I used to beat square pegs into round holes for a living. I called it “teaching.” There was some of that, of course. Kids are curious and they like to learn. And there was some of the other stuff, too. You know, the sit-down-and-shut-the-fuck-up stuff. The certified, state-stamped stuff. We called it “curriculum.” It was the stuff you had to sell. Curriculum means “racecourse” in Latin. Is it any wonder we were always rushing through things? The surest way to make a fascinating and beautiful thing into a heaping pile of bullshit is to certify it as curriculum. No one likes to be force-fed, that’s why it’s called “force” feeding.
Authentic learning can’t take place under coercion. Oh, I’ll grant one can certainly acquire knowledge, crucial knowledge in fact, when faced with threats. But leaving aside the guy-has-a-gun-pointed-at-you emergency scenarios, I think freedom and learning have to go together. Education by fiat, or force of law, is counter-productive. I think society would be a whole lot better off if we scrapped compulsory school attendance. If we made our schools voluntary, like visiting a national park. Thinking on that, a national park makes a hell of a schoolyard.
I’m serious. And it’s not because of bad teachers, or their evil unions, or incompetent and overpaid administrators, or feckless and thieving politicians, although, like in all things, these certainly exist. It’s because the system is based on three things. The first is factory work, hence the work-friendly schedule. The second is farming, which gives us the summer holiday. The third I’ve mentioned, and that’s compulsion. You HAVE to go to school.
I contend those three things are fatal. They are systemic flaws. The first two are easy enough to deal with, they are just outmoded. Society has changed, obviously, and the schemes by which teachers and students can be organized and scheduled has failed to adapt. So many more possibilities exist and any and all should be tried. The ones that work will stick, and then, in turn, evolve and adapt as new ideas arrive.
The third is the stickler. Hordes of uneducated youth roaming the streets conjures up The Walking Dead and makes you want to stock up on ammo. But teaching is a moral task, and that’s incompatible with force. It’s like requiring someone to be cheerful. They don’t HAVE to be if they don’t want to. I’d prefer it, but it is not my call. If students came to school because they chose to then the whole experience would be improved. I know it sounds nuts, but if you think on it, you’ll see that’s what all this fuss is about vouchers and school choice. People don’t like one-size-fits-all these days. They like a custom fit, and who can blame them? I’d get all my clothes tailored if I could afford it. This off-the-rack shit doesn’t always work.
People are much like ants. We are a social organism. We require each other to survive. We have, moreover, the capacity to self-organize and we will do so, it’s our nature. I don’t see a free school as chaos, rather I think of it as a catalyst for something new. And by “free” school I mean it in every sense. No cost, or price rather, that is no money needed to connect with schooling. Free choice in what to study and learn, and where and when to learn it. This kind of thing is well past politics. Regardless of your political stripe you have an “opinion” about education and schooling. A free school could give a shit. This is a meta-political concept, it moves past the labels and the talking points and the rhetoric and focuses instead on the needs of the individual.
The Latin verb educare means “to bring forth.” That is, encourage what is already there to grow, to nurture what is latent. It doesn’t mean “shove a bunch of crap down your throat.”
Think on it.