In one way or another, Hannah Frankman has spent most of her life in the alternative education sphere: She was homeschooled, then worked for the college-alternative bootstrapping program Praxis before starting her own alternative education company, Rebel Educator. What follows is an edited, condensed version of the most recent conversation we had on my podcast, “Philosophy for Flourishing” (listen to the full version here).
Jon Hersey: What is Rebel Educator?
Hannah Frankman: Rebel Educator is an education media company supporting parents who want to take their children out of government schools. We are building a resource hub for parents who want to find something better for their children, whether they want to start homeschooling, find a micro school or a certain type of private school, get online classes, or get their children working on projects or doing apprenticeships. We share evidence validating their suspicions that our system is very broken and very rotten. I also launched a podcast a few months ago, “The Hannah Frankman Podcast,” where I interview people about education.
Hersey: Why is the education system broken? What fundamentally is the problem?
Frankman: The problems run deep, stemming from the structure of the system itself. The history of education in America is very interesting. (And sidebar, most of my work is centered on America’s education system, though many things apply to education systems in other nations.) For the first century and a half of the country’s existence, America had localized education; a town had its local school board, which determined what students would be taught. They had a lot of freedom, and we had a highly literate, highly competent populace. But around the middle of the 19th century, educators and policy makers began to develop an education system that could scale to a national level and be run from Washington. That system was put into place in the early 20th century, and it was designed to fit children into the new economy. America was rapidly industrializing and had a growing population of immigrants and others who likely were going to be working in factories. The people who designed the education system essentially were focused on creating a workforce, and they didn’t want to include things that would distract from that goal. They definitely were not interested in giving students a well-rounded education, challenging them to think critically, or to develop their creative capacities—all of which they considered a distraction. The thought was, for instance: We have enough poets already; we don’t need the general masses to know much about poetry, which is not useful for the humble problems they’re going to encounter in their lives.
So, it was elitist, and we ended up with a system intended to homogenize the population so people could fit like cogs into an industrialized economy. The outcomes reflected this. Children weren’t taught how to think independently and build a lifelong habit of learning. They weren’t exposed much to the liberal arts. Those who were highly academically competent were steered toward more academic trajectories. But the broad intention was to create people who are good at following rules, who understand how to work in large groups, who hear bells ringing and go where they’re assigned. And things haven’t changed much in the century since. That obviously leaves out a lot of important things, such as the ability to think independently and question things. Children still don’t have much chance to learn autonomy or personal responsibility; someone else is always responsible; students are constrained to a small set of choices, and everything else is decided for them.
When you look at those who have been most innovative, virtually all of them did terribly in school. They were so determined that they were able to succeed in spite of the system, not because of it. So, the system is not set up to help children thrive, and parents are looking for the exits, which is why I’m doing what I’m doing.
Hersey: What tools do you have for those who’ve exited, and what should they be looking for? What is good? What is bad? How do you help parents tell the difference? . . .
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