Schooling rant

by Yule Heibel on November 9, 2003

Via Alas, a Blog I came to this post by Timothy Burke, who describes taking his 3-year old daughter to a museum. The problems that he describes, caused by the behaviour of some of the older children visiting the museum, strike me as deriving from factory school segregation, or rather: from the experienced mis-fit caused by factory school segregation vs the conditions given in actual heterogeneous society.

This is a pet peeve of mine, so bear with me.

Basically, I feel very strongly that it’s not normal to lock kids up all day long with others of the same age. I don’t see how we can expect these kids to be able to behave “normally.” How would we adults feel if we were told that we could only associate with exact age-mates all day long, every day from Monday to Friday? How would we feel if that condition were then exacted: cut-off birth dates, exact ages only (within an 8-month margin), all day every day. That’s it, those are the only people you get to see from now on. The higher-ups would tell us we were being “socialised,” uh-huh. But we’d probably say something rude. After a few years, however, we would definitely forget how to behave around younger people and we would probably be afraid of older people.

Duh, that about sums up how school kids are socialised, and how many of them feel. They hate younger kids (because these remind them of their own lack of power) and are afraid of older ones (who typically show precious little empathy toward the younger ones).

Factory schooling encourages anti-social behaviour. Counter-measures might entail smaller one-room schoolhouse type settings, school situations where there is constant interaction between older and younger children, kibbutz or commune type situations, and of course homeschooling, which allows for real socialisation-in-society. I can’t think of any social benefits that derive from the factory school model. Bullying? Fear? Cliquishness? It cracks me up when people say, “what about socialisation?” in response to the fact that we homeschool. You can’t honestly believe that the factory school can socialise your kid for the good? You can’t seriously believe that the problem doesn’t get worse the older your kid gets, the closer he or she gets to middle or high school?

The situation that Timothy Burke describes would probably not occur among children who know what it’s like to be around younger kids, or who have been empowered in their own schools with leadership positions vis-a-vis younger children — or who visit museums in a mixed-age continuum of 6 to 16 year olds vs packs of 12-year-olds. Educating a person should entail teaching them to wield power over less powerful members of society (viz. younger children), to wield a mentoring role, to wield a nurturing, care-taking role. The only way you can do that, however, is by actually trusting them with real responsibilities for less powerful members. You don’t teach it in classrooms or workshops, they learn it by doing. You keep things small. You let them play together, too. You don’t lock them up in classrooms all day long where they only experience their agemates and one adult (the teacher). That’s a recipe for disaster. Our society has moved past that model — who actually still works within that model? — and the misfit between how we live and how we school our kids is contributing to their expressions of anti-social behaviour.

You want kids to behave better? Give them more power, and stop treating them like babies and locking them up with kids only of their own age.


Joel November 10, 2003 at 10:17 am

We’ve come a long ways from the one room school house where the older kids helped teach the younger kids and thereby gained a sense of community responsibility, eh?

Joel November 10, 2003 at 10:41 am

I’ve commented at greater length on my blog.

I am so sick of the “Tragedy of the Commons” myth. It didn’t happen that way. I wish E.P. Thompson’s “The Makings of the English Working Class” was universally assigned in colleges, at least, and the fact of the Enclosures Act taught as well.

Yule Heibel November 11, 2003 at 1:05 am

Joel, thanks for the connection to the loss of the commons and Thompson. I need to take a look at this again, with schooling in mind, it’s a brilliant connection.

Other readers, take a look at Joel’s blog on this topic, and the comments thread starting there. Interesting stuff.

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