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Norm Lee: How our schools actually prevent children from learning

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Posted: Wednesday, April 9, 2014 12:00 am

America’s War On Children was never more starkly portrayed than in Saturday’s (March 22) article on the hunt and capture of our local children. Most of us citizens are unaware that each of our kids has a price on his/her head — money collectable from the federal government according to administrators’ head count each morning.

Where is the protest against this outrageous bounty hunting? Were ours a free country, parents would be marching in the street brandishing pitchforks as they did in Barnstable, Mass. over 100 years ago.

What qualifies me to speak to this horror? A lifetime devoted to teaching. And in retirement I serve as a Children’s Advocate as trustee of Parents and Teachers Against Violence in Education.

In the ’40s I trained pilots and technicians on USAF aircraft. In the ’50s I taught in public school. In the ’60s I served on the faculties of Pennsylvania State University, State University of New York, and Syracuse University, teaching philosophy and sociology to undergraduates and graduate students, including doctoral candidates.

In my 60 years of classroom teaching, I have never before witnessed such massive hunts of children. The spirit of Arizona Sheriff Joe Arpaio lives in Lodi. Is no one taking a stand for the children, those who are on to the schooling scam?

Over the years I saw the school system disintegrate, beginning with Rear Adm. Rickover’s blaming public schools in 1957 following USSR’s Sputnik success. The diminutive sailor fingered not the Pentagon nor Congress, but the public schools’ teachers and administrators for being “behind” Soviet students in the race for space. No one told him to go to hell. Instead, there followed 57 years of “reforms” — Back to Basics, No Child Left Behind, intensive testing, wholesale firing of some of the best teachers. The battering included school administrators, staff, counselors, coaches, art and music teachers, and more.

As always, the children — the most vulnerable of all — suffered the most. Because they didn’t have a vote, they weren’t heard. Instead they’ve been threatened and bullied and punished, terrorized, and bored numb, and now hunted down by tax-paid bounty hunters and dragged to school by cops — those sworn to “protect and serve,” remember? We’re talking about flagrant betrayal of the children’s trust. A wonder they aren’t all protesting in the streets.

As an institution, the public school system is in disarray, obsolete. It is a worn-out, dysfunctional system that now resembles incarceration, with ringing bells, guards in the halls and pursuit of escapees. The blame for the failure of schools is, as always, placed on the defenseless. The eminent Harvard psychiatrist Erik Erikson famously said, “The function of the public school is to police, to baby-sit and to break spirit.” And it is so successful at it that there is no reason to fundamentally change.

The illusion is that there are no alternatives. But that is not so ...

I knew John Holt, who spearheaded the modern home-schooling movement (“How Children Fail” — 1959). I had long talks into late at night with Paul Goodman (“Compulsory Mis-education”), I knew Buckminster Fuller, who was appalled at schools being run by phys. ed. majors hired as administrators, and others.

John Holt and I became close friends as we each started national magazines. His was Growing Without Schooling, a practical support for home-schooling families in their self-directed learning efforts. Mine was Homesteaders News, a self-reliance magazine. John and I worked together until cancer took his life.

He worked for many years to make changes in the school system, but no changes were made. At last he gave up, and began showing parents how they can do better for their kids by self-educating at home. John was known for his warmth, his honesty, and for speaking directly: “School is a place where children learn to be stupid.” His final book was “How Children Learn” (Second Edition). It followed others — “Instead of Education,” “Freedom And Beyond,” etc. — which can be found by searching the Internet.

There is a way out, if illusions can be overcome. “Children are born learners,” insisted John. They were born in Basic Goodness, eager to explore the world, learn about the human and wild animals in it. A child’s methods are exactly like the experiments employed by scientists: pose a question, try it out, see how or if it works, pose another question.

In the classroom, John saw that what was being taught was not being learned. How come? For a year he sat quietly taking notes in a friend’s classroom. He observed that the kids’ efforts went not to learning things, but to guessing what the teacher wanted. Not “How do I find out about the world?” — what every toddler wants to know — but “How do I stay out of trouble?” “How can I avoid punishment, humiliation?”

So, he wrote, the great enemy of learning is Fear. In his talks to educators, he asked, “Why not let kids do what they are already naturally skilled at? Let the school be a place where they can continue their exploration of the world!” When free to do so, even first-graders naturally use the scientific method to learn stuff they are interested in. Let the school provide more resources, and they’ll learn what they need to know in their own way.

“Teaching that has not been invited by the learner will PREVENT learning, not help it.” The learner MUST be in charge of his/her education, not education majors.

The courses in childhood and education I took, if laid end to end, would reach from Lodi to Syracuse. But my education came from reading John Holt, A. S. Neil’s “Summerhill,” and observing my own children 50 years ago.

Norm Lee is the owner of the website www.nopunish.net.

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