Again, replying to a comment on the recent series of posts about Holt, Gatto, and alternatives to schools.
Gatto’s solutions (that word is too big – maybe “suggestions” or "proposals" would be more accurate) include things like:
Shorten the school year. If schooling is bad, then less schooling is less bad. Free up the summers or winters for kids to work, play, volunteer, or study alone or with a group of their choosing.
Vary the school year; mandate only that kids have to attend school, say, 180 days a year. That way, kids who are interested in some seasonal activity, or whose parents have jobs related to the seasons can be free to attend or help out.
Turn one school day per week into a volunteer day on which kids visit farms, gardens, habitat for humanity projects, orphanages, old folks’ homes, hospitals, or something else. They can learn hands-on, on site. Plus, this will help to reinstate the sense of community that is largely lost when kids are pulled our of real life so that they can “learn” from books and blackboards and abstractions.
Replace one day a week with an apprenticeship day. Kids can visit and hang out with parents, parents’ friends, or other professionals or tradesmen as they work. Again, children are more likely to develop curiosity about and interest in something if they actually see, smell, hear, feel, and manipulate it.
Don’t make school compulsory. As it is, parents and children who disobey schooling laws are threatened with jail time. But it’s undeniable that, for many kids and in many cases (though probably not yours and mine), school is completely useless. If a child or family feels that such is the case, let them make their own decision about it. (Holt cites statistics, albeit old ones, that show that dropping out of high school doesn’t correlate with career failure, once you’ve controlled for other variables like race, family income, and location.)
Revive the idea of apprenticeship. If a child has an adult who’s willing to take him/her on, let it be. Chances are the kid will learn all the relevant science, math, social studies, etc along the way, once he/she has seen the need.
Give money directly to students, rather than to schools. This serves two functions: first, to reduce the amount funds wasted by excessive admin and corruption at the higher levels; and second, to increase the consumers’ amount of choice. Gatto doesn’t speak of vouchers directly – maybe that wasn’t a hot word pre-2000? - but the idea is that, again, individuals can do a better job of deciding what’s good for them than the government can. If children hate or fear their school, it’s unlikely they’ll be learning anything there; but as it is, schools have no incentive to make them happy, only to make them work. (Of course, it’s impossible to “make” twenty-five kids happy by shutting them up in a room with an adult they don’t know and then trying to control them,) Then, families will be able to influence schools with their dollars(/vouchers), rather than with mere complaints.
Increase the amount of cost-free, condition-free public facilities like libraries. Expand libraries to include places to practice music, art, carpentry, or to show films and have group discussions, etc. Many of these resources are now locked up inside of schools, where they go largely unused. This has the benefit of opening up learning to everyone and anyone, not just those who have been deemed the appropriate age for learning.
- This one is a little more vague, but: reduce the competitiveness of school as much as possible. It seems to me that the whole point of grading is to make it easy for colleges to pick students to admit, and the point of colleges is largely to give companies a shortcut in deciding who to hire. Why should the beneficiaries of the grades, the backbone of schools, be the companies who will employ individuals, rather than the individuals themselves? Why not put the onus of finding a good employee on the company? To quote Jeff's last comment, some teachers are "able to get their students to perform "better" than others." Certainly there are some good things about this; but one should admit that for every winner who manages straight As, there is a loser who can't and who will suffer in the college and employment processes later. However, had the "loser" been given an opportunity to explore his own interests and develop his own potentials, he might have managed something a little better.
Granted, none of these suggestions can be instituted overnight or without first making some changes in transportation, safety, and other kinds of infrastructure.; perhaps even in the nature of work and our ideas about the importance of efficiency. This may all be difficult, but it's also all worth aiming for. I can’t think of a nobler goal for a society than cultivating the intelligence, creativity, and happiness of its youth. Nor can I think of a better way of creating a society worth sustaining.