By Zuleika Irvin
From the Institute for Democratic Education in America
July 24, 2010
I recently went through a book I picked up in the Children’s room at the Central Library. This story, “The Apple and the Arrow,” by Mary and Conrad Buff, has a plot with many parallels to the state and nature of schooling. It even represents the struggle against traditional schooling. As I read the book I noted my analysis. This book is not a novel “of comparable merit” to books on the “Advanced Placement” book list, but it managed to highlight many things that I am currently contemplating.
Many many years past,
Over six hundred years ago
In the year twelve hundred and ninety,
Thirty-three men gathered on a mountain meadow
Gathered together at midnight.
Herders of cattle,
Hunters of chamois,
Skilled with the crossbow.
From different cantons they came,
Some hailed from Uri,
Others from Schwzy,
Still others from Underwalden.
And on that moonless night
Over six hundred years ago,
Thirty-three men talked long
Seeking an answer for freedom,
Seeking an answer for peace.
Thirty-three men on a mountain meadow
Many many years ago.“
Although the theme immediately points to the fight against monarchical oppression, I find that these men are much like those advocating for alternative child-led learning. Like them, we come from many parts of the world, with different skills. We come together in various ways to discuss our views and goals, in places that are small like their meadow. We speak of freedom for the youth, for parents, for teachers, against the powers that have come over us. We do this today.
Albrecht the King
A young boy, Walter, who has overheard about the gathering in the prologue, comes home by nightfall after being out with his younger brother, Rudi, for most of the day. When his father doesn’t return, Walter asks his mother Hedwig for more information about the other day. She explains that these men are planning a revolt against Albrecht. This is the new ruler and son of the former ruler, King Rudolph who came to pass. Rudolph was very passive and didn’t bother their canton (village) much other than to collect yearly taxes and solve disputes by sending a yearly judge. When Albrecht became king, he decided to tighten reign, setting up tolls for travelers and appointing bailiffs to watch over citizens of various cantons. His ultimate desire was to collect bags of gold in any way possible.
King Albrecht is very symbolic of the government we have today. When it comes to education, money is the ultimate goal. Schools are forced to test in order to get money from the government. Those who do poorly, due to lack of resources and funding, suffer even more because they cannot raise scores enough to get more money. There are barriers on all levels of schooling as a means of collection. Be it grades, scores, assignments or something else, students, teachers and parents always release their power to those above them. Parents release their children. Students release their time and mental effort. Teachers release their true plans and skills for those of the standardized variety. The powers above us set up any method of submission they can get out of the people.
Gessler the Bailiff
Gessler is a bailiff appointed to watch over a canton named Altdorf, which is near many of the cantons, including the canton Uri that Walter and his family lives in. He is “a low-born” commoner and the power has gone to his head. Gessler over time has come to abuse his power, creating ways to collect gold for himself. He took out the eyes of a man’s father, simply because that man’s son fled the village. Gessler also herds villagers as slaves to build a castle for him, equipped with prisons.
There are many “Gesslers” in modern schooling. When you go from the Department of education (more of an Albrecht) down to the teacher, you will find a Gessler. The state controls the boards of education, who control districts, who control schools and their administration. The administration then controls the teachers and students, and the teachers control students as well. The students are only left to control one another in any simple way they can, be it bullying, starting rumors, or creating cliques in schools that are already segregated by age or even by gender. In the more affluent areas, this hierarchy is more pleasant and teachers and parents have some say. Administration is nicer. Students have more clubs and opportunities, but it is still under the same system. Low income areas just feel it for what it really is.