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libertarian Unschooling | Kid's Gaming

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Sellers Answers Critics

Note: This is a discussion from the newsgroup "alt.education.alternative".

Jim McCulloch asks: And what do you propose to do with the kids that are difficult to teach whose parents don't give a rat's hindend about education? Stuff them in a sack and dump them in the ocean?

Best Sellers answers:

Okay, I will answer the question specifically, although, in my original reply, I did address the question. Apparently, Jim refuses to accept the fact that a parent is primarily responsible for his children's education, ahead of the "state", ahead of "society", ahead of Jim, The fact that some parents don't "give a rat's hindend about education" makes him nervous, because he feels that every child must be educated. I personally agree, but I do not feel that I have the right to force those parents into educating their children according to my prejudices, nor do I feel that ALL children should be forced to be educated in accordance with any one set of ideals. Some children do not want Jim's version of "education" any more than some parents would choose to "educate" them according to Jim's parameters.
Let me restate this part of my first paragraph, as Jim may not be able to decode the central meaning in the penultimate sentence: "I personally agree [with him that every child must be educated] ..."
First, we must decide if our prejudices are getting in the way of the discussion. If we determine that all education happens in a classroom and the fact of a child's not being in the schoolhouse means he is not receiving an education, we may be wrong, but never know or recognize it.
Keep in mind, however, that only force will give some parents a reason to send their children to school. The question is now, "which is more important, schooling, while the student is a child, or a parent's right to choose for his child what he feels is most important?" Inherent in THIS question is also the question, "who should choose what the child should be taught?"

Each of my four oldest children has graduated from high school at age 16. The youngest of these has never seen the inside of a schoolroom. Each has started college and each has at least a 3.85 GPA. My older daughter graduated cum laude, my oldest son has taken every CS and related math course offered in two different colleges, and has a GPA of 4.0 in those classes (he got a B in an English class once). He'll graduate with honors, too. These two have been home schooled since fourth (for her) and fifth grades. We care deeply about "education", but don't give a rat's hindend about "schooling". Would you castigate us because we don't do things YOUR way? Your post tells me "yes", irrespective of what you may actually type.
Education is far too important to be left in the hands of the pseudo-experts calling themselves "educators". Most educators disdain parents except for three purposes:
  1. We provide grist for their mills
  2. We (involuntarily) send money so they can pay themselves
  3. We reinforce their authority even when the children are out of school.
Moreover, Jim's assertion, that I didn't answer the original question, presupposes that a child WILL get an education in a traditional classroom. This is a false assumption. Any unbiased survey will show that most of what we learn, we learn in "living", not in "studying". But, beyond that, most children don't learn much "in class" anyway. There are several reason for that, but here are four:
  1. Even if there were only twenty children in a classroom, as Pete Wilson recently provided for (K~3), that is still too much dilution of the teacher's time and attention.=20
  2. The child is bombarded in a classroom by so many stimuli that learning is difficult at best, and, for many children, impossible. =20
  3. The rest of the school environment is hostile to life, much less children. While a substitute teacher in a middle school, I witnessed both the precursors to and the after effects of a drug buy. I didn't get around the corner fast enough to see the buy itself, but many students were there. They had learned to look the other way. I suspect that if one of the girls had been raped, they would have seen no more, if a child had been knifed or shot, the whole school would have developed a case of blindness or amnesia or both.
  4. They demand virtually nothing from their students. The "dumbing down of America" is now so well documented that even his enemies don't chide Rush Limbaugh for using the phrase. If, however, Jim doubts it, I challenge him to take a look at an eighth-grade science book from the late 19th century. If he understands it (even with a college degree) it'd be very surprised. But then let him have a high school graduate read it and take a test based on it. Choose an honors science student. The odds of this student's passing, much less acing the test are so remote as to be infinitesimal.

However, the most important reason that many children, at least, do not learn in a classroom, is that the most important thing they HAVE learned that learning is unimportant. They've picked it up from two sources, both significant:
  1. Their parents (who learned it from theirs, and also from their own experience with #2 below), who do not read, who do not study anything beyond _Penthouse_ or _All_My_Children_. Never having seen an important adult read for pleasure (_Penthouse_ is not reading), why should they believe Mrs. Furgussen when she says that reading is fun or exciting or anything else? When a parent says, "I studied this in school, but I've never used it" (or, .. but I didn't understand it, either") the child learns that this stuff is useless and is a torturous experience forced on him by a society whose actions are malevolent and uncaring.
  2. He learns quickly that uncontrolled study, serious questioning of "school" values, personal experimentation (i.e., real learning), are NOT valued in school. Any question that strays from the recommended curriculum is either ignored or shot down. Honest questions or comments that don't fall within the party line are cause for rude dismissal of the child's idea. I have dozens of case stories, and as many "scholarly" studies to back them up, but a couple will suffice.

That oldest son of mine, as a recent graduate of a Montessori Pre-school in 1978, went to a DODSEUR first grade in Italy. His credentialed teacher consistently told the class that "You are so smart! The baby group hasn't learned their alphabet yet." These "babies" were someone's children, and even though they may not have been in the first rank of students, they surely didn't deserve to have their efforts so cruelly treated.

I asked Miss Garret, "So, the Romans had their own place system" during arithmetic after being shown that an "I" or "V" placed to the left of a higher-valued character reduced that character's value by its own. She shot that idea down so fast I've never forgotten it, even after an intervening 38 years. Did she ask how I got the concept into my head? Did she see what I was driving at? No, the point she was making was that the superiority of the Arabic (misnamed, it was Hindu, but that's a whole new story) system derives from the concept of a character's having different values depending on its position in the digital string. My observations were too difficult for her to address, perhaps too unsettling. Fifth graders can be SO disruptive.

The word "education" is crucial to this discussion, so let's look at it. My definition of education is to develop the innate capacities of [a child] , by instruction, whether formal or informal, with the goal of making the child an independent, thinking adult who can successfully negotiate the perils of life as he will face it. It includes the French definition of "Education" which means "to rear [a child] to be polite and a decent= member of society." I most certainly do not use it as a synonym for "teach." although it can be identical in some situations. I mean it to include "indoctrinate", as many statists do, without admitting it.
The use of the word "indoctrinate" is also important to the discussion, because, while "educate" is not a perfect synonym, most people do not recognize the connection. In fact, educators are by necessity indoctrinators, in that it is impossible to teach history, or language of any of the "humanities" without bias. An objective approach, even if possible, would be far too lengthy for any school to include it. In addition, many pass on to their charges a despite of their parents and a hatred of freedom.
Most sciences, too, are full of subjective content. Anthropology, biology, zoology, astronomy, archaeology and a myriad of others have religious and philosophical overtones, without which they would cease to be "science". I can teach any of these from an atheistic, Christian or Muslim point of view, and while the facts might be the same, the hypotheses would vary greatly depending on the outlook of the instructor.
Much of the indoctrination of children in schools is so subtle as to escape cursory detection because it includes as much what is NOT presented in the curriculum as well as that which is. A classic example of this is the showing of _Dances_with_Wolves_ as a "true" representation of "Native American life" as the white men advanced and destroyed it. Okay, the white advance was merciless and destroyed the Sioux as a sovereign nation. But their portrayal as a simple, generous-to-their-friends, savage-to-their-enemies people, is misleading. Sioux girls had to sleep with their knees tied together, and rigorously avoid certain areas of their own camps to prevent rape. The old, especially women, were routinely abandoned, and the young children, especially girls, of fallen warriors often perished because the man who took their mother would often not take them with her and protect them.
Without this counter to Kevin Costner, an eleventh grader in Lincoln (CA) High School comes out thinking that the Sioux were essentially an idyllic people, whose destruction was something akin to the loss of Atlantis. THIS is indoctrination. (I was there, a substitute in this class, with the complete syllabus as a reference. There was no counter-argument planned, nor did my friend's daughter talk of one when I asked her about it later.)
Even the most strident supporter of the NEA will not claim this publicly because it is so easily refuted, but there is an ongoing undercurrent that, without THEIR brand of education, any child will fail in the pursuit of life. If the child is learning the trade of his father, say cotton harvester, plumber or leather worker, why should you, or I for that matter, arbitrarily grab the child out of that environment and throw him into a classroom so he will "get an education"?
So, while some of those parents (the ones who don't give a rat's hindend) may, in fact, not care in the least that their children may never get "book learning", they do not all fail to educate their offspring. Plumbers have more math, more reading and a host of other skills, than the output of most high schools in America. Would a child from this environment be less prepared to deal with the problems of the world as he encounters it than a graduate of Nelson Mandela High? Would the son of the artisan know less physiology or less about planning, or "how to order from a catalog" than a diploma'ed kid from Horace Mann High?

Answer number 1: Permit the parents to teach their children. It worked for millennia, it works today, when we try it. Children in remote portions of Alaska and Australia learn at home, they use the radio and books from a government, but the teacher is Mom or Dad. (BTW, they only need spend about three to four hours a day to "keep up" with their state-incarcerated peers.) Plumbers' kids learn from watching their fathers. Milliners' daughters learn by watching their mothers. Farm kids usually help plow, sow, milk, clean, weld, drill, repair, deliver baby animals, castrate pigs, dock sheep tails, and so many other tasks that their education is so far beyond most city slickers that by the time they are fourteen years old, they know more general science, geometry, chemistry, biology, zoology and who-knows-what than some college professors in these subjects. Admittedly, they may not have the erudite vocabulary of the latter, but is that reason enough to call them uneducated?
Answer number 2: Let the kids wait until they are out of their parents' control. If the parents don't educate their children, it may not be all bad. At least these children will not grow up hating learning. Most of them will grow up and seek learning on their own. Deprived of the advantages they see around them, they will value the opportunity when they get it, and they will learn far more, far faster than they ever would have under the duress of the state.
Answer number 3: Let friends, family and churches take care of the problem. Private charity worked in America for centuries before Big Brother started commandeering the resources people used to give their churches, community chests, united funds and so on.
Variant to answer 3: I call this phenomenon the "Huck Finn syndrome". The "widder Douglas" took Huck in and got him going fairly straight. True, his earlier background made it difficult, but it happened. Now Jim, the supporter of government schools, not the character in the book, and his con-communicants may say that this was fiction, but Clemens could not have brought this off if it wasn't common enough for his 19th century audience to see its verisimilitude.
The blindered vision of so many statist "educators" appalls me. They portray themselves as the salvation of the nation, but they have yet to prove that their method works at all, much less works better than alternatives that others may propose. Why, I wonder, do they so adamantly oppose a parent's having a choice in the matter of educating his children. If they offered a quality service, wouldn't most people prefer theirs to whatever else would be available? But, since their service is mediocre at best, and detrimental in so many cases, they rightly fear that their heretofore captive clientele will abandon them at the first chance.

May it happen soon.


To compel a man to furnish contributions of money for the propagation of opinions which he disbelieves and abhors is sinful and tyrannical. (1777)

I have sworn on the altar of God, eternal hostility against every form tyranny over the mind of man. (1800) Thomas Jefferson

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Page updated by N.S. Gill March 30, 1997.
Copyright 1996 & 1997 N. S. Gill.

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