. This flexibility is especially important for young children as their interests change often. Use their interest in one subject as a means to teach other subjects. Help them see the connections between ideas and subjects instead of force feeding them a predigested lesson plan.

  3. I don’t know. If you just let kids learn whatever they want, then you’ll probably end up with adults that aren’t very educated or useful to their fellow man. Just like there needs to be discipline at home, there needs to be discipline in the curriculum to ensure students are learning what they need. I may not have wanted to do the biology, chemistry, physics, math assignments or tests, but I’m glad that I was forced to do them because now I’m in a good career. Did forcing me to learn things I didn’t enjoy take away my creativity? Perhaps somewhat. But a responsible, useful, productive, good life isn’t composed of only creativity.

  4. I wish it were possible for learning about one’s individual talents could be a part of education. The cookie-cutter nature of public education snuffs that out like a hurricane to a candle.

  5. A public school student is a job for which you don’t get paid, but you have to show up. That’s slavery. The excuse in the past has been that you’re getting an education, which allegedly is something of value. But as we see, when push comes to shove, the end product isn’t as important as making sure students are in the right corral. Schools will let that education fall by the wayside before they’ll relinquish their hold on students.

  6. Gray’s article meshes very well with my experience. I went to a Montessori school from age 3.5-9, and government school after that. The Montessori method is incredibly powerful – by the time I left Montessori I was calculating derivatives and integrals, and performing polynomial division. I didn’t see math that advanced again until my last year of High School (at 17-18). Needless to say in the intervening public school years I lost those skills, the math workbooks I completed at 8 might as well have been greek to me. You can imagine my stupefaction, sadness, and seething anger when I was finally able to understand, 10 years later, what I had performed when I was 8 years old.

    There was a ceiling on learning in public school, once surpassed my fellow students I was either ignored, given useless busywork, or left to read the books I brought to school for entertainment (I had only 1 teacher in 4th grade that was an exception to this). One could only progress as fast as the school curricula of teaching to the middle and system of fixed-schedule prerequisites allowed. Similar to the Overton Window argument in the open letter to Scott Brown, catering to the average results in failure for the whole.

    Government education does worse than just enfeebling the minds of students (in my case, a wasted decade of education), it enervates us, and debilitates our drive to learn and pursue our values.

    1. And as for the schools, they were just holding pens within this fake world. Officially the purpose of schools is to teach kids. In fact their primary purpose is to keep kids locked up in one place for a big chunk of the day so adults can get things done. And I have no problem with this: in a specialized industrial society, it would be a disaster to have kids running around loose.

      What bothers me is not that the kids are kept in prisons, but that (a) they aren’t told about it, and (b) the prisons are run mostly by the inmates. Kids are sent off to spend six years memorizing meaningless facts in a world ruled by a caste of giants who run after an oblong brown ball, as if this were the most natural thing in the world. And if they balk at this surreal cocktail, they’re called misfits.

      Teenage kids used to have a more active role in society. In pre-industrial times, they were all apprentices of one sort or another, whether in shops or on farms or even on warships. They weren’t left to create their own societies. They were junior members of adult societies.

      Teenagers seem to have respected adults more then, because the adults were the visible experts in the skills they were trying to learn. Now most kids have little idea what their parents do in their distant offices, and see no connection (indeed, there is precious little) between schoolwork and the work they’ll do as adults.

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