“Would I Put Myself Through This?”

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There are plenty of different ways to organize how we think about different types of schools (here and here, and more forthcoming). We can look at whether the school is authoritarian or libertarian, to what ends the curriculum is designed, who controls the direction of learning, who makes administrative decisions, and more.

These are useful ways to think about schools in the abstract, and can be helpful for those who know what kinds of values they want the schools in which they place their children to reflect. For those who are unsure how they rank these values and what they are looking for, we may need another heuristic.

Think about the type of school you are looking to place your child or another person’s child (via personal or public policy recommendation) in. Think about the structure of the school; think of the things the students would learn; think of the people who would be employed as instructors; most importantly, think of the day-to-day. Then ask yourself one question:

Would I choose to put myself through this?

If the answer is no, then you have very little grounding to place a child through it.

“Well, that’s not fair. This is from the perspective of an adult, and we’re talking about children. Sometimes children just have to go through certain things,” may be a rebuttal.

But why is this? Do they so they can learn things? What things? Why can’t they learn them in different ways? What makes childhood different from young adulthood that children suddenly have to suffer through something adults wouldn’t put themselves through?

“They have to learn these things when they are young so they can pick them up and use them later. Take language, for example. How would you expect a child to learn how to read if we didn’t force them to do phonics and reading exercises?”

Most children will learn the things they need to learn through engaging in meaningful behavior. A child may take up an interest in cars, and to be proficient at this interest will have to learn how to read, the history of the automobile (and the history of capitalism with it), modeling for cars, basic physics, mathematics, and more.

Or maybe the child will take up playing with models — model trains, airplanes, cities, etc. — and will most likely engage more deeply in this if unhampered.

Learning doesn’t happen in a vacuum. Just because somebody is playing “house” doesn’t mean they won’t learn about math, reading, writing, home economics, building, and more. In fact, they will be more likely to learn from the activity, as they now have “skin in the game.”

“Yeah, well, I wouldn’t want to put myself through [type of schooling], but I went through it myself. If it was good enough for me, it can be good enough for them.”

This is playing with counterfactuals. Just because you think it was good enough for you, doesn’t mean it’s the best available option among limited choices. You can’t run hundreds of controlled experiments with your past self and different types of schooling to figure out if it really was good enough for you. If there’s reasonable evidence that you can do better, and you knowingly keep your children from the system that makes them better people, that’s your responsibility to bear.

Corollary: Don’t Do This to Yourself

Similarly, when thinking about the future of schooling and what you would want for your children (hypothetical or not), if you find yourself saying no to a certain type of schooling experience for them, why would you subject yourself to it?

I know plenty of college-aged people who are currently enrolled in school, recognize it has huge opportunity cost and is likely a waste of money, admit they wouldn’t want their own children to go, but keep trudging through it themselves.

Caring about what our future children experience is important — if not the most important thing — but respecting ourselves and what we want from life is also incredibly important. Recommendations for our children’s futures can only be taken seriously by them when they are made with conviction and self-respect. Children are smart. They can recognize when an adult is really, truly lying to them and to themselves. The authority to send a child to a certain type of school is best claimed when we ourselves have taken ownership over our own educations.

Good Enough for …

If using yourself as a foil for thinking about schooling, try to remove your position entirely from the situation. Most people think of children as some form of property or sub-person (as wrong as that it, it really is the case), so maybe saying, “would I want this for myself?” is hard to imagine. Try then, “would I put a dog through this?” Dogs are, after all, treated similarly to children in many families. Their routines are established by authority with little-to-no control on their ends.

Putting a dog in a cage for 8 hours every day, where it cannot engage in natural behavior, cannot even go to the bathroom without permission, will have to put up with other aggressive dogs and has no real way to deal with this, will cost the owner $10,000+, will stymy the dog’s growth and could turn it into an asocial shut-in, and pretty much deprive it of the outlets it needs to flourish as a dog would be insane. Why do we do the same to children?

From the linked post:

Just about every dog owner I’ve ever met would consider this an outrageously offensive rip-off that borders on animal abuse.  Most of those same people beam with pride and “spirit” while putting their children through the same basic routine.

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