Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Take the children out of the boiling water! -- Part Deux

I've just been informed by the editors at the AJC that they will be printing my education piece I wrote yesterday (see below entry on blog). They asked me to add a couple of paragraphs on where I thought education should go if not with public schooling, so I added those graphs. The complete column is below. What's pretty impressive about the AJC's decision is that Ms. Downey is the one who got back to me on my column and, evidently, made the final decision on its approval -- even though she was the subject of my main barb.
Maureen Downey’s columns on education remind me of the fable of the boiled frog. If you put a frog into a pot of boiling water, the frog will jump out immediately. If you put a frog into a pot of cool water and then slowly heat the water to boiling, the frog eventually dies because the frog is unaware of the temperature change.

And so it goes with “public education” and “ADD” and the “unteachable” students that Downey refers to. The problem with children in public schools is not the children – it’s the public schools. It is an artificial and coercive environment in which young children are put when they don’t know any better that they shouldn’t be there. The water is cool.

Then the water slowly heats with absurd rules such as sitting in one’s chair and not making noise when that is what children do and how children explore the world. Then the child is told to pay attention to certain information when the child has no interest in that information at that time. Then the child is yelled at or mentally manipulated by guilt-based recrimination from teachers and parents. The water slowly heats.

When the water gets close to boiling later in elementary school or middle school, many of the potentially brightest and free-spirited children have almost completely tuned out in a natural rebellion against this artificial and needless education construct.

Their “attention deficit” is not a disease. It is man-made. It is made by public schooling. Who the heck wouldn’t have a deficit of attention when forced to do what one sees no benefit in doing because one has desires and values that are aimed elsewhere? The kids are not unteachable. They are in unteachable situations (classrooms). If you think they are unteachable, simply ask them to expand upon their favorite interests: computers, books, fishing, sports, games, artwork, play, music, math, animals, etc. You’ll see bright, expansive faces.

I remember as a child of the ‘60s and ‘70s my own “attention deficit” in school. I hated being there and being told when to learn, what to learn and how much to learn – and then being “examined” by testing from the very people who lorded over me every day, as if my mental contents were somehow their business. It’s like the concentration-camp guard telling me, “Show me how you’ve been a good boy today and know how to obey the rules.”

I made almost all A’s and B’s in school, but I did it with half my brain turned on and the other half contemplating a chess match with a friend after school or a tennis game or lemonade with a neighborhood girl or the amount of money I could make doing work in my neighborhood.

I had no attention deficit when it came to baseball or girls or dinosaurs or chess or Scrabble or certain books or making money mowing lawns. I even learned algebra before entering my 8th-grade algebra class when one of my best friends and I were curious as to what it was. We opened an encyclopedia, asked our parents a question or two and, voila, we understand the concept of the unknown variable. Everything in algebra was simply boring extrapolation after that, including the quadratic equation, which I have never used in my life and will never use in my life. Eighth-grade algebra was a waste of hundreds of hours of my life, and I knew it at the time. Yet I was ordered to be obedient and listen and take tests so that others besides me (parents and teachers) could make up their minds on whether my mental contents were satisfactory to them.

Let’s be honest about public schooling. It doesn’t take 12 years to learn the basics for a life of happiness. It takes a few months of dedicated, focused attention on certain subjects: reading, math. My home-schooled daughter (5½ years old) already knows how to add and subtract. She’ll know how to read within the next 6 months or so. She already understands the rudiments of evolution after several conversations she started, including her first question a year ago: “Where do squirrels come from?” She has a basic understanding of money and has learned to some degree what liberty means because she hears me complaining about taxation and other coercive government intrusions on individual rights; that also has led to conversations on history and government.

As a child, I had access to an encyclopedia. My daughter has Google and Wikipedia and an Internet library that makes the library at Alexandria look like a small, dusty, corner bookshelf in a non-reader’s home. Whatever I don’t know, she can turn to the Internet and we can learn together.

Public schooling is an antiquated institution. It really always has been. It is daycare with a blackboard. It is a concentration camp without the mental concentration. It is worse than a waste of time. It is a coercion against free will and free-spirited exploration.

It has been creating generations of The Unteachables. If you want to put an end to so-called ADD and the plethora of alphabet-soup acronyms that allegedly characterize many young children today, then put an end to so-called public education.

And then go one step farther. Besides taking the “public” (government) out of education, take the “parent” out of the choice of education. It is not the parent’s life. It is the child’s life – to choose what to learn, when to learn and what direction to go in life. By honoring the child’s free will, you will be helping to foster a sense of independence and tangible self-esteem – and, as a consequence, preempting teenage rebellion against years of parental commandments. All caring and nurturing parents will obviously still stand as guides and sensible aids when asked for assistance. Some people call this “unschooling.” So be it.

What this all means is a complete elimination of any and all government (public) involvement in the education of children, including charter schools or any kind of public funding for any educational establishment. Private schools, then, will proliferate, usually tailored to particular interests of children in art or gymnastics or math or English or foreign languages or history or mechanics or needlework or astronomy or finances or woodwork or writing or the thousands of other endeavors open to the burgeoning human mind. Teachers in these schools will have to be highly qualified and accountable. As often happened in the benevolent 19th century America, charities will step in to assist poor children who earnestly seek knowledge outside the home. And with greatly reduced property taxes, residents can use that money toward their children’s learning endeavors.

Let’s let children take back their ebullient lives. They will learn swiftly and happily, if we do. And we can be happy knowing that we are not the moral equivalents of concentration-camp guards.

Let’s take our children out of the boiling water now and watch them turn into productive, independent adults.


Kulero said...

Excellent article, David! I love the line, "concentration camp without the mental concentration." I have an almost-2 year old who we're raising to speak English and Russian. When he learns a word or phrase in one language, he wants to know it in the other. Recently he learned "sientate" in Spanish, and he immediately repeated it in Russian (sadees') and English (sit down). He's always asking "What's that?", and he loves to drive the car. He wants to know and to do.

And while, as a proud parent, I like to think that my child is exceptionally gifted, I really don't think his inquisitiveness is the exception. It's clearly the natural state of children -- until our educational system stamps it out of them.

Our government pours money into education -- and the kids get dumber, into healthcare -- and our country gets fatter and sicker, into social security -- while our financial future becomes more insecure.

When will the message get through? If you in power really care and want to make the world better, defund all your programs. Laissez nois faire.

Kelly Elmore said...

I'm so glad they are publishing this!! Rock on!

David Elmore said...

Thanks, y'all.
Indeed, Kulero, inquisitiveness is not the exception.
Laissez nous faire, biensur!