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Individualism and Institutionalism

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Topic author: JJ Ross
Subject: Individualism and Institutionalism
Posted on: May 02 2005 11:52:11 AM

This thread is to consider individualism and institutionalism -- understanding how the tension between them has affected public perceptions of home education, the resulting political/legislative environment, and what it suggests for the future.

This topic arose on Kay's HS legislative watch list and is being expanded here to be as broad and/or detailed as the participants care to make it. JJ


Reply author: JJ Ross
Replied on: May 02 2005 1:19:25 PM

From 2002 on NHEN's original legislative list:

"Public schooling in practice today is a socialist collective. Home
education is an individual repudiation of that collective. Every debate among us homeschooling individuals seems to rest on this tension between the claims of the collective and the yearning for self-determination -- for ourselves AND our own children.

No wonder home education is viewed as such a threat by collectives
like unions and government bureaucracies, who perversely claim they can strengthen and support individuals by subsuming them.

. . . Maybe the real issue is not homeschooling versus
e-schooling, but community versus collective. . ."

Reply author: JJ Ross
Replied on: May 02 2005 2:51:22 PM

It just occurred to me this topic's elephant in the living room may turn out to be "church" --
personal faith is individual while organized religion is institutional.

So, is anyone balancing personal faith and organized religion within their homeschooling already coping with this tension between individualism and institutionalism?
What could we learn from that?

Reply author: JJ Ross
Replied on: May 03 2005 08:29:08 AM

In news coverage of the Schiavo case, one story detailed its individual versus institutional tensions, and even showed them reversing position over time. I wonder if the personal and institutional tensions in education are having a similar reversal, from similar influences:

* involvement with a "cult of experts" who may not agree between
themselves or with family members, and whose professional interests can
conflict with individual or family interests,

* mistrust of strangers and large, impersonal institutions;

* subjective personal standards of morality, pragmatism and respect for
human life and dignity, coupled with a sense that one's personal views
are too important for "compromise" of any sort;

* lay people latching onto complex (or misleading, even purposely false)
ideas and information spread across the Internet, ideas and information
fiercely held beyond all reason;

* the pendulum-swing nature of institutional change and public opinion;

* the rule-making, objectifying, standardizing thrust of government in
even the most personal, private human decisions;

* and as always -- love and money, of course.


by Pam Belluck

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But in the last decade or so, things have changed.

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Reply author: ajcjdm
Replied on: May 04 2005 6:55:35 PM

Originally posted by JJ Ross

This thread is to consider individualism versus institutionalism -- understanding how the tension between them has affected public perceptions of home education, the resulting political/legislative environment, and what it suggests for the future.

This topic arose on Kay's HS legislative watch list and is being expanded here to be as broad and/or detailed as the participants care to make it. JJ

Did you start this thread because of the study link I posted there?

Homeschooling as a social movement: identifying
the determinants of homeschoolers perceptions;
Ed Collom and Douglas E. Mitchell;

National Charter School Watch list:

Reply author: JJ Ross
Replied on: May 04 2005 10:23:30 PM

No. How did you think it applied?

Reply author: JJ Ross
Replied on: May 04 2005 11:08:59 PM

"You can't be a sweet cucumber in a vinegar barrel."

Too much to summarize or excerpt - Stanford psychologist details
how "place" can win over "person" through concepts like
institutionalization, escalating dehumanization, stress and stereotyping, the seduction of boredom, the evil of
inaction and much more.

Hard to read. Important ideas that do seem to apply.

Reply author: Jeannie
Replied on: May 05 2005 5:56:16 PM

JJ, what's the link to the 2002 NHEN's original legislative list? I'd like to read what folks have said about that ("Public schooling in practice today is a socialist collective. . . .)


Reply author: Jeannie
Replied on: May 05 2005 6:19:19 PM

Some of what I'm looking at is that homeschoolers are seen as ignoring or not taking part in a powerful social norm. We are deviant. We tend to deviate as individuals by not participating in this enormous social institution. However, there is also a concept of positive social deviance, and that's how I see homeschooling.

A big concern about kids in school is the impact of peer pressure; yet I contend that default or automatic participation in institutions is also just a form of adult peer pressure. That can be good or bad, depending on what happens due to participation in the institution. My thought is that if the institution is not producing outcomes desirable to the participants, then it's pretty silly and pretty lemming-like to keep on participating in it. As an individual, I see that the institution does not produce results I like. As an individual, I have spent a lot of time attempting to change the institution that has resisted my efforts. So as an individual, I make a different choice. Positive deviance. My own little rebellion, only with the luxury of following other, braver folks who were even more deviant (since homeschooling is more socially acceptable today).

I also think it's interesting that in the midst of these powerful institutions, there are other "backlashes" -- such as home birth instead of hospital birth, hospice care instead of hospital death, and so on. These small movements, if you can call them that, continue in the face of huge dominance of institutional practices and societal expectations.

And then of course, the backlash gets a backlash, since public school as an institution is threatened by the success of independent homeschooling -- and authorities want to impose institutional standards on people who are not tied to the institutions in any way. And, some homeschoolers freak over it, some are affected by it even if they don't panic, some must contend with laws based on these standards, and some of us keep trying to explain to people why these standards are not relevant to how our family members learn together in our homes. Meanwhile, implementation of institutional standards reinforces and comforts the institution-believers that maybe we really ARE conforming, or if we aren't, maybe they still retain some way to control us and not lose power.

And all I really want to do is read a little Shakespeare with my kids.


Reply author: ajcjdm
Replied on: May 06 2005 4:28:57 PM

Originally posted by JJ Ross

No. How did you think it applied?

Here is a snip found in the study from "Homeschooling as a social movement: identifying
the determinants of homeschoolers perceptions";
Ed Collom and Douglas E. Mitchell; :

<<<Home Charter is part of a growing movement to institutionalize home
schooling by creating formal organizations that help parents plan and
execute educational programs and provide educational services that families want but cannot provide for themselves (see Stevens 2001).>>>

I would say this ties into the charter school debate as that there is a segment of people and entities that are looking to "institutionalize" homeschooling and there are many homeschoolers that are saying, "No way, we don't want to go there". Here is something to consider: Churches that arose out of the new testament era were eventually institutionalized by the help of the Emperor Constantine. As a result, a hierarchy was established and the rule and the governing power went out of the hands of the ordinary people and into the hierarchy. I think a similar comparison can be made in early American education as schools have become an institution, individualism has in many ways gone out the door. With homeschooling, parents are rejecting the "institutionalism" and getting back to "individualism"--perhaps even a "rugged individualism".

Reply author: JJ Ross
Replied on: May 07 2005 09:14:05 AM

Jeanne wrote:

We are deviant. We tend to deviate as individuals by not participating in this enormous social institution. However, there is also a concept of positive social deviance, and that's how I see homeschooling.

A third-millennium book this brings to mind is "The Deviant's Advantage" by Mathews and Wacker.

I've written about it before at NHEN (I'll look around) and included it in our Thinking Parent Resources at the PDE website. The authors use this definition of positive deviance:

"Deviance is nothing more than marked separation from the norm, and it is the source of innovation, the kind of breakthrough thinking that creates new markets and tumbles traditional ones . . ."

That book came out in 2002, but the new Daniel Pink book says the same thing and in more poetic, developmental language imo -- "A Whole New Mind" says in the flyleaf that it's all about "what it takes for individuals AND organizations to excel." Then just this week, there's a national surge of emphasis on the same point, that the future belongs to those who think for themselves, who look ahead to innovate individual answers and create new meanings, rather than those well-trained by hidebound, standardized institutions (be they schools, employers, or governments) in regurgitating a codified piece of any past.

Newsweek's current special report says our children's future will be "China's Century", and how American schools can't adjust but some enlightened families and individually motivated students are rushing to prepare. Even China itself is innovating rather than following traditions and old ways -- its most powerful cultural export right now isn't Confucianism or communism. It's the movies, and it's not the old chop-sockey stuff either. Chinese and Asian cinema hybrids now are deviant, multiculturally diverse and open in some very influential ways. Hollywood has been cross-pollinated and neither the studio system or the governments involved matter much in determining how it will all turn out, nor could they prevent it.

Then Tom Friedman's column in the New York Times this morning refers to how individual students can "positively deviate" from schools and universities while enrolled, without trying to change the institutions in any way. (He got to thinking about all this on his latest book tour for "The World is Flat: The Wealth of Yet More Nations"):

. . .there's a huge undertow of worry out in the country about how our kids are being educated and whether they'll be able to find jobs in an increasingly flat world, where more Chinese, Indians and Russians than ever can connect, collaborate and compete with us. In three different cities I had parents ask me some version of: "My daughter [or son] is studying Chinese in high school. That's the right thing to do, isn't it?"

Not being an educator, I can't give any such advice. But my own research has taught me that the most important thing you can learn in this era of heightened global competition is how to learn. Being really good at "learning how to learn," as President Bill Brody of Johns Hopkins put it, will be an enormous asset in an era of rapid change and innovation, when new jobs will be phased in and old ones phased out faster than ever.

One ninth grader in St. Paul asked me, then "what courses should I take?" How do you learn how to learn? Hmm. Maybe, I said, the best way to learn how to learn is to go ask your friends: "Who are the best teachers?" Then - no matter the subject - take their courses. When I think back on my favorite teachers, I don't remember anymore much of what they taught me, but I sure remember being excited about learning it.

What has stayed with me are not the facts they imparted, but the excitement about learning they inspired. To learn how to learn, you have to love learning - while some people are born with that gene, many others can develop it with the right teacher (or parent).

Don't you LOVE that?! Learning is an individual spark, not an institutional requirement, and it passes person-to-person through authentic human relationships, not government mandates. What could say it better: "To learn how to learn, you have to love learning -- many . . . can develop it with the right teacher or parent."

I hope Paul (our homeschool dad-global economist) may join this thread too; we're discussing this on the PDE list and he sees the implications --

In short, our own institutionalism in the West may be a bigger threat to our children's education and future than the rise of rival nations. The mantle of power we perhaps should worry most about losing may be neither money, oil, or military force. It could be instead the one thing we always assumed was uniquely American by divine right - the Power of the Individual.

Reply author: JJ Ross
Replied on: May 07 2005 2:31:47 PM

Jeanne, the message number was 16,417. It was August of 2002 at the end of our first "debate" with Rob Reich. Things had gotten testy here and there. I agree the whole thread makes interesting reading! JJ

From: jrossedd
Date: Wed Aug 28, 2002 8:22 am
Subject: Re: [NHEN-Legislative]
Reich Views was: Homeschooling in absence of parent rights

reich@... writes:

> the frequency of personal attacks, ridiculous assumptions about
> my motives, and ugly name-calling says more, in my view, about homeschool defenders than about my views.

No! Time out, shirts! It reflects poorly on those individuals, but not
on all homeschool defenders.

This may well capture the key difference between Rob Reich's world view and mine.

NHEN does not constitute a homeschool "collective" and thus cannot
take responsibility for free individuals. The whole notion of a "homeschool collective" strikes me as oxymoronic, except perhaps as claimed by certain cults and communes, in which indoctrination rather than "home education" seems the appropriate descriptor.

Public schooling in practice today is a socialist collective. Home
education is an individual repudiation of that collective. Every debate among us homeschooling individuals seems to rest on this tension between the claims of the collective and the yearning for self-determination -- for ourselves AND our own children.

No wonder home education is viewed as such a threat by collectives
like unions and government bureaucracies, who perversely claim they can strengthen and support individuals by subsuming them.

Maybe the Definition Debate we've been bumbling through is focused on
the wrong words. Maybe the real issue is not homeschooling versus
e-schooling, but community versus collective.

Dr. Reich may not be aware that I too was subjected recently to signed
"personal attacks, ridiculous assumptions about my motives, and ugly
name-calling" on this list from two individuals, ad nauseum.

But they signed their individual names -- and it never occurred to me to believe that I was being vilified by all "homeschool defenders." They were obviously two distinct individuals.

Speaking only for myself, I would sooner throw my lot in with
self-interested individual homeschoolers (even those who are rude and overly defensive) than with servants of the collective. Unless and until those same individuals attempt to constitute a collective to "defend" me by abridging my freedoms, that is --

I am preparing a response to the substance of Rob Reich's remarks,
which I plan to post later today for anyone interested in revisiting the debate. I hope and expect it will be read as an individual commentary, for which I alone am responsible. JJ

Reply author: JJ Ross
Replied on: May 07 2005 2:46:31 PM

Churches that arose out of the new testament era were eventually institutionalized by the help of the Emperor Constantine. As a result, a hierarchy was established and the rule and the governing power went out of the hands of the ordinary people and into the hierarchy. I think a similar comparison can be made in early American education as schools have become an institution, individualism has in many ways gone out the door.

Yes, good example of what I was thinking about personal beliefs versus organized church hierarchies. (Emperor Constantine also was an example of church and state combining to rule? Imagine trying to fight THAT off to keep your own individual identity!)

Another book I read recently is called "A Sideways Look at Time" in which the author suggests the Christian patriarchal church literally standardized and prescribed the structure of time -- hours of prayer every day, days of worship every week, months of the calendar every year-- to control not the clock but the people. The idea was that the much more humanly satisfying "wild time" of children and women made pagans ungovernable. Lots to think about!

Reply author: Paul Danaher
Replied on: May 08 2005 08:09:13 AM

"This thread is to consider individualism versus institutionalism"

I should like to make a very strong plea at this point to drop the opposition of these terms. Most characteristics of human organisations and individuals involve a spectrum, and introducing that little word "versus" forces us to come up with a definition by exclusion, a partition into the groups of "individualists" and "institutionalists" (or "institutionalised"?).

We've already seen the harm this can do in the case of the definition of "home schoolers". Thinking and arguing in this way not only distorts our perception of reality, it also tempts us to attribute benefits illegitimately to the group we favour, unnecessarily raising the temperature of the dispute.

Reply author: JJ Ross
Replied on: May 08 2005 10:50:12 AM

Very helpful point, thanks Paul -- changing topic heading now.

The spectrum (or spiral?) image is helpful too, as a much better way to understand complicated connections and contrasts.

I did choose the -ism suffix for a reason, to mean something that's become a sort of dogma in itself. Like scientism is sometimes used to mean elevating science to a sort of worship or all-purpose imperative, beyond what's rational or directly supported by science itself. Too much of one good thing to the exclusion of all others, perhaps?

In this sense, individual-ism and institutional-ism would indeed be opposing mindsets set against each other. Jeanne's earlier point was that home education can get squeezed by that tug-of-war between -isms and (thus I inferred) that it helps to learn more about how this has happened with these particular two -isms.

So I'm thinking that while WE ourselves don't want to set them against each other in destructive or limiting ways, we need to realize that it's often done by others, and to examine how both individual-ism and institutional-ism have negative effects on our freedom (one word I've never heard morph into an -ism!) And maybe figure out more about where home education catches the most light on that spectrum of the individual and the institution?

If this just seems confusing or anyone has a better way to capture this meaning, please do!

Reply author: JJ Ross
Replied on: May 08 2005 11:23:51 AM

OOH, that exchange with Paul (and editing myself to try to make more sense) just made me think of the Fox and the Hedgehog (or the Ant and the Peacock?) -- off to see which, and why . . .

Reply author: JJ Ross
Replied on: May 08 2005 11:40:23 AM

Okay, why both books came to mind in this context --
"The Hedgehog, The Fox, and the Magister's Pox" is about reconciling science with the humanities, or how to understand them as an integrated whole, and "The Ant and the Peacock" is about reconciling this seeming paradox in nature: are individuals or collectives favored?

The "ant" could be home education in this discussion -- insignificantly small, renouncing tooth and claw -- but also could be schooling because it lives in the "public-spirited ways of the commune."

Or is home education the flamboyant peacock?

(Hint - To parallel Paul's point, the question is deeper than choosing between individual and institution. The only right answer seems to be that homeschoolers and all humans are both and neither, and that the real trick is being able to see and appreciate the full spectrum of individual and collective characteristics in all its complexity.)

Is home education the single-minded and prickly hedgehog or the lithe, inventive fox? ("The fox devises many strategies; the hedgehog knows one great and effective strategy" - translation from Latin version by Erasmus)

The Hedgehog/Fox author says that our human tendency to make every question a simple dichotomy between two opposite choices is probably just baggage from caveman decisions like fight-flight, sleep-wake, mate-wait. I suggest that tendency itself should be evidence against institutionalized education - look what "school" does to knowledge and wisdom by breaking it up into little disconnected learning "standards" with forced choice right-wrong answers and discrete disciplines. (But that's another thread?)

Neither book performs its scholarly concilience by taking sides, both books raise whole new lines of inquiry rather than prescribing answers, and both books are about beauty, goodness and intelligence, three things which one reviewer said "especially puzzled Charles Darwin."

Reply author: Jeannie
Replied on: May 08 2005 3:27:50 PM

The idea that the individualism and collectivism are not necessarily in a "vs" relationship (as Paul points out) seems to point to some of the conflict that many homeschoolers have even within themselves. Many are folks who tend to function really well within some of society's most treasured institutions (for instance, in churches, as elected officials on local governing boards, in colleges and universities, in *corporate America.*) I think that's one of the reasons some folks have a hard time making the leap -- they have a hard time separating themselves from the highly-valued (well, in some ways) institution of school, maybe partially because of the fact that they relate to other institutions in traditional ways. People are often surprised when my factory-manager husband -- who seems very *traditional* -- says his kids are homeschooled. He explains by saying, "Innovation!", which makes sense in business-speak, so the question is answered to everyone's satisfaction.

I think that's why many homeschoolers are so surprised at others' images of homeschoolers as being *so* outside of society. Of course, some are. But many others are not. And many others are sorta both. I can't deny that the choices my husband and I make for our family turn out to be really different from what mainstream America seems to be choosing (we could get into the idea of choice, right?) -- but we look at it as extremely positive deviance and are still highly functioning members of our community. That actually seems to be the rule rather than the exception among the homeschoolers we run with.

JJ, the books you mention, and also Daniel Pink's earlier Free Agent Nation, are things I'm working with in regards to this topic. Interesting to see how homeschoolers tend to find this stuff even when it does not, officially, purport to be all or only about homeschooling. Would love to hear other recommendations of books or websites that address the issue of being deviant. I've collected quite a few websites but don't have them well-organized. I'll try to find some of them and post them later -- when the weather outside is not quite as perfect as it is right now.


Reply author: JJ Ross
Replied on: May 08 2005 6:11:32 PM

People are often surprised when my factory-manager husband -- who seems very *traditional* -- says his kids are homeschooled. He explains by saying, "Innovation!", which makes sense in business-speak, so the question is answered to everyone's satisfaction.

Excellent! I can just see them nodding, too. Great image.

And it suggests another idea - we could start a list -- on-going, I mean, to keep adding to -- of which frames like this would resonate in different contexts.

My former colleagues (educators and professors, school principals and psychologists, lobbyists for education funding and grants) are satisfied by "individualized instruction!" or "you can't beat the pupil-teacher ratio!"

Reply author: JJ Ross
Replied on: May 08 2005 6:33:29 PM

JJ, the books you mention, and also Daniel Pink's earlier Free Agent Nation, are things I'm working with in regards to this topic. Interesting to see how homeschoolers tend to find this stuff even when it does not, officially, purport to be all or only about homeschooling.

Isn't it though?

In the car yesterday, DD15 said something about a metaphor and I asked little DS if he knew what a metaphor was, not trying to quiz him but just so he could follow the conversation.

And he says: "Of course! (clears his throat) A metaphor is something not meant to be taken literally."

DD and I shot each other a glance and laughed, and then asked him if he remembered where he had come across that word and meaning.

Upon which he describes a scene in "The Lion King 1 1/2" (doing all the voices) and, although I'm sure it wasn't meant as English grammar instruction, apparently it did a rather fine job on this point just the same -- Power of Story!

It seems to me the whole point of getting outside institutional curriculum and schooling is to exceed it rather than escape it, to individually go beyond and be bigger than those limits, in whatever directions catch one's individual fancy, in as much depth for as long as one stays interested and engaged. So the homeschool-unschool approach would be based on adding, building, exploring and expanding, not shrinking, avoiding, and evading anything explicitly "educational" (much less limiting ourselves even more narrowly to only what fits some dogma labeled "home-educational.")

And then we get to connect it all up in our own individual brains, each of which really is "unique" among several billion and cannot (should not!) be standardized or subsumed by any institutionalism.

Reply author: JJ Ross
Replied on: May 08 2005 7:02:45 PM

About homeschoolers being "deviant" --

Jeanne, just a thought, you might want to include some sources specifically about "norms" and averaging, mean-median-mode differences and so forth, along with your links for cognitive science, philosophy and all the other sources you're finding.

Depending on how the loaf is sliced, my family often seems to find ourselves in a small, abnormal group of 2-5 per cent on one end of some scale -- home education is a major one of course, also a few unusual physical/medical things, some test scores, my own education, not being registered in any political party, heck, even the traditional family of four --biological mom and dad married and living with their own two children -- is getting to be a form of (positive) deviance. I think now it's less than one in three of American households or something like that.

Yet there are many other ways to slice the bread where we're well in the middle of some huge indistinguishable middle or norm.

This year's Tony winner for Best Musical, "Avenue Q," introduces a funny song demonstrating through jokes on diverse characters that "everyone's a little bit racist." Maybe the lesson homeschoolers can take from that is that everyone's a little bit deviant AND a little bit normal -- homeschooling or not? JJ

Reply author: JJ Ross
Replied on: May 09 2005 08:21:29 AM

Nance posted this at PDE for Mother's Day.

Edwatch by Julia Steiny:
Starting From Scratch

Sunday, May 8, 2005
Julia Steiny is a former member of the Providence School Board; she now consults and writes for a number of education, government and private enterprises.

re: changing institutions

. . . The old guard is getting fiercer about asserting its power, but since charters and other, newer schools -- like the Boston pilots -- inspire real hope for improving the quality of education in our lifetime, caving in to the demands of industrial-style unions maintaining factory-model schools makes less and less sense.

Not only the unions, but traditional school administrators are beating a path to their state houses to insist that money not be siphoned off for the newer schools on the block. With tightening state budgets and federal demands for improved test scores, battles are brewing between the often-dysfunctional old institutions and the powerless but more promising new schools.

A group called Philanthropy for Education got together to mull over this issue and produce a report called "A New Bet for Better Schools." (Available through -- click on Publications.) The report pulls no punches laying out the problem of philanthropies that badly want to support new schools while being accused of unfair prejudice against the old.

Right up front, the report acknowledges:
"The current public education system serves fewer than 60 percent of its students well. . . . This experience leads to two conclusions. First, if this country is going to come anywhere near meeting its escalated expectations for our schools, we've got to create significant numbers of schools that are different in fundamental ways from the schools we used during the 20th century. Second, we are not likely to get the kinds of schools we need by changing the schools we have. For the most part, we will need to create these different schools anew."

And there you have education's current dilemma. . .

JJ's note - no, that's just the SCHOOL SYSTEM'S dilemma, not education's dilemma. The whole column is about the Aladdin-like changing of new schools for old, not really about "starting from scratch" at all, as its heading claims.

Changing school is only the institutional part of the dilemma. Useful to examine, but if you start from the fallacious equation of "Education equals Schooling," any answers you get will be flawed too. Schooling is a subset of education, or maybe they're two circles that partly overlap and share some area (not concentric circles though -- I no longer believe that schooling and education share the same center.)

And we know that staring at *anything* too long without changing focus creates distortion, not clarity.

But all that said, she offers some good stuff about changing institutions - check this out:

"The report goes on to examine theories of organizational change. The texts they use are The Innovator's Dilemma by Clayton Christensen of Harvard's Business School and Creative Destruction by Richard Foster of the McKinsey Group. Frankly, their conclusions sound strikingly similar to those in Jim Collins' Good to Great and other recent popular successes about organizational change.

Their bottom line: It is infinitely harder to change existing organizations than it is to start from scratch.

The reason for this resistance to change is what Foster calls "the invisible architecture" of the organization, which is to say its culture -- "this is the way we've always done things."

When powerful CEOs implement innovations, even they find that over time the company's culture molds and erodes the innovation until it "fits comfortably back into the old culture."

Starting from scratch means that you can define the objectives, values and structures without battling an entrenched culture. We know, for example, that typical, factory-model American schools were designed to be efficient, easily sloughing off problem students including those not making it academically. The 1950's dropout rate was over 50 percent.

We also know that educating those once-sloughed kids requires engaging relationships. But the organizational structure and the culture of factory- model schools prevents students and teachers from being engaged with each other, with their work, with parents or with community.

Even many kids who survive and excel in traditional public schools loudly express wanting more interesting and relevant work, served up in less dull ways, where their own passions can play a part in at least some of what they learn. Engagement on anyone's part never was a goal of the factory-model school, whereas it is a goal of virtually all charters. . . .

So I'm thinking the central spot where institutions and individuals connect or cross paths in educational terms must be somewhere in the "cultural" realm. Hmmm --

Unfortunately then irony creeps in - after her well-justified riff on how old institutions (school systems) fiercely resist new goals, and a final "so there!" flourish, the author relaxes into her conclusion and imo, falls smack dab back into her own institutional bias: this is all about saving the institution, the SCHOOLS, rather than anything individual like learning or education, freedom of ideas, critical thought, creating the future, or even "our children." Apparently innocent of intent to defraud and sincerely believing she offers us a great service, it turns out she too is stuck on the same old institutional goals, just shined up to fool folks in the marketplace into swapping the old family lamps that are their true treasures.

Then sinking still deeper into that institutional trance imo, she ends with the most universal institutional code word I know of -- amen. So be it. It's bigger than all of us, no point in fighting divine providence. The masses can have reform but never escape the institution itself.

She writes:
. . . regular public school districts have by far and away the largest share of kids and power, but too often their objectives are so last year, we can't afford them any more. We need the new world of teachers who are organized and encouraged to behave like professionals in engaging new schools. . .

"This is not an easy journey. But if we are going to retain the wonderful institution of public education through this new century, we must have the courage to help it change."


Reply author: JJ Ross
Replied on: May 10 2005 10:03:41 AM

While some of us were discussing the five-year-old girl handcuffed at school last month, the story about police and school systems recruiting students as "snitches" came out.

Neither case is about learning or teaching; both are about crime, law enforcement and population control, pure and simple. And they both stem from our increasingly institutional view of what's best for young children (despite all the flowery individualistic language with which institutions try to make it seem otherwise) --

Here's an excerpt from the snitch story, followed by my response from the PDE list:

> Students Rewarded for Tattling at School
> Associated Press Writer
> April 26, 2005

. . . Critics call them "snitch" programs, saying they are a knee-jerk reaction to student violence. Some education professionals fear such policies could create a climate of distrust in schools and turn students against each other.
> "There are very few things that I can think of that would be more
effective at destroying that sense of community," said Bruce Marlowe,
an education psychology professor at Roger Williams University in
Bristol, R.I.
> About 2,000 schools and colleges, from Honolulu to Palm Beach
County, Fla., have adopted Student Crime Stoppers programs like
Houston County, according to the nonprofit Crime Stoppers U.S.A.,
which began helping schools set up such programs in 1983.
> Most schools offer an anonymous phone line or a school drop box for
tips. Rewards range from cash to gift certificates to free parking passes. The goal: "Heading off some problems rather than waiting until they happen and responding afterward," said Tim Hensley, a school system spokesman. . .
> Frank Farley, an educational psychology professor at Temple
University in Philadelphia, said students should be taught to speak up
without being offered a reward.
> "This idea of surveillance -- there's something unsavory there,"
Farley said. "We're familiar with the history of that in the former
Soviet Union and Nazi Germany." He added: "I think it's bad civics."


One individual's response to the "snitching as bad civics" quote:

But we never step back to look at the institution of "school"
itself, to see if IT'S bad civics? And to see how we could change the
institution instead of the inmates?

Seems like that would be a smarter choice than just going with the
flow, pouring on the acid and turning them all into one big barrel of

So this is the current thread running through Thinking Parent news
discussion -- when bad things happen involving our kids, what are our
choices as we figure out how to respond? And what do kids "learn" from
the different responses we can make?

I see connections between this and punishments of all types, for
example. The reasoning is that we must command children's respect for
authority "for their own good." Scofflaw behavior and disrespect for
authority must be swiftly corrected and contained. I see a straight
line between this choice of response and the way communities treat
school-aged children, how truancy crack-downs lead to sweeping all
kids (even hsers and the non-truant) off the streets with suspicious
questioning and curfews, to the testing and accountability excesses
that I fear soon will demand every child learn everything "for the
good of the community."

More law and order is one mainstream choice of response, but too
often it feels like the only one. Schooling and education in our
society seems to be more and more about law enforcement (and not
without reasons.) I remember back in the 80s when the first handful of
benign, helpful, positive "school resource officers" began appearing
on school campuses, to the great concern of most parents and
schoolfolk. Now we don't even pretend they're resources and role
models -- their job is to handcuff, arrest and if necessary swat-team
and lock-down the whole school, and apparently not even the
kindergarten girls can call them Officer Friendly these days.

So here it seems their street protocol has gone another step. They
are developing networks of snitches among the population they patrol
and control. This makes perfect sense from a law-enforcement mindset,
of course. And what fine preparation for the kids who will wind up in
prison -- .

There must be other choices. Not just for each of us in our free,
autonomous families, I mean, but in our collective wisdom for the good
of the society and schools we share. As DS9 has said ever since he was
old enough to talk, "I need some more options!"

Reply author: Jeannie
Replied on: May 10 2005 11:43:52 AM

Sounds like the Inquisatorial squad at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry to me....

Reply author: JJ Ross
Replied on: May 10 2005 4:21:23 PM

Sounds like the Inquisitorial squad at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry to me....

Wasn't that Umbridge witch the worst? An example of institutional school as a lesson in itself, beyond any academics it purports to teach. You're right, it fits in this thread--

MisEducation's Mind Field of the Moment
Harry Potter and Hogwarts:
Making Magic in Spite of School

Hogwarts Life Lesson #2 --
Individuals are not interchangeable. People cannot be standardized, though we often pretend otherwise. Teaching, parenting, and public service are neither noble nor shields for abusive individuals -- they can be anything in between. It all depends on the individual.

Reply author: JJ Ross
Replied on: May 13 2005 08:55:27 AM

Here's an unusually raw example of institutional and collective concerns trumping individual needs and concerns in learning -- a little boy takes the state fourth grade test but doesn't understand an essay question well enough to address it. So he writes nothing, which the institution chooses to interpret as his individual "choice" to be "insubordinate" -- ever notice that this crime of insubordination literally means failing to subordinate one's individuality to the satisfaction of some outside authority, to lose oneself and be counted underneath that authority? -- and winds up suspended from school for a full week to teach him the *real* lesson of institutional schooling, spelled out in the official letter to his mother:

Thus, he has compromised the representation of what his peers know
and are able to do. Their scores will be reported as a group, not as
individuals. Additionally, this extends to the whole fourth grade, as our school
score, the one that is reported to the state and the media, is an average of all
fourth grade students. Thus, his choice impacts Tyler, his classmates, his
grade mates, and his school. As we have worked so hard this year to improve
our writing skills, this is a particularly egregious wound. . . .

Details of this case are posted in the standardized testing thread at;_ID=84&

Reply author: JJ Ross
Replied on: May 15 2005 08:44:54 AM

The ethic of individual effort and even the word "individualism" shows up today in, of all places, the extremely institutional New York Times.

The Republican Party succeeds among the poor because it is
seen as the party of optimistic individualism.;=th


Last week the Pew Research Center came out with a study of the American electorate that crystallized something I've been sensing for a long time: rich people are boring, but poor people are interesting.

The Pew data demonstrated that . . . affluent people are pretty well represented by their parties, are not internally conflicted and are pretty much stuck in their ways.

But poorer voters are not like that. They're much more internally conflicted and not represented well by any party. . . These less-educated voters are more cross-pressured and more independent than educated voters.

If you're looking for creative tension, for instability, for a new political movement, the lower middle class is probably where it's going to emerge.

. . . George Bush won the white working class by 23 percentage points in this past election. Many people have wondered why so many lower-middle-class waitresses in Kansas and Hispanic warehouse workers in Texas now call themselves Republicans. The Pew data provide an answer: they agree with Horatio Alger.

These working-class folk like the G.O.P.'s social and foreign policies, but the big difference between poor Republicans and poor Democrats is that the former believe that individuals can make it on their own with hard work and good character.

According to the Pew study, 76 percent of poor Republicans believe most people can get ahead with hard work. Only 14 percent of poor Democrats believe that. Poor Republicans haven't made it yet, but they embrace what they take to be the Republican economic vision - that it is in their power to do so. Poor Democrats are more likely to believe they are in the grip of forces beyond their control.

The G.O.P. succeeds because it is seen as the party of optimistic individualism.

But when you look at how Republicans behave in office, you notice that they are often clueless when it comes to understanding the lower-class folks who put them there. They are good at responding to business-class types and social conservatives, but bad at responding to poor Republicans. . .

Remember, these Republicans are disproportionately young women with children. Nearly 70 percent have trouble paying their bills every month. They are optimistic about the future, but their fear of their lives falling apart stalks them at night.

Poorer Republicans support government programs that offer security, so long as they don't undermine the work ethic. . .

Reply author: JJ Ross
Replied on: May 22 2005 12:05:34 PM

I heard filmmaker Jonathan Nossiter interviewed on NPR this
morning about his "Mondovino" (set for DVD release July 12.) He deplored the global marketing and contests/competitions that together have created wine's disturbingly standardized taste today -- a regression to some mean that is childish, simplistic, superficial, undemanding and robotic.

He believes we're infantalizing and institutionalizing a few thousand years of individuality and complex nuance, apparently for the
sake of control, predictability and winning contest points.

He might as well have been talking about what school has done to education.

A months-old NY Times feature described Nossiter's film as an obsession to be true to his own "real love of wine" even if it angered other "wine-lovers" which it does seem to have done (watch for more fallout from the 10-part TV serialization to come!)

From the movie's box:
"Wine has been a symbol of Western civilization for thousands of years. Never has the fight for its soul been as desperate. Never has there been so much money -and pride- at stake.
But the battle lines are not what you'd expect: local versus multinational, simple peasants versuspowerful captains of industry. In the world of wine, it is never the usual suspects."


But on the upside of our "wine is to children" analogy, there was this travel story quote:

"On our trip, we quickly learned that kids and wine have one thing in
common: they need to breathe in the open air. . ."


Reply author: JJ Ross
Replied on: May 22 2005 12:50:57 PM

And for another view, film critic John Powers reviews the film "Mondovino" as a way to talk about the tough but realistic trade-offs we face when we value both diversity AND affordable access for the masses, both quality and quantity, both the quirky local and the successfully flattened globe, both the individual and the institution.

It's a short audio column, maybe three minutes.

Reply author: JJ Ross
Replied on: May 24 2005 08:24:21 AM

How many individuals did it take to make a New World?

A new population-genetic method for assessing human demographic history
reveals that the effective size of the founding population of the New World comprised less than 80 individuals.


Reply author: JJ Ross
Replied on: May 27 2005 10:43:59 AM

Lobbying to institutionalize standards for individual home cooking tools in law?! Another
sign of the coming Apocalypse . . .

British Medical Experts Call for
Long, Pointy Knife Control

The authors of an editorial in the British Medical Journal
have called for laws requiring knife manufacturers to
redesign their wares with rounded, blunt tips.;=th

. . .The authors of the editorial argued that the pointed tip is a
vestigial feature from less mannered ages, when people used it to spear
meat. They said that they interviewed 10 chefs in England, and that
"none gave a reason why the long, pointed knife was essential," though
short, pointed knives were useful.

An American chef, however, disagreed with the proposal. "This is yet
another sign of the coming apocalypse," said Anthony Bourdain, the
executive chef at Les Halles and the author of "Kitchen Confidential."

(JJ's note - I've read it and also his "Bone in the Throat." He's a real individualist's individual.)

A knife, he said, is a beloved tool of the trade, and not a thing to be
shaped by bureaucrats. A chef's relationship with his knives develops
over decades of training and work, he said, adding, "Its weight, its
shape - these are all extensions of our arms, and in many ways, our

He compared the editorial to efforts to ban unpasteurized cheese. "Where
there is no risk," he said, "there is no pleasure."


p.s. I posted this in the standardized testing folder too --;_ID=84&

Reply author: JJ Ross
Replied on: June 05 2005 4:14:20 PM

Think there's a connection between home education and other unusual home choices that buck institutional, industry standards and attendant cultural pressures? I was aware of the home birth movement but not this one -

A Movement to Bring Grief Back Home:
Many Bereaved Opting to Bypass Funeral Industry

By Rachel S. Cox
Sunday, June 5, 2005; A01

His body, washed and dressed in his favorite clothes, lay in the master
bedroom, cooled by dry ice and open windows, and surrounded by fresh
flowers, burning candles, family photographs and mementos of his many
years as a lawyer, civil servant and father of four. Like a small number
of other bereaved in the Washington area and nationally, Judy Saul chose
to care for her husband's body for several days at home.

Once the hospice nurse who came to certify the death had convinced the
D.C. coroner's office that keeping the deceased at home was legal -- as
it is in the District and all but five states (Connecticut, Delaware,
Indiana, Nebraska and New York) -- Saul and a friend, Sally Craig, had
prepared her husband's body with the assistance of Beth Knox, a "funeral
rites" educator whom Saul had met two months before. . .

This kind of after-death care, its advocates say, offers a more humane
and healing alternative to the standard American practice of handing the
body over to a mortician for embalming and display before cremation or

Knox said that in her seven years as director of Crossings, a Silver
Spring nonprofit she founded to help others carry out home funerals, she
has assisted about 150 families. Others active in the movement report an
increased interest in the practice, but the number of home funerals is
minuscule considering the roughly 2.4 million annual deaths in the
United States.

Like the hospice movement, which since the 1960s has helped the
terminally ill die peacefully at home, the home funeral movement aims to
protect what it calls individuals' "right" to care for their own at
death. At its most abstract, promoters say, it hopes to dispel the fear
and denial that accompany an institutionalized approach to death, and
return life's final act to its historical position as a natural,
profound and private event. . .

See full story at link.

Reply author: JJ Ross
Replied on: June 15 2005 12:53:08 PM

New scholarly paper considering how to study what's the "normal" between us as individuals and as cultural participants in society -- more questions than answers but they are good questions to think about.;=10.1371/journal.pbio.0030194

The Evolution of Norms
Paul R. Ehrlich, Simon A. Levin

Paul R. Ehrlich is with the Department of Biological Sciences, Stanford University (Stanford, California, United States of America). Simon A. Levin is with the Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, Princeton University (Princeton, New Jersey, United States of America).

*Published:* June 14, 2005

*DOI:* 10.1371/journal.pbio.0030194

*Copyright:* � 2005 Ehrlich and Levin. This is an open-access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited.

*Citation:* Ehrlich PR, Levin SA (2005) The Evolution of Norms. PLoS Biol 3(6): e194


Cultural evolution consists of changes in the nongenetic information stored in brains, stories, songs, books, computer disks, and the like. Despite some important first steps, no integrated picture of the process of cultural evolution that has the explanatory power of the theory of genetic evolution has yet emerged.

. . .There is a long-recognized need both to understand the process of human cultural evolution per se and to find ways of altering its course (an operation in which institutions as diverse as schools, prisons, and governments have long been engaged). In a world threatened by weapons of mass destruction and escalating environmental deterioration, the need to change our behavior to avoid a global collapse has become urgent.

A clear understanding of how cultural changes interact with individual actions is central to informing democratically and humanely guided efforts to influence cultural evolution.

While most of the effort to understand that evolution has come from the social sciences, biologists have also struggled with the issue. We argue that biologists and social scientists need one another and must collectively direct more of their attention to understanding how social norms develop and change. . .

Sample Hypotheses about the Evolution of Norms

Hypothesis 1. Evolution of technological norms will generally be more rapid than that of ethical norms.

Technological changes are generally tested promptly against environmental conditions�a round wheel wins against a hexagonal one every time, and the advantages of adopting it are clear to all. Ethical systems, on the other hand cannot often be tested against one another, and the standards of success are not only generally undetermined, they often vary from observer to observer and are the subject of ongoing controversy among philosophers.

Hypothesis 2. In societies with nonreligious art, the evolution of norms in art will be more rapid than those in religion.

We hypothesize that art is less important to the average individual than his or her basic system of relating to the world, and conservatism in the latter would be culturally adaptive (leading to success within a culture).

Hypothesis 3. Military norms will change more in defeated nations than victorious ones.

Was the Maginot Line and the generally disastrous performance of the French army in 1940 an example of a more general rule? Does success generally breed conservatism?

Hypothesis 4. The spread of a norm is not independent of the spread of others, but depends on the spread of other norms (norm clusters).

Does, for example, empathy decrease with social stratification?

Hypothesis 5. Susceptibility to the spread of norms is negatively correlated with level of education.

Are the less educated generally more conformist, or does the spread of norms depend almost entirely on the character of the norm?

Hypothesis 6. Horizontal transmission will show less stickiness than vertical transmission.

This conjecture is based on anecdotal observations that norms like using hula hoops come and go and are primarily horizontally transmitted, and religious values and other high-viscosity points of view are mostly vertically transmitted . Legal & Legislative Forum :

© 2005

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