This week Annie and I responded to the two letters that were related to my original article "Time is Precious" in our local newspaper. I'll post the letters we wrote below. And, this week, there was another response by someone in the community that I'll be posting when I get some time.
Here is my letter.
This letter is a follow-up to the letters by Brad Talbert and Dan Schullo in last week’s paper.
First of all, I’d like to make clear that my intentions of writing “Time is Precious” in a previous Letter to the Editor was not to make students who are content with the schooling system feel bad. If the system is working for them, that is great! Stick with it. Although, based on my personal experience, I know a lot of people who hated it. And this is all right, too. But usually the people who hate it are made to feel like there is something wrong with feeling that way.
And I think those who openly admit they hate the process of schooling need to be liberated from it. And why should not taxpayers, teachers, and administrators facilitate this? But instead the current trend seems to be more laws and rules, psychological labels and medications, hidden cameras and police on campus, all to make students adhere to the system.
The problem is not with certain individuals. The very fact that grades exist within the system is an explicit acknowledgement that what students are doing is not sufficiently rewarding enough. (The same holds true for wages). This external reward system exists mainly to entice them into doing the work. Usually, if someone is doing what he or she loves to do, the process is rewarding enough internally to not need a grade or a wage.
Lastly, why do not teachers and administrators sit down with the students and ask them what they want to learn? Should not the teachers and administration be there to facilitate what the students are passionate to learn about? Or does this disrupt the interpersonal politics of the system too much to do so?
As it stands now, the state, the administration, and the teachers tell the students what they need to learn. They are the authority on what knowledge needs to be presented. And this is supposed to teach children, as Dan Schullo puts it, to “learn perseverance, to set goals, and practice competition”? But these learning points lead to, as author Arthur Evans put it so well, “Modern schools and universities push students into habits of depersonalized learning, alienation from nature and sexuality, obedience to hierarchy, fear of authority, self-objectification, and chilling competiveness. These character traits are the essence of the twisted personality-type of modern industrialism. They are precisely the character traits needed to maintain a social system that is utterly out of touch with nature, sexuality, and real human needs.”
As it stands now I would put my money on the students knowing what is important for them to learn, not the state, not the administration, not the teachers. Learning starts from the bottom up.
And here is Annie's letter.
This letter is in response to the “Educational Reform” and “Stereotyping” letters in the last issue. Bradley Talbert wrote in his letter “…there are many students who enjoy going to school…we are proud of the education we receive”. All students receiving an education should feel the same way; unfortunately most do not.
I am a 1996 graduate of Spooner High School. I was a good student too and even believed that I enjoyed going there. In truth, I hated being up before 6:00am every day and not having time to do the things that mattered to me. I hated being rushed through my life. Recently I came across a real life opportunity to use geometry only to find that I couldn’t remember it even though I had received an A in the class. Like most things I learned in school it was all committed to short-term memory only to be kept until test time was over. It is in this that I find most of my disappointment with the current school system. With the amount of time spent there I should remember SO much. Instead, the deeper lessons learned had nothing to do with education. But we, as students, were not allowed to understand the banality of this because to do so would have uncovered the lie that is so ingrained in this educational system. The lie is that the school system is set up the way it is to give us better education. It is not. Its purpose is to keep young adults away from meaningful, decent paying jobs as long as possible. Before WWI it was common for young people to end their schooling around 8th grade. Some did continue, but not a lot. What do you suppose would happen now if millions of young people joined the workforce after 8th grade? The jobless rate would go through the roof. With the limited number of jobs available now, who do you suppose would be working? How many gainfully employed adults would be willing to give up their jobs to these young people? Not too many. So then, the educational system’s job is to keep young people out of the workforce as long as possible, not necessarily to give them a better education. It doesn’t always appear this way though. In fact the system goes through quite a lot to make it appear that they are trying to help these young adults become better educated so they have a chance to get better jobs. The promised is that once out of high school and college we will receive high paying jobs because we have a degree! But out on our own we find that even a degree doesn’t always help. Too many people, who have degrees, work below their qualifications. The degree didn’t help. Why?! In reality, adults who have worked their entire lives to get where they are aren’t going to give up their higher positions to high school and college graduates. Neither would they appreciate the younger graduate ascending to the higher positions without having to “climb the ladder”. Therefore no matter how well educated these young people are “supposed to be” they will still have to start at the bottom.
We cannot blame the teachers for this; we must blame the system. The teachers would love to awaken young minds but the system, from within which they must work, frustrates that desire by insisting that all minds must be opened on a certain schedule, by the same techniques, and all at the same time. The students learn that the curriculum takes precedence over their own learning desires. Some learn this quickly and adapt, some learn this slowly and painfully.
The solution is that we must all recognize this. Once we do we can change it, because it will only continue for as long as we perpetuate it. This does not mean that there should be no education, only that there are different ways to teach. Understanding that there is more to learning than tests, memorization and authority. All children desire to learn; it is the system that destroys the desire.
The thinking behind our letters was strongly influenced by My Ishmael, by Daniel Quinn and Walking on Water, by Derrick Jensen.
Ishmael Unschooling Northwest Wisconsin Education