Education, Parenting, and Change for Tomorrow

(originally written in late 2004, when I was 18. Very minor edits in 2018. Most of my beliefs haven’t changed much in this regard: I am vehemently against disproportionate discipline and oppose privatisation and charter schools as a means to reform education. I still support differentiated instruction and educational support for students of different abilities; no two learners are identical. I am no longer anti-psychiatry - I haven’t been for over ten years - and support the use of psychiatric medication for people who benefit from it. I’ve been taking antidepressants for nine years. For context, I wrote this essay in response to my frustrations with how I was routinely pathologised within the school system and the authoritarianism I encountered from my parents.)

Thoughts on the current system

As you all know, I am a supporter of public schooling, and I have a lot of strong views regarding education. Even though some of you may consider this view somewhat controversial, I find that it needs to be addressed, as there is quite a lot of disagreement as regards this topic. First, I support public schooling because it is of no direct cost to the parent. Indeed, public school funding does come from taxes. But still, it is not the same as paying for home-school curricula or private-school tuition. Home-schooling and private schooling are not necessarily options for poorer families. If someone lives in abject poverty, she is not going to be able to afford a home-school curriculum (some cost about $500 a year!) or be able to send her children to private school. Unschooling and home-schooling may work for those who have enough money and access to quality books, but what about those who cannot? There is already a large gap between the haves and the have-nots. Why make it larger by abolishing public education rather than merely repairing it? Also, there is the question of ideology and discrimination in private schooling. Private schools reserve the right to admit whomever they choose. They can refuse to admit a poor black child, or a young gay boy, or an atheist, and that students' parents would not be able to sue. (If that is wrong, please tell me so.) Home school curricula also tend to have a conservative Protestant bias. Even the group of lawyers who defend home-schooling, the HSLDA, appear to be rather conservative in their views. They have lobbied against abortion, gay marriage, ad infinitum. (By the way the conservatism I refer to is social conservatism, not economic conservatism.) There needs to be some balance to all this home-schooling bias. Some homeschoolers' books seem to inculcate bias and prejudice into them. Parents can use these to perpetuate ignorance into their children and inhibit curiosity and free inquiry, which is what a lot of the home-schooling advocates here try to promote. They learn not to ask intelligent questions, since all they get is pat answers. Example: "Mom, why do giraffes have long necks?" "Because God made it so." I am not insulting God at all. But if you really want to teach your child science, not pseudoscientific creationism, then you can tell your child, "God made giraffes with long necks because ...". (The purpose of this mini-essay is not to teach pedagogical techniques, so I will stop right there and get back to my original topic.) Home-schooling can be good if done properly, but it can be abused.

Public schooling is a shambles right now. I know that from experience, and I know that from stories that others have told. Students are taught to obey school faculty unquestioningly, even when those people are wrong. They are punished for the most ridiculous things, such as having a pair of scissors, or wearing armbands or t-shirts in protest of a government action. The lessons learned in class are sanitised, and students grow bored easily. (I know I did.) Students are paddled by school administrators simply because they dared to speak out or act out against teachers' abuses. Minority students (usually black or Hispanic) are singled out and mistreated. Students who would succeed under better circumstances are thrown into "special needs" classes or put on psychotropic drugs such as Ritalin, Wellbutrin, Prozac, and Zoloft because they disrupt the classroom's social order (in which everyone must basically march in lockstep). I was drugged myself and put in those kinds of classes; I know about this. Believe me, it is hell. I am in no way supporting the actions of public schools now.

The prevailing attitude seems to be, "If you cannot make them sit down, shut up, and regurgitate our drivel, then either drug them up or beat the devil out of them." This whole idea that is prevalent in public schools is antithetical to the true pursuit of knowledge. The problem is not the IDEA of state-sponsored education. The problem is its execution. If public schools were conducted differently, I would be a wholehearted supporter of them. First off, the purpose of public education must be made clear. It is not there to "socialise" students. It is there to educate. Second, the idea of a one-size-fits-all education must be abolished. I am not an 'educational communist' and do not believe that everyone should be kept on the same level. I do believe in a bit of healthy competition. It is preposterous to make a brilliant student do work that is far too easy for her, and ridiculous to make a severely [intellectually disabled] student try to pass a state test that is written for students [students without an ID]. Is everyone as intelligent as everyone else? Of course not. Since there are varying levels of intelligence, motivation, energy, and other personal characteristics, there must be varying methods of education for each student. Even if education is touted to be the "great equaliser", unequal levels of intelligence and capability will manifest themselves and negate this notion.

The New Public Education and the new childrearing

In fact, I think that public education should be radically different from the way it is now. I envision a large facility in which there are several centres for experimentation and discovery, and teachers serve as guides and mentors rather than autocratic agents of the State. It would be filled with several resources to broaden students' knowledge about their chosen subjects. Books, computers hooked up to fast Internet, laboratories, many field trips, you name it. It would be a bit like "autodidactism en masse" but it would be tax-funded. Poorer students could take part in this even if their parents could not afford to buy the books and other impedimenta for autodidactic learning because the State would provide it. Students would profit more from this sort of learning since the majority of them would only attempt to do things within their abilities. Of course, this sort of public education would not be compulsory; it would be voluntary. If a parent wished to teach his or her child differently, then it would be possible to do so. I know that there will still be those parents who will insist on teaching their children bullshit but after a few generations of the New Public Schooling and a change in parenting these problems will be decreased. If intellectual inquiry is encouraged, such things as the creationist movement will die out. I believe that real change must begin with our own individual families, as well with lobbying politicians. It is near impossible to change the views of the less-enlightened members of the older generation. But we, as young people, are able to start our own families and inculcate upon our children the importance of human rights. Existing attitudes towards pedagogy and childrearing are the foundations for the ageist beliefs that exist in the American consciousness. The idea of parental supremacy and infallibility is what later informs such unjust laws regarding youth. It is also related to the way in which current public schools are run, except that parental infallibility is converted to adult infallibility. In fact, most anti-youth ideas rise from the wrong-headed doctrine of parental superiority. Every single one of those laws places complete authority on the parent, rather than the youth herself. This attitude towards childrearing is an old one, and is difficult to expel from our collective consciousness because of the prevalence of fundamentalist religion and the constant influence of tradition. It is an attitude that partly comes from the Bible and other religious books (interpreted in a literalist and fundamentalist fashion), and partly from European and American tradition. Several verses in the Bible regard children as property and make it clear that disobedience to a parent's will is a dreadful sin, not only against one's parents, but also against the Almighty God. The authors of the Bible are also apparently ardent supporters of corporal punishment...even to the point of killing a disobedient child. Although there are verses in the Bible that could be used to support Youth Rights, the vast majority appear to favour the parent unfairly. If we, the Youth Rights activists, have children and we raise them in our revolutionary manner, ageism will gradually go away. The New Public Education will also aid in the changing of American opinion on childrearing and education because it emphasises intellectual inquiry and curiosity rather than blind obedience and submission.

© Finn M Gardiner 2004, 2018. All rights reserved unless otherwise specified.