Yesterday I began reading John Taylor Gatto's Weapons of Mass Instruction, and as usual Gatto's writing has the potential to strike terror into the heart of anyone with children. From being fearful for today's public school children, the next logical step is to call to mind my own experiences in public schooling and realize with horror that yes, I was brainwashed in many ways. It isn't the fault of teachers. The system is simply set up that way. And today it is much worse than when I was growing up, thanks to George W. Bush's "No Child Left Behind" policies and the current "Race to the Top" schemes. The methods used to dumb us all down are subtle and perhaps all the more insidious for that reason.
I was talking to a friend recently who has been a teacher for a long time, and I told her the strongest impression I have of my high school memories is being physically uncomfortable. I was always cold, and there were no windows in the classrooms to let in fresh air and sunshine. I was hungry all the time. I ate breakfast when I got up at 5:45 a.m., was starving by lunch time, and then ate a school lunch that was usually unappetizing. By the time I got off the school bus at 3:00 p.m., I was ravenous. Luckily we always had healthy food to eat at home.
Aside from gym, the long lunch line, and changing classes, I remember only three occasions of being out of a chair while in high school. Otherwise we were always sitting in rows, facing front toward the teacher's desk and the blackboard. Mrs. Campbell was an excellent English teacher, and one day we moved our desks all out of the way to do some play acting with Shakespeare. (We would also stand to read our book reports.) In Spanish, Miss Baird, another good teacher, led us through the halls one day to sing Christmas carols in Spanish (likely this would no longer be allowed). In Oral Interpretation and Debate class, we stood for our debates and duet acting. I'll be writing more on why the standard set up is problematic in later posts.
For now I want to simply begin a journey toward deconstructing the school experience, starting with intense analysis of my own time in public school and the experiences of my classmates. My task is to unlearn everything I think I know, all of those ingrained notions of what education is and how it should be accomplished. When people object to homeschooling, they are by and large reacting to their own school brainwashing and the current idea that only a certified, specialized person can know or teach anything. The idea that school is not only unnecessary but damaging to the human spirit is intensely threatening. There is a vested interest in insisting that school is good. Also, past generations did not have it as bad as kids do today, and they don't realize how slippery the slope of American government schools has actually become. Mostly I will be writing stream of consciousness style, letting memory and thought flow organically as it will.
What can we do, beginning today in our homes, to free our children to truly learn and grow at their own pace, in their own way and time? How can we create a self-educating environment? How can we give them opportunities to make their own choices and discoveries? How can we avoid the pitfalls of duplicating school in the home? How can we unschool without falling into irresponsible, neglectful "unparenting", as happens sometimes at the radical end of the spectrum? Can we be respectful friends of our children as well as figures of authority? These questions and more must be addressed, and no doubt looking so closely at our histories will be uncomfortable, probably even painful. But how can I set my child free until I have broken my own chains? Let's do it one day at a time and have the courage to unwrap the truth. I welcome your comments! Am I alone here in my efforts? Anyone? Anyone? Bueller?