I’m afraid the feat is not so much “enormous” as chimerical. I decided to deal with your problem by letting Julie and Ishmael tackle it. Imagine this conversation occurring sometime after the “Unschooling” chapter.

Julie said, “Ishmael, what would you do if you were the principal of a school. And don’t tell me that’s unlikely to happen. I said WHAT IF?”

“If I were the principal of a school, I’d send the children home with a note to their parents reading, ‘You’ve been deluded into thinking that the education of your children is a task you can palm off on others. Schooling is a system that is well suited to the production of workers but very poorly suited to education. From now on, you’ll have to resume that most human of functions, the teaching of your own children. This school is closed.'”

“The parents would just send their kids to other schools.”

Ishmael shrugged. “You asked what I’d do if I were the principal of a single school, not what I’d do if I were the superintendent of schools.”

“What would you do if you were the superintendent of schools?”

“I’d have all the principals send all their children home with this note.”

“Okay. But what are the parents going to say?”

“Let’s hope these are reasonably well-informed parents, who’d get together and say, ‘Well, we’ve known for a long time that the schools don’t work. They don’t work now, they didn’t work when we went to school, and they didn’t work when our own parents went to school. As far as anyone knows, they’ve NEVER worked.'”

“But what WILL work?”

“What worked for three million years, Julie? Humanity got along fine for three million years without schools.”

“People will say, ‘Oh but it’s very different now. There’s so much more to learn!'”

“This is the very best argument for getting rid of your schools, Julie. What little the schools teach, they teach very badly, as you know yourself.”

“What I mean is, we have so much more to learn!! We have things to learn that weren’t even imagined a million years ago or ten thousand years ago.”

“Tell me this, Julie. Your mother went to school. I believe she even has a college degree. Does she know microbiology?”


“Does she know particle physics? Plant physiology? Computer science? Number theory? Scholastic philosophy? Engineering? Virology? No, of course she doesn’t. One hundred percent of what you people know isn’t known by each of you individually. Indeed there is no individual who knows 100% of what is known by you collectively. This is nothing new. This is the way it’s always been, from the beginning. It was never necessary for every individual in the tribe to know 100% of what the tribe knew. What was essential was for each GENERATION to know 100% of what was known. Schooling is not the best way to assure that this happens. The best way to assure that this happens is to open the world up to your children and allow them to learn what they WANT to learn at the time they WANT to learn it.”

“But suppose someone WANTS to learn particle physics or plant physiology? Where you FIND a particle physicist or a plant physiologist?”

“Julie, schooling as such ends with the end of your high school. Or you might say that schooling is gradually phased out of your education during the college years–schooling being a process in which everyone learns the same thing at the same time. As you progress through college, it’s no longer the case that everyone is learning the same thing at the same time. By the end of college, at least in theory, everyone is learning what they WANT to learn at the time they WANT to learn it. So you see, I’m not talking about closing your institutions of LEARNING, I’m talking about closing your institutions of SCHOOLING.”

“Okay, I see all that,” Julie said. “But what about this? Suppose you were just an ordinary guy who was a school principal, and you’d lose your job if you sent the kids in your school home with that note. Instead of what you’d ideally do, what would you do that you could actually do?”

“As an intermediate step, I guess I’d say, ‘Look, maybe we could head toward the tribal model by building on the Sudbury Valley School in Framingham, Massachusetts.’ I’d work toward liberating the children in my school from the schooling process—however I could and to whatever extent I could.”

[This school was in fact mentioned in MY ISHMAEL.]

Related Q&A(s): 377 380 392 403 406 448 452 456 461 471 473 474 481 483 494 496 500 501 505 509 513 516 539 540 546 547 548 549 550

ID: 403
posted: 10 May 1999