You couldn’t get a more motley crew together if you tried: Paul Goodman, playwright and anarchist, Victor Hugo, novelist, Ayn Rand, philosopher-novelist, and Anthony Flew, philosopher. But they all had one thing in common: opposition to the current state of education. All advocated a radically different approach to how we teach our kids, and it all centered on parents, or the community in lieu of parents, taking responsibility for their kids.
Paul Goodman, in Compulsory Miseducation (1964) argued that the fatal flaw of progressive education was that it always ate its own children. Each generation of progressives tried to undo what the last generation wanted. The core problem was in its centralist approach to education–school boards, large classrooms, top down education. This has just gotten worse with a federal dimension to schooling, with standardized tests and teaching to them. Every individual is unique, according to Goodman, and some might not even need a formal education. Children should be allowed to explore what they consider to be fruitful avenues of knowledge. If this is done, then the spark of curiosity, so keen in children, will not go out, as it does by high school. Goodman believed every stage of formal education had to undo what the earlier stage had done: you unlearn elementary school in high school, you unlearn high school in college, and you unlearn college in the school of hard knocks.
Ayn Rand likened educators to “comprachicos of the mind.” (1975) Victor Hugo coined the term, and he used it to describe the child buyers of medieval times. They would condition children for tasks and sell them for that task. Some would be put into a pot and grow in the perfect shape of a pot. A later industrial practice did the same. Child labor was justified in coal mines, as their bones would adapt to the stooped environment that they found themselves in. Rand believed educators did the same thing–only to the mind. They would put kids in spiritual pots and they would grow into the grotesques that would demonstrate and yell, but never understand the needs of human life. There have been studies to show that school boards reflect the needs of the corporations or industry of an area and not that of the children.
Anthony Flew, in The Politics of Procrustus (1981) talked about compulsory egalitarianism. Procrustus was an inn keeper who had but one bed. If you were too short for the bed, he’d put you on the rack and stretch you; if you were too long, he would cut you down to size. Flew believed that public institutions did just that, including the schools. You dumb down the smart; you try to bring to average those who don’t measure up.
What would Goodman, Rand, and Flew think of today’s education–with standardized tests, a return to learning that requires mathematics beyond what the student is comfortable with, and imposes a particular view of history? In Medford, the school board wrestled with history books that depicted the framers as rich white slave owners, dedicated to their own privileges, and which cut out or amended parts of the Constitution. They decided to allow the book as long as the actual constitution was passed out and discussed. Both left and right politicians complain about the brainwashing that goes into the schools. It seems both the first and second amendment, the one giving basic freedoms and the one protecting them, are anathema in a lot of schools.
What is the solution? Too easy to say homeschooling, that won’t work for many. Ditto, private education. What will work is for parents to get actively involved in the educational process–every step of the way. Only when you can’t teach your child what you need yourself should you involve the schools. Far better to hire a tutor than to hand your children over to nameless bureaucrats.
Would you sell you children to a carnival?