Free Schools

A response to The Atlantic's article on Finding Your Passion

"Passions aren’t 'found,' they’re developed." That's what Carol Dweck and Greg Walton of Stanford argue in a recent Atlantic article by Olga Khazan.

We've been slow to repost this article because we wanted to make sure we responded to it appropriately. And here it is (stream of consciousness almost, so it will be to the point).

First, Dweck's (and others') research that primes a participant to be fixed or growth minded in the moment is not very compelling in terms of suggesting how those participants actually tackle real world challenges.

That aside, I believe that a level of intellectual inquiry, or curiosity about the world is far more informative and relevant than a so-called growth mindset orientation. And growth mindset orientation may be better understood by the term self-efficacy.

Second, and more importantly, what is it that puts people in Dweck's stated growth mindset versus that of the fixed mindset? She, unsurprisingly, centers much her argument, research, and thinking on what parents and schools can do to help promote a growth mindset versus a fixed mindset among young children and young people. But it is the school environment that pushes so many from a natural, inborn growth mindset orientation to that of a fixed one. This is because schools tell them that they are of a certain level of competency, intelligence, work ethic - and they know this because they are tested, graded, and ranked accordingly. So I agree with Dweck on avoiding sending the message to students that they are fixed mindset oriented, but in order to do so one would have to withdraw children from any age-segregated, standardized, testing based, grading based, ranking based school. And to do so for all children means removing them from 99.9% of all schools (democratic, free schools, and self-directed education centers are the exception), and that is just the starting point.

Third, what is it about her so-called growth mindset that allows people to explore a variety of interests in order for them to find a new one? In a school-based society that requires a teacher, expert, or authority figure to introduce an opportunity to someone already having a growth mindset for them to identify that new interest to chase down. But that's absurd on multiple levels. One, the diversity of opportunities far exceed what any curriculum could ever expose any student two. Two, the best way to be introduced to possible interest areas are in meaningful, real world ways. For example, do you think someone is going to get excited about Astronomy by being introduced to a video as part of a class, or do you think that they might become more excited by going to an observatory, meeting an astronomer, or having the opportunity to stare into the night sky through a telescope? Three, people tend to get excited when they see their peers exhibiting interests. What do we get at schools? The most interested students are interested in getting straight As and getting ahead. There is no time for genuine interests. What they need is lots of free time, access to a large variety of opportunities that are not limited by curriculum, and lots of multi-age (meaning not just their age) peers to interact with.

The article goes on to say that "with the right help, most people can get interested in almost anything. Before the age of 8, she said, kids will try anything. Between the ages of 8 and 12, they start to compare themselves with others and become insecure if they’re not as good as their peers at something." Then it says, "That’s when educators have to start to find new ways to keep them interested in certain subjects." This should be a red flag to everyone who reads the article! Why do kids start to compare themselves to each other ... in school? It's because of school! Educators don't have to "find new ways to keep them interested in certain subjects." What educators need to do is get out of the way and stop pushing them into certain subjects where they are going to be compared to one another!

The article ends asking the question of "how to cultivate a “growth” mind-set in the young, future-psychology-experiment subjects of America?" Their answer was terrible. "If you’re a parent, you can avoid dropping new hobbies as soon as they become difficult." As we've made clear many times, you can also avoid dropping your children into standardized, age-segregated, testing and ranking based environments.

Finally, I agree that "find your passion" or "find your genius" is terrible advice. No person is preordained with a particular passion or genius. It is only through our experiences and interactions with the world that we are able to determine the degree to which we may want to leverage our individual differences toward certain endeavors.

 

Raising Resisters

The 2016 presidential election campaign reminded many Americans that while our society likes to boast about its commitment to equality, justice, liberty, and tolerance, that an often stronger undercurrent of bias, bigotry, oppression, and hate courses through the veins of American culture. Prior to the election of Donald Trump, and coming off two terms of America’s first black president, both the political left and right were generally dismissive of what appeared to be a rising tide of hostility toward immigrants, black and brown communities, Jews, Muslims, the LGBTQ community, and women. However, since the election, the hostilities against marginalized and oppressed groups have continued to rise, while fascist and white supremacist organizing has moved out from the shadows and into the streets. Although the fabric of society may have changed very little over the past year, the aesthetics have changed significantly.

As organic and organized protests began to grow after election day, and leading up to the inauguration, it became apparent that many previously inactive people were looking for ways to become engaged. While more established political and non-profit entities were eager to pull those people into their organizations, a small group of Austin activists came together as the Oh Shit! What Now? (OSWN) Collective to find ways to introduce those people into more radical activist circles that focus on direct action tactics. OSWN has since helped organize and plan study groups, discussions, trainings, and workshops aimed at building a diverse community of resisters, and equipping folks with radical skills that they can share with others to push back against hierarchical and oppressive forces within society.

The younger generations have historically been one of, if not the primary driver of radical social change, while their caregivers or guardians, as well as those who contribute to the development of the younger generations (e.g., teachers), help shape whether the youth believe that they can drive social change. Therefore, OSWN came together with Abrome, the Crustacean Zine Library, and Austin Yawp to launch Raising Resisters, a discussion group that focuses on anti-oppressive parenting and education tactics.

Parenting, education, and activism have a long history of interrelatedness. Radical leftists and anarchists have often understood that oppression is more easily dismantled within the family than within societal institutions, and that young people could be spared being conditioned by mainstream schooling into accepting authoritarianism, capitalism, nationalism, and other hierarchical belief systems. For example, in the 19th Century, Henry David Thoreau, Louisa May Alcott, Leo Tolstoy, and Francisco Ferrer Guardia all led alternative schools that were the precursors of radical free schools and democratic schools wherein children had full control over their educational experiences. In the 20th Century, in conjunction with the rise of the free schools, writers such as Paul Goodman, George Dennison, and John Holt helped introduce the notions of deschooling and unschooling as a means of resistance into a wider counterculture that was already questioning American foreign policy, racial segregation, and assumptions about social norms. Holt, being the most influential of these people, even forewarned of today’s rise of fascism and the inability of system reforms to effectively stave off that rise.

OSWN, Abrome, the Crustacean Zine Library, and Austin Yawp invite parents and educators to join us at our monthly Raising Resisters discussion group meetings to continue the tradition of marrying parenting, education, and activism so that we can build community to resist, and create something better.

Upcoming dates (meetings at 6:30pm at Austin Yawp, 4548 Page St., Austin, TX 78723):

·      Thursday, June 15th

·      Thursday, Jul 20th

·      Thursday, Aug 24th

·      Thursday, Sep 21st

·      Thursday, Oct 19th

·      Thursday, Nov 16th

·      Thursday Dec 14th

 

Originally posted on the Alt Ed Austin blog.