Punished by Rewards, The Trouble with Gold Stars, Incentive Plans, A’s, Praise, and Other Bribes

This book by Alfie Kohn strikes at the heart of the conventional rewards system that is entrenched in our schools and our society.

Although rewards require little effort to administer and yield immediate results, they do not address the underlying problems that will remain unresolved in the long run.  Kohn identifies five key problems with the use of rewards: 

• The rewards system is basically used as a controlling tool to elicit 
desirable behavior.  Students who feel that their teachers control them will not develop a natural incentive to study.

The rewards system intensifies the imbalance of power, and thus increases the distance between teachers and students. Knowing that their teachers are always judging their work will generate feelings of anxiety and stress, thus lowering the quality of their performance.

• The use of the rewards system does not address the underlying causes of the problem.

• The rewards system undermines creativity and innovation by rewarding individuals who conform to expected standards of behavior.

• Ultimately, the rewards system destroys people’s enjoyment of activities and replaces intrinsic motivation with extrinsic motivation. Essentially, when people are intrinsically motivated to perform tasks, they do not need to be given a reward for doing so.
According to Kohn, even praise may have a negative impact on children’s performances. Fundamentally, praise cultivates the children’s dependency on the opinions of others. Children who are overpraised perform in order to please their parents or other adult figures. In the long run, they lose their sense of identity and intrinsic motivation for performing activities they once enjoyed.
In contrast to the tacit control imposed by the rewards system, the three Cs – content, collaboration and choice – provide alternative guidelines for dealing with non-compliance of children. First, educators and other adults must consider whether the content is developmentally appropriate. Such content should meet the needs and

interests of the children. Second, collaboration should be encouraged, thereby empowering children, and encouraging their involvement in the learning experience. Finally, choice is a component that enables children to take part in the decision-making process.
Ultimately, Kohn has painted a powerful vision of children who will grow up to become responsible and intrinsically motivated adults. Their self-image will not be dependent on rewards and praises from authority figures. Rather, they will possess the passion and strength necessary for their vocation in life. This future, however, can only be realized if the current rewards system is replaced by an alternative perspective that truly nurtures the growth of young children.

Freedom and Beyond 

The only middle school in Gainsville, Georgia, is getting ready to make some major changes  njo the way it educates its students.  The school plans to adopt the “Programs of Choice” educational format; a format wherein students will still receive instruction in the basic academic courses as required by the state, but with a particular emphasis on linking the subjects together, and giving the students more intellectual freedom.
School officials hope that this new style of
 education – allowing students a greater freedom of choice concerning their academic studies – will improve academic performance, attendance, and behavior.

This method of reasoning is not new. Indeed, allowing students a greater amount of educational freedom is a central theme in John Holt’s book entitled Freedom and Beyond (1972), which attacked traditional ideas concerning education, called for a restructuring of schools, and addressed several problems that are often attributed to open schools and the free schools movement. Such movements reached their peak popularity in the 1960s and early 1970s, and were largely inspired by the Summerhill School, which was created in England in 1921. At the Summerhill School, students were permitted to study the subjects of their choice, with teachers supporting their decisions.
The first part of Holt’s book deals with the meaning of the word freedom, and its relation to education. Freedom, he notes, is something of which we know very little. We have been raised to believe that the only way in which our society can function is through the creation of rules and rigid structures, often imposed and created by authority figures. Holt explains the limits of freedom in education, and describes the tensions and problems faced by free schools. He warns us not to confuse freedom for unstructured education, devoid completely of any rules. Such a system, he agrees, cannot exist because, “Every human situation, however casual and unforced, has a structure.” In the free schools, there is not an absence of structure, but rather, a more flexible one.

Meanwhile, in regular schools, the structure revolves around the
teacher giving information and orders to the students. It is not as though free schools lack rules. In such institutions, children are aware of boundaries but still allowed space for self expression and creativity. Holt provides an example of this flexible structure by describing a British school, run by psychologist Margaret Lowenfeld, which had a special room designed for those people who wanted to make a mess, and a soundproofed room for those who wanted to make noise. However, in regular schools and in society at large, we often find rules that are vague and therefore, highly restrictive.

As the title of the book suggests, Holt goes beyond the free schools movement. His book conveys the sentiment that learning is a life-long process, and should not be confined to a building, separated from outside interactions, or cut off from the real world. He also voices the argument that we must look beyond ‘education reform’, as we currently understand it, and examine our basic beliefs concerning schools and schooling itself.

Holt stresses that reforming our educational system means changing our conception of education, rather than simply modernizing schools and buying more equipment. In going beyond educational reform, the book also addresses the issue of schooling and its relation to poverty.

Holt argues that schooling does not necessarily end poverty, nor is poverty entirely caused by a lack of education. He argues that getting a degree will not necessarily improve a person’s chance of getting a job, if his field of specialty is already overcrowded. Schooling and teachers are also damaging to the poor because they reinforce their feelings of exclusion, humiliation, and inferiority.
To support this claim, Holt draws from a passage in James Herndon’s book entitled The Way It Spozed to Be (1971). The passage describes a white teacher who claimed that, while a young girl, she had been taught only to speak to ladies and gentlemen, and that her black students were not, and never could be, ladies and gentlemen. Therefore, she refused to speak to her black students for the entire school year, and sent them away from the room if they attempted to speak to her.

Herndon’s book contends that a deschooled society would be more appropriate for the poor. Such a society would provide them with different paths of learning and advancement, rather than the singular path provided by our rigid educational system, which is too narrow and often fraught with obstacles that specifically hinder the poor. Herndon also argues that open or free school may be a waste of time and money for the poor, and further notes that, only recently have we come to accept the notion that learning best takes place in an institution. Such a notion makes education a costly endeavor for our society.

Holt goes on to argue against big budgets for education, proposing instead a more hands-on approach to learning where students are productive as they learn. Holt notes the idea proposed by social scientist Paul Goodman, who suggested paying a small salary to many kinds of workers and craftsmen – i.e. garage mechanics, carpenters, etc. – in return for which they would agree to let some children observe them working, and answer any questions about their work.

The book concludes by pointing out that schools have diverted from their principal mission: to promote the growth of the children in them. Instead, they have been relegated to a custodial function where they resemble jails instead of centers of learning. In such a system, students don’t feel compelled to learn, and will often act in a way that makes it difficult for others to learn.

The book also criticizes school sports for creating an environment of “winners and losers,” the indoctrination in which schools engage, and state school attendance laws, which, if they must exist at all, should allow students to choose the days on which they will attend. Finally, Holt implores us to end the “tyranny” that schools exercise over our children, stating that this is the only way we can save their souls.

Flow – The Psychology of optimal Experience

Steps toward enhancing the quality of life.

Diplomate, American Board of Psychiatry and Neurology

For more than two decades, the author
 has been studying states of “optimal experience” (happiness, in plain English) – those times when people report feelings of concentration and deep enjoyment.

These investigations have revealed that what makes experience genuinely satisfying is a state of consciousness called flow – a state of concentration so focused that it amounts to absolute absorption in an activity.

Everyone experiences flow from time to time and will recognize its characteristics: People typically feel strong, alert, in effortless control, unselfconscious, and at the peak of their abilities. Both the sense of time and the emotional problems seem to disappear, and there is an exhilarating feeling of transcendence.

This feeling can be controlled, and not just left to chance, by setting ourselves challenges – tasks that are neither too difficult nor too simple for our abilities. With such goals, we learn to order the information that enters consciousness and thereby improve the quality of our lives.
Flow is interrupted by internal conflict and a preoccupation with socially conditioned desires. People in a state of flow are alert and attentive, constantly processing information from their surroundings. The focus is still set by the person’s goal, but is open enough to notice and adapt to external events. The total involvement with the environment is described as “expanded consciousness” by people who practice meditation.

The rock climber Yvon Chouinard described one of his ascents on the fearsome El Capitan in Yosemite: “Each individual crystal in the granite stood out in bold relief. The varied shapes of the clouds never ceased to attract our attention. For the first time, we noticed tiny bugs that were all over the walls, so tiny that they were barely noticeable. I stared at one for fifteen minutes, watching him move and admiring his brilliant red color.

“How could one ever be bored
with so many good things to see and feel! This unity with our joyous surroundings, this ultra-penetrating perception, gave us a feeling that we had not had for years.”
Children experience flow in the freedom of play. Play has been called: “the work of childhood.” The importance of healthy social play in child development should not be underestimated.

Lifelong flow depends on self-knowledge, which is a process of continuous discovery. Out of that self-knowledge can come a passion for a special interest that can develop into an important part of the advancement of civilization.

At some point, for most people, our present educational system interrupts flow. Internal gratification is replaced by external judgment and “hope,” that fraudulent lie that if you suffer in the present, you will be happy in the future.
There is absolutely no justification for an educational system interfering with flow. Absolutely none. To do that blocks real learning and real happiness.

One of the reasons that home schooled children are more successful than institutionally schooled children is that the rigid structure that blocks the flow is absent. It would be wonderful if society could appreciate this process and allow the two systems to merge.

Family Matters: Why Homeschooling Makes Sense

As a public high school English teacher,David Guterson possesses an insider glimpse into the problems of our education system. One of the core weaknesses of the education system is the restriction of learning within the four walls of the classroom.

In his book, Guterson (1993) not onlyjustifies his decision to homeschool his children, but also explores the critical role of homeschooling in challenging the premises of public education.

Although people choose to homeschool their children for a variety of reasons, one of the key reasons is their disillusionment with public education. With its standardized curriculum that is designated for the masses, the education system imposes its stamp of uniformity on every student, with little respect to their distinctive strengths and weaknesses.
In contrast, homeschooling offers a child-centered curriculum that promotes the children’s pursuit of their interests. Rather than impose their expectations of education on their children, parents allow their children to take the initiative in the learning process by guiding them in the right direction.

Guterson and his children follow the latter’s interest by going on excursions and exploring topics such as salmon or flight in detail. This type of education is premised on the belief that children are spontaneous learners who are intrinsically motivated to learn in a conducive environment. Instead of educating their children for future employment, homeschoolers are concerned with the cultivation of the love of learning by igniting all of the body’s senses (Guterson, 1993).

In spite of its orthodox methods of learning, homeschooling has shown that it is academically superior to public education. According to Guterson’s father (described in the book, a criminal lawyer who has defended homeschoolers in many cases) homeschoolers have higher test scores than their counterparts in public education. Although the public is concerned that many of the parents are not certified for teaching, Guterson, Sr. points out that that homeschoolers perform equally well on the standardized tests, regardless of their parents’ academic levels and credentials (in Guterson, 1993).

Guterson (1993) also addresses another prevalent concern that homeschoolers are not given adequate opportunities to socialize with their peers. According to Guterson (1993), schools often provide a negative social environment with its emphasis on forming cliques, competition and tracking. On the other hand, homeschoolers are liberated from the pressures of school life to form their own perceptions in their interaction with people of all ages within the community. Without the negative influences, properly taught homeschoolers are more likely than their counterparts in public education to develop sympathy and compassion towards others.
Nonetheless, it is important to note that Guterson (1993) is not a completely biased author who paints an idyllic portrait of homeschooling. In Chapter Seven, he depicts the economic sacrifices made by homeschoolers who have to devote a substantial amount of time and energy in their children’s education. Because they homeschool their children, homeschooling parents do not have a two-person income. Thus, the decision to homeschool one’s children involves a serious undertaking that affects other aspects of life.

In order to overcome financial difficulties and obstacles, Guterson (1993) highlights the use of the Internet, public libraries and low-cost community resources that can be integrated into the education. At the same time, he also proposes an interesting idea that brings homeschoolers and public schools together by allowing homeschoolers to use public school resources.

Ultimately, Guterson’s work is a celebration of an alternative
conception of education and learning. He believes that homeschooling offers an education that extends beyond the artificial environment of schools and exposes children to the real world that abounds with learning opportunities. Even more significantly, he supports homeschooling as a parent and a teacher because it combines the best of both worlds (family and school): “[Parents of my students] love their children with a depth I can’t match; and finally teaching is an act of love before it is anything else” (p. 10).

How Children Fail

In his groundbreaking book,  John Holt,draws upon his observations of children both in school and at play to identify ways in which our traditional educational system predestines our young people for failure.

Holt argues that children fail primarily“because they are afraid, bored, and confused.”  This, combined with misguided teaching strategies and a school environment that is disconnected from reality and “real learning”, results in a school system that kills children’s innate desire to learn.

The following is a summary of the author’s conclusions:
1. Fear and failure: Schools promote an atmosphere of fear – fear of failure, fear of humiliation, fear of disapproval – that most severely affects a student’s capacity for intellectual growth. External motivation – rewards such as grades and gold stars – reinforces children’s fears of failing exams and receiving disapproval from the adults in their lives. Rather than learning the actual content of the lessons, students learn how to avoid embarrassment. This atmosphere of fear not only quells a child’s love of learning and suppresses his native curiosity, but also makes him afraid of taking chances and risks which may be necessary for true learning to occur.

2. Boredom: Boredom serves as another major obstacle, blocking both the child’s innate motivation to learn and his love of learning. Before attending school, children feel free to explore and discover those things that interest them. But once the child becomes part of our modern school system, both the institutions and the parents unknowingly sabotage their child’s education. Schools demand that children perform dull, repetitive tasks which make limited demands on their wide range of capabilities; such demands may or may not be suitable to a particular child’s interests or needs.

Schools provide a ‘cookie-cutter’ education, which compels children to vie “for petty and contemptible rewards,” rather than cultivate their intrinsic love of learning, which would serve to enhance their individual gifts and talents. Rather that forcing our children to adapt to a system which makes them consider learning a dreary and painful task, Holt advocates that children be encouraged to learn by following their natural curiosities and interests, without fear and guilt.

3. Confusion: Once enrolled in school, the child often founds himself being taught things that contradict what he has learned from his parents or other adults. Furthermore, the adults at school treat him very differently than the ones at home. This confusion is further exacerbated when a child, who is taught at home that curiosity is a positive and commendable thing, faces mockery and contempt from both teachers and fellow students for asking a question. Through his research, Holt has observed that most children – largely for fear of such ridicule – cease to ask questions by age ten.

4. Real Learning: Holt believes that “real learning” does not necessarily equate to mastering the basics of reading, writing, and arithmetic, but rather, occurs when a child is encouraged to develop his own gifts and talents. Every expert has different views on what should be included in a child’s curriculum, and furthermore, much of what is taught in our schools is outdated by the time children need to apply that knowledge to real life. This reinforces Holt’s belief that there is no single body of information that all children should learn.

Quoting the author: “The proper place and best place for children to learn whatever they need or want to know is the place where, until very recently, almost all children learned it: in the world itself.”
5. Strategies: Current teaching strategies cultivate a fear of
humiliation in children, and do more to harm young people than they do to meet their needs. Such fear drives students to develop various coping strategies or defense mechanisms – mumbling, acting like they don’t understand, acting overly enthusiastic so they won’t be called upon, etc – to dodge the demands placed upon them by adults, or to avoid being humiliated in front of their peers.

Holt concludes that there is a vast difference between what children really know, and what they only appear to know. Rather than learning the content of a lesson, children learn how to perform, or how to survive by deflecting the teacher’s questions with the least possible amount of embarrassment. Almost everything we do in our schools tends to make children ‘answer-centered,’ rather than ‘problem centered,’ which inadvertently deprives them of the skills that they need to function in the real world.

From the time of birth until the age of three years, children have a “tremendous capacity for learning, understanding, and creating.” Adults – either through their own actions, or through excessively dictating their children’s actions – destroy most of the this intellectual and creative capacity. Most frequently, we destroy this capacity by making our children afraid; afraid of being wrong. Holt’s examination of our present educational system is a critical and insightful study, one which forces us to look more closely at the lessons that we are unwittingly imparting to our young ones.

Dumbing Us Down – The Hidden Curriculum of Compulsory Schooling

A brilliant book by New York State teacher of the year: John Taylor Gatto

Diplomate, American Board of Psychiatry and Neurology

“The aim of totalitarian education has never been to instill convictions, but to destroy the capacity to form any.”  –Hannah Arendt

In this rare and insightful book, Gatto  explains the seven lessons that are taught in most schools.  They constitute a damaging and costly national curriculum.  Here is a summary of those principles, as expressed by the author in the first-person voice:

1. Confusion: I teach too much, and everything that I teach is out of context. The orbiting of planets, the law of large numbers, slavery, adjectives, architectural drawing, dance, assemblies, etc.

Editors note: I have met countless college graduates whose heads are filled with volumes of academic jumble, but who cannot focus, live under constant stress, can’t make a decent income, and can’t maintain a stable relationship with a member of the opposite sex.

2.Class Position: I teach students that they must remain in the class into which they were born, the class where they belong. If I do my job well, my students will be unable to imagine themselves somewhere else. They will envy and fear the upper classes, and have contempt for the lower classes.

3. Indifference: I teach children not to care too much about anything, even though they may desire to do so. I demand that my students become completely involved in my lessons, vigorously competing with each other for my favor.

4.Emotional Dependency: By using stars and red checks; smiles and frowns; prizes and punishments; or honors and disgraces, I force children to become emotionally dependent upon my praise. This ensures my power over them. My students surrender their will to the predestined chain of command. Rights may be granted or withheld by any authority without appeal, because rights do not exist inside a school. Even the right to free speech – free thought as well – is suspended within the confines of the classroom. Individuality is a contradiction of class theory.

5. Intellectual Dependency: Good students wait for a teacher to tell them what to do. This is the most important lesson that is imparted to our children in school: We must wait for other people – better trained than ourselves – to direct us and give meaning to our lives.

6. Provisional Self-Esteem: I teach children that their self-respect should depend upon expert opinion. My student’s are constantly evaluated and judged. Report cards, grades, and tests all teach us that children should not trust themselves or their parents, but instead, should rely upon the expert evaluations of certified officials. People need to be told what they are worth.
7. One Can’t Hide: I teach students they are always watched; that each individual is

under constant surveillance by either my colleagues or myself. This forces my students to behave appropriately, because they fear that someone is watching them, and will punish them if they behave wrongly. There is no private time. Furthermore, I assign a type of extended schooling called “homework,” which ensures that the effects of my classroom travel into private households. When students might otherwise use free time to learn something unauthorized from a parent, through exploration, or by apprenticing to some wise person in the neighborhood, they are kept occupied with homework.

Presently, few people can imagine a different educational system. When proponents of educational reform bring up the aforementioned flaws, they are met with traditional opposition: “Kids have to learn to follow orders, if they ever expect to keep a job.” or “They have to go to school so they can learn to read and write.”

Prior to around 1850, schooling – as it is understood in the traditional sense – was not considered very important anywhere. Schooling existed, but not to the extent that it presently does. Furthermore, students only attended the amount of school that they felt necessary. Even without rigid curriculum and mandatory attendance policies, people still learned to read, write, and do arithmetic. Recently, Senator Kennedy’s office released a paper stating that prior to compulsory education, the literacy rate was 98%. Following the implementation of compulsory education, the figure never exceeded 91%. Additionally, the skills of reading, writing, and performing arithmetic – when the pupil is eager and willing to learn – can be mastered much more quickly than our present school system leads people to believe. When an individual genuinely wants to learn something, the speed at which he is able to comprehend that subject matter is greatly increased.
Gatto’s book strikes at the heart of modern social dysfunction. It is a critical component of our understanding the problems – high rates of mental illness, family dysfunction, violence, crime, drug addiction, income inequity – that plague our society. See Mr. Gatto’s web site.

Education Reform: Beyond Discipline      

In his book, BeyondDiscipline: From Compliance to Community, Alfie Kohn (1996) shatters the traditional assumptions and practices of classroom management.

Conventionally, teachers work within a “teacher-directed model” by controlling the children’s behavior either by punishment or rewards.  Instead of acknowledging the possible problems of a dull curriculum or poor instructional methods, teachers place complete blame on children for their negative behavior.  Apart from critiquing traditional classroom method, Kohn (1996) offers an alternative method, a “student-directed model” that transforms the classroom into a democratic community that recognizes the needs and interests of both teachers and students.

The underlying flaw with using the traditional classroom management system is that it can only succeed in eliciting temporary compliance from the students. The use of extrinsic rewards and sanctions does not teach students to become caring and responsible individuals who will be able to act appropriately without external supervision or coercion.
With punishments, children only learn the lesson that they will suffer dire consequences when they are caught misbehaving. With rewards, students will learn how to respond positively only in order to win a prize or praise. Therefore, both punishments and rewards do not cultivate long-lasting moral values within children. In fact, Kohn (1996) cites supportive research to show that children who are taught with traditional classroom methods tend to be more selfish and uncooperative than those who are taught with alternative methods.

In contrast, Kohn (1996) believes that the implementation of a new classroom management system that incorporates students in the decision-making processes will exert a positive impact on the students and eliminate behavioral problems.

Kohn (1996) highlights
five ways for classroom management system that
incorporates students in the decision-making processes will exert a positive impact on the creating a democratic community within the classroom:
Invite students to participate in their learning processes by making daily decisions.
Encourage students to learn appropriate behavior among themselves, with the teacher’s guidance.
Hold classroom discussions about the standards of behavior for the classroom. Instead of the teacher prescribing rules of conduct, the students are given the opportunities to explore and determine how to create a positive community.

Establish routine classroom meetings for students to vent their feelings, discuss classroom issues and learn how to solve problems in a democratic setting.

Create a safe and positive environment that promotes participation from all students, without fear of mockery and negative criticism.
With this book, Kohn (1996) has challenged the traditional assumptions of classroom management that has dominated the school system for centuries. Although educators believe that the education system should help children become caring and responsible individuals, they have upheld a system designed to create unthinking and compliant students. Therefore, it is time for educators to recognize the significance of Kohn’s vision of an alternative classroom by answering this question: What kind of future do we want for our children? Reference Kohn, A. (1996). Beyond discipline: From compliance to community. Alexandria: Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development.

A Different Kind of Teacher: Solving the Crisis of  American Schooling

What is wrong with the school system to 
Gatto is not bad teachers, bad administrators, nor even bad parents.

Rather, it is the design of the institution altogether from inception.  Instead of superficially searching for quick fix reforms, Gatto desires to see the system junked altogether.

Gatto sees most schools as prisons of coercion, where students are regulated by a life of fragmented knowledge, where they show obedience to strangers, where the design of education is dependency, obedience, regulation and subordination.

Schools make childhood surreal by:

• enforcing sensory deprivation

• sorting children into rigid categories (read: standardized testing)

• training children to stop at the sound of a buzzer

• keeping children under constant surveillance and depriving them of private time
and space

• assigning numbers to children which feigns the ability to discriminate personal

• insisting that every moment be filled with low level abstractions

• forbidding children to make their own intellectual discoveries

To counter this process his goals for school reforms are as follows:

• teaching needs to be deconstructed – teachers need to be centrally involved in the
development and maintenance of standards and practices, not just the drones of
someone else’s blueprints.

• decentralize school systems – no one right way to teach but allow for other
possibilities, such as home schooling.

• developing areas for privacy and solitude in character development – schools are
too big and too concerned with surveillance.

• less policing in schools – trim bureaucracy for more teachers.

• eliminating artificial subject divisions -students should solve real world problems not
abstractions in an interdisciplinary fashion and should not mimic a Henry Ford
assembly line with classes limited to 40 minutes.

Gatto also looks at a corollary issue: why do schools cost so much? Statistics have shown that home schooled students have higher test scores on average than students who go to public schools. Even many high school dropouts do quite well. So why doesn’t money generate into better educated students? New York state, for example, spends 51% of its budget on administrative costs. Local administration reduces this to only 25% spent on students. Gatto sees this a “protection money paid to the school ring.”

How did this happen on a nation wide scale? Government schooling came to function as a jobs project where “the primary mission of schools and compulsion laws guaranteed an audience no matter how bad the show” (25). Indeed administrators nationally have grown 110% from 1983 to 1991 and increased spending by the federal government has only aggravated the problem rather than solving it.

How did the school system get so bad? Between 1896 and 1920 a small group of industrialists and financiers subsidized university chairs and researchers with the aim of bending schooling to the service of business and the political state. For leading industrialists such as Andrew Carnegie and John T. Rockefeller, public schooling was engineered to serve a modified command economy and an increasingly layered social order. And how best to do this? By copying the Prussian model of public education.
The Prussian way was to train only a leadership cadre while other students would be taught to fit in their place. Moreover, fear of European immigrants in the 1840s, specifically Catholics, made it essential to leading industrialists and educators to adopt a system based on three Prussian principles:

• The state is sovereign, the only true
parents of children.

• State appointed teachers are the
guardians of children.

• The schoolroom and the workplace
shall be dumbed down into simplified

Leading schoolmen of American history such as Horace Mann, Henry Barnard, William Harris, Edward Thorndike, William James, John Dewy, Stanley Hall, Charles Judd, Ellwood Cubberly, and James Russell all made promises to American industrialists and American families of prominence that if the new Prussian school system were given support, the prospect of revolution would vanish and social mobility could be checked.

The Prussian systems explains the
inordinate interest the foundations of Carnegie and Rockefeller took in shaping early public schooling around compulsory education, which to Gatto, has been from the beginning a scheme of indoctrination designed to create a harmless proletariat held hostage by its addiction to luxury and security.

The Prussian school system relied heavily on the French philosopher August Comt้ who argued that one could create a useful proletariat by breaking connections between children and their families, their communities, their God and themselves. Rather than family enterprise and individual effort as the main agencies of personal definition, state institutions would do this better with an army of specialists.

So if the present school system is so awful, how can it be reformed? Gatto argues that there is no one way to teach, that schooling should be what the parents, community and even the children want it to be, an experiment not codified by the state. Rather than have standards set by politicians or administrators, schools should survive the market place, much like a business, with plenty of competition. Before the “Progressive” era of mid 19th century compulsory education laws there was great diversity and autonomy in education rather than one best system which was forced on everyone. Though not a proponent of vouchers, Gatto believes that a portion of school taxes should be given back to parents so they could shop around for better options than public education has to offer.
For schools to be worthwhile they need to have worthwhile goals such as:

• creating independent, resourceful and fearless citizens

• tapping the educational power of family life

• bestowing significance on personal choices

• arresting the epidemic of alienation and loneliness

• restoring democracy as a natural mission

• reversing the growing isolation of social classes

• regenerating community life

Gatto believes schools can pursue these goals and still teach reading writing and arithmetic.

Deschooling Our Lives

Deschooling Our Lives, a compilation of short essays by de-schooling parents, advocates, and educators discusses the various aspects of alternative schooling, ranging from the philosophies of its original supporters to representatives from modern alternative schools.  The compilation focuses on core issues such as:

The negative psychological effect of the present school system.

The need for schooling that venerates individuality, self-definition, and responsibility for one’s own growth

Determination to raise critical thinking individuals committed to social transformation and a democratic society
The need for a free school system that allows parents school choice

Emphasis on community building and community support

Separated into 4 sections: 1) Looking Back: Some of the Roots of Modern Deschooling; 2) Living Fully: More Recent Analysis; 3) Just Say No: Staying Home; 4) Schools That Ain’t: Places That Work; the collection of pieces are written by individuals with experience in the field.

Part One – Looking Back: Some of the Roots of Modern Deschooling incorporates articles from authors ranging from Leo Tolstoy to John Holt, each drawing on their own experience in the educational system. Although each of the writers gives a different perspective on the issue, they each discuss the failures of the current school system as well as ideas for how to transcend them. Each writer emphasizes the need to refrain from distinguishing intellectual from physical and advocate learning as intertwined with experience. This part offers various critiques of the general school system.

Part Two – Living Fully: More Recent Analysis focuses on more recent proponents of deschooling who form the core philosophy of the deschooling movement. Writers such as Grace Llewellyn and John Taylor Gatto discuss the use of arbitrary tyrannical authority in the current school system and the negative psychological effects this method has on children. Others focus on the need to create an environment that encourages children to view life as a lifelong process of questioning, discovery, and commitment to social transformation. Each writer offers their own criticisms of the current school system and visions for the future.
Part Three – Just Say No: Staying Home, contains pieces by a diverse group

of deschoolers, ranging from single mothers to musicians. Each author gives their own angle of the deschooling issue, touching on various topics such as the literacy rate of African-American children, the destructive approach of musical teaching, and benefits of deschooling for single mothers. Each expands on the strategies she/he finds beneficial to a child’s self-esteem and healthy sense of the world. This section provides a more in-depth, detailed analysis of modern deschooling.
Part Four – Schools That Ain’t: Places That Work completes the compilation with examples of successful alternative schools and communities. Although many of the schools differ in their specific approaches to deschooling, the basic inspirations and visions of deschoolers remain consistent. Both deschooler students and educators take part in this discussion, giving the reader opinions from various angles of alternative schools. The schools embody democratic environments, child-tailored education, and adaptable school constitutions.
This compilation effectively takes the reader from numerous deschooling philosophies to examples of ways to make them a reality. A variety of ideas and visions coupled with diverse approaches to deschooling reemphasize the notion that there is no right way to educate a child. The book emphasizes that education should not adhere to a stagnant curriculum, but center on the child and the community. Deschooling Our Lives is an informative reader for anyone dissatisfied with the current school system or looking towards a future of deschooling for their child.


Created to provide a voice for the alternative education community, Mary Leue’s   vol. I: The Best of Skole, 

(1992) the Journal of Alternative Education consists of diverse writings from teachers, students and academics More than a compilation of individual articles, this book captures the unique characteristics, the independent philosophy and creative methods, which have defined alternative education over the last four decades:

The empowerment of students, parents and teachers

• The recognition of the need to educate the intellectual, physical and
emotional aspects of each individual

• The acknowledgement of individuality and diversity in learning
styles and personal character

• The emphasis of human relationships and thus, the creation of a
For many of these educators, their valiant struggle to create an alternative type of education sprang from their frustration with traditional methods of education that destroys the students’ intuitive passion for learning. Even more significantly, Leue’s (1992) anthology is a celebration of the vision of extraordinary individuals who wanted to create an alternative to the current society that is characterized by overconsumption, disillusionment and the death of community life.

Reflecting the democratic orientation and the communal quality of an alternative educational institution, this anthology is divided into several sections: 1) Profiled schools that highlight the challenging beginnings of several alternative schools; 2) Articles written by prominent educators that espouse the philosophy of alternative education; 3) Poems that feature poetry produced by the students who play an integral role in the alternative education movement; 4) Studies that analyze and validate the effectiveness of alternative education; and 5) Book Reviews showcasing books that have contributed to the development of alternative education.

Although these articles have been written by different educators, they are interwoven with common threads that have created the unusual and incredible tapestry of alternative education. In “History of the Free School,” Mary Leue (1992) depicts the controversial and difficult creation of the Free School.
Based on a learner-centered model, the Free School sought to provide the children with an exciting place for learning without imposing its structure on them. More significantly, the Free School challenged the social and economic prejudices of a capitalist society by creating an alternative society. By acquiring several buildings in a dilapidated area, Leue used the Free School to transform a downtrodden neighborhood into a tightly-knit community that helped its members and shared resources.

The “village” that revolved around the Free School was not only able to provide housing and education for the members of its community, but was also able to provide medical and legal assistance. Essentially, by overcoming seemingly insurmountably challenges and difficulties, Leue (1992) and her supporters were able to realize a vision of an ideal community that brought out the best in humanity.
This belief that the quality of education lies at the heart of the society is also illuminated in writings such as John Taylor Gatto’s (1992) article, “Why Schools Don’t Educate.” According to Gatto (1992), the crisis of drugs, sex, violence and overconsumption is a result of the traditional education system that has failed to allow children to learn and grow. In the artificial school environment that emphasizes student conformity and divides learning into discrete subjects, students cannot learn about their strengths and weaknesses. Furthermore, their learning is out-of-touch with reality. Thus, Gatto (1992) believes that students should be given a conducive environment for independent study and exposed to apprenticeships in various organizations, as well as community service.

Even though these two writings constitute merely a small sample of
the anthology, they reflect the passion and commitment of individuals who have dedicated their lives towards creating a new type of education and a new world. In spite of public apathy and opposition, participants in the alternative education movement have made personal sacrifices and have forged ahead with their vision. Unfortunately, they represent only a minority of people who have dared to voice the fundamental reality that the current education system is detrimental to the growth of our children and future of our society. Thus, this anthology offers a valuable forum for educators to spread their message and save future generations of children from being victimized by the current education system.