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Leadership and Activism


Kids in America, by and far, have no choice but to go to school; it is COMPULSORY.  While there, they have no choice but to have adults TEACH them every thing they need to know … on the TEST.  The kids quickly lose interest and find themselves wishing they were somewhere else, anywhere but here.  So they leave for the afternoon.  After all, there’s got to be something to learn somewhere.

It’s all too soon before the long arm of THE LAW reaches over to touch them on the shoulder.  “Why you out here, kid?”  That’s simple.  There’s nothing in the joint that motivates me to stay.  “Too bad, kid.  I gotta take you in.”  In?  Where?  Not back to that school, I hope.  I can’t wait to escape.  “Gotta book you.”  Why, I did nothing wrong.  THEY DID!  “Truancy.  Maybe next time, you’ll stay in there until they say you can go.”

Fiction?  Not exactly.  Consider today’s news article from Covington, Kentucky: Students Can Be Arrested for Playing Hooky.  The director of pupil personnel (how would that make YOU feel if you were a student in those schools?) defends the action (please follow the logic).

•    Recurring problem WITH THE STUDENTS
•    Since the students, nor their parents, will listen to us, we need to GET THEM IN FRONT OF A JUDGE

Let’s see.  Are we trying to say one who graduates is one who learns, especially under duress or the fear of incarceration if the learner speaks out (walk out, walk on) against current practices?  And did you catch the crux of the matter (at least in Covington, Kentucky): “STATE FUNDING IS BASED ON ATTENDANCE” (the district reportedly lost $500K last year because of poor attendance).

How long must we listen to the deafening drone and the murmuring hum of the mighty dollar as it wedges its way between us and those we love?  When will we stand up to the system and say, “Enough!,” when it comes to our children and their freedom to learn?

Is this all our children have to look forward to?  A community — THEIR community — that would rather sit quietly on the sidelines as pundits explore ways to keep the coffers full, even if it means seeing our children in shackles to save a few dollars.

In the interest of civility, it is easy to blame the ‘system.’  But let us not forget that same system is made up of people like you and me who say they are involved for all the right reasons, yet when do they act?  Seems to me many tend to do very little, if anything, to stand up for the kind of change our children need.  Maybe it is the system that puts our children in harm’s way, but the people are complicit, largely because they apathetically choose conformity over change and tyranny over transformation.

If our kids can’t look up to us as someone who will hear their voice, they are left with little alternative but to go ‘outside’ the system to be heard.  They are doing precisely what you or I would do.  And they don’t need to be bothered by uppity authoritative adults.  They need someone to hear their cry.

Not unlike Cervantes’ Quixote, we must be “spurred on by the conviction [our children] need our immediate presence.”  Let us stand up to the system (and all of its windmills) on behalf of our children (no matter how funny or ill-advised it may look to others).  Let us put the learner in charge of their learning.  For those less sure, let us dutifully acknowledge the division’s responsibility to test our children (at least until we are brave enough to walk away from the suffocating grip of federal and state funding that has us trapped in the inertia of the status quo), while standing firm in our resolution to keep doing what we must to return learning to the hands of our children, irrespective of what the scores look like.  Many of our division administrators may not be strong enough of character to stand up for our children and stand against the establishment.  Are you ready to stand in their place?

Friends, the system will be what we allow it to be.  Any ‘system’ that permits fear and intimidation to drive up a better bottom line is utterly useless.  Reform doesn’t work.  The time is now to tear down the walls and create learning spaces EVERYWHERE kids thrive.  When they have outgrown what has been created, give them the leeway to find alternative paths (yes, during school hours and off school grounds!) so they may follow their hearts (rather than the division’s money trail).

What say ye?



11 thoughts on “Shackles!

  1. Wow, you have really got me thinking today! I am not much of a conspiracy supporter, but when I stop to think about the reasons why we are by law mandated to attend school until we are 16 years old, the big picture does ressemble a “takeover” of our rights. Have we erected “prisons of learning” that ultimately create a natural resistance to the very idea that all US students MUST enter a school by age 7 through 16 or be held as a truant? I am concerned that the kind of corporate initiatives guiding policy-making for public education is more about the bottom line than the respect of the learners and teachers. I know one thing…I am NOT in it for the income. I am in this learning business for the outcome. There is a sense of mourning associated with the results of NCLB and RTTT. It’s as if I am watching a movie filmed in Stepford. Zombie-like reactions to what may be the end of publice schools as we know them. Lots to think about.

    Posted by Sandy | January 7, 2012, 4:39 pm
  2. I’d like to comment but I want to read the article about Kentucky before I do and the link appears to be broken.

    Posted by Tom Panarese | January 7, 2012, 8:00 pm
  3. Once an obsolete rule is gone, it can’t be broken.

    How do we best demonstrate the obsolescence of our rules regarding attendance, scheduling, and grouping?

    All the best,

    Posted by Chad Sansing | January 7, 2012, 9:05 pm
  4. I heard my son’s cry when he begged to be taken out of public school at the beginning of 4th grade, asking to be home schooled. Not so that I could school him at home so much, but so that he could pursue learning on his own. Pursuing what interested him, using a self-directed model of learning. Today, he is a happy 15 year old, attending an educational center two days a week that is based on experiential learning and collaboration with others. He has plenty of time to investigate and pursue his interests and impresses many who meet him with his enthusiasm for living and learning. It isn’t hard to break from the shackles of public school, it just takes courage and a willingness to trust your child that they know best where they are heading.

    Posted by Darcy | January 8, 2012, 9:37 am
  5. To play devil’s advocate … if we get ourselves out of the suffocating grip of federal and state funding, where will the money to fund come from? I don’t think that the community would be happy with a steep rise in property taxes to offset that loss of revenue.

    Posted by Tom Panarese | January 8, 2012, 1:48 pm
    • Some initial thoughts:

      First we look at the actual cost of setting up a community-supported school that doesn’t have to pay for public school mandates like testing, formulaic staffing and scheduling, and textbooks/standardized materials. Then we take that real-cost and find donated space and volunteer mentors and internship opportunities. Then we see what else we have to pay for and fund-raise through non-profits seeking philanthropic support or through for-profits seeking sponsorships from employers, rather than from ed vendors. We also look at alternative compensation models like subscriptions to individual community “schools” or even teachers. We assemble a rhizomatic learning space and/or network rather than a big-box school.

      It’s pretty possible to do this – the obstacle in the way isn’t any kind of impracticality: it’s the obvious difficulty of fund-raising any amount in a bad economy.


      Posted by Chad Sansing | January 9, 2012, 9:55 am
      • An excellent assessment and unfortunately you hit it right on the head re: obstacle, especially when it comes to sustainability. I think a major advantage of what you are talking about is also that it will allow for smaller schools in the physical sense (yunno, not 40 to a class or what have you) yet can maximize the opportunity for global connectivity.

        Sorry, I slipped back into telecom marketing mode for a minute there 😉

        Posted by Tom Panarese | January 9, 2012, 5:36 pm
    • As the facilitating parent of two joyously unschooling, thriving, confident children, ages just about 8 and not quite 11, I can affirm that true learning does not need to be expensive. If it did, we would not be able to do it, as we live on one modest income.

      It does require imagination and ingenuity, and a fair amount of research. Around here, the children help with that!

      I envision the current school buildings becoming community spaces where people of any and all ages can offer or gain knowledge. The buildings are already set up, in many places, and maintaining them without administrative and bussing costs would be largely eliminated (maybe the buses could become community shuttles, at low cost.

      Community members could pay fees for membership, and more diversity and value could be provided – without the need for books, classroom prompts, and the like, imagine what we could give to each community – not only a wide array of low cost learning opportunities, but also a return to a way of life where adults and children actually commingle…

      Until then, we’ll keep doing what we’re doing, here, because it works, and because neither child is interested in going to school and giving up control over their days and their minds. And I will advocate for freeing all children to pursue their passions – because I don’t believe the curriculum exists that can come close to what children will learn – eagerly and independently – when they are intrinsically motivated.

      Posted by shanjeniah | June 20, 2012, 7:30 pm
      • While I appreciate the sentiment, I have to wonder if this is a bit unrealistic. Thinking about the community where I teach, the administrative costs of keeping a building open–whether it is a school or a community center–can still be pretty high, and I can’t see how running “community shuttles” is cost-effective when you’re still paying fuel costs. Many of the people whose children I teach work for a living and rely on school busing because they do not have the time nor maybe even the money to provide transportation to school for their children.

        Multiply that by at least a few thousand students and even if you eliminate positions such as principals, teachers, and run a skeleton office staff, you’re still talking about a “community center” that needs significant money to be established and sustained.

        Diversity in education can be provided simply through a change in materials. In teaching English, I am always looking for books that my students will engage and find rewarding … and yes, I am held to standards that exist within a state curriculum, but my experience in this field (as little as it is) has allowed me to develop the type of freedom that I need to feel like I’m making some sort of difference (or at least trying to).

        Posted by Tom Panarese | June 20, 2012, 11:50 pm
  6. The (education) system may (or may not be) “civil” or “civilized”; it is at best amoral, with amorality supporting all sorts of excuses such as, “What can I do? The system’s procedures must be followed, and I am constrained.” and, “You can’t fight City (or school board) Hall.”

    Once one becomes aware of the system, the decision to participate/continue participating may be immoral. I believe this to be a Truth despite the argument one can change the system from within. I believe you are correct in stating that “Reform doesn’t work.” I believe a fair number of others also understand that to be true, but may not express it aloud due to apathy or fear.

    Sometimes, the way to win is not to play the game. Other times, perhaps the way to win is to defy the system from within its bowels at personal risk.

    Posted by Brent Snavely | January 9, 2012, 8:37 am

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