Made you look!

My kids started school this year (K and 3d grade) and they have been driving me crazy with those little games kids play to one up each other. You know the ones. Are you PT? Up high, down low, you’re too slow! I’ve also noticed subtle changes in their behavior recently. They seem to argue more and they show less empathy than before. It got me thinking about the politics of elementary school. I don’t want my kids to grow up treating every social interaction as a sort of battle where one person wins and the other loses. Any ideas for encouraging a more egalitarian outlook?

Take them out of school?

This is such a hard thing to overcome. I think the only thing you can do is counter it with interactions that are egalitarian and cooperative in nature. Extra-curricular classes with like-minded people? Play dates?

If you do take them out of school and decide to homeschool or something, learn about homeschooling cooperatives and classes directed at homeschoolers. I teach classes of that sort, in wilderness skills primarily.

Finding a like minded group is difficult, as well as finding activities that don’t follow the school schedule. Our choice seems to be between isolation and weird power dynamics :(.

Unless you live in a very isolated place, there are lots more options than public school or homeschooling. I’d check out this great unschooling blog, if you’re interested. I was particularly interested to read about “free schools”, which are schools that kids are enrolled in, but where they only have to “attend” as much as they want, and they decide their own interests to pursue. The kids also have equal decision-making power as the rest of the staff, and can be as much or as little involved in the community aspect of running the school (including conflict resolution) as they wish.

Other than that, I think the best (healthiest) option for kids is unschooling. Many people think that unschooling is only possible for parents with lots of time and a good network of support - the blog also talks about why that isn’t so.

I don’t think the negative impact of public schools on children can possibly be overstated. What you are seeing in terms of what your kids are learning from school about power relations is a total case in point - the wetiko disease that infects modern culture centers on the abuse of power (giving up our power to authority by learning to be “obedient” to those who dominate us, and in turn dominating those lower down on the hierarchy) - and the lack of empathy that this requires.

Unfortunately, given the sheer amount of time that kids spend in school compared to the rest of their waking life, I just don’t believe that any amount of healthy parenting can truly counteract the negative influence of the enculturation that happens in public school. Its fighting not only an uphill battle, but a losing one. Not to say that many people don’t fight the enculturation within themselves (usually the kids who reject school in one way or another), or learn to undo its damage later in life, because many (some) do - and devoted parents providing a healthy example to follow and a healthy home life does matter a lot. But that doesn’t change the fact that public school damages kids no matter how much they choose to reject its influence (speaking from experience - I may very well be stronger for it, but I’ll carry the scars for life).

Thanks, Bereal. Your post has given me a lot to think about.

I have to admit that part of my motivation for putting them in school this year was to show them how good they had it when we were homeschooling. I thought “I’ll let them go to school for a year, they’ll hate it, then we’ll go back to the way we were.” Unfortunately, it backfired. My daughter actually likes school. She had an uncomfortable moment at a birthday party a few weeks ago when one of the kids said “raise your hand if you like school.” My little girl was the only one who raised her hand.

I asked her if homeschool is better than school school and she seems to like them both equally. The best thing about homeschool (according to her) is that we have recess all the time. The worst thing about homeschool is not getting to play with her friends. I asked what the worst thing about school is. She thought for a moment and said “Missing the bus.”