The other day, I read a post called Standardization: Merely a Symptom of the Disease. I made a bold assumption that this article was going to advocate for saving public education. I figured that the real issue might be coercion and standardization and that the solution might be to save one of the last democratic social institutions. Instead, it was a piece on why the institution itself is a disease, why I’m essentially a slave driver.
Slave driver? Really?
I visited a second grade classroom where my friend Dan teaches. They great him with a hug and he teaches them how to read. I sat for an hour waiting for him to crack a whip, yell at the slaves and demand that they get back to their back-breaking work. Instead, they moved freely between stations where they worked on number sense.
Often people use bold, loaded language because they have been wounded by a system. I once called traditional education “a prison,” but a co-worker told me, “Please don’t call it that. When I was growing up, my home was a prison. The school was my refuge. The bars you mock were a sign of safety. The order you make fun of was what I was thirsting for. Mrs. Garcia was my safety net.” And that’s the tricky part. One student’s safety net is another student’s spider web.
All Systems Are Imperfect
It has me thinking that the issue is relational as well as systemic. Un-schooling and homeschooling (or any other system) can be harmful to children. Families can be broken. Parents can be coercive. I know some people who were really wounded by un-schooling, describing the lack of structure as dangerous and unrealistic. Others describe their parents as overly critical and obsessed with discipline. However, I also know home-schoolers and un-schoolers who found the home to be a refuge. They describe a sense safety and the unconditional love that couldn’t happen in a public school.
I know of people who were badly wounded in public schools, parochial schools, private schools, charter schools, un-schooling, home-schooling and any other system of education they experienced. This doesn’t mean we can’t transform broken systems. However, it suggests to me that maybe we need to drop the pejorative language about a particular system and ask what it would mean to humanize a broken system. Maybe the solution is home-schooling. But maybe the solution is to transform public schools through conversations with home-schoolers and un-schoolers and traditionalists.
Maybe the solution is a humble conversation instead of a tribalistic screaming match playing out in ALL CAPS.
All institutions can become coercive and destructive. The issues is not simply “change the system.” The issue is one of approach and philosophy. Are we being humble? Are we being humane? Is this what’s best for kids?