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The Anarchist Professor: Interview with Denis Rancourt

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It’s time for another Profile in Nonconformity. In this series I look at people who are challenging authority and changing the world in unique ways.

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The Professor in Handcuffs

How does a tenured, full professor lose his job? First, he throws out the grading system by deciding that every student gets an A+.

Next, he tells students to rebel by showing how they, collectively, have more power and authority than any of the administration. Then, he gets arrested and taken away in handcuffs by the police just for showing up for a film club on campus.

Denis Rancourt is the professor, and I first read about him from the Globe and Mail, Toronto’s largest newspaper. I tracked him down in Ontario and he agreed to answer my questions – but he responded with the qualifier, “Hope this does not overly frighten your readers.”

Hmmm, what do you think… are you frightened? I didn’t think so – but be sure and read the notes at the end for a reminder about unconventional thinkers.

OK, here is the interview.

How is it possible to give every student an A+? Don’t we need some kind of evaluation system?

You put “A+” in the box where it says “student grade.” It’s quite easy. And with that simple move, you remove the instrument of power and oppression in the classroom. My job description says nothing about rank ordering students for employers or graduate school. It says “optimize education.”

You talk about students accepting an inferior system out of the desire (or need) for a degree. What can they do to change the system?

Students have as much power as they want in the classroom. They can impose whatever syllabus or grading system they want. Try it and see. If you are the only one in the class to openly challenge the professor’s absolute control then you will also be the only one to get an education. Better to learn freedom than to degrade yourself by obedience to an absurd order.

When you returned for the film session, were you expecting to be escorted off the campus in handcuffs? What was that experience like?

No, I did not expect it. I did not expect the administration to be so bold as to have dissidents arrested in an auditorium full of students and community members. I did not expect the police state mentality to extend to white male professors.

My main reaction to being cuffed was noting how gentle and polite the police were compared to how I have seen them cuff and arrest students and community members on campus, always under direct orders from the upper administration. I actually think they have special “prof cuffs” that don’t cut and hurt your wrists. I have seen what the regular cuffs do.

What is your vision of higher education?

Liberation. Independent thinking. The present prison system of education is a concentration camp that first teaches obedience, followed by indoctrination at the graduate and professional levels. Farber’s essay from the 60s The Student as N—– is dead on in my book, only it has gotten much worse since the 60s, as explained in Churchill’s essay Pacifism as Pathology.

If you are really an anarchist, what would you say to someone who argues that rules and social order are necessary in an institution like the academy?

I agree. Anarchists are not against order and organization, but they fight impositions of undemocratic structures. Anarchy is not chaos. Anarchists are against illegitimate and self-preserving power structures (hierarchies).

What do you expect will happen next in your case?

The present media debate will be stifled as soon as the other side senses that some people risk catching on, as soon as the Lie begins to be exposed.

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Wrap Up

Many of us feel threatened by unconventional ideas. Whenever I mention Ayn Rand, for example, several people always send me notes expressing their concern or disappointment in me.

My response is that you don’t have to be afraid or threatened by controversial ideas. If your belief structure is threatened by someone else’s ideas, then it probably wasn’t very strong to begin with. If you still feel threatened by alternative ideas despite having a strong belief structure, then perhaps the alternative ideas contain more truth than you initially want to admit.

I’ve got a few other features like this scheduled for the rest of the spring. Among other things, we’ll look at passive versus active resistance, objectivism, and the life of Malcolm X. For now, the point is that we can learn a lot from people who are unconventional or controversial. When a member of an elite group (tenured professors) appears willing to forfeit his position over the right to teach as he sees fit, I think he’s worth paying attention to.

Speaking of Professor Rancourt

I’d love to know what you think of Denis Rancourt’s ideas. If you have any additional questions for him, post them up and we’ll see if we can get him to respond. To track the status of his legal case against the University of Ottawa and watch a recent press conference with him, head to AcademicFreedom.ca.

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36 Comments

  • Jason Weaver says:

    Interesting guy. Reminds me of the kind of trouble artist Joseph Beuys was kicking up with the in German education during the 70s: “The final bout of contention, however, that led to Beuys’ dismissal was a battle waged against the bureaucracy that governed the school, particularly their policy of “restricted entry” under which only a select number of students could be enrolled. In line with his belief that those who feel they have something to teach and those who feel they have something to learn have the right to come together, Beuys deliberately over-enrolled his classes.” It led to the founding of the Free International University.

  • Darren Alff says:

    It’s great to hear ideas like this. I think (especially in the Internet world) you start to hear the same thoughts/ideas/messages presented over and over again – just in different ways. And whenever someone throws something new out there (even if it’s just an idea), they get a backlash of criticism. It’s strange, but maybe (as you say) people are afraid of opening themselves up to new ideas. Or maybe they realize (as you say) that there is some truth to these new ideas, but they’re too afraid to admit it to themselves.

    Whatever the case, I’m open… and I’m listening. I’d love to hear more stories/ideas like this. Keep it up Chris!

  • Jennifer says:

    Where to begin…Unconventional ideas are well and good but the fact of the matter is that Mr. Rancourt no longer has his teaching position because of his ideas. He won’t be doing much “optimizing education” without his teaching position! My point is that being open minded and unconventional are strong characteristics to have and can benefit one well, however, if you take something too far you will pay the price for it and I think that most people would agree that this is a positive thing in our society! Having an overly extreme viewpoint about most things is usually not he best way to go! People with extreme views often times are seeking attention for themselves or are lacking in the rational department! Note: I am referring to the extreme side of unconventionality here, which I think applies to Mr. Rancourt!

    Giving everyone an A+ regardless of their preformance, gee, I bet everyone wanted to take his class (possibly a convenient side effect of his little policy)! If the grades don’t mean anything to him then why didn’t he give everyone a C or an F-?

    Here’s a question for Mr. Rancourt: Say you’re in the hospital with a serious medical condition and you need a major operation. Would you want a surgeon who was educated with your grading sytem or the conventional one?

  • GamerGeekGirl says:

    I have a question for Denis –

    How do you think you can/should get the best education?

    (I’m a student in my first year)

  • Leslie Strom says:

    First of all… OTTAWA?? That’s about as Establishment as you can get. It’s a lovely city but the Canadian national capital isn’t about breaking rules. He might have gotten more tolerance somewhere else, done his experiment, taught his students and kept his job.

    Evergreen State college in Olympia WA used to have (not sure if they still do) a grading system where if you took a 4 credit class and would have earned, say, a B in a conventional system, you’d get 3 of the 4 credits as a “score.” You could fulfill your program’s credit requirements and get your degree faster if you performed better. Maybe Rancourt should teach there, though I think he’s of much greater influence someplace where his viewpoint isn’t commonplace. Preaching to the Choir isn’t very productive. I loved this article, Chris, and am glad Rancourt is a true educator.

  • Excellent, I’ve been following this story closely and I’m amazed by the University’s reaction. I like this guy, but sometimes he does sound wacko.

    I hope the “borderline genius” part of his personality prevails over the radical side. Stay focused and on topic and I think he can bring about a quiet revolution…at least in part. If he goes bonkers, then he’s lost his opportunity.

  • Great post!
    I love his response about giving every student an A+. We’re so attached to the idea that we need someone to tell us how well we are doing, if it’s good enough and if we’ve learned the right things. Imagine if you could University without grades – you would have to figure out for yourself if you were learning enough and if we have learned the important things – talk about being responsible for your own education!

  • Basu says:

    It’s an interesting idea and I think he’s a brave man, but I don’t fully support his actions. I don’t think giving everyone an A+ is a solution. There will inevitably be people who are simply lazy and don’t deserve anything better than to be failed. By giving everyone an A+, I think he’s to some extent disrespecting those who actually work hard to learn something. It would have been better if he had graded them on more than just homework and quizzes. Also if he’s going to tell students to fight the establishment, he’d better have something for them to do as an alternative, but I see no mention of such an alternative, just concepts like “liberation” and “independent thinking”. Idealism is nice and I think the world needs more of it, but I’m not rushing into a battle without a reasonable chance of victory.

  • SoulRiser says:

    This is a brilliant man. I’m not surprised he got arrested. The “education” system is a great form of control for the government, and they wouldn’t want anything to jeapordize that. You should read up on some John Taylor Gatto as well… http://www.johntaylorgatto.com – he has a full book available on his site.

  • nancy says:

    If grades are meaningless then don’t give them a grade at all. I don’t think the grading system is perfect but it is for the most part an accurate feedback on effort. Considering how pathetically lax standards for education are, they are probably the only indentive left for certain people to put forth and effort at all. It’s so romantic to fight “the man” and people do this in general to make themselves seem rebellious and special.

  • Michael says:

    I’m with the professor in terms of doing something different and making people think again about education. But, giving everyone an A just to make a statement, while it wakes you up, it does not point a direction.

    I had a geology professor many years ago. When it came to grade time, he said this “You know more about your performance in this class than I do. You know what you did or did not do to prepare or learn. So you get to grade yourself. Give yourself the grade YOU think you deserve, and then back it up with a written evaluation of WHY you deserve that grade.” Brilliant!

    I dropped out of that school too.
    But, years later ended up at the Evergreen State College in Washington State. They don’t have grades there. They have evaluations. It is not enough to go to a class and get judged by a teacher, YOU have to make sense of your own experience. I learned a lot at Evergreen, but learning to practice self evaluation was probably the most valuable skill I took away.

  • Carl Résimont says:

    Très, très intéressant.
    Opportunity, maybe, for some readers to learn to read in french language… :-)))

    Carl

  • Tristan says:

    The professor makes some very good points. I’m an undergraduate honors student of International Studies set to graduate from university next year Summa Cum Laude (with highest honors)…. Lately I have been realizing that I am far too much under the control of the “carrot and the whip” academic-style. As far as ‘honors students’ are concerned I’m very emotionally uninvolved with my grades, I have some friends who feel physically terrible if they do badly with course grades, but I’m always rather unaffected [I only do well because courses come easy to me and I feel if I had good grades before I might as well push that little extra bit to continue having them… Plus, poor grades can only close doors, good ones keep more of them open]

    Still, I’ve been noticing things about my behavior that are starting to bother me… In most classes my ‘education’ consists of memorizing the teacher’s opinions and spitting them back out onto the exam in a way that makes them look like my own. Teachers want this. On essays they want you to write on opinions that they agree with… A well-written essay with a dissenting argument will always have a lower grade.

    In classes that heavily involve discussion, it drives me crazy when a teacher (and this happens in nearly every class I’ve ever had) plays down even extremely interesting ideas from students, but strongly emphasizes the tiniest, nearly irrelevant points one might make that help to further the teachers pre-planned discussion.

    What I am seeing from within this educational system appears to be case-after-case of discouraged independent thinking. Teachers and students alike know that the students need decent grades to graduate and are required to take certain courses. To use a classic example, how many people do you know that took a language in high school or college but don’t speak more than a handful of words today? It’s because, with a disinterested student in the current way of teaching, most people are required to ‘learn’ things that they don’t care about, but only to the extent of which it takes to pass exams. Then, things are immediately forgotten. It’s economically and time-wise very inefficient to require this farce of learning so many ‘general education’ subjects when most students could care less.

    What really bothers me is that I am beginning to notice the subservient behavior in my actions, and I’m trying to figure out to what extent I can rebel without being severely harmed in my quest towards graduation. As a ‘good’ student I know that when I get back criticism from a draft of a paper, I must make the suggested changes if I wish to improve my grade, even if I disagree completely with what the professor has to say. The problem is, I have been making these sort of concessions, over and over, accepting them as the requirement for me to maintain my high grades even though I disagree with them. But, I know very well that these little behaviors can easily turn into lifetime habits, and if I want to have a non-traditional, nonconformist life, I have to get the guts to break out of these habits as soon as possible, regardless of the consequences. Right now I’m just doing a cost/benefit analysis and trying to figure out which path is truly worth it.

  • Rick says:

    Chris,

    Sorry to say, but this is one of your few sub-standard pieces. As a starter – what did this guy teach? Have any of his students continued to make a difference in the world? What is he doing since losing his position?

    I agree with an earlier poster that if the grade isn’t important then why use an A+.

    The University of California at Santa Cruz did away with letter grades nearly two decades ago. That’s an unconventional approach.

    In 1968/9 My 5th grade teacher let the students choose our own grades. Sure I thought about giving myself all A’s, but I wrote down more modest marks. My teacher’s note on my final grade report in the spring said that I had graded myself harder than he would have. That was a tremendous learning experience and I know it changed my life and probably my 29 classmate’s.

    Lastly, sure he’s unconventional… but did his approach change anything other than his employment situation? At this point it doesn’t sound like he’s making a difference anywhere. To me, he doesn’t seem any more interesting than my neighbor that lost his job because he liked to get drunk at lunch.

    peace and get back to your normally great work.

    Rick

  • wilco says:

    Whew! Many thoughts arose from the interview, and from the comments. I don’t have time to write a short piece, so here it all is:

    George Bernard Shaw promptly jumped into my brain, yelling “All progress depends on the unreasonable man!” So if the machine wants to squelch this unreasonable man’s voice, then I want to hear it.

    If freedom were free, it would be worth what you pay for it.

    College is a factory…just like K-12 ed…jobs…professional sports…

    Many of the comments deal with the grading system. I hardly noticed that part of the story, as my takeaway for that issue is, “Your good grade is assured. The education you get from the class is up to you.” Does this sound reasonable, or did I miss something?

    One of the issues with rebellion is risk. You can’t teach and preach rebellion without being willing to stand up. You must speak truth to power.

    Very pertinent comment regarding John Taylor Gatto. His ideas were awakening for me.

    Tristan, your post warrants special mention. Most of education is not hard-won learning of universal truths, it is simply learning to deliver what the master wants. If you accept orthodoxy AND produce work in accordance with that orthodoxy, you are rewarded with the appropriate grade. Great that you have figured it out early. I wish I had been quicker.

  • Bill Riddell says:

    Great interview Chris. I recall reading about Professor Rancourt’s case in the news some time ago and it was very refreshing to read his thoughts on the state of the education system. Or perhaps it is the mis-education system.

    I think by giving a blanket grade (A) or even better removing grading takes the focus off gaining a good grade and places it instead on actually learning for both the students and the teachers.

    One thing that I loathed from mid-high school onwards was that the learning syllabus was so structured. You learn what is needed to pass the test, not to become educated or become a more rounded human being, but instead to get a good mark on the test that the goverment deems appropriet.
    Open discussions were rarely an option, the discussion might veer away from the syllabus and all most teachers care about is getting you to learn the required material in order to get a good grades so they can keep their job. Their is no reward for them to teach material not in the syllabus.

    Students should help create their syllabus, learn what is relevant and important to them. Their should also be greater flexibility in teaching methods and sources (throw away prescribed text books in favor of recommended sources) as well as community guest lectures to provide alternate views than regular class leaders (teachers and lecturers). Must recognize that we all learn best through different mediums.

  • Philip says:

    I went to a school sponsored by congress that threw out the grading system, the basic premise was that you worked with an advisor who basically maps out your education on a trajectory that pretty much goes the way you want it to go, but if you have no clue where you want to go, it becomes an adventure of learning about different things, no matter how terribly you did on the progress reports.

    The only thing is that you are still held to the “mastered the skill” or “failed to comprehend” or, as one student would ask me “how did I know so much”? And my reply was simply I read every single book I got my hands on. No test. Just reading for the pleasure of reading.

    Reading is not learning and grading is not a measure of your true worth, it is just a cheap commercial to get as many students mass produced as possible to a standard that we all know is just a spit in the bucket. Grading fails non-conformists like ourselves, because we think outside the proverbial box.

    By the way, congress spent 250+ Million dollars on the latest appropriation bill for this school.

  • Josephine Anderson says:

    As a Swedish woman used to the relative transparent
    and free education-system of Sweden
    (I’ve got to learn that it is quite liberal compared to
    American or German schools)

    I’m flabbergasted by the fact that there are still
    in 2008 teachers and professors who really believe
    they have to give out a certain amount of grades
    (only two above 85%) instead of looking at what the students
    REALLY have LEARNED!!

    I’m surprised that not more universities and schools
    have adopted a system where results count and not
    the students identity.
    Where coded exams could be given in which only a third
    neutral parts knows the identity of the exam-takers and their
    results would then entirely be judged on what has been written
    and nothing based on the persons identity.

    Professor Rancourts ideas are worth to be known globally.

  • Kay says:

    Chris,

    Thanks for another opportunity to develop an effective, yet unconventional, approach to life! The quality of the classroom experience is a topic near and dear to my family right now.

    I see the value and possibility of radical thinking in college — you should take your time, be there to expand your mind, toss grades out of the equation, and be rewarded for unconventional thoughts. I loved that many of the earlier comments gave examples of colleges that have done away with the grading system! I do hope, though, that they have come up with an effective alternative to determine a young professional’s abilities.

    But before you get to college, you’re probably going to have to survive the public/private school system. My kids’ experiences appear to be rigid and numbing. But I certainly don’t see my third-grader organizing a classroom mutiny. We are absolutely involved in our childrens’ lives and we can certainly encourage free thought over the dinner table. One thing we’re doing as a family is talking about “how to think” — identify the core problem, optimize the number of alternatives you consider, how to pick the best solution. But how do parents stop the “discouragement of independent thinking” in the school system that Tristan mentioned?

    I would be interested in hearing Professor Rancourt’s thoughts on the following questions: What would you recommend to a parent of a child just beginning the school process? Do you believe K-12 students have the same “power in the classroom” as college students? (I don’t, but I think he might!) How do parents optimize their kid’s learning experience at that stage of the “education game”?

    Thanks again, Chris!

  • stiggofthedump says:

    This guy is a genius. He treats the academy just like the circus it has become, while maintaining stewardship over a corner of the agora focused on actual learning, not credentialing. He can keep his Ayn Rand – I think that whole school was robotic and inhumane. But the point is, taking a class with him about Ayn Rand would likely leave me the room to debate it passionately, not something indicative of my time in higher ed.
    If his ideas make you unsettled, there’s a good chance you spent too much time in school 🙂

  • Kate Yowein says:

    I hate teaching what’s going to be in the test rather than learning what you really need to know. Unfortunately, that’s how it goes in most East and Southeast Asian schools and even universities. What sucks is that my college uses the norm reference which is that only a certain number of people get As, Bs and Cs. They don’t get the grade they deserve.

    Kudos to Professor Rancourt for giving As to students in order to release them from an oppressive prison. As a fellow member of the academia, we get blinded by all the paperwork, research, creating exams and programs that we forget what we’re really there for: to help students learn.

  • Thanks for this, Chris. I’m fascinated by the variety of responses that people have posted…both in support of this professor and also critiquing him for going too far. Specifically, I wanted to give huge kudos to Tristan: how interesting that you’re noticing the lack of independent thinking that is expected of you by your teachers, AND that you can identify resulting subservient behaviors! I wish every student were this self-aware. It is a sadness of mine that we don’t require more self-inquiry and self-awareness of our students (and indeed of our teachers) as they pass through the education system. I’m really curious — now that you’ve identified these behaviors, what can you do about it?! Any ideas about how you can change your relationship to your professors/assignments/schooling/grades? Perhaps you don’t want to, but if you do, I’d love to hear what you notice…it would help me help the students with whom I work.

    (Side note: I’m an academic coach who works with high school students who are struggling. Although TECHNICALLY those struggles relate to diagnosed learning disabilities, I’m noticing that they’re even MORE related to a sense of disconnection/disempowerment/boredom with the schooling options they’ve been given. I find my job is to help them see that they have CHOICES about how they relate to the education system they have been given.)

    I also appreciate Kay’s questions on this issue. I’d send her to my friend Dana Bennis. Dana is building an organization that will help answer your questions. More families need to be equipped with an understanding of ALL the educational philosophies out there, and the wealth of options there are to work healthily both inside and outside the systems.

  • SoulRiser says:

    I know these questions weren’t directed at me, but I’m going to answer them from my perspective.

    “What would you recommend to a parent of a child just beginning the school process?”

    Either don’t send them to school, or let them choose if they want to go or not. Explain the pro’s and con’s of each choice. There are plenty of alternatives to school.

    “Do you believe K-12 students have the same “power in the classroom” as college students?”

    Officially, no, but they might be able to “take” it if they could somehow work together in large enough numbers. Unfortunately far too many school students genuinely believe that the system is good for them and that there is nothing wrong with the way it works now.

    “Although TECHNICALLY those struggles relate to diagnosed learning disabilities, I’m noticing that they’re even MORE related to a sense of disconnection/disempowerment/boredom with the schooling options they’ve been given.”

    There’s no such thing as a learning disability. This is just a convenient way for the system to label kids who don’t “fit in” at school, or who learn in unconventional ways. So yes, I would agree that it is related to disconnection/disempowerment/boredom.

    Different people learn in different ways and at different speeds. John Taylor Gatto said it better than I can.

  • stiggofthedump says:

    @soulriser,
    Well in with the Taylor-Gatto ref. His opus, which I hear is about to hit the shelves soon, apparently turns ed. history on it’s head.
    Also Tristan, have a look at Ivan Illich and Paulo Freire for alternate opinions on how your schooling could look.

  • Lucky says:

    I’m surprised no one has brought up “Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance” in which the narrator, a college professor, gave his entire class “A” grades. All hell broke lose.

    As much as I disliked that book, he was right that the point of education is not a good GPA and a degree – it’s the education!

    If your actual goal is to learn, then you’ll do the work and the grades are irrelevant. If, like me as a college student, you’re there to get a degree in order to get a high paying job (because that’s what your parents and other authority figures expect, so you think it’s what you want), you’ll do the minimum possible – unless you’re one of those sickening overacheivers hoping for a pat on the head.

    Looking back, I wish I would have taught myself what I needed to know/found an alternate education and skipped the high-paying job part.

  • I find Rancourt’s ideas interesting, but I do think they have a few holes. I’d love to read posts by you on objectivism, especially by comparison/contrast to Rancourt’s A+ distribution – since my understanding of Ayn Rand (and I have studied her in depth) is that she was all about meritocracy in its purest form, and it seems that giving everyone an A+ would invoke the collectivist ideal she loathed.

    My favorite (and most challenging) university courses were taught by an eccentric, brilliant and tough professor at Georgia Tech by the name of Dr. Phil Adler, who “lectured” exclusively via the Socratic method. They were all electives, and I took four of them back to back. I can truly say that those 12 credit hours were the most valuable of my four year education, and he was named one of the top 10 professors ever to teach at the Institute.

  • Tristan says:

    To Wilco: I fully accept and acknowledge that certain fields [i]need[/i] people to be trained more-or-less identically: medicine, law, accounting, etc. Subjects like these require a precise knowledge base and a relatively orthodox approach so that people can succeed in interactions with the systems involved (be it a bodily system, legal one, economic one, etc).

    The problem is that the fields of academia that ought to merit self-expression start to mirror the type of education listed in the previous paragraph. In analysis courses I’m expected to analyze situations in a way that agrees with the professors opinions, not to truly analyze from my own perspective. To provide another example, I have a friend who is top of her class at what is considered to be an ivy-league art school (SCAD). Her work is absolutely brilliant — but if she doesn’t create in the style that her professor favors, it hurts her grade severely.

    This sort of thing is ridiculous. I came to university for two reasons: the first is that I want to become a more intelligent, well-rounded person. The second is for that piece of paper at the end of it all, not because [i]I[/i] see it as having any real value (I know plenty of idiots with degrees) but because it opens a lot of doors in a lot of places for me.

    It appears to me that most people at the undergraduate level are in university because (1). they have the vague feeling that they need a degree, regardless of if they know what they actually want to do with their lives. (2). They feel that their families expect it of them. (3). They think that a degree is the best bet to help them make a lot of money. (4). If they know what they want to do, it is actual, useful vocational training.

    Numbers 1-3 all simply encourage the carrot-and-the-whip system. It is not until you realize that only [i]you[/i] can truly evaluate yourself that you start to become a better student in the real, learning for keeps, sense of things.

    To Gretchen: The question is not what can I do about it, but what [i]will[/i] I do? If I had no other priorities, I would withdraw, and just go to random classes until I found ones that were stimulating, and then frequent them as long as it was useful for my growth. No tuition, grades, or unnecessary homework required.

    But, as I said previously, I want the degree because it opens a lot of doors, and I want a relatively high grade as well in case I go to grad school [And I need it to maintain scholarships]. So basically, it becomes a question of, how much Cain can I raise within my classes while still getting high marks?

    If I want to do well while thinking independently, I essentially have to be extremely clear and concise in my work and ideas. I have to be so da**ed good that even if my professors don’t agree with me, they still have to acknowledge my skill and subject mastery. It will require a lot more effort than just “getting by” on my part, but in the long run it will probably be worth it.

    Also, Gretchen, everyone has different learning styles. That’s why those kids are seen as learning disabled — if the way you learn does not fit in with the way teachers are taught to teach, you simply won’t understand it. In a different sort of education system, these problems wouldn’t be so pronounced, but for now we just need people like you to help them learn what they otherwise wouldn’t, and to make it known that these kids aren’t idiots, they’re just unintentional nonconformists.

  • Tristan says:

    Kay, I thought your questions merited a separate response.

    Most people see only one option for giving their kids better (formal) schooling: put the kids in the best school you can find, period. To an extent this is true: in a ‘good’ school, compared to a mediocre one, your kids will be challenged to learn at a more advanced level for their age. This is certainly the safest option. They [i]will[/i] learn more. But, due to increased pushing by the school and increased competition among classmates, they will also be much more subservient to the ‘carrot-and-the-whip’system, much less independent. (For a good example, simply think, who is more likely to defy societal norms: a private school graduate, or a high school dropout?)

    There is a second option.

    When I was in 6th grade I was getting bullied all the time. I hated school and it extended into my private life due to diminished self-esteem. So my parents pulled me out and sent me to a different school in the area, a K-12 Public school with a student body totaling less than 300. The classes were so small that there was little room for cliques or bullies, so I was much happier.

    I was already a relatively intelligent student, largely because my parents had started educating me early at home before I ever came to school. But when I arrived at this tiny, tiny school, I was academically bored out of my mind! I took every advanced class available, 5 or 6 online courses, 3 college courses, a year of VOTECH electronics training… I devoured everything that the school had to offer but it was still so little that I didn’t have to spend much time learning.

    So what did I do? Well, being bored academically, but of a curious mind, I learned to challenge myself. I would go home and simply learn about anything that was mentioned in class that the teachers would not discuss in depth. I taught myself an instrument, I was reading laymans-terms books on quantum theory at 13 or 14. Now I’m in university, still thinking independently and challenging myself every day.

    What is of utmost importance in your childrens schooling is that (1) They’re in a positive social environment, because what one learns from school is how to interact with others more than anything else. (2) You learn to stimulate their curiosity. Nothing will help them more. (3) You provide the resources (books, equipment, etc.) to encourage their personal growth. Never hold them back.

    Whether your kids go to a challenging school, or an easy school, these three things are all that will ultimately matter in how they learn and grow for the rest of their lives. You want them to be socially and mentally happy, curious, and to have the resources to push themselves as much as they want. Beyond that, it’s out of your hands.

  • Kay asked: What would you recommend to a parent of a child just beginning the school process? Do you believe K-12 students have the same “power in the classroom” as college students? (I don’t, but I think he might!) How do parents optimize their kid’s learning experience at that stage of the “education game”?

    Hi Kay. This is what I have come to believe.

    I believe that Paulo Freire may have made the most important statement ever on the question of a child’s education (in Pedagogy of the Oppressed): “If children reared in an atmosphere of lovelessness and oppression, children whose potency has been frustrated, do not manage during their youth to take the path of authentic rebellion, they will either drift into total indifference, alienated from reality by the authorities and the myths the latter have used to “shape” them; or they may engage in forms of destructive action.”

    For this statement to have meaning, we must recognize the oppression that we are subjected to… Paulo also gives the best definition of oppression and its source that I have ever read… Problem is, we cannot understand Paulo because his knowledge comes from praxis, something that the education system drives out of us at an early age…

    The other problem is that we have no understanding/experience of “authentic rebellion”, because that possibility is excluded by the structures that constrain us. Authentic rebellion is anchored in a vital thrust for liberation, not motivated by guilt or fear or responsibility…

    Sorry, that is the best I can do in a blog format.

    Denis Rancourt
    activistteacher.blogspot.com
    dgr -at- uottawa.ca

  • Jason Weaver says:

    Couldn’t resist linking this Colbert Report on Ayn Rand.

  • Kay says:

    Professor Rancourt, Thank you for your response. I was intrigued by the author you noted and have ordered his book. I look forward to putting more thought into this issue. Good luck in your endeavors!

    Trevor, thank you for your thoughtful responses, as well. I appreciated your ideas!

  • ArthurHung says:

    Professor Denis Rancourt reminds me a lot like Osho. A man with a heart full of trust and desire to help himself, his students and all the world, damned the consequences. Which couldn’t possible harm a man with his energy level.

    Lightworker extraordinaire indeed 🙂

  • Sonicsuns says:

    The professor is very interesting. On the whole I think I agree with him. On a related note, if the anarchists don’t believe that “anarchy” doesn’t mean “chaos”, then I suggest the anarchists get a new name for themselves, because most people think “anarchy” and “chaos” are synonyms.

    Personally, I don’t like Ayn Rand. From my understanding, she takes many good ideas (like “don’t care what other people think”) and stretches them too for (“don’t care about other people”). Her vision of the individual as superior to the masses lacks the concept that an individual might be *inferior* to the masses; it all depends on the particular individual in question. Simply being unconventional doesn’t necessarily mean that you’re right, though of course many great ideas are unconventional.

    But yes, I agree that we should not be intimidated by new ideas.

  • Vonnie says:

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    waas wondering if yyou knew were I could ffind a capltcha pluygin for my comment form?
    I’m usong the same bloog platform as yours andd I’m having diftficulty fiinding one?
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    Sttop by my blog; internet (Vonnie)

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