My last post on the habits of schooling is not a new topic by any stretch of the imagination. John Holt identified the habits and emotional responses children have habitually to school in most of his books and essays. Here's an essay of his from 1969. John Taylor Gatto's essays and books on school history and culture (here's one) were catalysts for my own awakening about school way back when. This discussion has been going on for a long time. My insights are not new.
Full disclosure, before I move on. I work with a man named Charles Eisenstein. You may or may not have heard of him, but he's a philosopher and public speaker. He's a story-teller. He's a cultural critic and de-growth activist. And Charles has been interested in how school inculcates the cultural story (what he calls "the old story") into people from the very beginning. This old story is beyond broken and is based upon faulty science and reasoning. And we are destroying the planet because of an almost unquestioned belief in its veracity. Charles and I have been walking a similar path for many years, completely unknown to one another. And finally when we met -- by an amazing sequence of synchronicity some years ago -- it was completely obvious to us both that I should work with him.
Like I said, he's been talking and writing about school, our cultural story, and "new story" education for many years. In 2008, he gave a seminar at the AERO conference titled "Deschooling Ourselves…" Sound familiar? When I wrote my last blog post, I hadn't really remembered this and it wasn't until I went back to look up Charles' work on education that I found it ("VOILA") and listened to it again for the first time in 4 years or so. I realized immediately that it is analogous to my last blog post but in no way reiterative, interestingly enough. The talk and discussion is two hours long -- be warned. The sound is pretty bad on the video, but you can hear Charles well because he has a microphone. I'll outline some of the details here and in future blogs posts on deschooling ourselves so you don't have to work through the video if you don't want to.
The most interesting thing in this AERO conversation, at least to me is the assertion -- completely true I think -- that each "habit" we learn in school has a mirror image of rebellion, and that the rebellious act --when done automatically and unthinkingly -- is just as much a habit of schooling as the more obvious trained habits I discussed in my last post.
Here are some examples:
Habit: Needing to be on time Reactive Habit: Habitual tardiness
Habit: Doing all the assignments Reactive Habit: Laziness
Habit: Reliance on External Learning Reactive Habit: Unthinking distrust of all authority
Habit: Wanting to be seen as right Reactive Habit: Wanting to go it alone
Habit: Wanting to measure up Reactive Habit: Narcissistic self-importance
Habit: Learning in safety Reactive Habit: Disregard for safety
It goes on and on -- for every habit outlined, there is a reactive habit… and, um, gulp. Guilty as charged. I sure do see THIS in myself. Charles states in the video, "To unthinkingly reject something is just as much a habit as unthinkingly accepting something." So really, when it comes right down to it, these habits fall into two main categories: Habits of submission or habits of defiance.
(As an aside, when you watch the video, it is also amazing to me how many habits of schooling the gathered group identified and the fact that most of them did not overlap with the list I posted in my last blog post.)
A point came up in a discussion on Facebook about my blog post as well as in this video. The question is summed up as: "But aren't all these habits just part of our culture at large? Where does it start and end?" Well, yes, of course that is true. But school is the primary way that our culture indoctrinates our young into cultural norms. We'd like to think that the family is the prime mover here, and family can be a mitigating influence. But our schools are set up to slowly but surely get our children in line with broader cultural values. That is its role. And the cultural norms are based on the industrial model: training workers and citizens who can read (but who accept their superiors without question) to make them good citizens, and people who will partake fully in neoliberal capitalism. It bids children to conform to our consumerist culture unthinkingly. Don't take my work for it… it is fully discussed in the brilliant book The Underground History of American Education.
This post is really meant to be an addendum to my first post. Upcoming posts will include resources to read, investigate, and explore either individually or in your family to begin the deschooling process. These sources will not be specific to unschooling, homeschooling, Montessori, free-schooling, or any particular flavor of alternative education. I really don't care too much for these labels, as every family is different and has differing resources available to them. I'm much more interested in the dance of self-discovery at all ages, rather than adhering to dogma around one particular way to learn. And…well... I'm allergic to kool-aid. (Maybe that is a reactive habit of a reactive habit…..?) Another upcoming post will concentrate on process work you can do individually, in your families, or in a group to bring some of these unconscious habits to the surface. But in the end, the deschooling process is seemingly never-ending, mostly because it requires healing from the deep wounds of our culture. The good news is, there are multitudes of people out there doing this work, people who are creating networks and a "commons" to help others do this work more effectively and more deeply. And in this reevaluation of self/school, working together is not cheating (that thinking is a habit of schooling)… but the most fundamental skill we possess as humans.
This is part 2 of a 4 part series. Part 1 can be found here. Part 3 is here. Part 4 is forthcoming.
Image: JACK LYONS/FLICKR CREATIVE COMMONS