Archive for the ‘Schooled vs. Educated’ Category

James is knocking it out of the park again!

My dad hit me when I got bad grades. Particularly when I was young and got a bad grade in “Conduct”. Happiness was an “A”. Even better: an “A+”. Sadness was an “F”. It was almost like a joke. Like the only way to get an “F” is if you tried to screw up almost as much as you tried to get an “A”.

But  in twelve years of basic schooling I can’t’ remember anyone asking where the “E” was. It goes A, B, C, D (which was really horrible to get a D. It means you were trying somewhat (so as to avoid the “F”) but you were just plain stupid and got a D. Not even a C.) and then, the magic “F”. Which was more than just a letter but a one-letter acronym. None of the other letters stood for anything. They were just letters. They could’ve been replaced by numbers (Claudia tells me in Argentina they were graded by numbers from one to ten. No letters). It’s not like “A” stood for Amazing. Or “B” Boring. “C” Crazy. “D” Dumb. You could’ve just replaced them by 1, 2, 3, 4. Or a “1+”. But F was irreplaceable.

(the mirror image of the tattoo says “Never a Failure, Always a Lesson”)

“F” stood for “Failure”.  [Note: except when I was really little. There was “O” for outstanding. “S” for Satisfactory. And “N” for needs improvement. I got an N for conduct and it’s the first time I remember my dad hitting me after the teacher told him I was always calling her old, which she was and there is no shame of that but I only realize that now that I am as old as she was.]

So why no “E”. I think teachers got together 5000 years ago. Maybe 10,000 years ago and came up with the horrifying conclusion: Some students might think “E” stood for Effort. As in, “at least I didn’t get an ‘F’. I got an ‘E’ which means I put in an effort.” And doesn’t that go along all too easily with the lie teachers say, “I’m not going to judge you on your grade, I’m going to judge you on the effort you put into this class.”

Did they ever really judge you on that? And if they did, do you really think they would want you to get an “E” on a test and then have to put up with your arguing at the end of a semester when you would say, “See! I put in the effort! I got an “E” on everything and you said that would be how you would judge me.”

“This is awful”, said a teacher at that first convention of the union of the national teachers club. “We have to take the ‘E’ out of the alphabet.”

“But,” said Mr. Maroon. “We spend years teaching them that song: A, B, C, D, E, F, G… to the tune of twinkle twinkle little star. And now we have to tell them there is no E?”

“There is an E! Just not in grades. Why is this such a difficult thing to understand? If we put an ‘E’ in there then our schools will NEVER get funding. All our schools depend on our students, smart or stupid, doing well on those standardized tests where they fill in the multiple choice circles and cyborgs read them and grade them and the better they do, the more funding we get. If we put an ‘E’ into the system the students might clog up the pipes with Effort instead of Amazing. They might even think “E” is for Exceed because at least it beats Failure! WE CANNOT HAVE AN ‘E’!”

I doubt that conversation really happened. They really backed themselves into a corner. They thought by using letters instead of numbers that would fool kids into some state of confusion where they really didn’t know how they did. Like, “is a B good or bad?” But everyone knows where they stand when it comes to 1 through 10.

But now they were stuck with the “E”. Until they decided to strike it from the alphabet. But only some of the time. Except for that one time an entire novel was written without using the letter “e”. That guy knew what he was doing. The insidious removal of the most common letter in the English language.

Because that’s what English is about. It’s not “Anglo”. It’s not quite “Saxon”. It’s not “Latin”. But its a weird mixture of all three, concocted like a test tube baby in some scientist’s laboratory when the aliens landed and impregnated our ancient Mothers with the sperm from their dying planets (since they came from a Federation of planets surrounding a supernova, or perhaps supernovae (there’s that “E” again) ).  So we can keep on experimenting and investing and twisting and testing. Now “google” is a verb, a noun, a business, the beginnings of an artificially intelligent singularity, a map, an email, a social network, and a photo album with the flowers as bookmarks. We don’t need those anymore thanks to Google. No memories are special enough to mark them with a flower, thanks to the newest word in the dictionary.

Ugh, trying to unravel the Rubik’s Cube-like scam of lower education is a full-time job. Once you get a side with all one color you realize you’ve hopelessly prevented yourself from getting the other side to be one color.

I have not read much about home schooling or unschooling so I am no expert. But I’ve thought about it. And this is how I would do it if my kids were to let me unschool them.

A) First, (and again, this is without reading about it at all so I, at best, uneducated on the topic). I prefer the word “unschooling” to “home schooling”. I assume home schooling means I replace the teacher, buy them science textbooks, math, Canterbury Tales, etc. I don’t want to do that. That sounds boring to me and I assume to them as well. Unschooling sounds more like it – i.e. just completely no education at all.

B) Only one requirement: read one book a week. It doesn’t matter what book. I will pay them 10 cents a page. WHAT!? How can you pay your kids to learn? Well, I want my kids to get used to being paid for doing things they enjoy. Later in life (just a few years really) they will have to do it anyway. Why not get used to being paid for something they enjoy right now? This way they will know easily to avoid getting paid for things they don’t enjoy. (this is hopefully a way to avoid them going into a life of prostitution).

Then we talk about it. Then we visit the bookstore and they get to browse other books and see what they like. I get a synesthesia of experience when I go into a bookstore, some sections have bright colors and draw me to them (fiction, current affairs, philosophy, art, comics, history) and some I can just feel the drab greyness (interior decorating, crafts, children). They would browse until something pulls at them. Then they would buy it and read it.

C) Every day: I’d set out drawing and painting materials. They’d also be encouraged to keep a diary. I want the creative neurons going. I can’t force them to do this. But maybe they would want to.

D) At least an hour of sports a day.

(sports are good for kids)

E) I’d set up playdates for after school so they can get socialization. Or playdates with other kids that are being unschooled or home schooled (there are more than you think out there). My kids think that all home-schooled kids are “weird” because they aren’t social. But I ask them, “when do you talk to your friends anyway?” And they say, “after school”. So that argument is out the window.

F) The rest of the time they can do whatever they want: eat, read, watch TV, sleep, blow stuff up, do nothing but stare at the wall, walk around the block, go to the movies. Whatever. In fact, I hope they do a lot of nothing. People get addicted to doing “something”. What’s so great about “something”. I like to do nothing. Even when people do nothing they try to label it: like “meditation”. Ugh, what a boring thing: meditation. Try, “I just did nothing. I even thought about nothing in particular.”

When you are capable of actually doing nothing (not so easy after decades of “something addiction”), there’s a deep well that springs up, and fills every corner of you, crowding at the anxieties, the fears, the pressures put on you from government jobs colleagues bosses friends family. The nothing replaces all the vomit they try to kiss into your mouth.

By doing all the above they have more opportunity to discover their passions, more play time, more creative time, just as much social time.

The standard criticism: kids should learn how to deal with kids they don’t like and doing things they don’t like. People say this to me all the time, ranging from Harvard graduates to my own kids. “Kids should do things they don’t like!” Really?

My answer: Why? It doesn’t seem like adults are any good at that so how did experiencing it as a kid help them?

What makes me an expert on unschooling? Absolutely nothing. And that’s the point. I just don’t want them to do any of the 100 bad memories I (and just about everyone else) has about standardized schooling. Why should they have to go through with it?

And I’m going to grade them every week. I’ll give them a big piece of paper with the letter “E” on it. And we can talk about what it means. Maybe every week it will mean something different. That sounds like fun.


Source: Education On The Plate

I recently spoke at the #140edu Conference in NYC on the topic in the title. This is what I said.

How many of you here graduated from high school?

#140edu stage - via digital camera#140edu stage – via digital camera (Photo credit: NJ Tech Teacher)

How many of you liked high school?

Just as I thought. Despite the laws mandating it, despite the ominous predictions of what will happen if you leave it, not everyone should go to high school.

Let me say it again, not everyone should go to high school.

This sounds like heresy, especially coming from a teacher.

But even in a time when it seems like you need a college degree to be an auto mechanic, not everyone should go to high school.

When I dropped out of high school for the first time, yes — I’ve done it twice — dropping out was considered a sure path to economic and social failure.

Not much has changed since 1968. Dropping out of high school is still labeled a sure path to ruin. That there are students dropping out of school is still called a crisis.

It is not a crisis. It is a message.

Thinking of drop outs as a crisis leads to solutions that focus on compliance– things like raising the age at which one can leave school, or more truant officers to track down the education fugitives.

But if we look at students dropping out of schools as a message, drop outs tell us is that school sucks, that it is not reaching them, or that they feel they have no hope for success, in high school or beyond it.

They tell us that they are not being challenged enough, or not being allowed to follow their interests, or just that school doesn’t fit them: it is too big, too small, too cliquey or too dangerous.

The reasons students leave school are as differentiated as the lessons we teachers are being told to teach them.

You have heard, and will continue to hear today and tomorrow, about ways to make school better, more enticing, more encouraging, more engaging and more effective.

All that is good, but it is almost impossible for any modern high school to meet the needs of all students.

This is not for lack of intent or lack of effort. It is a result of an increasingly centrally-mandated standardized world. Now we’re all supposed to hone our lessons to the common core. Really? Does anyone really want to be common?

Instead of focusing on how to make school better or teaching better, I’m going to talk about how to make learning better.

My idea of the perfect school is one in which you can  learn what you want to learn, when you want to learn it, where you want to learn it, and how you want to learn it.

I say, do what teachers have been telling you to do for so long, take charge of your education and don’t let the door hit you in the ass on your way out.

I dropped out of high school twice, and college once, because attending was interfering with my learning. I got tired of teachers calling my questions and observations distracting and disruptive. I got tired of being told what to learn and when to learn it.

I figured out that knowledge doesn’t come in neat little packages called math, science, English Language Arts or social studies. Art is not a subject, neither is music, or health.

Knowledge is a massive, ever growing, completely interconnected all enveloping mass. It is the butterfly effect writ large, where everything we learn, every insight we gain, every understanding we come to, changes EVERYTHING.

So I left.

My parents were not happy about any of it, but I had the biggest, most cultured and most diverse city in the world to explore.

I still got a great education because I asked questions, followed tangents and never stopped being curious.

The real key to making dropping out — or opting out if you prefer– is to do it soon enough. Don’t wait until you’re beaten down by the system and have lost interest and hope. Leave school while you still have curiosity, a hunger to know something, to know anything or everything, and before you have to support yourself financially. It may be after 10th grade or it may be after 8th. You will know when it is right for you.

Now you can sleep a little later, but don’t spend the day in bed, or watching cartoons or talk shows. There is a world to explore.

Today it doesn’t matter if you live in Manhattan, like I did, or in East Nowhere, the whole world is available to you.

Think of the tools you have now that didn’t exist when I dropped out. Computers, the internet, Twitter, Skype, Facebook, and more are all there to help you access the world and learn anything you want.

You don’t need a curriculum, a road map or a plan at all.

Just ask a question and seek an answer.

Then ask another question.

Listen to the answers you get. Follow tangents. Focus like a laser or wander aimlessly. Tinker. Play.

All knowledge is connected and things will all start to make sense as you note commonalities, wonder about discrepancies, make connections and develop insights.

Are you in love with baseball? Study it. You’ll learn about statistics – figuring pitcher’s earned run averages takes complex mathematics — develop strategies, learn the science of the curveball, learn about the history of race relations in America, and more. You’ll learn about why the Dominican Republic produces so many major league shortstops and why Japan doesn’t, but produces pitchers. Follow baseball as far as it will take you…then ask another question.

Do you like to knit? Study it. Learn about different kinds of wool, how they differ and where they come from, how they become shocking chartreuse or majestic magenta. Learn math as you figure out how much you’ll need to make that sweater, the physics of tensile strength.

Into dolls, dogs, drumming or debate? Are you passionate about golf, gardening, guitar, grapes or Greta Garbo? It doesn’t matter what. Take the paths   your interests and passions give you.

Greta Garbo in The Joyless Street. Alexander B...Greta Garbo in The Joyless Street. Alexander Binder (for Atelier Binder) made the portrait during the filming. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

After a while you’ll become an expert, an authority. You’ll wander off one path and discover another one, perhaps the secret of life, the universe and everything.

Just keep asking one more question and you will find many more answers. Each of which will lead to more questions.

Joyce Valenza calls it “a never ending search.”

Here are some things you are likely to discover:

People are eager to talk about what they do and what they know, to someone who is interested in learning.

People are eager to tell you their stories, what they think, what they feel, to someone willing to listen.

Your bullshit meter will develop and become more accurate.

You will find the joy of learning again, the joy of teaching what you learn, and you’ll rediscover the excitement of wondering.

You will learn that all answers lead to more questions, better questions, deeper questions.

Keep asking.

Keep learning.

Do all the things school doesn’t leave you the time to do and you will get a better education than any institution can give you.

Don’t worry about getting into college. Getting into a good college requires standing out from the crowd, somehow distinguishing yourself from the hundreds of thousand other high school seniors.

So while all those other kids are all taking the same classes, cramming for exams and spending every extra minute doing every imaginable community service and extra credit assignment, you’ll be having different experiences.

While they’re being told what to learn, you’ll be deciding what to learn. Their learning will be limited by the curriculum, your learning will be free-range, going as far as your curiosity takes you.

Just think of the application essay you’ll be able to write.

And somewhere in the process of writing that essay, you might begin to wonder whether you really need to go to college.
Once you start becoming a free-range learner it is almost impossible to stop. And that is the best part of it all.


by Gary North
Tea Party Economist

President Obama has signed an executive order. He has set up a new bureaucracy. This bureaucracy plans to make inner-city education so good that whites will move back.

You remain skeptical? O, ye of little faith!

This executive order has this goal: to give black children top-flight public education, which means non-flight education. Blacks who have been able to get out of inner-city school districts have been fleeing for several decades. This is what the President is trying to stop.

There is a problem with his plan: public education. It has been declining visibly for approximately 100 years, give or take a decade. The decline has sped up over the last 50 years.

For blacks, the decline has been a disaster. The inner-city schools have been deliberately dumbed down as policy. Thomas Sowell has written on several occasions about the all-black high school in Washington, D.C.: Dunbar High School. From 1870 to 1955, it provided education as good as any white district’s program. (It was surely better than mine, 1955-59.) It taught Latin. It taught advanced courses in science. Its students went to college. Ralph Bunche was one of its graduates. It was deliberately dumbed down half a century ago as a matter of district policy.

President Obama intends to smarten up the inner-city schools. How will he do this? With a new bureaucracy.

His executive order is a litany on the failure of tax-funded education in America. It’s hard to fault him on this. The problem is this: the federal government has been laying down the law to school districts for 40 years. The schools have gotten worse. Dr. Charles Sykes’ book has it right: Dumbing Down Our Kids: Why American Children Feel Good About Themselves, But Can’t Read, Write, or Add.

Candidate Ronald Reagan vowed to shut down the Department of Education. Its budget went up every year he was in office.

Obama’s executive order is nothing short of messianic. It proposes to achieve the following.

(1) The Initiative will help to restore the United States to its role as the global leader in education; strengthen the Nation by improving educational outcomes for African Americans of all ages; and help ensure that African Americans receive a complete and competitive education that prepares them for college, a satisfying career, and productive citizenship. . . .

(4) In working to fulfill its mission and objectives, the Initiative shall, consistent with applicable law:

(i) identify evidence-based best practices that can provide African American students a rigorous and well-rounded education in safe and healthy environments, as well as access to support services, which will prepare them for college, a career, and civic participation;

(ii) develop a national network of individuals, organizations, and communities to share and implement best practices related to the education of African Americans, including those identified as most at risk;

(iii) help ensure that Federal programs and initiatives administered by the Department and other agencies are serving and meeting the educational needs of African Americans, including by encouraging agencies to incorporate best practices into appropriate discretionary programs where permitted by law;

(iv) work closely with the Executive Office of the President on key Administration priorities related to the education of African Americans;

(v) increase the participation of the African American community, including institutions that serve that community, in the Department’s programs and in education-related programs at other agencies;

(vi) advise the officials of the Department and other agencies on issues related to the educational attainment of African Americans;

(vii) advise the Secretary on the development, implementation, and coordination of educational programs and initiatives at the Department and other agencies that are designed to improve educational opportunities and outcomes for African Americans of all ages; and

(viii) encourage and develop partnerships with public, private, philanthropic, and nonprofit stakeholders to improve African Americans’ readiness for school, college, and career, as well as their college persistence and completion. . . .

And how will his executive order achieve all this? By providing lots of jobs in Washington!

(c) Interagency Working Group.

(1) There is established the Federal Interagency Working Group on Educational Excellence for African Americans (Working Group), which shall be convened and chaired by the Initiative’s Executive Director and that shall support the efforts of the Initiative described in subsection (b) of this section.

(2) The Working Group shall consist of senior officials from the Department, the White House Domestic Policy Council, the Department of Justice, the Department of Labor, the Department of Health and Human Services, the National Science Foundation, the Department of Defense, and such additional agencies and offices as the President may subsequently designate. Senior officials shall be designated by the heads of their respective agencies and offices.

(3) The Initiative’s Executive Director may establish subgroups of the Working Group to focus on different aspects of the educational system (such as early childhood education, K-12 education, higher education (including HBCUs and PBIs), career and technical education, adult education, or correctional education and reengagement) or educational challenges facing particular populations of African Americans (such as young men, disconnected or out-of-school youth, individuals with disabilities, children identified as gifted and talented, single-parent households, or adults already in the workforce).

(d) Administration. The Department shall provide funding and administrative support for the Initiative and the Working Group, to the extent permitted by law and within existing appropriations. To the extent permitted by law, other agencies and offices represented on the Working Group may detail personnel to the Initiative, to assist the Department in meeting the objectives of this order.

I can see the progress! I can see the SAT scores rising! I can see hope restored in inner cities!

And all this from a man who never spent a day in an American tax-funded school.

Only in America!

Continue Reading the executive order on

July 31, 2012

Gary North [send him mail] is the author of Mises on Money. Visit He is also the author of a free 31-volume series, An Economic Commentary on the Bible.

Copyright © 2012 Gary North

June 28, 2012
Mises Daily

Laissez-Faire Learning
by David Greenwald on June 27, 2012
As a teacher in a public high school, I am daily confronted with the lamentable realities of state-monopoly education. Student apathy, methodological stagnation, bureaucratic inefficiency, textbook-publishing cartels, obsessive preoccupation with grades, coercive relationships, and rigid, sanitized curricula are just a few of the more obvious problems, attended by the cold-shower disillusionment and gradual burnout among teachers to which they almost invariably lead.

While outcomes such as these are certainly tragic, the process that produces them is not exactly the stuff of Greek theater. There is no climactic battle, no cathartic denouement, no salvific moral lesson to be taken home when the curtain falls, and seldom are there any readily identifiable heroes or villains. It is not a single, epic calamity but a thousand trivial defeats a day, each too mundane and too quickly obscured by its successor to be considered noteworthy. Like a bad movie, public education somehow manages to be both tragic and boring. It is only its cumulative result that would have impressed Sophocles.

Oddly enough, although there is overwhelming public support for compulsory, tax-funded schooling, enthusiasm for what actually goes on in public schools is noticeably lacking. Not only are they generally acknowledged to be falling short in their efforts to produce an enlightened citizenry, but it is even conceded that they have failed in what is ostensibly their most exalted mission: the provision of equal opportunity for all via a standardized system of mass instruction in which all students receive the same basic set of knowledge and skills. Nor has this indictment originated solely from among the ranks of those opposed to egalitarianism on principle. To the contrary, it is largely the refrain of embittered progressives for whom “free” universal education has long been the desideratum of social justice, and who cannot understand how the behemoth they so vigorously midwifed into existence and then wet-nursed for a century could have so thoroughly betrayed their loftiest and most cherished ideal.

Yet ironically, it is the unassailable faith in the achievability of precisely this ideal of universal equality that immunizes public education against every reasonable argument advanced in opposition to it. Notwithstanding its manifest shortcomings, none of which has found a remedy despite decades of legislative reform, hardly anyone is prepared to see this system replaced by anything resembling a real market in education due to the deeply held conviction that that those of lesser material means either would not be able to afford market-based schooling or, in the very best case, would receive only substandard services inadequate to the task of ensuring equality of economic opportunity later in life. It is a further irony, though hardly surprising, that neither the economic knowledge nor the analytic discernment necessary for an examination of these claims has ever been or will ever be taught in a public school. No emperor willingly trains his own subjects to recognize nakedness when they see it.

Given this state of affairs, it devolves on individuals, both within and outside of the school system, to educate others about education. In what follows I will attempt to address what I see as the three primary objections raised against the idea of market-based education:

that educational services on the market would be at a premium, with prices high enough to exclude at least the lowest-income strata of society;

that even if the less affluent could afford some market-based education, it would be of a substantially inferior quality to that received by wealthier consumers of educational services; and

that the lack of a universal curriculum and standardized criteria of achievement would render the market incapable of providing the equality of opportunity that public education, however unsatisfactorily, at least aims in principle to ensure.

We will examine each of these arguments in turn. As will be shown, the first two rest on a misunderstanding of markets, while the third stems from a grossly distorted concept of education from which, if they took the time to examine it closely, probably even most progressives would recoil in horror.

Argument 1: Affordability

In order to understand why educational services on a free market would as a rule be priced well within the reach of the vast majority of income earners, we must first ask why the market produces anything at all for such persons. Since it is obvious that the wealthiest few have far more purchasing power per capita than those in the middle- and lower-income strata, why does the market not produce only for the former group and leave the latter two homeless and starving? Why is sugar, once a luxury of the rich, today a household item so widely and cheaply available that the US government feels called on to impose tariffs on imports and buy up domestic surpluses to keep the price artificially high? Why is the same kilobyte of computer memory that cost around $45 twenty years ago today priced at a fraction of a cent?

The simple answer is this: competition. When a good first appears on the market, the supply of it is strictly limited. To the extent that consumers value it highly, they will bid against each other for the minimal stock available, causing the price to rise until all but the wealthiest consumers drop out of the market. As long as there is no expansion of supply, and assuming the consumers do not change their valuations, the good will remain a luxury of the rich.

However, it is precisely this condition that provides producers with the incentive to increase production of the product. The high price yields supernormal profits that draw venture capitalists and entrepreneurs into that line of production, thereby increasing the supply, lowering the price, and most importantly, bringing exponentially greater numbers of consumers into the market. This process continues until that portion of profits that exceeds the general rate prevailing in other industries disappears, bringing the expansion to a halt. But by that time, the good has long since ceased to be a toy for the rich. To paraphrase Mises, yesterday’s luxury has become today’s necessity.

Of course, while this process works in essentially the same way for all goods, some goods — diamonds, for example — tend to remain luxury items indefinitely due to the high cost of producing them. It is, after all, the consumers who, in the aggregate, must ultimately pay for any lasting expansion of industry. If the capital expenditures necessary for the production of a good exceed the willingness or ability of the consumers to offset them, no sustained increase in the supply of that good will be possible.

So how would this dynamic work on a market for education? Assuming that educational services as such would be given high priority on the value scales of most consumers, would the cost of producing them keep them priced beyond the means of the typical wage-earner? Here we must be particularly careful not to engage in what psychologists call static thinking. We must ask ourselves, not how much it would cost for private entrepreneurs to produce curricula and instruction as these are presently constituted, but rather to what extent and in what ways schooling in its current form squanders resources, and how it might be streamlined and otherwise improved in the crucible of free competition.

One point is clear: the greater and more numerous the inefficiencies of the current system, the more radical its transformation by the market would be. And just how inefficient is the present system? Well, who runs it? On what principles does it operate? Does it allow students the freedom, for example, to take courses in what they are most interested in and eschew subjects they do not wish to study? Or does it rather saddle them with a bloated, one-size-fits-all curriculum prodigiously crammed full of skills and information they neither need nor want, thereby creating artificial demand for teachers and administrative staff, stimulating construction of needlessly large (or simply needless) facilities, boosting energy consumption and capital maintenance costs, and so forth? To get an idea of the sorts of “practical competencies” students in today’s public and state-regulated high schools are expected to (pretend to) master and retain for use in later life,[1] here is a randomly-selected excerpt from the scintillating epistle “Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills for Mathematics,” issued by the Texas Education Agency:

§111.35. Precalculus (One-Half to One Credit).

Knowledge and skills.
The student defines functions, describes characteristics of functions, and translates among verbal, numerical, graphical, and symbolic representations of functions, including polynomial, rational, power (including radical), exponential, logarithmic, trigonometric, and piecewise-defined functions. The student is expected to:
describe parent functions symbolically and graphically, including f(x) = xn, f(x) = 1n x, f(x) = loga x, f(x) = 1/x, f(x) = ex, f(x) = |x|, f(x) = ax, f(x) = sin x, f(x) = arcsin x, etc.;
determine the domain and range of functions using graphs, tables, and symbols;
describe symmetry of graphs of even and odd functions;
recognize and use connections among significant values of a function (zeros, maximum values, minimum values, etc.), points on the graph of a function, and the symbolic representation of a function; and
investigate the concepts of continuity, end behavior, asymptotes, and limits and connect these characteristics to functions represented graphically and numerically.
Got all that?

$15.00 $10.00

Of course, administrative costs and restrictions on entry and labor-market flexibility also impact cost-efficiency. How do public schools hold up in these areas? Are their operational rules and procedures clear, concise, and easy to follow? Or does it take, say, 670 pages and whole cadres of lawyers, consultants, and administrative support staff just to implement a single program? Regarding entry, how easy is it to qualify as a member of the academy? Is anyone who demonstrates a potential aptitude for meeting the educational demands of students given the opportunity to try to do so? Or is club membership restricted by legal quotas and licensure requirements necessitating lengthy and expensive formal training?

And how flexible is the labor market? Can an underperforming or incompetent employee be readily replaced? Or does even a mere suspension require a hearing before a three-member commission?[2]

We do not have space here to speculate on all the optimizing innovations creative entrepreneurs might come up with, and to do so would be presumptuous in any case. As John Hasnas has pointed out, if we could forecast the future market accurately, our very ability to do this would be the greatest possible justification for central planning.[3] Suffice it to say that today’s public and government-regulated private schools dissipate resources with a profligacy that would have made Ludwig II blush. We can hardly claim, then, that these institutions — whose costs are externalized onto the whole society — are paragons of affordability. Yet education is not a capital-intensive industry, and market competition would surely eliminate most of this waste in short order, allowing educational entrepreneurs to reduce their costs, lower their prices, and take advantage of economies of scale. As for those few who might still be unable to pay, lower prices would mean that private scholarships, grants, and student loans would be available in greater abundance than they are today, and the latter would no longer require ten years of indentured servitude to pay off.

Just as with sugar, automobiles, civil aviation, and cell phones,[4] so too in education high initial profits would draw competition, increase supply, reduce cost, and multiply innovation. There is no reason for market-driven educational services tailored specifically to the desires of those who consume them to be prohibitively expensive.[5]

Argument 2: Quality

A second argument against leaving education to the market is that to do so would result in grave disparities in quality of service. The rich, it is said, would get steak, while the poor got rump roast. Of course, there is a kernel of truth in this. The more you are prepared to offer for something, the more quality you are in a position to demand. The market is indeed a place where the principle embodied in the cliché “You get what you pay for” prevails.

But what exactly do you pay for? The answer to this question is not necessarily obvious. To illustrate, I offer a personal example.

Many years ago, I worked at a tavern-style restaurant that was part of a nationwide chain. With its eclectic menu, modest prices, and dollar-a-mug draft beers, it was a place where families could go on a budget, and weekend drinkers could go on a binge. Not exactly Alain Ducasse, but we did offer a steak (T-bone, as I recall) for around $10. What is interesting about this is that right next door was a more upscale steakhouse that also served T-bone; only this one went for something like $22. Nothing unusual about that, but here’s the catch: both restaurants were owned by the same company and both served exactly the same T-bone steak.

At first blush, this seems absurd. Why would any company compete with itself? And why, for that matter, would anyone in his right mind pay $22 for a steak he could get for less than half that just by walking across the parking lot? Situations like this have led to calls for governments to step in and “protect” consumers from their own “irrationality.” But there is nothing irrational going on here. The two restaurants were not in competition, because they served different clientele, and patrons had definite reasons for the choices they made about which restaurant to patronize. Ours wanted to cut the frills, sit at the bar, and save money; theirs were willing to pay more than double the price for the plush seats, subdued ambience, and tuxedoed waiters. The essential thing, however, is that both were eating the same steak.

The relationship between price and quality is therefore not as straightforward as we might imagine. It is certainly true that you get what you pay for, but it is equally true that you pay for what you get. To be sure, on the education market, those with the wherewithal could attend schools equipped with indoor swimming pools, tennis courts, amphitheaters, and state-of-the-art IT. But this does not mean that everyone else could not make do with less extravagance and still get the same basic service.

Of course, all this in no way suggests that quality of educational services would be identical. Such a conclusion would be absurd. What we have demonstrated is simply the fallacious reasoning behind the common assumption that where price is low, product must be unsatisfactory. What does not satisfy is not profitable. Products and services that do not meet the needs of consumers — rich and poor — will soon have, not a low price, but no price.

Argument 3: Opportunity

We now turn to a final argument for public education that goes beyond economics, though even here there is a parallel. Deeply rooted in the belief that justice means equality and equality means identical circumstances, this view holds that educational standards and curricula must be essentially uniform for everyone if all students are to be given the same opportunity to succeed in life. Here, the anticipated failure of the market lies, not in its high prices or disparate quality, but in its presumably excessive flexibility and diversity. In essence, this argument is really nothing more than a special case of the more general socialist contempt for the division of labor. But what is the “division of labor” in education? What is its meaning, and why should we fear its emergence?

We are accustomed to conceiving of education, not as an abstraction, but as a “real thing” existing in the world outside; a commodity possessed by some people whom we call “teachers” and transferred, more or less mechanically, to other people called “students.” This habit of thought is reflected in our language: it is far more common to talk about getting an education than about becoming educated. Yet the greatest thinkers in this area have repeatedly emphasized that education is, in fact, a process of becoming. This is what Maria Montessori meant when she said that if our definition of education proceeds

along the same antiquated lines of a mere transmission of knowledge, there is little to be hoped from it in the bettering of man’s future. For what is the use of transmitting knowledge if the individual’s total development lags behind?

Montessori urged an approach to pedagogy that would “help toward the complete unfolding of life,” and “rigorously … avoid the arrest of spontaneous movements and the imposition of arbitrary tasks.”

John Dewey expressed similar views. In his seminal work Democracy and Education, Dewey places the onus of responsibility for education squarely on the shoulders of the individual student:

One is mentally an individual only as he has his own purpose and problem, and does his own thinking. The phrase “think for oneself” is a pleonasm. Unless one does it for oneself, it isn’t thinking. Only by a pupil’s own observations, reflections, framing and testing of suggestions can what he already knows be amplified and rectified. Thinking is as much an individual matter as is the digestion of food. [Moreover], there are variations of point of view, of appeal of objects, and of mode of attack, from person to person. When these variations are suppressed in the alleged interests of uniformity, and an attempt is made to have a single mold of method of study and recitation, mental confusion and artificiality inevitably result. Originality is gradually destroyed, confidence in one’s own quality of mental operation is undermined, and a docile subjection to the opinion of others is inculcated, or else ideas run wild. (p. 311–12)

For both Dewey and Montessori, education starts from the inside and moves outward.[6] Its purpose is to stimulate discovery and development of the personal resources latent within the self by allowing the student to experience the myriad possibilities for bringing them to bear creatively on the external world.

This means that becoming educated is not a matter of passively acquiring what is given, but of actively discovering what one has to give. It means that education does not create opportunity; opportunity creates education.

Regimentation and uniformity must therefore be jettisoned entirely; the individual must reign supreme within the sphere of his own development. The function of the school is to provide a stable environment rich in stimuli across a broad spectrum of disciplines, while the role of the teacher becomes primarily that of the observer who watches as closely — and intervenes as sparingly — as possible.

From this it follows that no two individuals would or could possibly educate themselves in exactly the same way. The self-directed intellectual, aesthetic, and spiritual explorations of millions of people simultaneously thus result in an unfathomable diversification of interests and activities that amounts to an educational “division of labor” — one that supports and enhances the division of labor of the market economy, and is in fact its logical precursor.

It must surely be obvious that such a philosophy is in every way wholly incompatible with systems of compulsory or universalized schooling aimed at “equalizing opportunity,” and moreover, that even to use the word opportunity in connection with compulsion or regimentation is to abuse language, otherwise we might just as well reinstate slavery in the name of providing equal “employment opportunity.”

Education, if it is to be worthy of the name, demands a method opposite to that of bureaucratic management and entirely irreconcilable with it. It requires flexibility, parsimony, innovation, and above all, a means of daily subjecting the producers of educational services to the competition of their peers and the approval or disapproval of their clients.

It requires, in other words, the free market.


$10.00 $7.00

In Slovenia where I teach, the verb “to learn” literally translates “to teach oneself.” If the truth behind this linguistic convention were widely recognized, it would discredit the very premise on which all systems of public education are founded. But, as the great economist Frédéric Bastiat warned more than a century and a half ago, there is a pronounced tendency when confronted with important questions to consider only what is seen and ignore that which is not seen. And this just as true in education as it is in economics. We see students go to school day after day for 12 years, do as they’re told, get their diplomas, and finally go on to do something with their lives. Perhaps from our vantage point it does not look so bad. But what we do not see is what they might have become had they been allowed to be the architects of their own fate from the beginning

Here are three quotes from John Holt. We need more John Holt types in what we call ‘education’ today.

“Education… now seems to me perhaps the most authoritarian and dangerous of
all the social inventions of mankind. It is the deepest foundation of the
modern slave state, in which most people feel themselves to be nothing but
producers, consumers, spectators, and ‘fans,’ driven more and more, in all
parts of their lives, by greed, envy, and fear. My concern is not to improve
‘education’ but to do away with it, to end the ugly and antihuman business of
people-shaping and to allow and help people to shape themselves.”
— John Holt
(1923-1985) American author and educator, proponent of homeschooling, and pioneer in youth rights theory
Source: Holt, J. (1967). How Children Learn. New York: Pitman Publishing Corporation

“I believe that we learn best when we, not others are deciding what we are
going to learn, and when we are choosing the people, materials, and experiences
from which we will be learning.”
— John Holt
(1923-1985) American author and educator, proponent of homeschooling, and pioneer in youth rights theory
Source: Holt, J. (1967). How Children Learn. New York: Pitman Publishing Corporation

“The most important thing any teacher has to learn, not to be learned in any
school of education I ever heard of, can be expressed in seven words: Learning
is not the product of teaching. Learning is the product of the activity of
— John Holt
(1923-1985) American author and educator, proponent of homeschooling, and pioneer in youth rights theory
Source: Holt, J. (1967). How Children Learn. New York: Pitman Publishing Corporation

If you are a parent of school-age children, this is an excellent, must read essay published in Harper’s Magazine in June 1985. I graduated from college that same year with an education degree. I joined the army of mediocrity to teach compliance, unquestioned obedience, and submission to tyranny. My college professors told romanticized lies about “making a difference” and “changing the world” through education. I quickly discovered that State schools teach us how not to think. I hope you enjoy the essay and consider sharing with others.

Source: The Underground Grammarian (A site dedicated to the late Richard Mitchell)

Why Johnny Can’t Think

The Politics of Bad Schooling

by Walter Karp
(from Harper’s Magazine, June 1985)

The following books are discussed in this essay:
A Place Called School, by John I. Goodlad
The Good High School, by Sara Lawrence Lightfoot
Horace’s Compromise: The Dilemma of the American High School, by Theodore R. Sizer
High School: A Report on Secondary Education in America, by Ernest L. Boyer and the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching
A Nation at Risk: The Imperative for Educational Reform, by the National Commission on Excellence in Education
The Great School Debate: Which Way for American Education?, edited by Beatrice and Ronald Gross
The Challenge to American Schools, edited by John Bunzel
The Troubled Crusade: American Education 1945-1980, by Diane Ravitch

Until very recently, remarkably little was known about what actually goes on in America’s public schools. There were no reliable answers to even the most obvious questions. How many children are taught to read in overcrowded classrooms? How prevalent is rote learning and how common are classroom discussions? Do most schools set off gongs to mark the change of “periods”? Is it a common practice to bark commands over public address systems in the manner of army camps, prisons, and banana republics? Public schooling provides the only intense experience of a public realm that most Americans will ever know. Are school buildings designed with the dignity appropriate to a great republican institution, or are most of them as crummy looking as one’s own?

The darkness enveloping America’s public schools is truly extraordinary considering that 38.9 million students attend them, that we spend nearly $134 billion a year on them, and that foundations ladle out generous sums for the study of everything about schooling–except what really occurs in the schools. John I. Goodlad’s eight-year investigation of a mere thirty-eight of America’s 80,000 public schools–the result of which, A Place Called School, was published last year–is the most comprehensive such study ever undertaken. Hailed as a “landmark in American educational research,” it was financed with great difficulty. The darkness, it seems, has its guardians.

Happily, the example of Goodlad, a former dean of UCLA’s Graduate School of Education, has proven contagious. A flurry of new books sheds considerable light on the practice of public education in America. In The Good High School, Sara Lawrence Lightfoot offers vivid “portraits” of six distinctive American secondary schools. In Horace’s Compromise, Theodore R. Sizer, a former dean of Harvard’s Graduate School of Education, reports on his two-year odyssey through public high schools around the country. Even High School, a white paper issued by Ernest L. Boyer and the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching, is supported by a close investigation of the institutional life of a number of schools. Of the books under review, only A Nation at Risk, the report of the Reagan Administration’s National Commission on Excellence in Education, adheres to the established practice of crass special pleading in the dark.

Thanks to Goodlad et al., it is now clear what the great educational darkness has so long concealed: the depth and pervasiveness of political hypocrisy in the common schools of the country. The great ambition professed by public school managers is, of course, education for citizenship and self-government, which harks back to Jefferson’s historic call for “general education to enable every man to judge for himself what will secure or endanger his freedom.” What the public schools practice with remorseless proficiency, however, is the prevention of citizenship and the stifling of self-government. When 58 percent of the thirteen-year-olds tested by the National Assessment for Educational Progress think it is against the law to start a third party in America, we are dealing not with a sad educational failure but with a remarkably subtle success.

Passive, Docile Students

Consider how effectively America’s future citizens are trained not to judge for themselves about anything. From the first grade to the twelfth, from one coast to the other, instruction in America’s classrooms is almost entirely dogmatic. Answers are “right” and answers are “wrong,” but mostly answers are short. “At all levels, [teacher-made] tests called almost exclusively for short answers and recall of information,” reports Goodlad. In more than 1,000 classrooms visited by his researchers, “only rarely” was there “evidence to suggest instruction likely to go much beyond mere possession of information to a level of understanding its implications.” Goodlad goes on to note that “the intellectual terrain is laid out by the teacher. The paths for walking through it are largely predetermined by the teacher.” The give-and-take of genuine discussion is conspicuously absent. “Not even 1%” of instructional time, he found, was devoted to discussions that “required some kind of open response involving reasoning or perhaps an opinion from students…. The extraordinary degree of student passivity stands out.”

Sizer’s research substantiates Goodlad’s. “No more important finding has emerged from the inquiries of our study than that the American high school student, as student, is all too often docile, compliant, and without initiative.” There is good reason for this. On the one hand, notes Sizer, there are too few rewards for being inquisitive.” On the other, the heavy emphasis on “the right answer … smothers the student’s efforts to become an effective intuitive thinker.”

Yet smothered minds are looked on with the utmost complacency by the educational establishment–by the Reagan Department of Education, state boards of regents, university education departments, local administrators, and even many so-called educational reformers. Teachers are neither urged to combat the tyranny of the short right answer nor trained to do so. “Most teachers simply do not know how to reach for higher levels of thinking,” says Goodlad. Indeed, they are actively discouraged from trying to do so.

The discouragement can be quite subtle. In their orientation talks to new, inexperienced teachers, for example, school administrators often indicate that they do not much care what happens in class so long as no noise can be heard in the hallway. This thinly veiled threat virtually ensures the prevalence of short-answer drills, workbook exercises, and the copying of long extracts from the blackboard. These may smother young minds, but they keep the classroom Quiet.

Discouragement even calls itself reform. Consider the current cry for greater use of standardized student tests to judge the “merit” of teachers and raise “academic standards.” If this fake reform is foisted on the schools, dogma and docility will become even more prevalent. This point is well made by Linda Darling-Hammond of the Rand Corporation in an essay in The Great School Debate. Where “important decisions are based on test scores,” she notes, “teachers are more likely to teach to the tests” and less likely to bother with “nontested activities, such as writing, speaking, problem-solving or real reading of real books.” The most influential promoter of standardized tests is the “excellence” brigade in the Department of Education; so clearly one important meaning of “educational excellence” is greater proficiency in smothering students’ efforts to think for themselves.

Probably the greatest single discouragement to better instruction is the overcrowded classroom. The Carnegie report points out that English teachers cannot teach their students how to write when they must read and criticize the papers of as many as 175 students. As Sizer observes, genuine discussion is possible only in small seminars. In crowded classrooms, teachers have difficulty imparting even the most basic intellectual skills, since they have no time to give students personal attention. The overcrowded classroom inevitably debases instruction, yet it is the rule in America’s public schools. In the first three grades of elementary school, Goodlad notes, the average class has twenty-seven students. High school classes range from twenty-five to forty students, according to the Carnegie report.

What makes these conditions appalling is that they are quite unnecessary. The public schools are top-heavy with administrators and rife with sinecures. Large numbers of teachers scarcely ever set foot in a classroom, being occupied instead as grade advisers, career counselors, “coordinators,” and supervisors. “Schools, if simply organized,” Sizer writes, “can have well-paid faculty and fewer than eighty students per teacher (16 students per class without increasing current per-pupil expenditure.” Yet no serious effort is being made to reduce class size. As Sizer notes, “Reducing teacher load is, when all the negotiating is over, a low agenda item for the unions and school boards.” Overcrowded classrooms virtually guarantee smothered minds, yet the subject is not even mentioned in A Nation at Risk, for all its well-publicized braying about a “rising tide of mediocrity.”

Do the nation’s educators really want to teach almost 40 million students how to “think critically,” in the Carnegie report’s phrase, and “how to judge for themselves,” in Jefferson’s? The answer is, if you can believe that you will believe anything. The educational establishment is not even content to produce passive minds. It seeks passive spirits as well. One effective agency for producing these is the overly populous school. The larger schools are, the more prison-like they tend to be. In such schools, guards man the stairwells and exits. ID cards and “passes” are examined at checkpoints. Bells set off spasms of anarchy and bells quell the student mob. PA systems interrupt regularly with trivial fiats and frivolous announcements. This “malevolent intruder,” in Sizer’s apt phrase, is truly ill willed, for the PA system is actually an educational tool. It teaches the huge student mass to respect the authority of disembodied voices and the rule of remote and invisible agencies. Sixty-three percent of all high school students in America attend schools with enrollments of 5,000 or more. The common excuse for these mobbed schools is economy, but in fact they cannot be shown to save taxpayers a penny. Large schools “tend to create passive and compliant students,” notes Robert B. Hawkins Jr. in an essay in The Challenge to American Schools. That is their chief reason for being.

“How can the relatively passive and docile roles of students prepare them to participate as informed, active and questioning citizens?” asks the Carnegie report, in discussing the “hidden curriculum” of passivity in the schools. The answer is, they were not meant to. Public schools introduce future citizens to the public world, but no introduction could be more disheartening. Architecturally, public school buildings range from drab to repellent. They are often disfigured by demoralizing neglect–“cracked sidewalks, a shabby lawn, and peeling paint on every window sash,” to quote the Carnegie report. Many big-city elementary schools have numbers instead of names, making them as coldly dispiriting as possible.

Stamping Out Republican Sentiment

Public schools stamp out republican sentiment by habituating their students to unfairness, inequality, and special privilege. These arise inevitably from the educational establishment’s longstanding policy (well described by Diane Ravitch in The Troubled Crusade) of maintaining “the correlation between social class and educational achievement.” In order to preserve that factitious “correlation,” public schooling is rigged to favor middle-class students and to ensure that working-class students do poorly enough to convince them that they fully merit the lowly station that will one day be theirs. “Our goal is to get these kids to be like their parents,” one teacher, more candid than most, remarked to a Carnegie researcher.

For more than three decades, elementary schools across the country practiced a “progressive,” non-phonetic method of teaching reading that had nothing much to recommend it save its inherent social bias. According to Ravitch, this method favored “children who were already motivated and prepared to begin reading” before entering school, while making learning to read more difficult for precisely those children whose parents were ill read or ignorant. The advantages enjoyed by the well-bred were thus artificially multiplied tenfold, and 23 million adult Americans are today “functional illiterates.” America’s educators, notes Ravitch, have “never actually accepted full responsibility for making all children literate.”

That describes a malicious intent a trifle too mildly. Reading is the key to everything else in school. Children who struggle with it in the first grade will be “grouped” with the slow readers in the second grade and will fall hopelessly behind in all subjects by the sixth. The schools hasten this process of failing behind, report Goodlad and others, by giving the best students the best teachers and struggling students the worst ones. “It is ironic,” observes the Carnegie report, “that those who need the most help get the least.” Such students are commonly diagnosed as “culturally deprived” and so are blamed for the failures inflicted on them. Thus, they are taught to despise themselves even as they are inured to their inferior station.

The whole system of unfairness, inequality, and privilege comes to fruition in high school. There, some 15.7 million youngsters are formally divided into the favored few and the ill-favored many by the practice of “tracking.” About 35 percent of America’s public secondary-school students are enrolled in academic programs (often subdivided into “gifted” and “non-gifted” tracks); the rest are relegated to some variety of non-academic schooling. Thus the tracking system, as intended, reproduces the divisions of the class system. “The honors programs,” notes Sizer, “serve the wealthier youngsters, and the general tracks (whatever their titles) serve the working class. Vocational programs are often a cruel social dumping ground.” The bottom-dogs are trained for jobs as auto mechanics, cosmeticians, and institutional cooks, but they rarely get the jobs they are trained for. Pumping gasoline, according to the Carnegie report, is as close as an auto mechanics major is likely to get to repairing a car. “Vocational education in the schools is virtually irrelevant to job fate,” asserts Goodlad. It is merely the final hoax that the school bureaucracy plays on the neediest, one that the federal government has been promoting for seventy years.

The tracking system makes privilege and inequality blatantly visible to everyone. It creates under one roof “two worlds of schooling,” to quote Goodlad. Students in academic programs read Shakespeare’s plays. The commonality, notes the Carnegie report. are allowed virtually no contact with serious literature. In their English classes they practice filling out job applications. “Gifted” students alone are encouraged to think for themselves. The rest are subjected to sanctimonious wind, chiefly about “work habits” and “career opportunities.”

“If you are the child of low-income parents,” reports Sizer, “the chances are good that you will receive limited and often careless attention from adults in your high school. If you are the child of upper-middle-income parents, the chances are good that you will receive substantial and careful attention.” In Brookline High School in Massachusetts, one of Lightfoot’s “good” schools, a few fortunate students enjoy special treatment in their Advanced Placement classes. Meanwhile, students tracked into “career education” learn about “institutional cooking and clean-up” in a four-term Food Service course that requires them to mop up after their betters in the school cafeteria.

This wretched arrangement expresses the true spirit of public education in America and discloses the real aim of its hidden curriculum. A favored few, pampered and smiled upon, are taught to cherish privilege and despise the disfavored. The favorless many, who have majored in failure for years, are taught to think ill of themselves. Youthful spirits are broken to the world and every impulse of citizenship is effectively stifled. John Goodlad’s judgment is severe but just: “There is in the gap between our highly idealistic goals for schooling in our society and the differentiated opportunities condoned and supported in schools a monstrous hypocrisy.”

Phony Reforms

The public schools of America have not been corrupted for trivial reasons. Much would be different in a republic composed of citizens who could judge for themselves what secured or endangered their freedom. Every wielder of illicit or undemocratic power, every possessor of undue influence, every beneficiary of corrupt special privilege would find his position and tenure at hazard. Republican education is a menace to powerful, privileged, and influential people, and they in turn are a menace to republican education. That is why the generation that founded the public schools took care to place them under the suffrage of local communities, and that is why the corrupters of public education have virtually destroyed that suffrage. In 1932 there were 127,531 school districts in America. Today there are approximately 15,840 and they are virtually impotent, their proper role having been usurped by state and federal authorities. Curriculum and text. books, methods of instruction, the procedures of the classroom, the organization of the school day, the cant, the pettifogging, and the corruption are almost uniform from coast to coast. To put down the menace of republican education its shield of local self-government had to be smashed, and smashed it was.

The public schools we have today are what the powerful and the considerable have made of them. They will not be redeemed by trifling reforms. Merit pay, a longer school year, more homework, special schools for “the gifted,” and more standardized tests will not even begin to turn our public schools into nurseries of “informed, active and questioning citizens.” They are not meant to. When the authors of A Nation at Risk call upon the schools to create an “educated work force,” they are merely sanctioning the prevailing corruption, which consists precisely in the reduction of citizens to credulous workers. The education of a free people will not come from federal bureaucrats crying up “excellence” for “economic growth,” any more than it came from their predecessors who cried up schooling as a means to “get a better job.”

Only ordinary citizens can rescue the schools from their stifling corruption, for nobody else wants ordinary children to become questioning citizens at all. If we wait for the mighty to teach America’s youth what secures or endangers their freedom, we will wait until the crack of doom.




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I saw this article over at a short time back. I got sidetracked and didn’t post it. I found it again when I followed Strangers and Aliens today. Great post!

Strangers and Aliens







by Anthony Wile
The Daily Bell

Introduction: Brett Veinotte has worked in private education for the last 10 years, in a variety of activities. As host of the School Sucks Podcast, every week Brett shares his discoveries about American schooling with thousands of listeners. He is also now the vice president of a tutoring and educational consulting company in New Hampshire. Brett worked as an Outdoor Education Leader at a boarding school lin Vermont in 2000, then taught at the Great Expectations school in Manchester, Vermont from 2004 to 2006, where he designed new curricula for all classes he taught, including American History, World History, Media Ethics, Film History and a variety of mathematics courses. While teaching at Great Expectations, he completed masters level coursework in educational leadership, and the secondary education certification program at Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts. After…

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As a government school teacher, what is stated below is true of our system of forced schooling in America. I work with many caring and devoted teachers, yet we can’t overcome the Leviathan system from which we are forced to ‘teach’. Below is a great eye-opener from PecanGroup to slumbering herd.

Seven Sins of Our System of Forced Education

On September 9, 2011, in US NEWS, by PecanGroup

Seven Deadly sins Seven Sins of Our System of Forced EducationIn my last post I took a step that, I must admit, made me feel uncomfortable. I said, several times: “School is prison.” I felt uncomfortable saying that because school is so much a part of my life and the lives of almost everyone I know. I, like most people I know, went through the full 12 years of public schooling. My mother taught in a public school for several years. My beloved half-sister is a public schoolteacher. I have many dear friends and cousins who are public schoolteachers. How can I say that these good people–who love children and have poured themselves passionately into the task of trying to help children–are involved in a system of imprisoning children? The comments on my last post showed that my references to school as prison made some other people feel uncomfortable also.

Sometimes I find, no matter how uncomfortable it makes me and others feel, I have to speak the truth. We can use all the euphemisms we want, but the literal truth is that schools, as they generally exist in the United States and other modern countries, are prisons. Human beings within a certain age range (most commonly 6 to 16) are required by law to spend a good portion of their time there, and while there they are told what they must do, and the orders are generally enforced. They have no or very little voice in forming the rules they must follow. A prison–according to the common, general definition–is any place of involuntary confinement and restriction of liberty.

Now you might argue that schools as we know them are good, or necessary; but you can’t argue that they are not prisons. To argue the latter would be to argue that we do not, in fact, have a system of compulsory education. Either that, or it would be a semantic argument in which you would claim that prison actually means something different from its common, general definition. I think it is important, in any serious discussion, to use words honestly.

Sometimes people use the word prison in a metaphorical sense to refer to any situation in which they must follow rules or do things that are unpleasant. In that spirit, some adults might refer to their workplace as a prison, or even to their marriage as a prison. But that is not a literal use of the term, because those examples involve voluntary, not involuntary restraint. It is against the law in this and other democratic countries to force someone to work at a job where the person doesn’t want to work, or to marry someone that he or she doesn’t want to marry. It is not against the law, however, to force a child to go to school; in fact, it is against the law to not force a child to go to school if you are the parent and the child doesn’t want to go. (Yes, I know, some parents have the wherewithal to find alternative schooling or provide home schooling that is acceptable to both the child and the state, but that is not the norm in today’s society; and the laws in many states and countries work strongly against such alternatives.) So, while jobs and marriages might in some sad cases feel like prisons, schools generally are prisons.

Now here’s another term that I think deserves to be said out loud: Forced education. Like the term prison, this term sounds harsh. But, again, if we have compulsory education, then we have forced education. The term compulsory, if it has any meaning at all, means that the person has no choice about it.

The question worth debating is this: Is forced education–and the consequential imprisonment of children–a good thing or a bad thing? Most people seem to believe that it is, all in all, a good thing; but I think that it is, all in all, a bad thing. I outline here some of the reasons why I think this, in a list of what I refer to as “seven sins” of our system of forced education:

 1. Denial of liberty on the basis of age.

In my system of values, and in that long endorsed by democratic thinkers, it is wrong to deny anyone liberty without just cause. To incarcerate an adult we must prove, in a court of law, that the person has committed a crime or is a serious threat to herself or others. Yet we incarcerate children and teenagers in school just because of their age. This is the most blatant of the sins of forced education.

2. Fostering of shame, on the one hand, and hubris, on the other.

It is not easy to force people to do what they do not want to do. We no longer use the cane, as schoolmasters once did, but instead rely on a system of incessant testing, grading, and ranking of children compared with their peers. We thereby tap into and distort the human emotional systems of shame and pride to motivate children to do the work. Children are made to feel ashamed if they perform worse than their peers and pride if they perform better. Shame leads some to drop out, psychologically, from the educational endeavor and to become class clowns (not too bad), or bullies (bad), or drug abusers and dealers (very bad). Those made to feel excessive pride from the shallow accomplishments that earn them A’s and honors may become arrogant, disdainful of the common lot who don’t do so well on tests; disdainful, therefore, of democratic values and processes (and this may be the worst effect of all).

3. Interference with the development of cooperation and nurturance.

We are an intensely social species, designed for cooperation. Children naturally want to help their friends, and even in school they find ways to do so. But our competition-based system of ranking and grading students works against the cooperative drive. Too much help given by one student to another is cheating. Helping others may even hurt the helper, by raising the grading curve and lowering the helper’s position on it. Some of those students who most strongly buy into school understand this well; they become ruthless achievers. Moreover, as I have argued in previous posts (see especially Sept. 24, 2008), the forced age segregation that occurs in school itself promotes competition and bullying and inhibits the development of nurturance. Throughout human history, children and adolescents have learned to be caring and helpful through their interactions with younger children. The age-graded school system deprives them of such opportunities.

4. Interference with the development of personal responsibility and self-direction.

A theme of the entire series of essays in this blog is that children are biologically predisposed to take responsibility for their own education (for an introduction, see July 16, 2008, post). They play and explore in ways that allow them to learn about the social and physical world around them. They think about their own future and take steps to prepare themselves for it. By confining children to school and to other adult-directed settings, and by filling their time with assignments, we deprive them of the opportunities and time they need to assume such responsibility. Moreover, the implicit and sometimes explicit message of our forced schooling system is: “If you do what you are told to do in school, everything will work out well for you.” Children who buy into that may stop taking responsibility for their own education. They may assume falsely that someone else has figured out what they need to know to become successful adults, so they don’t have to think about it. If their life doesn’t work out so well, they take the attitude of a victim: “My school (or parents or society) failed me, and that’s why my life is all screwed up.”

5. Linking of learning with fear, loathing, and drudgery.

For many students, school generates intense anxiety associated with learning. Students who are just learning to read and are a little slower than the rest feel anxious about reading in front of others. Tests generate anxiety in almost everyone who takes them seriously. Threats of failure and the shame associated with failure generate enormous anxiety in some. I have found in my college teaching of statistics that a high percentage of students, even at my rather elite university, suffer from math anxiety, apparently because of the humiliation they have experienced pertaining to math in school. A fundamental psychological principle is that anxiety inhibits learning. Learning occurs best in a playful state, and anxiety inhibits playfulness. The forced nature of schooling turns learning into work. Teachers even call it work: “You must do your work before you can play.” So learning, which children biologically crave, becomes toil–something to be avoided whenever possible.

6. Inhibition of critical thinking.

Presumably, one of the great general goals of education is the promotion of critical thinking. But despite all the lip service that educators devote to that goal, most students–including most “honors students”–learn to avoid thinking critically about their schoolwork. They learn that their job in school is to get high marks on tests and that critical thinking only wastes time and interferes. To get a good grade, you need to figure out what the teacher wants you to say and then say it. I’ve heard that sentiment expressed countless times by college students as well as by high-school students, in discussions held outside the classroom. I’ve devoted a lot of effort toward promoting critical thinking at the college level; I’ve developed a system of teaching designed to promote it, written articles about it, and given many talks about it at conferences on teaching. I’ll devote a future post or two in this blog to the topic. But, truth be told, the grading system, which is the chief motivator in our system of education, is a powerful force against honest debate and critical thinking in the classroom. In a system in which we teachers do the grading, few students are going to criticize or even question the ideas we offer; and if we try to induce criticism by grading for it, we generate false criticism.

7. Reduction in diversity of skills, knowledge, and ways of thinking.

By forcing all schoolchildren through the same standard curriculum, we reduce their opportunities to follow alternative pathways. The school curriculum represents a tiny subset of the skills and knowledge that are important to our society. In this day and age, nobody can learn more than a sliver of all there is to know. Why force everyone to learn the same sliver? When children are free–as I have observed at the Sudbury Valley School and others have observed with unschoolers–they take new, diverse, and unpredicted paths. They develop passionate interests, work diligently to become experts in the realms that fascinate them, and then find ways of making a living by pursuing their interests. Students forced through the standard curriculum have much less time to pursue their own interests, and many learn well the lesson that their own interests don’t really count; what counts is what’s measured on the schools’ tests. Some get over that, but too many do not.
This list of “sins” is not novel. Many teachers I have spoken with are quite aware of all of these detrimental effects of forced education, and many work hard to try to counteract them. Some try to instill as much of a sense of freedom and play as the system permits; many do what they can to mute the shame of failure and reduce anxiety; most try to allow and promote cooperation and compassion among the students, despite the barriers against it; many do what they can to allow and promote critical thinking. But the system works against them. It may even be fair to say that teachers in our school system are no more free to teach as they wish than are students free to learn as they wish. (But teachers, unlike students, are free to quit; so they are not in prison.)

I must also add that human beings, especially young human beings, are remarkably adaptive and resourceful. Many students find ways to overcome the negative feelings that forced schooling engenders and to focus on the positive. They fight the sins. They find ways to cooperate, to play, to help one another overcome feelings of shame, to put undue pride in its place, to combat bullies, to think critically, and to spend some time on their true interests despite the forces working against them in school. But to do all this while also satisfying the demands of the forced education takes great effort, and many do not succeed. At minimum, the time students must spend on wasteful busywork and just following orders in school detracts greatly from the time they can use to educate themselves.

I have listed here “seven sins” of forced education, but I have resisted the temptation to call them the seven sins. There may be more than seven. I invite you to add more, in the comments section below.

Finally, I add that I do not believe that we should just do away with schools and replace them with nothing. Children educate themselves, but we adults have a responsibility to provide settings that allow them to do that in an optimal manner. That is the topic of my next post

Here’s a post over at Forbes by Jessica Hagy (she blogs at Indexed) describing Nine Dangerous Things You Were Taught In School. This is only the tip of the proverbial ice burg sinking students in the icy waters of statist-run government ‘education’. I’ve written much about what I observe daily in the propaganda center/re-education camp paying me to ‘teach’ young minds. Hat tip to Ms. Hagy for her excellent thoughts and graphics! Find the full article below… And check out her blog.

Nine Dangerous Things You Were Taught In School
Be aware of the insidious and unspoken lessons you learned as a child. To thrive in the world outside the classroom, you’re going to have to unlearn them.

Dangerous things you were taught in school:

1. The people in charge have all the answers.
That’s why they are so wealthy and happy and healthy and powerful—ask any teacher.


2. Learning ends when you leave the classroom.
Your fort building, trail forging, frog catching, friend making, game playing, and drawing won’t earn you any extra credit. Just watch TV.

3 . The best and brightest follow the rules.
You will be rewarded for your subordination, just not as much as your superiors, who, of course, have their own rules.

. What the books say is always true.
Now go read your creationism chapter. There will be a test.



5. There is a very clear, single path to success.
It’s called college. Everyone can join the top 1% if they do well enough in school and ignore the basic math problem inherent in that idea.


6. Behaving yourself is as important as getting good marks.
Whistle-blowing, questioning the status quo, and thinking your own thoughts are no-nos. Be quiet and get back on the assembly line.


7. Standardized tests measure your value.
By value, I’m talking about future earning potential, not anything else that might have other kinds of value.

8. Days off are always more fun than sitting in the classroom.
You are trained from a young age to base your life around dribbles of allocated vacation. Be grateful for them.

9. The purpose of your education is your future career.
And so you will be taught to be a good worker. You have to teach yourself how to be something more.

On my daily stroll through the LRC I found another great article by Fred Reed. Keeping it real is what Fred does best. Enjoy!

A Taste of Realism


May 1, 2012

I wonder what purpose the public schools serve, other than to warehouse children while their parents work or watch television. They certainly don’t teach much, as survey after survey shows. Is there any particular reason for having them? Apart from their baby-sitting function, I mean.

Schooling, sez me, should be adapted to the needs and capacities of those being schooled. For unintelligent children, the study of anything beyond minimal reading is a waste of time, since they will learn little or nothing more. For the intelligent, a public schooling is equivalent to tying an anchor to a student swimmer. The schools are an impediment to learning, a torture of the bright, and a form of negligent homicide against a country that needs trained minds in a competitive world.

Let us start with the truly stupid. Millions of children graduate—“graduate”—from high school—“high school”—unable to read. Why inflict twelve years of misery on them? It is not reasonable to blame them for being witless, but neither does it make sense to pretend that they are not. For them school is custodial, nothing more. Since there is little they can do in a technological society, they will remain in custody all their lives. This happens, and must happen, however we disguise it.

For those of reasonably average acuity, it little profits to go beyond learning to read, which they can do quite well, and to use a calculator. Upon their leaving high school, question them and you find that they know almost nothing. They could learn more, average not being stupid, but modest intelligence implies no interest in study. This is true only of academic subjects such as history, literature, and physics. They will study things that seem practical to them. Far better to teach the modestly acute such things as will allow them to earn a living, be they typing, carpentry, or diesel repair. Society depends on such people. But why inflict upon them the geography of Southeast Asia, the plays of Shakespeare, or the history of the nineteenth century? Demonstrably they remember none of it.

Some who favor the public schools assert that an informed public is necessary to a functioning democracy. True, and beyond doubt. But we do not have an informed public, never have had one, and never will. Nor, really, do we have a functioning democracy.

Any survey will reveal that most people have no grasp of geography, history, law, government, finance, international relations, or politics. And most people have neither the intelligence nor the interest to learn these things. If schools were not the disasters they are, they still couldn’t produce a public able to govern a nation.

But it is for the intelligent that the public schools—“schools”—are most baneful. It is hideous for the bright, especially bright boys, to sit year after year in an inescapable miasma of appalling dronedom while some low-voltage mental drab wanders on about banalities that would depress a garden slug. The public schools are worse than no schools for the quick. A sharp kid often arrives at school already reading. Very quickly he (or, most assuredly, she) reads four years ahead of grade. These children teach themselves. They read indiscriminately, without judgement—at first anyway—and pick up ideas, facts, and vocabulary. They also begin to think.

In school, bored to desperation, they invent subterfuges so as not to lapse into screaming insanity. In my day the tops of desks opened to reveal a space for storing crayons and such. The bright would keep the top open enough so that they could read their astronomy books while the teacher—“teacher”—talked about some family of cute beavers, and how Little Baby Beaver….

I ask you: How much did you learn in school, and how much have you learned on your own? Asking myself the same question, I come up with typing, and two years of algebra.

The bright should go to school, but it is well to distinguish between a school and a penitentiary. They need schools at their level, taught by teachers at their level. It is not hard to get intelligent children to learn things, and indeed today a whole system of day-care centers only partly succeeds in keeping them from doing it. They like learning things, if only you keep those wretched beavers out of the classroom. When I was in grade school in the early Fifties, bright kids read, shrew-like, four times their body weight in books every fifteen minutes—or close, anyway. In third grade or so, they had microscopes (Gilbert for hoi polloi, but mine was a fifteen-dollar upscale model from Edmund Scientific) and knew about rotifers and Canada balsam and well slides and planaria. These young, out of human decency, for the benefit of the country, should not be subjected to public education—“education.” Where do we think high-bypass turbofans come from? Are they invented by heart-warming morons?

To a remarkable extent, dumb-ass public schools are simply not necessary. I asked my (Mexican) wife Violeta how she learned to read. It was through a Head Start program, I learned, called “mi padre.” Her father, himself largely self-taught, sat her down with a book and said, see these little squiggles? They are called “letters,” and they make sounds, and you can put them together….. Vi contemplated the idea. Yes, it made sense. Actually, she decided, it was no end of fun, give me that book…Bingo.

The absorptive capacity of smart kids is large if you just stay out of their way. A bright boy of eleven can quickly master a collegiate text of physiology, for example. This is less astonishing than perhaps it sounds. The human body consists of comprehensible parts that do comprehensible things. If he is interested, which is the key, he will learn them, while apparently being unable to learn state capitals, which don’t interest him.

What is the point of pretending to teach the unteachable while, to all appearances, trying not to teach the easily teachable? The answer of course is that we have achieved communism, the rule of the proletariat, and the proletariat doesn’t want to strain itself, or to admit that there are things it can’t do.

In schooling, perhaps “from each according to his abilities, to each according to his needs” isn’t a bad idea. If a child has a substantial IQ, expect him to use it for the good of society, and give him schools to let him do it. If a child needs a vocation so as to live, give him the training he needs. But don’t subject either to enstupidated, unbearably tedious, pointless, one-size-fits-nobody pseudo-schools to hide the inescapable fact that we are not all equal.

Fred Reed is author of Nekkid in Austin: Drop Your Inner Child Down a Well, A Brass Pole in Bangkok: A Thing I Aspire to Bem, Curmudgeing Through Paradise: Reports from a Fractal Dung Beetle, Au Phuc Dup and Nowhere to Go: The Only Really True Book About Viet Nam, and A Grand Adventure: Wisdom’s Price-Along with Bits and Pieces about Mexico. Visit his blog.

Copyright © 2012 Fred Reed