Column by Will Groves.
Exclusive to STR
Those engaged in science know that the search for better answers continues for as long as inconsistencies appear between a theory and experiment. When the mind that has genuinely opened asks questions, it cannot hide from the answers simply because they go against convention. The metaphorical essence of this appears as an unwillingness to apply ever greater numbers of epicycles to explain the positions of the planets in order that the earth should remain at the center of the universe. The intellectual jump toward better understanding of the world genuinely involves putting the sun at the center of the solar system even when it means living with the “Heretic!” label.
To ask pointed questions when we swim in a sea of conventions, we must first perceive a problem or inconsistency within our current understanding. What seems like a small surface imperfection can sometimes lead to a full-blown change in philosophy, as anarchists know well! While this openness to ideas shows itself in many ways, unconventional thinking in one area often leads to unconventional thinking in others because an open and active mind not only notices what doesn’t make sense but also seeks resolution. When we find someone outside the mainstream on one topic, we often find uncommon views about diet, health, money, and what constitutes a life well spent. And if we’ve ever wondered where we can find the great results of a hundred years of forced government schooling, we might also have some thoughts about education. Enter Laurette Lynn’s new book, Don’t Do Drugs Stay Out Of School, and let her take aim at the entire institution. Her motivation is no secret as she begins the introduction: “I wrote this book because I have come to believe that school is bad for us; that is the simplest way to say it . . . I am going to try to talk you out of using school.” And with that start, she provides plenty of evidence to support her belief. The book begins with a short exposé on the modern history of schooling, one that appears strongly influenced by the research presented in John Taylor Gatto’s Underground History of American Education. This history reveals that the legal maneuvers to make schooling compulsory in the 19th and early 20th Centuries did not aim to better educate the youth, but rather create the masses who would run the machines and consume the products of the new industrial civilization.
Moving on, we see the unflattering lens through which Lynn views the school system when she writes on page 5, “At very young ages, young humans are herded like cattle, away from their families and into warehouses . . . . It does not require very much of a stretch to recognize that this process is just not quite right.” Not quite right, indeed. I feel the charge these words carry, and that charge thrusts through the entire book.
Lynn identifies and addresses a long list of attributes that schooling cultivates to the detriment of the individual and the family. In her fourth chapter, Lynn’s writing shines as she points out the blatant ways in which schools intentionally train children to become submissive, conformist, and unable to think clearly or exercise judgment. In a world filled with people trained this way, we have the basis for support of the status quo. For people who want to see change in the world, for people who value freedom, she compels us to seek alternatives.
The book encourages parents to trust their instincts with respect to their children and does not fault youngsters for their fears and dislike of the system. Viewing the system itself as toxic, in multiple places Lynn makes no call for reform, only abolishment. For instance, she writes on page 64, “The school experience actually shelters kids from reality, teaches acceptance of the artificial and rewards smooth assimilation with unnatural replacements of reality. School defies realness and inhibits growth. The entire school experience is a strangulation of autonomy, ingenuity, creative intelligence and innovation. It is time that we do away with it, and the way to do that is by first realizing that humanity has outgrown systematized schooling, and then by embracing something better.” Lynn brings passion into her writing, and as the father of young children, I noticed that this book brought out strong, visceral emotions within me several times. In the way Lynn presents the problems of school, she succeeded in her objective: I felt more compelled than ever that I have no option but to avoid sending my kids into the system.
If school does not foster the development of an educated person and mind, then what better alternatives to school do we have? Lynn advocates home-based education. I found one of her most interesting points about this on page 83: “It’s very common for parents to begin by looking for ways to do school at home simply because that is what we are all used to . . . . Remember, you have made a deliberate decision to avoid school, so don’t try to bring it home. If you do then I assure you that you will find yourself overwhelmed, stressed, and feeling inadequate very quickly because the truth is that you can’t homeschool. You can’t. Nobody can do school but school. However, the good news is that you are not supposed to do school. You are supposed to do life.” Indeed, among the homeschooling families I know, all have abandoned schooling for unschooling, but only after discovering for themselves what Lynn pointed out here.
The main weakness of the book involves Lynn’s attempt to connect schooling to many peripheral subjects in just one hundred pages. In the chapter, “What is Schooling?,” Lynn alleges the motivations to shape schooling by the elites, the bankers, the monetary system, the Federal Reserve, corporate interests, and political interests. While to her credit, Lynn encourages us to investigate beyond her presentation, I found the unsupported statements, lacking even footnotes, gave this chapter a conspiracy-theory slant that subtracted from the power of her work while simultaneously giving critics a giant target to attack. Moreover, even if each of these organizations only had pure and philanthropic intentions, Lynn already made a powerful case that the institution of schooling has failed to create well-educated masses, irrespective. Also, the book could benefit from some editorial clean-up and fact-checking such as on page 64 when Lynn writes “a huge majority of adults are dependent on a psychotropic medication to supposedly treat a mental or emotional disorder,” a claim easily debunked.
I have read a lot of literature dealing with homeschooling, unschooling, and other alternatives to schooling, and what this book lacks in finesse, it makes up for with punch. This book is not an academic treatise, it’s a well-deserved slap to knock off our rose-colored glasses and create action instead of endless discussion. It’s Mario Savio on the page, passionately arguing that we can’t take part in this institution any longer. Freedom lovers already have the intellectual backbone to go against the mainstream. Once our eyes have opened to what school does, we have to consider what we owe our own children.