Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Critical Mass on Unschooling?

We conservatives have been whining about the public school system for ages.  Not that we have that much of a problem with schooling.  We just believe in school choice, what you might call the substitution of the administrative principle of the current system with the market principle that would allow schooling to develop to meet the needs of the consumers.

Still, there are lots of conservative parents that approve of homeschooling and its derivatives.

My cranky opinion boils down to the simplistic notion that public schools are government child custodial facilities.

But now comes a wonder.  The liberal Salon.com has an article by an unschooling publicist, Peter Gray, entitled "School is a prison — and damaging our kids."  Gray's book is Free to Learn: Why Unleashing the Instinct to Play Will Make Our Children Happier, More Self Reliant, and Better Prepared for Life.

While chaps like me put the blame for prison schools on liberal elitists like Horace Mann, Peter Gray blames the Puritans.
The blueprint still used for today’s schools was developed during the Protestant Reformation, when schools were created to teach children to read the Bible, to believe scripture without questioning it, and to obey authority figures without questioning them.
And I thought it was all the fault of the Jesuits, who proclaimed "Give me a child until he is seven and I will give you the man."

But never mind.  The point is that the modern schooling movement was based on the idea that we needed to force children to learn the things we needed them to learn so that they would become the right kind of adults.  Jesuits wanted to force children to become good Catholics; Protestants wanted to force children to become good Protestants.  Horace Mann and Co. wanted to force the Boston Irish away from their ignorance and vice and Catholicism.  Experts at the turn of the 20th century were anxious to force children to become dutiful factory workers.  Modern public school administrators want to force rambunctious little boys into good little girls.  And so on.

I emphasize the force, because I think it is important.  Everyone in the education biz seems to have thought that force was necessary.  And yet the evidence belies them.  Writes Gray:
I have spent much of my research career studying how children learn. Children come into the world beautifully designed to direct their own education. They are endowed by nature with powerful educative instincts, including curiosity, playfulness, sociability, attentiveness to the activities around them, desire to grow up and desire to do what older children and adults can do.
And what do these children learn before they ever go to school?
Through their own efforts, children learn to walk, run, jump and climb. They learn from scratch their native language, and with that, they learn to assert their will, argue, amuse, annoy, befriend, charm and ask questions... They do all this before anyone, in any systematic way, tries to teach them anything. 
And system, the oracle tells us, is domination.

We've heard about the tablet computers in Ethiopia, and that in six months illiterate village kids learned how to hack the computers to turn on the camera.  It turns out, according to Gray, that someone has tried the same trick with kids in India.
Another researcher who has documented the power of self-directed learning is Sugata Mitra. He set up outdoor computers in very poor neighborhoods in India, where most children did not go to school and many were illiterate. Wherever he placed such a computer, dozens of children would gather around and, with no help from adults, figure out how to use it. 
 I suppose that we should forgive the schoolmasters of 200 years ago.  Back then books were expensive and teachers were cheap.  So it made sense to pack kids together to learn from a teacher.  Today the whole world, from Wikipedia to Khan Academy, is available on a computer (and remember today's computer desktop was designed by Xerox PARC a generation ago from research about how children learn).

So maybe it's time for a new paradigm.

Anyway, if liberals are getting with the homeschooling paradigm then there really is hope.

The problem for our liberal friends is likely to be the unwelcome truth that any future education "system" is likely to mean less political power for liberals.

Sorry about that.

1 comment:

  1. Your closing sentence poses an interesting sentiment that I have not seen addressed anywhere else. Perhaps this is because it is rare that people recognize the growing anti-school movement and its potential for becoming a new norm. I think liberals back public education because they wrongly believe it is a great social equalizer; however, the rigidity of the system breeds apathy, consumerism, and alienation. Ironically, these are precisely the components that drive the conservative's social agenda. I think the absence of school could help transcend the horrors perpetuated by both the liberals and conservatives and foster genuine feelings of community.