I’ll never forget the bumper sticker I saw as a young woman which read “if you think education is expensive, try ignorance.”
These days of February, when it can be hard to hold your focus and stay steady with moving forward, I sometimes reflect on the institution of school.
As I walk through the halls these days, which can be a little cold and gray and from which, at this time of year, we seem unlikely ever to emerge, I think of all the educators of the past, and of all the countries in the world, who stood at the front of lines and said “eyes on me, listen … ” and then led students into a classroom of some description.
Today, at the small group table, one of my fourth graders told me that he didn’t see why we should have to go to school.
“Well,” I said, “You know, if there weren’t school, the kids would all roam the streets, most likely, and then the big kids would attack the little — kids would be in danger from getting lost or hurt … did you know that back in the caveman days, they noticed that kids were not safe by themselves wandering the woods and the caves? So they appointed some of the tribe to watch out for the children and make sure they were okay, and amused, and fed … much later, in civilized times, they realized that these people could also be asked to teach kids to read and write, count and cipher, which led eventually to Horace Mann and Arne Duncan … but originally, I’m convinced, the teacher’s job was to save the kids from their own bad ideas and the environment.” This is education in its simplest form. Everything else, up to and including the classical method, is just an accretion of additional positive characteristics above and beyond what school was originally designed for: to keep kids safe and happy and ready for the future.
I don’t know what came over me. Everyone knows that cavemen did not have schools, that the classical tradition goes back to Plato’s Academy, that a school is judged by its academic success. But still. I think Charlotte Mason, at least, would understand what I meant. School is supposed to be to serve the child’s interests. This concept is so compelling that where ever people are found, you find schools. Apparently, the classroom is on of the most pervasive, and hopefully positive, of human structures.