Thursday, May 9, 2013

The Smoke and Mirror Illusions of the School System

I am reading an e-book called Stealing Dreams by Seth Godin, not quite sure how I came across it, but it has been a thought provoking read.  It is generally his answer to the question "What do you think we ought to do about education?"

It starts with the premise of why school as we know it was created in the first place.  Most homeschoolers have come across this before but just in case you haven't, a quick summary - to remove children from the labour force and to create jobs for adults in a newly industrialised world it was agreed to educate children in a similar factory-like fashion, with tests and processes to track progress.  It was important that these young people were taught to obey blindly, to follow systems unquestioningly and to all know the same basic things with no allowances for individuality or free thinking.

Here are some interesting excerpts:

What if we told students the truth?
Transparency in the traditional school might destroy it.  If we told the truth about the irrelevance of various courses, about the relative quality of some teachers, about the power of choice and free speech - could the school as we know it survive?

 ... Unlike just about every other institution and product line in our economy, transparency is missing from education.  Students are lied to and so are parents.  At some point, teenagers realize that most of school is a game, but the system never acknowledges it.  In search of power, control and independence, administrators hide information from teachers, and vice versa.

 ... The very texture of the traditional school matches the organization and culture of the industrial economy.  The bottom of the pyramid stores the students, with teachers (middle managers) following instructions from their bosses.

As in the traditional industrial organization, the folks at the bottom of the school are ignored, mistreated and lied to.  They are kept in the dark about anything outside of what they need to know to do their job (being a student), and put to work to satisfy the needs of the people in charge. 

He then goes on to point out that the connection we have across the world now with the internet is starting to show young people that they can learn on their own, about what they are truly interested in, without the necessity of the school system.  The school system is, in his opinion, losing its power to manipulate and lie to our young people, telling them that the only way to get an education is within the walls of a school.

I like the next section too.  It discusses how contracts have changed from being individually created between parties with agreement reached with both parties benefiting to one that is more implied by the very act of participating or using something created by an organisation.  This type of contract is not always as beneficial to both parties and is called an adhesion contract.  He points out that we and our children are agreeing to this type of contract just by entering the school gates.

We don't ask students to decide to participate.  We assume the contract of adhesion, and relentlessly put information in front of them, with homework to do and tests to take.

Entirely skipped: commitment.  Do you want to learn this? Will you decide to become good at this?

The universal truth is beyond question - the only people who excel are those who have decided to do so.  Great doctors or speakers or skiers or writers or musicians are great because somewhere along the way, they made the choice.

Why have we completely denied the importance of this choice?
 I am really struggling in some ways to cope with 2 of my children in school.  I see so much time wasted and not much learned.  I am fearful too that I am not up to it yet.  Not just yet!  I need this sabbatical without guilt or fear to get my head into gear for my next season of home schooling.  But I can tell you I am getting a real gut burn to get back on with it.  I just need better health and better consistency first.  Notice I didn't say perfect, or even good, just better!

More to come,

Best wishes


  1. Very thought provoking ... sounds somewhat like the writings of John Holt. It also raises questions about how we homeschool ... whether we perpetuate myths or find ways to allow our children more freedom in choosing what they will invest energy in.

    I hope you are on the way to feeling better. :)

  2. P.S. I searched for the book and found it as a free PDF ... I'm reading it now.
    Here's the link in case you wish to share it.

    1. Thank you, I really am not sure how I found it. Maybe the Google store for free. Come back and tell me what jumps out at you. It would be interesting to have another's perspective.


  3. I've read this too and it's very thought provoking. I got mine from Homeschool Freebie of the Day back in late March. Here's another link that gives the book in all different formats:
    I'm still letting it marinate in my mind. It has so much in it.


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