“If you want to influence [the student] at all, you must do more than merely talk to him; you must fashion him, and fashion him in such a way that he simply cannot will otherwise than what you wish him to will.”
So argued the German philosopher Johann Gottlieb Fichte, said to be a key influence on the Prussian education system, which in turn became the educative model in many countries, including the US and UK.
According to Jerry Mintz, a prominent figure in the alternative school movement and the founder and director of the New York based Alternative Education Resource Organization (AERO), little has changed. In a recent interview with The Eternities podcast, he said, “I’m sure that was the template they used and it’s been that way ever since.”
Now in its twenty-fifth year, AERO seeks to bolster the alternatives, networking globally to facilitate learner-centred education and help set up schools which share this philosophy.
“The traditional system [has it that] children are naturally lazy and need to be forced to learn. It’s all based on that,” said Mintz. “For example, competition for grades, all the forced homework, all these external rewards, because they don’t believe that anything [to do with learning] is intrinsic.
“Kids are natural learners. This is backed up by modern brain research. The brain is aggressive, it wants to learn. Over six or seven years [in traditional schooling] it gets gradually extinguished. So, by the time you get to age thirteen or so, it becomes a self-fulfilling process, in which kids do then act as if they are lazy and need to be externally motivated to do anything.”
“Ultimately, all knowledge is linked, therefore it doesn’t matter where you start, if you go deep enough, and you’re interested, you will learn anything you want.”
Mintz also sees the bullying epidemic in public schools as the result of their organisational philosophy. “They come up with various programs to stop bullying. But [they] will never, ever work, [because] the system itself is an authoritarian, top-down system which will always have somebody at the bottom to be bullied. There is no way to change that unless you have an egalitarian system in which everybody’s rights are respected. That is true in our schools and there is almost no bullying.”
The podcast also features an interview with Daniel Sage, a talented aspiring singer/songwriter and musician, who was mentored by Mintz after his family pulled him out of the public school system at age thirteen. Sage effectively was liberated from a stressed and miserable schooling, then literally abandoned to his own devices according to the philosophy of the radical home-schooling method known as “unschooling”, which encourages the exploration of activities initiated by the children themselves. It was only then that Sage discovered a love of music and set upon his path of mastering the guitar and becoming a performer.
Sage’s story is an interesting one for parents considering the switch from mainstream education. He comments, “I would say do it and the reason is: you value your kid’s creativity and happiness. And if you don’t value your child’s happiness, then I would say keep them in school, because they’re going to become very unhappy, and they will rebel and be held back, and they won’t know what they are doing in life. And if you let them figure it out for themselves, then they will.”
For more details about AERO, including their annual summer conference in New York, see their website www.educationrevolution.org.
Check out the music of Daniel Sage at www.danielsagemusic.com.
No Homework And Recess All Day, by Jerry Mintz
The Teenage Liberation Handbook: How to Quit School and Get a Real Life and Education, by Grace Llewellyn
Weapons of Mass Instruction: A Schoolteacher’s Journey Through the Dark World of Compulsory Schooling, by John Taylor Gatto