Excite My Imagination...so My Children Will too!

School is very different today than when I attended. It is a lot more like a prison. Detention, drills, getting permission to go to the bathroom, bells, confinement, crazy sequences, age-segregation, lack of privacy, constant surveillance, and all the rest of the national curriculum of schooling were designed exactly as if someone had set out to prevent kids from learning how to think and act, to coax them into addiction and dependent behavior. I can't stop myself shaking my head. In school, kids have to be there so you can do anything you want to them. If you don't like a class or activity for some reason, you can't just drop or not participate in it. It's not hard to see where my children's independent attitudes come from. DH and I have never been afraid to think and act outside of society's imposed norms. Mark Twain once said, "I never let my schooling interfere with my education."

Unschooling is a growing community. We feel the pedantic structures of public school system are stifling kids by starving them of creativity and passion. A conventional homeschooler will generally follow a set curriculum, which is often based directly on public school system's program. Instead, unschoolers are encouraged to find a path that works best for them and empowers them to choose their own intellectual destinies. We, unschoolers, agree with George Bernard Shaw when he said "We want to see the child in pursuit of knowledge, not knowledge in pursuit of the child.."

Public school kids are told when to be creative and when to be excited about something...'Now you have to be excited about the ABCs,' an hour later, 'now you have to be excited about the color green.' What happens if a kid's not? Or what if at 9:30 a.m., she is excited about the color pink and not what the teacher wants her to be? It's always their agenda and that kills the creativity. The message the kids get is 'your creativity isn't as important as our schedule.'

Creativity, above almost all else, is vital to our growth as human being. We need creativity for everything. People think 'oh creativity, that's just artsy-fartsy crap,' and that's not true. We need creativity to be a good philosopher, scientist, anthropologist, or even a cop. Creativity is our life force; if we don't nurture it, we would just walk around like a robot.

Have you seen 2001: A Space Odyssey? Do you remember when someone's removing the brain cores from Hal, the spacecraft's talking computer, pulling them out, and HAL gets more and more childish? Well, that's the job assigned to compulsory schooling.

Officially, our schools are supposed to prepare young people to be intelligent participants in our parliamentary democracy--and to train them for work. Actually, it doesn't do a very good job of either. Kids and parents are fed up with inflexible standards, confused educators, mundane textbooks, and overwhelming amount of homework assigned even off school. They feel they are wasting time and what the kids were learning had no bearing on real life. For those who do enjoy their classes and are the only ones who ask questions about a topic, you would be in for a big surprise...because other kids and teachers would get annoyed; everyone just want to get it over with and go home.

School has become a child care--much needed since families require two-wage earners to make a go of it in global economy. As harsh as it may sound, school is merely a place for warehousing kids.

Rapid bombardment of trivial information and lack of context make it hard to get anyone interested in school subjects, let alone become passionate about them. All you get is little bits and pieces of history, science, and politics; nothing connects them all together...to give a bigger picture of life. Like me, most kids don't learn when they're being fed so much information--names, dates, and so on. Speaking from personal experience, it didn't matter how I studied and did well on tests...because a week later everything I just learned were out the window to make way for a bunch of new stuff for more tests to come. The way I was taught, I never really retain or learn anything. My classmates and I were just regurgitating same answers, then forgetting them.

One of the loudest voices of the unschooling movement John Gatto said, "The best schools probably draw on 10 to 20 percent of what young people are [intellectually] capable of and they're intended to do that. They want to train you to move inside a very narrow compass; it's what they're set up to do. And they want to train you inside the narrowest compass to be a specialist and waste your life mastering an extremely narrow bit of a whole so that you never, never, never will tamper with policy."

Gatto explained, in an article he wrote for Harper's Magazine in 2003, how "mass schooling of a compulsory nature really got its teeth into the United States between 1905 and 1915, though it was conceived of much earlier and pushed for through most of the nineteenth century." He noted that throughout most of American history, children didn't attend public schools, "yet the unschooled rose to be admirals, like Farragut; inventors, like Edison; captains of industry, like Carnegie and Rockefeller; writers like Melville and Twain and Conrad; and even scholars, like Margaret Mead." Gatto explained that the Canadian public education system, since 1867 has been under provincial responsibility and control, was developed in tandem with its fundamentally identical American counterpart to "convince the majority of people that their economic lives hang by a thread, and if they don't do what they're told to do, they'll be doomed and ostracized."

Noam Chomsky, my favorite linguist and political activist--once called "arguably the most important intellectual alive" by New York Times--wrote in UNDERSTANDING POWER public education is a "system of imposed ignorance," that was instituted in the U.S. and elsewhere as "a technique to beat independence out of the heads of farmers and turn them into docile and obedient factory workers."

"In fact," Chomsky wrote, "the whole educational and professional training system is a very elaborate filter, which just weeds out people who are too independent, and who think for themselves, and who don't know how to be submissive, and so on--because they're dysfunctional to the institutions."

In his Harper's article, Gatto drew from a number of sources in explaining how the North American school system was adapted from a 19th century Prussian system and was "intended to be just what it had been for Prussia in the 1820s: a fifth column into the burgeoning democratic movement that threatened to give the peasants and the proletarians a voice at the bargaining table." The system was to "make sort of a surgical incision into the prospective unity of these underclasses. Divide children by subject, by age-grading, by constant ranking on tests, and by many other more subtle means, and it was unlikely that the ignorant mass of mankind, separated in childhood, would ever reintegrate into a dangerous whole."

One of the ways public school system accomplishes its intended purpose is by focusing disproportionately on reading and almost totally ignoring speaking and writing.

If you ask people what literacy is...they'd probably say reading. That's the third in the order of importance, or at best, tied for number two. Back in the days when United States was a British colony as was Canada, literacy identified the division between active literacy and passive literacy. Passive literacy is clearly reading. The active literacy, which is requisite of readership, is speaking and writing. The focus on passive literacies leads to passive students.

"If you went to the elite private boarding schools," Gatto said, "you would find an unbelievable stress on the active literacies. But if you went into the best public schools in Canada or the United States, you would not find that. And you would get an explanation that...there's simply not enough time to do that. We can't afford to teach writing, and where would the time come for giving every kid daily practice in speaking before audiences? I'll tell you from experience, if you want to do those things, you can, in fact, find the time and the mechanisms. The idea though, is to put the active literacies to death because, without the active literacies, you don't have a prayer of ever influencing anyone else."

In your entire lifetime of buying and renting services and negotiating contracts, have you ever even thought of asking a person what his/her standardized test score or grade point average was? Because with the stress and drum beating that you hear, you would assume you wouldn't go to an auto mechanic without asking him what his score was in mechanic school. Wouldn't you be a fool not to have that information if, in fact, it were information? Wouldn't you want to ask your hair stylist what her grade was in beauty school; let alone your lawyer, your physician, your architect? The very fact that universally nobody asks for these things is all you need to know that the information is worthless...or, it's extremely valuable in showing whether a person is obedient because the only way you do well on those tests is by memorizing the dots you're told to memorize. You're never asked to connect the dots.

By turning education over to 'professionals,' we have grown away from the learning process and become locked in our old ideas and methods. This system gives us the illusion that we are passing our values on to next generation when we have not really thought about what those values are. A much better system would recognize that one size does not fit all. We need to maximize individual choice, encourage creativity, discourage lock-step, make what is studied meaningful and real, involve parents and siblings, grandparents and workers in the process.

These ideas are the basis for unschooling. Life is learning. Learning is life. The world is our school. It isn't about letting our kids run wild with no direction but about choices. It isn't hands-off. We present our kids with a load of opportunities. We give them stimulating environments. Our kids are to develop where they want to go with it. Above all, unschooling is about letting them explore their environments for themselves with encouragement and a wide array of resources provided by us. It's my job to offer my kids healthy choices and a loving, trusting environment.

Many parents recognize that public schools may not be the best environment for intellectual development, but worry that taking their kids out of the system may have dire implications for their futures. All I have to say is STOP underestimate our children and recognize their true potential. Genius is as common as dirt. We suppress our genius only because we haven't yet figured out how to manage a population of educated men and women. The solution is simple and glorious. Let them manage themselves.

Public schooling doesn't squash everyone. But, it does squash a lot. There is a better way. I ask myself everyday how I may excite my imagination...because if I am interested in learning and seeking and doing, my children will be too. My belief system is heavily focused toward what we may do together and what will excite my imagination about learning so my children will be excited too.

What's your focus?

1 encouragements:

Stephanie said...

Wow Sarah, this is great, you put a lot of effort into gathering all of those quotes and elaborating. Thank YOU!!!

My newest focus is on the election and we are all learning all the time just one more thing to add to it :)

True learning-learning that is permanent and useful,that leads to intelligent action and further learning, can arise only out of the experience, interest, and concerns of the learner.
John Holt
Real heroes are men who fall, fail and are flawed, but win out in the end because they stayed true to their ideals, beliefs and commitments.
Actor Kevin Costner

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