This article was published in the Autumn 1995 issue of Formulations
by the Free Nation Foundation
Education in a Free Nation
Children Can Learn Without State-Forced Schooling
by Liz Hanson

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How would children in a free nation be educated? Our answer to this concern lies in how we define "education," and how we determine what learning is and how and where it takes place.

Most of us, because we are products of a government school system (any private or home school that is regulated by government is in this category), have an unnatural bias toward equating the terms "school" and "education." We have been taught that school is where you go to get educated, and that the more schooling you have, the more educated you are. We have been indoctrinated by our own personal experience, as well as government and the media, to accept without question that it is normal, good, and right for us to send our children off to school at the age of five, and to keep them there five days a week, nine months a year, for the next twelve years.

When we start seeing or experiencing problems with the education system, our immediate course of action is to expend time and energy trying to fix it. Either individually or banded together in all manner of groups and organizations, we try all kinds of things hoping to alleviate the problems and meet our needs and those of our children: we advocate different curriculums, smaller class sizes, more discipline, less structure, higher pay for teachers, vouchers, privatization, alternative schools, home schooling, and more, depending on what is in vogue at the moment; we petition the state school board and the local school district, trying to convince them that our ideas have merit; we run for office in hopes that we can change things by passing some new law; we become certified teachers, thinking maybe we can make a difference from the "inside"; we home school or put our kids in private school, and wonder why we still don't feel quite satisfied. In our government-schooled ignorance, we stumble along, unable to recognize that the institution we are trying to fix is inherently and irreparable defective, and that schooling is not the same as education.

I consider "education" as being synonymous with "learning" rather than "school." I believe that school as an institution more often than not destroys the very thing (learning) that it is supposed to foster.

Parents who have been involved in nurturing their children since birth find it easier to understand and accept that learning is a natural process, and trust their children to take the lead in their own education. If you are a mother who has had your children in day care, pre-school, or with baby-sitters from a young age, or if you are a father who is away from home most of the day while your partner is with your children, you will probably have more trouble trusting in the natural process, simply because you haven't been around your children enough to really experience how they learn over time. Also, if your children are or have recently been in school, your difficulty in trusting in the natural process of learning will be compounded by the fact that the school experience has usually hampered their natural abilities and inclinations. To understand how education could take place in a free nation we have to overcome our years of conditioning. We have been taught to accept that the way things are, government-regulated coerced schooling, is the only way.

Regardless of their upbringing, most children develop from completely dependent infants into five-year-olds who have learned a language and developed a vocabulary, learned to walk, to feed themselves using utensils, to dress themselves, and to use the bathroom, to name just a few of the most common accomplishments. Now consider that they learned these things (and much, much more) without ever setting foot in a classroom or having to be sat down and "taught" any of it. We have allowed ourselves to be convinced that this normal, natural, and fully automatic process will suddenly stop unless we put our kids in school at five years old.

The fact is, the entire organism of the child is geared toward learning and growing, and children accomplish this by observing and doing. And, as those of you who nurture your children yourselves know most profoundly, each one of them does their observing and doing in a highly personal and individual way. Learning is an activity that takes place most easily in an atmosphere in which people are free to pursue their interests and encouraged to use those resources that are best suited to their own abilities, needs, and desires, The more that we integrate our children into our everyday lives of work, play, family, and community, the more opportunity we give them to develop in their own unique ways, utilizing their inherent abilities and natural inclination to learn and grow.

Since the emergence of human beings on earth, people have lived in families, clans, and tribes always in groups of adults and children of varying ages who live and interact with each other throughout their lives. In this setting, children grow up emulating and learning from the more mature members of the society, and from their interaction with people of all ages on a daily basis.

Putting large groups of age-mates together with only one or two adults, as in government schools, is highly unnatural and detrimental to children. When our children spend most of their day with only their age-mates, who are at the same level of immaturity mentally and emotionally, what can they learn to emulate?

In the natural order of things, our children belong (especially prior to adolescence), in their rightful place within the family that loves, respects, and nurtures them, and where they are most able to learn and grow in a way that human beings were designed to. The more that you observe non-school children who live real lives and acquire knowledge and expertise through the use of their inherent abilities, the more convinced you will be that the very notion of school as we know it is an absurdity.

Unfortunately, we are hampered by our inability to imagine society without school as we know it. We don't know anyone who hasn't gone to school, so we have no role models to emulate, There isn't a generation alive today from whom we can get a first-hand account of what life and people were like in the absence of government-coerced schooling.

In a free nation we have no guarantees of what life and people might be like if learning were to take place in a natural way from childhood through adulthood. Some might fear the worst, that schools would disappear overnight. But in time schools will simply become regulated, as they should be, by the people who use and pay for them. Schools will take their place among the many alternatives that will eventually be available to parents and their children.

Children will not all be educated in traditional or uniform ways. But this is necessary if "education" is to finally realize its full and true meaning. With government totally removed from the business of education, we will, I believe, be able to reexperience the uniqueness, diversity, and freedom that is our human heritage. D


Liz Hanson is an entrepreneur domiciled in Nevada. She has the pleasure of helping guide two young people on their journey to self-responsible adulthood.

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