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School is Irrelevant.

Dear Vanessa,
... Yes, you can educate yourself by learning about things that interest you instead of studying things that don't... There has never been a connection between what schools teach and what children are interested in . School is irrelevant to the lives of children. Most of what they learn is from outside school, not inside. A diploma tells an employer, or a college admission person, one thing: "This person will do what s/he is told, for years and years." That's all...

(From Ned Vare to "Vanessa" on pursuing education at home. Now the response:)

Dear Ned:
... I drove by a school today on my way to work, and thought about the thousands of kids having their precious childhoods stolen from them, minute by minute, day by day... The question that first came to my mind was: How dare they? Who the hell are they to say what all of those growing minds can and cannot do? The children/teenagers are being told when to write, draw, act, sing, dance, play... when to think. My god, the kids can't even go to the bathroom without permission! It's a prison...

From Smarting Us Up: The Un-dumbing of America by Luz Shosie and Ned Vare (p. 128-129)

I risk sounding wishy-washy in reviewing this idea of "school as prison" or "school as irrelevant." An overview of my opinion would be that at most public schools, this is truer than the people who work for the system would like to admit. But can you bust into tune during an important business meeting because you felt like doing music practice just then? There are just certain disciplines we must exercise as adults over our bodies and in our minds, and sometimes extreme "unschoolers" give the impression that they think you can do things like this when they probably don't really. And I hate to sing praises about public school, but it DOES make you learn to wait on line and get along with others to a certain extent. (Though you can learn these things in prison, too. I'm pretty sure the "socialization" you get there is even worse, though.)

We can't just decide that we're going to tune out the things we wish to sometimes (like our several young children) while we learn cooking at our own pace in the kitchen. The poopie diapers happen when they do. Banks are open from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. and you'd better adjust your unpredictable schedule accordingly. Yet I truly believe that in many respects, homeschooling can prepare children for this "real life" reality, especially if there are several other siblings in the home.

My children don't know all the exact figures, but they sure understand that no trips to Disney World are forthcoming when Mom just had her guts patched up in the hospital. And sorry, no money on hand for new stereos and what-not. See those two kids in diapers? See that peanut butter sandwich on your plate and the lights we keep leaving on? That's what we're spending the bulk of our money on. But we're saving the extra. Remember how our neighbours had to be foreclosed on after the fellow lost his job? It could happen to us even IF we save our money, but we're going to save every last bit we can and not buy two brand new cars the week after refinancing our house like they did.

Life lessons.

But I can't say public school doesn't teach other valuable lessons in a "social setting." Make fun of Percy for his silly name and see what happens. Cut in line consistently and figure out what the social backlash will be. Wear the wrong clothes and suffer the consequences. To a point, I think a little teasing can be tolerated by most kids because it keeps them from straying too far from those social boundaries.

And as flipped out as I get over some of the more idiotic "zero tolerance" ideas applied to kindergarteners, I do think we're a kinder nation now that kids being called "faggot" and humiliated for their lisps or body weight or "whatever" on a regular basis is not tolerated by public school administrators as a rite of passage. Our public schools get out of whack and overly-controlling in part because some real idiots and a few nutballs in the general public who send their children to school think the needs of the one (as long as it's their kid) always outweigh the needs of the many.

I'm not sure what a Utopian public school would even look like. There are just too many crazies in the community to have to consider the consequences of letting Johnny bring a knife to school to cut his apple. I knew one kid a few years back who STABBED kids with pencils on a regular basis. Taking knives out of school is a good idea because of kids like this, and life is dangerous enough with pencils! You can actually get some pretty bad injuries that way if it's intentionally inflicted, so please no comments about how I'm trying to be overly-protective, etc. I'm only giving an aside that because of folks like this, I do at least understand the "no knife" rationale. OK? And what's worse is they're required to "mainstream" kids like that and then THEY DON'T TELL YOU that the monster will be sitting next to your kid. That's a stabbin'.

In summary, I think both places teach a lot more than "what's in the curriculum." But then again, you knew that already. I just like talking a lot and thought I'd type that out anyway and then wait and see if anyone reads all the way to the end of my posts and comments on it. I enjoy blogging because of the many other interesting people who like to talk about issues and offer opinions. Bless you!


  1. As usual, your points are all valid (at least, in my opinion!). We are in the public system. We have also been in the private system, and are considering going back. To be honest, at the moment, I'm a whole lot happier with the current public school than either the former private, or the public one before that!

    I haven't tried home schooling, and have never seriously considered it. I believe I'm too selfish to carry it out well. My relationship with my daughter does not lend itself to spending virtually 24/7 together! It could lead to a murder/suicide situation. I exaggerate, but not by much.

    Public school certainly does help prepare kids for life after education. Not always in a positive way, but all those things you mentioned do serve a purpose. Someone like you, who teaches the children so much more broadly than the curriculum would suggest, can also instil those life lessons. Others may not be able to carry it off.

    The thing I hate most about the school system, and this is a generalisation, is that there is no room for individuality. I understand why. I do. I just don't like it.

    Yes, we all need to learn conformity. Yes, we all need to learn what society expects from us. At what point, though, do we learn that we are ok as human beings? That we can be ourselves and still be acceptable to others?

    I think only a parent can teach that.

  2. Tracey, unfortunately I'm not going to pretend to be able to socialize my autistic "Elf" very well at all. He freaks out in crowds and other places. He SEEMS FINE for a while and then runs away or worse. The school spent 9/10 of its time trying to work on these issues instead of academics. However, we got to the point with dealing with the school system to where we felt they weren't working in his best interests but more "how to save money by giving the kid a bad label and shunting him somewhere else," so we withdrew him. Locking a kid in the closet, though it was not a DAILY occurrence, to my mind overshadowed the "good" things they were doing to help him acclimate to a public school environment.

    So, I understand the "strangely socialized" argument against homeschoolers. Sorry, fellow hs-ers, but I do. My kids still talk about Barney and that kind of thing and they would be in third and first grade. They also like to discuss their science and mathematics in their "social time" with each other. They do not know who Oprah is or other common celebrities. They ARE a bit sheltered in that regard. I don't take them out to, say, community basketball and that sort of thing b/c I have two infants AND Elf would freak.

    Other hs-ers do better in this regard, though, and I'm just speaking for myself.

    I guess that's my roundabout way of saying I think for ELF the pluses outweigh the minuses, but I do recognize that in his situation there are some minuses and specialized instruction I CANNOT provide.


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