It’s a scene that’s played out in front of me over and over. Tonight, it was at a McDonald’s where I was writing. A group of seven teens — around 17 or 18 — gathered at the other side of the room. They were loud and obnoxious. They had no regard for the people around them. They played loud music and yelled profanity at each other.
The most interesting thing, though, is that they were pretty much identical. They were genetically very different, but they had the same references, the same biases, the same clothes. They had taught one another to conform to a rigid culture — one which punishes those who think too much for themselves.
The more time I spend around people who are socialized by modern popular culture, the more shocked I am that any sane parent turns his children over to schools to train them to be like everybody else.
Whether you realize it or not — or like the realization or not — the biggest role of schools is to make your kids just like the other kids.
Both of my parents started their careers as teachers in government-operated schools. My mother spent her whole career that way. She eventually took early retirement when her inner-city school’s social structure had decayed so badly that teachers were just expected to be glorified baby sitters. She had no support from her administration or from the parents of her kids.
I grew up believing fervently in the power of education, and I thought schools were obviously the only way to become educated. I’ve come to see things very differently. Despite the fact that I know and love many people who have given their careers to working as teachers, I believe the school model as we know it today is hopelessly broken — and it needs to be replaced.
If you discuss the idea of letting children learn using any other model — whether it’s homeschooling or unschooling or some other innovative structure — most people express horror and say something such as, “How would the children learn socialization without going to schools?!”
But one of the key points against schools is the kind of socialization that takes place, because it produces social conformity and government-driven brainwashing. (Have you ever noticed that every country’s school systems teach its children that its government is the best in the world?)
I was lucky enough to spend most of my school days — all in government schools — in quality schools with kids from affluent families. (My only dreadful year was in an inner-city school in Pensacola, Fla., because kids who lived on the beach were bused into town.) Most of my experiences weren’t awful, either socially or academically, but none of my learning was fostered by being warehoused with other children for most of the day.
I learned because I was curious and read outside of school, just as most children are naturally curious. It’s only when they’re forced to do “school work” that they found out that learning is boring.
I read history on my own — not textbooks, which were horrible — but regular non-fiction books written for adults. One book led to another. I was fascinated by most things, so I read a lot. (We had a lot of books at home and we were regular visitors to whatever library was nearby.)
By the time we got to any subject in school, I was ready to talk about it — because I’d already encountered it as a fascinating part of life in my books — but the other kids were too bored with our lessons to even pay attention. I learned about the history of Latin America when I was 11 because it was an amazing human story with intrigue and adventure and ugly horrors; the other kids in my class learned a little bit about Latin America the next year because they had to memorize a few facts to pass some tests.
Did I need schools to learn how to be social? Of course not. I was taught at home how to interact with adults and I played with neighborhood kids quite naturally everywhere I moved. My social connections in my neighborhoods tended to be like adventurous people learning about the world. My social connections in schools tended to be more about how to navigate the school social order and how to escape teacher control.
The only thing I learned for which I needed a teacher’s instruction was my high school math from algebra II on. I wasn’t going to learn trigonometry and calculus on my own without someone there to point the way. (But maybe I would have. I’ll never know.) Even outside the full-time school model, there’s nothing wrong with kids coming together for lessons and practice in particular specialities — as they already do for music and gymnastics and other things they want to learn — instead of sitting in a big warehouse every day and learning how to absorb the popular culture instead.
Are there people from some homes who would still benefit from some form of school? Possibly. Kids from uneducated parents and lower-class families might need something different than I did. But the current model isn’t working for them, either, so I don’t see that as a great recommendation.
What does that leave?
Well, here’s the secret that most people don’t want to talk about. Most people who encounter the notion of looking at different models of education will tell you that they just want what’s best for their children, but if they were honest with themselves, they would admit that having government-provided daycare for most of the day is the real reason they love schools. They might convince themselves there are other reasons, but most people today need to ship their kids off — because that allows both parents to work while government employees (or private ones) babysit their kids.
If children learn some stuff while they’re at this daycare warehouse, that’s a great way justification for it in the minds of parents — and taxpayers — but it’s not the real reason for their support.
If you care about your children developing into the best versions of themselves — instead of spending years becoming alienated from their families and learning to conform to school culture — you owe it to yourself to look into alternatives. No matter how good your intentions are — and no matter how good the intentions of some teachers are — the system is hopelessly broken at its core.
Most people will never think seriously about anything for their kids except the current model — which was handed down to us from the Prussian system not that many years ago — but that’s because most of us have been taught to conform as well.
I went to these sorts of schools. You probably did, too. But that doesn’t mean there aren’t alternative models that are better for your children and for their families — and for society as a whole.