By Dr David Laing Dawson
Truly excellent, really well funded Public Schools are the answer to many of our problems and especially so in the United States. But, despite that, the US Congress has proposed a new bill ( HR 610) that will gut their educational system.
Some years ago a book of essays by Robert Fulghum was published with the title “All I really need to know I learned in kindergarten”. Hold hands when you cross the street. Share, be kind to one another, clean up after yourself…. It is cute and fanciful but beneath the smile of recognition there lies a profound truth.
Schools have two jobs. Educating our children may actually be secondary to socializing our children. Originally I suppose, as some sociologists point out, the goal of our newly invented schools was to prepare our children for the factory jobs generated by the industrial revolution. Show up on time, do as you are told, work all day until the Bell rings.
Many years have passed. Our schools have gone through many evolutions keeping up with the changing needs (and fads) of the times. The curricula have changed, and many of the social rules have changed, each accompanied by much dissent and discord.
But I would argue that as our cultures have become so diverse and complex, as our populations become less and less homogeneous, and as future employment becomes both less certain and more multifarious, the role of socializing our children in good public schools becomes more important. Dramatically more important.
Every kid should be sitting in a classroom, playing in the school yard, singing in the choir with at least 50 percent of the other kids being, well, different. Our children need to work with, and play with kids unlike themselves during those 12 or so formative years. Smart kids, not so smart kids, shy kids, obnoxious kids, athletic kids and handicapped kids, black, brown,yellow, white kids, poor kids and not so poor kids, kids with two parents and kids with one, kids who speak other languages, take different religious holidays, wear some different clothing.
There has of late been a rise in “hate crimes” and racial vandalism.
In a way hate crimes and racism are pernicious extremes of tribalism, and they rise in frequency when tribalism grows and especially when our leaders fan the embers.
I think to combat this we must first accept the fact that tribalism is in our genes. We are programmed to notice if someone is not of our tribe. It would be a very important trait in our prehistoric period. Science tells us that when we encounter a stranger, we first notice his dress, and then we notice his tribal markings (think hair/tatoos/metal piercings), then we pay attention to language and voice, and lastly skin colour (when we primates first developed these perceptual skills, we were likely all the same colour).
Our sense of tribe can expand, and one day might include all who live on our earth. A large swath of the white American tribe recently accepted a black man and elevated him to their highest office. Though clearly there were many who never accepted him as one of them.
Still more recently we have seen how easily tribalism can be provoked and inflamed. Brexit, Marine le Pen, Trump. We can struggle against this, we can do our best to fight this trend, but the long term solution is having every one of our children attend, from JK to 12, a well funded Public School, and a school with the complete mix of kids I mentioned before. I would allow home schooling only if, for health reasons, attendance was not possible.
I suppose I would not oppose a small number of private schools because to do so would limit some important freedoms.
I think we already see in some idealistic young people who have grown up in very diverse and inclusive schools a sense of tribalism expanded to include the whole world.
Americans especially: Do not undermine your public school system. Fund it, grow it, improve it. There in lies the hope for your future.