There is little question that each of these would benefit a large segment of our youth population. Each one individually would increase the probability of success for the children involved—especially the ones that address the immediate effects of poverty, such as hunger, which extend well beyond the walls of schools. However, the point of AlternativesToSchool.com is to look at the current situation from a different perspective than merely repairing broken parts of a system. The goal instead is to challenge the most basic assumption—concerning children’s true natures—on which the current educational system (comprising both public and private schools) has been built. This scrutiny reveals a system that is fundamentally flawed, and shows that the best path forward is to replace it with a new one that better serves students and society (in fact, many talented teachers have already left their posts to either provide their own children with a home-based learning experience, or to start democratic schools and resource centers for self-directed learners in their communities). The current system views young people as stupid, lazy, unmotivated, and needing to be controlled. These views were not always prevalent. They developed at a time in human history when the paramount concern of well-meaning parents was to groom their children to survive as adults in societies where survival meant unquestioning submission to authority—first in feudal societies and later in industrial ones. Fortunately the world has changed, and our individual horizons are much broader. It’s high time to reconsider how anachronistic schooling is, and how out of sync it is to the true nature of children. Children are naturally smart, energetic, highly motivated to learn and create, and needing respect and consideration, rather than constant reminders that they are considered untrustworthy and incompetent. As long as they hold these negative beliefs about themselves, our young people will fail to reach their full potential. They will fight back in an effort to gain some measure of autonomy, no matter how self-destructive their choice may prove to be (even if it only amounts to falling into line, going through the motions, feigning interest and counting the days until their sentence is over). Once we made the decision to remove young people from society and isolate them in their own institutions—thereby depriving them of the opportunity to learn and to grow in the context of the world around them—we left them with little choice but to create their own world of petty escapes, continuous rebellion (or passive compliance and adaptation) and dissociated learning. To understand their motivations for negative behavior, just imagine yourself in prison for a crime (i.e., being young) you didn’t commit. Even if you obey the guards and spend your free time in the prison library, or even make friends with some of your fellow prisoners, your focus will remain on the day you come up for parole or when your sentence has been completed. We crave the sense of freedom that should have been ours all along. (The story for some, of course, is a much happier one—but they represent a small minority; for more on this, please refer to that question in the FAQ.) Even those who claim they enjoyed their school days are engaging either in selective memory or, more likely, referring to their interactions with their peers, not with much of their school work—so they are not really talking about school at all, in the sense of the supposed primary function of schools. The occasional inspirational teacher is an outlier and not indicative of most people’s basic school experience. Real learning begins before schooling starts, then lies in wait or hides in the shadows until graduation, and then, for the lucky ones, is revived when they are reunited with the real world.
January 16, 2014