Friday, July 20, 2007

Deschooling & Freedom to Roam

The Wikipedia entry on Paul Goodman states:

As a child, Goodman freely roamed the streets and public libraries of his native New York City, experiences which later inspired his radical concept of "the educative city").

This concept is best expressed in his novel The Empire City. But if we are to try to pull this take on "de-schooling" up to the present day, we need to take some broader cultural changes into effect.

Specifically, the collapse of young people's freedom to roam. This article from The Daily Mail nicely charts the changes experience by one family over four generations, which seems typical. Great-grandfather George, born in 1911, same as Paul Goodman, at age 8 walked six miles unaccompanied through Sheffield to fish. Today, his great-grandson Ed, also at age 8, has a permitted range of about 300 yards (the map representation of this is recommended).

If we are going to de-emphasize school, we have to explain where students are going to go and how they are going to get there, and how this will be sold politically. In the US, that is a non-trivial problem, in terms of parents' expectations, lack of public transportation, lack of public space, separation of work and residence, class segregation, etc.

The necessary components to an urban "Network of Learning" are laid out in Christopher Alexander's A Pattern Language:

Above all, encourage the formation of seminars and workshops in people's homes - Home Workshop (157); make sure that each city has a "path" where young children can safely wander on their own - Children In The City (57); build extra public "homes" for children, one to every neighborhood at least - Children's Home (86); create a large number of work-oriented small schools in those parts of town dominated by work and commercial activity - Shopfront Schools (85); encourage teenagers to work out a self-organized learning society of their own - Teenage Soclety (84); treat the university as scattered adult learning for all the adults in the region - University As A Marketplace (43); and use the real work of professionals and tradesmen as the basic nodes in the network - Master And Apprentices (83) ....

Now, I'm in favor of all this stuff, but we have to be mindful of how hard it cuts against the zeitgeist and how ill-suited our communities are to support this kind of learning. Certainly technology can support and enhance learning networks -- and I'm only thinking about primary and secondary age learners here -- but I contend that the physical network of learning is still most important, and I'll take good community-based schools over any "de-schooling" that circumscribes kids to their own houses and corporate franchises.

1 comment:

tellio said...

I am so glad to see the mention of Alexander here. We need reuseable tools and the first of these should be how to change when what are doing isn't working. I really don't think there are enough of us saying, "Ummm, you know I don't think this school thing is very effective anymore."

I think that the question of 'where'housing and transport and politics will be addressed as alternatives become more popular as accreditation loses its stranglehold as parents struggle to find better futures for their kids. An alternative universe of choices is already out there as you so brilliantly point out. Those alternatives will become a parallel train that people will jump to. Eventually the old train will lose steam and stop and rust. Circumstances will make radicals of us all and noone can say when.

I love how evocative this post is and how reflective it is of your own erudition. Your definition of de-schooling is remarkably circumscribed. I deschooled all of my kids and they were certainly not chained to this farm. And, yes the physical part of learning is always paramount, but I remain unconvinced that it has to be a bricks and mortar schoolhouse.