Wondering About Life and Learning

Two things I've read so far this week have made me stop and think:

Boston Globe, September 20, 2010. Front page headline: AREA SCHOOL SEGREGATION CALLED RIFE. "Public schools in the Boston and Springfield metropolitan areas are among the most segregated in the country, often isolating black and Latino students in low-performing schools, according to a report released today by Northeastern University."

The irony of this report for homeschoolers is that we are often accused of fostering "parallel societies" and segregating our children from minorities and other social groups, the very problem our schools have not solved and, I think, a problem that is made worse by more intensive schooling. Indeed, I would argue that the majority of homeschoolers, unschoolers in particular, are seeking to get their children more involved in real-world activities and groups and therefore are not keeping them away from "others." Some homeschooling families, such as the Millmans, choose to live in blighted neighborhoods with mixed ethnic groups and poor schools yet are able to nurture positive outcomes for their children. Others, such as David Albert's family, make social work and volunteering part of their homeschooling lives.

But mainly I hear the voices of Ivan Illich and John Holt in my head when I consider this 21st century research, since both, in the 1970s, were making the point that schools don't integrate society but divide it into even finer class distinctions, creating an educational underclass. Education, as they predicted, has become a social divider based largely on one's ability to afford to live where private and public schools are well-funded and where neighborhoods and their social benefits are fully functioning. We certainly need more social glue but schooling, as currently conceived, is more about making children compete in a Race to the Top where, inevitably, a few will win and many will lose than it is about cooperating towards common goals. As John Holt noted when asked what he thought about the Back to Basics school reform movement in the early eighties, "'Increasing standards' is just a code for flunking more children."

It is remarkable that despite all the fear-mongering about segragation and child abuse that homeschooling's critics have complained about over the past 33 years (using 1977, when Holt started Growing Without Schooling magazine, as my milestone), these things are not nearly as wide-spread and common as the segragation and child abuse that continue to occur in public and private schools (over 20 states permit paddling and other forms of corporal punishment in public schools, to site one abuse). Families that can't wait for schools to change and want to avoid these unjust practices and model other ways of living and learning should be encouraged, not demonized.


On another note:

I'm reading a fascinating book, The Forger's Spell, by Edward Dolnick. It is about a con man and art forger who scammed Herman Goering, Hitler's second-in-command. This footnote has reverberated with me since it illuminates much of what I see going on in politics today:

It was in a conversation with Gilbert in Goering's jail cell, on the night of April 18, 1946, that Goering offered what became a famous observation on mass psychology: "Why, of course, the people don't want war," he said. "Why would some poor slob on a farm want to risk his life in a war when the best that he can get out of it is to come back to his farm in one piece? Naturally, the common people don't want war; neither in Russia nor in Englad nor in America, nor for that matter in Germany. That is understood. But, after all, it is the leaders of the country who determine the policy and it is always a simple matter to drag the people along, whether it is a democracy or a fascist dictatorship or a Parliament or a Communist dictatorship."

Gilbert remarked that in a democracy the people have a say in the decision to got to war.

"Oh, that is all well and good," Goering replied, "but, voice or no voice, the people can always be brought to the bidding of the leaders. That is easy. All you have to do is tell them they are being attacked and denounce the pacifists for lack of patriotism and exposing the country to danger. It works the same way in any country."