Escaping the Education Caste System

This article got me thinking again about why countries that haven’t yet developed complete education systems based on the Western factory model nonetheless insist on doing so. Is duplicating the costly, neurosis-creating techniques of Western schooling towards teachers, children, and learning the only way a country can be considered a serious player in the world of education? Apparently so, given the do-or-die attitude these Indian parents display as they help their children cheat on exams.

It’s clear to these parents that school creates an educational caste system and they will do everything in their power, including scaling the walls with cheat sheets, to help their children escape the caste of dropout, bad student, failure and its accompanying economic despair. It doesn’t matter to these parents that their children don’t know the content that school is testing because, unlike the wealthy, they can’t purchase or use other ways to escape their education caste. This crazy scene of parents supporting cheating in school makes sense if you buy into the notion of school as the be all and end all of one’s destiny, a notion our all-too-serious educationists like to encourage through advertising, law, and custom. Powerless to change those factors, a sane response is to game the system yourself.

In the United States our deadly earnestness about the need for more school tests has led some teachers and parents to band together and opt-out of the standardized testing regime, but it is far from a done deal. Indeed, the power of the state combined with the power of standardized testing, Big Data, and money often trump individual needs and goals in education, as this sad tale from Florida illustrates.

When Ethan Rediske was on his deathbed in January of 2014, the state of Florida wanted him to take a standardized exam. A severely disabled 11-year-old, Ethan was blind and mostly deaf. He had never talked or walked and was fed through a tube. In his final weeks, his special-needs teacher, who had become attached to him and he to her, came to his home to work with him, read to him, and lift his spirits. But then, in mid-January, the school district said that Ethan needed to take the annual educational progress exam or get a waiver. A simple note from the doctor would not do. The only way Ethan was getting out of the test was if his parents could provide full medical records and evidence of the boy's current physical problems. And so in Ethan’s final weeks, the family scrambled to file paperwork so he wouldn't have to take the test. The final letter from the hospice to the school was dated Jan. 28. Ethan died on Feb. 7 from complications of cerebral palsy. “The school had a choice to make,” Ethan’s mother, Andrea Rediske, said. “They could say, ‘We love Ethan. We are so sorry, and don’t worry about this anymore and let his family spend their last days with him in peace.' Or they could insist on the paperwork. They chose the paperwork.”

We need places where children can congregate, eat healthy food, and be safe; we also need places for children who want to do certain hands-on activities that require particular space, equipment or skills (games, sports, art, theater, computers, engineering, and so on); places for those who wish to take classes or work with children and adults, and for those who wish to be quiet or alone. Not every home has such places, nor do most schools. These places do not have to be regulated and operated like schools and they have existed in different forms throughout human history.

Can we trust our fellow citizens to create something different from school that helps children become good citizens rather than duplicate school and it’s problems around the globe? The variety of approaches and outcomes for homeschoolers, whose parents typically don’t have teaching credentials, is strong evidence we can.