Friday, December 03, 2004

On the Evils of Public Education

A few months ago I was engaged in a discussion with a friend about education in the US. Her concern was whether or not she would be doing a disservice to the public school system by not putting her child into it, when by being in the school system she could work to prevent its failure for others not as privileged, educated, etc.

The first question to answer is, "What is wrong with public schools?" The biggest problem with both public schools, and most of the "good" private schools in the US is that they are either state-run or state-sanctioned. Another way to look at this problem is through this question: "How does the state define success?"

The State doesn't want children (or adult Americans) to be great thinkers and producers of new and innovative technologies. It doesn't want them to think for themselves or do great things. Rather, all of the goals of Standardized Testing, NCLB legislature and other developments in "education reform" have been designed to churn out high "achievers" - children who score well, who fit into their slots, who will someday seamlessly transition into the state-sanctioned world of go-to-cubefarm, make-money-pay-mortgage, make-babies-pay-tuition, retire-ontime-accept-shitty-pension, die. The State does NOT want people who will actually make a difference, who will change that status quo. Anyone or any groups of people who try are violently put down. They are sent to the principal's office, they are put in detention, they are expelled. Outside of school they are teargassed, jailed, and killed.

Occasionally someone appears who is so remarkable, so charismatic, so successful in gettting others to sympathize with their cause, the states has no choice but to acknowledge them. When this happens, the state tends to put its own special spin in it, simplifying, cleaning up, whitewashing. Instead of members of a larger movement, they are singled out and made into unrealistic "heroes." James W. Loewen in Lies My Teacher Told Me says of heroification, "Through this process, our educational media turn flesh-and-blood individuals into pious, perfect creatures without conflicts, pain, credibility or human interest." Loewen describes in detail what happened to Hellen Keller in the hands of the mainstream education system. Everyone knows about the deaf and blind little beast who is tamed and taught by the well-educated Anne Sullivan. Then what? "The truth is that Hellen Keller was a radical socialist...Keller hung a red flag over the desk in her study. Gradually she moved to the left of the Socialist party and became a Wobbly, a member of the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW), the syndicalist union persecuted by Woodrow Wilson." (Loewen, p. 20-21) Teaching those things about Keller would require an honest look at what Socialism is, what the IWW was, what "syndicalism" means, and why someone as wholesome and inspiring an American hero as Hellen Keller would want to have anything to do with them.

The opposite is true as well. In the same chapter Loewen talks about Woodrow Wilson, who is seen as a "great president" who is perhaps most famous for "giving" women the vote. The horrible things he did are often completely omitted or at best mentioned but written in such a way that this "hero" is blameless. (Loewen, p. 25)

Is there a small group of individuals in power? If the answer is yes, you're not living in any sort of democracy. The Powerful will create a school system that keeps Themselves and their friends on top of that power structure. No one who has power ever wants it taken away, just as those with no power want it. The only chance of success is a system where everyone is truly equal.

Are you doing a disservice to others who can't pull their children out of public schools? Perhaps you can be that revolutionary reformer from within. But the chances are slim. You are doing more of a disservice to your child by keeping them there. As another friend pointed out, by putting your child in school, you are preventing your child from growing up to be one of the radicals, revolutionaries, people that will help others break free.