Saturday, September 07, 2013

School Is a Prison — And Damaging Our Kids

From AlterNet:

Parents send their children to school with the best of intentions, believing that’s what they need to become productive and happy adults. Many have qualms about how well schools are performing, but the conventional wisdom is that these issues can be resolved with more money, better teachers, more challenging curricula and/or more rigorous tests.

But what if the real problem is school itself? The unfortunate fact is that one of our most cherished institutions is, by its very nature, failing our children and our society.

School is a place where children are compelled to be, and where their freedom is greatly restricted — far more restricted than most adults would tolerate in their workplaces. In recent decades, we have been compelling our children to spend ever more time in this kind of setting, and there is strong evidence (summarized in my recent book) that this is causing serious psychological damage to many of them. Moreover, the more scientists have learned about how children naturally learn, the more we have come to realize that children learn most deeply and fully, and with greatest enthusiasm, in conditions that are almost opposite to those of school.

More here.

This is the other education debate.  The debate nobody's really having because it's more about academics quietly issuing their reports, but with the information pretty much staying on the periphery of public discourse.  I shouldn't be surprised by this.  Back when I was teaching, I remember a report about learning and adolescent sleep habits strongly suggesting that high schools ought to start the day later than early in the morning.  When the district school board for which I worked met to consider scheduling issues for the next year, the report was actually mentioned, but otherwise completely ignored.  By late August, classes were starting an hour EARLIER.  That kind of thing is standard, I think, across the nation.

The bottom line here is that in recent decades, psychologists have figured out a LOT about how children learn.  A very small bit of that has worked its way into the mainstream, but not enough, by a long shot, to have any discernible effect on how we approach education.  This is the debate we should be having: how do we implement in the schools these new findings?  Instead, down-home self-appointed education "experts," corporate forces hoping that privatization can line investor pockets with education tax dollars, dumbshit pundits, and otherwise well meaning but totally confused individuals, have clamored and freaked out on the concocted "need" for more standardized tests, how "bad" teachers and the "greedy" unions who protect them must be eliminated, and the notion that charter schools are the answer for everything, even though charter schools, by their very nature, are nothing more than experiments in the field, rather than a concrete "solution."

In short, under these circumstances, it is virtually impossible to address the fact that the traditional organizational structure for the schools, along with numerous embedded assumptions within that structure, run totally counter to what we now know are the optimal conditions for learning.  That is, as the article asserts, our culture's understanding of how schools should function is historically rooted in approaches aimed at instilling obedience and deference to authority.  For years I've been pointing out how we adapted our schooling approach from the nineteenth century Prussian model, which was first adopted in order to militarize that nation's population, but the linked article dates it back even further, to Bible classes for children during the Protestant Reformation.  Either way, though, psychologists now know that a strict, discipline-oriented atmosphere totally destroys kids' natural curiosity and zeal for knowledge and understanding.

But we're too busy fighting to hold onto what we have, which, granted, is mostly counterproductive, but still MUCH better than what the charter/privatization/testing/bad-teacher crowd is pushing.  Indeed, what they want is essentially to end America's commitment to universal education.  I mean, I HATE the educational system we have now.  But even I'm afraid of what's in store for us.

You think Americans are stupid now?  Just you wait.