354. Reschooling Society

Ivan Illich wrote a book called “Deschooling Society,” and while society doesn’t seem likely to be deschooled in the way Illich meant, we do seem to be gradually cutting funding for schools. Proposition Thirteen in California, Proposition Two-and-a-Half in Massachusetts, and similar moves around the country are gradually doing away with important aspects of school curriculum. No matter how high prices rise in the rest of society, schools have to continue to make do with less and less. Maybe that’s partly because taxpayers feel as if they have more control over school budgets than over other budgets.
Of course, children will probably still continue to attend schools; after all, parents are more able to go on about their days if their children are in school.
But economics, the dismal science, paints a dismal picture of schools of the future. And schools of the present are at risk.
I have been and am one of the people criticizing schools. A lot of what I believe is best for children tends not to happen in most schools, and sometimes, when I tried to make it happen in my classroom, I felt like a maverick – a rebel. And a lot of what I did have to do did not feel at all like education. In retrospect, I think many teachers, and many people in other lines of work, were and are also rebels. But as I was rebelling, I felt isolated – sometimes a little paranoid. And I think I got into at least my share of trouble.
But I never thought that schools got too much money. I looked forward to some day owning property so that I could pay property taxes and not complain about how much of my hard-earned money I had to pay to fund the schools. Spending my career among many families that had expensive houses, drove expensive cars, and took expensive vacations, my reactions to complaints about the cost of schooling ranged from annoyance to fury. The same parents who kept their Volvos in their garages while they spent winter vacation in the Bahamas complained about the “skyrocketing” cost of education.
So there’s a line some of us rebels have to walk: we want to continue making our points about the destructive and wasteful things that happen in schools, while emphasizing the need to provide appropriate funding for schools. I don’t think many of the decreases in school funding were made in response to the criticisms made by Illich, Kozol, and the like; I think they were made because voters have not chosen to place children high enough on their priority lists. When I taught in Wellesley, I was impressed that Wellesley Public Schools did a better job prioritizing than many systems I’ve seen and heard about, but King Money was still in charge; if taxpayers had to spend money, whether to keep a good program going, improve a building, or keep a teaching position, they often seemed to react based on their relative personal “needs” for luxuries. And schools got the leftovers.

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