Public Education: Start Again

If you could start from zero, what would public education look like?

We Knew What To Do About Slavery, Why Not Public Schools?

Posted by Stephen Dill on February 29, 2012

To appreciate how people could be so willfully blind as to permit such a ubiquitous malevolent presence as slavery, one needs only to look at American public schools.  The analogy between public schooling and slavery is presented solely to demonstrate that both are socially destructive institutions that are sustained by the belief that oppression, when it is even acknowledged, is necessary and beneficial.

Cevin Soling takes an opportunity to guest post in a friend’s column in Forbes to pose a very provocative question: most knew that slavery was not right, and yet it took much too long to swing public opinion to create the legislation to outlaw it. Public schools are based on outdated methods and needs and are doing great harm to the cognitive skills of entire populations, why are we not abolishing them, too?

Reading the comments that are mounting up beneath this article you get the feeling that some people think little of children’s ability to guide themselves, have personal interests (much less passions), or even to want to learn new things. Emotional responses, I suspect, but prevalent enough to convince me that Cevin is right in the parallels he has drawn to slavery. As he cites in the article,

The prevailing myth was that slavery not only enabled the cultural superiority of the South, but also the institution benefited slaves who were not morally or intellectually fit for the freedom they found in the North. …  The danger of negating tangible, albeit specious, benefits in addition to suppressing the expressions of support for tyranny by the oppressed is that it prevents us from recognizing institutions of subjugation within our midst.

We are all survivors of public schools. Rarely can anyone point to their years before college or entering the workforce as the years when they were encouraged to find and pursue their passion. Most have memories that are anything but supportive and nurturing. If we all took necessary the time to reconstruct the feelings generated by those years even the least scarred among us will characterize those years as learning how to conform, how to get by, how to suppress their preferences and real interests, and a period of waiting for freedom to do what really interested us. As Cevin says, ” It is remarkable that parents voluntarily subject their children to conditions that would be considered war crimes if they were enemy combatants.”

Cevin Soling has spent a considerable amount of his most precious resources—time and thought—on this issue. Do not think for a moment that the ideas of this article are illogical or shallow. I have had the pleasure of working with Cevin for a year now and I know that this man’s mind is working in a constant metacognitive state (thinking about his thoughts) to insure that he is not missing anything or basing his positions on fallible data.

I found great resonance in his closing statement about what to do instead of public schools,

The insistence that alternatives to public schooling must be presented in any discussion that attacks public schooling is a diversionary tactic that need not be entertained.  Abolition of slavery was not postponed until there was a clear vision for how to integrate millions of former slaves into society.  Mass recognition of the fundamental evil of the institution demanded immediate action.

That speaks to the premise of All New Public Education. We need to create a new system from square one, but we do not have to wait for that system to be designed, tested and delivered to every living soul to make the most important first step: dismantle the inept system that is currently an anchor around our collective necks. It is holding back our progress as human beings.

2 Responses to “We Knew What To Do About Slavery, Why Not Public Schools?”

  1. John Dow said

    The analegy between slavery and public schooling. I have noticed that you have taken to far. Yes we all hate school most of the time.
    School helps us most of he time. I have met most of my friends through school. and schools sets us up for collage which is needed in this economy

  2. Jake/John, thanks for your comment!

    Cevin’s topic is meant to be a comparison, not an analogy, based on an awareness of the damage that is done by the majority of public schools on the majority of students. Loss of the key cognitive skills of evaluation, analysis, and creativity counts among the most egregious wounds inflicted. Add to that list the near-total denial of any opportunity to realize the pleasure of learning, the indoctrination into the cult of “average,” and the branding of “unteachable” placed on anyone forced to rebel against the conformity the system expects, and you have an outrageous failure of a system paid for by tax dollars.

    But, as you illustrate, many do not recognize that damage. If helping you to meet people is what you expect from your schools, then I am sure the abolishment of public schools would make no sense.

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