Schooling, dictatorships and humanity

A few days ago on Facebook, I shared the following quote by Grace Llewellyn, author of the “Teenage Liberation Handbook”.

Wendy Priesnitz had posted it on her Facebook page, which is where I found it, and the next day she commented that by posting it she’d probably lost a few ‘friends’ and readers of “Life Learning Magazine”, which she edits and publishes.

I’m sure she is right about that.

Quotes like this one by Llewellyn tend to make people very angry.  I think it’s because deep down they know it to be true, even while insisting that it’s not like that, at least not for everyone; at least not for them.   They will preach about how they had wonderful, caring teachers who allowed them all sorts of freedoms (within their own limitations).   They will praise their own school as being “good” unlike so many “bad” schools.

“Oh, ok,” I’ve been known to say on days when I felt particularly feisty (antagonistic?), “then at your school you could miss as many days as you wanted and not be penalized?”     Well, no, of course not!  “And you always got to choose which classes you wanted to take and which ones you didn’t, right?”   Well, no.   “But then homework must have always been optional, right?”    No, of course not.  Sometimes at this point the other person will roll their eyes as though I’m being unreasonable.

The Merriam Webster online dictionary defines “dictatorship” as:  A government organization in which absolute power is concentrated in a dictator (= A person who tells people what to do in an autocratic way or who determines behavior in a particular sphere) or a small clique.

Correct me if I’m wrong, but the Department of Education is a government organization, is it not?   Each school is a microcosm of that governmental organization.   The head of each school is the principal and in their respective schools he or she wields absolute authority.   Kids who misbehave get sent to the principal’s office.  The teachers are a kind of clique, carrying out the mandates of their employer.    Schools dictate what kids wear, when they eat, go to the bathroom and talk. That sounds like “determining behavior” to me.  It sounds like a dictatorship.

Still unconvinced?   Ok, how about this?  Imagine that you live in a country where every morning you must get up early to get to your government-mandated job by the time the starting bell rings. If you are late it is put on your permanent record. You must wear only the clothes approved by the government.  You are assigned to a particular room with a group of other people exactly your same age and perceived intelligence.  Your ‘work’ means spending the entire day collecting answers to questions asked by your boss and then regurgitating them on cue.  You are scored for the accuracy with which you regurgitate this information.  Failure or refusal to take part in this testing is reflected on your permanent record and may even result in you being taken away from your family by the authorities.   You cannot quit this job.  You are required to do it for a minimum of 12 years.  You are told you will have no future if you do not complete those twelve years to the satisfaction of your “employers”.   Oh, but there is something else.  Aside from being provided one (or maybe two) meals a day, you are not paid for your work.  You are told you will be rewarded with a good income at a future date.   This is not a negotiable situation.

Would any of you live in a country like that?  I wouldn’t.  But kids do, every day.  They do it under duress and with the full knowledge that they will be severely punished if they fail.

Earlier this evening my friend Lisa Nielsen (who by the way is losing her job at the Dept. of Ed because of federal funding cuts to the Ed Tech programs which were very recently hailed for their success and innovation – nothing dictatorial in that decision) pointed me & other members of her Alt Ed Facebook page to a blog post by elementary school teacher Pernille Ripp titled, “Forced Education is Not Cruel and Unusual Punishment”.

In it, she says:

“…to the original point that forced courses or mandatory education is cruel and unusual punishment and that students should have a free reign instead over what they study and how.  I disagree.  I think students should be expected to take certain classes simply because education is what rounds us out at human beings.

I loved climbing trees as a child and could have spent most of my days outside roaming around with my knife, and yes because of school I couldn’t pursue that all day, however, that childhood passion would certainly not have led me down the path of teaching.  Instead going through school and having a foundation to do further studies on led me to where I am.  Children may have the curiosity to explore, and that should never be stifled, however, we must support that curiosity with basic common knowledge and a well-rounded worldview…

… Some even say that grammar and how to write an essay is superfluous knowledge that does us no good.  I disagree.  I think all of these lead us to where we end up… So I may not remember all of the days of grammar drilling, or spelling lines, or even math facts, but I see the result of them; me teaching it to my students but trying to make it more interesting.

I think we sometimes mistake the whole notion of education for all as flawed, where instead we should be focusing in on the parts that are.  Drill and kill, sometimes that is a necessary component.  Teacher talking, yep that too…”

Lisa asked for our comments, and my comment was that I have a hard time taking a teacher seriously in her argument when her grammar and punctuation is so atrocious.   My comment caught me some flak from other page members, including Lisa, and Idzie Desmarais, for both of whom I have the utmost respect but with whom I disagree on this point.   They said that picking on people because of typos or mistakes in blogs is ridiculous; we don’t have editors or proofreaders and should not be held to those standards.  Especially since all you have to do is pick up a book or a newspaper to see that even the pros are far from perfect in that regard.  They are correct about that, but in this case, I feel the grammar is very, very relevant when a teacher is arguing that forced schooling makes us all better because those essays and grammar drills improve our ability to function in the world.    She does not agree that knowing how to write an essay is superfluous, but if she turned in her blog post as an essay in school she would receive an “F”.   I know, because in my Junior year of high school I turned in an essay that was perfect but for one run-on sentence.  My grade was a “C”.  For one run-on sentence.

Just for fun, I challenge you to find all the grammatical mistakes in Ms. Ripp’s post (or at least the parts I included here).

What is my point?   The point is that forced schooling does not make you better at grammar or give you a broader worldview or make you a better citizen.   It does teach you how to do as you’re told, follow the rules and conform.  It is very much a dictatorship in that regard, and although I might not go so far as to call it cruel and unusual (or maybe I would), its’ humanity & worth in the broader scheme of things could definitely be called into question.

2 comments on “Schooling, dictatorships and humanity

  1. Dkkrrip says:

    SO with you on the grammar and punctuation issue. There is no excuse for a “professional” educator to not be held to the same (if not higher) standard they are charged with instilling in our youth. Poor spelling and grammar is a poor representation of leadership. Period.

  2. Miriam says:

    My dad was a fiend on grammar and enunciation. He must be rolling in his grave.

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