Friday, April 24, 2015

U is for "Underground" and the History of American Education

I've been homeschooling for 15 years, though I admit to now having trouble remembering why I started homeschooling. I had some friends of the family who homeschooled and it was a novel idea at the time. I really liked hanging out with my daughters, and I liked teaching, so I figured we'd go for it. But, I admit I did not start with some wild vision of homeschooling vs. public schooling, just some feeling that it was somehow better for my girls and their educational needs.

Shortly after we began to homeschool I found a book at the library by John Taylor Gatto, Dumbing us Down. After reading this I kept following his writings, and on a homeschool board I traded some of my unused school books for a prepublication copy of the Underground History of American Education. That was a turning point to me, when homeschooling stopped being a fun idea and perhaps a good choice for my kids, and turned into an honest passion, which turned me into a rather opinionated homeschooling advocate.

So, in honor of the book which was a turning point in my thinking on educating children, this letter on the Blogging from A to Z challenge, U is for "Underground", as in the Underground History of American Education.

(Side note: It would seem they are going to republish and updated version of this book so they have taken it down from the website where Gatto, believing the information too important to not make available to everyone, always made this book a free download. However, you can still find it with a quick google of "Underground History of American Education pdf".)

Fast forward now to an older, somewhat less dramatic me. Since that time my thoughts have relaxed a bit and I now can see why a parent would utilize the public education system, even though I haven't changed my mind about the system itself. I still do not like the public education system in this country, but I do acknowledge that it is, for many parents in need, the only real game in town that can give them the help they require for their child, and it is therefore the best for their particular circumstance. In other words, I am a fan of any parent who will honestly advocate for what their child needs, even if I do not like the system. I am also a fan of a teacher who will work in a flawed system because there will be parents and child who have no where else to turn, and if ever I am in such a situation, hope to get some good ones on our team.

Back to Gatto... Yes, sometimes he also sounds a bit like a conspiracy theorist, (and sometimes his streams of thought can be really difficult to follow), but dang, sometimes I'm convinced he is right on the conspiracies!

And sometimes, I'm not.

Or at least, I think that is what I decided, after reading some countering arguments on a few of his details. It's been a very long time since I reached some of these conclusions, though it became a part of me over the years, even as the details gradually faded. I hope that makes sense.

That is really what this post is about, in truth. How an understanding of a system of schooling changed so much about how I would raise my children, and remained even later after I read countering arguments and had to reevaluate a few things. Then it remained even when enough time had passed that I had forgotten the details necessary to formulate the arguments that used to come so freely.

In the end, minor differing views on the minute details would never be enough to change my mind. I have made some dramatic u-turns in my life, but I never could take away what I learned about the historical building of our public school system, and what I believed was a dehumanizing view of these young human individuals. I cannot stand for any system that lumps children as a resource for use in a government social system and forgets the fact that they are individual souls of infinite value.

However, what I have added over the years is an understanding that these infinitely valuable souls sometimes need to work in a system that doesn't love them, because their parents do love them, and it offers what they need as a family.

On a final note, it may be wise to remember this modern schooling is a tiny little blip on the human historical experience, having been around in the current form for less than 100 years and should not be considered a natural thing, but instead still a social experiment that needs to be continually evaluated, not blindly followed. So, when you meet a nutty homeschool mom, try to at least remember that historically speaking, maybe she isn't the weird one.

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