Remaking Public Schools Instead of Abandoning Them

photo by nathan russel

For the most part, when our community online chat boards discuss “issues” regarding our local school system they begin with a specific issue, like increased security surveillance or lengthening the school day, but quickly become discussions about the process of how community decisions are not really communal.  We abdicate the role of raising children to our schools.  And we abdicate even the ability to influence this process by not having any real voice in the administration of the schools.  We do not have input on curriculum or arts funding (unless we want to raise “extra” funding for it by begging), we do not have input on the structure of the day, we do not have input on whether or not we should or should not comply with some state mandates that the legislature attaches to funding and so holds our assent hostage.  In effect, we have no power and so we act as though we have no power.  We attempt to raise questions and we attempt to voice concerns but we are given 3 minutes of School Board time to state any case we have.  That is intended to appease us and make us feel good that we did our part, or did as much as we could.  Our questions are never answered.  Board choices and Administration policies are never justified to parents or students.

So, I think we have to start our own “People’s Board of Education” and meet in a public place with meetings open to all.

I think we should start fresh with the idea that we might want to really think about what kind of people we want our schools to raise.  Below I offer a start.


I think we must consider that we might remake our institution to serve the community rather than having the institution serving the state and business ideologies via the production of a trained citizenry and workforce.

I’m nearly 100% convinced that the majority of “applied-to-employment” knowledge we learn in schools is covered, as basics, by approximately 4th grade. I don’t imagine you will find too many occupations that your child couldn’t be trained to do as readily as an adult (and perhaps more readily as training often requires “unlearning” a way of doing things).

What we might consider is that believing that work training is a goal of education is not conducive to learning and in fact is a kind of diminishing of the human being. A reduction of the human to a “tool” for employers.

I am asking that we consider that these basics can be taught, without a focus on them, within an arts-oriented education. To learn music requires a kind of mathematical mind. To learn painting requires an understanding of color ratios and media manipulations. To learn poetry requires an understanding of grammar and, to do it well, a deep understanding of word etymologies (history enfolded in words).

Further, learning in this way de-emphasizes machine learning. Machinery instructs the student in the use of the machine. This is an extremely data-driven, non-contextual process.

There is a great distinction to be made between the machine that is a digital portal to mass manipulation (to include manipulations of opinions and emotions) and consumption–a machine that is a tool tied to economic rationales favoring a massive system of wealth and power hierarchy–and a tool that is an extension of a human hand in the process of creation: a violin, a paint brush, a pencil.

That is my vision for a pedagogy that focuses on the aesthetic over application

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. Application is a natural next step in human endeavor. Just as I feel there is no call to teach digital tool use as it is a mode of existence we are already coerced into (where most 3 year olds are weaned from the breast via the substitution of television and the computer); similarly there is no call to teach “end-oriented” content and skill sets. These will be readily grasped by nearly anyone with even the briefest exposure to them, especially if they have been learning via an expansive arts curriculum.

Of course, the real dilemma will come when those who learn via this arts curriculum find the life of work immensely tedious and inhuman.

And that is the rub and why I’m confident that educational systems resist arts education. The labor force becomes restive and feels deeply that life should hold so much more than this.  We become insubordinate, not properly deferential.  Sounds good to me.

What can you imagine as a best possible education to inculcate and grow the most expansive and caring minds?

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  1. Doug Martin December 19, 2011 at 6:26 pm

    Said beautifully, and emotionally and intellectually honest! This sums up perfectly the human state we have been entrapped in.


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