The History of Private Schools: How American Education Became a Political Battleground

“He alone, who owns the youth, gains the future.” – Adolf Hitler

Public schools are so ubiquitous and ingrained in American culture that one could easily be forgiven for thinking that we, as a nation, have always had them. However, public schools are a relatively recent invention. Federal funding for public schools is a recent anomaly, dating back to the days of President Jimmy Carter. His successor, President Ronald Reagan, famously tried to dismantle the Department of Education to no avail.

Public schools being an arm of the state are indoctrination centers. This becomes increasingly true as basic skills such as the old “three Rs” of “reading, writing and ‘rithmatic” are jettisoned in favor of climate changecritical race theory and gender ideology – all of which are now part and parcel of a public education in the United States. As if this weren’t troubling enough, public schools are largely funded by property taxes on housing. These taxes, which are paid generally on a bi-annual basis, are confiscated from people whose children do not even attend public schools. What’s more, these taxes require people to effectively pay rent on owned property under penalty of losing their homes.

We do not have to look far for an alternative to the world of public schools. Throughout most of American history, education has been the purview of parents, the church, and other private institutions. The rise of public education in the United States is a story of violence and coercion that is largely hidden from the public record. After reading this, you will never view public schools in the same light ever again.

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Morality is Based on Consent, Government is Not

At its core, morality is about consent. What is the difference between sex and rape, employment and slavery, or trade and theft? In each case, consent is what differentiates voluntary, peaceful interaction from coercion and violence.

Consent is also what is conspicuously absent from all forms of government throughout human history.

The great lie that is frequently embraced by conservatives, constitutionalists, and even some Libertarians is that the American “system” of government was once good and fair and legitimate, and that it only became problematic once it was corrupted. Nothing could be further from the truth. The U.S. federal government has, since the ratification of the constitution, been a criminal cabal, illegitimately claiming authority over the lives and property of individuals.

A simple review of the constitution will reveal this claim to be true.

Among other troubling claims, the constitution asserts that “The Congress shall have Power To lay and collect Taxes, Duties, Imposts and Excises…”; “To borrow Money…”; “To regulate Commerce…”; “To declare War…”

Did you consent to any of these things? Did you consent to have your property stolen, your trade regulated, money borrowed on your credit, and war declared in your name?

I certainly did not!

That the state continues to perpetrate these violative actions without your consent reveals the state to be every bit as criminal as the rapist, the slaver, and the thief.

Respect for individual consent is not only the defining component of morality, it is the key to peace and prosperity. This is equally true at every level of human existence from personal relationships to world affairs.

We understand at a fundamental and basic level that rape, slavery, and theft are wrong. These aren’t things that have to be outlawed before our consciences tell us there is a problem. Likewise, we can recognize that all violations of consent—even when they are perpetrated by the state and its enforcers—are equally problematic.

This is why a system of government can never be fixed or perfected. It is foundationally, fundamentally, and inescapably immoral for some people (even if they represent a majority or are elected by a majority) to impose their preferences on others without their consent.

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How to Deschool Yourself for Success and Satisfaction

Most of us spent at least 15,000 hours of our childhood and adolescence being schooled before we turned 18. Now in adulthood, we may need to unlearn some of what we were taught and embrace self-education for career success and personal fulfillment.

Much of what we learned in school was dictated by others, disconnected from our own passions and proclivities. We were taught what to learn, and we learned to be taught. With self-education, we take back control of our own learning, exploring topics and skills that matter to us, free from coercion. In many ways, pursuing self-education is the difference between learning in a library and in a school. A library offers abundant resources to support our learning, including tangible and digital tools, optional classes, and helpful facilitators, but it is free from compulsion. Unlike K-12 schooling, we are not required to learn there under a legal threat of force. As Ta-Nehisi Coates writes in Between the World and Me, winner of the 2015 National Book Award:

I was made for the library, not the classroom. The classroom was a jail of other people’s interests. The library was open, unending, free. (p. 48)

Granted the freedom to learn, our true talents and ambitions can begin to emerge. But first, we need to deschool ourselves and shed some of the common myths we may have internalized about learning that could get in the way of our self-education and related success:

Myth #1: Color Inside the Lines

One of the first things most of us learned as a tot when we stepped into a classroom is to color inside the lines. Follow instructions, be neat, do what everyone else does. Now as we embrace self-education and discover our full human potential, we need to do the opposite. If everyone is coloring in the lines, we should be coloring outside of them. We should be looking at opportunities for creativity, not conformity. What do we see that no one else does? Where is the market possibility there? Coloring outside the lines may be messy, but it can lead to original ideas and novel inventions that make our lives and those around us better off.

Myth #2: Ask for Permission

In school, we quickly learn to ask for permission. Obedience is heartily rewarded, and non-compliance is swiftly punished. If we want to succeed at playing the game of school, we learn to be led. Now, as a self-directed learner with personal and professional goals, we need to be bold! If we wait around for permission to pursue those goals, we won’t get anywhere. Be intrepid.

Myth #3: Be Quiet and Stay Still

This schooled expectation is getting even worse than it was when many of us were kids. We were all taught to be quiet and stay still (especially when forming those straight lines in the hallway), but today young children are increasingly being diagnosed with and medicated for ADHD when they don’t keep still and remain attentive. Aside from the tragedy of medicalizing what, in many cases, is just normal childhood behavior, we become conditioned to stay passive.

But to achieve our audacious goals in adulthood, what we need more than anything is exuberance. We need to be constantly moving, constantly questioning, constantly exploring new pathways. Energy and agility are critical characteristics for achieving success in a fast-moving, always-changing world.

Myth #4: Don’t Read Ahead

Remember this one? We were often given reading assignments of certain pages or paragraphs with the warning to not read ahead. Now, of course, we need to be curious instead of compliant and seize all opportunities to read ahead! Digging deeply into topics that matter to us or reading a wide variety of different materials to broaden our worldview can help us to uncover our enthusiasms and crystallize our goals.

Myth #5. Winners Never Quit

One of the more pervasive myths we hang onto from childhood is the belief that we shouldn’t quit. Yet, some of the most successful people are those who stopped wasting their time and energy in jobs or activities that were not meaningful to them. As Rich Karlgaard, the longtime publisher of Forbes, writes in his new book Late Bloomers:

“How can the curious and creative, the searchers and explorers, jump off the dominant culture’s conveyor belt and begin shaping our own fates?” We do it by quitting. Quit the path we’re on. Quit the lousy job. Quit the class we hate. Quit the friends and associates who hurt us more than help. Quit the life we regret. (p. 148)

Myth #6. Failure Is Unacceptable

Failure can be as valuable as quitting. Contrary to what we were schooled to believe, failure is an important part of risk-taking and experimentation. If we spend our adulthood seeking only gold stars and Good Job! stickers, we may find only hollow rewards.

The first step in taking charge of your learning and livelihood is to shed these schooled myths and become adept at self-education. Trade conformity for creativity, obedience for curiosity, and compliance for exuberance. Don’t be afraid to quit or to fail. Setting your own path requires a great deal of coloring outside the lines. Don’t wait for the teacher or the buzzer to tell you when it’s time to go.

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Today’s Schools Are Yesterday’s Streetcars: How Technology Will Transform Education

We can predict the future of education by glimpsing the past of transportation. Fueled by technological innovation, namely electricity, streetcars gradually replaced the horse-and-buggy in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, followed by mass-produced automobiles that ultimately toppled the streetcar.

Throughout the 20th century, cars became safer, faster, cleaner, and cheaper and allowed individuals unprecedented mobility and autonomy. Then, in the 21st century, car-sharing applications showed how technology could once again disrupt the transportation industry, expanding rider options and challenging entrenched systems of control.

Personalized Learning

Education transformation will take a similar path. Fueled by technological innovation, schools are now in the middle of their streetcar moment. Chalkboards are still ubiquitous, but computers are increasingly being used not only to supplement learning but also to administer it. Personalized learning, as this technology-enabled classroom education is called, is all the rage.

In public schools like those using Summit Learning, a personalized, online learning approach developed by Facebook engineers and funded by Facebook founder, Mark Zuckerberg, the computer becomes the teacher, executing a largely self-paced curriculum and offering more flexibility and autonomy for students.True education transformation will come when learners realize that they don’t need an intermediary at all. The platform has sparked controversy, as some parents and educators resist change. Like the streetcar and transportation, personalized learning in schools is altering and modernizing the educational landscape. But it is just a launchpad.

True education transformation will come when learners realize that they don’t need an intermediary at all. Personalized learning in conventional schools will shift to self-directed education or unschooling, driven by the learner herself using the resource-rich networks of both real and digital communities. As Ivan Illich wrote in Deschooling Society:

The current search for new educational funnels must be reversed into the search for their institutional inverse: educational webs which heighten opportunity for each one to transform each moment of his living into one of learning, sharing, and caring.

Illich wrote those words in 1970 before the technological webs now at our fingertips were ever imagined. The funnel model of education, even when augmented by technology, is simply passé. Conflating learning with schooling, mired in coercion and a controlled curriculum, is an outdated idea. Schooling is something that others do to you; learning is something you do for yourself.

A New Perspective on Learning Itself

We already see how this works in our own adult lives. Just as the first automobiles began to disrupt old notions of transportation, recent technological innovations are recalibrating the way we learn. Whether it’s using YouTube to fix a toilet, Duolingo to learn a language, Audible to listen to books, or FaceTime to have lessons with your guitar instructor, technological platforms and applications are quickly helping us to shed our schooled vision of learning. Increasingly, we see that we can self-educate by following our own curiosities and pursuing our own personal and professional goals.

We can choose our own teachers and select the learning tools that work best for us. In his book, Illich wrote,

School prepares for the institutionalization of life by teaching the need to be taught.

Technology frees us from this institutional paradigm of education and lets us teach ourselves.

It can do the same for our children. As our own relationship to learning shifts in response to new technologies that make information and knowledge more accessible, we may begin to question the worn-out ways our children learn. As we realize the value and reward of self-education in our own lives, we’ll want to give this gift to our children.

Minimally Invasive Education

In his academic papers and award-winning 2013 TED Talk, Newcastle University professor Sugata Mitra explains how children teach themselves without institutional schooling. His “hole in the wall” studies have been widely cited, showing how children from the poorest slums of India to elsewhere around the world are able to learn to read, to teach themselves English, and to understand advanced scientific content (like DNA replication) simply by having access to an Internet-enabled public computer.

Mitra calls this approach “minimally invasive education” and concludes in his talk:

If you allow the educational process to self-organize, then learning emerges. It’s not about making learning happen. It’s about letting it happen.

Thanks to technology, we adults now see this learning emerge all the time in our own lives. It can be the same for our children.

In the 21st century, the transportation industry was jolted again by technological innovation. Uber, Lyft, and other car-sharing companies challenged longstanding local monopolies, granting riders more choice and flexibility with better service and lower costs. Next, autonomous vehicles may be the new wave of disruptive innovation in transportation. Meanwhile, in education, technology will continue to expand access to resources, information, knowledge, and skills that make self-education outside of schooling not only possible but preferable.

Like the streetcar and horse-and-buggy, institutional schooling will become a cultural relic, a quaint reminder of yesteryear. We will realize that non-coercive, technology-enabled, self-directed education in collaboration with others results in better, more meaningful, more enduring learning than its institutional predecessors can offer. We will realize that we can be educated without being schooled. Indeed, the future is here.

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Let People Opt Out of “Good Ideas”

Would you rather live in a world where it’s normal for people to try to convince each other of something, or a world where it’s acceptable to just give an order and shoot anyone who doesn’t immediately comply?

I’m firmly in the “convince others” camp.

To convince people, you’ve either got to have reasons or ways to play with their emotions. If you convince them with good reasons, the convincing sticks.

If you use emotions, someone with stronger appeals to emotion will come along and get them to change their minds again.

If you rely on threats, as soon as the threat is out of sight they’ll go back to their old path.

This is why I’d rather convince others with reasons and avoid using force. It doesn’t matter to me what the issue is.

I prefer everything to be voluntary. Work together, ask for help, or do what you can on your own. Don’t try to force anyone to join you. If you need to use threats or force, you probably ought not do it at all. I don’t support or need those who use coercion.

In your personal life you probably already avoid force. I’m assuming you aren’t a thief or murderer.

You and I don’t need to be threatened and forced; it’s only “those other people.” Well, they see it the same way. Someone’s got to be the first to grow up.

Gandhi is quoted as saying “Be the change you want to see in the world.” It’s true enough even if he never said it.

You don’t need to wait for anyone else to do the right thing with you. You can start now. You don’t have to wait until others join you or until they agree with you. You don’t need to wait until the law changes to allow you to do the right thing. Yes, there’s danger in stepping out first, but who said life is supposed to be safe? Do the right thing anyway.

Don’t violate the rights of others. Liberty is the freedom to do everything you have a right to do; everything that doesn’t violate anyone else’s equal and identical rights. Anyone who violates your liberty isn’t one of the good guys.

Be big enough to let people opt out of your “good ideas” if they can’t be convinced. Of course, you’ll still need to defend yourself against people who refuse to cooperate. That’s a fact of life nothing can ever change.

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The Value of a Self-Directed Summer for Kids

It’s all over the news these days. Kids are stressed-out, not playing, and, most worrisome, experiencing sharp increases in depression and suicide.

Last month, a new paper published in the Journal of Abnormal Psychology revealed that adolescent mental health has deteriorated over the last decade, with soaring depression rates for young people ages 14 to 17. This month, a research paper published in JAMA Pediatrics found that between 2007 and 2015, the number of children and adolescents who visited hospital emergency rooms for suicidal thoughts and actions doubled. The average age of the suicidal child was 13. Dr. Gene Beresin, a psychiatrist at Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston who was not involved with the study, told CNN in response to the new research. He said that

Kids are feeling more pressure to achieve, more pressure in school, and are more worried about making a living than in previous years.

So what can parents do?

Self-Directed Activities Reduce Stress

Childhood anxiety and depression can be linked to a high-pressure environment and not feeling in control of one’s life and circumstances. A recent survey by the Pew Research Center found that anxiety and depression are a major concern for teens and that academics are a top stressor. Parents can help to reduce this pressure-cooker environment by prioritizing self-directed activities over structured, school-like ones. Summertime can be a great place to start.

Rather than continuing a schooled schedule of structured camps, adult-led enrichment activities, and academic catch-up, parents can use summertime to grant their children true freedom and agency. Let them be kids, with wide open days to fill as they choose, pursuing their own interests.

But won’t they just play video games or stare at their smartphones all day? It’s possible that after such a programmed academic year, young people may need to decompress a bit. Video games may be something that kids gravitate toward initially, as they often provide a sense of control sorely lacking from many young people’s lives. Smartphones, social media, and other technologies are often vilified as exacerbating adolescent anxiety and depression—despite new research showing that this is not the case.

A key characteristic of a self-directed summer, though, is that if young people are given real freedom combined with the opportunity to explore and discover, they likely won’t languish long in front of a screen. Laura Kriegel and Jack Schott, who run Camp Stomping Ground, a fully self-directed summer camp in New York, confirm this. Unlike most summer camps, Camp Stomping Ground allows young people to be fully in control of their camp experience.

Many activities are offered, but nothing is required, and it is possible that kids could just lounge around on their phones the entire time. But it just doesn’t happen, say Laura and Jack. It’s hard to stay sedentary and alone, they say, when giant shaving cream wars are happening outside or interesting, optional classes are offered with dynamic camp counselors. According to Laura:

Stomping Ground offers choice-based programming that lets kids decide, try and quit. This autonomy and trust build more authentic relationships and empower kids to be their best selves.

Enrichment Activities Can Be Counterproductive

Autonomy and choice are central to a self-directed summer, in contrast to the control and regimentation that define so many children’s days all year round. Parents from all socio-economic backgrounds face mounting pressure to have their children’s summer days filled with structured, and often expensive, enrichment activities; but poorer parents may confront the most coercion.

In an effort to close the academic achievement gap between poor and affluent students and prevent alleged summer learning loss, school districts across the country increasingly offer full-day, academic summer programs for low-income students. The result, however, is that poorer children may have even fewer opportunities for play and self-direction than their wealthier peers.

To overcome this disparity, and to help prioritize self-directed summer play for low-income, urban children, Janice O’Donnell launched Providence PlayCorps in Rhode Island in 2014. As the longtime director of the Providence Children’s Museum, Janice lamented the loss of childhood free play she witnessed during her 30+ year career. To bring back play to urban neighborhoods, she implemented PlayCorps in public parks across the city. Kids can come and go as they wish to the designated parks that are staffed with young adults trained in play work.

Parents and children alike feel the increased pressure of academics and enrichment activities.

The facilitators, many of whom grew up in the city, are there if needed, but they know not to interfere with or direct the children’s play. Instead, they offer various materials and creative supplies, like cardboard boxes, scraps of cloth, tools and “junkyard” materials, balls and ropes, and so on, that the children can incorporate into their free play if they choose. PlayCorps has been so well-received that it is has expanded to include a self-directed after-school program during the school year, in addition to its summer program.

Parents and children alike feel the increased pressure of academics and enrichment activities. Parents want their children to succeed, and children don’t want to let their parents down. This race to the elusive top, however, is causing many young people to experience severe anxiety, depression, and hopelessness. These kids may be “succeeding,” but they’re miserable. Parents can take charge and halt this pattern of overwhelmed and over-scheduled children. They can begin by using summer as a launching pad to a freer, more self-directed, more play-filled, and happier life for their children and teens.

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