What is the (actual) purpose of going to school? Part 2.

From “Wheels in the Head” by Joel Spring : Educational Philosophies of Authority, Freedom & Culture – from Socrates to Human Rights.

The following are excerpts from Chapter 4 titled FREE SCHOOLS. The reason I’m putting them out is to form a premise to ask ourselves questions about the purpose of education (if we haven’t yet). Emphases are all my own.


By the end of the 19th century, criticisms of government-operated schools sparked the development of alternative forms of education. …they emphasized the freedom of thought as necessary to the progress of society.

Now, what do you make of that? Should we actually be educated to know how to choose our thoughts or schooled to accept the thoughts and opinions of others? Is freedom of thought necessary to the progress of society? And are we free to ponder our own thoughts and make sense of our world?

And, of course, they rejected the idea of government-operated schools because the possibility that political leaders would use education to perpetuate their power.

We have become so indoctrinated with the idea of compulsory, state-controlled schooling that we no longer question the legitimacy of forced schooling, controlled education by the State. In fact, most people are even afraid to question the right of any State to force and compel us to send our little children to be brainwashed. How did we become so unthinking, so afraid? What is the attraction of state-controlled education that is so powerful that we we feel compelled to send our children without questioning? What force is at play?

During the early 20th century, ‘free schools’ primarily referred to a school offering an education that was free of imposition of ideas and beliefs on students. “Free” also meant free of a compulsion to learn. In these early free schools children were free to learn anything they wanted. Therefore, the source of the authority over what should be learned was placed in the hands of the students.

OK, my dad went to Penang Free School in the early 60s but I doubt it was anything like that – so if any old-timers read this do let me know. By the time I grew up PFS was called any other thing than what its name actually stood for.   A mockery of the school, of course. This idea of a “free school” sounds a lot like my proposed model of organic-learning; also sounds a lot like homeschooling and if we have a building to house the lessons then it’s a co-op academy.

In these free schools there is no set curricula;  teachers teach what students want to learn and are capable of learning. There is no routine so it encourages both teachers and students to remain fresh, creative, to work collaboratively.

Non-compulsory learning was a central feature of the version of the Modern School. For example, if children wanted to study art, they went to the art teacher for instruction. Children were free to ask questions and teachers were free to direct them to materials  that supported a conservative political position. Teachers actively help students make choices. Educators help children determine for themselves what they want to be instead of making them “into something”. Educators were active, not passive, in helping children in their quest for self-expression.  The role of the educator is to give meaning to self-expression – to help students learn how to be their own authority and also how to accept the usefulness and necessity of help from others.

Now, this sounds a lot like the teacher in this video :

….and very much like the sort of school I would like to teach at.

Later, I will discuss why up until now it is not possible for teachers like me to offer this service to our society.  But for now…..

Students were free to choose whatever they wanted to learn, but once the student made a choice the teacher would consciously guide the student to self-awareness and self-ownership. In other words, the teacher would help the students learn to use the subject matter, as opposed to being controlled by it. The teachers would determine the pedagogy but students were still free to choose to attend school or not and to study what they wanted. – Attendance is voluntary. Parents and students are making a conscious choice to support this kind of school.

The Free Schools model of the 19th Century / early 20th Century sound like a dream! But how did the current, horrible, state of public schools win? I cannot imagine swathes of people voting for a school system that dumbed us down and reduced our human capacities to mere commodities that can be easily replaced by the cheapest labor.  I would imagine that we would have chosen for schooling a model that would ensure our future economic success and also freedom and happiness and give purpose and meaning to life.

Education to help us become free and happy and to have purpose and meaning in our life. – or to the contrary.

Last week I started a chapter on Education and the Significance of Life with one class of students. In that chapter students needed to ask themselves what SHOULD be the purpose of education as opposed to what they have been receiving in school. Over the past two years these students have had 2 different experiences of being incubated in an all-day Free School environment with amazing results.

So, if this model is possible in our world today and works to help people become intelligent and happy and feel confident and empowered, why aren’t we practicing it in all schools?

Free schools try to make knowledge a function of individual needs. This goal is in sharp contrast to educational systems of authoritarian states. In authoritarian states the knowledge disseminated through schools is useful to the state and its rulers, not necessarily the individual.

The strength of totalitarian governments in the 20th century was derived from their power to convince citizens that their rulers had access to knowledge of the common good and that, therefore, citizens should sacrifice themselves to the dictates of the state.  State-controlled education primarily serves the interests of a ruling elite.

Francisco Ferrer in 1909 argues that control of the school system is one of the main sources of political power. He states, “Governments have ever been careful to hold a high hand over the education of the people. They know, better than anyone else, that their power is based almost entirely on the school. …….governments could maintain control of the people by keeping them in a state of ignorance. (jahil).

The organization of the school,  far from spreading the ideal which we imagined, has made education the most powerful means of enslavement in the hands of the governing power today.

Earlier in the post I promised to respond on why up until now it is not possible for teachers like me to offer this service to our society – to help young people find themselves, their purpose, and to become free and happy as adults. These passages from the same chapter will give you some context :  (and, oh, by the way, Ferrer was arrested and executed by firing squad without trial the same year.)

Government-operated schools are a new form of despotism. The public school system is a powerful instrument for the perpetuation of the present social order with all its injustice and inequality…….and that, quite naturally, whatever is likely to disturb the existing arrangement is regarded unfavorably by those in control of the public schools.

The primary purpose of public schools is to perpetuate the authority of those in power. “From the moment the child enters the public school he is trained to submit to authority, to do the will of others as a matter of course, with the result that habits of mind are formed which in adult life are all to the advantage of the ruling class.”

“Schools destroy initiative and individuality – except in the narrow fields where these qualities can increase the efficiency of the capitalist machine.

First they needed to make sure we are just drones that can get used to boring, repetitive, routine work, drones that were trained to wait til the end of the month for a reward and drones who fear the punishment of “getting fired”. But then they produced too many of us and so ended up with a surplus of drones that required more public money to go for “retraining” – like products that have to be recalled back to the factory!

In the 90s we entered the Knowledge-economy and the era of modern globalization. Well, we didn’t know that in the 80s! So there you have Generation X – the lost generation.  Nowadays, the Y-generation and the Millenium children are drilled to “improve English” so corporations can utilize us better for their trans-national conglomerates.

As the Information Revolution, true to its name, revolutionized the industrial model we now need  “more creative and self-directed” workers.  Thus, in state-controlled schooling, qualities such as initiative and creativity are only required in very narrow increments to fulfill what corporations want, but not encouraged enough for you to GET THE LIFE YOU WANT.

How could my parents send me to school for such a raw deal in life!

By now you must be wondering why your parents forced you to go to state-sponsored school only to take away any chance of happiness you may have to live a free and purposeful life. You are right that most adults are not financially free, not happy inside and do not make the world a better place. How can they find themselves after so many years of brainwashing by the state?

In spite of their age, parents are just as ignorant as everyone else out there. Your parents are also the product of this System so they dare not ask questions. That’s the beauty of systems – they are self-running. And how about your teachers? Again they are products of the system. Both your parents and your teachers probably never understood any of this because they neither have time to ask questions and if they do, have time to read. Often, many people become afraid of the truth as they get older because it would mean they were wrong all this time. Also, it’s scary to know that you cannot do anything about it because doing something would require serious effort to change ourselves and the choices we make about the meaning of life.

When workers originally struggled for the establishment of public schools, they were concerned with equalizing economic opportunities. Consequently, when they won their schools, they thought they had solved their children’s future economic problems. But the workers failed……because they turned schools over to government authorities without retaining any control over the educational process. Workers forgot, that the authorities were the very exploiters of labor. The education of workers’ children in public schools resulted in these children failing to understand the school’s reactionary role and the necessity for questioning its real purpose.

The failure to understand the role of the school in serving the interests of the ruling authorities and industry results in workers not understanding how their minds have been dominated and how they are exploited by the economic system. By conditioning students to submit to authority, the public schools turned out workers completely obedient to the needs of capitalism.

The most powerfully persuasive and controlling device used by public school is the promise of economic advancement. The seductive atmosphere of ‘prosperity’ is too much for the worker to resist and the lethal chambers of government scholastic career for his child is the real solution to his salvation.

How many of us go to school hoping to get great jobs with great benefits, buy a big house, (or two), nice cars and travel around the world in luxury? The reason this is not possible (through having a job) is because a corporation makes profit by paying a worker less than the actual value of the work the worker has done. If a corporation pays everyone well, or what they deserve, then how can they make profit?

And so we have to compete with other human beings who also want to have freedom, happiness and all the good things we want for ourselves and our family. We don’t care that other people are being exploited. In fact, many people in managerial positions are happy to be paid more in order to do the “dirty job” of firing people or making sure people below them work more and get paid less.  Managers do the dirty job so corporations can keep their profit as well as their hands clean.

This is the reason why people in “high positions” are so stressed out and so unhappy. For a higher pay they have to sell their dreams of having a purpose in life, of doing social good, of spending more time with friends and family.  For a higher pay they have to keep others working even if they know those people are poorly paid or are so unhappy. Not only have they sold their time and labor to a corporation they also need to sell fulfillment of their spiritual and soul needs.

The “promise of economic advancement” and “government scholastic career” is only available to a small percentage and even then these positions do not guarantee a happy and successful and meaningful life. Far from it. The reality is 90% person of those who obey and try hard in school will feel jaded about life.

Why humanity can never win this game

So you think you can make a difference when you grow up. You cannot. You might be very smart, very brave, and very gung-ho about life but millions have gone before you and they have failed – their lives are lived in the shadow of the dreams they once had for themselves. And this is the reason why :

In public schools the process of education is that of teaching children to be obedient to the authority of government and economic leaders.  What public school students really learn are the rules and methods of getting through school. Theaw rules and methods are not related to real learning and critical thinking. (Surprise!!!) – In fact,they teach subservience.

That is why parents cannot counteract the influence of public schools by exposing their children to subject matter different from that learned in school.  The only solution is to remove children from public schools and place them in free schools.

Here’s my challenge to you : Make a Difference.

Read Part 1 of What is the (actual) purpose of going to school.


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