In Defense of No Schooling

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This is in reference to the articles on public schooling
by Belden Fields and Margaret Kosal in the October issue
of Public I, ostensibly rebutting my essay “Children’s
Liberation”(Se[tember issue).
I do not mind someone writing a defense of public
education. In fact, this is what an open society should
encourage – healthy debate and disagreement. I would
point out to Fields, however, that nowhere in my essay
have I mentioned“abolishing public education.” I advocate
rejecting compulsory schooling. I have researched
the documents he cites; they talk about education, not
schooling. They also say that the parent is the proper
determiner of a child’s education. This is not at all in
conflict with what I have said.
It is odd that Fields calls compulsory schooling a
“right.” This sounds dangerously like Newspeak. Aren’t
we lucky we haven’t the “right” to compulsory military
Fields claims that public education is a mechanism of
upward mobility. Since compulsory schooling has been
around for about 150 years, most of us alive today should
have experienced this “upward” mobility. On the contrary,
the U.S. currently has the greatest disparity in income and
largest concentration of wealth in our history.
“What are the non-affluent to do if we were to abolish
public education?”
Again, this is not about “public education,” it is about
compulsory schooling.
If compulsory schooling were rejected, we may go
back to a nation of fiercely independent freethinkers that
we were at the birth of this country. Citizens could
demand several billion dollars be redirected from the
military budget to a fund paying stay-at-home parents to
raise their own children.
Public education should encompass town meetings,
public lectures, debates, forums, presentations, public
performance, revolving apprenticeships, volunteerism,
and open, ungraded classes. Public education would not
be age-segregated (except for obvious safety reasons).
Fields’ advocating removing the child from the family
is downright frightening. Family has the right to pass on
values and traditions. Our infamous “Indian schools”
and historical treatment of non-compliant Amish
should give enough pause to think of the harm this does.
Family gives the child a protective bond to develop confidence
in dealing with people and in learning about the
world. The parent’s job is to protect the young and see
them to adulthood, not to force “independence” on
them before they are ready. The “independence” of compulsory
school is, in reality, a transfer of responsibility
for the child to the system. Schools do not permit children
independence of mind or body. They actually keep
people children a great deal longer than nature. I
addressed the betrayal of young people permitted no
meaningful existence in my original essay.
Schools do not “teach respect for differences,” however
much we would like them to; they teach compliance
with authority and conformity; the need to maintain
order demands this.
Children are already “intellectually curious;” they
need space in which to exercise that curiosity. Forced
curriculum and the humiliation of grading and constantly
vying for teacher’s attention don’t do it.
Finally, it is ironic and sad that Fields had a miserable
compulsory school experience, but advocates the experience
for others.
Kosal’s “Challenging Unschooling” is dismissive and
devoid of facts.
Kosal charges that my essay is “unsubstantiated propaganda,”
“not worth publishing,” “littered with inaccuracies,”
and “has an unstated undercurrent of economic
and social privilege,” yet she provides no evidence for
any of these charges.
Kosal disputes my list of those with little or no formal
schooling. Specifically, that my claim about Einstein is
erroneous. Einstein famously hated school and attended
George Washington attended school for two years.He
became a surveyor’s apprentice at the age of 16 and
amassed a fortune in his own right using that skill by the
age of 21.
Abe Lincoln: one year of schooling. (Privileged?
Remember the log cabin story?)
Ben Franklin went to school for 2 years. He learned
his printing trade by apprenticeship and everything else
on his own. (Privileged? His father was a candlemaker
with seventeen children.)
Thomas Jefferson had eleven years of formal elementary/
secondary education. That schooling was not compulsory
and much of it was with the same teacher. His
eclectic accomplishments grew out of intellectual curiosity,
not forced curriculum.
T. Roosevelt had no formal schooling before college.
FDR went to school for 4 years to prep for college.
Thomas Edison went to school for 12 weeks. A
teacher called him “addle-headed,” so his mother took
him out and taught him herself. (Privileged? Middleclass.)
Andrew Carnegie: no schooling. (Privileged? Destitute
Henry Ford also famously hated school, which he
attended for eight years. He apprenticed at the age of 16.
Ford omits mention of his forced schooling in his
account of his early life in his autobiography. (Privileged?
Son of farmers.)
All of these facts are freely available (I recommend the
public library). Not one of these idols would credit
forced schooling with their education and success in life.
Kosal says, “revoking public education is not going to
produce some utopian (or economically privileged) unschooled
society, but rather a source of cheap labor.”
I am disappointed in this statement, since it reveals
that Kosal did not read my entire essay. I devoted much
of it to how unschooling our society would be difficult
and revolutionary.With parents approaching their roles
seriously, children couldn’t be exploited as cheap labor. It
should not be considered “economic privilege” to raise
your own children. The actual “utopian” idea is that
forced schooling benefits anyone but corporations.
Kosal calls my thesis a “conspiracy theory of education.”
Unfortunately, I cannot claim credit for discovering
the true nature of compulsory schooling. I cite several
people who have much greater right to that than I.What
is the purpose of education? Is it to fit humans into prefabricated
corporate and social slots? Or is it to help people
become “fully human” (to use Gatto’s expression)?
The system isn’t broken and in need of repair. It is fully
functional: creating docile, ignorant, uninvolved,manipulable,
self-centered consumers.
Human beings have been passing on knowledge and
learning about the world for a hundred thousand years
without forced schooling; some societies still do (even
“non-affluent” ones!). It is the height of hubris to think
that our current system of forced schooling is the
unequivocal pinnacle of social evolution, particularly
with all the undisputable social, psychological, ethical,
and economic problems we face as a society.
I expected that my essay would make some people
uncomfortable and defensive, but a rebuttal should
extend the courtesy of carefully reading the essay. A few
facts couldn’t hurt, either.

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