Libertarian Visions of Schooling in the Future and Reform
June 30th, 2012
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This morning I was reading that Ben Swann, host of Reality Check, was homeschooled and earned his masterâs degree by the age of 17 through BYU (http://cincinnati.com/blogs/tv/2010/12/13/meet-ben-swann-new-fox19-anchor/). As Iâve written before, I think this is the future of education: I was calling for the achievement of bachelor-level degrees by the time people finish high school, but maybe itâs time to start dreaming for Ph.D. levels to be achieved? If this is what one homeschooling family is achieving, what kind of schools could we have if we had properly trained teachers and the freedom for individual students to develop themselves without friction? Clearly, the level of education at our schools must not be very high if homeschoolers like Ben Swann are successful – he is not merely an isolated case.
Youâd think that with all the educating we do in the U.S. that weâd have some super-geniuses emerging – plenty of Mozarts and Einsteins. Unfortunately, though, with a $15 Trillion Dollar U.S. Federal Govât and whole hosts of problems, the achievements of the public (and private) school system seem to be lacking. The question we should ask ourselves is, âHow can I personally make U.S. schooling better?â Is it through attending more Parent-Teacher Conferences and through parents getting more of a direct involvement in the schools as some parents have been literally taking over school districts? Perhaps we need to think more on a philosophy and practicality of education in our modern world.
The hallmark of good education is inculcating a passionate love of learning which is free to inquire and follow thoughts where they lead, as well as providing the tools and role models for answering questions and showing a student how to do things and achieve excellence. I remember seeing Ayn Rand speak about how she dealt with Soviet Russiaâs poor education system. When she was in grade school, she said she would put up a couple folders to block the teacherâs view and would write novels behind them! The intelligent mind will always find ways to endure and hopefully triumph over damaging forces around them, yet the more we can do to help that mind soar, the more developed of a world we can create.
âThe Closing of the American Mindâ by Allan BloomÂ was a conservative lament for education I read some time ago. While I donât agree with everything Mr. Bellow said, I do agree that our higher education institutions have âimpoverished the souls of todayâs studentsâ. Far too much now we have a âpolitical correctnessâ in schools that goes out of itâs way to read inferior quality work in order to be inclusive of other cultures, rather than support and defend the âWestern White European Christian Dead Old Menâsâ writing, which is generally what constitutes a lot of what are often universally agreed to be the âclassicsâ of thought. The inequality of cultures and of ideas is certainly not a popular idea today, yet is directly contradicted by the fact that we think some ideas are âbetterâ than others. Are we aiming to be geniuses today above the fools or is everyone of the radical egalitarian breed that âeveryone is smartâ? Without being snobbish or racist, we should be objective and allow to speak freely and without arbitrary discrimination. We have to remember that many who are considered âclassicâ today may have been vehemently hated in their day, and we need to have the freedom to love (and hate) again today as well.
Alfie Kohn, while very socialist in his thought, does bring up important considerations for our incessant focus on standardization and competition in his book, âNo Contestâ as well as other essays. Is the SAT really an accurate measure of intelligence and skills? Tests such as the SAT, barring any claims of cultural bias, do give some kind of accurate assessment of oneâs logic and verbal skills. Yet, does it measure how well you can play [or use] a musical (or surgical) instrument? Does it measure your emotional intelligence (E.Q.)? Where is the dissent about the limitations of the SAT to measure intelligence? Maybe this is another conspiracy I have yet to research, about how the College Board (makers of the SAT) gained such prominence and influence in the higher education system…
Another book I recall reading but donât remember too much about is âAnti-Intellectualism in American Lifeâ by Richard Hofstadter. I personally LOVE to read books more than I love breathing air and donât know how anyone can live without the things (or the internet)! How many people do you know who call themselves an âintellectualâ today? In a non-discriminating, socialized education system, no longer are there the âsmartâ and the âstupidâ. Has being an intellectual become physicalized, become a neuroscience and business, of sorts? What happened to purely intellectual pursuits? What happened to high achievement by the intellect? Has it become too costly, too unfashionable, or are we just too lazy to read?
Another book I remember reading, when trying to figure out this education puzzle while I was stuck in its prison halls was âThe Case Against Homeworkâ by Sara Bennett and Nancy Kalish. This book was excellent about how students should have the freedom to do work at school and to relax at home. Do you go to your job and then bring home work to do? Some people do voluntarily – how about we have students do so voluntarily if they want to get ahead? Regardless: do we really need to make our youth take work home to do? Iâm not against the idea, but do think that some students might learn better by having school year round with less hours and by doing more work during school hours rather than school hours AND hours at home. When I look back at my youth, I probably could have benefitted from some kind of arrangement like that – I just remember there being one way of doing things and that was it. I recall reading that the structure of school from Fall to Spring was created to accommodate agricultural society. Well, weâre not exactly that kind of society anymore, so could we find more efficient ways to do things and give kids more freedom?
One book I especially liked was âThe Teenage Liberation Handbookâ by Grace Llewellyn – but unfortunately I was in college when I was first reading it. This book was about âunschoolingâ or about autodidactism or self-taught learning. It gave a bunch of book ideas and internship-esque or employment opportunities for young people to look for rather than âtraditionalâ schooling (I donât like to use the term âtraditionalâ because I believe in âtraditionalâ models, to some extent, but think they have become grossly perverted). Unschooling seemed appealing to me because I taught myself how to do a lot of things that I loved doing and also found refuge in my own research skills rather than working with some incompetent or uncaring teachers. Yet, as every unschooler would have to agree, unschooling is NOT exactly being âself-taughtâ. Itâs more like customized-choice-of-teachers-through-books. Books are the ability for a teacher to teach at a distance; reading a book is like learning from a teacher, only in a visual way.
One thread I gather from all of these readings: legislation like the âNo Child Left Behindâ Act is extremely short-sighted about the diversity of approaches required for ensuring educational excellence. Can education thrive without moral foundation? How can we use technology to further educational goals (or when should we abstain from using it, like in teaching young people how to garden and grow their own food)? What is a libertarian education system? What does it mean to be âwell educatedâ? How can we work to get the cost of education down? (In other countries, there are riots about the cost of education – perhaps we need more protest and demand for cheap education in the U.S. in order to get it?) Whatâs the endgame of our education, what do we really want to use it to do?
All comments and thoughts below are appreciated!
This article has been generously contributed by Paul Hakel
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