Student Well-Being Letter to the Editor

The Myth of Mass Education

February 11, 2020 1 min read
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To the Editor:

Please stop conflating the terms “school” and “education” (“10 Uncomfortable Truths About U.S. Education,” Big Ideas special report, Jan. 8, 2020). Time spent in school doesn’t guarantee education. School can be a safe haven and a highly beneficial experience for children. Yet, children suffer from stressful encounters and high anxiety in school, or fail to find school rewarding or even “educational” all too often. No one is to blame. But the reality keeps coming back to haunt us.

Schools defeat their own educational purposes while doing profound damage in many instances. A 2019 article by Jennifer Curry Villeneuve, Jerusha O. Conner, Samantha Selby, and Denise Clark Pope about the levels of stress, demoralization, suicides, semi-literacy, and various other negative outcomes tied directly to school issues and problems illustrates my point. The proper term for such chronic problems is “mis-education,” coined by Paul Goodman in his book Compulsory Mis-Education and the Community of Scholars. The current paradigm is based on a view of knowledge derived directly from Descartes, from 300 years ago! Compulsory schooling is justified by this anachronistic and harmful philosophy.

Education and coercion are antithetical. Compulsory attendance laws dictate that there will be coercion, since all students are not thrilled to be subjected to the valiant efforts of educators to induct them into the academic order. The paternalistic and unconstitutional impositions brought about by laws which require attendance in schools have not proved and cannot demonstrate conclusively that they consistently do more good than harm.

Knowledge is not merely handed down or absorbed. Every student comes with substantial and idiosyncratic knowledge and each is creating knowledge minute-to-minute. Teachers guide and facilitate. Mass education is a myth. Neither knowledge nor education can be effectively measured.

Robert B. “Barry” Elliott


Las Vegas, Nev.

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A version of this article appeared in the February 12, 2020 edition of Education Week as The Myth of Mass Education

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