Hi. Welcome to the site. Please check out the About Us, and if you have a question about crime and/or punishment, perhaps look at some previous questions along those lines first.
Welcome to Anarchy101 Q&A, where you can ask questions and receive answers about anarchism, from anarchists.


+2 votes
I've always loved learning stuff.  Just learning new things and figuring out problems fascinates me.  However, I really hate the way people are "educated" in the current system.  It seems to me that it's just brainwashing people to think the way the government wants you to think.  Not to mention, it's never taught me anything.  I've learned more through self-education than through schooling.  

So, obviously I see a problem with the way things work now.  But, how can we create a better, more anarchistic way of learning?  Would people just teach themselves certain skills or learn through experience?  How would basic skills like simple math or grammar come into this?  I don't see how people can effectively learn things like this.

Now, this isn't to say that the current system actually does a good job with this.  It doesn't.  But I feel like, if there were an anarchist revolution, we would have to work on making education better.  In other words, the current system is bad, but how could we do it better?
In many societies lacking formal schooling children learn through play and through watching older members of the group do things and mimicking, or helping with work from a young age.

As far as things like math and reading, there are some free schools that don't force children to learn about those things until they are ready to. Layla AbdelRahim talks about her daughter having decided to piece together reading because she was curious what the notes that her parent's would write to each other were.

Some books you might be interested in:
Wild Children, Domesticated Dreams by Layla AbdelRahim
Everywhere All the Time by Matt Hern
The Modern School Movement by Paul Avrich (I haven't read this one, it might be more of an historic account of the Modern Schools, in wqhich case the chapter on the Modern Schools in his "Anarchist Voices", where he actually interviews people who were involved, might be more of interest.
It should be noted that the modern school system evolved from various social conflicts around the british industrial factories; the factory commissions were trying to reduce the harms of child labor in industrial factories, the factory owners (who were also the Lairds, Members in Parliment, Justices of the Peace, and the Clergy, ...) wanted cheap compliant labor.  So they compromised, and the child labor spent half days in factory schools, being taught how to Shut Up, Sit Down, and Do What You Are Told!.
Once you accept that, everything else kinda slides into place.

The shitty/interesting part is that the people who train to be 'teachers' are generally nice people who care about kids and society and other shit, and find they've volunteered themselves as guards in intellectual concentration camps (hence the massive Cognitive Dissonance they experience but refuse to acknowledge.)

Shut Up!  Sit Down!  And Do What You Are Told!  (Or the Fnord will get you!!!)
Thanks for the book ideas, ingrate. I'm interested in checking some of them out. "The Idle Parent" is one that I liked.

cb, I like your observations about teachers. There are quite a few in my family. While they are all very caring and generous people, the dissonance you mentioned prevails.

The sit down, shut up stuff didn't work well on me early on in life (I ran away from the hierarchies of home and school in my teens), but I acquiesced to the conditioning for a good while after I was dragged back to the authority figures. Oh how it feels good to be born again. :)  It's interesting to me (and it often makes me sad) that most young people I know today seem to have more acceptance of the commands to conform than I did, despite seeming more obvious than ever (to me) that the prescription isn't working so well.
BAA: "most young people I know today seem to have more acceptance of the commands to conform than I did,"

There are so many reasons why, too. It seems like kids' time became a lot more structured from without after I became an adult. After-school activities, sports, increased homework,...social changes too: the internet, cell phones, texting, social media. But also 9/11 played into this phenomenon as well, the increase in surveillance, militarism, fear...not to mention the new 'epidemics' every year; SARS, 'bird-flu,' West Nile virus, ebola.

As an anecdote, I was a kid in the 70s. I recall vividly that when I was going to grade-/middle-school teachers and media drumming the idea of American freedom in my head by comparing us to Soviet Union where the citizens had to constantly 'show their papers.'  Today I see kids willingly show their every move on social media.

Edit for typo.
AF, I agree about both the additional structure (I'm amazed at the amount of homework my nieces and nephews under the age of 12 are required to do) and the social changes.

I think it can all be summed up in one word - fear. And those fears, generalized and specified, end up being addressed with more control (the tightened grip you wrote about in another thread).

I also was a kid in the 70's, and while there was a helluva lot of rhetoric and brainwashing going on in my little corner of the world too, I don't recall hearing much about the Soviet Union. The fences and pledge of allegiance were enough to make me want to fly the coop!
The pledge always made me nervous as a kid. I was too young to put my finger on it.

Anyway, today I love pointing out to right-wing progressives ('conservatives,' Republicans') how the pledge was penned by a socialist. They simply don't know what to do with it and usually change the subject. ;)
I didn't realize that about the pledge. That's a nice nugget of info, I'll have to research it a little more. I usually have a hard time talking with "conservatives" and "liberals", although it has gradually become easier for me.

Like you, there were a lot of things that made me uncomfortable as a kid, including many aspects of church. As you said, it's tough to figure out exactly why as a child. It's really the feelings that inform you.

I don't have children, but there are 14 nieces and nephews in my life, and I try very hard to be sensitive to what they're feeling. More than that, I attempt to help them give voice to their feelings of being controlled, and to let them know I support their desire to create their own lives without reverence for the hierarchies and control mechanisms. It seems to me that we're born as anarchists (although there may be something changing in our dna that facilitates conditioning), and any time I witness a young person rejecting and fighting against domination, I do my best to let them know they're not nuts. I know I'm grateful for the "adults" in my life who confirmed my suspicions when I was a kid.


edit: to add...

It seems like it might be fun to point out that info about the pledge to "liberals" as well as "conservatives". Thanks for that. :)
AF, another observation I've had about the majority of young people today is that they don't have a strong "work ethic" when compared to the youth of my day, despite (or maybe as a result of) all the additional structure and conditioning. I view this as a generally positive sign - there is some sort of rejection of the culture going on.
BAA, that may be the case, but it doesn't seem their demands, particularly for expensive shiny gadgets, have decreased.
True, the demands are there, but I think the economic realities in the relatively near future will be putting a serious cramp on those demands. It will be interesting to see how that plays out. That lack of desire for work can also translate to a general malaise, but I'm hopeful there is still some fight latent within many of the kids, and I encourage it wherever and whenever I'm able.
Let's hear it for malaziness!!! I just hope these kids' fight hasn't had the shit beat out of it by way of psyche-med anesthesia.
I hear ya!

One of my nephews, when he was about 7, was being forced by his parents (and backed by his teachers, school administrators, doctor, and psychologist) to take Respirdal, among other pharmaceuticals, for what they deemed ADD.

He came to spend one weekend with me and my wife and appeared almost catatonic. He told us that he sometimes flushed the meds down the toilet on the rare occasions when no one was watching him closely. So we asked him what he would like to do with all the meds his parents had packed for him for the weekend. He smiled and said he'd like to flush them all down the toilet...and so he ended up doing just that in our bathroom and we made a sort of ceremony out of it as they disappeared down the pipes.

By the end of the 3 days, he was laughing and playing Frisbee with us and eating foods he had never eaten, wanting to explore the trails and trees where we lived. It was a brief respite from the delusion, but it remains a source of hope for me, and possibly for him as well (I hope so).

Anyway, thanks for listening to my personal stories. I enjoy hearing yours too.

edited for grammar

1 Answer

+2 votes
I think it would function beautifully.

I also love to learn (doesn't everyone, given freedom?), but I don't like to use the word education because it feels synonymous with the schooling system. I prefer to just think of learning, which can happen any time, any place. And I prefer to think of education as being in the dust bin.

In regards to grammar and math, I see that happening simply by virtue of living. Kids learn to talk by being around others who are talking, discussing, storytelling, communicating, writing, etc. Working on building projects or growing food or keeping score in games, you automatically learn math skills.  One of my nieces often doesn’t go to school when my wife and I are staying with her, and she learns more on the days she doesn’t attend just by her natural curiosity and our willingness to lead where she wants to go. We often learn things as well as a result. One day out of the blue she said she wanted to learn some Japanese, and so we all spent some time looking up words and making sentences and laughing. So I think once the box is removed and the 45 minute bell isn’t sounded for the next subject, children have a desire to learn and create.

One thing I’ve been involved with is the concept of Gift Circles. Basically, you try to round up at least 5 people (and as many as 20 or so) who want to receive and give not only material items, but also to share skills either to provide help for someone or to teach them to someone who wants to learn. There is no money exchanged, but it’s also not barter. In the ones I’ve been involved with, we met once a week to once a month in order to put out into the circle what you’d like to receive or give. Then you simply give to someone in the circle or receive from someone, without accounting or recordkeeping, as a result of the gatherings (which usually include food). I learned how to play the piano this way. I helped someone build a root cellar who wasn’t physically able to do so but knew how to do it - so I was able to receive by learning, while giving my physical abilities at the same time. I can see this model being used for any number of things that people might like to learn – canning food, creative writing, computer repair, carpentry, physiology, sport, teeth cleaning, whatever.

I’ve also seen attempts (some more successful than others) to have skill sharing classes set up on a weekly or monthly basis, where people create classes based on what is desired to learn and the knowledge and experiences of those in the group. I know that the some of the FNB folks have started the Free Skool in New Mexico, and I’m going there next year to participate. You can find them easily online. You stay for a 1 or 2 week block of time, or probably longer if you’d like.

I like that you asked this question, as it’s something I think about a lot and I’m working toward more immersion in this type of activity. I can see how the ill-fated ideologies of the educational and monetary systems can both be circumvented by these concepts. Plus it’s really a lot of fun, and I’ve been able to form some intimate friendships along the way. I think a lot of people forget (or have lost awareness of) how much they know that they can share with others.  And a lot of us also tend to forget how much joy there is in learning when there aren’t all the absurd and constraining elements of education and punishment and money around.  My experience has been that it doesn’t take much effort to remember when there are a few willing souls who want to engage – you bring the joy of learning back to one another. It’s even easier with children, especially the young ones.

An added note about the word "education". As I understand it, the origin of the word is to "draw or lead out", which sounds pretty good to me. But as mentioned in the original question, education today is more synonymous with control and brainwashing - not that there isn't some learning to be had, but it's far from the primary objective.

edited: for grammar and clarity (a work in progress)
by (8.5k points)
edited by
So much good stuff in this answer!

I'll settle for an upvote and a virtual hug.
Well done, Bo@!
Thanks so much, cb. Upvote and virtual hug gladly received!