This post is a follow up from our incredible experience hosting Peter Gray here in Charlotte (January 30, 2016).
In his talk, he refers to a blog post he wrote called “A Brief History Of Education.” If you went to the talk, you might be curious to read a bit more about this. If you didn’t go to the talk, it’s a very thought provoking read.
I reviewed some old blog posts I wrote before Mosaic was an ALC (we initially opened as a democratic free school). These posts are no longer currently viewable on the internet, but I dug a post I wrote after reading this particular blog by Gray in August of 2013:
Do you know why schooling became compulsory? In the linked blog post by Peter Gray, author of Free to Learn, he describes a brief history of education from the time of hunter-gatherer societies to today.
In the article, Gray describes how, “School gradually replaced fieldwork, factory work, and domestic chores as the child’s primary job. Just as adults put in their 8-hour day at their place of employment, children today put in their 6-hour day at school, plus another hour or more of homework, and often more hours of lessons outside of school. Over time, children’s lives have become increasingly defined and structured by the school curriculum. Children now are almost universally identified by their grade in school, much as adults are identified by their job or career.”
Are your children defined by their grade? Do they see themselves as more than a person who is “not good at math” or in the “top reading group?” Could this mindset be a contributing factor to increased depression and anxiety in the future due to a dependence on defining oneself through arbitrary standards?
It was fun for me to see that I am still just as passionate about this topic as I was then!
On Thursday, Alona came to our small group room with a book from our library called The Book of Origins. She was feeling like having a lazy start to her day since she hurt her Achilles tendon at dance practice the day before. I leaned over to check out the book, and saw that it started with the origins of wedding traditions. My interest was piqued and I decided to join her for some reading that morning (yes, skipping all language practice!).
Alona wrote a pretty detailed blog post about what we read that day, both of us learning some pretty terrible origins about how the marriage traditions we practice today got their start. You can check out Alona’s post for those details, I won’t dive into that here.
What I will dive into is the conversation Alona and I were able to have because of our reading. As I read about the origins of the veil, best man, and other traditions I see happening at EVERY wedding I go to, I went to a whole other place in my mind about humans and why we do what we do. I found that as I learned the history behind the start of these traditions, I began releasing any connection to wanting to carry them forward. I became excited thinking about other things I could do for my wedding and how I could create a new type of celebration that would launch the start of a lifetime of partnership.
Alona and I discussed how many people do what others have done before them, thinking that if others are doing it that way, it must be the right thing to do. However, if we all took the time to research the history behind the actions, traditions, or social norms of the people living before us, perhaps we could better discern which practices we want to carry forward and which we do not. Alona was able to relate this to how her family has chosen to live. I’ll leave out the personal family details, but clearly, by virtue of choosing Mosaic for their children’s school, both of her parents have made a clear decision to avoid the traditional methods of education and have committed to unschooling their children. Alona and her younger sister have been unschooled for their whole lives.
This had me thinking a lot.
First of all, I simply remain in awe and gratitude for the parents we currently have supporting Mosaic and its existence. To realize the pressure they are under from the dominant paradigm to conform, yet they choose not to, I am deeply and utterly amazed at their courage and desire to try out something different.
Secondly, I was thinking compassionately about the parents who come in contact with unschooling, free-schooling, or homeschooling, knowing that their child is unhappy in traditional school, wanting something different, but unable to make that leap. There are times I just want to scream, “WELL TRY SOMETHING DIFFERENT THEN. YOU CAN DO THAT IF YOU CHOSE, IT’S ONLY HAS HARD AS YOU DECIDE IT TO BE.” But that’s not a very compassionate approach. The origins reading and conversation with Alona had me considering what all parents are up against. For many, it’s just too damn scary to do something different. If you aren’t deep in your convictions for why you are choosing a different path, you will more readily buckle under the pressure of the rest of society asking you, “What if you mess up your children?” The easier thing to do is to do what everyone else is doing. That way, if your child is “messed up” you can say that it was the system’s fault, not yours. I’d like to note that I firmly believe in and see the resilience and strength of human beings and know that if you are live an empowered life, there is nothing that can possibly mess you up. But how do I thoughtfully and kindly express this to parents under the heavy pressures of society? How do I support parents wanting to make a leap into something different for their children but feeling like they just can’t do it?
There is No Magic Answer
While there is no magic answer, there are many people that are working hard to debunk the rationale behind traditional education, including educating parents about the origins of public schooling. Perhaps, like my experience learning about wedding traditions, more people learning about why public schools exist might realize that this is one tradition not worth following.
John Taylor Gatto*
John Taylor Gatto has spent 30 years teaching in public schools and almost as much time trying to educate students and parents about why public schooling is actually a terrible place for children to learn. I admire him deeply for staying in the public school system for so long as he tried serve children within a system he believed was harmful. Gatto also dedicates himself to writing books and public speaking so he can educate the American public about the origin of public schools, in the hopes that educators and parents will open their eyes and realize that school, as it exists today, is not healthy or beneficial to our youth.
In this five hour interview, Gatto gives what is described as “The Ultimate History Lesson,” where he goes into a lot of detail behind the origins of public school. If you ever hear @Tomis passionately state that traditional schools are not serving our children, know that he’s not just speaking from opinion. He’s done a ton of research in addition to working in alternative schools for 6 years. He’s watched this interview in full at least 4 or 5 times. He’s very aware of the origins of public schools, which helps him remain deeply committed and convicted in his work.
“Let me start with the DESIGNING EDUCATION FOR THE FUTURE papers. They were the collusion with the federal education department and the presumably independent state agencies. They redefined education after the 19th century Germanic fashion as (quoting now from the document) “as a means to achieve important economic and social goals for the national character” — and I would hasten to add that none of those goals included the maximum development of your son or daughter. State agencies would henceforth “act as Federal enforcers insuring compliance of local schools with Federal directives”. The document proclaimed that (I’m quoting again), “each state education department must be an agent of change”, proclaimed further “change must be institutionalized“. I doubt if an account of this appeared in any newspaper in the state of Vermont or for that matter any newspaper in the country (U.S.). Education departments were (I am quoting a third time) “to lose their identity as well as their authority in order to form a partnership with the Federal Government“.
“The BEHAVIORAL TEACHER EDUCATIONAL PROJECT outlines specific teaching reforms to be forced on the country, unwillingly of course, after 1967. It also sets out, in clear language, the outlook and intent of its invisible creators. Nothing less than quoting again “the impersonal manipulation through schooling of a future America in which few will be able to maintain control over their own opinions“, an America in which (quoting again) “each individual receives at birth, a multipurpose identification number which enables employers and other controllers to keep track of their [underlings]“, (underlings is my interpretation, everything else came out of the document), “and to expose them to the directors subliminal influence of the state education department and the federal department acting through those whenever necessary“.
“Schools were designed by Horace Mann and Barnard Sears and Harper of the University of Chicago and Thorndyke of Columbia Teachers College and some other men to be instruments of the scientific management of a mass population. Schools are intended to produce through the application of formulae, formulaic human beings whose behavior can be predicted and controlled.
To a very great extent, schools succeed in doing this. But our society is disintegrating, and in such a society, the only successful people are self-reliant, confident, and individualistic – because the community life which protects the dependent and the weak is dead. The products of schooling are, as I’ve said, irrelevant. Well-schooled people are irrelevant. They can sell film and razor blades, push paper and talk on the telephones, or sit mindlessly before a flickering computer terminal but as human beings they are useless. Useless to others and useless to themselves.”
Gatto also has also written a book that I consider very easy-to-read called “Dumbing Us Down: The Hidden Curriculum of Compulsory Schooling.” Through Gatto’s time in public schools and through his extensive research and study of how the traditions in schools came to be, it is clear to him why schools don’t work. While I have only taught in public school for 3 years, I have still spent 17 years myself in traditional schools and have come to the same conclusion based on my experience and research. I find that when I feel pressure to conform to social norms, diving back into the research that Gatto speaks and writes about help me to stay deeply convicted to my work.
Jeremy Stewart and Dustin Woodard: Class Dismissed
I also had the pleasure to watch the Charlotte screening of Class Dismissed, produced by Jeremy Stewart & Dustin Woodard. Both Stewart and Woodard are homeschooling dads who grew tired of answering the same questions again and again from those not understanding the paradigm they live in. “How do your kids become socialized? How do they get into college?” are two questions asked repeatedly by those who have not realized that there can be a successful life outside of traditional schools.
It gets tiring. As Stewart described in the Q&A after the screening, the idea to make this movie came from him just wanting to hand a film over to every person asking those questions. I cannot wait for the movie to come out on DVD so I can do the same!
This film powerfully demonstrates that classrooms and desks are not needed to learn, in fact, for many, they hinder a person’s ability to learn about who they are and what they want out of life. The film covers the origins of compulsory education and debunks the common fears about venturing into homeschooling. It depicts unschooling in a way that reminds us all that life is living, and living is learning.
I valued watching this film so much because I could identify deeply with the thoughts of the mom they followed for two years on her journey to explore homeschooling. The movie depicted her struggle as she heard the doubts of others. I have struggled in the same way.
Like this mom, sometimes doubts have affected me so much I start veering back towards traditional methods. But when I stop and look at the children in front of me, I remember the fact that all humans want to learn and all humans want to have lives that they enjoy living. I remember then that I must always strive to connect with each individual and honor them as an individual in order to serve them best. I don’t have to make them want to learn, they come to me that way. I only need to connect with them and build a meaningful relationship with them so they will see me as a person who can help them learn all the things they want to. I am so thankful for Stewart and Woodard’s work over the past four years to create this film as a service to educators like myself. They helped me connect even more deeply to the work that I do, and also have provided me with a tool I can use to serve more children in my community. I cannot wait to share this film with more parents and educators in Charlotte!
I was not the only one immersed in gratitude after watching the film – one of our 9-year-old students spent her time in Writer’s Workshop the following day writing this blog post in appreciation of our school. She attended the film with her family. It’s powerful to know that the students in the school appreciate the opportunity they have here!
Ken Danford & NorthStar for Teens
One of my early inspirations for creating ALC Mosaic came from the work of Ken Danford with North Star: Self Directed Learning for Teens. This group is also powerfully changing the lives of teens and helping them to realize that they can leave school and start living now.
I came across the following video today of a teen that I saw speak at the AERO Conference in 2013, and am so thankful for how North Star is doing all that they can to share with the world the success stories of teens leaving school and making their own lives. They have been doing this for over 17 years. The more I can support them by sharing these stories, the more I can support parents who know the public school system isn’t serving their children to make the leap into a lifestyle that does.
In this clip, Jonah sums it up well. He is thankful that he hasn’t spent the last 6 years of his life fighting with teachers in schools and with his parents. Instead, he’s had the time to explore and learn everything he’s wanted to.
Instead of only thinking about “what he wants to be when he grows up,” he is able to be something right now and consciously choose what that is.
Imagine what a world would look like where everyone was considering what they were doing in each present moment…
I continue writing. I continue sharing. I enjoy following the footsteps of these great people before me who want to get the message out there that schools were not created to serve individuals. I continue sharing how we can serve our children today differently.
*John Taylor Gatto suffered from a stroke on July 29, 2011 that has left him paralyzed on his left side and bedridden ever since. There is a fund in place to provide him with support for transportation, communication, and food. Please consider any contribution you can make & share the link to support:www.thejohntaylorgattomedicalfund.com