A Response to Steve Hargadon’s August 1st Post

Our national debates aren’t thoughtful, they are for the most part sensationalist and argumentative. Cross political or philosophical lines and there’s an epithet waiting for you. Ask reasonable questions and you’re labeled a “denier,” “skeptic,” or “conspiracy theorist.” Steve Hargadon


I’m writing in response to Steve Hargadon’s August 1st post, which considers the irony between America’s considerable individual freedoms and the limited ways we take advantage of those freedoms. I’ve also written about “diversity of thought”, and I agree that if you voice perspectives outside of the mainstream, you should prepare yourselves to be called, at the least, denier, skeptic, etc.

I recently read a blog post in edweek about homeschooling. It was, as far as I could tell, more or less informational, and briefly explained how dramatically homeschooling laws differ from state to state. For whatever reason I was possessed to read the comments under the post (always a mistake). It was alarming. Some people angry because if you are “pro” state’s rights then you are “pro” slavery, and so we need a national curriculum and stricter compulsory schooling laws, you know, because of slavery; others who see homeschooling as typically failing, and schools left to “clean up the mess”, which is why we need stricter compulsory schooling laws so parents stop screwing up their kids; and others (and these are the ones who tend to write the most, and so I assume are the most frightened) who see homeschooling as an end-around for Christian fanatics to teach Genesis instead of history and creationism instead of “science”, leaving us with a whole generation of confused, broken, dangerously unscientific future voters.

I have two thoughts, specific to the “Christian fanatics” comment: first, school legally forbids serious discussion about some of the most important questions of life and death, which religion and spirituality attempt to answer; second, as creepy as it may be for some to forgo science for religion, it is, to me, far more creepy for a state or federal government to use force to “fix” families of their “broken” culture, customs, and traditions. I have more faith that we will recover from a generation of spiritual, albeit unscientific, citizens, than we will recover from a nation of citizens who have rejected their family values to become dependent on information distributed by central control.

Which brings me to the only part of Hargadon’s post that I would give a slightly different twist (emphasis my own):

 But in a nation founded on the very idea of citizens governing themselves, with checks and balances on power, an education which keeps that narrative illusion of virtuous self-rule alive makes us uniquely susceptible to marketing and propaganda, and to a system of schooling which claim to be creating independence while doing exactly the opposite.

I agree that schools are “doing exactly the opposite” of modeling freedom. In my own completely unscientific observations, through experience as a secondary teacher in an urban school and a student in an administrative program, teachers and school leaders are not obsessed over independence, whether that means for the individual, or as a result of the system. Independence is rarely mentioned at all; it’s not on their collective radar, and in fact, control often is. If there is a virtue that the system extols again and again, it would be equality, not freedom or self-rule. They set some arbitrary standard, and then, a la Harrison Bergeron, they try to get everyone to the same weird, but equal, level. As a retired principal advised us once, give your worst teachers your AP classes, and that’ll help bridge the gap between those students and the special eds.

I don’t know why this is. I don’t know why most school teachers and administrators have never heard of, or have heard in passing, Montessori or Waldorf; I don’t know why they know nothing about unschooling and very little about home schooling; I don’t know why they’ve never even heard of John Holt or John Taylor Gatto. You don’t need to buy into these philosophies wholesale to let them change your approach in teaching. It could only broaden an educator, even if just to work out why one might disagree with self-directed learning or freedom in education. Engaging in the conversation would be enough, I don’t expect or desire everyone to align themselves with these views. Maybe Hargadon is right; that we’re living in Bradbury’s world and not Orwell’s; that it’s easy to be controlled when you don’t realize it is happening. And besides, why risk being uncomfortable, when everything is just fine the way it is?

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