Detrimental Schooling:How Traditional Education Harms Children & Society
© 2003 by Laurie A. Couture, M.Ed, LMHC
"When we grew up and went to school, there were certain teachers who would hurt the children any waythey could, by pouring their derision upon anything we did,and exposing every weakness, however carefully hidden by the kids...We don’t need no education; we don’t need no thought control; no dark sarcasms in the classroom; Teachers, leave those kids alone! Hey! Teacher! Leave us kids alone! All in all its just another brick in the wall...All in all you’re just another brick in the wall."The Happiest Days of Our Lives and Another Brick In the Wall by Pink Floyd, 1979
Imagine a fairy tale country that has a government based on freedom, democracy and basic human rights for all. Now, imagine that to prepare that country’s children for the rights and responsibilities of living in and contributing to the free, democratic society, the government institutes a strange practice:
Beginning at the age of five, children in the country are confined for 13 years as hostages to a totalitarian institution run as a dictatorship. In that institution, children’s movement and bodily functions are controlled and regimented. Children cannot get out of seats or out of rooms without permission. Calls to parents are forbidden except in emergencies. Children have no right to question the validity of the curriculum, no right to critical thinking in deviance to the teacher’s agenda, no right to dispute or influence procedures for maintaining order and guidance. Children have no right to a curriculum based on independent study, or to have honored their own learning styles and educational needs and goals. The children can only go out and get exercise for 10-20 minutes once or twice per day, but that stops totally around the age of 10. Children are taught that the democracy exists, but are not allowed to take part in it. At the age of 18, children in that country are released. They are expected to be ready to function in society, advanced education and careers as self-motivating, free-thinking, innovative and assertive individuals. Now imagine that this fairy tale is not a fairy tale, but the very real state of the American Educational Institution for the past hundred years.
Why our current Educational Institution is detrimental to children:
Its structure, demands and curriculum are not child-centered or in line with developmental or learning needs
It regiments children's basic physiological needs and fails to allow children to respond to their own needs at times unprescribed by the teacher
The physical body is denied not only liquids, snacks and elimination, but exercise and rest (one or two "recesses" per day end around age 10)
Half of the states in the USA still permit teachers to assault children with paddles
It does not take into consideration that there are seven different learning styles
It provides no time for solitude, small child-led group meetings and independent study
It does not allow children to direct their own learning based on talents, interests and abilities
It fails to function as a democracy to prepare children to function in a democratic society
It is an institution based on control, order and punishment for non-compliance
Mistakes are not viewed as learning experiences, but as failures or infractions
Children’s effort and performance is graded according to the subjective opinions of a teacher
Grades are permanent, undisputable and are used to divide and "track" children according to performance
It labels children who cannot conform as "learning disabled" or "behavioral problems"
It isolates children from their families
It isolates children from the community
Children are forced to take busy work home after being confined for seven hours in school
Homework further isolates children from family time, play time, social time and time for pursuing one’s own interests
Children’s knowledge is assumed by using standardized tests designed to cater to those who excel at structured, pressured, recall of isolated facts, rather than dialoging or expressing knowledge in a variety of ways
It isolates children from taking part in contributing their ideas and talents to society
Learning is considered to be about "getting the right answer" rather than about the process of how to ask questions and where to find answers
Finding answers from peers or parents is called "cheating"
It is responsible for 1000’s of children being prescribed stimulant drugs for their exuberance, boredom or due to the teacher’s inability to provide a stimulating learning environment
It isolates children from interacting with people of various age groups
It creates a climate for children to isolate themselves into exclusive groups in order to establish a sense of power and territory in a hostage-like system (similar to prisons)
Its insensitive, control-based practices offer little opportunity for children’s voices to be expressed, leading to rage, rebellion and revenge
It is an outdated institution based on the work ethic of the early 1900’s
It has refused to modernize to meet the creative and intellectual needs and demands of a modern society
The historical origins of forced mass schooling and our modern schools
John Taylor Gatto (1996), educator and strong supporter of home schooling, has written extensively about the origins of our current educational institution in America. Schooling did not exist as long as many people assume; In 1650 New England colonies, influenced by Plato’s Republic, attempted to create such a compulsory institution, to no avail. In the early 1800’s, a group of influential secret society ideologists were influenced by the Socialist Prussian system of forced mass-education. Prussians instituted a subordination system to mass-educate the population’s children with the goal of producing an obedient group of people to conform to the Prussian goals of like-minded thinking and servitude to the government, army and to the mines. Gatto writes that "the underlying premise of Prussian schooling is that the government is the true parent of children" (p.44). In 1852, this secret society, known as "The Order of the Star Spangled Banner", was successful in passing legislation for forced mass schooling in Massachusetts. Gatto writes that within the next 50 years, every state followed suit, "ending schools of choice and ceding the field to a new governmental monopoly" (p. 43).Horace Mann, John Dewey and Kindergarten founder, Friedrich Froebel, were all vocal in supporting an institution that would control and gernericize education to prevent people from becoming from too knowledgeable and powerful. Gatto writes that in the early days of education reading was discouraged. Gatto adds that Dewey believed that with self-directed education, people become "dangerous because they become privately empowered, they know too much, and know how to find out what they don’t know by themselves without consulting experts" (p. 44).
On what principles was traditional schooling founded?
Schooling was influenced by the idea that self-directed education created dangerous, free-thinking, over-educated people
Schooling was influenced by the idea that children are helpless, blank slates that would never learn on their own if left to self educate
Schooling was influenced by the idea that parents cannot provide an adequate education for their own children
Schooling was influenced by the idea that only "experts" can impart knowledge and adequate education
Schooling was influenced by a governmental idea that isolating children from their parents would limit free thinking, ensuring a more malleable and willing labor force
Schooling was influenced by the work ethic of the 1800’s which valued passive obedience to an authority
Schooling was based on preparing children for lives of servitude to hard labor in factories, mills and army
Schooling was influenced by the idea that education is what happens when an authority feeds facts to a passive recipient
School student management was influenced by harsh, punitive, religious views of children as bad and in need of "reform", regimentation and control
School student management was influenced by the scant knowledge of child development of the times
Student management was influenced by adults showing little regard for the physical and emotional needs of children
Why traditional schooling is detrimental to society
School teachers love children who are quiet, obedient, passive recipients of the information that they present. Compliant children rarely argue or question the ideas of the teacher. On the contrary, spirited, exuberant children who buck the system are first punished into compliance, or next, are referred for testing to earn a label of "learning disabled", "special needs", or "behaviorally disordered". A remedy of stimulant medication to slow down or focus the bored, understimulated or energetic, passionate child often accompanies these testing results. Some of these children simply learn in a different manner than is being taught, or at a slower pace. Some are exceptionally bright, creative, gifted or talented. Many are abuse and neglect victims acting out their rage in school. Although obedient children are easy for parents and teachers to control and be around, these children often have difficulty with taking initiative, leadership, self-motivation, self-education, assertiveness, free-thinking, self-expression, trust in their own abilities and bringing innovative ideas to fruition. In our modern, technologically advanced society, the very qualities that are required for many of the successful careers of today are the very qualities that traditional schools subdue and squelch.
Reference Gatto, J.T. (1996) The Public School Nightmare: Why Fix A System Designed to Destroy Individual Thought? Chapter 7 in Deschooling Our Lives (Hern, M.): New Society Publishers.