Challenging “Unschooling”

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The September issue of the Public i included an article by Gina Cassidy entitled “Children’s Liberation” which argued against compulsory public education, advocating instead a system of “no schooling” or “deschooling” in which children are free to pursue their own educational interests (perhaps with the guidance and support of their parents). Before Gina’s article went to press, however, it was posted to the Public i listserve for peer review. One member of our editorial collective, Margaret Kosal, took issue with the article, arguing that it contained factual inaccuracies and was propagandistic. This sparked a brief debate among the collective, and in the end we decided to print the article with only minor edits, provided that Margaret’s criticisms be aired separately. Therefore, in the interest of providing a counterpoint to the “Children’s Liberation” article, a collation of Margaret’s points are printed below:

Beyond the conclusions … most of it is unsubstantiated propaganda.The most egregious errors are the claims with regard to the historical “freethinkers” [the article cites George Washington, Abraham Lincoln, Ben Franklin, Thomas Jefferson, Theodore and Franklin Roosevelt, Albert Einstein, Thomas Edison, and Henry Ford as having “little or no formal schooling”]. They were (1) privileged upper class landed gentry who were schooled formally by tutors often employing rote memorization techniques or (2) were schooled in formal school settings of exactly the kind the author critiques, e.g., Einstein, who valued formal education enough to go all the way through to a PhD from the University of Zurich (which he got at age 26, same as I did – so can I compare myself to Einstein -NOT!), and stayed within the formal University system his entire life! That’s the easiest one to pull apart off the top of my head!
[The author] spuriously neglects/selectively neglects to mention the vast numbers of historical and current free thinkers who have been or are educated in the formal school system. Just because something is counter to the status quo, the US government, or the Catholic Church does NOT make it true or worth publishing!
One can critique the current US educational system on a number of levels:
Does “unschooling” work for some? YES! Does everyone have a difficult time in the school system or [fail to] figure out how to play the game or use resources to one’s own advantage as some do? NO. Should “unschooling” be made more available? I’m not sure – those who seek it out and seek out the resources are most likely those who may function adequately in an unschooling environment.
Compulsory education made available free by the state for all boys *and girls* is one characteristic which people around the planet DO admire about the US! Prior to US compulsory education, only rich, white, Judeo-Christian boys were educated. Where did the rest of the under-16 population spend their work day? Revoking public education is not going to produce some utopian (or economically privileged) un-schooled society but rather a source of cheap, exploitable labor. See Amnesty International for reports of “torturous” [labor and long] hours to which children around the world are subjected! The article posted has an unstated undercurrent of economic and social privilege.
Such ideas may be worth considering, possibly with some deep and thoughtful analysis. Perhaps then [they] may be worth advocating. (Is anyone familiar with the Montessori system, started by a woman over a century ago.)
In my opinion, Sehvilla’s article [a review of The Teenage Liberation Handbook, which similarly advocates unschooling or self-schooling] is worthwhile because she owns the material as her own and her experience. She is living the unschooling program. [Gina Cassidy’s] article is littered with inaccuracies and portends to reveal the wisdom that is crushed in her conspiracy theory of public education! How many of us “survived” the public education system? How many of the founders and active members of the UCIMC and the IMC movement came out of the public school system? Are we ALL statistical anomalies? How large of a group can still be considered a statistical anomaly? Blaming the public education system for a host of negative effects is not a solution.
-Edited by Darrin Drda and Lisa Chason

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