The following is a letter my mother wrote to my son James, shortly after he graduated from 8th grade. The letter is probably unlike any other letter written by a grandmother to a grandson and I love it. It was written when George W was president and James was 13. On Monday James will start college as an honor student. He took her advice and I am so happy he did.
You often remark to me that you don’t know any other grandmothers who speak the way I do. Well, maybe you are right, James Nicholas, but I will continue to talk frankly with you, for as long as I live, without contrition, because I am a thinker, and a reader, and a doer who has had those very fires extinguished in me for a time by the institutions, (apt names), that were supposed to be educating me.
It’s my hope that my grandchildren will also be strong-minded individuals, intense in their passions and indomitable enough in character to weather the powerful storms that life can heave at them. So in your process of becoming an adult, I will probably offer up a number of my views, which might surprise you, and perhaps some that your parents might disagree with. The following is just one such opinion…
I do not believe that a traditional, or “factory” education can serve you. So I’m suggesting something to you that most grandmothers would not even consider : “Quit school.” Run for your life while you can. Convince your family to home school you because traditional education is boring, because it is dangerous, because it will dumb-you-down and make you a mediocre person. (If you doubt this take a look at our current President’s SAT scores.)
Our predominant educational system has evolved from its original roots in the 1890’s, from the thinking of some pretty important industrialists. Yes, James, I said ‘industrialists,’ not great scientists or educators or philosophers, but industrialists, guys like Andrew Carnegie the steel baron, and Henry Ford, the car guy, and John D. Rockefeller, as in oil wells.
Men like these had seen models of “social efficiency” work well in Italy under Fascists, and in Germany under Nazis. (If I remember right, you really don’t like Fascists and Nazis, do you James?) In actuality, our “modern” schools were based on Prussian models! Before these new schools came along, the idea of schooling had basically three purposes:
1. To make good people.
2. To make good citizens.
3. To develop the maximum talent possessed by each student.
These goals seem pretty decent and honorable. In fact, things worked reasonably well until our country became over-populated by a crazed, commercially-driven culture. New schools that were of an “industrialized” nature had a fourth goal, however, which has affected the habits and attitudes of Americans in general, and that purpose stems from the fact that children drive purchases in this country.
“Since bored people are the best consumers, school had to be a boring place, and since childish people are the easiest customers to convince, the manufacture of childishness, extended into adulthood, had to be the first priority of factory schools.” (An American Education History Tour, Gatto, 2006)
Children in schools, who are basically removed from the real world where people have differences, compete with each other for better grades, better clothes, better book bags, better shoes. (Would you believe I have a kindergarten student in my class who would not wear his new rubber shoes his grandmother bought him, because they were not “Crocs?”) Schools have become training grounds for consumerism and competition.
The message to children is don’t be different, get good grades, get a good job, make more money and buy more stuff. Interest in the absolutely amazing world we live on has been circumvented for the sake of standardized test scores. Self-direction and autonomy have become reasons to get detention.
While children are being looked at as mere “resources” that will fill positions in our market economy’s workplace, they are being subjected to the most mind-numbing curriculum, which serves to kill any love of learning that they once held. This is done in the name of controlling large numbers of students, who somehow aren’t always as “standard” as they should be, so most of the “teaching” is aimed at the “middle” learner.
In the meantime, some students feel quite superior, leaving other students feeling quite inferior. Combine these facts with a group of young people whose parents are too busy working to teach them values, so they obtain their belief systems from TV and other media, and our culture has problems.
Schools have become dangerous, volatile places, where teachers spend most of their time on discipline, and children live in fear of other children. With physical danger presenting itself in schools across our country, the spiritual void, and I don’t mean religion, in traditional schools has received little attention. By spiritual here I am referring to a person’s interests, self-reflection, respect and nurture for themselves and for others. I am referring to wonder. It is an extremely dangerous thing to lose what the visionary Rachel Carson referred to as the sense of wonder.
Finally, James, I could go into a multitude of other reasons why you should “Just say ‘No’ to school,” but I listed three points in the beginning of this letter, so I shall try not to stray far from my premise, which you know I am wont to do.
I said that traditional education, “factory” education, would dumb-you-down and make you mediocre. I believe this. Human beings are meant to be a diverse group, have different thoughts, skills, beliefs, abilities. In our current educational model, we expect each child to complete the same course of curriculum in the same way, at the same time, despite their general development or aptitude.
This is ludicrous, not to mention, very unscientific! Human development does not match up with this educational method, and I find it morally abhorrent to manufacture this kind of homogenized student from the raw material of our children.
It is my belief that you would receive a better education by staying at home, reading some books, writing in a journal, and exploring nature. Or if your parents would worry about the lack of structure, purchase a curriculum. But don’t be swayed by your apparent popularity, or your grades, (we’re not meat…), or the artifice and opinions of the undereducated, “apple-wearing” crowd.
We are producing armies of citizens who cannot read well, write well, express themselves well, and will probably never produce an original thought from their weary brains. I don’t want my grandson to be one of the automatons. Run, James, run. Get out while you still have a soul.