No Guns. More guns. Guns outside of schools. Guns inside schools. Armed teachers. Armed guards. Armed citizens. Unarmed citizens.
While these are valid topics of discussion and debate, as a society, we seem to be ignoring the elephant in the room. The one in the corner, that is now sitting on an enormous pile of its own excrement.
What I'm about to say won't be popular with most people; they will view it as an impossible solution. Pardon me, but I really don't care...the time for polite discourse is at an end.
The time for institutionalizing our children, for caging human beings like animals, is at an end.
Like most people on December 14, 2012, I was trying to get my mind around the inexplicable carnage at Sandy Hook Elementary. That day was like any Friday for us. We read, we did some math, and we talked about the colonization and occupation of Africa by European countries in the late 19th - early 20th centuries. We then drove to our weekly philosophy class where my youngest (age 10) is currently discussing the meaning of education and my oldest (age 13) is studying ethics.
Until we reached our class, I had no idea what had happened. We don't have television on during the day, although we do use the internet. My husband had emailed me a link to the news report and as I glanced at the details I did not react with surprise at yet another school shooting. Of course, at that time the true horror was not completely known -- how this shooting, unlike any other, would cause us to recoil in disgust and anger and sadness.
As the days went by, the conversation centered around two things, and only two things: the availability and presence of guns in our society and society's failure to recognize and adequately deal with the specialized needs of certain of its members. Again, while I do not deny that these are topics worth discussing, I could not help wonder why others did not see the solution to the problem as clearly as I did.
Why are our children in school at all? When are we going to face up to the fact that the system of corralling young children into classrooms and pretending to know what it is they should be learning at any given time of the day, is ludicrous, outdated, and wrong?
How many more school shootings have to happen before we consider another approach might just possibly work? Are we so afraid that we will fail our young by daring to educate them at home or by seeking out an alternative or creating one ourselves? News flash: we have already failed, epically, and it will only get worse.
The Sandy Hook Elementary massacre happened in a quiet, affluent, idyllic town (probably much like your own). It was perpetrated by a young man who grew up in a big house on a nice street; who was intelligent and was even pulled out of school at one point by his mother, to be homeschooled. (Some may choose to engage in a "Chicken and Egg" debate, i.e., was the young man troubled because he was homeschooled or because he wasn't homeschooled soon enough? This skirts my premise, which is that the children he murdered should not have been where they were in the first place.) While it is doubtful we will ever know what was really going on in that house, with that family, and with that young man, several days after the shooting, I did come across an article which finally attempted to explain the real reason behind this man's actions.
Michael Reist, head of the English department at Robert F. Hall Catholic Secondary School in Caledon, Ontario, and the author of Raising Boys in a New Kind of World, opines in Why schools are a target of choice:
"Gunmen choose schools, and school shootings have become a genre, because schools embody a central contradiction that we have all experienced. In our collective imaginations, schools are safe havens. Schools are places where we will be loved, nurtured and protected. In school we are all special and unique snowflakes. On the other hand, school is a place where we are subjected to pressure to perform and we are judged. It is a place where special and unique snowflakes are required to conform to a mould. The problem lies in the fact that school is both of these things at the same time, and it makes for a very contradictory existence."
Yes, school is a very contradictory, confusing experience. Reist goes on to say:
"I would argue that it is no coincidence that school shooters are almost always boys. They are among the most traumatized at school. Whether it is because they are highly kinesthetic, and therefore bored by all the sitting and reading and writing, or they’re intelligent and not challenged by the curriculum, or they’re highly sensitive and bullied (both by peers and the system itself), we have a huge population of disenfranchised, alienated, angry males in our schools for whom the system simply does not work."
Let's face reality together. As Reist remarks, "...the system simply does not work." Why do we blindly enroll children in "systems" in the first place? Because that is all we know. That's what we had, and it either did or didn't work, but it's what we had. It didn't kill us. Times have changed, and no amount of argument over "fixing" the system or eliminating the availability of fire arms in this country is going to save us.
And yet, families are indeed embracing alternatives...in droves. According to The Economist, "Today around 2m (children) are (homeschooled) — about the same number as attend charter schools." That number may be slightly low -- there are several states that do not require families to "report" themselves and many other families in states that require reporting that refuse to submit themselves to oversight.
On the day after the killings, how many families that might have been considering another option -- whether it was homeschooling or a different choice -- decided that going back to "business as usual" was not acceptable? I know personally of one, and I trust there were others. And how many trusting parents loaded up their equally trusting children and dropped them off at the mandated institution and assured their offspring "that everything was going to be just fine." I trust it was the vast majority.
In a country where we spend more time evaluating electronic entertainment purchases than careful examination of where our children are receiving an education, who is teaching them, what they are supposedly being taught, and if that experience will have any real value in an ever-changing global community of free and easily accessible knowledge, I must wonder where it all will end.
Will families eventually refuse, en masse, to participate in this "pleasant fiction" that promises a safe and nurturing learning environment? Or will they continue to drop their kids off day after day and continue to play the odds?
It would be irresponsible of me to engage in this rhetoric and yet provide no proposal for a solution.
Obviously, we have chosen home education blended with an eclectic mix of outside learning opportunities. This choice is legal in all states and a possibility for any parent who is willing to commit some time and effort. From what I have witnessed, parents are already unwittingly homeschooling their children by agonizing over homework doled out in an effort to "Leave No Child Behind." Why not cut out the ineffectual six hour free babysitting service and get your life back?
If you feel you need to look beyond homeschooling for the answer, the alternative education movement is gathering momentum (for a list of choices visit www.educationrevolution.org). Many will argue this isn't feasible -- that either cost or lack of availability makes it prohibitive. Perhaps. So let's suppose for a moment that the public education system ceased to exist tomorrow. What would happen?
In 1996, Steve Jobs (Individualist and co-founder of Apple Inc.) gave an interview for wired.com titled "The Next Insanely Great Thing." He covered many topics, including education...and his optimism, or lack thereof, for the future. He states:
"I'm an optimist in the sense that I believe humans are noble and honorable, and some of them are really smart. I have a very optimistic view of individuals. As individuals, people are inherently good. I have a somewhat more pessimistic view of people in groups. And I remain extremely concerned when I see what's happening in our country, which is in many ways the luckiest place in the world. We don't seem to be excited about making our country a better place for our kids."
"I used to think that technology could help education. I've probably spearheaded giving away more computer equipment to schools than anybody else on the planet. But I've had to come to the inevitable conclusion that the problem is not one that technology can hope to solve. What's wrong with education cannot be fixed with technology. No amount of technology will make a dent."
The public education system is destined to fail and is in effect designed to fail about 50% of the time (read Dumbing Us Down by John Taylor Gatto, or anything by Gatto for that matter). Make no mistake that no amount of money poured down a rat hole will make it anything other than a rat hole.
Jobs's answer? According to the wired.com article he was an advocate of the voucher system. If families had the option to spend tax dollars on education opportunities of choice, "...schools would be starting right and left. People would get out of college and say "Let's start a school."
"They'd do it because they'd be able to set the curriculum. When you have kids you think, What exactly do I want them to learn? Most of the stuff they study in school is completely useless. But some incredibly valuable things you don't learn until you're older - yet you could learn them when you're younger. And you start to think, What would I do if I set a curriculum for a school? God, how exciting that could be! But you can't do it today. You'd be crazy to work in a school today. You don't get to do what you want. You don't get to pick your books, your curriculum. You get to teach one narrow specialization. Who would ever want to do that?"
So again, let's imagine for a moment if there were no free education tomorrow, what would happen? Would the world stop turning? Would unsuperivsed children roam the streets, unable to read and write?
If there were no public schools, is there a possibility that better and affordable options could exist without the presence of the government? These options did, in fact, exist up until about a hundred and fifty years ago. Why are we so arrogant to think that because this is the only thing we know that this is the only way it can be?
I do not think that "free" education will end tomorrow. There are too many people and too many corporations dependent on its existence and repeated failures. Still, its days are numbered. I don't know how many successive generations of Americans will needlessly be subjected to its horrors or how long we will continue to ignore the obvious -- probably much, much too long.
For those of us who advocate an eradication of the system as we know it, it cannot come too quickly.