About Educational Methods

Abstract: This article discusses the Queensland Government's new program to make schools safer. It suggests that homeschooling is an alternative that allows families to avoid many of the dangers associated with school. So, instead of asking how school can be made safer, the question should be whether school makes society any safer. Many parents now want to look after their children themselves, without any teachers or schools. So, if we reject school, should we not also reject its teachings? The article concludes that this issue has received little attention.

A. Discipline at School

The Queensland Government is giving state school principals the power to expel students in Year 11 and 12, who are 15 or older, i.e. past the age of compulsory schooling. Ian Mackie, Queensland Teacher Union president, praised the measure, mentioning various cases of teachers being seriously assaulted by violent 16 and 17-year-old youths in recent months. Last month, a 16-year-old youth also threatened his teacher and classmates with a loaded .22 calibre rifle at a NSW high school.

For younger children, however, the Government feels obliged to provide 'free' schooling. The Government is now planning "sin bins" within schools and separate "withdrawal" centres where disruptive students can be held for up to 30 days. Police officers will regularly visit schools or even be stationed at schools.

B. Kids wagging School

The idea is that school-aged-students will no longer be able to roam the streets when suspended.

But does it make sense to lock children up at school if wagging school is so easy and common. In NSW, more than 13,000 cases of truancy are estimated to occur each day. It's hard to get figures on this, many more kids may in fact roam the streets while their parents believe them to be at school. Truancy rates of 60% are reported at some schools in the U.S., where one third of students will have left school by the time they are 15.

Truancy is often associated with youth crime, such as shoplifting and violence. In Britain, two-year-old James Bulger was brutally murdered by two truant schoolboys. But the question is, does school make society any safer?

C. Is School a safe place?

It appears that the horrific massacre in Dublane, Scotland, was planned for years in advance. The mass murderer had on numerous occasions asked a nine-year-old boy for details about the school's time-table, the layout and the way to the gym, where he killed 16 children and their teacher earlier this year.

Often, the threat comes not from outside, but from within. Recently, one Northern Territory teacher was charged with indecently dealing with two boys; in Brisbane, a teacher was alleged to have molested students at a primary school; in Sydney, a teacher was jailed for indecency and sexual intercourse with a schoolgirl; while in Melbourne, one teacher was jailed for indecently assaulting five girl pupils at a grammar school, another teacher was sentenced to jail for sexually assaulting nine boys and yet another teacher pleaded guilty to sexually molesting two schoolboys in his care. So, how safe is school, if one notes that all details mentioned in this article are just a snapshot of what has been reported in the newspapers over the past month or so? (i.e., at the time this article was written, ed.)

D. School causes Violence

Schooling is based on discipline and consequently violence is the essence of the system, not merely as a last resort, but as an ongoing threat. Can one expect such a system to teach anything else but violence? Is it surprising that kids behave violently, when they are taught that violence is the power that over-rules any other kind of behaviour, when they are taught that the solution to class disruptions is to enforce discipline, in other words, to use greater force?

Gang behaviour and bullying among schoolkids is one of the most insidious forms of violence and they are actively nurtured at school, as school deliberately puts kids together who would otherwise not even want to see each other. Most of the violence does not actually occur at school, it merely originates from the school situation and becomes manifest in the streets, where the disciplinary eye of the teacher is absent.

Last month, a 13-year-old girl was raped by an 11-year-old boy when she walked home from her school in Toronto, Canada. Police said the alleged rapist was unruffled after his arrest, calmly telling officers that he was too young to be charged. Extreme cases of bullying are regularly reported, too many to quote in detail. The point is that the above 13-year-old girl was not "roaming the streets", in fact the street was probably the last place she wanted to be; school forced her to make that same trip between home and school multiple times a day. This delivered her into the hands of a rapist.

E. School is a bad idea

The dangers of schoolbuses and of sport at school have been highlighted in many earlier articles, as have been the traffic peaks created by school, both at the start and finish of school hours and of school holidays.

Throughout its short history, school has proven to be a bad idea. In Queensland, the first school opened in 1826 for children fathered by soldier guards of this penal colony. The local Commandant closed the school saying the children were growing up in an atmosphere of vice. The Convicts' Children's School was later closed as well, after the teacher (a local soldier) was sacked for misconduct.

In 1876, 80 years ago, 'elementary' education first became compulsory by law in Queensland. The Government claimed to know what was the best environment for children: Between 1911 and 1940, at least 6082 Aboriginal children were taken away from their mothers in Queensland, according to a recent report by a state government official, archivist Kathy Frankland. Kathy said recently that many of the children who were taken from their parents were subsequently physically, mentally or sexually abused.

Records reveal that abuse was rule rather than exception; in 1896 a young girl was beaten to death by her school mistress at Yarrabah, in North Queensland.

In rural areas, many children escaped the "net", as they lived to far away to attend any school. The 'School of the Air' was established by the Government to also capture children in remote areas in its net. Broadcasting started in Alice Springs in 1951.

F. Instead: Homeschooling

Ironically, the School of the Air and its sister solution, Correspondence School, provided formal "schooling" alternatives to physically attending school. Until then, families in rural areas had to send their kids to boarding schools to get them formally educated. Of course, "homeschooling" either by parents or by visiting tutors and nannies had in fact been the main method of education in many places - even where Correspondence School and the School of the Air were used, such use was often merely complementary to such homeschooling methods. But gradually, more families, not only in rural areas but also in urban areas, discovered that distance education made more sense than school.

In the U.S., some 1.2 million children are now being educated at home, rather than at school. This figure represents 3% of the school-aged population of 40 million children. In the U.S., home-schooling has shown growth figures averaging 25% a year since the early 1990s. Much of the recent growth comes from parents who want to look after their children themselves without any involvement of formal teachers or schools. They reject school as well as its teachings.

Queensland is the only state in Australia where parents are not allowed to teach their own children, unless at least one parent happens to be a Queensland-registered teacher. "Dispensation" (from compulsory school) can be granted by the Minister, but not only does the Government insist that a child is 'instructed' by a formal teacher, the Government also controls what should be taught and when.

G. The Debate about Educational Methods

The Queensland Government only allows certain "approved" methods to be used in education. There is the Government's own Correspondence School; furthermore, only four schools that provide ACE (Accelerated Christian Education) and one that follows the `Bob Jones University' method have until now been approved for distance education. There simply are no other 'approved' methods for families to choose from; the Government has not approved something such as natural learning in which there is no formal teacher instructing the children what to do. There have been some isolated cases where the Government has turned a blind eye, e.g. when families came from Victoria where they had started a different curriculum. Also, the blind eye is quickly turned in genuine cases of homeschooling. But formally, debate about methods has barely started in Queensland. Families that don't want to send their children to school, find that officially there are no "approved" alternatives but traditional school methods.

What is the new Government's position on recent trends in homeschooling? Isn't this one of the most important developments in education in decades? Perhaps the Minister is not even aware of the details, but shouldn't formal educators take more interest in homeschooling, which could well be one of the most important developments in education right now?

Some time ago, an earlier article introduced the term 'Integrated Learning' to express an alternative views on educational methods. 'Integrated Learning' indicates that learning does not take place at set times and places, using classrooms and textbooks, but that learning is integrated in daily-life activities, such as shopping, eating, playing, etc. It's hard to present 'Integrated Learning' as an "official" educational method, as it defies so many regulatory aspect that define formal education.

Similarly, when asked what the most important thing is for children to develop, Don Paragon will say: "Creativity!" And when asked how he recommends children to do this, Don will say: "Improvise!" But the last thing Don wants is for 'Improvisation' to be formally defined and approved as an official educational methud, since that would only make 'Improvisation' a formal part of the Education System (see Appendix B).

Ironically, the reluctance of the Queensland Government to fully enforce the Education Act has until now allowed many homeschoolers to go ahead without specifying a method. But at some stage, the debate over educational methods used in homeschooling will come up more publicly. For me, the choice is simple: what do we want, dictatorship or optionality?

Appendix A. From what perspective does school make sense?

There are many false arguments used by apologists of the schood system. One of them is that schools were to give children better opportunities to find work in future. This argument has been discussed in many earlier articles. But if you want the opinion of others, why not look at what employers seem to expect from future employees.

According to a recent survey, 71 % of Queensland employers thought that the secondary and tertiary education systems were not commercially relevant or even entirely irrelevant. Within the property and construction sector, admost one half found the education systems to be entirely irrelevant.

So who wants schools? In Queensland, state schools alone are attended by 300 overseas students, who pay joint fees of over $2million a year. Education turns out to be a huge earner of foreign currency. Does the Government keep such a tight control over education because it sees it as a future money spinner?

Appendix B One Alternative: DonParagon's 'Improvisation'

In the article 'Teachings behind School', Edwin Thor describes DonParagon's ideas about education as follows: People have become subservient to the teachings of the Government, which prevents them from developing their talents. Most people's attitude is obedience and blind discipline towards this system that is out to destroy their ideas, their creative potential, in short their identity.

All it takes for this attitude to change, is for people to realise what the Education System as imposed and controlled by the Government stands for, what it does to people, what values it preaches.

In this article Edwin Thor further quotes DonParagon as follows: "Schools drills children like soldiers, under the pretence that they are learning things of value. But why should children learn all the time? Improvisation can benefitfrom interaction with others, who are not necessarily more skilled. In improvisation, the emphasis is not on learning, on getting skilled by doing repetitive exercises, buton understanding, on achieving the things one is proud of and in building up confidence. The emphasis of improvisation is on working out the ways you yourself propose to do things; itmay be a bonus if anything is learned in the process, but improvisation is not done in order to leurn; but with an eye on personal development. Unfortunately, most people are not comfortable with finding out things for themselves, they think they always need an expert to tell them what makes sense. But why accept a second-hand opinion as superior to your own views? Explore your own world, don't let anyone else tell you what you can so easily find out for yourself. If you work things out to your own satisfaction, you are likely to understand things better in the first place."

[The paragraphs in this appendix are extracted from: Teachings behind School. For further background, see also DonParagon's Vision of the Future]

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