Question: Is it an Exaggeration to Say ‘School is a Horror’? A Rant

In the comboxes in to the last post, some thoughtful people – Stephen J and malcolmthecynic – challenged my assessment of the graded classroom style of schooling, in Stephen’s case specifically objecting to my referring to it as a ‘horror’. Am I merely engaging in hyperbole, or do I really mean that schooling is a horrible thing to which to subject children?

I really mean it – so much so, that I refused to send our 5 kids to any graded classroom model school, not the public schools, not the local Catholic schools, not the kinder and gentler variations such as Montessori schools – nada. If kids were sorted by grade and measured by idiotic short-form tests, I would rather they roam the street on their own all day than submit to the mind and soul destroying hell that is the industrial schooling model. Yes, I risked ‘ruining’ my own beloved children by refusing to make them take a single class or test unless they wanted to. Further, I tended to take an absolutely minimal, safety-based approach to rules: if one my kids wanted to go barefoot or stay up until 1 a.m., fine by me – but they know they will own the consequences. Only rules enforced concerned basic duties to the family: you have to help out with the chores, and you have to go to Mass on Sunday.

The result? 4 kids who got into the colleges of their choice (except they knew I wasn’t paying for any 4-year college that wasn’t on the Newman list – but that’s what they each chose anyway).  They are each responsible, polite, kind and generous, and willingly go to Sunday Mass, and often daily Mass without anyone watching over them – I claim no credit or responsibility for this, except that I trusted God and got out of the way.  All I’m pointing out is that, if refusing to send them to school ruined them, the world needs a lot more kids ruined this way. Which is kinda the whole point of my anti-school ranting.

So: Started to write specific replies, started to get too long, so I’m making them into a separate post. Pardon the combox tone of the writing – I’m getting a bit worked up over this. Do read the oft-linked John Taylor Gatto’s essay on this – he says it better than I can, from the perspective of someone who spent a couple decades teaching in public schools.

You’ve touched upon EXACTLY what I’m talking about. That we do not see subjecting children to graded classroom education as a horror, that we cannot imagine ‘school’ being anything other than this bizarre social experiment, IS THE PROBLEM. We are suffering from a culture-wide case of Stockholm Syndrome.

By way of illustration:

Let’s say we took you and 40 other adults, and put them under the control of somebody else for 6 hours a day, whereby you and your ‘class’ cannot so much as go the bathroom, stand or sit without the permission of an overseer. It is explained to you that you must submit to this for your own good, because some percentage of you might benefit from it.

Each day, after enforcing order via some mixture of peer-pressure and threats of humiliation, you are made to sit through lessons regardless of whether you already know the material, want to know the material, or have other things you’d like to do. The material is presented in utterly disjointed, predigested chunks of about 40 minutes each. If by chance you find a particular lesson interesting, you will nonetheless be made to stop considering it and switch to an unrelated lesson after 40 minutes marked by a bell.

The authority of your keeper is not subject to challenge. If he says sit, you sit – or some humiliating discipline may be imposed. He may be kind, he may be cruel, he may be smart, he may be stupid – doesn’t matter. You have no say in the matter.

This process does not just go on for one day, like a particularly unpleasant visit to the DMV, but goes on for 12 to 13 years. Lessons are repeated with slight variations year after year. It doesn’t matter if you like it, doesn’t matter if you already know the stuff they are supposed to be teaching you, doesn’t matter if you’re not interested in the stuff they’re teaching you, it doesn’t matter if you could learn what they are teaching, or something else you want to learn, in a tiny fraction of the time – you MUST show up and spend 6 hours a day with your overseers, or they can take legal action against you.

Your relationships with the other people in your class are likewise restricted. You might enjoy common interests with some, or just find their company pleasant – but you must restrict you social interactions with them to specified periods as permitted by your overseer. There is no value in those relationships, or any other relationships (including family) that trump doing the lessons.

Your progress, such as it is, will not be measured by any objective criteria, but only by how well you please the overseers and parrot what they want to hear. A piece of literature, for example, will admit of a wide range of understanding if it is any good – yet you will be judged based on compliance with the answers at the back of the book. After more than a decade of this, you will be certified as properly trained, based on nothing more than compliance with the wishes of your overseers.

OK with you? If it’s not OK to do this to an innocent adult, by what INSANE logic is it OK to do it to a defenseless child? To have half your waking hours taken from you for over a decade on the off chance it might do some good? Huh?

The triumph of schooling, the true horror, is that we all accept this blatant disregard of our our children AS PEOPLE as not only necessary, but good! So much so that a mere demonstration of competence in what is presumably being taught is not enough to excuse a kid from the process. Let that sink in a minute – You show up for your first day of school knowing, for example, how to read and do 3rd grade level math. So not only have you obviated most of two whole years of schooling, but, more important, you’ve proven that you don’t need school in order to learn this stuff. So? Do they say, OK, check back in with us in a couple years, we’ll focus on the other kids who might actually benefit from our attention?

Almost nobody can imagine doing it any other way than the way we do it now – even though NOBODY did it this way until about 200 years ago, and only in the last 75 or so has it become ubiquitous in the industrialized world. (And, of course, like home ownership, schooling is viewed as a cause of prosperity rather than an effect. Typical muddleheaded thinking.)

First and foremost, children are human beings possessed of human dignity. We, as parents, have a duty to see that they are raised as good, trustworthy, honest, hardworking citizens of this world, and pilgrims headed for glory in the next. Nothing in that job description makes it right for us to hand them over to be raised by school of any kind – and don’t kid yourself, if the biggest part of their waking hours are spent at school, and then their non-school hours are dominated and controlled through homework and extracurricular activities, it’s school that’s raising them.

How many songs can you think of kids singing about how wonderful school is? “Be True to Your School”? And? How many recount a tale of misery of one sort of another? Among the ditties kids make up, we sang about a teacher hitting us with a ruler and meeting her at the door with a loaded .44 to the tune of the Battle Hymn of the Republic; Off the top of my head: John Mayer had a hit a few years ago singing about how phoney school was; Another Brick in the Wall (didn’t say they were good songs); School’s Out for Summer. Why is it a recurring theme of song that school is a jail of some sort?

On the other hand, did you know that there is a body of literature written by the graduates of the one-room schoolhouses in praise and in fond memory of their schooling? The same one room schools that the proponents of the current model, with the help of rural demographics, crushed? Kids back then, who by any meaningful standard were better educated than current high school grads, who spent a small fraction of the time in school that modern kids do, actually liked it – they liked learning, liked teaching each other (a defining characteristic of one room schools is peer-to-peer teaching).

Anyway, heading out of town camping over the weekend, so I’m going to have to wrap this up for now. Read the Gatto. Think about how you learned to do your job, if you have one. Think about the relationships that give you joy. Did school  help or hinder these things?

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Author: Joseph Moore

Enough with the smarty-pants Dante quote. Just some opinionated blogger dude.

12 thoughts on “Question: Is it an Exaggeration to Say ‘School is a Horror’? A Rant”

  1. You’re killing me because my kids are done with school now. I wish I had come across this idea before it was too late. It just never occurred to me that there was any alternative, or even that there should be. My focus was solely on finding the least harmful method of schooling, mainly one that wouldn’t undermine their faith. Poor kids.

  2. By the way is attendance mandatory at your kids’ school? Do they have to be there for a certain number of hours each day?

    1. Yes, but only because the state requires it. Four hours a day. The school has an open campus policy for the older – like 11 and up – kids, the younger kids have to make arrangements usually to be accompanied by an older kid or a parent. Funny thing is, A lot of the kids come first thing the school opens, and don’t leave until five when it closes, because they can socialize, work on whatever they want, cook their own meals, and otherwise behaves responsible human beings. Oddly enough, children appreciate this as much as adults.

  3. I don’t really disagree with what you say. I’m just saying…well, you talk about most people not even really registering the idea that their could be another way of doing it. Teachers are like that. For the most part they know there’s a problem, they do their best to try and be a light in the darkness (the good teachers), they try to work against the system they’re in, but ultimately it’s hard to even conceive that there might be even another option *for them*, let alone the students.

    1. For the most part they know there’s a problem, they do their best to try and be a light in the darkness (the good teachers), they try to work against the system they’re in…

      I don’t see how any teacher can do that without getting fired and replaced by another teacher who will comply with the program.

      You can’t be against something while working for that something at the same time. Doesn’t work that way.

      1. And why should you be limited?

        If you take what Mr. Moore is saying seriously, then you’re not keeping employment. Indeed, for every noble act that you think you can perform as a teacher in the modern system, your employers will demand that you carry out their marching orders — and there’s no middle ground.

    2. Schooling is a little bit like sacraments: it works by working. The teacher’s role is most clearly and definitely NOT to teach the supposed subjects – reading, writing and arithmetic are annoying distractions, never mentioned once by Fichte in his seminal work when he described the purposes of mandatory state controlled education. Nope – the reason the stat must control the schools, not the parents, not the town, not the Church, is because these non-state entities are the problem, when the goal is to produce subjects manageable by the likes of Fichte. The goal – the STATED goal, in print – is to produce students who are incapable of thinking anything their betters don’t want them to think.

      After stating this, Fichte got appointed head of the the newly-established University of Berlin, von Humboldt made Fichte’s ideas *the* basis of Prussian education – and Horace Mann, and hundreds of other America’s elite flocked to Berlin to study and get their PhDs in Education – and became the heads of ALL our state and university education departments.

      All those study plans and Math and Reading classes? From the POV of the architects of the system, they are irrelevant, a sop thrown to appease parents and other annoying do-gooders. The actual education is in the system itself, the arbitrary authority, the predigested materials, the bells, the tests that test only for conformity, the diplomas that mean only that you were properly processed. The K-12 model is designed to destroy the ability to think and inculcate mindless conformity. Teachers assuage their consciences by thinking they’re helping little Johhny learn algebra or reading – but as long as they stay in the classroom, they are feeding the beast, feeding it helpless little kids.

      The problem with compulsory graded classroom education isn’t that it doesn’t work – it’s that it works great doing what it was designed to do.

  4. As for Mr. Moore’s post, it reminds me so much about this scene from The Simpsons: https://youtu.be/X7nsufbFnLI
    X7nsufbFnLI Note the “Independent Thought” alarms!

    Of course, I don’t agree with Lisa’s animal dillemma, but that’s besides the point. As a student in the industrial schooling model, your expectations are to stay glued to your seat, be quiet, let your teachers inoculate you against — gasp! — your capacity for faith and reason, leave school, get a job in government or a key industry for the government once you leave, and work away while the guys in charge handle the BIG questions and decisions for you. Maybe, if you’re lucky, you’ll work your way to become one of those guys in charge, but that’s only because school has already rendered you incapable of reasoning your way out of a paper bag. Or even caring enough to do so.

    The industrial schooling model is really one of the modern’s outrageous visions of “practicality” applied to schooling, methinks.

  5. Matches my experience with school. I never learned even basic algebra in school (lazy and inattentive). Had to pass an algebra test to be allowed to take the college classes I needed. Took me about 3 weeks of home study to learn enough to pass the test. So, I figure, one year of freshman algebra about equals 3 weeks of home study, a couple of hours every evening in between my job and chores.
    My daughters on the other hand do very well in school and like it. However, except for a very few of the advanced science classes, I get the impression that they a little challenged by school.

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