Synthesis/Regeneration 5   (Winter 1993)

Neighborhood Control of Public Schools

by Rogger Copple, Tampa Bay Greens, South Pinellas Group

Our educational system needs radical change. The problems of our educational system reflect the problems of our society and culture. Our society and culture need radical change.

Webster defines "radical" as meaning "of or from the root or roots; going to the foundation or source of something." The foundation of European culture began in the Americas exactly 500 years ago with Columbus' discovery of it in 1492. He started a tradition of genocide, slavery, racism, cruelty, conquest, domination, exploitation, and greed. Today we live in a society torn by consumerism, violence, fear, and greed. You could also describe our western society as industrial, hierarchical, patriarchal, bureaucratic, and materialistic. And I pledge my allegiance to none of it. I would rather devote my life to world peace, ecology, and unity in diversity: global unity through diverse community self-determination.

Power-seeking nationalism and corporate capitalism are alive and well and leading us down a path to self-destruction because if we abuse others and the earth in pursuit of our human ends, we endanger our own survival.

Bill Clinton, whom I voted for, became President-elect last night. But as mentioned in Fifth Estate newsletter, Clinton said Bush was too soft on Castro and too hard on the Israelis. He supported Bush on Iraq. He smoked pot, dodged the draft, and isn't proud of it. He is the darling of the garbage and toxic waste incineration industries. Like Bush, 70% of his campaign was financed by big corporations. If someone invites you to vote you could ...Just Say No! on the premise that if voting could change anything it would be illegal.

Industrial society has caused us to forget we are dependent on the living processes of the earth. We need to go back to our roots and commune with nature while living communally with our family and best friends. If we can't choose our own neighborhood we can build community wherever we live.

Our educational system needs to be decentralized to encourage neighborhood control of public schools in those neighborhoods where the residents choose to have that responsibility and freedom.

The parents and other people who live around our existing public schools can help determine educational philosophy and curriculum. They can hire their own school staff, preferably teachers and parent tutors who live in their neighborhood.

Neighborhood control of public schools can take out the bureaucracy in education. For example, on the spur of the moment a teacher or parent may take eight children in a van on a field trip instead of waiting six months for administrative approval of date and time, an available charter bus and driver, and parental signatures. Using home living rooms could personalize learning. Kitchens could be used to teach vegetarian cooking; yard space could be used for organic gardening. The families of children and teachers could go on camping trips together.

Teachers are now demanding higher salaries to compensate for the tremendous job stress that results from bureaucracy. But there could be more flexibility about what is taught and the methods used, where and when something is taught, and who is able to teach.

Our educational system needs to be decentralized to encourage neighborhood control of public schools...

Children, teachers, and parents who live in the same neighborhood and who get to know one another intimately over the years can experience true egalitarian community in which interpersonal relationships are non-hierarchical and noncoercive.

Holistic education means developing the whole person: the spiritual, intellectual, social, emotional, and physical aspects. Holistic education means developing the right and left brain. Teachers are taught about the cognitive and affective domains in education. Cognitive skills include logical, linear, critical, scientific, and dialectical thinking. Affective education would show children how to express their feelings honestly and openly, and how to work through personal problems within and among themselves. Learning to be assertive, gentle, nurturing, cooperative, intuitive, and creative is also part of affective education. Children should learn skills like questioning authority, evaluating the media, reaching group consensus, and making personal decisions.

Empowering participatory and consensus decision-making at the grassroots level is the best way to build community or neighborhood togetherness. In the Poverty of Affluence: A Psychological Portrait of the American Way of Life, Paul Wachtel argues that the transition in our culture from an emphasis on hard work, discipline, and self-denial to one centering on consumption, waste, and self indulgence has not made people happier and has imperiled our environment in the process.

Ideally, private property would largely be individually renounced and the whole world would be a confederal network of communes. Federal systems of national government like the hierarchical chains of supervision within private corporations shackle the human spirit. I copied a definition of anarchy that describes an ideal world to me:

Anarchy: a self-governed society in which people organize themselves from the bottom up on an egalitarian basis; decisions made by those affected by them; direct democratic control of our workplaces, schools, neighborhoods, towns and bioregions with coordination between differing groups as needed. A world where women and men are free and equal and all of us have power over our own lives, bodies, and sexuality; where we cherish and live in balance with the earth and value diversity of cultures, races, and sexual orientations, where we work and live together cooperatively.

Left Greens rightly criticize the New Age movement for listening to "How to Achieve Prosperity" tapes while corporate capitalism wreaks environmental, social, and personal havoc throughout the world (and state socialism has worked no better). I agree with people in the New Age movement who emphasize the importance of psychological or spiritual growth. However, I believe we must also think constantly about how our thoughts, actions, economic and political choices are affecting our relationships, community, global peace and ecology.

Parents have a greater influence on their children than teachers do. If parents, through cohesive neighborhood support groups, become inspired to grow as persons, they will be better role models and assume greater responsibility in teaching their children. Political apathy pervades today's world, but participatory and consensus democracy (as opposed to representative democracy) can empower local community residents. Neighborhoods would then become like extended families or tribal communities. Personal, family, and social integration could be achieved.

But our technology must be ecological and small scale whenever possible. "Think globally, act locally," local production for local consumption, and "live simply so others can simply live," are worthy values and goals for planetary citizens. Interpersonal communion at grassroots levels can heal the Earth; greed for material wealth and power is rapidly destroying it.

Compulsory school attendance and forced school busing should be abolished. We must explore ways to intrinsically motivate children to love learning and people who are different from themselves. If we adults constantly grope for a way that all Earth citizens can equally achieve realization of their human potential in an Earth sustainable process, then our children are more likely to grope and strive for those things too.

Individualized education would consider the different learning styles, abilities, and interests of children. More parent and peer tutoring can help individualize learning. Comparative philosophy, religion, politics, literature, and culture, the study of history and geography, biology, chemistry, physics, and psychology are among some of the important subjects that high school students can learn.

Learning experiences should coincide with the natural growth, rhythms, stages, and developmental abilities of students. The student is empowered through self-directed, experiential learning. Learning occurs by being both active and receptive. Dialogue is an important aspect of learning; a lecture is less effective. The development of self-esteem is vital for both emotional and intellectual growth.

I was formally trained as an elementary teacher. Then I got my Master's degree in special education. But I only worked about 5 years in private, public, and parochial schools. Currently I enjoy working as a mental health counsellor in an adult day treatment facility where I will soon work with the public schools also to teach adult basic education and G.E.D. certification.

If we work to achieve neighborhood control of neighborhood schools, then we can pave the way for more economic and political decision-making through town hall democracy. Critics fear that some autonomous school districts will be racist and sectarian. But we Greens cannot force our policies on others because they will then react and become even more entrenched in their destructive habits.

Let us set up a mechanism where we can have autonomous Green school districts and teach by example. If we can truly show a better way to live, others will eventually adopt that lifestyle too. The ideas expressed in this article are idealistic, but then it is even more idealistic to believe that the present conditions and practices of the world can continue for another 50 years.

Synthesis/Regeneration home page  | Synthesis/Regeneration 5 Contents