Tag Archives: education

Plenty of Time

“The smart way to keep people passive and obedient is to strictly limit the spectrum of acceptable opinion, but allow very lively debate within that spectrum….” ― Noam Chomsky

I like lively debate outside the box.

We have a local lawn service that employees some Latin American workers.  The children work alongside the grownups.  They work hard but take good breaks and quit by 4PM.  I worked for my Dad in the summers and loved every minute.  At the breaks, we got a donut in the morning and one Pepsi in the afternoon.  Heavenly.  My Dad was a history major and loved to talk about long ago and far away.  He talked of the war and of growing up in The Depression.  He taught me how to hammer a nail and to tighten a screw.  I knew what the difference was between a wrench and a pliers.  I helped him build a boat and a small horse barn.  I helped him plant trees and pour cement.  He taught me how to mow a lawn straight.  That was the worst as my wandering mind and boredom led me to start making circles instead of lines. Then I would get hollered at.

I’ve changed my mind about education.  From where did I really get my learning?  I read a lot of books from the local public library.  My parents bought an encyclopedia and a huge book on the Civil War.  I know that Robert E. Lee’s horse was named Traveler because I read a book about it.  At the same time I learned to question what I was reading.   Mostly I learned from the stories my Dad and Mom told me of how they grew up in vastly different ways.  I’m pretty sure I would have been fine without being stuck in a cinder block cell called a school room for 7 hours a day.

I had the fortune to be raised on the grounds of the school for the handicapped that my Dad ran.  So I followed him like a puppy dog my mother said anytime I got the chance.  My Dad wasn’t stuck behind his desk all day in some far away office is some building in downtown Chicago.  Yes, I was fortunate.  He didn’t make a lot of money, but he had plenty of time for me.  I think that all children should have parents who have plenty of time.

There is child labor abuse like having little children work in coal mines.  But then there was also adult labor abuse in those mines.  Back breaking work in the fields in hot weather with no breaks is abuse.  But so is sitting in a cement box all day being taught to take tests.

In Dimitry Orlov’s “The Five Stages of Collapse” he tells the story of how he as a young boy in the Soviet Union would fake an illness so he was sent home for weeks.  There his grandmother would home school him for 3 to 4 hours and the rest of the time he would sled or play fetch with his dog.   He also read a lot of books.  His desk mate at school turned out to be a gypsy who scoffed at book reading and said that none of that was real and that his people kept everything in their head.

The powers that be hate leisure time for the riff raff.  Leisure is for for the elite.   Work is for the little people (to paraphrase Leona Helmsley).  And if they have too much leisure time it leads them to question the prevailing order of things.  The whole hierarchy thing comes into question.  Why do some people get to loll around while others have to work their butts off?  Yeh, why?

I was fortunate.  I got to do meaningful work  spending time with my Dad.  I want that for everybody.

2013_08_11_12_35_52.pdf000Me and Dad with the model ship “we” put together in the classroom where he taught his first classes at the Elim Christian School for the Exceptional Child.  My father was quoted as saying “Children should be custom made not mass produced.”  The children at his school learned to make a car, build a boat, cut and bale the hay field, take care of 2 steers and 5 horses along with reading, writing, and ‘rithmetic.

Weasology Entry – “High Quality Educaton”

Might be a good idea to have a Weasology Handbook. To his credit  Today Chris Hayes on his show “UP” signaled a problem with the words “high quality” as in “high quality charter schools” after one of his guests, Darrell Bradford of something called “Better Education For Kids” praised some charters in Chicago.  Yeh, of course high quality charter schools are just great, he laughed.    He was right to warn us about this phrase.   But he let the phrase  “high quality pre-school  education” be defined by his guests without analysis.  As defined by most of his guests this morning, high quality pre-school education was about learning…get this…”persistence, “discipline” and my favorite, “finishing things.”  The professor (and to my chagrin a woman) also emphasized how spongy little brains are at 4 years old.  Ugh. Continue reading

Dwayne Teaches Science

My friend’s eleven year old son, Dwayne, taught a science class last week in his one room school house.  The teacher had started a lesson on bees when Dwayne raised his hand and asked if he could teach the subject.  She agreed.  He started to explain bees and pollen when suddenly he ran outside.  He came back with a bee in a bottle.  He proceeded to show the class of first to six graders the pollen on the bees little legs and then explained the process of pollination.

When he concluded, the teacher exclaimed that he taught the subject better than she could have done.

One room schools are interesting.  I mentioned to a young couple at a dinner that I was intrigued by them and wondered if we could carry the idea of them over into regular schools.  The mother of a nine year old girl said that in the small town in Wyoming from where they came the one room school experience had been great academically for her daughter, but bad socially.   The school had 7 students; six were girls and one boy.  The five other girls turned out to be Heathers i.e. mean girls.   So the little girl was miserable there and is much happier now in their new town in a school with lots of kids.  The mother and father had a unique explanation for the bad behavior.  Except for their daughter, all the kids lived in town and not on ranches even if their parents owned ranches.  They didn’t do chores before school like their daughter did.  They felt that had something to do with the mean girls’ nasty behavior.

Maybe, I thought.  Maybe not.   Perhaps there was a way of combining all these variations.  Why divide learning up by age to begin with?   I mean a kid born in January ends up in the same class as the kid born 12 months later in December.  When I was young there was a school that had half year classes in an attempt to figure that one out.

Combining the one room school idea but in a larger context might work.  Structure or destructure a school like Pixar Studios with the bathrooms and common space in the middle of the building, so kids can mingle.   Also having everybody do animal and plant chores during the day is good for all kinds of things.

Also in the one room school model, the older children are enlisted to help the younger ones with studies they have mastered.   So the teacher gets help and the older children learn the art of teaching.  Always seemed to me that if you could learn to be a good teacher, you would be prepared for almost anything.  And it might replace the meanness for attention with genuine sharing of accomplishment and nurturing of the younger ones.

I’m sure none of these ideas are new.  Utopian schools like the Ferrer Schools in Spain, Summerhill, and Beacon Hill Schools were experiments in giving children the freedom they did not have in most schools.  They came from a view that learning should be voluntary and free.  It is part of the pursuit of happiness rather than a preparation for life as a drone.  Not much is really new.  But maybe it’s time to do another reboot and take a look at what “school” should look like.  Instead of looking at education as a “race” or school as a place for indoctrination into the myths of  a nation, we should all be going in the opposite direction.  Childhood and maybe even a good deal of adulthood should be a time to stop and smell the roses and the alfalfa.

Fun Facts:  Did you know that in Switzerland, you only have to go or “visit” school for  9 years which consists of 6 years of primary school and 3 more years of either a job training program or the college prep type school.  Most students who choose the college prep school go 6 years.  The students who choose job training go 3 years and then start work.  There is no national education department.  The way schools are structured are determined at the canton or municipal level. (Wikipedia).

In ancient Athens Cleisthenes created democracy.  Important public positions like head of the sewer systems, food distribution, army generalships, fixing buildings, etc were distributed by lottery.  500 men called the Boule took care of such things.  (from historyforkids.org)  There was no such thing as “school”.  “Skole” in Greek meant leisure.  The time to think and reflect. Neighboring Sparta was the opposite.  It consisted of regimented living and training in a fake democracy run by elites.  (Paul Taylor Gatto “The Underground History of American Education”.)

Gatto also makes the observation that in science fiction the future or the end of history is peopled by robots not by slaves.

Boxes (with links fixed)

“Little boxes on the hillside.  Little boxes made of ticky tack.”  “Boxed in.”  “Think outside the box”.

When young we go from our box in our house to another box.  It is usually an even more boring box with boring rows of brown boxy things called desks.  Every 40 minutes we were marched down the halls to our next box.  We got a couple breaks during the day called recess where, if we were lucky, we could make up our own games as opposed to being forced to play group games with more rules that boxed us in.  At lunch we ate in a large box with rows of tables.  It looked very much like what we saw on TV when we watched shows like “Dragnet” or “Perry Mason”.  We saw prison inmates shuffling past vats of slop and sitting at long tables.  Like the prisons, there were places and people you could sit with and those who would shove you away or flip your tray over.  Did you notice that both kids and prisoners liked to stick their foot out and trip you? Continue reading


Newt Gingrich suggested that perhaps a good idea for poor highschoolers would be to work as the janitors in their high school in their off hours which would “be a way to instill a work ethic while also saving money”. A lot of liberals jumped on him for this screaming, “That’s an awful idea.  That is child labor and it’s racist to boot.”

Well, it sounds racist.  But most of all it sounds stupid and way out of touch with the lives of regular Americans.  So it’s not only racist, but it’s elitist.

What, pray tell,  are the janitors going to do when there job is taken over by teenagers?  Does Newt propose having the janitors teach? Maybe they will take on administrative duties? (Actually not bad ideas).  Did Newt think for a moment that real people are janitors. And janitors earn their wages. They are good at their jobs and probably proud of their work.  “Custodial engineers” are responsible for “making minor repairs to the steam plant, heating equipment, electrical equipment, plumbing…” according to PolitiFact.com.   (Do you want to have students working on boilers?)

Hey, people, janitors fix things not blather on about nonsensical ideas about what could be done to improve the lives of poor children.

Also, there is nothing wrong with kids doing chores.  In the one room school my husband went to they had a hot lunch and then they all did the dishes.  I used to clean the teachers’ coffee cups after their coffee break.  I was soooo relieved to be out of class for a half an hour.  It was fun.

My father ran a school for the handicapped.  He was an early pioneer in special education.  Everybody had chores including the physically handicapped.  Deaf dormitory students Richard and Cheryl helped my grandmother cook the evening meal and then do the dishes, just like a family would do.  David who had little use of his arms or legs could fold the napkins with his chin.  Older children helped the younger ones to bed.

On the ranch or farm, children fed the chickens, the pigs, and the bum lambs.  They helped with haying.  These are all called “chores”.  The difference between chores and child labor is how long the chores last.  If you send a kid down a mine shaft and they labor for 10 hours, that’s abuse.  If a kid has to do an hour of mowing or washing the car, that’s chores.

And taking a job away from a capable hard working adult is just stupid and not the way to help poor children have a better education and a better life.

Note to politicians: I got this insight from a manicurist who was appalled that this politician would suggest taking a good paying job away from an adult and give it to a 14 year old because all it was was cleaning toilets.  “No clue,” she said.

The University of Occupy – Majoring in Freedom

Rage.  Almost every adolescent feels at one time or another or most of the time a feeling of suffocation and expresses that feeling with rage.  David Graeber in his on line essays on revolutionary social movements  called “Revolutions in Reverse” , he focuses on this alienation.  Why were so many American teenagers “entranced” by Raoul Vaneigem’s book “The Revolution of Everyday Life ?” he asked himself.  Then he answers his own question.  “It must be the highest theoretical expression of the feelings of rage, boredom, and revulsion that almost any adolescent at some point feels when confronted with the middle class existence.”  The young see before then mind-numbing unimaginative work before them and it freaks them out.

I got to thinking about this. For a long time young working and middle class people were bought off.  Not by the distractions of game playing, sports watching, or mindless movies although those activities helped the fragmentation of their social life.  No it was more insidious. They were bought off by the myth of American freedom through ownership of your very own home.  You could leave the nest and feather your own complete with mate and cute little chirpers.  You were no longer subject to authoritarian education structures or parental controls.  You were free.

But unlike a bird, you had little time to soar like an eagle or dart and play in the sky.  To mix some metaphors, you got yourself saddled with debt and if you went to college, you piled on some more saddle packs full of anxiety and woe.

In the new AMC TV series “Hell on Wheels”, the railroad baron asks a couple of young Irish lads why they were in the middle of the U.S. tagging along as the continental railroad was being built.   The brothers tell him of sneaking on a train when they were mere lads and going to the big city of Dublin.  Their father found them and hauled them home, but it was the grandest time of their life.   So for them a train was the symbol of freedom and they wanted to be a part of the building of that railroad in the hopes of capturing that feeling of freedom again.

For over 40 years we have been subjected to a bad version of “freedom” with its emphasis on the mythical rugged individual.   But libertarians of the right should take a look at what left libertarians call “freedom” and maybe find some  common ground. Here’s how the CrimethInc collective  (who Graeber calls “the most inspiring young anarchist propagandists”) describes freedom:

We must make our freedom by cutting

holes in the fabric of this reality, by

forging new realities which will, in turn,

fashion us. Putting yourself in new situations

constantly is the only way to ensure

that you make your decisions unencumbered

by the inertia of habit, custom, law,

or prejudice – and it is up to you to create

these situations

Freedom only exists in the moment of

revolution. And those moments are not as

rare as you think. Change, revolutionary

change, is going on constantly and everywhere

– and everyone plays a part in it,

consciously or not.

Graeber calls this statement “elegant”.  Direct action is, he says, “the defiant insistence on acting as if one is already free.”  “Sovereign” may  This is revolution and not some kind of “to the barricades” moment.  This is releasing the barricades in our minds and unleashing our imaginations.  It is pushing back against the elites who say that we need to get back into the boxes;  the voting booths, the endless marches and rallies to petition our king for some gruel, writing letters to the aged satraps in the halls of congress, or sitting in the audience at public hearings of excruciating boredom.  So-called “realistic” “pragmatic” choices are made in those boxes but “in an insurrectionary situation, on the other hand, suddenly anything is possible.”

This is what is called “reinventing everyday life.”  So forget universities.  Go sign up for a course in freedom at one of the Occupies.  The tents may be gone for now, but the Forum is always open to those who choose to live as if they are already free.