I know that I’m entering into a sticky topic here, but I’ve got to get this off my chest…
Have you ever thought that institutionalized schooling has been bad for us, for our society?
Assuming that all of you are less than 150 years old ;), like me, you’ve grown up with the notion that school has always existed, that it’s the best way to learn, and that it’s necessary for a productive society.
But is this really true?
Ever think about what life was like before the government stepped in and took control over this portion of our lives?
Undoubtedly, life was hard, to say the least. But did it feel that way to them, or are we looking at it through the lenses of a population that has grown used to everything being done for us? Have we become a society of people who are not only spoiled, but are also, in essence, incapable of truly taking care of ourselves?
Prior to the legislation of compulsory school attendance, men, women, and children were busy living their lives and doing what they had to do for their families. They built their own houses, grew their own food, raised their own livestock, and made their own clothing. On top of that, they hunted and trapped animals- not only for food, but to tan the hides for leather and to use the furs for coats, or for bartering. They churned their own butter, baked their own bread, and in the rare case that they could not provide something for themselves, neighbors would either help each other out or perform one task in trade for another.
People were capable. They were creative. They were resourceful. Children had an important role in this era. They learned from little on up how to function as a member of a successful family and as a successful society.
Enter compulsory schooling.
On the surface, government education for all seems like a brilliant idea. I mean, who could possibly be against teaching kids how to read and do math?
But, believe it or not, they were already learning those things from doing their day-to-day living. They weren’t learning how to read so they would perform well on a test. They were learning how to read so they could enjoy a letter from a faraway relative or sign contracts. They were learning how to read because they had an actual need for it.
What about math? It’s hard to believe with the amount of measuring, bartering, and buying and selling these people did that they didn’t know math. The vast majority of their trades would have been impossible without math. The difference is that, since they weren’t formally taught math by a teacher and a textbook, those of us who have grown up thinking this is the only way to learn have failed to recognize their accomplishments. And again, they weren’t learning math to earn an A on a report card. They learned it because they needed it, and, more likely than not, they didn’t even give it a second thought.
The educational system today has compartmentalized learning into ‘subjects,’ and they’ve done such a good job of it that most people don’t even recognize real education, unless it is broken down under the official heading of English, Math, Science, etc.
To be honest, I find this laughable, because who in real life walks around thinking, Okay…I just doubled that recipe, so I did math. I watched that Civil War documentary so I also did history. Oh, I’d better get some reading done because I haven’t done language arts today!
You might be rolling your eyes at that, but isn’t that exactly how we see pre-compulsory school society? As a group of people who needed to be saved because they weren’t learning? Just because they weren’t walking around checking off our arbitrary ideas of what important subjects they should have been covering, we pompously assume that they were a bunch of illiterates who didn’t know that 2+2=4.
So what happened once attendance laws were put into place? Generations down the line, self-sufficiency was gone because children were required to spend the hours they used to spend living life in a building designed to replicate life. Factories were built- and the school system was a giant help to that industry– and people began to rely on other people to supply what they needed…at a cost of course.
People today speak glowingly of the Industrial Revolution, and while it may have made life a bit easier for some- very much easier for men like John Rockefeller-at what cost?
-We’re living in a world with rapidly depleting resources. As a society that has become addicted to consumerism, we buy, and buy, and buy, and companies make, and make, and make. And all the while, we are being wasteful. I’m not pointing the finger at anyone. I know that I’m guilty of the same thing. Is it necessary to own 50 pairs of shoes? Why do we need to have 100 blouses in our closet? Are we going to eat the mounds of food that we buy, or will a great portion of it be thrown away?
-We have all but lost the ability to be self-sustaining. Again, not pointing the finger. I don’t even know how to sew on a button or mend a hole in a sock. I don’t have a garden because I tend to have a black thumb rather than a green thumb. And don’t even ask me how I feel about deer meat. Yuck. But doesn’t this stem from being spoiled by the ‘conveniences’ we’ve grown up with? What if I had to do these things because there was no other choice? What if we all did? We certainly would be better stewards of our things because we would be the ones who actually created them. And since we were the ones doing the work for our own families, there would be less overconsumption of natural resources, because really…would you find 35 pairs of underwear to be necessary if you were the one who actually had to make them?
-Our overconsumption has led us to greed. My children and I love reading The Little House series. These autobiographical stories take place before the Industrial Revolution, and they give a clear picture of just how little was necessary to make people happy in those days. How would your children feel if they awoke Christmas morning to find a pair of mittens, a peppermint stick, and a penny in their stockings? No presents under the tree- just those three things. If you’re kids are anything like mine, they’d be pretty upset. And, as their mom, I would be, too. I’d feel like a failure because I’ve been conformed into the consumer lifestyle, as well. What if it didn’t have to be that way?
You might be wondering what this little history lesson has to do with school.
Compulsory schooling has robbed us of the ability to do things for ourselves. We have become so used to being told what to do by others, when to do it, and how to do it that we never wonder why we’re doing it.
But I am wondering why today. And so should you.