The Bottomless Abyss of Formal Schooling, Part III

November 19, 2008 at 12:18 pm (injustice, stupidity) ()

The final segment of my series of posts on the school system is now up at Revolutionary Act.

It seems to me that the foundational assumptions of traditional school are: that children, left to their own devices, cannot and will not learn; that children are basically helpless and stupid and deficient in curiosity; that children must therefore be taught, by a competent authority, or they will fail to grasp concepts and gain skills.

I think anyone who has ever spent any time with a child can attest that all of these ideas are patently false. Anyone who was ever spent time around a child who is learning to talk can attest as much with even greater confidence — tiny babies, unable even to feed themselves, crack the code of language with a speed and an enthusiasm most adults could envy. The reality, as far as I can tell, could not be farther from those assumptions.

And I do believe those are the underlying ideas. We would have to believe that children must be forced to learn in order to ask ourselves, “Is our children learning?”

That is an insane question. I know it’s also a much-mocked one, but no one would have laughed at it if our Ivy Leagued-educated* soon-to-be-former President had managed to formulate it correctly. And that’s absurd. There is no such thing as a child who isn’t learning. The only questions is, “Are our children learning things in the arbitrary order and at the arbitrary pace the school system requires?” If that’s more important to us than whether children are happy, healthy, curious, and engaged — and it certainly seems to be — we have our priorities precisely backward.

Keep reading.



  1. Stephanie said,

    Nice post, Daisy. I’m glad to read this from someone so recently out of the machine, as you’re correct – the impressions really do fade.

    I do know that I started thinking about homeschooling pretty soon after H was born. I just recoiled at the thought of having him in a traditional school. But it wasn’t the “schooling nature” of school that was filling me with dread, but the negative socialization opportunities. Oddly enough it took a while before I appreciated how intellectually deadening school can be – and it embarrasses me to look back on my teaching years and realize I was part of that system. It’s pretty horrifying, but then again I thought I was performing a valuable service for those teenagers.

    Still struggling. There is a somewhat interesting charter school near here that M is interested in, and it has some strong plusses but the huge drawbacks – no choice of what to learn, when, at what pace, etc. – are there.

    Say, I remember there was an “open school” in Santa Fe – no requirements, not even for attendance. Is it still in operation?

  2. Daisy said,

    Hi Stephanie! It’s always nice to see (read) you around here.

    The social problems are huge. I haven’t addressed them here in part because I’ve been pretty lucky, and in part because the times I wasn’t lucky are still too painful to write about. Ugh.

    I think most teachers sincerely believe they are performing a valuable service, and, in my experience, most are kind, committed people who entered the profession with really good intentions. Further, many of them are just as trapped in the system as the kids are, and just as outraged by it.

    Is the charter school the one you’ve mentioned before, where the kids learn Mandarin (if I recall correctly)? And I sympathize with your struggle. I’m really curious to hear what you decide to do. I don’t know if it’s just the memory-fading problem, but I don’t remember elementary school as being nearly as soul-crushing as high school. In a lot of ways it wasn’t ideal, but the worst part of high school was the ever-present sense that the system and its officiants didn’t respect me — and I mean that at the most fundamental level, not like they didn’t respect my ideas but like they didn’t respect my sovereignty over my own body. You can’t teach a sixteen-year-old to be a competent, critical adult and simultaneously teach her that she has to ask to go to the bathroom. And again, I was at the friendliest high school in the city, worlds kinder than the national average, I’m sure. We didn’t have metal detectors or campus police…

    You know, I’ve heard of that school here in Santa Fe, but I don’t know much at all about it. It’s probably still around, but I’m not sure.

  3. Stephanie said,

    Hola! Yes, the charter school is the Chinese immersion school. My reservations are numerous, but one biggie is kindergarten goes from 8:30 – 3:30. And they get one short recess in the morning. And there’s little natural light. And I’m going to put my five-year-old there?

    The negative social opportunities of school are still pretty fresh in my mind, not because of my particular sufferings (though there were a few) but from my vivid memories of the resident “scapegoat” in every class, picked on not just by all the kids but occasionally by the teachers as well. And my younger brother, your uncle, was the scapegoat of his class, for several years.


    Thank you for your frank posts on this topic. I really appreciate it. I think you’re right, teachers are generally really great people – chronic “do-gooders” – but cogs in a system that really scares me most days. I’m very glad homeschooling is an option. In some countries (Germany, for instance) it’s illegal.

    Keep up the great blog! Hope to see you guys one of these days.

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