Monday, June 15, 2009

Take the children out of the boiling water!

The following column was sent to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution today:

Maureen Downey’s columns in the AJC 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 start discussing putting an end to so-called public education.

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.


Daniel said...

Good post, David! The line "it is a concentration camp without the mental concentration" is a nice, memorable one.

Daniel said...

By the way, there's good and bad in this talk, but it's very relevant to this post and I'm guessing that you'll like it.

David Elmore said...

Thanks, Daniel. I was riveted by the Brit's talk in the 20-minute video. Wow! Great stuff. I made a blog item on the video and attributed it to Keith, but I corrected it.