True education makes use of the WHOLE WORLD to learn; the school system, no matter how private or government run, in an affluent suburb or crumbling ghetto, makes use of what is equivalent to a child’s sandbox.  Perhaps the comparison is a bit too generous.  The fact is, the school classroom is something more like a prison cell.

In a prison system, everything depends upon someone else’s intervention to get things done.  Chow time, daily rec, a work opportunity—you name it, it demands a probing eye, an impersonal enforcer, a state guardian if you will.  The school system, excluding the stuffy Socratic-styled, Harkness method-loving private boarding schools, is arranged in like manner.

Think inner city schools, for instance, where the phenomenon is most glaringly apparent.  Teachers are part security guard-part babysitter-part mom-part dad-part psychologist here.  It is survival of the fittest in inner city schools.  Metal detectors meet students every morning; security guards patrol the hallways, administrators are on stand-by in the event of an outbreak of some sort, teachers are specialists in behavior modification, social workers intervene at a moment’s notice, principals are the glue keeping the school industrial complex alive.  And Superintendents?  They’re the shadowy warden off vacationing as they bake in their hard-earned 200 plus a year salary.

Any wonder why bubbly idealistic Teach for America teachers likely give up after one year of the ordeal?  Who wants to serve a prison sentence when freedom is available?

The school establishment misleads the public into believing that only the ‘experts’ are qualified to teach.  Their degrees, pedagogical theories, educational standards, so it goes, are the gold standard, a surefire way to develop intelligent productive adults.

But in a world where teachers like to boast about preparing kids for the future or complaining about not having enough resources to do so what tends to be missing from the rhetoric is that you can educate for free—and with far better outcomes.

Any person with some measure of success is likely to tell you they worked hard in their private time.  Duh, most say.  It’s so painfully obvious that it’s simply forgotten when discussing the ways and means of effective education.  The professional athlete practices for hours daily; same for the musician, artist, writer, etc.  Computer programmers, coders, engineers, scientists, among others, will likely point to some childhood exposure with a computer, architectural wonder, chemistry set, etc.

Granted, there is a huge class-based assumption I’m making here—namely, that households with higher incomes and educational levels can provide such experiences.  However, today, access to information, people, and resources is more fluid than ever.  Anyone with an internet connection has access to an entire digital world capable of informing one on any conceivable topic.  Why, then, does the system insist that school kids be away isolated in a brick building while they are divided by age, class, race, and arbitrary educational levels?  Why are they imprisoned for no fault of their own?

Kids need more alone time.  They need to invest in themselves and figure out their strengths, weaknesses, giftings, etc.  It is in our personal private time when we most develop into human beings.  Greatness comes to those vigorously pursue it.  Energy, sacrifice, and discipline are demanded.  When unassuming kids engage in activities because of some external force like a teacher telling them what to do, what happens when they face the complexities of the real world by themselves?     When they are held to the same standardized exams and no difference is made to their historical, racial, cultural, intellectual, and geographical differences all we can expect is conformity and mediocrity.

Simply showing up to school is half the battle.  The other half is enduring the rest of the prison sentence.  Somehow still, the educators and academics stamp millions of diplomas like packaged meat.  After 12 years one is deemed fit for life, although not a single thing was learned about the real world.

Much of human genius is discovered through introspection and involvement with the real world.  Read any great novel, classic literature, biographies of historical leaders and the experiences they say influenced them the greatest.  How many will point to sitting in neat rows and raising their hand to be allowed to speak as something that touched them?

Mark Twain said it best: “I never let schooling get in the way of my education.”  Billionaire Richard Branson also had an experience he felt was worthy of sharing as is it drastically changed him.  He talks in his biography about his mother leaving him miles away from home as a little boy and him having to find his way back home.  It personally resonates with me because as a child what could be greater than a risky adventure?

Schools offer field trips—controlled as they are—with limited opportunities to learn and discover.  Life offers infinite access to mystery, intrigue, challenges, growth, and failure.  Minus the adults babysitting them for the day, what interaction do American schoolchildren have with adults?  Why the forced segregation and isolation?

A multigenerational society where kids freely speak and interact with adults is certainly preferable to this prevailing one-dimensional, politically correct, state-enforced nightmare we currently have.  The increasingly divisive nature of modern life – white against black, gay against straight, rich against poor – is likely a telling reflection of how limited we are in our sphere of socialization.

This is a global society and economy, after all.  Just how are students of all ages and backgrounds supposed to navigate all of the complexities before them if they remain isolated, surveilled, and segregated?  Put another way: when will we begin treating them like adults and holding them to the same standards?  When will we give them the keys to unlock their personal genius?

The school system simply tells millions of kids, all coming from entirely different walks of life and experiences, with varying degrees of educational levels, to work hard, study hard.  It’ll pay off.  You’ll get somewhere.  They tout the same tired stats of college grads earning more and all the rest of it, ignorant to the fact that even if that were true, there’s no telling just how fulfilled or rewarding that life is (who wants to become a slave to debt, only to become a slave to an employer and job title?  The ones pushing it, apparently.  What they don’t tell you is that they want you to join too).

Consider this example.  Look at the millions of kids vying for entrance into America’s premier colleges.  How do these elite universities pick among the thousands of kids with perfect GPA’s, SAT’s, glowing recommendations, and volunteer hours?  This is a noteworthy example of why you ought not follow the pack and conform.  Aside from the legacy kids whose rich dad donated a library, it is typically the intensely independent student who, say, mastered a solitary sport requiring self-mastery, created a unique service to the community, became valuable to those around him.  In short, it is the person who dared to live a little and explore the deeper personal parts of him or herself.

School cannot teach this and never will.  Everything is done in unison.  Everything is done under the scrutiny of an arbitrary authority figure who either approves or disapproves and in whom is vested the power to pass or fail.  What could be personal hours of time to self-reflect and discover and potentially challenge the existing order is instead time used for homework assignments and test preparation.  Indeed, that is the power of the state—it entrenches itself into the most personal of times and places, telling you what to do and think.

When the public school system stifles creativity, originality and independence on a mass scale all one can expect on one level is a populace capable of working jobs and eventually landing respectable careers.  Social and cultural capital and economic clout will ensure this for the privileged few.  For the rest, however, whose life depends upon on an ineffective and outdated system to provide equalizing opportunities not much appears very hopeful.

Schoolchildren need to see the school system for the prison system that it is.  The only guarantee in their life is that things will change, and navigating those changes, will require independent thought, self-knowledge and discipline, and a forward-thinking mindset.  I believe a national conversation needs to start on the state-enforced compulsory schooling model precisely because it teaches and encourages kids to remain as kids and forever dependent upon approving adults.  Only then can we begin to question why they seem so ill-prepared for the demands of life outside their classrooms (cough: prison cells).

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