Fake Freedom

July 30, 2007

by Tammy Drennan

So, you’ve decided to walk away from state schools and never look back. Now you’re free, right?

Probably not yet.

Just as a slave isn’t truly free until he sheds not only his master but his master’s definition of him, we are not free until we shed both state schooling and its definition of education.

What’s wrong with education today is only partly that it is largely monopolized by the state. The rest of what’s wrong is that it’s been defined by the whole absurd process that has built up around state schooling — and too many free people are copying the state model.

We’ve left behind our master but not our chains, and the chains can be much harder to shed than the tyrant. There is greater fear in acting free than in being free.

Acting free means trusting yourself, and if there’s one thing we learn in state schools and from state officials and their agents it’s that we can’t trust ourselves. So we continue to copy the institutional, doled-out, shallow model of schooling that the state has imposed upon us with all the confidence of any tyrant.

Before any parent or private school operator or independent teacher concerns him or herself with the state’s obsession with test results and credits and Carnegie Units, he should ask himself some important questions about education. Why four years of math, three years of English, etc.? Am I even teaching what’s important about those subjects? What do I think my students should walk away with in order to live as they ought to live? Do I know how I think they ought to live?

Is education about accumulating knowledge in order to pass on to the next level of accumulating knowledge, or is it about understanding life and the world and applying that understanding to a meaningful existence?

Have you ever seen one of those man-on-the street features on TV? Random (we assume) people are asked questions like “Who was president of the US during the Civil War?” or “Who started World War II?” And we’re all horrified at what people don’t know.

What should horrify us more is what the people who do know don’t understand. A tremendous amount of knowledge can be accumulated without resulting in any wisdom at all. Most state school knowledge would fall under that category. It tests well but it doesn’t do much else.

We’ve learned from our state schools that education must, above all else, be measurable and chartable. We’ve also learned that it’s okay for education to be meaningless in relation to life. It’s a model we live in fear of breaking. Most of our private schools follow it and most homeschoolers do, too.

Until we’re willing to define education without consulting our former master’s game book, we are still slaves. It’s time to shed the chains.

Here’s a good place to get started:

What Really Matters
(Note: Even though this article says Part 1, it is there in its entirety.)
by John Taylor Gatto