“One assumption which might be explored is the assumption that there are things all children must know. The assumption provides the justification for the provision of standard academic subjects and their non-curricular counterparts. As soon as a child is expected to devote time and attention to those, there is coercion.”
From the archives: The original post was posted on 7th July, 1997
“…[snip]…Who would homeschooling not be good for?”
“Children who prefer to go to school.”
On another thread, Rebecca wrote –
“…[snip]… all children who go to school are not coerced into doing so. For some, school is a fun and interesting place to be. This of course depends on the type of school, the teachers, and the parents. Strong parental involvement in the classrooms helps ensure that the learning environment is productive and fun, not coercive.”
In terms of an overall percentage, I would guess the percentage of children who have the option to learn at home or attend a formal school environment is relatively small compared to the percentage of children who have the sole option of attending a formal school environment, and who make the best of their situation. However, there are children who prefer to go to school.
Among those children with several options about where learning will occur, and what sort of learning shall be pursued, there may well be those who are indeed devoted to learning the information their teachers present to them and who choose to be productive. Perhaps for those children, parental involvement in the classroom is a sought after involvement in terms of ensuring that the experience is indeed a family affair, and the learning process is a mutually enjoyable process for both the parent and the child. I can envision that such an involvement might occur.
There may also be schools where each student is provided the opportunity to pursue an Individualized Education Program [IEP], and where the students are genuinely interested in that sort of experience. And again, the involvement of a parent might well be an involvement the child seeks.
Such situations are not the norm.
No. The descriptions in the above two paragraphs are not the sort of experiences known at most schools by the majority of children. Most children are not given options between school attendance or home schooling. Most children do not attend schools where each child develops and follows its own learning agenda as legitimated by institutional processes; and most children at formal schools do not have parents by their side during the entire school day to ensure the child’s participation at school without coercion.
Furthermore, a parental presence at a school to ensure that a child’s productivity level remains within a desired range, without the child’s consent and/or without the child’s knowledge of the idea that no schooling is an equally viable choice, is coercion.
But suppose a child wants to attend school? And suppose there are parental concerns about coercion levels at school? What sorts of coercion might a family anticipate, and how might families respond? The following are some hypotheticals to exemplify how a parent might assist a child in reducing coercion at school.
One assumption which might be explored is the assumption that there are things all children must know. The assumption provides the justification for the provision of standard academic subjects and their non-curricular counterparts. As soon as a child is expected to devote time and attention to those, there is coercion. In a traditional classroom environment, that coercion is everpresent. Perhaps a student will agree s/he wants to know those things and will attempt to do the things requested by the teacher. And, for some students, the everpresent coercion does not manifest itself into a terribly conflictual situation. What could serve to prevent the inherently coercive environment from being coercive?
One avenue is to share the theory with children that it is a false theory which holds the assumption that there are things all children must know. There are many things individuals may want to know, and school may be a place to learn about those things, but it is silly to expect each and every person to want to know something about all academic and non-academic subjects. For example, day dreaming is a productive exercise by some standards. A parent might choose to mention that to a child.
A second avenue is that the parents are not to be concerned about grades earned by a student at school. This is easier said than done for those parents who find themselves going bonkers over grades each report card. However, if the parents do not, throughout the school year, insist that a child complete homework, or study for tests, or show a parent his/her school work, or ‘stay home on school nights’, or ‘ground’ a child for such things, the child will typically understand that the four-times-a-year parental frothing over grade cards are moments of a temporary loss of control, and the child will not be unduly pressured by the typical performance emphasis instigated at many schools. On the other hand, if a child asks a parent to help them maintain a schedule for after school study, or to do other things which might raise the child’s grade in a class (in the event, say, that if the child does not pass the class, the school is threatening to force the child to attend summer school before the child may advance to the next level with his/her friends), then the non-coercive parent would help the child as the child has requested. Or, in such a circumstance, the parent might, if it is the child’s preference, telephone the school and tell the officials that the child will not attend summer school and that the child most assuredly will advance to the next level with friends or the child will not return to school at all.
Another sort of potential coercion at school concerns the child’s attendance. Typically, one can assume that if a child genuinely wants to attend school for whatever reasons, the child will in fact be at school. However, there may be circumstances where a student will decide to skip one class in order to study for an exam in another class, or to skip a class to share an extended luncheon with friends who will soon be graduating from school. If such things are anticipated, the student and parent might well decide ahead of time what their plan of action will be.
One such plan could be that if the teacher whose class was skipped calls the parent, the parent might confide to the teacher that the telephone call is very much appreciated as the parent has had concerns that something is very wrong with the child, and that perhaps the child would benefit from counseling. Following that telephone conversation, the student will appear in the teacher’s class the next day, covered in red tempera paint, and holding an axe. The student should be sobbing, and, upon seeing the teacher, cry out, ‘Why Did You Have To Call My Parent??? She Began Hitting Me and I Was Forced to Defend Myself!!! NOW I HAVE KILLED HER!!!!’.
Well, yes, this is one plan which a parent and child might find quite amusing, however, the understanding that such an event might cause the teacher to have a heart attack or some other dreadful and unintended response should probably be discussed as well.
Another arena of coercion which might occur at school is with regard to how a student clothes himself. It is quite possible coercion may arise among peers of the student, or from adults at schools. If the child chooses that parents engage in the adult-level battles about clothing, hair, and other personal grooming choices, the non-coercive parent should be willing to step to the front. For instance, the parent might point out to officials that it is not appropriate for the teacher to comment on another’s appearance either verbally nor in writing unless the officials choose to provide students the same opportunities for engaging in criticisms of adults’ personal grooming preferences.
Another potential area of coercion involves school rules. One will find rules that generally make sense in terms of safety concerns, such as the rule that children should not bring guns to school [and that reasoning assumes that public schools are no longer built with rifle ranges as my former public school held], however, other rules might be most bizarre. For example, there may be a rule that children who yawn during class will have an after school detention, or that children who ‘tattle’ on other children will be forced to wear a ‘tail’ during class. Parents should be ready to do battle should their children request it, and be prepared to go through all channels of decision-making.
Another potential area of coercion involves ‘tests’ given to students in a class. Suppose a student has prepared for a test, and then nothing on the test makes any sense whatsoever. Parental involvement may be needed should the child refuse to take the test. And a child is free to refuse to complete any test. A non-coerced child will have full parental backing should the child render that decision, and should the child expect that a better assessment be designed, the parent will advocate on behalf of the student if requested.
In agreement with Rebecca, there is room for parental involvement in school, if the child requests that involvement. By the same token, if a child chooses to attend school without parental involvement, the child should be free to do so.
- School children have less freedom and choice than prison inmates
- Who wouldn’t be ‘school phobic’?
- The primary function of teachers is to coerce children