This post originally appeared on the Objectivist Parenting Yahoo group.

Let me start with a few definitions.
From dictionary.reference.com (there are several definitions for each word, but the one’s below most accurately represent how I use them)
Education - the act or process of imparting or acquiring general knowledge, developing the powers of reasoning and judgment, and generally of preparing oneself or others intellectually for mature life.
Schooling - The process of being educated formally
Unschooling - a home-school education with the child taking the primary responsibility instead of a parentor teacher; also called child-directed learning, self-learning.

First off, let me state, that education, as defined above damn well better be one of the most important things in an Objectivist’s life, or the life of theirchildren. I only bring this up, because David makes two statements “Education is designed specifically to intercede in children’s value-driven lives with thevalues of the parents” and “I ask those who are dead-set for education to stand back for a moment…”, that do not follow from the definition I use andbelieve is the most proper sense of the term. The only sense I can make of David’s statement is that he is referring to “formal” education, what I define as schooling. Unschooling is a reaction against formal education.

Not that I’m trying to knock David, because he brings up several important points, the most critical to this discussion being: the first question we need to answer is not “which” formal educational program is best for our children, but do they need a formal education to begin with? But that begs the question, what does it mean to be formal? And does it necessarily imply coercion, as unschoolers claim? Being formal entails that an entity corresponds to some structure or form. So a formal education would entail an education that has some structure or form to it. So the next question I ask is “Is there any structure or form that education should employ?”

Productivity is important to happiness. But as a virtue, it must be learned. Children are not born knowing how to be productive. They do not know how to organize their thoughts, organize their time, or organize their belongings. They do not understand what it means to take responsibility for their actions.

From Super Nanny. She presents many interesting ideas to try in your own homes. One thing that she often uses is the family schedule. This schedule breaks down each day into manageable time periods. Jo Jo stresses that the schedule is not something written in stone, but is flexible to deal with changing circumstances. But what this schedule does is provide the children the framework for organizing smaller time periods. It provides them with a sense of empowerment because they know what is happening next, but also with the ability to organize their time to complete activities within certain timeframes. Certainly, any schedule must be flexible enough to accommodate exceptions, such as when a child is completely immersed in an activity, it is probably best to let them continue past the scheduled time. But the value of a schedule is in its ability to develop time organizational abilities and in its ability to present the world in an orderly, rational way, rather than by chaos. Being able to organize effectively one’s time is instrumental to increasing one’s productivity. A schedule is something that young children are incapable of making for themselves. They simply do not understand the concept of time. Yet…young children thrive under such structure. They become more productive, not less. A schedule is but one formalizing activity that can help develop productivity. But more importantly, it can be a formalizing activity that helps education.

For example, scheduling a time for reading, but letting the child read anything they want, whether it is comics, newspapers, novels, (as my wife inspired a friend’s kid with) a book about vomit, or (in David’s example) the Idiot’s Guide to Plumbing. The children learn an important skill (how to read) by reading about something interesting to them.

And this bring me to my second issue. “and as we all know, when the plumbers DO value that information (at age 8 or age 18 or age 38), they will learn it at warp speed” does not correspond with the facts that I’ve observed. The elasticity of the brain is greatest in young children. As we age, our ability to learn rapidly diminishes. I watch my 1 year old son learn new things every day that just blow my mind away. There is no way I could learn at my age as much as he does at his. Children can learn foreign languages in a couple weeks, where it would take adults months if not years to learn. The fact is, children can learn at warp speed, but adults cannot.

If children are lucky, they developed a firm foundation of knowledge and the proper skills for thinking so that they continue to learn fairly rapidly at 30. But children do not know of what a firm foundation of knowledge consists. They also have not learned the proper skills for thinking. Nor what skills are proper and which are not. Is this not a place where formal education can help? Cannot formal education offer students the tools and activities to learn about things that interest them, but learn about them in a way that builds the skills for increased rational thought and better judgment? These are rhetorical questions, because of course they can. That is exactly what something like the Montessori method provides.

Ultimately, I think unschooling is a reaction against the arbitrary rules from authority instigated by public schools (and even many private schools) about what to learn and how to learn them. While these rules can be coercive, that does not mean that all formal education is coercive. Applying a schedule to a classroom is not a coercive rule, but an instructional tool for teaching children how to organize their time and increase their productivity. As long as the schedule is not considered absolute, reifying the concept, it maintains its objective purpose.

The above provides a basis for a formal education, a.k.a. school, that is not coercive. And it demonstrates that a formal education, if objectively designed, can be in the best interest of the child, both morally and practically.

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