Re: the right to pursue excellence

Cathy Pauline Lachapelle (aelin@leland.Stanford.EDU)
Fri, 2 May 1997 16:16:26 -0700 (PDT)

On Fri, 2 May 1997, Deborah Bartle wrote:

> Cathy wrote:
> > > important point in a society where a huge proportion of people cannot
> > > afford rent and food without two incomes. <snip>
> Dale responded:
> > ...cannot afford rent and food and TAXES without two incomes. If we did
> > not have to work to well into the spring or early summer to pay our
> > taxes and another month or so to pay for over regulation, the costs of
> > way too many certification, licensing, etc. requirements and the huge
> > costs of the drug war... and last but not least the $3E11 that is worse
> > than wasted on K-12 in the U.S. then it would not require two incomes to
> > pay the families bills. Dale
>
> This is EXACTLY why. --Deborah
>
Hey you guys. Half to seventy percent of the cost of schooling comes from
your local property taxes. Almost all of the rest is a small portion of
your state taxes. Almost nothing comes from the fed. You're paying lots
and lots of taxes for a bloated military, first of all, and for corporate
welfare (highways, logging roads...) for medicare, social security... lots
of things we need, and lots of things we don't. But try to keep a little
perspective would you?

And I would not say that money is "worse than wasted". Think of all the
kids who would have an empty house to stay in, or maybe they'd roam
gang-filled streets. Not everyone has a better option -- especially those
who can't afford to send their kids to good private schools, and who
can't afford to stay home. Schools *do* work in many ways, even if they
are demeaning to those of us who believe children should be trusted to
learn. And not all parents find them demeaning. To many parents in this
country, an authoritarian school fits in with what they believe is the
proper place of the child. I'm trying in my work to find ways to convince
schools and teachers and parents that kids are perfectly capable of
directing their own learning, and in fact generally do much better that
way than if their learning is micromanaged by teachers and school boards
and tests and standards. As Charles said, many parents are not ready to
let kids "have the keys to the car". But it can be done. I'm not about
to say that we should dump the public school system, because it will only
lead to further economic stratification, when poor kids have no options at
all. The civil rights leaders of the 50's and 60's were not fighting for
nothing when they fought for desegregation as a way to get decent schools
for their children.

As I see it, there are lots of different schools. Military schools I
would say are on the "worst" end. Sudbury and other free schools are on
the "best" end. And public schools are arrayed all over the middle. We
need schools like Sudbury to accommodate the children of those parents
(and yes it is the parents' choice) who understand that children are
capable and should have an environment where they can exercise their
capability and are trusted to do so. I think it is wonderful, Deborah,
that you are starting a new Sudbury-model school, and I hope it serves as
an inspiration to other parents who aren't quite sure about that radical
(for our society) step.

And when there is enough critical mass, through people leaving the system
and through incremental change (as I'm trying to foster, working within
the system, instead of for radical change, which has never really worked
-- you're certainly right about that, Deborah), then maybe we will
consider public schools to be truly good for children once more (as I
think they were in the beginning, before they were mandatory). But it
will take people realizing that schools must once more be communities of
caring people -- teachers, parents and children all united in meaningful
learning, nurturing, and growth -- for them to be truly good places for
kids (and teachers too!). And maybe part of the solution (quite likely, I
think) is that schools must become NOT mandatory once more.

And I have those statistics on literacy, from "Managers of Virtue" by
Tyack & Hansot, 1982. Here's some extended quotes:

"The American faith in education did not originate with the common-school
movement of the mid-nineteenth century, nor did widespread popular
schooling begin with what we would now recognize as public education.
After the Revolution the majority of the early state constitutions
expressed a common conviction, that education was essential to civil peace
and prosperity as well as to individual morality. Hence education was in
the public interest, and many forms of schooling deserved the favor of
government. Alexis de Tocqueville was only one of many foreign observers
who commentd on the zeal of Americans for diffusing knowledge. It has
been estimated that at the time of his visit in the 1830's about one-third
of children from ages five to nineteen were attending some sort of school.

One sign of the effectiveness of the many forms of education in the United
States was that Americans were among the most literate people in the
world. In the 1840 census, about 90 percent of white adults were listed
as literate. A recent study of a sample of the 1860 census shows that 94
percent of free males were literate, and among these the older men were
only sliightly less literate than the younger ones, indicating that
instruction had been widespread even early in the nineteenth century." (p.
28-29)

"... the South was the great exception to the patterns we have described
thus far. In public education as in so many other domains it was another
country, at least during most of the nineteenth century. In 1859, about
one-fifth of the whites in slave states were illiterate, compared with
about one in twenty in the north. School attendance rates in the South
were far lower as well... only those who could pay received much
schooling. Until 1870 the majority of all the pupils enrolled were in
private schools." (p. 83)

"Emancipation of the slaves and the radical phases of Reconstruction
opened a new and tumultuous chapter in the history of American
education... Put in the long perspective of history, the educational
achievement of the southern blacks and their white allies (both northern
and southern) was little short of revolutionary. In 1860 according to the
United States census, fewer than 2 percent of all blacks of school age
were enrolled in school, in 1870 about 10 percent, in 1880 about 34
percent, and in 1910 about 45 percent. The illiteracy of blacks dropped
from 82 percent in 1870 to 30 percent in 1910." (pp. 85-87)