Alliance for the Separation of School & State
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The Education Liberator, Vol. 3, No. 4, May 1997

From the Editor

Lessons we don't want

We're moving to a new house, my wife and baby daughter and I. When people around here learn where we're moving, they often respond, "Oh, that's wonderful for your daughter. She'll be able to go to the new school they're opening there."

By all reports, we're moving to a "good" school district. This may be the reason some people react with puzzlement when we inform them that we intend to homeschool our daughter. (Another may be that they associate homeschooling with "right-wing, hair-on-fire religious fanatics," which we don't seem to be.)

To most folks, good schools means schools that are safe, well maintained, well equipped, with competent teachers who actually help students learn, as measured by test scores and college admissions. By these standards there may be many good public (i.e., government) schools around.

This is why academic achievement, or the lack of it, is weak ground on which to make a stand for separating school and state. Opponents and skeptics of Separation can point to the good schools as proof that government can do education right, if given a chance(!).

It doesn't hurt our cause that most government schools are failing, academically, on such a scale that families may start deserting them en masse. But whether or not SAT scores are rising or falling doesn't touch the heart of the problem. Test scores flow from the schools' overt curriculum. It's the covert curriculum of government schooling that makes me shudder, and reinforces my determination to keep my daughter away even from the state's "good" schools.

No one exposes the hidden (in plain view!) curriculum better than John Taylor Gatto when he talks about the seven lessons that teachers in the school system are teaching their students, knowingly or not. The lessons are: Know your place and stay there; learn to turn yourself on and off like a light switch; become indifferent to everything; surrender your will to a predestined chain of command; depend on others to tell you what you should learn and what you should be interested in; depend on others to tell you what you are worth; and learn that you are being watched constantly.

When I first read Gatto's seven lessons I couldn't stop nodding my head "yes." These were precisely the lessons that were being drummed into me thirty and more years ago. We were being trained to be good citizens in the worst sense of the term: docile, dependent, uncomplaining, accepting of whatever some authority gave to us or demanded from us.

After Separation, there might still be schools that teach such lessons, for parents who want that. For my part, I want my daughter to learn to respect herself and others, but I don't think placing her in the institutional equivalent of a Skinner box is the way to do it.

The next time someone tries to persuade me that our "good" schools can teach our child reading, writing, and arithmetic as well or better than I could, I won't argue, because they might be right. I'll just ask them to guarantee that she won't be taught any of Gatto's seven lessons there. That's a guarantee no one can make, as long as public schooling is synonymous with coercion.

Steve Smith

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