What Attitude is taught at School?

Abstract: As Edwin Thor writes in this article, school teaches students to passively follow orders, i.e. a deficient attitude when encountering situations that call for self-direction and independent thought. This became clear in the so-called Mutton Birds case, in which students were punished for killing birds. Edwin Thor argues that it is first of all the Education System that is at fault.

A. The Mutton Birds case

Schools like to take children on excursions and to remote camps from time to time. Teachers believe this enhances "group spirit" and creates "attitude" with students. North-West Island, situated in the Great Barrier Reef, 40km north-east of Gladstone, is regularly used for senior school camps. A colony of between 200,000 and 300,000 mutton birds nests on the island, protected by 106ha of national park.

For the past seven years, Pine Rivers State High School, a school with 1350 students located north of Brisbane, has sent its 'Year 12' students to the island. From 28 April to 5 May, 50 students from this school were on the island on what was called a "community health and recreation" camp. According to school principal Graham Sprott, part of the goal of the camp is to "teach the students self reliance, life skills, self-confidence; it's to prepare them for life."

During this camp, 150 mutton birds were clubbed to death, slaughtered with tree-branches. Eighteen students were identified as the culprits and suspended. An inquiry later exonerated two of the students and recommended 150 hours of community work for the others and exclusion from all State high schools for six of the students, who reportedly had taken part in a competition to kill as many birds as they could over several days.

B. The Punishment Debate

There has been a lot of discussion about the appropriateness of this 'punishment'. Most people said that, as these students were 17-year-old, compulsory school no longer applied to them and it was right to expell them from school, as they had damaged the school's reputation. Some argued that it was not up to school to punish any kids; they said that only court should apply punishment; if an offence was committed, then the offenders should go to court for trial, just like anyone else.

Some also argued that to ban them from all State schools, as had happened, was against the very principles behind State schooling: "equality and free education for all". Education Minister, David Hamill, subsequently told Parliament that the six students could still enroll in a TAFE college or in distance education. Interestingly, Correspondence School fees are $ 1000.- for a student who lives within a certain distance from a school or a school bus-stop.

C. What about Supervision?

Some people wondered how it was possible that this bird-slaughter could occur, while these students were under supervision by their teachers. The slaughter apparently took place over several days; did none of the teachers check what their students had been doing all day?

The Teachers' Union earlier this month threatened to ban school camps or trips if any action is taken against the teachers in question. But the issue is neither how individual teachers nor students should be punished.

These students were 17-year-old persons, at the end of their schooling period. Why did they, at this stage, still need any close supervision, after all the teaching they had received? Why had they not turned into the responsible persons, ready to take up a job, in line with what school claims is the purpose and outcome of its teachings?

Was there anything special about either these students or their teachers? All indications are this was not so. Were these students not taught that killing protected birds is a blasphemy in the eyes of the environmentalism that is virtually preached as a religion at every school? Or had these students misunderstood what the teachers had been explaining for so many years? If so, what a coincidence that so many dummies sat in the same classroom all these years, witthout being detected any earlier!

Most people in the debate were anxious to put blame on individuals; after all, who could accept that the Education System as such was at fault?

D. Why School is wrong!

The article Teachings behind School (in: Optionality, June 1995) discusses Don Paragon's views on education. The article describes that the disciplinary nature of school stems from the teaching method that was traditionally applied to training in manual skills.

Teachers have great problems when they try to apply methods that are more suitable to pass on information to students. This requires more thinking and understanding, things that were discouraged under the old method. The way school operates inhibits the development of mental capabilities, in particular the development of the right hemisphere of the brain, which is linked to ethical consciousness, expression of emotions, etc (see Appendix).

Many have analyzed the shift in employment away from the old manual labour practices towards provision of services, that has taken place over the past decades, first in the most developed countries, later in other countries. This phenomenon is generally explained as the consequence of progress in technology, automatisation, etc.

According to Don Paragon, the Education System is unable to to adapt to the new circumstances, because of its background. Schools may acquire computers, to better prepare students for the new environment, but they cannot even make the methodological change from a disciplinary and authoritarian method, towards methods that are more geared to learning and analyzing information. The Education System is based on coercion and compulsion, on the government-backed power to grant co-operative collaborators access to protected professions. The Education System is dependent on government funding, tax and all kinds of other privileges. The Education System is not prepared to apply more commercially accepted practices, it gives students a treatment that many would not even accept prison to administer to hardened criminals. What kind of attitude is this supposed to teach students?

The result is that students may seem to act in a disciplinary and diligent manner as long as they are under the supervision of the teacher, but that they are completely lost as soon as that supervision is loosened. The 'mutton bird'-case is not exceptional and neither are the students who were responsible for the slaughter. Any decrease in supervision over students trained in this way, risks this kind of mob behaviour. It fits in exactly with the attitude taught by school.

Appendix: How School supresses Thinking

The brain activity, if any, associated with exercises in sport and hand-writing is usually concentrated in the left hemisphere of the brain (as reflected in the fact that most people are right-handed). Creative thought during such activities is minimised at school through rules and protocol. Few people seem to realise that virtually all that is taught so prominently at school - literacy, numeracy, rules, logic, order and discipline - is dealt with in the left hemisphere of the brain. Language, maths, science, analytical skills, rational thinking, a methodological approach, reasoning along linear steps to draw a conclusion, all this is left-hemisphere stuff. Furthermore, fixed times at which subjects are taught, the fixed places where pupils sit in boring classrooms, the emphasis on order and discipline, it all adds to the silencing of the right hemisphere at school.

Few people also seem to realise that intelligence requires creativity. The ability to approach people, listen to them and observe objects and situations with feeling, but without prejudice, is a quality that normally resides in the right hemisphere. Sensitivity, imagination, creativity, sympathy, gut feeling and intuition, spontaneous reaction and conversation, a warm and out-going personality, self-esteem and self-confidence, moral and ethical consideration, artistic talents, visualisation, independent thinking, school suppresses all such right-hemisphere qualities.

In fact, school suppresses all thinking, as what little is taught at school doesn't make sense either. On the whole, school tries to fit pupils into the mould of mental cripples, a-social nerds and robots that have no conscience.

[By Ben Mettes, partly taken from the article: Why Homeschool? in Optionality, August 1994]

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