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Ideology As a Barrier to Change – August 14, 2005
Over the past week, I’ve had conversations with two people – both academics – who oppose any educational alternatives that aren’t public schools. I believe their views are seriously myopic and, indeed, harmful to the future of public education.

The first person – a woman – carefully (and somewhat condescendingly) explained to me that her feminist beliefs do not allow her to support home-based learning because it keeps women at home. Nonsense, I snorted, explaining that fathers could – and sometimes do – stay at home instead, or, as in our family, both parents could find a way to balance their careers and facilitate the education of their children. Indeed, an increasing number of families are involved with community-based learning arrangements that have the same effect. I also told her that my and my husband’s feminist beliefs were one of the reasons our daughters didn’t go to school! We wanted them to avoid the negative influence of sexism as it existed at that time in the public school system, and in addition, we felt that self-education was a good way to help change such stereotypes. I saw then, and still do, that schooling is part of the patriarchal problem and not part of an egalitarian solution.

The second conversation, which included similar irony, was with a man who was concerned about the privatization of education. I share his concern, except that he and I don’t share a definition of privatization. He uses the word to describe anything that is done outside the public school system, including alternatives like democratic schools and homeschooling. When I, on the other hand, use the word “privatization”, I am referring to for-profit education, which includes for-profit schools (including many charter schools), testing companies, textbook publishers, corporate sponsors and the like. Back in the 1980s, I was on the board of directors of an organization that was fighting to have its members brought into the public finance tent. They were all not-for-profit – either informally like homeschoolers or formally like Montessori schools, remedial learning centers and even religious schools – but all helping kids learn in ways that differed from the one-size-fits-all publicly funded system. That organization’s executive director was fond of saying that the government department in charge of education acted like a “Ministry of Public Schools” rather than a “Ministry of Education.” I believed then – and I still do – that a public education system can and must recognize that the use of one-size-fits-all, top-down curriculum, testing and all the other outdated methods that we know as schooling is not the best way for most people to learn...and that we must abolish this stuff in favor of self-directed education. I ended my recent conversation with this particular public school supporter by pointing out that, ironically, 20 years later, the public school system is much more dependent upon the for-profit mentality than most of the alternatives he believes will erode the integrity of that system.

It seems to me that these supposedly progressive people are spouting out-of-date, simplistic arguments in favor of maintaining the status quo. People will always come up with reasons – many well-founded – why change can’t or won’t happen. Often, those reasons are some of the biggest barriers to change.
Posted: 2005/08/14 11:20 AM

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