I see everything in pendulums. That might sound kind of weird. Let me explain. Right now, we are at the height of compulsory education. For the last 100 years, the government has been steadily encroaching upon family freedoms in regard to education. We now have a system which is so forceful and coercive that students, parents, and teachers are instructed in what to do and what to think at pretty much every turn. Some people, rightly, don’t like that.
So in response to this hyper coercive model, the “pendulum” has swung all the way to the other extreme. We now have schools wherein every last detail is left up to the students. Instead of complete administrative control, the students have 100% say in creating the rules, how students are punished for breaking the rules, deciding which teachers are hired and how much they get paid, what courses (if any) are offered and any other detail that might arise. These schools are known as “democratic” schools and are becoming more and more popular as people become more and more disgusted with the coercive model of education currently enforced by the government.
Democratic schools sound appealing to the masses because our historically detached society believes that the founding fathers created a DEMOCRATIC government. So the word “democracy” makes most people think of George Washington and Thomas Jefferson, and all the noble principles the founders fought for.
However, the word “democracy” does not appear in ANY of our founding documents and pure or direct democracy is an idea that the founding fathers actually fought against! You see, in a pure democracy, whatever the majority of people vote for is deemed lawful. Sounds great.
Power to the people.
I get it.
Except when 51% of those people decide that its alright to kill whoever you feel like or take whatever you want from your neighbor’s garage. Pure democracy is a form of tyranny and usually degenerates into mob rule where no one is truly safe or free.
Our Founding Fathers knew we needed a government which would allow choice and freedom but could guard against chaos. So instead of a democracy, they gave us a Republic.
In a republic, elected representatives who have experience and understanding uphold the rule of law. Everyone is equally subject to the law and it does not change even if most of the people don’t want to live by it (check out this amazing YouTube video explaining the different types of government. Seriously, click that link). This law establishes and preserves peace, freedom and safety. This peace, freedom and safety allows individuals to act and not be acted upon. It allows each individual to progress in the way that brings him or her the greatest degree of joy and fulfillment.
What in the Jimminy Christmas does all of this have to do with education?
Well, the thing about pendulums is that they are always swinging between extremes. This is exactly what is happening in the educational world today. What we need to find is a balance between giving children no control and giving them all of the control so that they can be free as well as safe.
To emphasize the importance of finding this balance I would like you to imagine sitting in your grandmother’s kitchen watching her make her famous homemade bread. She has her apron on and the smell of bread baking fills her quaint little home. She hands you the most delicious slice of homemade bread that you have ever eaten. Fresh out of the oven, butter melting into all the nooks and crannies. Maybe there’s strawberry jam as well, I don’t know, use your imagination. Everything is perfectly delicious and you feel warm and joyful.
Now, before she started mixing the ingredients for the dough, did Grandma ask all the grand kids (individuals with potentially no bread making experience, limited comprehension skills, and at times rather silly dispositions) to vote on how much salt, yeast, and flower to add?
Mmmm, no. In fact, the result of that course of action would be–you guessed it–super yucky.
So did she have a professional expert baker standing behind her who gave her rewards and punishments as she proofed the yeast, measured the oil, and kneaded the dough?
Mmmm, no. In fact, this intrusion may render edible bread, but would have robbed her of any joy that she may have derived from her baking experience and made it unlikely that she would have a desire to bake again next week.
In reality, that miraculous, childhood-making bread was the result of a wise woman choosing to follow a specific set of actions that had been proven effective over time. She chose to follow a recipe. A very specific recipe, in fact. One that took into account the natural laws inherent in baking (chemical reactions of salt, and yeast, flour, and heat etc). And because she did this with exactness, she got the result that we so enjoy.
When we allow children COMPLETE reign over every element of their lives and education it is like withholding the tried and tested recipe from them. Their bread will turn out floppy or rock hard or too salty.
When we allow our children to be compelled and controlled in every aspect of their day, the bread may come out edible but we have killed any inkling of joy that they might have experienced in the process.
So where is the balance?
Well, in order to preserve freedom but protect us from chaos, the founders gave us elected representatives and the rule of law. In order to preserve freedom but protect us from chaos, God gave little children parents with experience and understanding.
Parents are the built in protection that our children need to keep them both free and safe. Parents understand the laws that make for a happy and meaningful life. Parents provide the recipe–the guidance that their children need to develop into adults who are leading meaningful and fulfilling lives of service.
Unfortunately, the influence of parents has been neutralized on several fronts. Educational experts make us feel incapable of educating our own children. “Trust us,” they say. “This is way over your head,” they say. “You don’t know what you are talking about,” they say. “You’re probably right,” we say, as we turn our parental stewardship over.
Our children get a similar message from the world. “Your parents are old,” popular music says. “Parents have no idea what they are talking about,” popular sitcoms clearly demonstrate. “Make your own choices, don’t listen to them,” suggests the social media thread with millions of followers.
Virtually everything in society is pitted against the parent-child relationship. Why? Perhaps it is because this relationship holds the potential for much joy, peace, and growth.
Parents are the experts in their children. We DO know what we are talking about. Love is the foundation of all progression and no one loves a child more than their parents. The recipe necessary for each individual child to reach their fullest potential is written in the hearts of their mother and father.
Let’s celebrate our children’s freedom and their ability to choose for themselves. But let us also teach them the recipe for a life of legacy and purpose: honesty, diligence, obedience, compassion, patience, courtesy, courage, gratitude and unconditional love. Let them see you live it. Let them see the results–your peace and assurance, your stability, your joy in everyday living.
And so, my dear internet friends, as more and more of us begin to realize the negative effects of compulsory schooling and seek other solutions–let us not be distracted by the opposite extreme on the pendulum or repeat the compulsory coercion methods in our homes. Let us find the restful balance of parental stewardship, agency, and the joy of buttery homemade bread.