Tuesday, October 09, 2007

What About Free or Independent Schools?

I found another great article in the Home Educator's Family Times today. It's called, "The Difference Between Homeschool and School," and it's written by a woman who was unschooled from birth through college and is now raising her own son. It's rather deep and involves quite a bit of educational research; if you don't have time to read and think, you might prefer to skip this one.

The author considers the question of the "liberal" schools - free schools, holistic schools, Montessori or Waldorf schools. She discusses the benefits as well as the concerns of those schools. In the end, her conclusion is that while those schools are certainly much better at keeping kids motivated to learn, they suffer a couple of significant defects common to more traditional schools.

First, children in those schools still have to conform to the desires and schedules of the teacher or the other children. The need to manage a large number of kids means the students don't get the one-on-one time they would like, nor do they have the time to immerse themselves fully into the subject matter they are studying. As the author puts it,
What if a child wanted to take a nap? What if he wanted to be alone? What if he wanted to call his parents? What if he wanted his parents to hold him and read him a book? What if he wanted to feel the comfort of being at home? What if he just wanted to be left alone for a couple of hours to play a game or read some books of his choice? What if he didn’t want to be constantly watched and surveyed and monitored? Well, too bad. Sorry. In even the most holistic, free-school there is no special time or place for the individual child.

The other significant drawback to even an independent or democratic school is that the teacher does not have the deep, loving relationship with the child that a parent has. Educational research has shown that children learn best when they are deeply cared for. The author puts it this way:
I do believe that, aside from the unlimited learning possibilities, this is the very real and very important difference between the very best liberal school and home schooling: the loving, personal, and close relationships within the life learning family.

This article also brings up a really important issue in terms of socialization, and one that's not discussed much in homeschooling circles. The issue is this: how do we teach our children to live within the power structure of society? Here's how the author puts it:
In liberal circles the question of socialization is usually asked in this context: how will a child, who is not regularly in school, learn the values of the community and how will a child, who is not regularly in school, learn how to compromise and accept the status quo? This question is not so simple as to whether or not the child will learn how to talk to or relate to other people, but rather is based on the concern (or fear) that the home school child may not be willing to compromise her values when her values are counter-hegemonic. When we break down the reasons that make us feel like school might be better than home schooling, we find that the reasons for going to school are rather contradictory to a liberal and explorative education. That is, the reasons for going to school are actually the opposite of liberating. In fact, the reason for going to school is to learn to fit in and obey the very same power structure that mainstream society (and public schooling) operates under.

When we break down the ultimate purpose of schools to be the transmitters of culture, and when we explore how schools transmit this culture, it becomes clear that we are dealing with a very invisible, yet very powerful and active structure. Even the most liberal schools are perpetuating a system that takes power out of the hands of the individual and family and transfers the power into the hands of an entity - an institution - and the culture of power. By using this system as the sole means for learning and education, we are surrendering our inherent ability to be the leaders of our own learning, education, and future.

And here is where the rubber meets the road when it comes to schooling. If the "ultimate purpose of schools" is "to be the transmitters of culture," the first question that must be asked is what kind of culture we want to be transmitted to our children. If "the reason for going to school is to learn to fit into and obey" a given power structure, we must ask ourselves whether we in fact WANT our children to learn to fit into and obey the current power structure, or whether we have other goals for them. Perhaps our goal is that our children break free of the current power structure; perhaps it is that they create a new power structure; perhaps it is that they submit themselves to a different power altogether from the one our society is subject to. But if any of these is true, sending our children to any currently existing school is going to defeat our purpose. Teaching our children at home allows us to carefully build into them the culture and values we believe to be most significant.

And perhaps that's the core reason why the current system opposes homeschoolers so vehemently. Unlike even so-called "independent" schools, we homeschoolers represent a threat to the current culture and power structure. We are raising our children to be truly independent of the pervading culture, to think for themselves and to become all they can be. No wonder the system fears us!


Shawna said...

I really like the article and the perspective and plan to share it with my child who really likes the idea of a "free school" right now :-) And for the most part I have to agree with the author and even your commentary on the subject.

Where I tend to feel a SLIGHT difference is that I tend to feel that in today's world, schools are not so much set up to transmit "culture," but rather are a place to keep children while parents can work, can create and contribute to GDP. Why then do schools seem to dislike homeschoolers so much? It again comes down to the dollar--each child removed from the public school system is money kept from the schools. And we are a capitalistic society that loves the almighty dollar!

This may not be why schools were set up, and maybe in a round about way it was,..but I do believe schools are more about keeping kids in their place so parents can make money, produce, consume. And kids will follow in their footsteps.

Teachers may feel they are transmitting knowledge and/or culture, they may truly wish too...but deep within the structure of the instutution there is an ulterior purpose.

Marcy Muser said...


I think there is some truth to what you say about schools being set up to keep kids while parents work. And I agree - the schools themselves dislike homeschoolers because they take money from the schools themselves. While schools were originally not set up so both parents could work (in the late 1800's it was almost unheard of for women to work), they WERE set up to train up workers for the work force - good little "worker bees" who would do what they were told and not question authority. (See the book The Underground History of American Education for a lot more on this.) So as you said, in a roundabout way schools were set up to increase the GDP.

When I talk about the system's opposition to us as homeschoolers, though, I mean more than just the schools themselves. Why is it that so many - teachers, administrators, and even ordinary people - oppose homeschooling, despite what is quickly becoming a proven track record? And why is it that perhaps the #1 question asked of homeschooling parents is "but what about socialization"?

I think the issue of transmitting culture has a lot to do with it.

Just my 2 cents' worth, of course. ;)

Shawna said...

I nominated you for an award :-)

Come have a look see http://thehomeschoolingexperiment.blogspot.com/

Dana said...

Excellent points, Marcy. I like the issue of "what culture" it is that we want to have taught.

It seems that our programs today are more bent on tearing our culture apart than about introducing anyone to it.

Anonymous said...

I came to the link to your blog from Melinda's siggy line at Sonlight. I am stunned at the quality writing and thoroughness of thought you display in your blog. Very Well Done!
Cheryl - now in Green Bay, WI, previously from EFree in SLC :-)

Kindred Blessings said...

What an awesome post! There is so much food for thought here and I agree wholeheartedly with your thoughts! As a former ps teacher, I believe there is an agenda to conform children's thoughts. "Multiculturalism" and "tolerance" didn't happen by chance! There is an agenda.

Alos, what you said about having a "loving" teacher is so true. If you go to my blog, you can read my lastest post that goes into how my ds has blossomed in a loving, home environment. I'm convinced that he would be a completely different young man if he would have been in a traditional school.