Why allowing children to live and learn freely nurtures progressive values
The institution of forced school is in panic mode right now. More and more parents are taking action to protect their children from a largely unaccountable environment that is responsible for inflicting intensifying distress upon young lives. Increasing numbers of parents are opting for arts-based charter schools, child-centered private schools, democratic schools, homeschooling and the most natural choice, unschooling. The institution of public schooling has been responsible for child abuse, human rights violations, epidemic psychiatric drugging, health risks, violence, enforcing increasingly stressful time expectations, developmentally inappropriate curriculum, lack of play and physical activity, destroying creativity and dulling children’s interest in learning. The Slate article, Liberals, Don’t Homeschool Your Kids by Dana Goldstein seems to minimize many of these human rights concerns and instead begs progressive parents to do what is in the best interest of the public schools. As a progressive parent who is unschooling a happy, socially conscious, community-involved, socially adept and creative teen son, I am asking you to instead consider what is best for your children and what is in the best interests of children’s rights in our society. Does public school nurture or violate progressive values?
1. Forced confinement and regimenting children’s basic biological needs is a human rights violation
First and foremost, your children’s health and well being are more important than anything. In public school, your children’s bodies are at risk for harm; when children’s bodies are in distress, children are additionally at risk for psychological harm. It is no secret that school teachers, especially in the higher grades, deny children the right to use the toilet when needed. Teachers also deny children the right to eat, hydrate, move around and be physically active when needed. Physical activity, if it is allowed at all, is often regimented to one 10 minute time period per day. Toileting is according to classroom regiment in the younger grades and in the higher grades, there is no humane time for toileting at all. All of these practices of distressing the body not only interfere with learning, but these practices put your child at medical risk and psychological risk and violate their basic human rights. Only prisons and factories treat people in this manner, and factory workers have OSHA to protect them from being denied use of the toilet. To put it bluntly, schools deny your children their natural biological needs, which constitutes a human rights violation; if you can’t trust teachers to take care of your children’s basic needs, how could you trust them with their learning needs?
2. Forced schooling has no place in a democracy
The entire concept of compulsory schooling- forcing a certain segment of the population who have committed no crimes to be confined against their will with no say or choice in what is done to them- is the antithesis to democracy. To teach children about life in a democracy by holding them hostage until age 18 with no right to participate in a meaningful democratic environment is nonsensical and bizarre at best. At worst, public schools have served the purpose of engineering a very apathetic and uninvolved population who seems content to go along with the herd mentality and consumerism. Children in the Sudbury Valley private school actually live democracy- They have at all ages, total freedom to direct their day any way they please, with play being the main modality of learning, as nature intended. In democratic schools, each child has a vote equal to that of adults in all school matters, including whether to keep certain teachers, classes or policies. Unschoolers who build networks in the community have an even more authentic learning experience than children in these democratic schools.
3. Creativity, love for learning, play and critical thinking all suffer in public school
The United States is rapidly losing its creativity and its ability to think critically. Children, who are born insatiable learners, lose the desire for self directed learning often prior to the 6th grade. Play, which is the way children of all ages, from infants to adolescents, are wired to learn and make sense of life, is ironically regimented, banned and bled out of schools. What kind of environment won’t allow children to learn in the fun way they are wired to learn, in the way that stimulates passion and intense energy? When children are forced to sit sedentary at desks most of the day taking orders, creativity and learning are stifled while children become adept at being conditioned. Do you want your child to be merely conditioned, or do you want your child to be passionate about learning?
4. Increasing numbers of children, especially boys, are being pathologized for developmentally appropriate behavior
Boys and their human rights are being trampled in schools and sadly, few progressives are sounding the cry and standing up for them. Natural, healthy boy behavior (and the healthy behavior of highly physically active girls) are being pathologized as symptoms of the questionable and unsubstantiated “ADHD” diagnosis and subsequently drugged with dangerous chemicals. Additionally, children, usually boys, who cannot conform to the developmentally inappropriate environment and painful regimentation of schooling will begin to display distress signals that are misinterpreted as “ADHD” or a series of mental illnesses. Schools pressure parents to have their children diagnosed and drugged so that the children will conform to the school, rather than the school conforming to the needs of children!
5. Public schools do not support progressive ideals, human rights, social justice or positive attitudes about human needs
By violating children’s basic human rights, schools certainly don’t support progressive ideals. Public schools are ageist against children, sexist against boys and they violate children’s civil liberties and human rights in some of the most primal, core ways. Some public schools have even suspended boys for long hair- in this decade! In 19 states in the USA, schools actually are allowed to physically assault children with wooden boards- In all 50 states, this barbaric practice is illegal against any adult, even prisoners! There is also increasing physical and psychological abuse of developmentally disabled and emotionally disabled children in public schools, which in some cases has resulted in fatalities. Public schools tend to have a very negative view of humanity, sexuality and human interactions, even punishing youth for showing “public displays of affection”. Children are criminalized for age-appropriate touching or sexuality and children of all ages are being punished, restrained, tazered, handcuffed and criminalized for emotional cries for help or for symptoms of their disabilities. Most tragically, sexual abuse of children in public schools by male and female school teachers is more common than most parents wish to realize- When female school teachers sexually abuse children, especially adolescent boys, they receive minimal or no jail time in comparison to male perpetrators and the incidents generate little media attention. This is certainly not social justice or equality!
6. The progressives of the 1960’s began the modern homeschool movement
Although religious zealots appear to be the primary homeschooling cohort, this is a myth. Children have been living and learning in freedom since the dawn of time, but it was the progressives of the 1960’s that began pulling their children out of public schools to provide them with a freer, more natural childhood. It was progressives who revitalized the modern homeschooling movement, and they held that title until the late 80’s when homeschooling began to get stereotyped by the media as a tactic by the religious Right to isolate their children from society. Although extremists exist in every facet of society, this is a false impression of the homeschooling movement. The millions of homeschoolers around the world make up a vastly diverse mosaic of families, peoples, lifestyles and political orientations. Many of the wild, brilliant, joyful and free children in the unschooling movement are the children of progressives, Leftists, liberals, intellectuals, crunchies and others who believe that children deserve the same human rights as adults.
7. Children are more likely to take part in social justice issues if they are being treated justly and are involved in the community during the day
When children spend the best of their growing years in conditions that render them powerless, the results are social apathy, not empathy. There is a phenomenon referred to as The Stockholm Syndrome in which people who are held captive by an all-powerful captor begin to align with the captor and take on the captor’s ways rather than show empathy for their own suffering or the suffering of other captives. Tragically, public school children seem to have some mild form of The Stockholm Syndrome phenomenon when they grow up, as they send their own children to the same environment that caused them such distress and bored them to tears as children. In the the movie Spirit Bear, the teen environmental activist was forced to put his intensely passionate efforts to save the endangered white Kermode bear on hold during school hours. I was struck by a scene in which the school teacher cynically demands that the teen activist put his schooling before his critical advocacy phone calls. Children who are homeschooled and unschooled are able to be active and conscious participants in social justice work in the community. They have time, motivation and energy to devote to causes of which they feel passionate. Often, these youth make an impact in the media and in their local communities. My own son, Brycen, an unschooler, began speaking publicly for children’s rights alongside me starting at age 12. Now, he focuses his time on writing music and being active in the community for children’s rights. This would not be possible for him if he was in public school all day and laboring over irrelevant homework at night.
8. Homeschoolers are some of the most diverse, empathic and best socialized children in society
Most homeschooled families roll their eyes and try to hold back sighs of exhaustion when the inevitable stereotypical question is asked by non-homeschoolers, “What about socialization?” I often laugh when I hear this, as my unschooled son has so many friends and such a diverse peer group that we literally do not have enough hours in the week to schedule in all of his friends! At his recent 18th birthday indoor rock climbing party, the gym’s cap of 10 kids was stretched to 11, as my son could not decide which 10 of his circle of close friends to bring. When people ask, “How do homeschooled kids meet friends?” I answer, “How do YOU meet friends?” My son has friends that share in his diverse and vast array of interests; most are artists, some are rising or professional musicians, some are into Dungeons and Dragons, Medieval chainmaille, fort building, books, Live Action Role Play (LARPing) and some are into sports. My son has met his friends at the many community events, homeschool groups and activities of which he has been involved for years, or through groups he started on his own. All of my son’s friends treat him with respect and kindness and their relationships are based on having fun. Contrast this with the toxic dynamics that are viewed as “socialization” in public schools and it is like life on two separate planets. While public school youth segregate according to “coolness”, clothing labels, materialism and looks, my son and his peers are accepting and compassionate towards all people. While public school youth are trying to dull their boredom and angst with rebellion, defiance, substances, premature sex and peer bullying, most homeschooled youth, like my son and his friends, are close to their families and are busy playing, living and shaping their lives and their communities.
9. Learning without school is natural and its how children in Hunter-Gatherer cultures learned for millennia
Compulsory schooling is a relatively new experiment in the span of humanity- In the USA, Massachusetts was the first state to force schooling in 1852, modeled after the fascistic model of forced schooling in Prussia. Human children have been learning on their own, directed only by their own passions and interests (with support from family and mentors) since the beginning of time. Many of the most brilliant and famous minds in history were homeschooled or minimally schooled. Shakespeare only attended school a few weeks per year! Today’s homeschoolers join the distinguished ranks of famous brilliant homeschoolers such as Leonardo DiVinci, Joan of Arc, Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Jefferson, Abraham Lincoln, Booker T. Washington, Claude Monet, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, Margaret Mead, Albert Einstein, Thomas Edison, Susan B. Anthony, Walt Whitman, Mark Twain, Agatha Christie, Whoopi Goldberg and so many others!
10. The purpose of childhood is to be joyful and to grow into an adult who is happy and fulfilling personal dreams
It is not our children’s responsibility to “take their place in the global economy”. Children have a basic human birth right to choose their own dreams, paths and lives and to engage in what makes them happy. Children will learn everything they need in order to fulfill their dreams- Adults who insist upon forcing a curriculum only interfere with that process. Rather than ask how children will be “competitive” in the job market without school, ask how your children will possibly find happiness and fulfillment if they remain in an environment that literally steals away most of their family time, free time, play time, social time- their childhoods. Your children’s well being and happiness must be the highest priority. It is not your children’s role to make a political or economic statement for you, for the school system or for the global market place. It is children’s role only to follow their individual callings in their own unique ways.
Segregating an entire cohort of people in society based on their age and forcing them into conditions of confinement, oppressive treatment and fascistic governance is not congruent with progressive values. The public school system is financially and socially invested in NOT changing its ways- Instead, they are pleading with you to keep handing over your children as fuel to keep the machine running. It is not possible for an institution built on a hierarchical model of subordinating youth to reform itself to one that is democratic for youth unless the paradigm defining “education” completely shifts. Education reform has been tried and has failed for half a century. Reforms continue to work within the paradigm that education is something homogenized that must be forced upon children by experts; that children can’t be trusted to learn what they need by having fun, playing and following their own passions. If you feel strongly that “public education” should be free and available to the public, work in your community to create and facilitate public, non-compulsory, democratic learning communities where children and adults are free to learn and teach others democratically- without school. However, in the meantime, treasure your children’s precious few years of childhood, especially if they are older, and release them from the oppression of public schooling. Don’t allow the school to damage your children any further while you wait around helplessly for the schools to change.