Mar. 20th, 2004

Education

Mar. 20th, 2004 04:15 am
urocyon: Grey fox crossing a stream (Default)
From Jack D. Forbes' THE AMERICANIZATION OF EDUCATION IN THE UNITED STATES (emphasis mine):

So the first thing that we have to remember is that the native heritage of this land is above all else a heritage of freedom for self-development. In fact, it is the essence of the native viewpoint that individuals must assume responsibility for their own life-path. . . It has always been hard for the European to understand the freedom which is an essential part of the Native American way, a freedom which is available not only to those who are powerful but which is also extended to children, to old people, to trees, to animals, and to those who are weak. Can we have such freedom in education today? I think so, and I think we must unless we are all committed to a totalitarian society. . .

So often in this country's schools non-Anglo and poor children have to "defy authority" either because they cannot afford to conform to the school's culture or because they do not want to. What we have to do is to change our educational system so that no principal, school board, or teacher would even dream of coercing any student in any manner whatsoever, unless that student were directly threatening the self-development of others.

In any case, it is clear that non-white culture cannot be successfully recognized in a school whose structure, methodology, and values are European-authoritarian in character. Underlying, often hidden, goals of Anglo middle-class socialization have to be exposed and eliminated.


Dr. Forbes may have gone a bit heavy on the "Native vs. European" dynamic, but this is valid criticism. (I am not even going into the wide usage of the term "Anglo" further west.) Considering the question in past, I've had to suspect that a basic cultural clash helped me adapt poorly to school.

Take a child from a rather egalitarian culture, raised in a "permissive" manner by many standards, and drop her down in a highly regimented environment, in which others even control access to toilet facilities. This child enters the situation without a clear concept of "Authority", much less why she should automatically accept or respect it, especially when self-proclaimed (as is generally the case). Throw in an inability to sit still and be quiet, which had never been considered any sort of problem before, and the situation can become untenable very swiftly. (Demands were made that I be medicated into compliance, but my mother refused. Quite successfully, I might add, as the school system didn't dare try to exclude me until she gave in, as happened with one of my cousins.) Tacit encouragement of beating down the "thumb that sticks out" is but the finishing touch to this inimical environment.

In this anomaly known as Radford, a strong anti-Local bias on the part of those in charge must also be factored in. (There are actually relatively few local children in the school system; a large proportion of local people have moved into one of the surrounding counties, or send their children to other schools.) I missed the worst of this, being treated like some sort of trained monkey thanks to my test scores rather than being placed in a low track, but some of it still came out in patronising comments such as, "She's smart enough to be an engineer!". *boggle* (That did impress my parents--one of them an engineer, coincidentally--but not as intended.) This, however, is a subject for another rant entirely.

I think I should be concerned about a child who was thoroughly accustomed to the level of rigidity and regimentation commonly found in the public schools; I would certainly never want to raise a child so that such an environment seemed normal and acceptable.

I do believe that they continue to be operated on the ideology which holds that children are inherently bad, and must be placed under firm control in order to instill "proper" values--these largely consisting of obedience and, in my darker moods, complete incuriosity. This approach is an unfortunate legacy of prevailing ideas (in some quarters) from the early days of compulsory education. In such moods, I can't quibble much with the idea that they were instituted, and continue, to serve as a handy way of getting middle- and lower-class people used to blindly accepting authority and tedium in preparation for later work.

What is particularly disturbing is the number of people who were not raised to accept this authoritarianism and its attendant abuses easily, but have come away thinking that it's a necessary evil--my mother among them. It sounds too much like the protests of people who were hit as children, and feel a need to point out shrilly that it was, despite all evidence to the contrary, absolutely beneficial to them. There seems to be a strong "I made it through, so anyone else ought to be able" element, which strikes me as a poor defense indeed. I've lived through a number of things I wouldn't wish on another soul, and would actively try to prevent their experiencing. Just as there are better ways of dealing with children than smacking, there must be at least one more palatable approach to handling their education en masse than herding them around and bullying them.

I only wish I had a firm idea of a practical solution, besides opting for home education or the more humane sort of private school at the individual level. This is also appealing, given the general quality of public school educators. I thought the situation was bad enough before, but with the teacher shortage, they're hiring some truly amazing people--including an acquaintance whose grammar and math skills are likely below her third-grade students'. I can't hold much optimism about any larger-scale overhaul, as entrenched as the current system is.

Reading around his bias, Dr. Forbes also offers a good criticism of California's proposed K-12 curriculum. He points out many of the things that helped alienate me further in this approach, through a total lack of apparent relevance; I blame continuing classism and Dead Old Rich Man-ism for making it so stultifying--the racism is secondary to those. Being in California, he does omit the damaging nature of being bombarded with the "Southerners are stupid and evil and should be deeply ashamed" message, which is getting really old, this long after Reconstruction.

Virginia history alone, as taught, could make rich fodder for a comedy act. As Jim Goad puts it, "After I left history class, I carried away the idea that a cabal of muckety-muck benefactors allowed white people to learn a trade in the New World and were so effusively benevolent that they even paid for their passage across the Atlantic. I pictured Ben Franklin teaching Oliver Twist how to run a printing press, or maybe Thomas Jefferson instructing the Artful Dodger in Latin. It sounded like such a good deal, I wondered how I could sign up." It doesn't sound like California's take on things is any less ludicrous.

Speaking of absurdities in education, an e-mail exchange with a lady in Huntington helped light a fire under me; I finally finished and posted a draft of an essay on the Native presence in Southwest Virginia, Southern West Virginia, and Eastern Kentucky. Some polish and more references (particularly print ones) should be added when I have the time.

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