Myth – A good school????????s primary goal should be to prepare a student early for the competitive world of specialization.
Truth – We must resist the tendency to specialize too early because it is a form of ??????slavery.?????? A good school provides opportunities to learn through meaningful projects that teach a student to see the world as a whole. Students will then be able to find their places in the world and discover what unique things they can contribute to humanity.
According to his book Up From Slavery, in 1865, Booker T. Washington became homeless at the age of nine, having been released from his work as a slave following the emancipation of the slaves at the close of the American Civil War. He remembered walking the several hundred miles from the plantation in Virginia, where he, his mother and brother were all slaves to his new home in Malden, West Virginia (citation).
Washington remembered the celebration held in honor of the emancipation. A vivid impression was made upon him in the aftermath of the celebrations. A heavy air had descended upon the men and women. The awesome responsibility of providing for themselves and their children weighed heavily upon them. Where would they go? What would they do? So many of them had been treated as workhorses???????highly specialized laborers, picking cotton, threshing, hoeing, with only some who were lucky enough to have learned a trade (citation).
Many women hadn????????t the slightest clue how to cook. The plantation cook did all that for them. They were discouraged from doing anything productive in their spare time. Few knew how to function independently. Reconstruction was a tremendous undertaking because of the evils of the institution of slavery (citation).
The institution of slavery was an institution of highly specialized workers. Specialization is inherent to slavery. Slavery is dependent upon specialization because it is the best way to maintain maximum control. If each part of the machine does its job, it does not need to do or know anything else (citation).
One of my students once told me that she didn????????t need to read the classics and get a great education because she planned on being a beautician when she grew up. She believed the misconception that someone else could do the work of learning. She had already decided what she was going to contribute.
While discovering and embracing what individuals can contribute their genius toward within society is important, what is equally if not more important is for each individual to first realize their contribution as a good citizen. If my student becomes too specialized, she becomes dependent. She must then rely on the expertise of another ??????specialist?????? to maintain her freedoms. Placing personal freedom in the hands of another can be as risky as a game of Russian roulette. This process simply places your life in the hands of another????????s will or even at the mercy of chance.
The conveyor belt system of education trains us to believe that learning is specialized. If you were to ask a child what their favorite school subject is, he might say science or language arts. He wouldn????????t say the great works of Shakespeare or music and the great composers. Assuming that only the parts of the whole can be taught while still maintaining the integrity of the whole is fallacious and dangerous to our societal health.
Seymour Papert, in his book Mindstorms, calls this ??????dissociated learning,?????? meaning not connected with anything else, and hence meaningless (citation). ??????We do things backwards. We think in terms of getting a skill first, and then finding useful and interesting things to do with it. The sensible way, the best way, is to start with something worth doing, and then, moved by a strong desire to do it, learn whatever skills are needed.??????7 Dissociated learning trains our minds to think backwards, parts to whole, and many students never get to the whole because they are so tripped up by the meaninglessness of the parts (citation).
A good school should offer opportunities to learn through whole, meaningful projects that challenge the students to look beyond themselves and their own immediate needs. This process will allow them plenty of opportunities to gain skills in many different areas, thus training the mind holistically and avoiding over-specialization.
There are alternatives to the public school model. The New Commonwealth School is one. Read what solutions this form of schooling offers.
The New Commonwealth School Solution ???????? The New Commonwealth School offers scholar projects to the students that encourage them to explore the broad liberal arts. The school is only a once-a-week school, as a result, school does not take up all of the student????????s time. This schedule leaves students plenty of time to study for next week????????s classes, explore their own interests and meet family and church obligations. They become a contributing citizen at a young age because they have the time to so.