Several writers, sociologists and educators are speaking out about the problems being experienced in modern schools. Violence seems to be increasing, students are leaving school ill-prepared to enter the workforce and test scores continue to fall. In attempting to fix our schools, several of these individuals have suggested that the solution is not to try to fix the school, but to abandon it altogether. While it may seem to be a new argument, this question of abolishing the compulsory public school system has been around for decades. There are a surprising number of similarities found in the arguments of John Holt in his article “School is Bad for Children” published in 1969 and Daniel H. Pink’s article “School’s Out” published this decade.
In his article, John Holt unsurprisingly argues that school is bad for children. He starts his article by stating, “Almost every child on the first day he sets foot in a school building is smarter, more curious, less afraid of what he doesn’t know, better at finding and figuring things out, more confident, resourceful, persistent and independent than he will ever be again in his schooling” (Holt, 1969). Holt makes his claim on the evidence that children first discover and then learn to use it all while making other important discoveries about the world and grasping highly abstract concepts. They do this “by exploring, by experimenting, by developing his own model or the grammar of language, by trying it out and seeing whether it works, by gradually changing it and refining it until it does work” (Holt, 1969).
More importantly, children do this naturally, without anyone showing them how or telling them why. Although Pink does not directly address the condition of the child before he enters the classroom, he does make a strong point of the skills needed to survive in the emerging economy. “Legions of Americans, and increasingly citizens of other countries as well, are abandoning one of the Industrial Revolution’s most enduring legacies – the ‘job’ – and forging new ways to work.
They’re becoming self-employed knowledge workers, proprietors of home-based businesses, temps and permatemps, … part-time consultants … and full-time soloists” (Pink). This great shift in the way people do business requires a skill set highly similar to the natural abilities of the early child as described by Holt. Both authors discuss the true end results of what children are learning in school.
Holt (1969) says children learn that learning is something done separate from living. Within the school setting, the child that he does not know how to learn and must adapt himself to the methods of the teacher. “In a great many other ways he learns that he is worthless, untrustworthy, fit only to take other people’s orders, a blank sheet for other people to write on” (Holt, 1969). According to Holt, the true lessons the child takes from school are to hide his curiosity, to be ashamed of thinking differently, to accept other people’s evaluation of him. “He learns that to be wrong, uncertain, confused, is a crime” (Holt, 1969). He learns how to find out what answers are expected and to give only those answers. He learns instead to be lazy, deceitful and how to pass blame.
“He learns that in real life you don’t do anything unless you are bribed, bullied or conned into doing it, that nothing is worth doing for its own sake, or that if it is, you can’t do it in school” (Holt, 1969). He learns to turn himself off, to passively daydream and to ignore the people around him. Pink would seem to agree. In listing the lessons children learned in school, Pink indicates that the results are mostly negative for the individual: “Kids learned how to obey rules, follow orders, and respect authority – and the penalties that came with refusal” (Pink). He also points out how nothing seems to have changed in as many as 40 years within the school setting or system with the exception of a computer or two within the classroom, but everything has changed outside of it. In addition, both authors argue for the abolition of the school system as it currently exists. Holt (1969) recommends abolishing the compulsory school law by arguing that these laws are no longer necessary to prevent adults from exploiting child labor.
This would alleviate the anger and violence found in school classrooms and hallways and make a better learning environment for the kids that do want to be there. By making school a choice, the schools would also have to make their programs something actually beneficial to the kids. Other options would be to make schools more of a learning field trip or bringing professionals into the classroom to talk honestly and frankly about their careers.
Team learning is also recommended as a means of allowing children to take a more active role in their learning and to learn how to work with others. Holt also suggests getting rid of grades to allow children to assess and perfect their own work and getting rid of the established curriculum because children will only learn what is important to them anyway. Pink argues, “Compulsory mass schooling is an aberration in both history and modern society. Yet it was the ideal preparation for the Organization Man economy, a highly structured world dominated by large, bureaucratic corporations that routinized the workplace” (Pink). Now that we no longer live in an industrial economy and more people are finding it preferable or necessary to fend for themselves in creative ways, Pink says the system should change to foster these skills in our youth.
Although the authors do not provide sufficient provision for the numbers of students who would not attend school if they didn’t have to or those who are actually safer at school than at home, they do make several valid points. It does seem as though the modern school system is nothing more than a system designed to create perfect factory workers, providing the ability for future supervisors and managers to excel and prove their worth. This requires workers willing to subsume their individual personalities, lose their natural curiosity and learn how to simply obey orders and ‘live’ at those times when their leaders did not have need of them.
Pink provides convincing statistics that more Americans are finding it necessary to live by the skills they had as young children as listed by Holt – curiosity, exploration, discovery, resourcefulness and independence. If America is to remain strong moving into the future, it must adopt a more effective education system that enables children to retain these skills and become the productive adults they can be.