An award-winning documentary filmmaker says science shows that compulsory education is a failed concept and the answer is to dismantle the system and allow “self-directed” learning designed largely by the children themselves.
Cevin Soling is the director of “The War on Kids” and is author of “The Student Resistance Handbook.” His film won honors as the best educational documentary at the New York Independent Film and Video Festival. He is speaking up again on the issue after legendary astronaut and former Sen. John Glenn, D-Ohio, said, as a Christian, that he believes evolution should be taught in schools but intelligent design should not.
Soling says he is no fan of intelligent design, but believes the scientific community lacks any consistency when it comes to education.
“My complaint is that the science community is saying that a component of curriculum of an institution that is wholly unscientific should be changed. That itself belies any kind of scientific mission and is grossly hypocritical,” said Soling.
In fact, Soling believes an honest appraisal of science confirms that compulsory education, whether public or private or whether religious or secular.
“There’s absolutely nothing science-based to the structure of compulsory schooling. Compulsory schooling is an experiment. It’s an intervention that is designed to have some kind of purpose that’s never been adequately defined. There’s never been any test. There’s never been any experimentation to show that compulsory schooling is effective at whatever it allegedly is designed to produce,” said Soling.
He says even the generally assumed goals of all organized education are a proven failure.
“If one posits several different things that compulsory schooling could potentially produce – literacy, work skills, democratic values, social skills – one sees that compulsory schooling actually fails in every single one of these categories,” said Soling.
And how exactly does Soling conclude that every type of formal education flops in those categories?
“In 2003, the Department of Education did a study and showed that only 13 percent of american adults were deemed proficient in literacy skills,” said Soling. “One would imagine when you have a population that’s forced to go to this institution for twelve years, nine months out of the year for five days a week that one would produce better results than that. And it hasn’t been tested against other approaches to education.”
Apart from academics, Soling says the atmosphere in every school intrinsically teaches lessons antithetical to American principles.
“Schools are run in a fundamentally fascist environment where you have an autocracy, where the population that’s in the school is deprived of almost all of their civil rights,” he said.
According to Soling, every school in America and parents of every student in the nation are trampling students’ civil rights by making them go to school and follow rules while there.
“First you have a population that’s forced to be in a place against their will. That in itself is a fundamental and gross violation of the most basic civil rights. Their speech is limited (as is) their capacity to go where they want, be where they want, socialize with who they want. Their due process is severely limited. (Their protections against) search and seizure is severely limited,” said Soling.
While the law does require schooling to a certain age, the vast majority of parents would likely enroll their children anyway. So while Soling does believe parents have a key role to play in educating their children, his answer on who ought to ultimately make educational decisions might come as a surprise.
“It need to be a mediated decision between the parents and the child. The parents need to listen to and respect the interests of their child, which is something the institutions train them not to do,” said Soling, who shed light on what he sees as the ideal education system.
“The solution is developing self-directed learning. There are many different approaches to that. You have to understand and appreciate that all people are different and have different needs. Some people require more structure than others. There’s democratic schooling, where intrinsic motivation comes from following the things that you’re interested in,” said Soling.
He says parents do have a key role in that setting.
“They’re in the role of mentors, so the structure can be rather rigid if that’s something that the individual child requires or quite free in the example of unschooling, where the child can have tremendous amounts of liberty,” said Soling.
Without any sort of standard for measuring achievement or gauging preparation for college or the working world, how would anyone know when a student is ready to move on?
“That’s not for other people to judge. That’s for the individual to judge. They decide whether their needs are getting met,” said Soling.