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Nuts And Bolts
Let me end this book, my testament, with a warning: only the fresh air from millions upon millions of freely made choices will create the educational climate we need to realize a better destiny. No team of experts can possibly possess the wisdom to impose a successful solution to the problem inherent in a philosophy of centralized social management; solutions that endure are always local, always personal. Universal prescriptions are the problem of modern schooling, academic research which pursues the will-o-the-wisp of average children and average stages of development makes for destructive social policy, it is a sea anchor dragging against advancement, creating the problems it begs for money to solve. But here is a warning: should we ever agree to honor the singularity of children which forced schooling contravenes, if we ever agree to set the minds of children free, we should understand they would make a world that would create and re-create itself exponentially, a world complex beyond the power of any group of managers to manage. Such free beings would have to be self-managing. And the future would never again be easily predictable.
Here might be a first step toward such a great leap forward for human beings. Not a comprehensive formula, remember, but a first step:
If we closed all government schools, made free libraries universal, encouraged public discussion groups everywhere, sponsored apprenticeships for every young person who wanted one, let any person or group who asked to open a school do sowithout government oversightpaid parents (if we have to pay anyone) to school their kids at home using the money we currently spend to confine them in school factories, and launched a national crash program in family revival and local economies, Amish and Mondragon style, the American school nightmare would recede.
That isnt going to happen, I know.
The next best thing, then, is to deconstruct forced schooling, minimizing its school aspect, indoctrination, and maximizing its potential to educate through access to tools, models, and mentors. To go down this path requires the courage to challenge deeply rooted assumptions. We need to kill the poison plant we created. School reform is not enough. The notion of schooling itself must be challenged. Do this as an individual if your group wont go along.
Here is a preliminary list of strategies to change the schools we have. I intend to develop the theme of change further in a future book, The Guerrilla Curriculum: How To Get An Education In Spite Of School, but Im out of time and breath, so the brief agenda which follows will have to suffice for the moment. As you read my ideas maintain a lively awareness of the implicit irony that to impose them as a counter system would require as dictatorial a central management like the current dismal reality. The trick, then, is not to impose them. My own belief based on long experience is that people given a degree of choice arrive without coercion at arrangements somewhat like these, and even improve upon them with ideas beyond my own imagination to conceive. Such is the genius of liberty.
Dismiss the army of reading and arithmetic specialists and the commercial empire they represent. Allow all contracts with colleges, publishers, consultants, and materials suppliers in these areas to lapse. Reading and arithmetic are easy things to learn, although nearly impossible to "teach." By the use of common sense, and proven methods that dont cost much, we can solve a problem which is artificially induced and wholly imaginary. Take the profit out of these things and the disease will cure itself.
Let no school exceed a few hundred in size. Even thats far too big. And make them local. End all unnecessary transportation of students at once; transportation is what the British used to do with hardened criminals. We dont need it, we need neighborhood schools. Time to shut the school factories, profitable to the building and maintenance industries and to bus companies, but disaster for children. Neighborhoods need their own children and vice versa; its a reciprocating good, providing surprising service to both. The factory school doesnt work anywherenot in Harlem and not in Hollywood Hills, either. Education is always individualized, and individualization requires absolute trust and split-second flexibility. This should save taxpayers a bundle, too.
Make everybody teach. Dont let anybody get paid for schooling kids without actually spending time with them. The industrial model, with pyramidal management and plenty of hori-zontal featherbedding niches, is based on ignorance of how things get done, or indifference to results. The administrative racket that gave New York City more administrators than all the nations of Europe combined in 1991, has got to die. It wastes billions, demoralizes teachers, parents, and students, and corrupts the common enterprise.
Measure performance with individualized instruments. Standardized tests, like schools themselves, have lost their moral legitimacy. They correlate with nothing of human value and their very existence perverts curriculum into a preparation for these extravagant rituals. Indeed, all paper and pencil tests are a waste of time, useless as predictors of anything important unless the competition is rigged. As a casual guide they are probably harmless, but as a sorting tool they are corrupt and deceitful. A test of whether you can drive is driving. Performance testing is where genuine evaluation will always be found. There surely cant be a normal parent on earth who doesnt judge his or her childs progress by performance.
Shut down district school boards. Families need control over the professionals in their lives. Decentralize schooling down to the neighborhood school building level, each school with its own citizen managing board. School corruption, like the national school milk price-rigging scandal of the 1990s, will cease when the temptations of bulk purchasing, job giveaways, and remote decision-making are ended.
Install permanent parent facilities in every school with appropriate equipment to allow parent partnerships with their own kids and others. Frequently take kids out of school to work with their own parents. School policies must deliberately aim to strengthen families.
Restore the primary experience base we stole from childhood by a slavish adherence to a utopian school diet of steady abstraction, or an equally slavish adherence to play as the exclusive obligation of children. Define primary experience as the essential core of early education, secondary data processing a supplement of substantial importance. But be sure the concepts of work, duty, obligation, loyalty, and service are strong components of the mix. Let them stand shoulder to shoulder with "fun." Let children engage in real tasks as Amish children do, not synthetic games and simulations that set them up for commercial variants of more-of-the-same for the rest of their lives.
Recognize that total schooling is psychologically and procedurally unsound. Wasteful and horrendously expensive. Give children some private time and space, some choice of subjects, methods, and associations, and freedom from constant surveillance. A strong element of volition, of choice, of anti-compulsion, is essential to education. That doesnt mean granting a license to do anything. Anyway, whatever is chosen as "curriculum," the vital assistance that old can grant young is to demand that personal second or third best will not dothe favor you can bestow on your children is to show by your own example that hard, painstaking work is the toll an independent spirit charges itself for self-respect. Our colleges work somewhat better than our other schools because they understand this better.
Admit there is no one right way to grow up successfully. One-system schooling has had a century and a half to prove itself. It is a ghastly failure. Children need the widest possible range of roads in order to find the right one to accommodate themselves. The premise upon which mass compulsion schooling is based is dead wrong. It tries to shoehorn every style, culture, and personality into one ugly boot that fits nobody. Tax credits, vouchers, and other more sophisticated means are necessary to encourage a diverse mix of different school logics of growing up. Only sharp competition can reform the present mess; this needs to be an overriding goal of public policy. Neither national nor state government oversight is necessary to make a voucher/tax credit plan work: a modicum of local control, a disclosure law with teeth, and a policy of client satisfaction or else is all the citizen protection needed. It works for supermarkets and doctors. It will work for schools, too, without national testing.
Teach children to think dialectically so they can challenge the hidden assumptions of the world about them, including school assumptions, so they can eventually generate much of their own personal curriculum and oversight. But teach them, too, that dialectical thinking is unsuited to many important things like love and family. Dialectical analysis is radically inappropriate outside its purview.
Arrange much of schooling around complex themes instead of subjects. "Subjects" have a real value, too, but subject study as an exclusive diet was a Prussian secret weapon to produce social stratification. Substantial amounts of interdisciplinary work are needed as a corrective.
Force the school structure to provide flex-time, flex-space, flex-sequencing, and flex-content so that every study can be personalized to fit the whole range of individual styles and performance.
Break the teacher certification monopoly so anyone with something valuable to teach can teach it. Nothing is more important than this.
Our form of schooling has turned us into dependent, emotionally needy, excessively childish people who wait for a teacher to tell them what to do. Our national dilemma is that too many of us are now homeless and mindless in the deepest senseat the mercy of strangers.
The beginning of answers will come only when people force government to return educational choice to everyone. But choice is meaningless without an absolute right to have progress monitored locally, too, not by an agency of the central government. Solzhenitsyn was right. The American founding documents didnt mention school because the authors foresaw the path school would inevitably set us upon, and rejected it.
The best way to start offering some choice immediately is to give each public school the independence that private schools have. De-systematize them, grant each private, parochial, and homeschool equal access to public funds through vouchers administered as a loan program, along with tax credits. In time the need for even this would diminish, but my warning standsif these keys to choice are tied to intrusive government oversight, as some would argue they must be, they will only hasten the end of the American libertarian experiment. Vouchers are only a transition to what is really called for: an economy of independent livelihoods, a resurrection of principles over pragmatism, and restoration of the private obligation, self-imposed, to provide a living wage to all who work for you.
School can never deal with really important things. Only education can teach us that quests dont always work, that even worthy lives most often end in tragedy, that money cant prevent this; that failure is a regular part of the human condition; that you will never understand evil; that serious pursuits are almost always lonely; that you cant negotiate love; that money cant buy much that really matters; that happiness is free.
A twenty-five-year-old school dropout walked the length of the planet without help, a seventeen-year-old school dropout worked a twenty-six-foot sailboat all by herself around the girdle of the globe. What else does it take to realize the horrifying limitations we have inflicted on our children? School is a liars world. Let us be done with it.
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