So says Jeffrey Nall in Truth Out in an article titled Abandoning the K-12 School System: Listening to Our Children and Thinking for Ourselves. And, I think he’s right about Australia too. In fact, he argues several elements to this thesis.
1. Public schools utilise collective punishment.
I’m guilty of doing this too when I was teaching. I remember well making the whole class fill in the behaviour section of the school’s diary (called a handbook in my day) because there was one kid being feral. One day in particular, I well remember the class was bonkers because the teacher was late, in fact we didn’t know where she was, and the class (year 8 science) had been waiting so long that one boy had managed to shimmy all the way up a pole and was singing “Like a Virgin” at the top of his voice. That class had the behaviour section to write out for the whole double period, or what was left of it. Double periods were 90 minutes long.
2. Schools require passivity and unquestioning obedience.
Schools require students to do as they are told. It’s first time obedience or see point 1. In many schools, a behaviour card operates. A behaviour card is a public document that students must produce publicly at the beginning of each class and the teacher must sign off that the child’s behaviour has been suitable/live-with-able at the end of each class. Or, as an alternative, teachers may be able to send their recalcitrants to a special ‘time out’ room so they don’t disrupt the class’ learning. These children are required to sign a contract that they present to their teachers to negotiate entry to class, which was, I assumed, the purpose of school in the first place.
3. The polarisation of know everything adults versus know nothing children
This polarisation is further emphasised by the way that adults speak to children. I must confess to being quite rude and surly to the children when I was teaching, even though such behaviour would never have been tolerated in the reverse.
4. Public shaming
See above numbers 2 and 3.
5. Failing to foster critical thinking
NAPLAN is one of the key drivers of this failure to foster critical thinking in Australia.
6. Reinforcing dominant gendered, social class and ethnic/cultural norms
I well remember cringing when teachers would knock on my door and ask for “two or three good strong boys to lift some tables for me”. The girls aren’t strong enough to move a few tables?? Seriously?
The other problem we have in Australia is uniforms. Meadmore and Symes (2002; 2006) argued that uniforms operate as a form of governmentality in that they prepare students for roles later in life. It’s no accident, according to these two academics, that boys’ uniforms facilitate more active and ‘rough’ play than do girls’ uniforms. Nor is it accidental that elite school uniforms look like business attire, unlike less prestigious school uniforms.
7. Emphasising competition and teaching to the test
See, frankly, this whole blog…
Democratically operated schools such as the Florida-based Sunset Sudbury School in Davie and Grassroots School in Tallahassee provide teaching mentors but emphasize student-guided and motivated learning as well as creativity, and social interconnectivity. The radically unstructured character of these schools arguably lacks some necessary adult-led direction. Yet their embrace of democratic practices provides a creative alternative to what Henry Giroux calls the “pedagogy of repression“: the dominant practice of education entailing the indoctrination of students to accept that rights belong only to the powerful and “unlearn any respect for democracy, justice, and what it might mean to connect learning to social change.” This is powerfully reflected in the conflict resolution approach of the Sudbury Valley School of Framingham, Massachusetts.
Such options are not available to everyone. In the first place very few such institutions exist. Secondly, these community-based schools are not free. Tuition ranges from as much as $6,000 for the first child at Sunset, to a sliding scale based on taxable income minus taxes divided by .09 at Grassroots. Though it is reasonable compared to operational costs, tuition of any amount is a barrier for most low-income families. Ideally such examples would be embraced by the public school system.
But, these examples are not “embraced by the public school system”, nor by most mainstream private schools.
He decides to unschool his two children. And, I have to say, it’s looking very attractive to my family too.