I home school my kids because nobody else can do it better.
I could end this here, but there’s more to it than that.
We began to home school our daughter this year for three reasons.
- 3rd grade is way too early for “Mean Girls” stuff to begin
- 3rd grade is way too early for girls to be talking about oral sex (there, that oughta boost my search ranking)
- her teachers claimed that allowing her to continue on her accelerated reading track would leave her with “nowhere to go”.
That’s right. She was a danger to herself. Who knows what she’d do with all those mad reading skillz floating around in that noggin of hers. Best keep her together with the herd to avoid the possibility of any free thinking.
Little did we know at the time we began this journey that we’d be introduced to “unschooling”, or, as we like to call it, “worldschooling”.
Does that shock you? It shouldn’t. A cursory reading of history, all the way back to the Greeks, will quickly show that the Greek empire flourished not because of centralized schooling. Rather, the Greeks believed in a highly decentralized, laissez-faire approach. Formal schooling with a teacher and classrooms and headmasters and so forth was actually frowned upon.
Briefly shifting focus to the Roman system, did you know that the word “pedagogy” derives its meaning from the Latin word pedagogues which refers to a specialized class of slave assigned to shepherd a student to a schoolmaster? The pedagogue was eventually promoted to the role of a drill master, a docet magister, which refers to a procedure written into Varro’s instituit pedagogus, docet magister.
That roughly translates to “The master creates instruction, the slave pounds it in.”
But back to the Greek, or more precisely, the Athenian system, which just fascinates me. I’ve been reading the book “The Underground History of American Education: A Schoolteacher’s Intimate Investigation into the Problem of Modern Schooling” by John Taylor Gatto. For the uninitiated, Gatto is a VERY opinionated man who for 30 years thought he was doing something good by being a teacher only to come to the realization that he was shortchanging students by teaching them skills that would only qualify them for desk jobs and mindlessly taking orders from superiors rather than giving them real thinking (dialectical) skills. He quit teaching in 1991 and began a one-man crusade to expose the ugly truth of the American school system and how its sausage is made.
I can’t possibly summarize everything in this book in a way that will do it justice. But I will, with apologies in advance to Mr. Gatto, and a begging of forgiveness from his copyright lawyers, excerpt bits here and there that I find interesting. Below is a bit from the first pages of this book.
For a long time…classical Athens distributed its most responsible public positions by lottery: army generalships, water supply, everything. The implications are awesome–trust in everyon’s competence was assumed…Professionals existed but did not make key decisions; they were only technicians, never well regarded because prevailing opinion held that technicians had enslaved their own minds. Anyone worthy of citizenship was expected to be able to think clearly and to welcome great responsibility.
When we ask what kind of schooling was behind this brilliant society which has enchanted the centuries ever since, any honest reply can be carried in one word: None. After writing a book earching for the hidden genius of Greece in its schools, Kenneth Freeman concluded his unique study The Schools of Hellas in 1907 with this summary, “There were no schools in Hellas.” No place boys and girls spent their youth attending continuous instruction under command of strangers. Indeed, nobody did homework in the modern sense; none could be located on standardized tests. The tests that mattered came in living, striving to meet ideals that local tradition imposed. The word sköle itself means leisure in a formal garden to think and reflect. Plato in The Laws is the first to refer to school as learned discussion.
The most famous school in Athens was Plato’s Academy, but in its physical manifestation it had no classes or bells, it was a well-mannered hangout for thinkers and seekers, a generator of good conversation and good friendship, things Plato thought lay at the core of education. Today we might call such a phenomenon a salon. Aristotle’s Lyceum was pretty much the same, although Aristotle delivered two lectures a day–a tough one in the morning for intense thinkers, a kinder gentler version of the same in the afternoon for less ambitious minds. Attendance was optional. And the famous Gymnasium so memorable as a forge for German leadership later on was in reality only an open training ground where men 16 to 50 were free to participate in high-quality, state-subsidized instruction in boxing, wrestling, and javelin.
The idea of schooling free men in anything would have revolted Athenians. Forced training was for slaves. Among free men, learning was self-discipline, not the gift of experts. From such notions Americans derived their own academies, the French the lycees, and the Germans their gymnasium. Think of it: In Athens, instruction was unorganized even though the city-state was surrounded by enemies and its own society engaged in the difficult social experiment of sustaining a participatory democracy, extending privileges without precedent to citizens, and maintaining literary, artistic, and legislative standards which remain to this day benchmarks of human genius. For its 500-year history from Homer to Aristotle, Athenian civilization was a miracle in a rude world; teachers flourished there but none were grounded in fixed buildings with regular curricula under the thumb of an intricately layered bureaucracy.
There were no schools in Hellas. For the Greeks, study was its own reward. Beyond that few cared to go.
My next post will quote Gatto as he contrasts the education system of Athens with that of its neighbor, Sparta. The differences will surprise you.
- Can You Get an Education in Spite of School? (downes.ca)
- Killing the Spirit of Learning (lewrockwell.com)