Anti-schooling activism

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Anti-schooling activism or radical education reform seeks to abolish compulsory schooling laws.


Teaching as political control[edit]

Benjamin Disraeli, during a speech in the House of Commons of the United Kingdom in June 1839 remarked:[1]

"Wherever is found what is called a paternal government, there is found state education. It has been found that the best way to insure implicit obedience is to commence tyranny in the nursery."

A non-curriculum, non-instructional method of teaching was advocated by Neil Postman and Charles Weingartner in their book Teaching as a Subversive Activity. In inquiry education students are encouraged to ask questions which are meaningful to them, and which do not necessarily have easy answers; teachers are encouraged to avoid giving answers.[2]

Philosopher Herbert Spencer argues the despotism inherent in education:

For what is meant by saying that a government ought to educate the people? Why should they be educated? What is the education for? Clearly, to fit the people for social life — to make them good citizens. And who is to say what are good citizens? The government: there is no other judge. And who is to say how these good citizens may be made? The government: there is no other judge. Hence the proposition is convertible into this — a government ought to mold children into good citizens…. It must first form for itself a definite conception of a pattern citizen; and, having done this, must elaborate such system of discipline as seems best calculated to produce citizens after that pattern. This system of discipline it is bound to enforce to the uttermost. For if it does otherwise, it allows men to become different from what in its judgment they should become, and therefore fails in that duty it is charged to fulfill.[3]

Murray N. Rothbard argues that the history of the drive for compulsory schooling is not guided by altruism, but by a desire to coerce the population into a mold desired by the Establishment.

John Caldwell Holt asserts that youths should have the right to control and direct their own learning, and that the current compulsory schooling system violates a basic fundamental right of humans: the right to decide what enters our minds. He thinks that freedom of learning is part of freedom of thought, even more fundamental a human right than freedom of speech. He especially states that forced schooling, regardless of whether the student is learning anything whatsoever, or if the student could more effectively learn elsewhere in different ways, is a gross violation of civil liberties (Holt, 1974).

Nathaniel Branden adduces government should not be permitted to remove children forcibly from their homes, with or without the parents' consent, and subject the children to educational training and procedures of which the parents may or may not approve. He also claims that citizens should not have their wealth expropriated to support an educational system which they may or may not sanction, and to pay for the education of children who are not their own. He claims this must be true for anyone who understands and is consistently committed to the principle of individual rights. He asserts that the disgracefully low level of education in America today is the predictable result of a state-controlled school system, and that the solution is to bring the field of education into the marketplace.[4]


"Over-education" is the phenomenon in which individuals feel burdened or oppressed by the weight of their education. A good education is something prized in nearly all cultures, but education can be felt as an obstacle to happiness, and may contribute to mental health problems.[5]

Sometimes this term relates to the problem of employing people with higher education. For example, some employers avoid hiring people with doctoral degrees, because they find the presence of someone more educated than themselves a potential threat to their own position, or because they believe the person will be dissatisfied with the work or salary.

Over-education is a theme in the Unabomber Manifesto.

The corruption of children – Rousseau[edit]

Jean-Jacques Rousseau wrote in his book Emile: or, On Education that all children are perfectly designed organisms, ready to learn from their surroundings so as to grow into virtuous adults, but due to the malign influence of corrupt society, they often fail to do so. Rousseau advocated an educational method which consisted of removing the child from society—for example, to a country home—and alternately conditioning him through changes to environment and setting traps and puzzles for him to solve or overcome.

Rousseau was unusual in that he recognized and addressed the potential of a problem of legitimation for teaching. He advocated that adults always be truthful with children, and in particular that they never hide the fact that the basis for their authority in teaching was purely one of physical coercion: "I'm bigger than you." Once children reached the age of reason, at about 12, they would be engaged as free individuals in the ongoing process of their own.

Individuality – Bloom, Nietzsche[edit]

Allan Bloom's Closing of the American Mind is a critique of the contemporary university and how Bloom sees it as failing its students. To a great extent, Bloom's criticism revolves around his belief that the Great Books of Western Thought have been devalued as a source of wisdom. Martha Nussbaum and Harry V. Jaffa both argued that Bloom was deeply influenced by Friedrich Nietzsche,[6] who in the 19th century wrote:

There are no educators. As a thinker, one should speak only of self-education. The education of youth by others is either an experiment, conducted on one as yet unknown and unknowable, or a leveling on principle, to make the new character, whatever it may be, conform to the habits and customs that prevail[7]

In the 1940s, the English writer and critic Herbert Read wrote:

Mankind is naturally differentiated into many types, and to press all these types into the same mold must inevitably lead to distortions and repressions. Schools should be of many kinds, following different methods and catering for different dispositions. It might be argued that even a totalitarian state must recognize this principle but the truth is that differentiation is an organic process, the spontaneous and roving associations of individuals for particular purposes. To divide and segregate is not the same as to join and aggregate. It is just the opposite process. The whole structure of education as the natural process we have envisaged, falls to pieces if we attempt to make that structure … artificial. [8]

Grading – Illich[edit]

In Deschooling Society, Ivan Illich calls for the disestablishment of schools. He claims that schooling confuses teaching with learning, grades with education, diplomas with competence, attendance with attainment, and, especially, process with substance. He writes that schools do not reward real achievement, only processes. Schools inhibit a person’s will and ability to self-learn, ultimately resulting in psychological impotence. He claims that forced schooling perverts the victims’ natural inclination to grow and learn and replaces it with the demand for instruction. Further, the current model of schooling, replete with credentials, betrays the value of a self-taught individual. Moreover, institutionalized schooling seeks to quantify the unquantifiable – human growth.

Effects on local culture and economics[edit]

Schooling has been used as a tool for assimilation and a both deliberate and inadvertent tool to change local culture and economics into another form. Opponents of this effect argue it is a human right for a culture to be maintained, and education can violate this human right.[9] Forced schooling has been used to forcibly assimilate Native Americans in the United States and Canada, which some have said is cultural genocide.[10][11] Many psychologists believe the forced assimilation of native cultures has contributed to their high suicide rates and poverty.[12] Western education encourages Western modes of survival and economic systems, which can be worse and poorer than the existing modes of survival and economic systems of an existing culture.[12][13][14] Today, there are many organizations who are continuing the practice of spreading a foreign educational system to sovereign cultures, altering the culture and economic systems in potentially destructive ways.[15]

School related stress and depression[edit]

There are many factors that can cause schooling to be source of stress and depression in a person's life, which can have long term health effects.[16][17] School bullying can lead to depression and long term emotional damage.[18] Societal and familial academic pressure and rigorous schooling can also lead to stress, depressions, and suicide.[19][20] Academic pressure and rigorous schooling has been pointed to as a cause of the high rate of suicide among South Korean adolescents.[21][22][23][24] General boredom from school can also cause stress,[25] and low academic performance can lead to low self esteem.[26] A student's family can suffer from academic related stress as well.[27]

Ineffective or counter to its purpose[edit]

Some of the proposed purposes of western style compulsory education are to prepare students to join the adult workforce and be financially successful, have students learn useful skills and knowledge, and prepare students to make positive economic or scientific contributions to society.[28][29] Critics of schooling say it is ineffective at achieving these purposes and goals. In many countries, schools do not keep up with the skills demanded by the workplace, or never have taught relevant skills.[30][31][32][33] Students often feel unprepared for college as well.[34] More schooling does not necessarily correlate with greater economic growth.[35] Alternate forms of schooling, such as the Sudbury model, have been shown to be sufficient for college acceptance and other western cultural goals.[36]

Many feel school is a waste of time, and anything learned through school can be learned in a much shorter time frame than the time usually spent in school.[37][38] Studies have shown much of what is learned is quickly forgotten, unless an individual is involved in activities which reinforce what they had learned.[39][40][41] Many financially successful people have left secondary school or college early,[42] and there are many famous people in various fields who are self-taught.

Instead of being a way out of poverty and a way to stay away from crime, for many, school has the opposite effect. Schooling often perpetuates poverty and class divisions.[26][43][44] At many schools, students are introduced to gangs, drugs and crime.[45] The school to prison pipeline also converts children into criminals through overly harsh punishments.[46] Punishments from truancy and other school related laws also adversely effect students and parents.[47][48][49]

Unfree child labour[edit]

Compulsory education can be said to be a form of unfree labour, child labour, and ageism. Children are forced to attend school under threat of arrest and fines to their family, through truancy laws.[49] Educators and education companys often profit from this system.[50][51] At school, the students are under similar work conditions as those employed in a modern office. The US Department of Labor website equates schooling with employment, stating:[52][53]

Please remember, you already have a full-time job--working hard in school so you can get a good education. This is the most important job you will ever have. What you learn now will help you get a better job when you are older.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "EDUCATION—ADJOURNED DEBATE". Millbank Systems. 23 February 2014. Retrieved 23 February 2014. 
  2. ^ Postman, Neil, and Weingartner, Charles (1969), Teaching as a Subversive Activity, Dell, New York, NY.
  3. ^ Spencer,Herbert. Social Statics, p. 297.
  4. ^ Branden, N. (1963). Public Education, Should Education be Compulsory and Tax Supported, as it is Today? Chapter 5, Common Fallacies About Capitalism, Ayn Rand, Capitalism: The Unknown Ideal, p. 89.
  5. ^ "psychologytoday.". Retrieved 2009-03-05. 
  6. ^ Nussbaum, Martha. "Undemocratic Vistas," New York Review of Books 34, no.17 (5 November 1987)
  7. ^ as cited in NIETZSCHE, by Walter Kaufmann, (1954) The Viking Press, New York
  8. ^ Herbert Read, The Education of Free Men (London: Freedom Press, 1944), pp. 27 — 28.
  9. ^ Noam, Schimmel, (2007-01-01). "Indigenous education and human rights". Retrieved 2016-11-19. 
  10. ^ Austen, Ian (2015-06-02). "Canada's Forced Schooling of Aboriginal Children Was 'Cultural Genocide,' Report Finds". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved 2016-11-19. 
  11. ^ Jones, Jennifer; Bosworth, Dee Ann; Lonetree, Amy (2011). "American Indian Boarding Schools: An Exploration of Global Ethnic & Cultural Cleansing" (PDF). Ziibiwing Center of Anishinabe Culture & Lifeways. 
  12. ^ a b "'A struggle for hope'". Retrieved 2016-11-19.  External link in |website= (help)
  13. ^ "Philosophy of Education -- From: Chapter 5: Schooling in Capitalist America". Retrieved 2016-11-19. 
  14. ^ "neolithic hunter-gatherers: Marshall Sahlins- The Original Affluent Society". Retrieved 2016-11-20. 
  15. ^ "Homepage | A World At School". Retrieved 2016-11-19. 
  16. ^ Schneiderman, Neil; Ironson, Gail; Siegel, Scott D. (2004-11-01). "Stress and Health: Psychological, Behavioral, and Biological Determinants". Annual Review of Clinical Psychology. 1 (1): 607–628. doi:10.1146/annurev.clinpsy.1.102803.144141. ISSN 1548-5943. PMC 2568977Freely accessible. PMID 17716101. 
  17. ^ Abeles, Vicki (2016-01-02). "Is the Drive for Success Making Our Children Sick?". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved 2016-11-20. 
  18. ^ "The Long Term Effects of Bullying". Retrieved 2016-11-20. 
  19. ^ Lythcott-Haims, Julie (2015-07-05). "Kids of Helicopter Parents Are Sputtering Out". Slate. ISSN 1091-2339. Retrieved 2016-11-20. 
  20. ^ "School Stress Takes A Toll On Health, Teens And Parents Say". Retrieved 2016-11-20. 
  21. ^ "South Korean education success has its costs in unhappiness and suicide rates". 2015-06-16. Retrieved 2016-11-20. 
  22. ^ "Why We Should Not Copy Education in South Korea". Diane Ravitch's blog. 2014-08-03. Retrieved 2016-11-20. 
  23. ^ "Suicide is leading cause of death among South Korean teens, says report". UPI. Retrieved 2016-11-20. 
  24. ^ "The All-Work, No-Play Culture Of South Korean Education". Retrieved 2016-11-20. 
  25. ^ ""I'm Bored!" – Research on Attention Sheds Light on the Unengaged Mind". Association for Psychological Science. Retrieved 2016-11-20. 
  26. ^ a b Thomsen, Michael (2013-05-01). "The Case Against Grades". Slate. ISSN 1091-2339. Retrieved 2016-11-20. 
  27. ^ Pressman, Robert M.; Sugarman, David B.; Nemon, Melissa L.; Desjarlais, Jennifer; Owens, Judith A.; Schettini-Evans, Allison. "Homework and Family Stress: With Consideration of Parents' Self Confidence, Educational Level, and Cultural Background". The American Journal of Family Therapy. 43 (4): 297–313. doi:10.1080/01926187.2015.1061407. 
  28. ^ ASCD. "Education Update:Quality Feedback:What Is the Purpose of Education?". Retrieved 2016-11-20. 
  29. ^ "What is the purpose of education?". Retrieved 2016-11-20. 
  30. ^ "Schools 'failing to prepare young people for work', say business leaders". Retrieved 2016-11-20. 
  31. ^ "Schools 'are not preparing students for the workplace'". The Independent. 2015-08-24. Retrieved 2016-11-20. 
  32. ^ "'Education inflation' hurts Swedes' job prospects". 2013-09-17. Retrieved 2016-11-20. 
  33. ^ Reich, Robert. "Robert Reich: College is a ludicrous waste of money". Salon. Retrieved 2016-11-20. 
  34. ^ "Survey: Most high school students feel unprepared for college, careers". EdSource. Retrieved 2016-11-20. 
  35. ^ "Education and Economic Growth - Education Next". Education Next. 2008-02-29. Retrieved 2016-11-20. 
  36. ^ "Sudbury Valley School • Online Library. Alumni". Retrieved 2016-11-20. 
  37. ^ Gray, Peter. "School is a prison — and damaging our kids". Salon. Retrieved 2016-11-20. 
  38. ^ "My Education Was A Complete Waste Of Time". Retrieved 2016-11-20. 
  39. ^ Willingham, Daniel. "Do Students Remember What They Learn in School?". American Federation of Teachers. Retrieved 2016-11-20. 
  40. ^ Herald, University (2014-06-25). "First-Year College Students Forget Up To 60 Percent Of Material They Learned High School". University Herald. Retrieved 2016-11-20. 
  41. ^ "Classics in the History of Psychology -- Ebbinghaus (1885/1913) Chapter 1". Retrieved 2016-11-20. 
  42. ^ "11 wildly successful people who dropped out of high school". Business Insider. Retrieved 2016-11-20. 
  43. ^ Soling, Cevin (2016-05-15). "How Public Schools Demand Failure and Perpetuate Poverty". The Daily Beast. Retrieved 2016-11-20. 
  44. ^ Hochschild, Jennifer L. (2016-11-19). "Social Class in Public Schools". Journal of Social Issues. 59 (4). 
  45. ^ Howell, James; Lynch, James (2000). "Youth Gangs in School" (PDF). Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention; Juvenile Justice Bulletin. 
  46. ^ "School-to-Prison Pipeline". American Civil Liberties Union. Retrieved 2016-11-20. 
  47. ^ "Compulsory Education's Unforeseen Consequences: Nebraska Case Studies". COMMON CORE. 2013-07-23. Retrieved 2016-11-20. 
  48. ^ Goldstein, Dana (2015-03-06). "Inexcusable Absences". New Republic. Retrieved 2016-11-20. 
  49. ^ a b "Jail for Missed Days at School? The Madness of Truancy Laws.". 2015-06-06. Retrieved 2016-11-20. 
  50. ^ "Head teachers are giving students "selfish" career advice, says Head of Ofsted". Retrieved 2016-11-20. 
  51. ^ "Education Inc.: How Private Companies Profit from Public Schools". Common Dreams. Retrieved 2016-11-20. 
  52. ^ "elaws - employment laws assistance for workers and small businesses". 2016-11-19. Retrieved 2016-11-20. 
  53. ^ "elaws - employment laws assistance for workers and small businesses". Retrieved 2016-11-20.