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The Education Liberator, Vol. 1, No. 1, September 1995

The Cement Canoe

by Marshall Fritz

In America, local governments started absorbing independent schools in the 1830s. "State schooling" became dominant within three decades. Government-run schooling is like a cement canoe full of microscopic holes. It worked for a bit, but as it began filling with water, energy was diverted from paddling to bailing. Each person sees him/herself bailing hard and wonders what fool stuck his foot through the bottom. Since nobody admits it, somebody must be lying!

Our cement canoe is full of parents, teachers, children, principals, school board members, legislators, and educators. Accusations fly as they all seek the culprit (or class of culprits) responsible for sabotaging the canoe. Name calling and finger pointing divert people from the weaknesses of the flawed cement canoe: an educational system based on socialism, (the government ownership and operation of the means of production.)

The Cement Canoe
Cement canoe
(Click to enlarge)

It's not the people in the canoe causing the problem, it's the canoe itself. Attempts to blame educators for educational system failures prevent them from looking at the merits of alternative ideas. They just return the ad hominem attacks. Most educators are good people trying to do good work. But they're caught in a system that doesn't work, the cement canoe of socialism.

Education Glasnost and School Sakharovs

Quakers say, "Speak truth to power." Solzhenitsyn called it "glasnost" (openness). America needs "Education Glasnost," where educators and former educators find the courage to speak the truth about the system. In Education Glasnost, educators can explain their school's failings by showing how the system limited them from being the educator he/she could have been.

Andrei Sakharov won the Nobel Peace Prize in Physics in 1975. From his position of eminence within the Soviet Union, Sakharov courageously denounced the failures of communism within his own country. We need educators who have worked within our educational system and have witnessed its failures first hand to do the same ? we need School Sakharovs.

With Education Glasnost, we'll help educators feel safe enough to break their code of silence, as did John Taylor Gatto, New York State Teacher of the Year in 1991. Gatto is like a flare - he lights up the sky with his insights (read his book, Dumbing Us Down to grasp some of the real harm of conventional schooling). But a flare is not a bombardment. We need dozens, hundreds, finally thousands of Sakharovs to break the code of silence, to tell their story of the Gulags where they've taught.

Cognitive Dissonance

A 1994 Gallup poll showed only 22% of American public school parents are happy with the nation's public schools, but an incredible 70% are happy with their local school. Folks seem to be saying, "Schools are going downhill, but my local school is quite an exception to the general trend."

Part of the reason could be that the troubled inner city schools get so much play on the six o'clock news. Another factor may be that parents never want to harm their own children, yet send them to a local school. The unconscious logic might be this: Schools in America are in bad shape . . . I love my child . . . I wouldn't hurt my child by sending him to a bad school . . . I send my child to a public school . . . therefore my local school is an exception.

The "local exception" attitude is easy to adopt because parents have met the teacher and principal, and they are the kind of people they'd leave their children with for the weekend. Hence, why not let them have the children for 13 years? What they don't see is that when good people are working in a bad system, the system wins.

The job of Education Glasnost is to make it safe for educators to come forward and tell their Sakharov stories. When parents see the problem "is right here in River City," and not just in New York, Chicago and Los Angeles, then we'll start to see movement ? fast movement ? to the full separation of school and state.

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