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[I wrote this in 1971, when I still thought that Free Schools were a way to replace or, at least, improve the public schools]
Thinking about "free schools" can clarify your understanding of what schools are. Contrast, for instance, the role of students in public schools and free schools.
Students are what free school is all about. Their school is a way-station, a resource center where they find some of the things they need to accomplish their own goals. It's a place to meet friends.
If there are books and basketballs there, then that's better because there's more to do, but materials aren't terribly important. The learning experience, or the growing-up experience is assimilated and arranged by the student in the context of his personal needs. It all comes from him, and it is all for him.
In the traditional school, the student is a receptacle. He is the drain hole at which learning is poured. The student as object. He is classified and sorted into a controllable group of people as similar to himself as possible. Then he is put on an assembly line, destination unknown. It all comes from somewhere else, and it is all pointed and pumped at him. Nobody even asks him if it is OK!
Now let me pause to widen the scope of this to include educators' newer efforts. Most "improvement" in education is even less humanitarian because it is refined, More sinister, better done. They don't use whipping to control behavior in the newest schools, but they didn't in Brave New World either. Goals haven't changed, only methods.
In a free school, the student is as good as anybody. His only limits are the
real rights of others. No rules and regulations are forced on him arbitrarily
or for moral purposes. If a certain moral, value, or practice is "right",
then he'll find it to be so himself, given time. He doesn't have to swallow
In the traditional school, the student can be allowed no real rights. Even the newer schools only allow the student to participate in decisions to the extent that they accomplish the administration's goals. Students become agents of their own alienation through such devices as student senates and honor patrols.
"Students rights" has a shallow and brassy sound, to me. There are no student rights. Any thinking at all about application of the Bill of Rights to high schools must lead one to the conclusion that the schools could not exist as we know them without the continued suppression of rights.
Schools are built upon control. The only variation from school to school or
from class to class is in how the control is administered. It may be open coercion
threats, or trickery. It may be gold stars, it may be grades or "close work with the parents" (which means the kids get their beatings from their parents rather than from teachers). It may be humiliation of the student, it almost always involves some form of competition.
It usually involves grouping, which reminds me of nothing more than the "trustee" system in prisons. The students who refuse to cooperate go into the lower groups. Bad grades, low groups, and conduct cuts almost always go together.
Schools are obsessed with control. Most teachers do little else with their energy save control. Even their methods of instruction are primarily based on their need t ocontrol. Those who do not control students well are not "good teachers". Those who refuse to become policemen will have problems with their colleagues and administrators. Many will eventually quit. Many who stay will become brain washers and perpetrators of human alienation.
They might cling to the hope that they can improve things or make life somehow better for their charges than it would have otherwise been. They grow more bitter as years go on. Many of them say they are "working within the system for change." They are kidding themselves and the embittered years prove it.
The school system does not need to be changed because it does not have problems. It functions presently in a smooth way to effect its role in the network of systems that we call our way of life. It disenfranchises the children of the disenfranchised. It produces obedient subjects who will become supporters of our lifestyle and consumers of our useless production. The system doesn't have problems. It is the problem. The great mindf***ing programming process-itself is the problem.
I have the greatest sympathy for teachers. They are often beautiful people and capable of many years of sacrifice. They are the only hope of many children, about whom no one else cares. They are the scapegoats of every embarrassment to their school system. They work long hours, quarrel with their mates, and shed tears of frustration when they are alone.
There is no need for control at the free school. Teachers ask only that students treat them with the same dignity that they are themselves entitled to. Teachers busy themselves with providing new resources and interacting with the students; learners all. Teachers and students enact their fantasies together. Each takes responsibility for himself.
By now, it should be apparent that the basic difference between free schools and other schools is in their attitudes toward learners. School children are taught, free school students learn!
By Gene Lantz
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