School: Critical Studies of Schooling
The Critical Studies of Schooling Weblog (via Pearl) is an interesting reading journal that tracks the author's explorations of alternative forms of education. I came across some interesting perspectives...
The Unprocessed Child: Living Without School
I followed a link in the lead entry and found a reference to The Unprocessed Child that gets to the heart of the matter (bold text is mine):
We’ve all heard the societal cry to put children first, but this cry is usually followed by a call to give them a better education. In the past twenty years I have observed the relentless linking of children to school. Everything that a child does is in some way affiliated to school; everything that is said to a child revolves around the topic of school. It is as if the concept of school is the only way others can relate to a child.
This is a good example of how our often invisible assumptions can be made visible. There is a sense of resonance with the ideas developed by Neil Postman.
Another quote that clearly shows an understanding of learning as something separate and distinct from education:
Learning does not stop when a person leaves school; in fact that is when true learning begins. Life is full of experiences waiting to be lived, learned and enjoyed, and twelve years of compulsory schooling only serve to postpone natural learning or dispel the desire completely from the individual.
There is wisdom in these words, and the author speaks from experience. Her daughter, Laurie, was raised using methods of "unschooling" and "attachment parenting."
Another worthwhile perspective to explore would be how the effects of schooling influence our lives throughout adulthood. We often assume that once our education is "finished" another phase of our lives (frequently referred to as "work" or "career") as something separate and distinct. Of course, we might say that the "knowledge" we acquired in school, if it can truly be called that, is "used" in our careers and on one simplistic level this is true. However, the experience of twelve plus years in a rigid heirarchy of mass communication known as curriculum also affects our emotions, our habits, our beliefs - our psychology - that is a underlying pulse in our being. It is a mistake to believe that we are not psychologically altered in some way due to the effects of schooling as technology.
Organization Without Authority: Dilemmas of Social Control in Free Schools
Another entry explores a book called Organization Without Authority by Ann Swindler. Of course, the idea of "abolishing" authority is nonsensical, but the idea of renewing our understanding of authority is important. While I don't support the notion of contrasting "freedom" with "authority" the point is that the kind, type and style of authority that currently exists in the school system is something far less than useful.
School is Dead: Alternatives in Education, An Indictment of the system and a Strategy of Revolution
A quotation is provided that again gets to the core problems in our antiquated ideas about schooling:
Reimer writes that institutionalized school fulfills four distinct functions (33):
- custodial care: this is where most of the school budget goes - child care
- social-role selection: the sorting of the young into social slots they will occupy in adult life
- indoctrination: children learn conformity, hierarchy, and dependency on others for learning what is deemed important
- education as defined in terms of the development of skills and knowledge: The real question, writes Reimer, is whether children can’t learn more/better on their own outside of compulsory schooling. “People forget that there were educated men (sic) before there were schools…” (92)
The Critical Studies of Schooling Weblog is a good resource for those of us interested in "alternative" methods of schooling (if we assume that the term "alternative schooling" makes sense in the first place). Many of the issues described in the free schooling movement (or unschooling) have been written about extensively.
What I find most interesting is that even with the important and valuable ideas and projects that have arised out of the alternative stream of thought, as well as the practical successes that have arised from it, there has been a comprehensive failure of the education system to adopt these ideas in a manner that promotes systemic and durable change at a fundamental level.
In fact, in recent years, I would say that the education system has in many ways intensified the methods and processes that have been, quite correctly to my thinking, strongly criticized by those who are able to see beyond the machine.
I still maintain that the source of education should not lie in our old and tired notions of knowledge, skills and attitudes - the cogs and wheels of curriculum. People, in my experience, are not inspired by abstraction and categorization. They are inspired by other people - the authentic experiences of people in real life situations and circumstances admidst the confluence of everyday life.
Students are NOT objects of design, they ARE the source of design - this is a fundamental change that must be addressed. This is a renewal of our understanding of authority and control. An education system that treats students (and teachers for that matter since they are typically only the messenger of the curriculum) as the former is both disrespectful, hopelessly controlling and decidedly ignorant.
Other approaches exist. We do not need to invent more and more alternatives. We do not need more visionaires shouting the wares at us. We are confounded by this simplicity and instead seek to make education more and more complex. The real question is, "Why, in the face of all the wonderful ideas and opportunities that exist for education, do we as a society - a culture - continue to make vacuous modifications, continually fall back on past processes in spite of all our modern technology, play frivilous language games describing "new" theories and methods, and still completely fail to challenge the underlying mechanism."
Perhaps the education system itself has no capacity to learn. And without learning, there is no opportunity to grow.