The number of school shootings continues to rise and yet never is the conversation turned towards the practice of institutionalized compulsory schooling itself.
Liberals are quick to blame guns for school shootings. Conservatives rush to point the finger at some alleged moral erosion somehow caused by liberals. Centrists incorporate either both or neither of these into their theories of guilt. Radicals on either side see the trend as an effect of accelerationism and the break down of America, for better or worse. The one thing nobody ever seems to question in all this is the role of schooling itself.
For all of the negative associations with home-schooled children, you don’t really hear of them shooting up their place of education. In fact organized violence by youth against other youth, outside of extreme poverty and warfare, are extremely rare. There are children who do engage in acts of random violence, but generally it is just that – random. There is no pattern between those incidents to suggest some common factor or cause. Whereas with school shootings there is a single fact that is true of all shooters, they are products of the schooling system itself.
I understand that this is a difficult fact to face, as it suggests something unthinkable to modern sensibilities, which is that a required education accessible to all could be anything less than positive. So enamored are we with the virtue of education that it sounds insane to even suggest that the institutions we have dedicated to it for a century and a half could also have a negative impact on individuals and our society. However at this point we would be insane to ignore that possibility.
The problem is that any discussion along these lines quickly goes awry. Even suggesting we think beyond traditional schooling will get you immediately labeled either a crazy religious person, or a hopelessly naive hippy. Instead of making rational arguments that cogently and effectively dispel concerns about schooling, the advocates of that practice will just attack the caricature of you they have drawn in their minds eye. When the idea of schooling as a total good becomes dogma, rejection of that dogma becomes taboo, as well as ‘proof’ of the skeptics faulty intellect and sanity. It is a feedback loop which drowns out all critical discussion.
Nonetheless, three weeks into the 2018 school year, there were eleven school shootings. The only thing insane or intellectually faulty at this point would be to ignore that the schooling system we prize so much might be the biggest part of the problem.
I became a critic of schools very early on as an elementary student. Because I changed schools with such a great frequency, I was able to view my schooling experience with more detachment than those who had greater geographical stability. Teachers and administrators looked less to me like experts and authorities than helpless pawns playing along at some show whose script preceded them by a few generations. I was neither in admiration or appalled by those who participated in this show, but I was always aware that the show wasn’t just the superficial spectacle most people considered it to be.
Ten years after I graduated from compulsive schooling I decided that I could do better, and went to college to teach art at the high school level. I managed to land student teaching gigs alongside the very teachers that I had set out to best. In a very short amount of time I learned how futile my plan was, and saw that the very teachers whom I had blamed all those years were themselves stuck in the terrible circumstances that are our public schools. It was disheartening, to say the least, and I put my plan to rest and quit school and my abandoned hope for a career as an honorable educator.
In the years that followed I read extensively about our public schools and the phenomena of compulsive schooling itself, and explored the criticism of it from all angles. The idea that public schools are harmful has no political boundary. If you immerse yourself in the study of this area of criticism you will find it being made by conservatives and liberals alike, as well as radicals and centrists. The only constants among them are historical concerns regarding the structure and intent of modern schooling, as well as those responsible, and psychological and intellectual damage it does to individuals. Politicization of critiques against schools is more often a function of advocates and apologists who would rather demonize critics and silence criticism than face the troubling aspects of that venture.
This is not to say a grand conspiracy exists. Advocates and apologists are swept up in generations of momentum, and often feel compelled to blindly defend the institution from the most noble of intentions. Most of the people involved in schools, especially the teachers, are well-meaning people who honestly believe they are protecting human intelligence from some great backslide into human ignorance. If there is some malignant motivation behind schooling, it has been lost to those who created the system, or is sequestered into only a small portion of the bureaucrats working behind the scenes. However it is not blame which we need to seek, nor will accountability solve the intrinsic issues. School is basically incompatible with human drives and desires, and increasingly more so.
Outside of schools we do not segregate humans into very specific age groups. Nor do we take standardized tests to determine who our peers will be within our age group. Spontaneous cooperation underlies most human affairs and that happens best when it is not governed by arbitrary organization. The very nature of schools is to categorize and segregate individual human beings into the group that the experts have deemed suitable for them. Such arranged relationships breed alienation and disenfranchisement, as well as bitterness and defiance. All of these attributes are common in school shooters.
Compulsory schooling becomes a determining factor in all aspects of your life. Not only does it sort you into age and ability, it implies your value, which leads to social status. Participation, or non-participation, in extra-curricular activities also determines social status; meaning that if you don’t have popular interests you might become a pariah.
Curriculum determines what knowledge you must dedicate yourself to acquiring and judges you based on your ability to conform to its lessons. If studying a field is unsatisfying and frustrating, you are expected to stoically comply, or face institutional and social consequences. Is it any wonder that young people facing such pressures sometimes act out in such explosive outbursts?
To these points you will often hear the rebuttal that most people make it through schooling without becoming mass murderers or anti-social creeps, which is true, but misses a few important points. The first is that just because something doesn’t adversely affect everyone who comes into contact with it, doesn’t mean it is not harmful, just as many people may be exposed to a disease while only a few are affected. Managing that diseases means addressing its presence in the entire population, and not just those affected. The same may be true of schooling.
The second point is, did we really all turn out okay? Does making it through thirteen years of compulsive schooling without killing anyone prove that you have reached your fullest potential? Without any competing models to our system, how would we even know that? And if you ask me, considering the one-step-forward-two-steps-back progress we have made culturally compared to technologically and otherwise, we are not okay. We are angry, scared, confused, and all too often, mindless supporters of the system our subjugation benefits. And that process begins, or at least is nurtured most readily, by the very institution we send our kids to get conditioned, and increasingly potentially killed at, on a regular basis.
How does this not seem crazy to everyone else?
At this point I could give you a list of books and articles to read that made the problem more clear from an historical, psychological and insiders perspective. However that will not do any good. Until you are ready to ask these questions yourself, and do due diligence in seeking out the answers, none of that information will be meaningful to you. Just as long division isn’t meaningful to a kid who hates math and would rather be drawing pictures, playing the drums or building something with their own two hands. If I made you sit down and study criticisms of school for twelve or thirteen years against your will, I would expect a few of you to eventually lose your shit. Now do you begin to see the issue? No? Then try actually looking instead of thinking you already know the answer after having researched it not at all.
Even if everything I have said up until now seems completely misguided and/or outright wrong to you, consider this; if schools are meant to prepare our young for the future then they must radically adapt along with economic and technological trends now actively evolving. A world in which automation and artificial intelligence have replaced human labor is already a reality. In a post-job civilization the most important attributes an individual must nurture might be their creativity and unique individuality. In this case there is still a need for self-directed learning assistance for each and every child according to their desires and needs. But under the current model of standardization and specialization our schools cannot appear as anything but an increasingly obsolete awkward stage that we should rejoice growing out of.