Thursday, January 12, 2006


The Edge (the organization, not the U2 guitarist) asks a bunch of people what is their most "dangerous idea." I was intrigued by this one by Roger Schank:
No More Teacher's Dirty Looks

After a natural disaster, the newscasters eventually excitedly announce that school is finally open so no matter what else is terrible where they live, the kids are going to school. I always feel sorry for the poor kids.

My dangerous idea is one that most people immediately reject without giving it serious thought: school is bad for kids — it makes them unhappy and as tests show — they don't learn much.

When you listen to children talk about school you easily discover what they are thinking about in school: who likes them, who is being mean to them, how to improve their social ranking, how to get the teacher to treat them well and give them good grades.

Schools are structured today in much the same way as they have been for hundreds of years. And for hundreds of years philosophers and others have pointed out that school is really a bad idea:
We are shut up in schools and college recitation rooms for ten or fifteen years, and come out at last with a belly full of words and do not know a thing. — Ralph Waldo Emerson

Education is an admirable thing, but it is well to remember from time to time that nothing that is worth knowing can be taught. — Oscar Wilde
Schools should simply cease to exist as we know them. The Government needs to get out of the education business and stop thinking it knows what children should know and then testing them constantly to see if they regurgitate whatever they have just been spoon fed.

The Government is and always has been the problem in education:
If the government would make up its mind to require for every child a good education, it might save itself the trouble of providing one. It might leave to parents to obtain the education where and how they pleased, and content itself with helping to pay the school fees of the poorer classes of children, and defraying the entire school expenses of those who have no one else to pay for them. — JS Mill
* * *

Over a million students have opted out of the existing school system and are now being home schooled. The problem is that the states regulate home schooling and home schooling still looks an awful lot like school.

We need to stop producing a nation of stressed out students who learn how to please the teacher instead of pleasing themselves. We need to produce adults who love learning, not adults who avoid all learning because it reminds them of the horrors of school. We need to stop thinking that all children need to learn the same stuff. We need to create adults who can think for themselves and are not convinced about how to understand complex situations in simplistic terms that can be rendered in a sound bite.

Just call school off. Turn them all into apartment houses.
But then who would babysit the nation's children on weekdays (the most important function of schools)?



Blogger Ed Darrell said...

A million kids have opted out? No one really knows for sure -- that's the high estimate. Here in Texas, in Duncanville, parents are abandoning home schooling for the public schools. Better academics, better electives, better all around.

But were there a million kids in home schools, that's still less than 2%.

Do the public schools fail? Hardly. They have not yet succeeded in hitting 100% literacy -- but the only nation in the Americas that has is Cuba, which has tougher compulsory attendance and much greater national control of curriculum. In fact, the only nations anywhere that do better than the U.S. have much tighter central, national control. Perhaps our national educational failure is due to the chances to opt out -- and the fact that so many do. That's an easier case to make.

We tried having no public schools. Most Americans found that unworkable, unjust (especially to the kids), unproductive, and unAmerican. Why should we retreat from something that has successes to a system that we know is an utter failure?

12:56 AM  
Blogger Stuart Buck said...

Your last two paragraphs are unwarranted, e.g., the notion that public schools "hardly" fail, that being able to opt out of destructive peer hierarchies (i.e., many schools) is a bad thing, etc.

Your last paragraph was amusing. Not having universal public school is "unAmerican"? My goodness, how did all of those Americans ever manage to read the Federalist Papers (and many similarly demanding essays and books) 100 years before public schooling? (And how many of today's politicians would dare to write essays that were so dense, so full of classical allusions, etc., even if they were capable of doing so?)

11:18 AM  
Blogger Stuart Buck said...

More importantly, Ed, you don't come to grips with ANY of Schank's points except for the 1 million figure.

11:26 AM  

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