Education for the Individual

Chemistry Teacher with Students in ClassPreviously, in “Education and the Individual,” I discussed how the two competing educational methods in the public education system in the United States both presuppose a state monopoly on education, and how both seek to impose a uniform purpose and set of standards for all children. In this article, I will lay out the fundamental premises of individual-oriented education and will propose a few examples that illustrate what individual-oriented education might look like.

There are three basic premises of individual-oriented education: 1) All children are not born with the same innate talents and abilities. 2) A child who develops his or her own unique talents and abilities has more to offer than one who does not. 3) Each individual has a right to develop his or her own talents and abilities in a manner of his or her own choosing.

The third premise is contingent on a) an individual’s ability to pursue his or her own destiny, and b) social need. Social need can limit this in many ways. A person may want to make a living selling paintings, for instance, but if the market is saturated by painters at the moment, he or she may have to settle for something else. Premise three is sometimes described as the “pursuit of happiness.” In relationship to education, I argue simply that a person has a basic right to pursue his or her own destiny with the aid of unrestricted access to information on which to base those decisions. There is no guarantee of being successful in that pursuit.

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State vs Individual Education

educationLibertarians and proponents of other individual-centered philosophies have all but surrendered the subject of childhood education (1-8th grades) to their intellectual opponents. This is largely because they are more willing to “opt out” of state schools and leave the intellectual development of children up to parents and families. Statists, on the other hand, have no qualms about investing resources (their own and others’) in molding and shaping future generations through compulsory childhood education. How is an individual-centered education different from a statist education? What are their competing values?

In the United States, two ideas currently dominate childhood education: what is called (derogatorily) the “factory model,” and the “child-centered” approach. The difference between the two, however, is in their method and not their purpose. Picture a typical classroom with rows of desks, bells announcing the end of periods, and a teacher lecturing at the chalkboard, and you have the factory model. Child-centered theorists argue that the factory model stifles creativity, discourages working with others, and promotes excessive focus on competition and grades. Some, like Kirsten Olson (author of Wounded by School) and Parker J. Palmer, believe the factory model even emotionally and spiritually injures students.

So far, while it has made some inroads in individual classrooms and is the reigning paradigm in university education programs, the child-centered approach has yet to replace the factory model as the dominant educational method in public or private schools. The child-centered approach, however, remains—at its heart—about educating children for particular ends. Its proponents are not fundamentally opposed to the public education system—they simply want to impose their own vision on that system. Many, like William Ayers (former Weather Underground leader and current professor of education at the University of Illinois at Chicago), seek to use public education and the child-centered approach as arms of their own political battles.

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Transforming Education

In this TED talk, Sir. Ken Robinson makes the case for a radical shift from standardized schools to personalized learning — creating conditions where kids’ natural talents can flourish:

My own thoughts on education are very much along those lines. This month, I’ll be exploring problems in education and individual-oriented alternatives to school through book reviews, videos, and short articles. I hope this sparks some ideas or raises questions in your mind about the effectiveness of our current approach to education.

Wounded by School: A Flawed Polemic Against Modern Education

wounded_bookcover-205x300In this problematic book, Kirsten Olson argues not only that the ‘factory model’ of education is ineffective and even injurious to students, but that it is incapable of producing the kind of creative minds that our contemporary American workforce demands. Underlying her thesis is the notion that the emotion of joy, specifically the “joy of learning,” is the single most essential component to education, and that the experience of joy has been lost in the soul-crushing, day to day routine of America’s schools. Old School Culture, as Olson defines it, “is a set of old-fashioned ideas and attitudes in school that construct teaching as hierarchical, learning as passive, and the bureaucratic structures of school as about adults, not kids.”

Olson makes some very strong claims, accusations, and generalizations, which normally would require a foundation of objective evidence to support. If Olson had prepared a court case in which she sought to convict the public school system of wounding its students, however, her case would rest predominantly on personal anecdotes and circumstantial evidence. Her interviewees, some of whom had been out of school for decades, would parade up to the witness stand to tell their stories of being wounded by school, as well as their road to recovery. Then, dramatically, Olson would take the stand as an expert witness, telling about her work as a school consultant and how she observed the attitudes of students in many different types of classroom environments, and how, in non-traditional school settings, “learners” respond in an entirely positive way. This black-and-white portrayal should raise a red flag in the mind of any critical reader.

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Red Robin Diner in Johnson City, NY

Saw this old diner at the corner of Main and Broad streets as I was driving through Johnson City, near Binghamton, New York. It was closed at the time. I don’t think it’s a Red Robin franchise, and no one has posted a review on Yelp since 2015. I love the classic design, and check out that old 7-Up sign! The neighborhood is severely depressed, but there is a cool comic book and game store nearby.

Spirit of the Alamo Lives On

In 1835, no one would have believed this small Catholic mission in southern Tejas, Mexico would play a pivotal role in the struggle for Texas independence. Yet from February 23 to March 6, 1836, around 200 Texans holed up in the Alamo Mission fought an army of 1,800 Mexicans under the command of General Santa Anna. Although the small Texas force was ultimately defeated, “Remember the Alamo” became a rallying cry for Texas independence. Today, the Alamo is one of the most visited destinations in the country. It is considered hallowed ground, and many visitors have returned with tales of spine tingling encounters with the unseen.

Originally known as the Mission San Antonio de Valero, a Spanish Franciscan priest named Antonio de Olivares established the Alamo in 1744. The missionaries abandoned it in 1793. Ten years later, the Spanish Army converted it into a fort. After Mexican independence, it was occupied by the Mexican Army until General Martin Perfecto de Cos surrendered it to the Texan Army in 1835. In early 1836, the Mexicans returned, and a small force led by Colonel James Bowie and William Travis, which included pioneer hero Davy Crockett, defended the fort for two weeks against General Santa Anna’s siege. All of the defenders were killed, and the Mexican Army tore down most of the walls surrounding the mission.

The defense of the Alamo became legendary, and today what is left of the original mission is maintained by the Daughters of the Republic of Texas and the Texas General Land Office as a “Shrine to Texas Liberty.” It is a National Historic Landmark and a major tourist destination in downtown San Antonio, attracting more than 4 million visitors every year. In 1939, the Texas Centennial Commission erected a marble and granite monument on the Alamo Plaza carved by Italian sculptor Pompeo Coppini called the Alamo Cenotaph, or “Spirit of Sacrifice.” Its inscription reads, Read the rest of this entry