DSM: RE: official stamps of approval

Joseph Moore (joseph@ivorycc.com)
Wed, 14 Jul 1999 10:50:03 -0700

Here's a long note on promoting individual responsibility and opposing
officially sanctioned conformity.

First, Sharon wrote:

> It occurs to me that perhaps a good approach to take in addressing
> issues around accrediation (of both school and teachers) is to note
> how things are at other private schools, including the local
> highly regarded traditional prep school typs institutes. At least
> here in New England, teachers at such places do not necesssarily have
> the same accreditations as public school teachers (although often
> they do have a teaching degree), and such schools do not always
> go through all or any of the possible accrediting processes.
The part about private school teachers often not being accredited is true,
and in fact I do mention things like that when I talk to people. Maybe it's
just personal, but the more fundamental questions, such as why
'certification' is important, and to whom, keep coming to mind. (BTW: I'm
pretty highly certified myself - diploma, degree, masters - so this isn't
just sour grapes.)

Onward: While we all like to think of ourselves as unique individuals, each
precious in our own way, the fact remains that for much of our lives we tend
to act like herd animals. The Sudbury model provides kids with the chance to
see what it's like NOT following the herd. Conventional schooling is
designed to reinforce herd behavior, via the whole 'do what everybody else
is doing, when everybody else is doing it' routine. Success is measured in
advancing grades and certificates of one kind or another. Through at least
12th grade, actually learning anything that might be of value to an
individual as an individual is given so little emphasis as to be essentially
ignored. Consider: if you reach the age of 18 and can read a newspaper and
balance a check book, you're overqualified for a high school diploma. This
is not an exaggeration.

(Aside: Sure, we learn other things, even besides how to torment
non-conformists in the halls. But it's all just stuff to keep us out of
trouble - me, I played basketball, sang in the choir and was in drama. But
could I have gotten away with doing nothing more than basic math and
reading? Of course!)

I'm not saying anything much different than John Taylor Gatto or Daniel
Greenberg here, so I refer any of you who haven't read their books to them.

Suffice it to say that, for those holding arbitrary power, it's very
convenient for people to be a herd, and very unsettling when they start
thinking for themselves.

Much of the time, official approval is used as a way to avoid having to
think about things. Sometimes, this isn't bad - I'm happy to know that the
local water dept or taco stand has had to meet certain minimum standards,
without having to go into it any deeper than that. (at least, on an average
day - sometimes, even these things require further thought.)

Other times, official approval is used as a way to keep us cows herded and
heading in the same direction. It's a carrot and stick thing - it's harder,
sometimes, to get what you want if you don't have all your officially
approved ducks in a row. Sometimes, when dealing with bureaucracy, it's
impossible or nearly so. Sudbury folks and home schoolers happily report
that college is not out of reach to those with unconventional educational
backgrounds. It just takes more persistence and ingenuity than getting
straight 'A's and filling out a bunch of forms. (However, the cowboys riding
this here herd are looking to fix that - efforts are afoot to make a diploma
from an accredited high school a requirement for entry into the University
of California. Most people didn't know it wasn't already a requirement -
except for those darn home schoolers who keep getting in. It's important to
note that the students themselves are doing fine at UC - it's the Powers
that Be that are not happy with this arrangement.)

(Further Aside: There was a bill being pushed by the teacher's union out
here in California designed to make home schooling (and, incidentally,
Sudbury-type schools) a crime, via the expedient of defining failure to send
your kid to 'real' school with 'real' classes as child abuse. (Since there's
probably fewer than 200 Sudbury-type students here, we're probably flying
below radar for the time being.) This whole issue got a tiny bit of airplay
- I heard it on the radio news one day, never saw it in the papers at all.
I'm hoping it was just a trial balloon, and that enough of a fuss was raised
that it was shelved. I'm afraid that what happened was that it just went
underground, and will rear its head as a unnoticed amendment to some
unrelated bill or other - California is an interesting place to live.)

So, do you decide on a 'good' school by choosing one that has all the
official approvals in place, or do you take personal responsibility for
providing for your child's education by checking things out yourself? A
frighteningly vast majority of parents confine their search to a
constellation of approved schools, ones that look and feel like 'school' to
them, and get good test results, and don't have too much violent crime,
pregnancy or drug use. They seem totally unprepared to ask basic questions
like what do you want your kid to learn? What's a good way for them to learn
it? Will your kid be treated like a human being? If you can get them to
seriously ask themselves these questions, then there's some hope.

Anyway, for me, it's more than just an issue of allaying parent's fears that
we're not a bunch of unqualified wackos - 15 minutes at our school would do
that - but rather an issue of whether or not you buy into an actively bad
thing. This is all on top of the need to not turn people off - the fine line
between enthusiasm and fanaticism.

> Joseph Moore
PS - The people that drive me the most crazy are the ones that seem to get
it, say all the right things, and then turn around and stick their kids in
the local public school. Huh? I guess I shouldn't be surprised, but I am

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