FOR WHAT CHILDREN LEARN: An Essay from an Academic-Turned-Unschooling
by JJ Ross, EdD
I need a regular alarm clock.
When I wake
to news radio as is my custom, the golden-throated stories I hear in half-consciousness
stay with me, imprinting my mood and thoughts. Yet the accurate details
of which news is made -- facts my fully alert mind would have recorded
and filed for recall -- escape me almost entirely. Thus I'm left with
a sort of dj vu sense of the story, sure that I "know" but off-balance
about how I know. (Could this be the way divine revelations are experienced,
as beyond explanation or objective proof?)
In any case,
as an academic, I've been embarrassed over less. Fortunately PDE is not
a traditional academic setting!
again, as I awoke this morning. Suddenly my mind was filled with stuttering
orphans used for 1939 experiments, in the then-nascent science of speech
pathology at some university in the Midwest -- Iowa? As I said, I was
half-asleep -- and it turns out that the orphans weren't stutterers at
all. They were purposely TOLD by the university they needed speech therapy
to correct a tendency to stutter, given a few weeks of "sessions" to see
if the bogus diagnosis and intervention could create stuttering rather
than curing it, and subsequently were returned to their regular orphan
lives with the only noted effect being a new hesitancy in their speech.
(Itself a sign of stuttering, I mused, but then I wasn't really conscious.)
story continued. Some 50 years later, a journalist discovered the dusty
thesis and tracked down a few of the now-elderly participants, who had
never doubted what they'd been told as children by those university experts.
This "educational experiment" had caused them to live their lives believing
they had a scientific tendency toward communication problems, a diagnosis
some say was destiny, making them hesitant and reclusive, removing some
options, limiting their identity. But here's the truth, the journalist
says -- it was all a lie in service of experimental research, says the
journalist. You could have been a contender!
named a building after the now-dead "father of speech pathology" who supervised
the orphan stuttering studies. His protege, Mary Somebody (told you I
was semiconscious, remember?) says she regrets that ethical standards
in 1939 weren't what they could have been. There are some quirky legal
points about sovereign immunity in place at that time in that state, whichever
one it was but that's not the part that imprinted me for the day.
My own random-abstract
take on it is not legal or even scientific, but educational. Power of
Story. Humans are impressionable, especially children. Facts and ideas
and judgments can enter a child's mind and lodge where they land, almost
like radio news flowing into a brain whose daytime defenses are asleep.
This educational research was high-minded, meant to help children generally
with speech problems. Whether it contributed anything to that goal is
debatable, but it did apparently harm, not help, the specific children
it involved. Children who -- talk about Power of Story! -- literally had
no chance for any form of parent-directed or parent-protected education,
because they were orphans.
the accountability for what was taught and learned in this "story?" The
radio says orphans often were used by this university for such human experiments,
precisely because there were no parents taking primary responsibility
for the best interests of each specific child, as opposed to this generalized
approach to working with children.
sure how far working with children has come since 1939. It seems to my
free-associating mind that there are similarities in this "story" to today's
accountability frenzy, in which demonstrable harm to actual individual
children is perhaps "regrettable" but only of secondary concern to the
rankings and statistics and academic reputations of those arguing over
how vast sums of taxpayer and grant money should be spent next -- all
the while building university buildings and naming them after each other
(never for the learner-subjects of their research, who make the educational
mind doesn't care about money or academic reputations, not even my own.
It cares only about the two fully asleep little minds dreaming down the
hall, the ones that will sleep until they wake with their own thoughts
and their own songs forming, in their own time, no radio alarm, no clock
alarm, no alarm at all. Each morning belongs to them and them alone, and
my accountability as their mom is very clear in my mind, asleep OR awake.
I am accountable to keep it this way. Period.
BY THE WAY