If you've stuck with me this far, you know the origins of the public school system and you understand just how well it has achieved its initial goals. I might go as far to say it's the most successful conspiracy applied to a mass audience in the history of mankind.
At the heart of any school reforms that aren't simply tuning the mudsill mechanism lie two beliefs: 1) That talent, intelligence, grace, and high accomplishment are within the reach of every kid, and 2) That we are better off working for ourselves than for a boss. But how on earth can you believe these things in the face of a century of institution-shaping/economy-shaping monopoly schooling which claims something different?
What makes us different? Why do such a small percentage of us see this and act on it?
Here is the crux of the dilemma: modern schooling has no lasting value to exchange for the spectacular chunk of living time it wastes or the possibilities it destroys. The kids know it, their parents know it, you know it, I know it, and the folks who administer the medicine know it. School is a fool's bargain, we are fools for accepting its dry beans in exchange for our children.
And yet so few are willing to do something about it. Did they really do that good of a job of killing off self reliance? Are people just lazy?
If you can keep your kid out of any part of the school sequence at all, keep him or her out of kindergarten, then first, second, and maybe third grade. Homeschool them at least that far through the zone where most of the damage is done. If you can manage that, they'll be okay.
I both agree and disagree with Gatto here. Certainly, schools kills the basic instinct for self education in the first and second grade. There is simply no other explanation for how kids teach themselves to walk and talk before age 4, yet become almost feeble minded by 2nd or 3rd grade, completely unable to do anything without explicit direction from an authority figure.
However, the Lord of Flies world that is junior high is at least as destructive. I'm not sure that even the most exceptional of kids will have the internal fortitude to avoid the corrosive effects of the American Junior High School. I say you have to keep them out the system until about age 14. I think most home educated kids will be able to survive high school if necessary. Although I suspect most of them by that time would rather be dipped in honey and dropped on a fire ant hill, over being subjected to school after 14 years of thriving without it.
And now Gatto provides his ultimate solution.
If we closed all government schools, made free libraries universal, encouraged public discussion groups everywhere, sponsored apprenticeships for every young person who wanted one, let any person or group who asked to open a school do so; without government oversight; paid parents (if we have to pay anyone) to school their kids at home using the money we currently spend to confine them in school factories, and launched a national crash program in family revival and local economies, Amish and Mondragon style, the American school nightmare would recede.
The only thing I would add is that we absolutely cannot pay anybody with public funds. Return the tax money to the parents and let them use it as they see fit.
Gatto acknowledges that the above will never happen, and provides the basic summary of his next book, how to go to school and still get an education. Interestingly, his prescription has a lot in common with the "community as one big community college" model of education I have discussed on occasion. He essentially recommends de-professionalizing education by getting out of the schools and into the real world. No standards, no oversight, no mandatory anything. Unleash millions of bright inquisitive minds on their particular worlds, and let a million seeds bloom.
He also recommends:
- Elimination of standardized tests as sorting tools
- Elimination of school boards and forcing control to the lowest possible level - parents controlling their voluntarily associated local schools.
- Get kids out of the schools and into the real world as much as possible. Presumably this requires more than an annual take your kid to work day.
- Eliminate the constant surveillance and tracking of kids. I might ass they can also do away with it for adults.
- Break the teacher monopoly so that anybody with something of value to teach can do it.
The final word, appropriately, goes to Gatto.
One-system schooling has had a century and a half to prove itself. It is a ghastly failure. Children need the widest possible range of roads in order to find the right one to accommodate themselves. The premise upon which mass compulsion schooling is based is dead wrong. It tries to shoehorn every style, culture, and personality into one ugly boot that fits nobody. Tax credits, vouchers, and other more sophisticated means are necessary to encourage a diverse mix of different school logics of growing up. Only sharp competition can reform the present mess; this needs to be an overriding goal of public policy. Neither national nor state government oversight is necessary to make a voucher/tax credit plan work: a modicum of local control, a disclosure law with teeth, and a policy of client satisfaction or else is all the citizen protection needed. It works for supermarkets and doctors. It will work for schools, too, without national testing.