Un-Schooling

The state of education across the world

Un-Schooling

Postby Michael » 03 Aug 2011, 22:05

Here is an idea perched somewhere between ridiculous and sensible:

http://www.cnn.com/2011/US/08/03/unschooling.sudbury.education/index.html?

I think there is something to the idea of schooling like this, but do not believe that it can be universalized. These children are obviously coming from privileged backgrounds with parents who care about education, and the children pick up on that. I don't think it takes much imagination to see that this would be disaster with underclass children whose parents do not take academics seriously and may never have completed compulsory education themselves. The school system here in Canada already fails so utterly to educate those who aren't already motivated and encouraged that first year education at major universities is primarily remedial classes on essay composition and research skills.

I did not go to an unschool, but had a home environment that was very stimulating. In fact it was not only stimulating, as many parents try to make their home artificially by playing classical music they don't enjoy themselves, but naturally enticing, as my parents loved learning and the arts. The only things I learned in school that I was not already exposed to at home via books or conversations with my parents was higher mathematics (which, despite my struggles with it then, I am grateful for being exposed to as math is now, alongside philosophy, one of my major interests). Again, it depends on the child and on the child's parents.

My home life was a great benefit when I went to university, as I realized that it would be very easy to coast through school with minimal effort and graduate with a degree that was worth nothing. Instead I devoted myself to studying intensively everything I found interesting, most of it outside of class syllabi.

Anyone else have similar experiences? How much do you feel you actually got out of your compulsory education versus how much you acquired at home or on your own?
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Re: Un-Schooling

Postby Mike » 03 Aug 2011, 23:40

Many long years ago, in my early days of teaching, I got quite interested in all these ideas and read some books by the usual suspects of this genre - John Holt, A.S. Neill, et al. The basic problem is exactly as you've described it: such a method of education could work well (and indeed sometimes does work well) for kids from an educated middle-class background, but applied universally it would be a complete shambles.

There are certainly reasons for frustration with the traditional school system, but the usual complaints are often wide of the mark. TD has it spot on in this piece, which goes to the heart of why morale among teachers and students has plummeted in recent decades. The ideal of education as a means of imparting knowledge and cultivating a love of knowledge and inquiry for its own sake has all but disappeared, and the authority (and autonomy) of individual teachers has been continually eroded by bureaucratic means for a long time. TD's comments in that piece are applied to Britain and France but they also hold in Australia for the most part.
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Re: Un-Schooling

Postby Rachel » 04 Aug 2011, 19:29

Michael wrote:Here is an idea perched somewhere between ridiculous and sensible:

http://www.cnn.com/2011/US/ ... /education/index.html?

I think there is something to the idea of schooling like this, but do not believe that it can be universalized. These children are obviously coming from privileged backgrounds with parents who care about education, and the children pick up on that. I don't think it takes much imagination to see that this would be disaster with underclass children whose parents do not take academics seriously...

The school system here in Canada already fails so utterly to educate those who aren't already motivated and encouraged that first year education at major universities is primarily remedial classes on essay composition and research skills....

...Anyone else have similar experiences? How much do you feel you actually got out of your compulsory education versus how much you acquired at home or on your own?


I got s*d all from school. Particularly primary and middle school were a real waste.
In secondary school the only thing I learned was the sciences and how to structure an essay. It's not much for 6 years spent there.

Up to age 12 I often felt school was just a holding place to keep kids off adults hands. I still feel like that as an adult sometimes. I mean there is not much to show for 11 to 13 years compulsory education is there?

In short I agree with everything you've written and I'm surprised that the rot has spread to Canada as well.

BTW The unschooling thing is older than the Holt book. There exists one famous private school called "Summerhill" in Britain which was opened in 1921 to the same method and still works today.
Summerhill is a fee paying private school so only children from privileged backgrounds are there.

I wonder if the US unschooling movement stole their ideas from that :?: Maybe they just came up with the idea independently.


I blame the downward trend in educational standards partly to modern child centered methods. It was my parents that taught me basic spelling and times table by rote and repetion, not school where we had to discover maths by making borring model shapes or figuring maths problems on our own to keep us quiet, then 2 minutes in the hour with a teacher to look at our work.

Eastern Europe and China still use learning by rote but I found out that some leftie organisations are reaching out to Eastern Europe to mess up their education system too.
I found this out while researching my ancestors the other day. I was looking for a remote village called Birlad in Romania where my grandparents were before the war. I wanted to see what it looks like today. The only photo of it in the whole internet was taken by some international leftie organisation that was whining about how terrible it is that in Romania they were still using old fashioned teaching methods and how they were bringing child centered learning to this village.
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Re: Un-Schooling

Postby Gavin » 06 Aug 2011, 10:14

Hi Michael,

I have a good deal of sympathy for the "unschooling" or home schooling idea, especially looking at UK state schools, where it seems that learning is bottom priority after fitting into bad values and just staying alive (Kidulthood seemed quite realistic to me).

A few posts have been quite biographical so I'll give some of my own background too in answering this (people certainly don't have to trawl through it!).

I feel I got relatively little out of state education and I am a firm believer that the best learning is done when people are self-motivated. An incredible amount can be achieved with great determination, and a major part of today's problems is that people expect the easy route and expect things to be handed to them on a plate. I'm of the view that we are "owed" nothing from society bar our basic freedom (and even that, of course, must be limited by law).

When I think back to early schooldays, obviously one learns to read and write. This seemed to go okay. Then I recall learning about stalagmites and stalactites, and a few other things which didn't seem to be much use then and haven't been much use since. I remember being able to opt out of history entirely (incredibly). I suppose the young me did this because it was not presented in any interesting way (unlike, for example, the Horrible Histories programmes now). Now of course I'm very interested in history and regret having been able to do this.

I remember the socialist bias shared by most of the teachers at this point too. Some of them didn't even know they were doing it, but luckily I did even at that age (I managed never to buy into left/liberal naivete so never had to "discover the truth"!). By the way my parents never expressed allegiance one way or the other in politics or religion but set what I still believe to be an exceptional example in terms of courtesy, integrity and so on.

I went off to study philosophy at university, simply because it interested me. The department was pretty good, but when the going got serious I pulled out of all lectures in order to focus on learning from some of the most prominent figures in the world via books. I just didn't go to lectures, because I knew it was time spent which might lower my grade.

Philosophy is indeed interesting but not very practical when it comes to the requirement to earn a living. Had it been today, when students need to pay for their education, I would not have done that degree - I'd have probably become a plumber or an electrician! Or I might have gone straight into the police. I have to admit it was something of an indulgence.

Equipped with this degree, I was invited to study for an MSc at he London School of Economics, which has/had a prestigious Metephysics dept. I was not really aware of this institution's status as an epicentre of leftism then, but I considered the offer and how it would put me much further into debt for no discernible gain and decided not to do it.

So then I did fairly menial work while I set about educating myself in web development. Just to illustrate your point, anyway, having never been on a course I have now taught myself multiple programming languages and have in turn taught literally hundreds of people from all over the world. It wasn't easy. I wouldn't even say this is my natural aptitude. In fact I chose it because it is hard. But there is satisfaction to be had from hard work.

I often spend 4 hours on a programming problem; my attitude is always to look things up. If I don't know it, I learn it. I have recently become more entrepreneurial, starting my own company and so on. I really do believe one has to just grasp the bull by the horns and do things. People should just choose something and do it to the best of their abilities and not blame others, in my view.
Gavin
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Re: Un-Schooling

Postby Elliott » 06 Aug 2011, 18:04

It's very difficult to conceive of the perfect school because different kids excel in (and different parents want) different learning environments.

However, this means we can describe the perfect school system: one in which parents choose the type of school they want for their child. While such a system doesn't exist there will always be kids who get more from home schooling than the normal way.

As for "un-schooling", I agree with others that this is something which sounds idyllic but would be full of problems in the real world. It'd work great for intelligent middle-class kids but abysmally for everyone else.

Can you imagine a tough inner-city school taking on this ethos? It'd become a jungle, survival of the toughest. Learning activities would range from swearing to vandalism, and anyone who showed an interest in real education would be beaten up.

I understand (and believe) that kids in these schools don't sit around doing nothing, because eventually they get bored and want to take part. Well, what activities would they take part in? Destroying the library?

There has to be some structure imposed. A love of learning does not come naturally to most people. Once it is established, you also have to persuade kids that, though they love learning, they actually have to try hard at it; self-discipline and effort are required. Again, I don't know how you'd achieve that by simply allowing them to do whatever they wanted.

Others have commented on their own education so I'll do the same. (No doubt this colours what we think education should be!)

I had a wonderful time at primary school. The environment was very pleasant and you got rewarded for trying hard. You got noticed. It was a good state school in a middle-class town, with two classes in each year (about 400 pupils). We had Christian assemblies every week in which we sang hymns - I resented this at the time but have come to be very grateful for it.

The school's "environment" was a very large playground (with no "learning facilities", just grass and trees) and two buildings: the large main building was grand and dated from 1910, the other was a dilapidated annex built around 1960. Both were in an imperfect state (the annex roof used to leak on rainy days) and I just loved it. It felt like a home, with history, where thousands of other kids had been before me. Once, helping my teacher clear out some cupboards, I found children's drawings dated 1977, nearly 20 years before. That sums up the place. It was great.

Secondary school was dreadful. There were 1800 pupils so you were pretty anonymous. The building had just been expensively refurbished, resulting in a bland, sterile "learning environment" which felt more like a corporate headquarters than a home.

I think the teachers were mostly dedicated but their hands were tied with legislation, targets and curricula. In addition they had to contend with such a wide range of "learning abilities" that they couldn't help the intelligent kids to excel. For example I was always good at English, but we never studied grammar and until recently I didn't know what a pronoun was. That is a terrible waste of potential. And incidentally, the classes at this school were streamed by ability. I'd say that streaming is not enough: the entire ethos of the school (and attitude of the teachers) is characterised by the kids there. This is why I think we should bring back grammar schools, urgently.

I now think of my time at secondary school as 6 wasted years in which I learned a negligible amount.

But it is difficult for me to separate the school from my own personal experiences. For the last three (crucial) years, I was bullied and lost all my friends, so it's unsurprising that I was desperate to get away from the place. I was miserable and resented the school for not rescuing me in some way from what had happened. As a result, I hardly applied myself to the exams - a matter of deep regret now.

In the end, you have to do for the intelligent kids the same as you have for the unintelligent kids:

  • find their strengths and develop them
  • enable them to explore a wide range of things
  • persuade them that learning is for them, not for "the system"
  • persuade them that they bear the ultimate responsibility for how much they learn, not the teachers or the syllabus
  • thorough grounding in the 3 Rs
  • very thorough discipline, with "pockets of freedom" in which they can do their own thing and develop independently
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Re: Un-Schooling

Postby Paul » 06 Aug 2011, 21:53

Good thread.

I was born in 1963 and went to my first school in 1968, a lovely local primary school, fairly modern in construction (then). It was at the end of a road that petered out into a farm lane and was thus fairly close to a farm, and countryside, with a local authority park sited opposite. It was situated all the same in a working-class NW town dominated at that time by coal mines, cotton mills and engineering works.

Mostly everyone at school at that time was contented enough, even the tearaways (very mild compared to today) and the not-so-bright. Any serious (or moderate) infringements were met with corporal punishment including the girls. Everybody got over it and it's not a cliche to say that everyone can laugh about it today, whilst agreeing it was necessary. The teachers weren't weirdos or abusers or sadists, they were dedicated to what they saw as a vocation as well as a career. They were simultaneously extremely patient and kind and most importantly of all - they were good at their jobs.

We all learned the times tables, which were repeated, year upon year, with monotonous regularity. It worked. We were all encouraged and forced to read books - individually and on a classroom basis. There were reading tests (from a table of single words of increasing difficulty) and spelling tests at the end of every term, with the results published on the notice board. Rewards were given for achievements....... in the form of little gold stars being stuck by your name. How valuable we viewed these little stickers.

I spent 3 years at this first school (infant level) and then went to the Junior School about 100 yards closer (to home) on the same road. This was a building about 100 years old and surrounded by residences (though the lane and the farm were only 100 or so yards away), but had great character too. I spent 4 years there which culminated in sitting the 11 plus exam in 1974. I think my year was the penultimnate year of that exam, or was it even the last? Phew!

Both schools had tarmac playgrounds upon which endless and massive games of soccer were played by virtually all the boys. We never noticed what the girls got up to - whatever it was would have been deemed boring. :) People got knocked over and elbowed in the ribs and crunch-tackled and nobody was ever seriously injured. We had a football field down the lane, close by the Infant School, where inter-school (with other local schools) and inter-year tournaments took place. Every year at the end of the summer term there was a 'Dads v Lads' match, where various 30-something parents and a couple of the teachers would be run ragged by 11 extremely fit young boys. Apart from just a couple of unfortunate non-sporty types per year, everyone else was surprisingly (or not) very good at football, on all surfaces, and could play with both feet. The teachers who set up and administered this entire sporting scene did so wholly in their own time after school and at weekends and holiday times.

The girls in actual fact played Netball at approaching the same intensity and with an equal amount of after-school participation.

None of the sport was ever allowed to interfere with or infringe upon the academic stuff in the classroom, which was rigidly from 9am to 4pm every Monday to Friday. It was all an extra but all freely available and participated in.

Even the not-so-bright could today, I am confident, read to an adequate level, to a more than adequate level compared to today's school leavers - or many of them at least. They will all be able to do mental arithmetic and have enough Maths in their bones to be able to deal with basic domestic economics and other such necessities that involve numbers. They will all have some knowledge of the Natural World and at least some Science.

I passed the 11 plus and went to a Roman Catholic boys grammar school for 5 years. It was fantastic despite the religious overtones - it was probably fantastic because of them in part, in that it permitted a structure that was transcendentally above the sheer material and was self-confident in that structure. I have since rejected organised and dogmatic religion and literal belief in anything, though I do believe in a God of sorts, for want of a better word. Rather I believe in a Life Force, best represented to ourselves on this planet as Mother Nature (for want of), terrestrial and universal. At the same time I'm not bothered about what anyone else wishes to believe in within the privacy of their own heart - as long as they don't attempt to ram it down my throat or ever use threats or blackmail or special pleading. Unfortunately that more or less includes all the organised religions at some point - hence my distance from them. It is a paradox though, because undoubtably religious discipline drove much of the fabric of my schooling.

The teachers at my grammar school, lay and clergy in roughly a 50/50 mix, were brilliant. They were exactly the same in skill (though a higher skill but appropriate to age I mean), dedication and love of the job as I believe the primary teachers were. Even then they (secretly) were, and certainly now they are......... amongst my heroes for all time.

There was no quarter given for messing about and breaking rules. Parallel to this situation, no quarter was expected. Fairly heavy punishments were handed down - not just physical, but in the way of chores and torments. I've not met one single 'old boy' of the school who doesn't agree this was correct and who can't chuckle about it now. Almost everyone fell foul at some point, no matter how clever you were academically because boys will be boys after all. At the same time, there was (fairly) scrupulous fairness in all matters of discipline. I say fairly because you could fall foul innocently and occasionally but that was just the way things were. It kept you on your toes. :)

The pupils who did lag behind (even at a Grammar) were supported massively and extra time was available where possible. It always seemed possible. The geniuses were also nurtured and given extra time. A lot of this also needed pupil readiness and parental support - obviously, but if willing was shown you were never turned down for assistance.

The school had a music section and a school band that became almost world famous and appeared at least on British TV a few times. All the music was extra-curricular and supported hugely. Sports were similarly successful and organised along the same lines. We had to do Cross Country, in the depths of winter, running over the Lancashire moors. We all hated it but we were all fit.

The meals were great. I long for them sometimes, in a nostalgic way, but they were still good despite that.

I left in 1979 with 6 good O levels. I should have stayed on and done A levels at the same school but I was given just a little too much free rein by my parents who were just a bit too liberal (lower case). I went to College instead and then decided not to go to Uni aged 18 - to my sometimes regret. Having said that, I could have been infected with left-wingery as we entered the 1980s, had I gone to Uni. :?

I was at home under the watchful eye of Mother, studying for forthcoming O level exams, as Margaret Thatcher and her gov't were campaigning, and was actually sitting the O levels as they gained power. 1979 was a landmark year for this country in many ways and was the year I turned 16 and left school. 1981 was another big year and the year I turned 18 - and had a girlfriend. All was going on around me, especially here, but I was too young at the time, and too busy, to see it for what it was.

Oh well, that's a ramble sorry, but suffice to say I think school was brilliant and taught me very much, and as importantly taught me how to learn for myself and how to accept further teaching.

A lot of people I say are not only uneducated, they're also uneducatable. I'm not sure exactly why this is, though a large factor is discipline I would say.

Reading some of the other responses, I can almost rage as those who are younger than me tell their tales of what school was about. Some (most) of you come from undoubtably better economic or class areas too, yet you seem to have been very poorly served. What a disgrace. You might say that, like quite lot of things, the 1970s represented a Golden Age for education (or times up to and incl' the 70s), despite it being rather grim in lots of other areas of life, in some senses.

The worst of it all, is that it takes decades or more to establish anything worthy, but that each successive generation can build on the achievements of the previous. It takes very much less time to demolish something and once that process starts it much more rapidly becomes self-perpetuating. With education and schooling I can't quite see how we can wrest it back.

I know a little about 'home schooling' in that I've seen and am aware of a couple of examples. There is no supposed noble or even able intentions in these cases though. They're cases from amongst the 'social pathology' section of society as TD might call them. In fact he would probably love to observe them and write a piece as a result of. None of it is pretty and is in fact alarmingly horrific. Quite why the LEA don't see this and do something about it is even worse. Tales for another day should anyone be interested.
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Re: Un-Schooling

Postby Rachel » 10 Feb 2012, 14:35

John Derbyshire wrote an interesting article here:
http://www.johnderbyshire.com/Opinions/Culture/kids.html

He basically argues that after age 12 some kids are better off getting a job and then getting their education later when they are ready for it rather than being forced to spend the next 6 years of their lives at desks. He puts a good argument for it. He's also a Dalrymple fan.
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Re: Un-Schooling

Postby Arthur » 10 Feb 2012, 20:01

Mike wrote:Many long years ago, in my early days of teaching, I got quite interested in all these ideas and read some books by the usual suspects of this genre - John Holt, A.S. Neill, et al. The basic problem is exactly as you've described it: such a method of education could work well (and indeed sometimes does work well) for kids from an educated middle-class background, but applied universally it would be a complete shambles.

There are certainly reasons for frustration with the traditional school system, but the usual complaints are often wide of the mark. TD has it spot on in this piece, which goes to the heart of why morale among teachers and students has plummeted in recent decades. The ideal of education as a means of imparting knowledge and cultivating a love of knowledge and inquiry for its own sake has all but disappeared, and the authority (and autonomy) of individual teachers has been continually eroded by bureaucratic means for a long time. TD's comments in that piece are applied to Britain and France but they also hold in Australia for the most part.


John Holt was at the helm of the pro-paedophile, French post structuralist approved "child liberationist" movement. His Escape from Childhood and Richard Farson's work are regularly quoted by paedophiles who say children are competent to choose to have sexual relations with grown men and women, including their parents, from ages as young as four.

AS Neill was part of the early 20th century, pre-WWII/fascism progressive movement which advocated the end of all religion, abolition of the family (he said "schools should cut all links between child and home") and complete sexual freedom from puberty.

Neither of them deserve any serious consideration by a rational conservative; in fact, even left-wingers would generally reject most of their arguments. There are ways of improving our education system, but listening to these will do about as much good as listening to Honderich on punishment.
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Re: Un-Schooling

Postby Mike » 11 Feb 2012, 01:33

Well...a number of points need to be made here.

Arthur wrote:John Holt was at the helm of the pro-paedophile, French post structuralist approved "child liberationist" movement. His Escape from Childhood and Richard Farson's work are regularly quoted by paedophiles who say children are competent to choose to have sexual relations with grown men and women, including their parents, from ages as young as four.


It is a rather dangerous practice to condemn those authors quoted by third parties in support of their own preposterous theories merely on the basis of such a connection. TD was quoted quite a few times, with approval, by Anders Behring Breivik in the "manifesto" he wrote as a pre-justification for his murderous rampage in Norway...and I doubt any of us would consider TD's views unowrthy of consideration as a result.

Holt, like Neill, had a number of bizarre and potentially dangerous ideas but at times he does offer some valid criticism of the school system as it worked during his time. And if anything, the "progressive" changes that have had such a deleterious effect on primary and secondary schooling in recent decades do not stem chiefly from the Holt/Neill/Illich school...they're far more a product of the whole education-as-social-engineering approach (Paulo Freire and his crowd).

Arthur wrote:AS Neill was part of the early 20th century, pre-WWII/fascism progressive movement which advocated the end of all religion, abolition of the family (he said "schools should cut all links between child and home") and complete sexual freedom from puberty.


Yes, Neill was a crank in many ways, although not always in line with "progressive" thinking - check out his views on homosexuals, for instance. As a matter of fact, part of what encouraged me to read his books during my teacher training years was that he was written off as a hopeless crank by the troop of soft-left education lecturers who were forever trumpeting the glories of education-for-social-justice. The free school movement was considered utterly passé by then, you see.

There is certainly less for a teacher (or anyone with an interest in education, more generally) to learn from him than from Holt, but again there are some grains of sense in there.

Arthur wrote:Neither of them deserve any serious consideration by a rational conservative; in fact, even left-wingers would generally reject most of their arguments.


I think this is rather a sweeping statement to make unless you are familiar with what they have written - not simply soundbites which often reflect the more extreme and unpalatable end of their views. There are nuances is almost anyone's worldview if you look closely enough.

A commitment to the vocation of teaching is a bit like the Catholic priesthood - some doubts, early in one's development, are often beneficial. It's taken me years to overcome all the doubts which were engendered by an exposure (as a young teacher) to all the small hypocrisies, dissimulation and arbitrariness of the education system, all of which are really only visible from within. It's only after a long consideration of the alternatives that I've become comfortable with the idea of working within the traditional education system, with all its faults, and happy (I hesitate to say proud, but almost) to call myself a teacher.
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Re: Un-Schooling

Postby Caleb » 13 Feb 2012, 02:39

I couldn't agree more with that John Derbyshire article. I've been thinking exactly the same things for probably seven years or so now. Most of what people "learn" in secondary school is a complete waste of time for a significant percentage of the population and all they do is get in the way of those who are capable of, and willing to, learn it. We need to radically overhaul the entire system.

Mike wrote:A commitment to the vocation of teaching is a bit like the Catholic priesthood - some doubts, early in one's development, are often beneficial. It's taken me years to overcome all the doubts which were engendered by an exposure (as a young teacher) to all the small hypocrisies, dissimulation and arbitrariness of the education system, all of which are really only visible from within. It's only after a long consideration of the alternatives that I've become comfortable with the idea of working within the traditional education system, with all its faults, and happy (I hesitate to say proud, but almost) to call myself a teacher.


It's interesting how people's experiences differ. In my own case, I had some doubts back when I was studying to become a teacher, but my criticisms of formal education systems have only become more pointed the longer I have worked in teaching. I am working towards financial independence, but I won't be able to get out of this profession fast enough. I've been a teacher for ten years now, and will likely be a teacher for ten more. I will consider them twenty years of my life that I have wasted. The saving grace is that I do have a fairly easy schedule here in Taiwan that allows me to pursue other things on the side. If I were still in Australia, I probably would have left the profession by now.

I believe that teachers greatly overestimate their abilities and influence as teachers and don't realise just how constrained they are by the very nature of the system. Perhaps I'm quite pessimistic, but I am not convinced that many of the students I have taught have actually learnt that much, either from me or from my colleagues. I think those students who really learn a lot have probably gained what they gained (most importantly, their attitude towards learning) from outside the system. I think people naturally think they are "nicer", "smarter" or any other positive adjectives you may ask of them than they actually are, and this is probably no different of teachers. Ask a room full of teachers whether they are good or bad at teaching and see how many say "mediocre" or "bad". I figure, statistically, I'm probably pretty mediocre as a teacher. However, that's beside the point. Being moderately intelligent and having moderate people skills is actually probably far more than is necessary in order to teach. I think all that nonsense about passion for the profession is just a lot of waffle that people speak. Put an average teacher with a good class and they'll do predictably well. Put an excellent teacher with a bad class and they'll do predictably badly. This applies even more with good and bad curricula, and even more than that with good and bad school behavioural policies and enforcement. This year may mark the first year in which I've really given up because I've finally accepted that you can't make a silk purse out of a sow's ear.

As such, I am more adamant now than ever that my wife and I will home school our children. I wouldn't want my children to be in a class full of cretins slowing them down and I also wouldn't want them with a teacher like me (or plenty of colleagues I've had) who have come to the rational conclusion that it doesn't actually make that much difference how much "passion" you have if you're held back by the system. None of this is to say that there aren't some really good teachers who manage to do a very good job and figure out how to circumvent a lot of the systemic nonsense, but I think the odds of consistently encountering such people are actually quite slim. I'm not a gambling man.
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Re: Un-Schooling

Postby Mike » 13 Feb 2012, 10:07

Sad to hear that Caleb.

Of course, as I mentioned in that other thread, I'm more or less protected from the harshest realities of the NSW public education system by virtue of working at a selective (and one which has its priorities right). At most comprehensives I'd probably be just as embittered and/or apathetic as most of the teachers who have resigned themselves to serving time there until they can pick up their pensions.

I've heard some horror stories from colleagues who've either come to my school from the comprehensive hellholes or gone the other way (which is much rarer, as you can imagine!). One teacher who was filling in for our head of department last year went to an inner-west comprehensive after three terms with us, and received two death threats within her first week there - and absolutely no support from the senior administration when she mentioned this. She's taken early retirement now...

It's hard to say whether that sort of behaviour, which seems pretty much universal in the western world these days (with a few notable exceptions) is a result of falling standards of discipline and lower academic expectations or a general decline in civility in the wider society. Probably a bit of both.

In any event, the presence of a strong private system here in Australia does militate to some extent against the ongoing problem of the comprehensives. There has been a massive migration to the private schools in the last few years, with new ones (often filling certain little niches) springing up everywhere. A lot of my colleagues see this as a disaster, but I see it largely as a positive.

That John Derbyshire article begs the question for me: does any kind of selective system exist in America? If not, perhaps it's time to consider it. Otherwise some of that article rubs me up the wrong way, I must admit. "Race differences in educability"?? If the last word had been "attitudes towards education and value attached to it" he'd have a point, but if he really means what he's written there then I'm afraid that genuinely is racist in my view.

Caleb wrote:I believe that teachers greatly overestimate their abilities and influence as teachers and don't realise just how constrained they are by the very nature of the system. Perhaps I'm quite pessimistic, but I am not convinced that many of the students I have taught have actually learnt that much, either from me or from my colleagues.


Definitely some truth to this, and I often try to pinch myself after a particularly good period, or a protestation of thanks from one of the kids, to keep myself from getting carried away. In fact I've often thought that it would be worthwhile for all teachers to have a big placard above their desks that reads "YOU'RE NOT REALLY THAT IMPORTANT".
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Re: Un-Schooling

Postby Caleb » 14 Feb 2012, 05:14

Mike: There comes a time when you have to stop making a martyr of yourself because you realise that no one is watching, and if they are, they don't really care.

That's not to say that I don't care. Perhaps I've simply become more discriminating in understanding what I can and can't change or what difference I can make and I'm not wasting a lot of energy and stress on other things. Still, I do understand now that generally speaking, mass education simply doesn't work, at least for educating people.

The problems of the decline of standards in education and in the general populace are really just a chicken and the egg problem, I think.

I also agree that the presence (and virtually exponential growth) of private schools in Australia is a very positive thing. If it does indeed make government schools those of last resort, then perhaps the problem lies with the government schools!

I can't say for sure but I don't think there are selective schools in America. Charter schools could be selective, I suppose, though I'm not sure if they are required not to be (because of government funding). I could see the whole thing rapidly being hijacked by racial politics, which probably suggests that they don't have selective schools. Could anyone actually see anyone get away with not having affirmative action? I know at senior high school level, they have advanced level classes, but I'm not sure what (if any) requirements there are for taking those. I will ask some of my American friends, though I believe states differ quite markedly.

I agree with your point about Derbyshire and race differences.

Aside from the fact that I don't actually think I am an outstanding teacher, to be honest, I'd be a bit embarrassed to say so even if I thought it. Gaven remarked in the Ray Honeyford thread that "it sounded very bad to hear that teacher congratulating herself as being outstanding." I also cringed when I heard that, which is partly why I wrote what I wrote about the effects of teachers and their opinions of themselves.

I am right on the end of my generation (or perhaps I was slightly after such times, but my schooling and upbringing were slightly "behind the times") and this kind of inflated sense of self-esteem that is not just occasional, but almost the norm, for people under the age of thirty now strikes me as jarring because it seems to mark a real generational divide. I do quite dislike praising myself to an audience. I do care about spelling, grammar and punctuation as much as the ideas being expressed. I am thankful that my teachers were often hard as nails. I do believe children should know their place and be seen and not heard in the company of adults. People find it shocking when I joke that when I have them, my own children will not only be ugly, but stupid. My father used to -- in our presence -- roll all sorts of chestnuts out of the fire such as us not really being our parents' kids, but that someone at the supermarket had a better pram, so they took that instead. Yet people react in abject horror, as though if you're not telling your kid that he's immensely talented, wonderful and handsome at every moment of the day, he will turn out psychologically crippled. All their lives, young people have been told that they are wonderful even when it's abundantly clear just how mediocre they are, which is why so many of them will, without hesitation, proclaim themselves as being outstanding teachers.
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Re: Un-Schooling

Postby Gavin » 14 Feb 2012, 09:21

Couldn't agree more, Caleb. I don't think that remark was in any way particular to teachers, but to young people generally. The speaker sounded to me like she might be a bit too liberal at heart, but even if she was outstanding it wasn't for her to say really (perhaps Whale shouldn't have asked her). The same point could have been made with a little more humility - the problem being that sadly humility isn't very fashionable these days.
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Re: Un-Schooling

Postby Elliott » 14 Feb 2012, 12:16

Caleb wrote:Mike: There comes a time when you have to stop making a martyr of yourself because you realise that no one is watching, and if they are, they don't really care.

That's not to say that I don't care. Perhaps I've simply become more discriminating in understanding what I can and can't change or what difference I can make and I'm not wasting a lot of energy and stress on other things. Still, I do understand now that generally speaking, mass education simply doesn't work, at least for educating people.
If you don't mind me saying, you sound quite disillusioned with the job and I think that may cause you to underestimate the difference you are making to kids' lives. My mother certainly does that: even though parents periodically tell her she's made a huge difference to their children's attainment and behaviour, she is convinced she's just a mediocre teacher.

Have you considered doing private tuition instead of class teaching? That may enable you to give more of yourself to students who would be willing to accept it, as opposed to disinterested ones.

I hope that doesn't read as presumptuous. But you seem an intelligent and responsible person and it is sad to think of those qualities being wasted.

The problems of the decline of standards in education and in the general populace are really just a chicken and the egg problem, I think.
I agree, although I think the public service thing has a role in the decline. Parents simply don't appreciate something they don't have to directly pay for. And the public service seems to have an ultra-egalitarian ethos, in that it won't praise good teachers because that would "discriminate" against bad teachers - thus, it seals its own fate.

I also agree that the presence (and virtually exponential growth) of private schools in Australia is a very positive thing. If it does indeed make government schools those of last resort, then perhaps the problem lies with the government schools!
The same is happening here in Britain, though probably to a lesser extent. But whatever the comparison with Australia, it is more likely now than ever that a British child will attend private school - even with the economic crisis going on.

Aside from the fact that I don't actually think I am an outstanding teacher, to be honest, I'd be a bit embarrassed to say so even if I thought it. Gaven remarked in the Ray Honeyford thread that "it sounded very bad to hear that teacher congratulating herself as being outstanding." I also cringed when I heard that, which is partly why I wrote what I wrote about the effects of teachers and their opinions of themselves.

this kind of inflated sense of self-esteem that is not just occasional, but almost the norm, for people under the age of thirty now strikes me as jarring because it seems to mark a real generational divide. I do quite dislike praising myself to an audience. I do care about spelling, grammar and punctuation as much as the ideas being expressed. I am thankful that my teachers were often hard as nails. I do believe children should know their place and be seen and not heard in the company of adults... Yet people react in abject horror, as though if you're not telling your kid that he's immensely talented, wonderful and handsome at every moment of the day, he will turn out psychologically crippled. All their lives, young people have been told that they are wonderful even when it's abundantly clear just how mediocre they are, which is why so many of them will, without hesitation, proclaim themselves as being outstanding teachers.
Just 10 years ago, we could say "ah but when these kids get into the real world, their employers and colleagues will cut them down to size". Now I don't think we can rely on that happening, because red tape and PC are so prevalent that I think employers feel they have to pussyfoot around everyone to avoid getting sued. Equality legislation ensures that people never have to acknowledge their own limitations, and thus infantilises them.

That teacher is a good example. She's been in the working world for years, yet still thinks she is outstanding. Maybe she is outstanding - but it simply isn't something you should say in public. It could be a defence mechanism; being in a profession which doesn't value her, she has to over-value herself just to stay afloat?

I agree with you (although I don't think it's a universal thing, yet) about teenagers thinking they're wonderful. It produces a distinctly unpleasant type of person. Whenever a youngster speaks on Question Time, for example, they are always sickeningly full of themselves, pleased with themselves, and effortlessly convinced of their superiority over anyone they disagree with. It is revolting to watch.

One example actually fits into this thread very well. There was a girl of about 17/18, disagreeing with a 50-something politician who had said that private schools were better for "some" children. This girl, who had a smug smile on her face the entire time, uptalked her way through this inane statement:

I went to state school? And state education's actually really really good? So you don't need to snob yourself up about it?


As I say, revolting to watch. But this is the inevitable result of an education system which sees its primary duty as improving children's self-esteem. You are going to end up with thousands upon thousands of people who believe they are wonderful. That should be obvious with just a moment's reflection on the matter.

My friend who became a teacher three years ago changed drastically during his 9-month training course. Very quickly, he seemed to think his duty as a teacher was to protect children from other people's expectations of them - especially those of their parents and older teachers (who were "far, far too strict with the children").

He told me about a parent who said the following about her 6 year-old daughter:

"She's very clever. I want her to do well. I know she can do well. She's so intelligent!"

My friend made a disapproving sound. I agreed: "Yes, it seems pretty tasteless for a parent to say that about her own child."

He exclaimed: "Absolutely! You don't push them!"

So it's fine for a parent to heap inordinate praise on their daughter, but bad for them to have high expectations of her.

Also the idea that you don't push children... what else is school for?!

It is probably significant that my friend was teaching at a private school at this time. He had been snapped up by them immediately after getting his teaching certificate.

This is one of the reasons I suspect that Britain's private education sector (once the envy of the world) is now heading the same way as its state sector. There is no reason why the ideologues who destroyed state education should not concern themselves with the private sector, after all.

More evidence to support that assertion came last year when I was on holiday in Italy with a group of 50-something fathers and their 20-something sons. The sons had all been to top Edinburgh private schools.

Let's take one of those sons as an example. Aged 20, he was fresh out of an "excellent" private school. A spoilt brat who went around looking permanently as if somebody had just stolen his cake, he didn't know who Mussolini was, couldn't point out Texas on a map of US states, and said the following of a trip to Milan:

I'm not really bothered about the history stuff in Milan. I'm more bothered about getting smashed and having a good night clubbing.


Another of the boys had just graduated with a degree in sociology. I was very interested to discuss sociology with him, but he showed absolutely no interest in the subject. Rather, he preferred to chat with the afore-mentioned clubber about fast cars. He was an intelligent young man, yet lowered himself to the level of an ignoramus because, well, because private school hadn't taught him self-respect but self-esteem.

All five of the boys had very low cultural tastes. The films they were into (and discussed joyfully) were gross-out American comedies, and the music they discussed (again, joyfully) were novelty songs about getting stoned.

There is, perhaps, a certain complacency in rich people, that makes them feel they are so "made" that they needn't have any cultural aspirations. All these boys cared about was money and pleasure.

If that is the best our education system can do with intelligent source material, I think "un-schooling" may be inevitable. I have read threads on other fora where people say home schooling is "the way of the future".

Just looking at the state sector, I know a very intelligent young man of 20 (one of the most intelligent people I've ever met) whose literacy level is equivalent to mine at about age 10. His school and his university have let him think that spelling and punctuation simply don't matter. Of course he knows in his heart that they do, but the anti-elitism thing allows him to delude himself. He also displays the arrogance Caleb has complained about; he told me he has "learned" not to respect older people just because they are older than him; they have to prove themselves worthy of respect. I am trying to educate him out of that, but it is difficult. Put simply, without Original Sin, an acceptance of your own fallibility, there is no reason to respect other people except personal whim.

But I have to admit that I was very arrogant about my abilities when I was younger, and perhaps still am to an extent. It may be a "young person" thing. Perhaps it's always been like this?

Either way, there is no doubt in my mind that parents simply cannot rely on the school system any more. It has gone very bad. I think that an intelligent child will do well if you show them the value of doing well, show them the value of learning, the importance of knowledge and cultivation. Our system has actually succeeded in doing the opposite to intelligent children.
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Re: Un-Schooling

Postby Rachel » 14 Feb 2012, 19:54

Well I had another look at the Derbyshire article after Mike's comment and I agree that there is a racist bit.
I also disagree with him when he says "Our schools are fine" I'm sure it's not all that wonderful everywhere, even though I know little about American schools.

I still think he has a point about it not being suitable for everyone to be forced to stay in school and graduate at 18.
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