Every normal man must be tempted, at times, to spit on his hands, hoist the black flag, and begin slitting throats. –H.L. Mencken

School Daze

Editor’s Note: My apologies for delaying part two of “The State as Country Club”. I did not want to miss the near holiday atmosphere surrounding the first day back to government school.

[T]he comfort that we as individuals seek makes it very desirable that the alternative [to government] should be controlled as far as possible by us personally and not by the community as a whole. We develop government because it is an agency that generates social control, when we should develop institutions like the family that are agencies for generating self-control.
Ralph Borsodi ~ This Ugly Civilization

Well, we have reached that time of year again: parents cry and wring hands after voluntarily pushing their children into a large vehicle driven by someone they do not know, the picture parade of “First Day YAY!” photos on Facebook (or so I am told) feeds the reminiscences (both good and bad) of the masses, and the terror-filled tots of this world are subjected to the public funded prison system known as school.

In his book Dumbing Us Down, John Taylor Gatto relates the seven lessons he was paid to teach in his time as an award-winning public school teacher: confusion, class position, indifference, emotional dependency, intellectual dependency, provisional self-esteem, and the idea that ‘one can’t hide’. Discussing this last item, he says,

“I teach students they are always watched, that each is under constant surveillance by myself and my colleagues. There are no private spaces for children, there is no private time…
Students are encouraged to tattle on each other or even to tattle on their own parents. Of course, I encourage parents to file reports about their own child’s waywardness too….
The meaning of constant surveillance and denial of privacy is that no one can be trusted, that privacy is not legitimate… Children must be closely watched if you want to keep a society under tight central control. Children will follow a private drummer if you can’t get them into a uniformed marching band.”

This is particularly poignant today, as adults feel the creeping encroachment of the state with NSA surveillance of our private affairs, communities finally wake up and realize that the police are already militarized, and children feel increasing control over their lives with the advent of the junk food ban at public schools.

Completely ignoring these alarming events, yesterday parents of public schooled children across the nation celebrated their re-entry into the bowels of the beast. As I abstain from Facebook Friendface, I happily miss out on many of these displays of mass insanity. Unfortunately, I took some time during lunch to peruse the internet and stumbled upon this article discussing the return to school by Emily Newton.

Here is a sample:

For teachers, students, and parents alike, going back to school can be wrought with fear, as well as hope… [E]ach of us simply longs for three things: love, belonging, and connection. We want this, and when we don’t feel it, fear and shame creep in; we fear being disconnected from others because of something that we’ve done or failed to do or because of an ideal that we’ve not lived up to and therefore make us unworthy of connection. We are all afraid of not belonging, of not being wanted, of failing to live up to whatever standard we think we’re supposed to, as a parent, as a teacher, as a __________.

I am regularly accused of simplifying things too far, of being radical in my way of thinking. Perhaps that stands in the way when I attempt to understand the paragraph above. I do feel that my questions in response are very simple: If my child seeks love, why am I sending them to a stranger to find it? If my child seeks belonging, why would I send them out of the home? If my child seeks connection, who better to connect with than a brother, sister, mother, and father? There is something to be said about the greater community and our children’s part therein. However, sending a child to a stranger when she seeks after these things is shirking our responsibility as parents and teaching that the family is less important than and subordinate to the community.

What happens when the parents send their children to find belonging and teachers fail to provide it? Who comforts the child then? What do they turn to for belonging when, as Newton says, ‘fear and shame creep in”? Few of us survive government school without at least a few scars – and even fewer would desire to repeat it. Newton seems to agree with me on that point:

You couldn’t pay me enough to go back to high school, middle school, or even elementary school. To be 8-years-old again on the playground, hoping for my bejeweled butterfly hair-clips to give me the nod of approval from the cool girls, sounds like pure torture.

Rather than allow my children to be guided by a in their growing understanding of the world and of themselves by  a stranger, I prefer to follow John Taylor Gatto’s advice:

“Perhaps it is time to try something different. “Good fences make good neighbors,” said Robert Frost. The natural solution to learning to live together in a community is first to learn to live apart as individuals and as families.”


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