Tuesday, July 21, 2009

You don't have to go to school

A small but already by no means negligible number of Americans is starting to realize what their future looks like: no retirement, no job, no savings, plus they are getting old. Their only possible means of support in old age is their children.

And so, in the meantime, let's continue to mindlessly send our children off to "learning" institutions, where they will be properly supervised at all times, bored half to death, medicated into submission should they rebel, even by simply refusing to pay attention, not taught anything worth knowing by demoralized, underpaid public servants, and then spat out into the world with their spirits crushed.

On second, thought, let's stop doing that. When thinking about making big changes, sometimes it's healthy to hear of places halfway across the world, which may have their own issues to deal with, but they are not the same ones we have here, allowing us to see past them. But the problem of institutionalization of children and emphasis on mindless discipline and rote learning is the same in all "developed" nations, being part of the worldwide legacy of industrialization and militarism, which we all have to deal with somehow. And a good first step is to starve this mindless suicide machine of fresh cannon fodder - by denying it access to our children.

Here is the story of a Russian woman's experience with pulling her three children out of school that I thought would provide some valuable perspective to people in the States who are confronting the same decision, so I translated it.

В школу можно не ходить
(You don't have to go to school)

Translated by me.

I have known this for sure for twelve years now.

During this time, two of my children have received high school diplomas while sitting at home (since it had been decided that these could turn out to be useful to them during their lives). My third child passed exams for the primary grades without attending classes, and is not about to stop there. Honestly, I am unconcerned. And I don’t get in the way of them choosing whatever substitute for school they manage to think of.

When my eldest was in secondary school, I started noticing that all too often he would recall situations of the following type: “I started reading a really interesting book during math class today;” or “I started composing a new symphony during history class;” or “It turns that Peter plays chess quite well – we played a few games during geography today.”

And I started thinking: why is he going to school? Is it to study? But then he does completely unrelated things during classes. Is it to socialize? But then it’s possible to do that outside of school.

Shift of consciousness

And then a sudden shift occurred in my consciousness. And I thought: “Maybe he shouldn’t go to school at all?” For a few days we discussed this idea. Then I went to see the school principal and told her that my son will no longer be attending school. (Afterwards many of my friends told me: “You were lucky to have such a principal! What if she didn’t agree?”) But it had nothing to do with the principal. If she didn’t agree, this would not have changed our plans at all. It's just that in that case our further steps would have been slightly different.

The principal (whom I remember with sympathy and respect to this day) was sincerely interested in our motivations, and I was quite open with her concerning my opinion of school. She herself proposed how we should proceed: we should write a statement requesting that my child be transferred to home schooling, and she will make arrangements with the Department of Education, so that my child (supposedly because of his superior talents) will, as part of an experiment, study independently, and take tests as an external student at this same school.

And so we forgot about school almost until the end of the school year. My son was absorbed in all the things for which he had never had enough time. He spent entire days composing music and performing it on “live” instruments. He spent nights in front of the computer, building his own BBS (those of you who were fans of Fidonet know what that means). He also managed to find time to read anything he wanted, to study Chinese (just because he found it interesting at the time) and to help me with my work in translating and typing documents in various languages, installing email (still a difficult task at the time that involved consulting an expert), entertaining the younger children… In all, he was incredibly happy with his new freedom from school, and did not feel that he was missing anything.

The Price of Freedom

In April, we suddenly remembered: “Oh, we must prepare to take exams!” My son pulled out the dusty textbooks and concertedly read them for two or three weeks. Then we went to see the principal and told her that he is ready to take the exams. At this, my involvement in his school affairs ended. On his own, he caught up with the various teachers and arranged with them when and where they would met.

He managed to pass in all the subjects in one or two visits. The teachers themselves decided on the form of the exam. Sometimes it was just a conversation, sometimes a written test. Curiously, almost none of them wanted to give him an ‘A’, although my child certainly knew no less than the others. Our favorite grade became ‘B’, but this was not the least bit upsetting: this was the price of freedom.

Some time ago it had been considered that a child must attend school every day. If it turned out that someone doesn’t do this, one could get a visit from some special government agency (with something like “guardians of childhood” in the title, but I am no expert in these matters, so I could be wrong). In order for a child to gain the right to not go to school, it was necessary to receive a medical certificate that he is unable to attend school due to bad health. This is why I often heard confused questions such as: “What are your children sick with?” “Then why aren’t they in school?!” “They don’t want to be.”

An awkward silence ensued. By the way, later I found out that some parents simply bought such certificates from doctors they knew.

But in the summer of 1992 President Yeltsin issued a historic decree which announced that henceforth any child (independent of medical condition) has the right to study at home! Furthermore, the local schools must pay to the parents of such children, because they are spending the government’s education funds not on teachers and not on school buildings, but independently and at home!

And then there were two

When my daughter became old enough, I told her that she didn’t have to go to school at all. But she was a socialized child, having read many children’s books which stressed the idea that going to school was highly prestigious. Since I was in favor of a free upbringing, I wasn’t about to forbid it. And so off she went to first grade.

She lasted almost two years! Only around the end of the second year did she get sick of this empty waste of time, and she announced that she is going to study at home, like her older brother.

I delivered yet another statement to the principal. And now I had two children who did not go to school.

Yet another statement

Once in September I went to see the principal and give her yet another statement that this year my children are studying at home. She gave me the text of the presidential decree to read. (I didn’t think to write down its title, number and date, and now don’t even remember. If you are interested – search the Internet, and let me know.)

And then the principal said: “Nevertheless, we aren’t going to pay you for not sending your child to school. It’s too complicated for us to get these funds. But, on the other hand, we won’t charge you for their exams.”

I was quite satisfied with this. It would have never occurred to me to take money from her. And so we parted satisfied with each other and with the changes to our laws.

Spelled out in black and white

Last year I went to arrange home schooling for my third child.

Imagine this situation: i come to see the head teacher and tell her that I want to register my child to attend school, first grade. The head teacher writes down the name of the child and asks for the date of birth. It then turns out that then child is ten years old. And now – the really pleasant part: the head teacher reacts calmly, and even shows me an official document that stated that any person has the right to come to any school and request to take exams for any grade, and is not required to show any documents regarding completion of previous grades. The school administration is required by law to create a commission to administer all necessary exams.

That is, you can go to any school when you reach 17 years of age (by the way, along with my daughter, there were two bearded fellows who had suddenly decided that they wanted their diplomas) and directly take the exams for 11th grade. And you will receive that same diploma, which so many people consider to be so necessary.

As they explained to us

Once, after we moved, and more out of curiosity than need, I went to the school nearest to our new house, and asked to see the principal.

I told her that my children have long since and irreversibly stopped going to school, and that I am currently looking for a place where they can take exams for 7th grade, quickly and inexpensively. The principal (a pleasant young woman with progressive views) was very glad to meet me, and I was glad to tell her about my children. But at the end of our conversation she suggested that I look for some other school.

They were, by law, indeed required to accept my children, and indeed required to allow them to study at home. That would not be a problem. But, she explained, ordinary teachers, which are the majority at this school, will not agree to my conditions of home schooling: letting the child pass the entire annual course at one go. The child cannot pass the entire program in one visit! The child has to work a certain number of hours. That is, they have absolutely no interest in what the child actually knows, they are only interested in the time spent studying. They want the child to attend all quarterly exams. And, of course, the child is required to participate in the life of the school: wash windows on Saturdays, collect trash on school grounds, and so on.

Obviously, I refused.

We just do not understand

But in spite of this the principal gave me what I needed, simply because she enjoyed our conversation. Specifically: I needed to borrow all the textbooks for the 7th grade from the library, to avoid having to buy them. And so she immediately called the librarian and ordered her to issue me all the textbooks free of charge until the end of the school year.

And so my daughter read all these textbooks and, with no fuss or “class participation,” passed her exams somewhere else. Then we brought the textbooks back. After that, if only she wanted to, she could have gone to any school and studied alongside her peers.

But somehow she doesn’t want to. Quite the opposite: she, just as her brothers, just as I do, considers such a suggestion to be pure nonsense. And we just cannot understand why a normal person would want to go to school.


Kati said...

That's great!!!! It's great to hear of kids being so self-motivated as to learn on their own.... My own experience was somewhat less satisfying, as my daughter decided that learning ANYTHING is beneath her, and thus "flunked" 5th grade and will be repeating it at a public school this fall. ("Learning disabilities" only discovered during this past school year do factor in, but the main factor is her apathy toward life in general, unfortunately.) Glad to hear that the school principals have been so helpful and willing to work with your family. And I hope your children find no future stigmatism for NOT completing a traditional public-school education. Certainly it's not useful in almost any way, but it is still highly expected in some circles.

Unknown said...

Great story. Dmitry: Did you write this -- or was it a friend in Russia?

Mass public education has always been about manufacturing good workers and consumers. It's a system that's likely to disintegrate as collapse unfolds.

John A said...

Dmitry, good comments. I came to similar realizations about our failing public school system some time ago. In part I was influenced by William Godwin's anarchist writings about education and learning.

Because your children approach subjects from the perspective of desire and are given ample freedom to bounce between those subjects they are drawn to most, quite naturally they excel at learning them. The "secret", which institutions resolutely fail at getting, is to encourage the child's curiosity and imagination; instead we have conformity and submission to one standard. Moving forward I believe, like so many, things that will change.

I once had a dream several years ago of an old building with a large fountain in a courtyard overrun by yellow leaves. All the glass doors in this building were held open instead of shut. People came and went and were allowed to study what they wished on their own terms. This building of course was a school. And all the people generally seemed happier, friendlier, and less neurotic. I suppose we could only be so lucky.

Round Belly said...

I recently read an article on extending the school day- they claimed it helped the children learn better- but the main reason for the extended school day was so it matched the parents' work hours and offered free day care.

Jan Lundberg said...

Right on Dmitry! Excellent introduction.
When my child was getting into the long haul of public school, it was against my wishes. I certainly would have liked to have been spending the time with her instead of her being crowd-controlled and conformed for years while not getting a great education anyway. Fortunately now at 23 she's being more and more her own person and is young enough to still shape her own mind.
I've said for many years that the first problem people have with The System is in not thinking for themselves. The second is in taking action once the thinking has broken through.
This article deals with both those problems successfully.
(We posted the article on http://www.culturechange.org and put it out to our subscription list)

Anonymous said...

In my first year of schooling, likely the first day of the first year of schooling, the young nun in charge of our class brought out a feather duster and showed us that this was the implement of corporal punishment should we not meet with her standards, and so I learnt not to mess with the nuns as they were violent people...and sad to say the rest of my twelve years at school were an utter, complete waste of time for which my parents paid good money for. And that's all I've got to say 'bout that.

Anonymous said...

If I could do it over I would not have sent my smart and beautiful daughters to a high school full of self indulgent, mean and petty girls whose only goal was to be popular. As a result, they turned to drugs and fell in with the tweekers that gladly accepted outcasts.

Unfortunately, I believe this scenario is played out all over America since school is so boring, social status becomes more important and the popular get off on the power tripping.

There is an entirely different stigma attached to home schooled kids but at least they get a well rounded education and have the advantage of learning real life skills instead of memorizing stupid facts.

I cannot remember the names of any of my teachers but I remember the name of the girl who bullied me relentlessly while walking to school. School was a chore, a boring task to be endured until the diploma would set me free. That's another lie, of course.

Wendy said...

There is a very large and thriving community of homeschoolers in the US - and not all of us are members of radical, fringe cultish groups, either. Many of us are average, mainstream folks, who figured out much the same thing as the mother in your piece mentions - that our kids don't need "school" to become educated.

John Taylor Gatto has a whole volume of writing about our modern education system. It's very interesting, and anyone who has children should really read it.

Christine4 said...

In England, under the 1945 education act, every child has by law to receive an education, but this does not have to be in school. However, they don't like to publicise this fact. Once your child is enrolled at school, you are required by law to make them attend, or you can be fined. The key is not to enrol at school at all. Public exams such as GCSE are taken by nearly all 16 year old school leavers, but can be taken by anyone privately or via a college (including retakes if you have failed), so there is no leaver's exam or graduation from school. Likewise, universities can admit anyone of any age for degree study.

Jason said...

I'm in full agreement with the tone and the ideas here; nice to see someone making it work and she's not alone. It's happening all over, and there's support in many places for people who want to take this step.

Anonymous said...

Thanks Dmitry!

I'm looking forward to the "You don't need to go the university" article. Having worked in the higher education "industry" in the past, I think its collapse is long overdue.

bryan314 said...

A dissenting voice in the wilderness: I ENJOYED school even though I wasn't "popular". I enjoyed the teachers, I enjoyed the things I never would have thought to learn on my own. I enjoyed being pushed...yes, it's possible to find good teachers out there who will push each student to do their best.

How can homeschoolers teach that which they don't know? How do you deal with lab work? What if your child exceeds your knowledge and just can't find the right book (if it exists) to explain a complex or simply confused concept? If it's difficult but not "required" will the child even bother? After all, there are 10,000,000,000 other things that are nowhere near as irksome and equally interesting to learn. Too bad that their avocation would have been something that built on that piece of knowledge or that technique.

I slogged through certain math classes because I was required to. Only to learn later that the techniques I learned allowed me to do things that WERE interesting. I'd hate to think what would have happened if I was only made to do that which I found interesting at the time. Probably would have ended up singing and filling my head with history and never realizing the complexity of the natural world that I find so fascinating. I certainly never would have ended up in law...still not sure how I ended up in law.

Scott Hedrick said...

My respect for Boris Yeltsin just went up tremendously.

I am also considering homeschooling our kids. I graduated from public school, but I wasn't educated there.

I estimate that, at my age of 44, I have read completely over 2000 books (some more than once). I currently have probably more than a 1000. A non-reading home is an uneducated tool of the state.

Shelly said...

I fully agree with this article! The unions and politics have taken over the schools systems anyway.

And, when it comes to higher education, though a lot more expensive, the private colleges are far better. I went to a private engineering school. We only took approximately six classes that weren't directly related to the engineering and math that we needed in our field of study. We did take some technical writing and such too, but that was related to our field.

The private school education was much better than this two years of college before you even have to choose a degree, as in public universities! That is crazy! I remember the first class I ever sat down in, and it was Intro to Engineering, and overview of all the engineering classes we would take over the next four years. After going to a public high school, that must have been the toughest class ever!

Anonymous said...

There are now vibrant homeschooling communities, often supported by educational institutions (science museums, libraries, writing centers, local schools, etc.) Many homeschooling parents are, or have been, professional educators themselves. The students are often involved in various classes, such as creative writing and lab science, and in group activities like math league, drama, sports, and chorus. The range of resources and textbook choices is amazing, and they can be selected based on the particular student. Homeschoolers can have many teachers over the years, and can explore subjects with greater breadth and depth than they can within the traditional system. They can also move at their own pace rather than waiting for others once they've mastered the material. Additional time is available if they need it for any area of study. Most importantly, they have the opportunity to follow their passions, which often stay with them throughout their lives, and contribute directly to the larger society. (Bryan314, I respect your dissenting opinion, but notice that, like many folks, you may have the impression that homeschooling consists of a parent simply passing along what he or she already knows. If this were the case, homeschooling would indeed be detrimental. In reality, it's an amazing option for students.)

Dan W said...

I loved this article! I'm not an avid reader of blogs but this one caught my eye from the Neal Boortz radio show's website. I taught public school (8th grade English/language arts) for seven years and have no more stomach for it. This article makes great sense! We spend so much time teaching to tests and diversifying our classes that we no longer meet the interests of the students. I had students in one class of 24 who read in the 15th percentile as well as those in the 98th percentile. It is so frustrating to present information on so many levels without boring some or leaving others behind. Add in a mix of apathy, lack of self-discipline, touchy feely administrator approach to 'discipline', and limited resources. I'm done with teaching now and would gladly either home school or enroll my kids in a private school if I had the means/resources. As a soon-to-be single foster care/adoptive parent, I may not have either option. Amen. Hallelujah. Here endeth today's lesson. Pass the offering plate and the chicken!

Anonymous said...

The big mistake that so many people make is in thinking that formal education is the same thing as learning. It most assuredly is not. Formal education is about getting credentials, and maybe about social control. They make a pretense about education, but there is a basic misunderstanding about that: you can't force students to learn. Learning is something that happens entirely within the student's mind. At best, good teachers can expose students to material that they don't know about, they can inspire and encourage, and they can coach. Ultimately, though, it is up to the student.

I suffered through public school, and I earned my credentials. However, most of my actual learning was up to myself, with a lot of help from our local public library and from my parents. There was very little that my public schools actually "taught" me, except that they did teach me how horrid public schools are!

-WNC Observer

Marytoo said...

One thing at which public-schooled children usually excel is standing in line. I don't mean to be facetious, but the detractors of homeschooling are almost always people who don't have a clue about homeschooling, or even education really. They generally labor under the misconception that going through the motions somehow assures learning, and that learning happens only in the classroom. I admit that learning can happen in the classroom, but I submit that more of it happens outside the classroom, in real life.

Bryan314, my then-4yo daughter once said to me, "Now you just have to teach me how to read, and then I'll know everything." What wisdom from a child. If you make sure your child has the tools to learn... reading, writing, and basic math, they may not know everything, but they can indeed learn anything.

Anonymous said...

APPLUSE!!!!!! APPLUSE!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Anonymous said...

My wife and I homeschool our children. The most important thing we teach them is to educate them selves and not rely on us. We set out a course of study and offer help but they read the directions and do the work. There is no need for a teacher this way and we set our kids up for latter in life when we are not around. The fact that I dont know a subject never comes into play this way. Many of the homeschoolers here send kids to the college for more difficult classes. Nothing like a 12 year old in calculus class at the local college. We also have group meetings where the kids do labs together. My 11 year old just disected a shark. so the argument about subjects that are to difficult does not hold water. There is just to many other ways to get around the need for a public school teacher.

In addition to the regular subjects we require of our kids I take my kids to work with me. They learn a skill this way and get knowledge not available in public school. When is the last time a 8 year old learned to negotiate a contract in public school. Or how about good customer relations. Yes I teach this to my 8 year old when I bring him to work with me. There is to much valuable information to be learned from me that I can not waste my kids time in public school.

By the way my kids are done with a full days worth of public education in 3-5 hours a day. Thats if we have to prod them along. For a while my son would get his work done in less than 2 hours because he wanted to do other stuff. Currently my oldest is 3 years ahead of public school.

Public education is in my opinion a waste of time and money.

mitzi said...

I used to be a middle school math and science teacher, and I could not agree more. Children learning outside of school can learn as they were meant to do so: in small family groups, with meaningful tasks, from adults who care deeply, and can adjust for their strengths and deficiencies. I tried to provide fun, interesting, and meaningful activities, but it was hard to do sometimes, and the kids were often shocked. In one class at the beginning of a year, they yawned when I held up a balance and asked them to identify it, but a stunned silence fell when I asked (8th graders!) if anyone could USE one. They could by the end of the hour. I know of home-schooling kids with a blacksmith shop out back, who can come in from making swords to play some really nice piano. What public school education, cramming from books to fill in bubbles, can compete with that?

Anonymous said...

I think that most of the evils we currently associate with our school system can be traced back to the twentieth century's 'progressive' efforts at standardization. And why did the government underwrite such efforts? So we could train an army of good little wage and salary slaves that could compete in a global marketplace. When that global marketplace and its large nation-states collapse, educational standards will become a lot more local, diverse, and therefore interesting. I imagine that those communities who manage to retain some sort of public educational system will take many pages from homeschooling and unschooling methodologies.

Dr. Doom said...

Maybe I should start by adding the disclaimer that I’m a college professor. I think the underlying premise for this post is that in an energy depleted world and all that it entails, much education and job skills will be moot as there will be far fewer jobs in business and technical pursuits in the private and public sectors. This is probably true, and I think that regardless of how one feels about mass public education in the US today through high school (K-12 education) and more elective pursuits in 2 and 4 year colleges, the simple facts of the matter being played out before our eyes now are lack of public funds to continue much of this ‘education for the masses’. It means less employed teachers and related services, less classical and physical education and sports, then less open schools in the short term, and a way less educated populace in the longer term. Clocks running backwards.

Were they learning anything of value and will our society miss this service to its citizens? I guess all we have to do is wait and see, but I would suggest that it would be missed for its minimum social skills and learning levels. OTOH, there may be such challenges laying ahead that having some semblance of an education or not will not make all that much difference, home-schooled, self-taught or not. Sounds like a barbaric nation and world to me. Should be a shortly inhabited one, as well.

Marytoo said...

Dr. Doom, I could not disagree more with your statement, "...a way less educated populace in the longer term." If this would be true, why is it that America's literacy rate, once the highest ever in the history of the world, has steadily declined since the implementation of mandatory public schooling?

Anonymous said...

Read Paul Goodman's *Growing Up Absurd* written in 1959.

The section on Russia is dated, but not the rest.

Anonymous said...

As someone who homeschooled two sons for many years -- not all the way, but during the formative years, I can sympathize with the sentiments expressed in the article. The purpose of school in organized society is not learning but teaching, and the goal is to certify, for reasons that have to do with the system, not with the individual.

This has been brilliantly articulated by Ivan Illich in his classic _Deschooling Society_, so there is no need to repeat.

School, as Illich says, is a "radical monopoly" that is not about education but about... schooling. Just like another big radical monopoly, the "health industry: is not about curing people but about doctoring and profiting.

The result for my sons, who did go to high school after being homeschooled, has been mixed. They were very mature in many respects, they knew how to operate independently, how to pick up any book and read it and think about it, but the adaptation to the organized system was not very smooth. They got excellent grades but they hated the system, they felt they were wasting their time on pointless bureaucratic tasks, broken down into an infinite number of pieces to be done sequantlially. i had not trained them to do that except when the subject was meaningful and required that type of method. To see it applied systematically to everything in school was a source of constant irritation.

They also found that going to high school was more tiring than having a full time job. One of them had a nervous breakdown because of the sheer amount of homework, most of it useless, that made him stay up until two or three in the morning, then getting up at seven and repeating the process.

American education is rotten to the core, most of it is not education but an exercise in obedience, in the acceptance of meaningless tasks. In other words, it is a perfect preparation for "life" (that is, mental death). Lack of sleep among high-schoolers is chronic, with all the destructive effects that lack of sleep has. Anxiety is rampant. This is a very bad scenario.

I will summarize this with something one of my sons told me: "Fuck school. Because of school, i don't have any time to read books!".

Morgan Emrich said...

I just resigned my job as a public school middle teacher/prison guard. Ten years in and I was just starting to make a decent living and figure out how to hide from idiotic administrators (a solipsistic bunch of lunch eaters if there ever was one). My wife and I are now winging it. Cleaning houses, doing landscaping, starting a daycare. Whatever it takes.

How can I homeschool my three kids, read Dmitry Orlov books and blog (during class mind you), laugh too loudly along with James Howard Kunstler, see the writing on the wall, and continue working at that insane asylum/"mindless suicide machine" any longer? Answer: I couldn't. So I bailed. Cashed in whats left of my retirement (much to the horror of everyone around me).

I'm getting to know my neighbors, trading chicken eggs for zuccinis, and looking forward to watching the school bus go thru the neighborhood in September with it's captives onboard.

The author of the article says, "And we just cannot understand why a normal person would want to go to school."

There's nothing to understand here. Normal people don't want to go to school. A select few have been brainwashed to believe that they're going to get something good out of it for being a sycophant. The other 95% (and I'm basing this on having lorded over almost 800 students in my career) don't want to go, have to be threatened, chased down by police, or simply start wandering away by 8th grade or so.

On a slightly related topic, I enjoyed having an increasingly larger Romanian, Ukrainian, and Russian population in my classes as the neighborhood changed. They were always light years ahead of the native population. In every way. Handwriting, math, writing, reading, willingness to challenge their thinking, ability to articulate a heavily accented thought. They looked healthier, better fed, and dressed like they cared. Sons and daughters of construction workers and mechanics. Men who had escaped Siberian guglags. They (and their parents) were mostly very kind and respectful to me, but I always got the sense that underneath that slightly dismissive and charming smirk they were thinking, "man, what a bunch of whiny, soft people who have no idea what it's like to struggle in any real sense." It's the feeling I get when I read Dmitry.

Anonymous said...

Nice translation D. I, too, didn't know Yeltsin was so progressive. With all that's been said I think it's important to note that public schooling has a worthwhile purpose, if only as a stopgap. Poor families under colonialism faced being part of a permanent underclass, with the economic deck stacked against them by a bunch of cartels. Public schooling is a way out of this. Naturally with the success of public schools they became appropriated by the emerging super-state. Especially in the later years, they seem to be most important in reinforcing negative qualities so essential in a society on the plantation model. This is not to say that public schools should be abandoned, but that localism should hold sway.

Collapse won't change the equation though; it will only render the enforcement more crudely.

Michael A. Mule' said...

I like the part that said that the local school had to pay the mother. That's how it should be here in the US.

fattigmann said...

Dmitri - Speaking as a high school teacher in a public school, I can assure you that mindless rote memorization is hardly a problem in our education system. As foreign exchange students have told me, our kids are "pretty lazy" and "not very curious." I often compare them with my Russian friend who is now an American citizen. He can quote entire passages of Pushkin at will, and he's a musician in one of the world's foremost symphony orchestras. From what he has told me, the Russian system is/was much more rigorous than the US system. For example, each student brought home a daily progress report. Now, I'm curious how you would correlate a solid, rigorous and universal education system with a nation's culture & economic health, in light of the miseries suffered by a well-educated Russian populace?

irkone said...

I despised school. My favorite part of highschool was riding the NYC subway back and forth listening to The Deftones and checking out the Puerto Rican and Dominican chicas of Washington Heights. I majored in art because I thought, "Hey, I can pass school and get a degree by doodling? Hell yeah!" After college graduation and dicking around for several months, turning down jobs and drawing and painting, I came across my real interests: The real world. Nature. Ecology, economy. Too bad nature wasn't a subject in our educational prisons. And how could it be when the playground is fenced in and covered with asphault?

Anonymous said...

I graduated from a Soviet High School in 1966.
The school years were the best years of my life, even better than college. I still keep in touch with my school friends, even though we all live in different countries. I live in USA, two live in Israel, and two stay back home. Sure it was financial misery, but we did not know better, like in a joke: "HOW LUCKY YOU ARE, YOU DON'T KNOW HOW MISERABLE YOU ARE!"

I loved to study; I loved all these little discoveries in Physics, Chemistry, and most of all in Math. I remember all my school teachers better than I remember college professors.
The curriculum was strict, we had to pass exams every year and in order to do it we had to know each chapter in each subject, and we did not have these stupid multiple choice tests.

I have four grandchildren in American public school system.
And in my opinion this is a real waste of time. I was watching my oldest grandson during first several years of school. It was endless spelling of the same wards all over again and again.

I understand it was a lot of brainwashing in Soviet educational system. But somehow even young children managed to filter out what was unimportant.

It might change now. It might be more like American system. In that case I understand why children are bored in school.

I just do not know how home schooling is possible with two parents working, or with parents without deep knowledge of a subject.
I doubt an average child can learn just by reading the book. Sure he or she can memorize the chapters, kids have good memory, but without studying, questioning, trying, and solving problems it is nothing.

I was almost 50 when I came to USA. And my prior education was the basis for my current position: I have a good reputation in my profession, respect, and a decent income.

But sometimes, because of my grandchildren I think I made a mistake coming to USA.

fred mccolly said...

i graduated from school as almost the statistical median of my class...a's and d's....a's in classes i found interesting...d's by doing just enough work in those i didn't...i have managed to maintain an adequate standard of living in spite of this..school is about irrational respect for authroity and teaching kids to be in one place for eight hours a day...staying inside the lines of societies expectations...i never paid much attention to their grades or attendance...they seem to have turned out alright...i still take classes at the local extention university just to keep my middle-aged brain functioning by challenging it a bit...a personal choice and i really like some of the people i meet...everyone needs a community.

Anonymous said...

Wonderful article! I am a product of the Oklahoma Public School system, and I couldn't agree with the ideals in this article more. I loved school until about the sixth grade. I loved Math, English, History, and Civics. And I loved all the rest. Then around the 6th or 7th grades, I started to notice. "I've learned all of this before..." Now I'm not writing a hate speech about all of the school system. There are quite a few wonderful teachers out there who love their subject and love to teach it to the newest generations. These teachers, who loved their work and made the subject come alive for students, are my only fond memories of school past that point. This includes possibly eight to ten teachers out of the dozens of classes I was enrolled in through high school and required by law to attend every day. I am thoroughly convinced that I would have been able to pass a high school equivalency test by the time I finished elementary school.

Of course at this point school became a chore, since between what I had already learned in that phase of schooling and what I had learned from home from activities such as reading, which is a grossly underutilized tool in today's society, I already knew the answer's to the majority of our educators' questions. I do admit to a certain degree of luck in this respect, my parent's were extremely gifted people who strongly encouraged me to read and learn outside of school. I am not sure how I would have fared in an environment where I did not receive this encouragement. I believe however, that there is no single set of facts and figures that everyone needs to be successful. Most "higher education," as it has come to be called, is intertwined. To become truly expert at any subject, a vast array of knowledge is required, and if a child truly loves a discipline or field, they will seek out this knowledge to become expert.

Human biology is a prime example. To be truly expert in this field, an almost dizzying amount of subjects must be tackled: Anatomy
(to its finest degree), Language (for taxonomy, medical terminology, or even to consult with colleagues), Math (from basic Algebra all the way up to Fluid Mechanics and Thermodynamics), Chemistry, Physics, History, and even outside knowledge of Computer Science and Zoology can be extremely useful.

Schools simply do not teach this way, and I don't think they are capable of doing so. Knowledge is presented in the format of, "learn this because you must to graduate," or, "learn this because it is required of you," and this is not an effective method of reaching most children's desire to obtain information to work in the field they love.

People should seek out education as a means to better themselves and the world around them, not because it is what the government requires of us to work in dead end jobs we hate.

Ellen said...

Something else good to read about what public school is really for is the essay "Why Nerds Are Unpopular" by Paul Graham. Exposes the whole purpose of public school - a big holding tank for kids/teens that society has no role for.


Anonymous said...

I teach English in public school and I love it. Public school is good for some students, but not everybody. There should definitely be options. For some students a free public education has been the escape route from an otherwise horrible life. For some children, if it were up to their parents to educate them, the children will either die young or end up in jail. Public education does help some people to have a better life.

Anonymous said...

If it weren't for the huge appeal and success of high school sports, like football, basketball, soccer etc. in the US ,would public high schools continue to exist? What would be the point? The team sports experience may be one of the few valued things offered by public school not easily duplicated at home.

Anonymous said...

Karen Marie: it's true that public schools are a great safe haven for some kids... but that isn't necessarily EDUCATION to the rescue -- it's free lunch programs, daily supervision and perhaps non-dysfunctional interactions with caring adults (teachers like you?) In other words, advanced babysitting.

I also noticed that school started to suck heavily after 6th grade (middle school began in 7th grade back when I was going to school). The teachers were a lot meaner, had chips on their shoulders, and treated students with distrust instead of respect. Maybe we really only need a public school system up to the 6th grade. Then everyone can try to compete (as they do now) to get into a range of options from vocational schools to community colleges to 4-year schools.

Of course the bitter truth is that the vast majority of kids cannot be enticed to enjoy reading and discovering things on their own. Because their parents don't care either. There are only ever a handful of inquisitive kids who are worth mentoring. The rest are just taking up space in the schools and need supervising.

Anonymous said...

I am a physician and I realized by 8th grade that large group schools were a total waste of time filled w negative socialization and were nothing more than a ticket punch....and propaganda machine... I hated it even though I slogged through 21 years of such agony. By 8th grade, I could teach myself anything by reading a book... I taught myself to knit in 9th grade that way! Large group schooling puts young impressionable human beings into a pressure cooker from which most never recover. Hurray for homeschooling! Perhaps post-collapse, we'll bring back something that truly works: the one-room schoolhouse! A small group of neighborhood children with the older ones helping the younger ones under the guidance of an adult, a situation with very little peer pressure, because there will be very few identical-age peers.... The one-room schoolhouse helped make America great and the large mindless, soul-less drugged-up consolidated high school will help bring about its collapse. But we Americans are way too arrogant, and pride doth go before a fall....

Anonymous said...

As a home schooled person - now a middle aged adult, I actually teach teachers and build organizations, and work with data. Yes, for those who think you need to go to school to contribute to ideas or learn how to show up to a dumb job and do stupid things for money every day there are other paths and these need not be formal educational environments run by the government. My only dysfunction is that I read about the coming collapse of our overfed and corrupt society... but, it seems some schooled readers are out there too doing the same and a great many other schooled people continuing to build boondoggles pretending plastics and solar power will save them..

Anonymous said...

I was in a discussion earlier today where the topic was children choosing or not choosing what to eat at the proverbial "dinner table".

The people in the group who resemble and typically behave like animals advocated loading up the childs plate and not allowing exit from the table until it was clean.

The typical humans allowed the kids to choose what they put on their plate but insisted that the freedom to choose came with the responsibility to eat what they had taken.

In our home my daughter and I shopped together and prepared our food together thereby consciously transcending all of the political crap that comes along with the other two scenarios.

When I stated that door number one was child abuse, I was laughed at by everyone else in the discussion.

Brothers and sisters, we've got a long way to go!

Anonymous said...

The "freedom to choose" what to eat assumes implicitly an abundance that is foreign to much of the world. This business of "choice" is one of the most harmful ideas in the US. It is prevalent across social classes. It has also been exploited for many decades by advertisers and manufacturers. When this system goes down, as it will, I am sure many people will be complaining about the loss of choice.

In my view, if a kid is hungry enough, he or she will eat what's on the table. This was my own experience growing up in a village on the Mediterranean.

Curiously, the question of kids who are "picky eaters" was virtually unknown in my town. The kids were pretty healthy, but they ate what there was.

As somebody said, we have a way to go. The opposite of "consumer's choice" is not scarcity, it's something else, it's called making do with what there is.

Anonymous said...

I can't agree with this article more. I attended American public school for 12 years in the 80's to get an "education" that I could have easily gotten on my own in just 3. All along, I was told that my poor grades meant that I'd never be successful. How wrong they were!

Since leaving prison (school), I've self-learned all the things they never seemed interested in teaching me. Like basic math, algebra, geometry, history, writing, science, etc. I'm currently a top performer in my chosen field of computer graphics. Having worked on numerous video games, movies, and now high-end research simulations. I've even taught these subjects at local art/technical colleges for 5 years. Did my poor transcripts ever matter? Not in the least!

But... somehow they never beat me down. Plenty of people I know were beat down by that system, and never recovered. So they wander, dazed and confused, through life. Completely apathetic.

Take the Millennials... what educators around here call the kids who started attending school in late 1990s and have just started attending college in the last few years. They've been pumped up with "self-esteem" they never earned, and have the ultimate entitlement mentality.

Unlike the previous wave of Gen-Y students, they're almost unteachable. And the ones I see are the top 50% that actually graduated from the local high schools. It's mind-boggling how ignorant they are. Both white and black, rich and poor.

I am in no way kidding or exaggerating that one in three can't confidently state what 13 - 1 is without a calculator. Read that again, I'm not kidding in the slightest.

Half have no idea how to measure something using a ruler. A quarter have never seen a ruler before in their lives. I've had to spend class time, in college, explaining what the little ruler marks mean to 18 and 19 year-olds. Lessons that should take 45 minutes take 2.5 hours and half the class still isn't done!

Not one in ten can construct a complete sentence. Often, essay exams will be answered with random collections of key terms half-remembered from my lectures. And these are the graduates!

And yet, they're dripping with gold jewelry and expensive bluetooth headsets. They bury their attention in text messages and myspace pages. They laugh out loud when I warn them about their low-cost competition in China/India. Tthey make fun of me when I try to teach them how to compete against that threat based on Value, Quality, Confidentiality, and Reliability. Maybe one in ten listens. Still fewer excel.

So I quit. It's hopeless. I don't care about them anymore. And that's the only thing that had kept me teaching.

My children will never attend a public school. It's likely that they'll never attend a traditional college either, as I can't see how the current welfare-supported system can last that long in a time of scarcity. I'll also have to prepare them mentally for what it's going to be like as part of an educated minority amongst a nation in long-term decline. Where there will only be pockets of prosperity among the misery. Hell, it's already that way now.

Marytoo said...

Anonymous, sadly, I could not agree more.

zebragirl said...

Taking this article as an example of the school system in Russia (as opposed to social comment like many comments here - which have been interesting to read) I would say that Ghana is quite similar in that it provides a great excuse for time wasting and does nothing for a child's mind and creativity to become a useful individual and it is only the very priviledged or those who are extraordinary thinkers and gifted and stubborn anyway that can break through. I don't neccessarily think this is the way in Australia though. I am a primary teacher and I love teaching thinking skills, lateral thinking, goal setting etc. etc. I've known many teachers who also love their work and believe and concentrate strongly in the nurturing of their students minds and their emotional well being. It seems to me that parents need to take a lot more responsibility for their children's upbringing too rather than just blaming the education system.
All the comments remind me that I have a lot to think about with the future of my child and her educational experience and life-long learning.

John Andersen said...

We homeschooled our daughter from second grade through high school.

She scored a perfect 800 in reading on the SAT, and is a junior at a top rated liberal arts college.

Her major?


Needless to say, we are fans of homeschooling, and know through experience that it is an excellent way to become educated.

What about socialization?

Here in Portland, Oregon, we found it was a huge problem.

There were so many families with great kids homeschooling for secular reasons that our children were constantly getting invitations for group classes, social events, outings, lessons, etc.

Our problem was keeping the social life side of homeschooling from taking over all of our time.

It was a battle, but we finally learned to keep it under control.

Unknown said...

We have many parents homeschooling these days, the reason including religion as well as poor teachers. One thing I have to disagree with, however, is that the teachers here in California are paid very, well above the private sector equivalent. Their apathy towards their jobs is more related to lack of merit pay, ie lack of reward for performing well. In Los Angeles, we now are opening up to private bidding for 'charter' schools, who do much better than public schools.

Unknown said...

Oh, and a couple of real life failures of the public school system here in Southern California:

I had a discussion with my daughter about school just after she graduated from high school. I made a remark about a relative fighting in Vietnam. To my astonishment, she had no knowledge whatsoever that Americans fought a war in Vietnam after 12 years in public school!

She went on to tell me that she didn't pay a great deal of attention to her teachers. Every year of her school life, she was told by a different, but similarly morose science teacher that she would not live to be an adult - the earth would be destroyed before she could grow to adulthood.

She was given constant propaganda like this in her schooling, whether science, or sex education, or history. Much of it was contradictory, all of it depressing, producing kids that are apathetic, since worrying seems to have been wrung from them at a very early age. After a while, she says, she stopped listening.

TheyDHD said...

I homeschool my children. I started because Our local public school was comprised of idiots who claimed to be teaching my daughter things that she'd learned 2 years earlier, and she was bored out of her mind.

Public schools killed my daughter's love of math and writing. After YEARS of lovingly avoiding the topic, she is finally enjoying the topics again, with my gentle guidance.

Public school destroyed my love of math at an early age by forcing me to "stay with the class" in the workbooks instead of joyously traipsing off on a learning adventure, with the instructions in the texts as a guide.

Public schools kill a child's innate love of learning. A person who has no desire to learn is as useful to society at large as a single fallen leaf. Not good for much except making compost. continuing to churn out numbed, education-hating individuals spells doom for the world as we know it.

I will never go back to trusting a batch of poorly-paid strangers with the majority of my children's time, only to have them spend it in an institution of such mind-numbing conformity. My children are individuals. Not numbers, not grant money, and definitely not mindless drones. There will be no stamping out of my children's individuality and love of learning.

I will never go back to sending them to an institution of confinement masquerading as a place to learn!

Luckily, homeschooling is really catcing on, and well-rounded, healthy, active, intelligent young adults with critical thinking skills and imaginations are beginning to seep into our society yet again.

There is hope for us yet, but only if we parents are courageous enough to take the responsibility for our children in a way that has not been done for many, many generations.

Chris Smith said...

I agree with you all strongly, I Live in a small town in the U.S. and attended public school up til 11th grade. Then I transfered to online school which can all be done at home or where ever I go, it allows way more freedom to do things like get a job during the day or personally I use the time to write new songs with my band.
I think world wide the whole school requirments should be re-thought through and changed since the world has changed so should what we are "required" to learn. Me and my friends calculated that the students at our local public school spend 500 more hours a semester than we did doing online schooling. Our online classes are all advanced and accelerated, I must say much harder than any schooling i've ever taking; yet we spend less time doing it. I passed my first semester so far with a B average.
Looking back at my years spent at public school i've been a B honor roll student all my life, and I remember very rarely i'd be interested in the classes, i'd either find my self doodling on worksheet all class or trying to fall asleep sitting up. I some how passed all my classes with B's by only paying attention a few days out of a couple weeks.
Schools need change, school shouldn't be so long and be basically a free daycare it should be a few concentrated hours of learning BASIC things necassary to help you find yourself, and what the person is interested in doing with their lives

Jon said...

I could not agree more with this article. I have read a lot of studies about online learning and it turns out that online learning is proving to outperform standard teaching and learning methods. With that in mind I had enrolled my children in online education at an early age. My children attend an online k-12 tuition-free charter school named OHDELA. It has proven to be one of the best things we have ever decided to do. Our children get to learn for the comfort and safety of home, with out the peer pressures of public school. They offer the students to learn at their own pace and encourage them to excel in the areas they enjoy. Above that the children are not limited to learning only what the teachers have resources for or that teachers feel are important. They are taught how to use the internet to expand their research and to learn more about the things they are interested in. OHDELA has been great for us and online learning comes highly recommended. http://www.mydela.com.

Jen said...

Ah, here it is... the blog post that tipped the balance and made me decide to homeschool my child. Thanks again, Dmitry. Your words encourage me to resist the rat mazes set before us all; not just by homeschooling, but in almost every other area of my life. It was a pleasure to meet you and hear you speak tonight.