Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Questioning School and Compulsory Conformity

Tibetan Star has a fascinating post on the education of Spartan children in which she shows that this education was clearly intended to produce conformity in the population. She also shows how this model has influenced subsequent thinking on the education of children.

Talking of which, my old school magazine has just plopped onto the door mat. On the cover it shows 15 girls all seated in three neat rows of five, in exactly the same clothes, with exactly the same closed book on their laps. Almost all of them have their hands crossed over the book, though one has the temerity to be scratching her nose. They all (without exception) have exactly the same length hair, bunched in a neat pony tail. The hair colour does differ, but is uniformally natural.

Just how personalised can this form of education really hope to be?

Isn't it time that everyone (not just home educators) asked themselves if this really is an acceptable and efficient model of learning? Afterall, the human race has tolerated the slave trade for most of human history. It is only relatively recently that it has been regarded as evil and attempts have been made to eliminate it. I don't think the analogy is necessarily a very loose one, btw.


dottyspots said...

The history of compulsory schooling in this country has always been controlled by a political agenda, from it's origins in providing a few years basic training before working class children went to school, to providing regulated childcare to enable increasing numbers of mothers to return to work. It has been seen as a way of *rescuing* children from their social backgrounds, instilling values that are deemed to be desirable by those in government.

Of course there are positives to this, however, MHO is that the current system is failing to gel with today's society.

Adele said...

I've been saying this for a long time, but no one ever listened.

People seem to labour under the illusion that school is about education - it's not, it's about enforced conformity and it's about economics.

If it *were* about education, then most would agree that schools in this day and age are redundant and they would abolish them. The fact that they *don't* is simply because education is *not* the primary function of schools anyway.

It's about time society was honest about this.

Gill said...

Any ideas as to why so many people continue to tolerate/support it?

Adele said...

Hi Gill

"Any ideas as to why so many people continue to tolerate/support it?"

Was this addressed to Carlotta or to everyone? :)

My answer would be a fairly succinct one: Convenience.

Schools are convenient for many parents, and they are convenient for employers. Very few people stop to question the worth or morality of a system that is convenient for them.

Would schools without the enforced conformity aspect still be as convenient? No, because without the enforced conformity, kids may actually stand up and start asking questions about why they were there in the first place, and the whole system would fall in on itself.

In this way it's a self-supporting system. The cycle goes:

Break the spirits of children.

Convince them to evaluate themselves in terms of their economic potential.

Get them through the mill and into the workplace.

When they have children, they shall have to send them to school so that they (the adults) can remain in the workplace.

Then break the spirits of the second generation of children.

Convince them to evaluate themselves... Etc Etc

And, thus, the status quo is preserved! :(

An alternative answer is: Apathy.

"This is the way it's been for years, so let's just carry on this way, and not bother questioning it, because that would be an awful lot of bother."

That kind of thing. :(

Both my suggested answers are pretty cynical ones, aren't they?

Gill said...

Not unduly cynical I don't think Adele. Probably quite accurate - & very clearly explained. Thanks!

I wonder what it would take to break the cycle.

dottyspots said...

LOL - I meant before they went to work (oops).

For Gill - because they wear woolly coats and go baaaaa?

But seriously (as someone who does have 2 children in school through their own choice, I did try to convince them otherwise, but they were resolute, so I support them) it's because it's the norm and people genuninely believe that school is needed, not least to prop up their own identity (having attended school) because if they had to go their children can damn well go too :0)

Of course, some people have a genuinely positive experience of school and therefore simply cannot see what all the fuss is about.

As Adele says, it is also convenient and supposedly cheaper than many of the alternatives for working parents.

So many reasons, so little typing time.

Reports suggest that more and more people are home-educating their children, so perhaps there is a bit of a mini-revolution going on, however, one would have to fully consider the alternative - that of a world without school - and IMHO that isn't any sort of utopia either as for some children, school does provide welcome stability, not all parents are as considerate towards their children as we are and there are children out there with truly miserable homelives.

There would need to be some sort of support system for parents to support a complete shift in general societal thought. A mass change in working patterns and much more than my little brain can think of right now :0)

Gill said...

I'd love to see more of a mutual support system. I hate the all-or-nothing choice we're stuck with now.

I don't mean flexi-schooling either, I mean something far more flexible and interactive than that.

Carlotta said...

V. much agree about something like that, Gill.

Perhaps it is evening fatigue but in such frames of mind I often think it could be fantastic to have a set of great resources, such as well-made software and other productions that any person would happily interact with instead of the boring, low budget, didactic stuff that turns up on BBC2 late at night, and for these to be freely available to children to use in a sort of drop in model. Perhaps keep the school buildings and let parents/guardians and children use these resources and mix with various experts from the community.

Perhaps if HE were to get big enough, the ptb could close down one school in every area for use like this...a drop in centre with resources and perhaps with support for parents who could be helped to challenge the entrenched schooling memes and be helped to abandon the pedagogic school model, if this was what was actually needed.