Remember school? Long and painful hours of disheartening top-down teaching from a professor who knows very well that none of his students have any interest what so ever in the subject at hand. Public schooling leaves an undoubted mark on people, and with drop-out rates at a record high, we need to fundamentally rethink schooling as it is. First, let’s dive into how we got here.
For the longest time, be that the scholars of Ancient Greece, the ludus publicus primary schools in Ancient Rome or the widespread presence of Catholic schools all around the continent, education was reserved for the upper classes. Not only because lower classes were too poor to afford such an education for their children, but also because the class mentality made it so it didn’t allude to them and because the children’s help was desperately needed in manual works.
Jean-Jacques Rousseau, not really the most classical liberal thinker of the times, was highly sceptical of the uniform system of education, a classroom with a one-size-fits-all method that would strip children of all freedom and individuality. He believed that the way education was conducted ignored children’s potential development, instead he saw (and instituted through his followers) the teacher as a guide to children’s natural development.
Despite providing one of the best mustached men and a name to call Germans for those suffering occupation under World War 2, Prussia has also been horribly authoritarian — and in its striving for power and control — fairly innovative.
And indeed, the Prussians reformed their education system via government after the beginning of the Napoleonic Wars and were ultimately the first to introduce state-run education. There might be some disagreement about if that statement can be made so boldly — since the mixture between church and state could arguably lead to the conclusion that Western Europe already ran education publicly — but what it meant in Prussia was that government deliberately and in no means with backdoor rhetoric, implemented state control over education for the purpose of nation-building.
The then Minister of Education Willhelm von Humboldt, who today is still honoured by having universities streets etc. named after him, included people of all standards of income in the basic education system (secondary and upper education remained too expensive). The motives of that move were less of the nature of fairness than that of social cohesion in the most radical way. In fact children were expected to respect and accept authority, a drill that expected them to believe in the unity and superiority of the state. It also served as an improvement for the skills required in the wars Prussia was waging in Europe, as armed forces were exceedingly required to be able to read and write.
For the proponents of un-schooling, their actions are breaking a vicious cycle of intellectual subjugation. Schooling works with external motivation, represented in either motivations (through grades) or punishments (detention for misbehaving/not completing work), and is therefore unable to teach the understanding of the necessity of what is being taught in the first place.
In a report by The Guardian, the mother of an un-schooled 14 year-old elaborated on her decision to take her child out of school in the first place:
“In year 3 I started to be concerned about Elias,” she says. “He seemed to lose his spark, almost like the light in his eyes went out. He seemed downcast. He stopped looking at people. He exhibited anxious behaviour.”
The basic pitch of unschoolers is the following: children are natural learners and instead of teacher, need the necessary tools to learn themselves. These parents see their obligation to get out of their children’s way, to avoid putting pressure and expectations upon them which have them make different educational choices.
Our usual response to children finding school terribly unnverving is the assumption of hierarchy: we force them ‘for their own good’. The un-schooler’s response is that if children are not willing to take these courses, they shouldn’t. The origin of this concept of freedom of educational choice is both rooted in peaceful parenting (which refuses to initiate force against children as they did not choose to be with us in the first place) and the belief that classic schooling is manifestly unproductive.
In fact, negative behaviour such as cheating, making other people look bad or complacency are actually patterns which children pick up inside of the school premises first, not outside of them. Releasing children from the restraint that is a 8 to 4 school day and giving them the opportunity to amass the knowledge and skills that they desire, instead of that which is imposed on them, will make them more independently-minded individuals who will seek liberty.
Humans are equipped with the desire to work. Now children only need to be set free into the world.
This article was first published by Freedom Today.
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