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Education Reform:
The "Tough Standards" Movement

Shaun Kerry, M.D.
Diplomate, American Board of Psychiatry and Neurology

Is such a movement harmful?  Most people oppose it, yet it seems to be forced on us.

Read the penetrating books by John Holt and Alfie Kohn.

In 1959, John Holt noted that a consequence of 'tougher standards' in education is that children are too busy to think.  A pioneer of school reform, he made a noteworthy contribution to education with a series of books that are partially listed in the bibliography.  For a more complete listing of his works, please refer to

Alfie Kohn has led the next generation of writers who expressed a similar opinion.  In his books, all extremely content-rich, he sets forth a series of principles that more concisely define the problems of the 'tougher standards' movement.

    ●  A preoccupation with achievement is detrimental to learning.

    ●  The tougher standards movement treats kids as though they were inert objects, and then tries to shove 'core knowledge' down their throats.

    ●  This movement is wedded to standardized testing, along with buzz-words such as ‘excellence’ and ’higher standards'.
    ●  The movement consists of requiring a specific type of curriculum and methodology.

    ●  The notion that 'harder is better' prevails throughout the movement.

When discussing these ideas with parents, students, and teachers, they most always agree strongly with my assessment of the situation.  The 'tough standards' movement, however, seems to be widely accepted by school board officials, and in political circles; among both democratic and republican leaders.

The Business Coalition for education Reform, Business Roundtable, National Alliance for Business, Committee for Economic Development, and other such corporations have purposefully released deceptive reports that use standardized test scores to support their belief in the "tough standards" movement.  Their findings should be questioned, as they may be driven by an ulterior motive.

Many of our elected officials have entrusted the control of our schools to corporate interests, because corporations provide a majority of the funding required to sustain our political parties.  This raises deep concerns, as the goals of corporations differ sharply from the goals of parents and students.

For example, many corporations want employees who are easily led and not inclined to think for themselves.  Most large businesses want people who are hard-driven and achievement oriented, even though this attitude may ultimately be harmful to the employee.  They want people who are willing to 'play the game' in order to increase their profits.

Furthermore, corporations tend to neglect the medical and psychological consequences of the learning process that currently prevails in our schools.  They believe in the 'tough-standards' theory, and hire social scientists and writers to conduct tainted research, and publish the results of biased studies that support their preconceived notions.

Control of the American government must be returned to the people.  This will occur, but only once the populace is enlightened and finds the clear path that it must follow.  Our political reform site covers this subject in detail.

Education and Freedom

Shaun Kerry, M.D.
Diplomate, American Board of Psychiatry and Neurology

Throughout history,
there  has been an unending saga of domination; one group seeking to dominate another.  There have been bitter struggles over slavery, voting rights, civil rights, and national control.

Seemingly, we possess an insatiable and destructive need to control each other.  If history teaches us anything, it is that we are terrified of relinquishing control.

In past times and in other civilizations, parents often prearranged the marriages and selected the occupations of their children.  Many aspects of our society have gradually moved away from this model of constraint.

Many educators, however, feel a need to control the lives of their  students through the rigid determination of their curriculum.  Students, many of whom are otherwise creative or non-competitive, find themselves in an unfavorable situation: Although school may be untrue to their personal constitutions, they must complete the process and eventually graduate, in order to be accepted by society.  Rather than considering a person's substance, our society only places value on a person's credentials.  Many students react to this system by becoming indifferent; they react by not learning.

In his book Schools Without Failure (1969), educational reform pioneer William Glasser, M.D. notes that prior to entering school, children are far more optimistic.  Although reality is sometimes harsh, many children use their creativity to help them cope with adversity, and make life fun.

Glasser notes that during his early childhood, he was never asked to succeed according to rigid and time-constrained standards.  If he failed at a certain task, he was never labeled as a failure.  He learned to use his brain for its basic function: thinking.

In schools, however, children discover that they must use their brains mostly for memorizing rather than exploring their interests, expressing their ideas, or solving problems.   Even worse, much of what they are asked to memorize is irrelevant to their world.  Often, their reaction to this is either social withdrawal or destructive anger.

Still, this process continues.  When we force someone to memorize  certain facts, and they replicate those facts on a test, we are satisfied that we have successfully controlled them.   Educators must stop acting as controllers, and instead, become managers.

We must be conscious of the knowledge that people who desire a system of rigid control are the most driven to obtain positions of power and authority.

Unfortunately, most children are not capable of understanding what is happening to them in our present educational system.  They are berated by a constant dialogue of blame and fault.  They accept the system as the way things must be; realizing that one either must ‘play the game’, or accept the consequences of defying the norm.  Very often, this results in anger or apathy.

Coercive psychological systems violate our most fundamental concept of basic human rights.  They violate individuals' rights that are guaranteed by the First Amendment to the United States Constitution and affirmed by many declarations of principle worldwide.


How People Learn Differently

Shaun Kerry, M.D.

Diplomate, American Board of Psychiatry and Neurology

When I was a child, I was struck by the fact that girls generally enjoyed school, but boys didn't.

I urge you to read a fascinating document concerning how one's gender influences the learning process.  This article describes this phenomenon, and draws the conclusion that today's classroom teaching methods are disproportionately geared toward the needs of females.  My proposal for educational reform has gained far more support from men than from women.  The document to which I have referred will explain why.

It is not my intent to alienate members of either gender.  Obviously, we need the efforts of both men and women to bring about any social progress in our society.  Our proposals do not force anyone to ascribe to a particular method of learning, rather, they advocate the creation of more options and a greater freedom of choice.  Whether you are male or female, you will agree that we desperately need advances in medical and energy research.  I apologize if this sounds sexist, but a majority of these advances in research will most likely come from men.

Most men detest classrooms and prolonged lectures.  They require action, movement, and the freedom to explore their own interests.

One of a male's most critical needs is satisfaction with his work.

When this need is stifled, the result is anger and apathy.  These feelings are painful, and the male brain adapts to this through the use of denial, and a greatly decreased awareness of emotion.  This entire process often occurs beneath the level of awareness.

Denial and lack of emotional integration cause men great difficulty in relating to women and sustaining committed relationships.  This impairs their ability to be successful fathers or husbands.  During my professional career as a social psychiatrist, I have seen this process thousands of times.  Though there are many variations and exceptions to this cycle, to put it simply:  Schools hurt men; men hurt their wives and their children.

Good education involves far more than test scores.  It is at the very  heart of character formation.  Those who design our educational programs today lack an understanding of the elements that contribute to healthy mindfulness.  It has become duty to enlighten them.


Getting the Big Picture

Shaun Kerry, M.D.
Diplomate, American Board of Psychiatry and Neurology

Sights, sounds, experiences, thoughts, and words.

Over millions of years, we have evolved.  Through seeing, hearing, experiencing, and thinking, we have learned the workings of the world, and so, adapted.  The written word, however, is a very recent development, when speaking in terms of the universe's lifespan.   Memorizing written words is an even newer concept.

It has been estimated that whatever amount of time children spend at school, they spend twice as much time watching television and movies.  Some might label this as laziness, and advocate forcing our children to behave differently.  Others observe that children display a greater response to sights and sounds than they do to written words alone.

A few of us have inherited a gift for learning by reading words.  These people have a distinct advantage over others in our educational system; others may be just as intelligent, but simply learn in different ways.

Some educators say that although almost all of us will learn to read, 50% of us will remain functionally illiterate.  This entails that 50% of the population does not learn by reading.

Our job, as educators, should not be attempting to change a person's genetic predisposition.  This would be like trying to change someone from being right-handed to left handed.

We must seek a teaching method that will work well for essentially everyone.  Rather than stressing a method of learning that focuses solely on the written word, we must emphasize diversity in our mental abilities.

By their behavior, students of all ages are informing us that they respond very well to audiovisual presentations.  This is one of the most effective means of conveying information.  We all need an extensive fund of knowledge in order to thrive in the world.  Rote memorization, however, is burdensome, stressful, and slow.  Such a process does not contribute to our ability to survive in the world.  Most of the information learned is committed to short term memory, and quickly forgotten.

Audiovisual presentations are enjoyable, require little effort on the part of the teacher, and enable students to incorporate a prodigious amount of information into their long-term memory.


Education for the Whole Brain

Shaun Kerry, M.D.
Diplomate, American Board of Psychiatry and Neurology

The human brain has many parts, but our present educational system only addresses a small percentage of those.  Most of our education today focuses on a narrow segment of the brain, located in the left portion of the cerebral cortex.  Isolating certain parts of the brain does not promote cohesion: ideally, all parts of the brain should work together.

According to research conducted at the California Institute of Technology during the 1950s, the left side of the brain gives us the ability to analyze, use words, and work with numbers.  Conversely, the right side of the brain is responsible for our ability to unify concepts - to put details together resulting in the formulation of a complete picture - and to be creative.

Much as people are right or left handed, most people are right or left- brain dominant.  Left-brain dominant people are most successful in our current educational system, which limits creativity, and relies mostly upon words and numbers.

Our system neglects to consider the needs of right-brain dominant individuals; the 50% of the population that is dubbed "functionally illiterate" by some educators.

There are many parts of the brain that do different things, as described in footnote one, but knowing these details is not essential to your understanding of our story.

Each brain has a unique personality, which is determined largely at the moment of conception, when egg and sperm join together.  This uniqueness entails that every person will require a different educational experience.  In our culture, however, these differences are not recognized, and most students are lumped into an educational system that caters to the needs of left-brain dominant individuals.  Our society severely neglects the limbic system and the right cerebral hemisphere of the brain.  This is very damaging to the development of mindfulness.

When the limbic system is excluded from proper stimulation, subjects become dull and lifeless.  Emotions and their connection to thoughts are completely ignored; we are constantly given the message to stop feeling.

Many people cope with the harshness of society by not showing emotion.  As this becomes a habit, emotions are denied altogether.  When abuse, forced busyness, or control from external authorities is imposed upon a student, the result is anger, apathy, and an abandonment of the sense of self. 

Over time, these feelings become so painful that the brain severs neural connections between the limbic system and awareness.  The student, in order to adapt to the pain, unconsciously looses touch with his emotions.

An animal with its foot caught in a trap will chew its own leg off in order  to survive.  Similarly, the brain dismembers itself in order to preserve its more basic functions.  This enormous loss is dealt with through denial.

During their training, psychotherapists encounter this phenomenon first hand.  In most psychotherapy training programs, forced memorization is halted, and the student is asked to assess his true feelings.  Usually, the results of this comes as a very disturbing shock.  When the soothing effect of denial is removed, the student realizes that he has lost touch with his emotions.  By protecting ourselves from pain, we also inhibit ourselves from experiencing heightened degrees of happiness.  The loss of such emotions is every bit as severe as the loss of an arm or a leg.

An inevitable byproduct of this process is self-directed anger.  Anger directed toward the self results in depression, the occurrence of which has reached epidemic proportions in our culture.  Anger directed outwardly results in cruelty, scapegoating, violence, and also epidemics in our society.

Footnote1: Located at the center of our brain is the limbic system, which controls our capacity to form relationships with others.  The basal ganglia, large structures deep within the brain, are responsible for our mental activity.  Situated near our forehead, the frontal cortex enables us to make judgments and decisions, construct plans, and restrain ourselves from acting on impulse.  Furthermore, it ensures that we stay focused and attentive to our tasks.  The part called the 'cingulate gyrus,' over the corpus callosum, gives our brain the ability to shift our thoughts from one subject to another.  (The word "gyrus" means a convolution.)  Below the temple are the temporal lobes, which enable us to remember events, facts, and faces.  A large bundle of fibers, the corpus callosum, joins the two sides of the outer shell - cortex - together, and transmits messages from one side of the brain to the other.


Short and Long Term Memory

Shaun Kerry, M.D.
Diplomate, American Board of Psychiatry and Neurology

Accumulating a fund of knowledge is an important aspect of mental  development.  Events can be stored in short-term memory, which can last from a few moments to a few days; or long term memory, which can last a lifetime.

These are entirely different biological processes.  Long term memory data is permanently embedded into the brain cells, where as short term memory data is not.

Whether or not certain events or information is placed in long term memory is dependent upon an individual's love for the subject matter and it's dramatic, emotional, auditory, and visual impact.  For example, it is common to effortlessly remember the scenes of an engrossing movie for many decades.  However, a concerted effort to memorize dry, irrelevant data on a page usually results only in short-term recall.

Through the use of rote learning methods - lengthy, repetitive study of written words - schools attempt to coerce students to force information into their long-term memory. This produces only the illusion of knowledge: increasing test scores.  Such a process, however, is extremely stressful and inefficient: It does not utilize the whole brain, and results in more harm than benefit.

In today's world, the student's mind becomes split into two separate, disconnected spheres.  While the left brain is used for school, the right brain and limbic system are utilized for activities that take place outside of school.  The student never has the opportunity to use these spheres in cooperation.  In his mind, work and play become vast opposites - two diametrically opposed entities.  He cannot imagine a world in which they could become one and the same.

When children play, it often takes the form of work.  They might play 'house' or build things, often with the fantasy that it is real.

If education simultaneously involved all parts of the brain - in a manner  of the student's choosing and without pressure to please someone else - work and play would become one.  If, however, fear is the most powerful motivating factor in our present educational system, work and play can never be unified.  Not only are tests and grades tools of control, they are also tools of fear.

The basal ganglia, large structures deep within the brain, control the intensity of mental activity.  When a human is under extreme pressure, his brain shifts to "emergency mode."

The brain is only meant to enter this mode for very short periods of time, and generally does so only in a time of great danger.  For example, an individual would enter this mode if being attacked by an animal.

But students - under pressure and excessive stress that persists for months and years - the brain can develop this mode of functioning as a habit.  Over time, these individuals are driven into a hyperactive state, which is beyond their control.

A person's brain can perceive his situation as being under siege from forces threatening his very survival, even when those forces are absent.  If this state of chronic fear and hyperactivity - emergency mode - becomes a habit, it will eventually prove damaging to his health.  Even after an individual leaves school, events that occur later in his life may needlessly trigger the emergency response.

An extensive, relevant fund of information is important to success later in life, but must be acquired in a manner consistent with healthy whole-brain functioning.


Meditation, Creativity, Busyness, Control, and Learning

Shaun Kerry, M.D.
Diplomate, American Board of Psychiatry and Neurology

Thomas Edison was one of the most creative and productive people that the world has ever known. Yet he never went to school. Why?

Children learn the mysteries of language and a multitude of other things before the age of five, on their own initiative. Why?

Almost everyone in America went through a traditional school system.  Yet if you ask the man on the street about current events, you will usually get a mindless answer. Why?

Every person, from the moment of conception is dealt a unique poker-hand-like personality that determines how and what he will learn, and the kind of social contribution that he will make, among other things.  And this works extremely well until the child gets into the traditional classroom.  At that point, the teacher says, in effect: "You will learn what I want you to learn, and do the many assignments that I give you, and if you don't, you're going to be in big trouble."

There are many problems here but three stand out: 1) People, and males in particular, absolutely detest being controlled.  In my twenty years of experience as a psychiatrist, patients have had three main complaints about parents and teachers: control, abuse, and neglect.  Students want to learn. They don't want to be controlled.

2) Abuse is extremely common in schools, particularly among men.  Almost every school has its bullies and scapegoats.  Teachers often have their favorites and their "bad" kids, who are targets of incessant humiliation.

3) Excessive assignments or "busywork" is extremely damaging to mindfulness.  Many students spend 70 hours or more per week on assignments.  In this kind of environment, the brain has no opportunity to integrate and process the complex array of data that it encounters, and the result is that the neural circuits become a tangled mess.

The essence of meditation is to sit quietly in a place where there is no distraction.  Do you know that most people cannot do this?  The reason is that under these conditions, they come face-to-face with the conflicts and disorganization that is in their minds, and become very uncomfortable.

Now, if they stuck it out, there would be a sense of confusion, which  would be even more uncomfortable, but in time this would clear, and there would be a deep inner peace.  But most people are unwilling to do this, and they are trapped in a rat-race of busyness.

Without question, the mind needs an environment without pressure, and time to peacefully reflect. Contrast this with the common practice of students losing sleep in order to study for exams.

We could say that Thomas Edison accomplished his great achievements in spite of the fact that he didn't go to school.  Or, we could say that not going through school gave him a big advantage.


Mind Damage Through Excessive Control

Shaun Kerry, M.D.
Diplomate, American Board of Psychiatry and Neurology

Given the extremely high prevalence of mental illness, family dysfunction, and chronic stress in our society, we must examine the root causes of such incidents.

Please read this article on coercive mind control tactics, and note that some of these methods are used in today's 'tough-standards' approach to education.

The following elements impair mindfulness by interfering with whole brain integration, heightening suggestibility, and suppressing critical thinking.  The impact of these methods will vary widely depending on the overall educational program and the personality of the student.

Cults and 'tough-standards' education have the following in common:

  • Extended drills, excessive and exact repetition of routine activities
  • Sleep restriction
  • Establish control over the person's social environment and manage his time by using a system of excessive rewards and punishments.
  • Create a sense of powerlessness by subjecting the person to frequent actions and situations, which undermine his confidence in himself and his judgment.
  • Create strong aversive emotional arousals in the subject by use of nonphysical punishments such as humiliation, loss of privilege, change of social status, intense guilt, anxiety, or manipulation.

It is difficult for former students - especially those who have spent many additional years in college or pursuing advanced degrees - to admit that they have been thoroughly deceived, and speak out about the evils of our present educational system.  Their problems, shortcomings, and anxieties; they blame themselves for all of these things, and hold modern education responsible for nothing.  'The group' is never at fault.

To admit that they had been fooled or brainwashed would suggest that the major decisions made in their lives were arrived at unwisely or naively, and not completely self-legislated.  They deny that they have been hurt by the system because it is too hard for them to face the pain.

To mistrust one's own major decisions and perceptions of reality is frighteningly close to that ultimate terror: insanity.  This level of denial of past reality is difficult to overcome.

The formal academic world is often similar to a cult.  Although teachers are among the most likeable and dedicated people in our society, and often attempt to teach students to 'think for themselves', our general population still suffers from an underlying delusion regarding our educational system: We believe that the formal academic world is conducive to healthy mental development.

There are Latin and algebra teachers who whole-heartedly believe that their subject matter is completely relevant to the real world.  Graduates who have taken these subjects often hold rigidly to these same beliefs. 

There are also Scientologists who believe that people are composed of clusters of spirits of dead space aliens which they call "thetans;" aliens who were brought to earth 75 million years ago by an evil intergalactic tyrant named Xenu.  They also hold rigidly to their beliefs.  It is the same mentality, given that the latter is far more bizarre but equally destructive.

It is pointless to teach students 'critical thinking', when they have been controlled by a coercive educational system for years.  Some gifted people manage to get through this system unscathed.  Most students, however, do not.  Their critical minds have been put out of commission.

In the film Born on the Fourth of July, we see this process magnified many times.  The main character starts out as a beautifully idealistic young man who goes through our competitive school system, and later joins the marines to fight in Vietnam.  When he returns home, he suffers from a severe case of post-traumatic stress disorder with major personality impairment.  Although he later becomes an activist, his efforts lack effectiveness because they do not address the root causes of defects in our systems of education and government.  The film illustrates how his school experience shaped his early character development and set the stage for his future decisions.


Education Reform:
Discovering Who We Are

Shaun Kerry, M.D.
Diplomate, American Board of Psychiatry and Neurology

When students graduate, they often feel lost and bewildered. The real world is very different.

One graduate's boss told him: "Forget everything you learned in school."

The new graduate has usually lost touch with his emotions long ago, and his brain resorts to denial as a means of dealing with the pain of the outside world; a world that is huge, overwhelming, and confusing.  He does not blame the schools for his problems and shortcomings; he faults himself rather than the system.  He is often at a loss when it comes to relating to the opposite sex, he has difficulty expressing his feelings, and his meager salary only allows him to live at the subsistence level.  Test scores, reading comprehension level, and math skills are the least of his concerns.

We could rectify this situation by taking the following course of action.  First, we should abolish mandatory school attendance.  Our compulsory school laws once served a purpose: they protected children from being used for excessive labor.  Like the factories of the past, schools are currently serving as the exploiters of our children.  As home schooling becomes a practical alternative to the classroom, compulsory school laws are already being abolished in some areas of the country.

Some might contend that if children are not forced to attend school, they will be roaming the streets and wrecking havoc on our communities.  This is a false assumption.  Time spent outside of the confines of the classroom can still be productive, beneficial, and utilized for learning.  Granted, school is a natural meeting place for socialization, which is an important part of adolescent development.  In no way do we advocate abolishing schools altogether, but rather, altering them such that they become places where children would want to be. Removing the constraints of compulsory attendance is a profound step in this direction.  All children are different, and not all will require the same amount of classroom time.

Second, we must abolish rigid, required curricula.  People remember only what they find interesting and useful.  Children want to learn things that will help them make sense out of this often-confusing world.  They want to make a valuable contribution to society.  We do not need coercive force in order for them to accomplish this; there are plenty of positive motivators.

Third, we must bring more of the real world into the classroom, both through the use of interesting guest speakers and audiovisual communication.  Also, we must stop segregating the classroom from greater society.  In Philadelphia and Portland, there are already schools that exist without buildings. Children, with proper guidance, use the real world as a powerful learning resource.  Private schools in many cities are beginning to do the same thing.

Additionally, we must recognize that teaching a subject is one of the best methods of learning that subject matter.  Children are often the best teachers of other children, and should be encouraged to tutor each other.  Some schools already implement this practice of "paired-learning", which promotes teamwork, a natural, morale-building function that will be actively used in the real world.  Not only should we let our children serve as teachers, but also, we should allow them to judge their own work. It should be our job to listen, and be available to help when asked to do so.

Some parents may be concerned that, through these alterations, their children may fail to learn something that is essential to their future success in life.  In all honesty, we cannot be certain what future generations will need to know in order to ensure their success.  The world is a rapidly changing place, and education should never be treated as a stagnant phenomenon.  Learning should be viewed as a lifelong process.

We must stop teaching our children that, in order to be anybody of importance, they must attend college.  College must not be preceded by a course of preparatory study that requires a 70+ hours per week and volumes of paper-based busywork.  We must stop using formal education as a display of prestige, or a ticket to a high paying job.  Rather than stress rote memorization and blind obedience, we must stress self-discovery and exploration.  It is not necessary for everyone to be an employee in order to make a living.  It is possible to start one's own business with just a computer and internet access. Many companies hire people based on ability, rather than on the basis of a degree.

One of the most glaring deficiencies of our educational system is how our high schools completely fail to address their students' needs to earn money following graduation.  It is no wonder that there are so many high school dropouts.


Mental Illness: Its Huge Impact on our Children

Shaun Kerry, M.D.
Diplomate, American Board of Psychiatry and Neurology

According to research by the University of Washington, mental illness is now the leading reason for hospitalization of people between the ages of 5 and 19.

Over the past decade, the most dramatic growth in hospitalizations has occurred among the population of younger school-aged children.  They suffer mostly from depression and disruptive behavioral problems, such as oppositional defiance and conduct disorder.

According to mental health experts, the families of these children have inadequate health insurance, which does not provide coverage for the intensive counseling and therapy that is often needed by these troubled youths.  As a last resort, many of these children are taken to emergency rooms.  "This is a call for us to respond to children's unmet mental health needs," said Sheri Hill, a developmental psychologist who helped direct the University of Washington's annual State of Washington's Kids research effort. "We can no longer ignore this problem."

Not treating mental illnesses in children until they reach the crisis stage has ramifications far beyond the emergency room.  According to Susan Maney, clinical director of the Children's Home Society Cobb Center, which provides mental health treatment for children, neglecting mental illness in young people negatively affects schools, neighborhoods, and even leads to the break-up of families.

In 1999, a total of 2,800 children in the state of Washington were hospitalized with mental health concerns.  Depressive disorders account for 46 % of the mental illnesses seen in children ages 5 to 14, and an astounding 67 % in the teen population ages 15 to 19; making depression by far the most prevalent mental illness affecting young people in the state of Washington.

Depression manifests itself differently in children than it does in adults, Maney said.  She further added that children are likely to become withdrawn, have difficulty relating to their playmates or parents, do poorly in school, or have trouble getting out of bed.

Mike Fitzpatrick, the Northwest regional director of the Children's Home Society, said that even families who currently have health coverage are allowed only a limited amount of counseling.  Due to a shortage of child psychologists and a lack of other mental health services, families often face long lapses of time between therapy sessions and see few results.

According to Fitzpatrick, it's often not until after children act out in some violent or dramatic way - hurting a sibling, injuring a schoolmate, or harming themselves - that they are taken to the hospital to receive the intensive treatment that they require.  Furthermore, he stated that, "As mental health resources in our local system have gotten more scarce, children have had to have a pretty severe diagnosis to get any type of service."

As a society, we have our priorities disordered.  Our present educational system is in a state of crisis. The root cause of this crisis is not fiscal, but rather, ideological.  Academic subjects and test scores are being given precedence over the mental health of the student, his worth as a human being, and his ability to earn a living upon graduation.


Families and Mindfulness

Shaun Kerry, M.D.
Diplomate, American Board of Psychiatry and Neurology

Mindfulness is at the very heart of the family. 

Much has been written about healthy family functioning, but please consider this medical and psychiatric perspective.

Politicians often speak of 'family values'.  The mind is not an empty vessel into which you pour information.  It is a complex and delicate apparatus and we must take the time to learn how it works.

In general, men have the most difficult time adjusting to family life.  They have difficulty with commitment, showing real love, and being good fathers or husbands.  Many years of study have led me to the following medical explanation of these problems.

Today's schools are utterly unsuited for most boys.  The experience constitutes prolonged, sustained, mind control.  This creates bitter feelings in the mind's emotional center, the limbic system.  To ease the pain, the brain gradually severs the neural connections between the limbic system and the rest of the brain.  We can damage personality with the best of intentions.  The limbic system is responsible for human bonding, love, empathy, and commitment.

Although a full explanation is far more complicated than this, most people are unwilling to read a long and detailed discussion.  If you wish to learn more, please examine the books listed in the bibliography section.

To many people, this notion will seem very strange, even inflammatory.  After all, most schools exude the appearance of maturity and stability.  But it is our belief systems that are at fault.

  • We have the power to change some things, but not others.  A psychiatrist has to face this issue just like everyone else.
  • A family with problems is a group of individuals who lack mindfulness.
  • The most productive way to foster mindfulness in society is to attack fundamental misconceptions that exist among our leaders.
  • In doing that, we will have the greatest positive impact upon the family.
  • It is far easier to prevent a problem, than to cure it after it has started.  This is particularly true when it comes to psychological issues.

Many people blame the parents.  But the parents were raised in the same school system.  It is better to attack false ideas and damaging practices; blaming people solves nothing.


The Alienation of Emotion

Shaun Kerry, M.D.
Diplomate, American Board of Psychiatry and Neurology

I'd like to tell you a story from my psychiatric training.  I learned that most people in our culture have significant psychiatric problems, which they usually handle with denial.

After four years of medical school, I took a one-year general internship, and then started a three-year psychiatric residency-training program.

We had treatment responsibilities in the psychiatric unit of a large general hospital.  In addition, there were classes and seminars, but no exams.  There was no forced memorization; there were no examinations or grades.

For the first time in my training, the focus shifted from the memorization of facts to an examination of emotions, both in ourselves and in others.  In the first year, we had 26 residents in our class.

We were offered the option of attending a therapy group, which was called 'sensitivity training'.  It was held for one ninety-minute session per week.  In the first meeting, all 26 residents were present.  The leader was a staff psychiatrist who began the meeting with a fairly low-key, neutral introduction.

One by one, the residents began to make comments and the focus of attention shifted to one resident in particular.  The group began to criticize his manner rather severely, and this was the theme of the first group.

The following week, that member did not attend therapy group, and the remaining 25 members focused on and severely criticized another individual.  We weren't told to do this; the group was entirely unstructured, and this is just what occurred.

The following week that individual was not present, and we were down to 24 members.  This process continued week after week until the group was down to six members.  At that point someone remarked, "You know, I don't think we have really gotten to know each other very well."  At that point, the attacking stopped, and the group gradually took on a more mature and civil feel.

The group leader made the interpretation that everyone in the group was having difficulty with their own feelings.  He told a personal story about his experience with individual psychotherapy.  When he started, his attitude was that he was doing it 'for the experience'.  Later, he said tenderly, "I realized that I was sick too."
Almost all of the staff psychiatrists that taught in the residency program had been in psychoanalysis, consisting of four sessions a week for between three to ten years.  There was a common theme: a disconnection with the emotional self.  We had all been raised in a competitive, left-brain, performance-driven educational system.  Then, when we were asked to use our emotional brains in our work, we were left struggling like fish out of water.

The most remarkable thing that I learned from my training is that there is an extremely high presence of mental illness in people who we would ordinarily consider normal.  Although the cause of such illness is complicated and multifaceted, the most productive way to deal with this problem is to expose the erroneous beliefs of our society that govern our educational system.

During the ensuing twenty years of my clinical practice, that and similar themes arose repeatedly.  It was not until many years later that I was able to assemble the many pieces of the puzzle of the root causes of social dysfunction.


Alienation In The Life Of Students

Shaun Kerry, M.D.
Diplomate, American Board of Psychiatry and Neurology

To write about the monstrous sense of alienation the poet feels in this culture of polarized hatreds is a way of staying sane.
--Maxine Kumin

...there is no alienation that a little
power will not cure.
--Eric Hoffer

There is only one way left to escape
the alienation of present day society: to retreat ahead of it.
--Roland Barthes

Alienation, the feeling of being a stranger or not belonging to the community, results from an inability to express one's self honestly.
In close relationships of family, school, and friends, alienation destroys intimacy.

Adolescents are the most frequent victims of these feelings of estrangement.  The alienated teenager has been a familiar cultural icon since James Dean's movies of the 1950s.

The alienation often associated with the adolescent's quest for identity commonly involves a distrust of adults, a rejection of adult values, and a pessimistic worldview.  Estranged adolescents feel that they have little control over the events that shape their seemingly meaningless lives.  They tend to feel isolated from adults, their peer group, and even themselves.

The wave of school shootings by teenagers in the US - there have been at least seven such incidents in the past 15 months - is a symptom of a deep social disorder.  An ever-growing number of politicians and other officials have been forced to acknowledge the true depth of the problem.

In response to the  Springfield killings, John Kitzhaber - the Governor of Oregon - commented, "All of us should look at how we have failed as a society and how this could happen in the heart of Oregon.  It has been a priority to build prison cells and prison beds--after the fact.  These actions in no way prevent juvenile violence."

Unless such tragedies are viewed as the outcome of a complex interaction between social life and individual psychology, no headway will be made in grasping the essence of these events.  Human beings are the products, in the broadest sense, of their social relations.

Alienation is produced in the classroom, when the administration determines the curriculum and the mode of learning.  Students are expected to conform and to listen, but neither their voices, nor more importantly their feelings, are heard.  By the time the student becomes an adolescent, he has often developed a deep distrust of other people and their motives, and has lost touch with his sense of self.

Unfortunately, most politicians have yet to grasp the intimate connection between public education and the high incidence of mental illness in our society.


Destructive Anger

Shaun Kerry, M.D.
Diplomate, American Board of Psychiatry and Neurology

Wars, bombings, shootings, crime, domestic violence, and hate in all forms plague our society.

Much anger is directed at both our government and large corporations.  Consider the World Trade Center and Oklahoma City bombings as physical extensions of this anger.

Already, there has been a substantial quantity of plutonium stolen from government arsenals, enough for the building of many nuclear weapons.  The greatest threat to our safety, however, comes from biological weapons, such as anthrax.

In all forms which it manifests itself, destructive anger takes a terrible toll on all of us.  It is a direct result of unhealthy mental development.

In my years of clinical psychiatric practice, I met many people who were chronically angry.  We called it primitive rage.  Often, it wasn't directed at anyone or anything in particular.  It was as if there was an emotional reservoir in the mind that was and had been filled with anger for many years.

The psychological impact of bombings, although dramatic, is less  traumatic than the mind damage that is institutionally inflicted upon most of our society.  Blaming a handful of people for our dysfunctional nature is mindless.  We are all responsible.  Although there is no absolute physical defense against terrorism, we are able to effect a fundamental change in the attitudes and beliefs that dominate our society, and often lead to emotional anguish.

America is a great nation, and has been extremely generous with financial and human aid, receiving little in the way of repayment.  Conversely, we have made many enemies through attempts to control other nations, either through inappropriate military action, financial assistance to corrupt governments, or damaging embargos.  We need to listen more and threaten less.

President Bush has declared his intention to initiate a prolonged war.  Mindlessness is a worldwide problem, which cannot be solved by use of bombs or through a physical display of force.  Many people will die, and hatred of America will not go away until, as a society, we adapt a mindful approach.

People who live in glass houses should not throw stones.  For our purposes, this statement essentially means that when you are vulnerable, it is not wise to provoke people.  America is vulnerable by the very nature of her wealth and power.

This is not 1945.  Military might is meaningless when a single person can create biological weapons in his basement, and use them to unleash destructive force greater than that of a hydrogen bomb.  This would suggest that the age of the superpower is over, and the age of the super-target is beginning.   Before the world discovers mindfulness, I fear that there will be muchmore death and pain.  Please help.

Our health-care system is so ineffective that we can't even cure the common cold, much less a plague unleashed by biological weapons.  We could reach that level of effectiveness, if only we were willing to think and listen to other alternatives.

Tracing this anger back to early childhood development, I found that it was usually the result of three things: abuse, control, and neglect.  The most prevalent theme was that of control.  Our teacher-centered system of education, particularly beyond the forth grade level, is a form of mind-control.  After subjecting an individual to mind control continuously for a period of many years, permanent damage results.

When the student enters school, he is confronted by adults who push  their own agenda, which seems irrelevant to his world.  Furthermore, he is constantly being judged and graded.  I find evidence of this in my own experiences.  When I was a student, I spent seventy hours a week studying algebra, geometry, and Latin: all represented as knowledge that was essential for my future.  At the same time, one of my next door neighbors was screaming and raging with a chronic psychosis.  My neighbor on the other side suffered from severe depression, and her husband would constantly come to our family for help.  Most of my friends had at least one alcoholic parent.  The real world and the school world seemed miles apart.

In the past, experiments with progressive education were rejected for one reason: standardized test scores decreased.  The people in control are constantly preoccupied with test scores.  In the field of clinical psychotherapy, there are many written tests.  The majority of psychotherapists, including the best and most effective, do not use them.  They understand their patients by listening to them and using their intuitive senses.  Written tests only measure a small part of the personality, and rarely yield any useful information that cannot be obtained by listening.

In the field of medical practice, laboratory tests are of limited value.  The most important tool remains listening to the patient.  An important rule in medicine is, "Treat the patient, not the test."


Follow The Leader

by Periel Kaczmanrek

"Tommy, time to go to school!"
"But I don't want to, Mommy."

"Well you have to, Tommy."
"Why, Mommy?"

"Because that's the way it is. Everybody has to go to school."

Children learn from a very young age that they must go to school for a prescribed number of hours for a prescribed number of days and years to learn a preplanned set of lessons because, "That's the way it is."

Never mind if they really want to learn what is set before them.  They must learn.  They must study, memorize and regurgitate the facts and figures they are given so that they can score high points on their tests and get the approval of their teachers.  "Do what we tell you to the way we tell you to do it, and you will be rewarded with our favor."

"Follow the leader." "Conform." That is the message that millions of American children have learned since compulsory, government controlled schooling began.  Our modern society is built upon this foundation.  An arguably shaky foundation for the individual to stand on, but a very sturdy one for the institution itself as well as the numerous industries, labor unions and bureaucracies which thrive under the established school system.

Since compulsory, government controlled schooling has become such a mainstay in the United States, not many people stop to think about how and why it came about.  Most Americans would probably be very surprised and even shocked to know the original, underlying reasons for this highly regulated form of schooling.  From the early colonial days until the early 1800's, there was no such thing as compulsory schooling.  It may seem difficult to fathom, since we are so conditioned to believe that compulsory schooling is "just a part of growing up", but Benjamin Franklin, widely acknowledged to be one of the greatest thinkers of our time, never attended school as we know it.

At this time, it was the parents, not the government, that made the decisions about how when and where to school their children.  It was a free market approach to schooling.  The schools were privately funded by the parents of the children who attended.  There were even privately funded charity schools for those children whose parents could not afford to pay their tuition.  Although there were no laws requiring attendance, a survey conducted in 1817 in Boston, Massachusetts showed that 96 percent of the children Boston attended school.  It was there that the first government controlled schools in this country were opened.

Our current form of compulsory schooling was conceived of and implemented between 1817 and 1919.  Generally acknowledged as one of the founding fathers of compulsory, government controlled schooling in America, Horace Mann, is hailed by some as a champion for the poor who wanted equality for all with respect to education.  However, others believe Mann's ideas about education were more self-serving and were an infringement on the rights of parents to pass on their own beliefs and traditions to their children and to educate them as they saw fit.

Mann modeled his concept on the Prussian education system in which schools were established, supported, and administered by a central authority.  The state supervised the training of teachers, attendance was compulsory, parents were punished for not sending their children to school, and efforts were made to make curricula and instruction uniform.  Diversity in education was seen as a detriment to society at large.  Mann, who happened to be president of the Massachusetts state senate, and others who were in political power sought to centrally control the education of the populace.  They were determined to take education out of the control of parents and put it firmly into the hands of the government.

The notion was met with strong resistance by an estimated 85 percent of the population.  The residents of Cape Cod were the last holdouts against this forced schooling. In the 1880's, the area was seized by militia, and the children were marched to school under guard.  "Our way is the right way." "You will comply" was the message.  Doesn't sound very democratic, does it?

It is interesting to note that, according to a paper released by Massachusetts' senator Ted Kennedy, prior to compulsory schooling, the state literacy rate was ninety eight percent.  Ninety eight percent! That seems to be an indication that basic literacy was (is) highly obtainable by anyone with a will to learn.  In fact, there is strong evidence that the basics of reading, writing and arithmetic can be learned in about 100 hours if undertaken when the student is ready and eager to learn.

If compulsory schooling were an improvement over home/individually chosen education, one would assume that the literacy rate would go up following its advent, but that, in fact, is not the case. Indeed, the literacy rate for the state of Massachusetts has not gone over the ninety one percent mark since the implementation of compulsory schooling.

This country was founded on the notion of democracy and of manifest destiny.  How much say do we each have over our own future when we are encouraged to follow blindly in lockstep behind one another into a prefabricated idea (who's?) of what an education entails? Seventy-five years ago, the noted British mathematician and philosopher, Bertrand Russell, purported that mass schooling in the United States had a profoundly anti-democratic intent.  He asserted that it was a scheme to create national unity at the expense of family unity.  And, perhaps, in the interest of a small number of powerful people intent on keeping their positions intact.

Who controls the majority of our children's time and attention? Consider how much time children spend these days in their home environment sharing quality time with their parents, grandparents and siblings, exploring together, or perhaps even more importantly, by themselves, those things about which they have a hunger to learn and developing their thinking and reasoning skills.

Out of 168 hours each week, children sleep approximately 56 hours.  They go to school for 30 hours and do an average of 7 hours of homework.  Children spend an average of 8 hours getting ready for and going to and from school per week. Mealtime takes up approximately 3 hours of their time.  And then, of course, there is our greatest rival for their attention--TV.  Let's take into account that a small percentage of the programs they watch are designed to stimulate their thinking and reasoning skills.

Nevertheless, according to recent reports, the average American child watches between 18 and an astounding 55 hours of television per week "for fun".  Some kids watch TV after school and all weekend long! How much time does that leave a child to develop his own individuality? Not much! Then again, the development of individuality does not appear anywhere in the stated purpose of compulsory education, does it?

With all the time spent either, eating, dressing, traveling, sleeping, doing what they are told they must do by their teachers, or mindlessly watching television, there is precious little time left for the average child to explore and ponder the wonders of the universe for himself.  The word freedom is bandied about rather recklessly in this country.  Our society is supposedly founded on the ideal of individual freedom.  Sure, we appear to have lots of freedom.  Some of it is real while some of it is merely the illusion of freedom.  Most of us that are products of the public education system are so indoctrinated into the larger system it is set up to support that we cannot see the forest for the trees.  We buy, buy, buy (it's the American way!) the ideals and values that we are fed by people who decide what to feed us and continue to perpetuate our own mental imprisonment.  It's a vicious circle.  The snake has swallowed its tail!

What if we empowered our children to think for themselves rather than parrot the facts and figures they are instructed to memorize if they are to succeed in school?  That might be dangerous to society as we know it.

One of the first statements a professor of education at a venerable and well-established university in California made to his class with regard to children in public school was: "We don't want them to think".

Children, think? God forbid!


The First Rule Of Education Should Be:
"Do No Harm"

Shaun Kerry, M.D.
Diplomate, American Board of Psychiatry and Neurology

The present day educational system is damaging to young people.  Evidence of this harm is being presented from psychological, neurological, sociological, statistical, and common-sense perspectives.

There are many notable people, who did not complete their formal education, but accomplished great things.  Bill Gates, founder of the software giant Microsoft, and the wealthiest person in the world, dropped out of Harvard in his freshman year.  His incredible rise to prominence in the computer industry is testimony to the fact that formal education is not synonymous with success.  In fact, his phenomenal knowledge of computers was not acquired in the structured environment of the classroom.  Instead, Gates pursued this interest after school by studying the BASIC language from a manual with his friend Paul Allen, helping a local company debug its computers, and designing computer programs.

Many will dismiss Gates as an exceptional individual, who may have dropped out of college, but excelled in high school before being accepted at Harvard.  There are, however, many other people who have reached the highest echelons of their profession without even completing elementary school, let alone high school.  The following list offers a small sample of the thousands of individuals who have achieved tremendous success in their lives without completing their formal education:

• Albert Einstein: Nobel Prize-winning physicist; "Time" magazine's "Man of the Century" (20th century) (after dropping out of high school, he studied on his own and passed the entrance exam on his second try to the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology)

• John D. Rockefeller Sr.: Self-made billionaire American businessman-philanthropist; co-founder of "The Standard Oil Company"; history's first recorded billionaire (dropped out of high school two months before graduation; took business courses for ten weeks at Folsom Mercantile College [a chain business school])

• Henry Ford: Self-made multimillionaire American businessman; assembly-line auto manufacturing pioneer; founder of the "Ford Motor Company"

• Walt Disney: Oscar-winning American film/TV producer; animation and theme park pioneer; self-made multimillionaire founder and spokesperson of "The Walt Disney Studios/Company"; Presidential Medal of Freedom recipient; Congressional Gold Medal recipient; French Legion of Honor admittee/Medal recipient (received honorary high-school diploma from hometown high school at age 58)

• Abraham Lincoln: 16th President of the United States; (little formal education - Lincoln himself estimated approximately one year; home schooling/life experience; later earned a law degree through self study of books that he borrowed from friends)

• Carl Sandburg: Pulitzer Prize-winning American author (little formal education; later passed entrance exam to Lombard College and graduated)

• Diana, Princess of Wales

• George Burns: Oscar-winning actor/comedian (elementary school dropout)

• Dave Thomas: Self-made multimillionaire American businessman; founder-spokesperson of the "Wendy's" fast-food restaurant chain (equivalency diploma)

• Martin Van Buren: 8th President of the United States (little formal education; began studying law at age 14 while an apprentice at a law firm, later became a lawyer)

• Andrew Carnegie: Self-made multimillionaire American businessman and philanthropist (elementary school dropout)

• John Chancellor: American television journalist; evening news anchorman

• "Colonel" Harlan Sanders: Self-made multimillionaire American businessman; founder-spokesperson of the "Kentucky Fried Chicken/KFC" fast-food restaurant chain (elementary school dropout; later earned a correspondence course law degree)

• Samuel L. Clemens ("Mark Twain"): Best-selling American author and humorist (elementary school dropout)

• Christopher Columbus: Italian explorer (little formal education; home schooling/life experience; went to sea in his youth)

• Davy Crockett: Early American frontiersman; U.S. Congressman (Tennessee Representative); died at the battle of the Alamo (little formal education - less than six months; home schooling/life experience)

• Charles Dickens: Best-selling British author (elementary school dropout)

• Joe DiMaggio: National Baseball Hall of Fame inductee; Presidential Medal of Freedom recipient

• Sir Francis Drake: British explorer; knighted in the United Kingdom (little formal education; home schooling/life experience; went to sea in his youth)

• George Eastman: Self-made multimillionaire American inventor; founder of the "Kodak" roll film camera, corporation, and chemical company

• Thomas Edison: Self-made multimillionaire, most famous and productive inventor of all time; invented the filament electric light bulb, phonograph, and motion picture camera; electrical power usage pioneer; Congressional Gold Medal recipient; knighted (France: bestowed the rank of Chevalier, (had no formal education - home schooled)

• Benjamin Franklin: American politician - diplomat - author - printer - publisher-scientist - inventor; co-author and co-signer of the U.S. Declaration of Independence; one of the founders of The United States of America; face is pictured on the U.S. one-hundred dollar bill (little formal education [less than two years]; home schooling/life experience)

• Clark Gable: Oscar-winning actor

• George Gershwin: Oscar-nominated and most celebrated American songwriter-and classical composer; Congressional Gold Medal recipient

• Amadeo Peter Giannini: American-born founder of "Bank of America"

• Cary Grant: Oscar-winning actor

• W.T.Grant: Self-made multimillionaire American businessman; founder of the "W.T. Grant Company" department store chain

• H.L. Hunt: Self-made billionaire American oil industrialist (elementary school dropout)

• John Huston: Oscar-winning American film director-actor (The Treasure of the Sierra Madre, The Maltese Falcon, The African Queen, etc.)

• Elton John: Oscar-winning songwriter-singer; Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductee; knighted by the United Kingdom

• Andrew Jackson: 7th President of the United States (no formal education; home schooling/life experience)

• John Paul Jones: Scottish-born American Revolutionary War U.S. navy commander; famous quote: "I have not yet begun to fight." (little formal education; home schooling/life experience; went to sea in his youth)

• Henry J. Kaiser: Self-made multimillionaire American businessman; founder of "Kaiser Aluminum and Chemical Corporation," "Kaiser Steel," etc.

• Kirk Kerkorian: Self-made billionaire American businessman

• Ray Kroc: Self-made billionaire American businessman; founder of the "McDonald's" fast-food restaurant chain

• Jerry Lewis: Actor-comedian-singer-entertainer-humanitarian; knighted (France: Chevalier [or Chev.] Jerry Lewis)

• John Major: British Prime Minister 1990-1997

• William Shakespeare: British playwright; best-selling British author

• George Bernard Shaw: Nobel Prize-winning Irish-born British playwright; best-selling author

• Frank Sinatra: Oscar-winning actor-singer; Presidential Medal of Freedom recipient; Congressional Gold Medal recipient

• John Philip Sousa: American composer-conductor (elementary school dropout)

• Zachary Taylor: 12th President of the United States (little formal education; home schooling/life experience)

• George Washington: 1st President of the United States; former general; Chairman of the Constitutional Convention; U.S. nickname: "The Father of Our Country"; face is pictured on the U.S. one dollar bill and twenty-five cent coin (quarter) (no formal education; home schooling/life experience; went to sea in his youth)

• William Faulkner: Nobel Prize-winning and Pulitzer Prize-winning American author; screenwriter (dropped out of high school in second year; later attended University of Mississippi but did not graduate)

• Herman Melville: Best-selling American author and writer of Moby Dick, arguably the greatest novel of all time.

• Liza Minnelli: Oscar-winning actress-singer

• Robert Mitchum: Oscar-nominated actor

• Claude Monet: French painter (elementary school dropout)

• David H. Murdock: Self-made billionaire American businessman

• Florence Nightingale: History's most notable nurse; best-selling Italian-born British nursing book author (no formal education; home schooling/life experience)

• Thomas Paine: American Revolutionary War era political theorist; best-selling British-born American author; famous quote: "These are the times that try men's souls." (little formal education; home schooling/life experience)

• Millard Fillmore: 13th President of the United States (little formal education - six months; home schooling/life experience; studied law while serving as a legal clerk with a judge and law firm; later became a lawyer)

• Will Rogers: American author-humorist-lecturer-actor-entertainer; famous quote: "I never met a man I didn't like."

• Frederick Henry Royce: Self-made multimillionaire British businessman; co-founder-designer of the "Rolls-Royce Motor Cars Company"; knighted (United Kingdom: Sir Frederick Henry Royce) (elementary school dropout)

• Edmond Safra: Lebanese-born billionaire banker-philanthropist

• David Sarnoff: Russian-born American radio and television pioneer; given the title "Father of American Television" by the Television Broadcasters Association

• William Saroyan: Oscar-winning screenwriter; Pulitzer Prize-winning American playwright

• Vidal Sassoon: Self-made multimillionaire British businessman; founder of "Vidal Sassoon" hairstyling salons, academies, and hair-care products

• Walt Whitman: Best-selling American poet (elementary school dropout)

• Orville & Wilbur Wright: Aviation pioneers; Congressional Gold Medal recipients

• Grover Cleveland: 22nd and 24th President of the United States; face is pictured on the one-thousand dollar bill, which is no longer printed; (dropped out of school to help family earn income; studied law while serving as a clerk at a law firm, later became a lawyer)

• Irving Berlin: Oscar-winning American songwriter-composer; film story writer; Presidential Medal of Freedom recipient; Congressional Gold Medal recipient

Ultimately, what distinguishes the aforementioned individuals from the rest of us is their passion for learning that transcends the structured environment of the classroom.  Instead of limiting their education to formal schooling, they were curious about the world around them.  With their fearless spirit of exploration and their desire to experiment, these individuals discovered their true passions and strengths, which they built upon to achieve success later in life.

Imagine what a loss for the world it would have been had Thomas Edison decided to conform to the system, and invest his time in doing homework, rather than pursuing his love for invention.  What if Walt Disney had confined his learning to the requirements of his school's curriculum, and followed only the guidance of his teachers, rather than his own internal motivation.  His extraordinary animated features may have never been created.

Ultimately, formal education - by placing the control of learning in the hands of teachers and administrators, and imposing rules and requirements on students - stifles the natural love for learning. We must learn from these exceptional individuals who had the courage to defy the coercive force of formal education and carve their niche in our history.



Famous High School Dropouts
Part Two

Shaun Kerry, M.D.
Diplomate, American Board of Psychiatry and Neurology

H.G. British author (dropped out to help family earn income; later returned and went on to college)

Jim Clark........self-made billionaire  American businessman; founder of "Netscape"; first Internet billionaire (17, U.S. Navy)

Jimmy Dean..........singer-songwriter-actor; self-made multimillionaire American businessman; founder of the "Jimmy Dean Foods" brand sausage business (16, U.S. Merchant Marines; 18, U.S. Air Force)

Andrew Jackson......7th U.S. President; face is pictured on the U.S. twenty dollar bill (13, U.S. Continental Army; orphaned at 14; little formal education; home schooling/life experience; studied law in his late teens and became a lawyer)

Leon American author (Exodus, etc.) (17, U.S. Marines)

Walter L. Smith.....former president of Florida A&M University (equivalency diploma, at age 23)

W. Clement Stone....self-made multimillionaire (some sources indicate billionaire) American businessman-author; founder of "Success" magazine (elementary school dropout; later attended high-school night courses and then some college)

Jack American author (dropped out at 14 to work; later gained admission to the University of California; left after one semester)

Arthur Ernest Morgan....American flood-control engineer; college  president-author; appointed by President Roosevelt to be director of the Tennessee Valley Authority public works project (left high school after three years; later attended the University of Colorado for six weeks)

Ray Charles.........singer-pianist; Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductee

Cher......Oscar-winning actress-singer

Maurice Chevalier.... Oscar-winning actor-singer; French Legion of Honor inductee/Medal recipient (note: rank bestowed in 1938


Ellen Burnstyn......Oscar-winning actress


Sammy Cahn.......... Oscar-winning American songwriter-composer

Michael Caine.......Oscar-winning actor; knighted (United Kingdom: Sir Michael Caine)

Glen music star

Daniel Gilbert......Harvard University psychology professor (equivalency diploma)

Dizzy Gillespie.....musician-composer (received honorary diploma from high school he attended)

Patrick Henry
.......American Revolutionary War era politician; Virginia's first governor; famous quote: "Give me liberty, or give me death!" (little formal education; home schooling/life experience; later studied on his own and earned a law degree)

Peter Jennings......Canadian-born American television journalist; evening news anchorman

Ansel Adams.........American wilderness photographer; photography book author; Presidential Medal of Freedom recipient

Julie Andrews.......Oscar-winning actress-singer

Louis Armstrong.....singer-musician

Brooke Astor........wealthy American socialite-philanthropist-author; Presidential Medal of Freedom recipient

Pearl Bailey........singer-actress; Presidential Medal of Freedom recipient

Lucille Ball........actress-comedienne-producer; Presidential Medal of Freedom recipient

Bill Bartman........self-made billionaire American businessman

Count Basie.........bandleader-pianist

Jack Benny.......... comedian-actor-violinist

Humphrey Bogart.....Oscar-winning actor

Peter Bogdanovich....Oscar-nominated American film director-screenwriter (The Last Picture Show, Paper Moon, Mask, etc.)

Whoopie Goldberg....Oscar-winning actress-comedienne

Benny Goodman.....bandleader-clarinetist

Lew Grade
.........British film/TV producer (TV: The Avengers, The Saint, Secret Agent, The Prisoner, The Muppet Show, etc.); knighted (United Kingdom: Sir Lew Grade)

Philip Emeagwali....supercomputer scientist; one of the pioneers of the Internet (high-IQ high-school dropout; left school in native Nigeria due to war conditions and lack of tuition money; continued to study on his own and earned an equivalency diploma; later won a scholarship to Oregon College of Education in the United States; transferred after one year to Oregon State University)

Danny (actor: Make Room for Daddy/The Danny Thomas Show; co-producer: The Dick Van Dyke Show, The Andy Griffith Show, etc.); Congressional Gold Medal recipient

Peter Ustinov.......Oscar-winning actor

Hiram Stevens.......American-born engineering inventor; knighted (United Kingdom: Sir Hiram Stevens)

Patrick Stewart..... actor-writer-producer-director; former captain of the Enterprise on TV's Star Trek: The Next Generation and in films.

Kemmons Wilson.......self-made multimillionaire American businessman; founder of the "Holiday Inn" hotel chain

Kjell Inge Rokke.....self-made billionaire Norwegian businessman

David Puttnam.......Oscar-winning British film producer (Chariots of Fire, Midnight Express, etc.); knighted (United Kingdom: Sir David Puttnam)

Anthony Quinn.......Oscar-winning actor

Julie London....... singer-actress

Sophia Loren.......Oscar-winning actress; best-selling Italian-born author; former model (elementary school dropout)

Joe Louis..........boxer; Congressional Gold Medal recipient


Walter Nash.......New Zealand Prime Minister 1957-1960; knighted (United Kingdom: Sir Walter Nash)

Olivia Newton-John.... singer-actress; British-born Australian author

Rosa Parks.........U.S. civil rights activist-pioneer; Presidential Medal of Freedom recipient; Congressional Gold Medal recipient

Mary Pickford......Oscar-winning actress; early Hollywood pioneer; co-founder of "United Artists Corporation" (little formal education [six months]; home schooling/life experience)

Sydney Poitier.....Oscar-winning actor (elementary school dropout)

Frederick "Freddy" Laker.... self-made multimillionaire British businessman; airline entrepreneur; knighted (United Kingdom: Sir Frederick [or Freddy] Laker)

Tommy Lasorda...... baseball team manager; National Baseball Hall of Fame inductee

David Lean.........Oscar-winning British film director (Lawrence of Arabia, Dr.Zhivago, etc.); knighted (United Kingdom: Sir David Lean)

Anton van Leeuwenhoek....Dutch microscope maker; world's first microbiologist; discoverer of bacteria, blood cells, and sperm cells)

Richard Branson.....self-made billionaire British businessman; founder of "Virgin Atlantic Airways," "Virgin Records," etc.; knighted (United Kingdom: Sir Richard Branson)

Isaac Merrit Singer....American sewing machine inventor; self-made multimillionaire founder of "Singer Industries," "I.M. Singer and Company," etc. (elementary school dropout)

Alfred E. Smith.....New York Governor; 1928 Democratic U.S. Presidential candidate (elementary school dropout)

Charles Chaplin.....Oscar-winning actor-writer-director-producer; knighted (United Kingdom: Sir Charles [or Charlie] Chaplin) (elementary school dropout)

Sean Connery........Oscar-winning actor; knighted (United Kingdom: Sir Sean Connery)

Jack Kent Cooke.....self-made billionaire Canadian-born American media businessman

Noel Coward.........Oscar-winning actor-director-producer-playwright-composer; knighted (United Kingdom: Sir Noel Coward) (elementary school dropout)

Joan Crawford
....... Oscar-winning actress; former dancer

Charles E. Culpeper....self-made multimillionaire American businessman; early 1900s' owner and head of "The Coca Cola Bottling Company"

Robert De Niro......Oscar-winning actor-producer; knighted (France: Chevalier [Knight] of the Legion of Honor; Chevalier [or Chev.] Robert De Niro)

Gerard Depardieu....Oscar-nominated actor; knighted (France: Chevalier [or Chev.] Gerard Depardieu) (elementary school dropout)

Richard Desmond.....self-made billionaire British publisher

Thomas Dolby........ musician-composer; music producer

Joe Lewis........self-made billionaire British businessman

Carl Lindner.......self-made billionaire American businessman

John Llewellyn.....U.S. Labor leader pioneer; for 40 years until his retirement, president of the United Mine Workers' Union

Marcus Loew........self-made multimillionaire American businessman; early Hollywood pioneer; founder of the "Loews" movie-theater chain; co-founder of "MGM" studios (elementary school dropout)

Mary Lyon
.........American women's education pioneer; early American teacher; founder of Mount Holyoke College (America's first women's college)

Sonny Bono...........singer-songwriter-actor; U.S. Congressman (California U.S. Representative)

Duke Ellington......Oscar-nominated American composer-bandleader; Presidential Medal of Freedom recipient

Ella Fitzgerald.....singer; Presidential Medal of Freedom recipient

Aretha Franklin....singer; Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductee

Horace Greeley.... American newspaper publisher-editor; U.S. Congressman; 1872 U.S. Presidential candidate; co-founder of the Republican party in the United States

Thomas Haffa......self-made double-digit billionaire German media businessman

J.R. Simplot.......self-made billionaire American agricultural businessman

Robert Maxwell.....self-made billionaire British publisher

Rod American poet (elementary school dropout)



Storm of the Century
a book and film by Stephen King

Shaun Kerry, M.D.
Diplomate, American Board of Psychiatry and Neurology

Art is a form of fiction that portrays  reality.  A writer draws images from his unconscious mind, and when his audience is drawn to those images, it is usually because they resonate with feelings in their minds as well.  As a social psychiatrist, I often use films to explain phenomena that words alone cannot convey.

Stephen King is the best-selling novelist of all time, and it is no coincidence that fear is extremely prevalent, and a very destructive emotion in our society.  I would invite you to examine with me the symbolism in this story.

Storm of the Century is a terrifying tale of a town besieged by a man possessed with evil demonic powers.  The several hundred inhabitants of a picturesque, small island off the coast of Maine find themselves completely cut off from the rest of the world when they are hit by the worst storm of the century.

As snow steadily buries everything familiar, terror arrives in the form of an evil stranger.  As the streets disappear and an eerie darkness envelops the town, a series of bizarre murders creates a nightmare of fear.  With no help coming from the outside world and no end to the storm in sight, the townspeople are forced to take drastic action before it's too late.

The evil stranger arrives in town, kills an old woman with his cane and allows himself to be taken into custody -- and knows everyone by name -- and knows their secrets, which he lets spill in front of everyone else.

He keeps magically repeating one phrase in writing: "Give me what I want and I'll go away."  As the storm builds to a crescendo, so do his supernatural manipulations -- and when the battered people of Little Tall are at their weakest, he tells them what it will take to make him leave them alone.  When he presents his demands to the whole town, he gives them a half-hour to discuss and decide -- and you see that next half-hour unfold in real time.

I don't want to give away too much, in the event that you haven't read the book or seen the movie.  The terrifying experience happens to a society in miniature, not to a single person.  The result is extraordinarily dehumanizing for everyone involved, and no one can see a way out.

This is very much how many children, boys in particular, perceive their school experience.  The system repeats over and over, day in and day out, year after year: "Give me what I want and I'll go away."  They are forced to comply.

Society sees that there is a problem so severe that they put it at the top of their agenda.  In the past 10 years, the amount of money the American government spends on public education has risen 50 percent to nearly $650 billion a year – an astounding sum.  Yet most people remain as perplexed by the problem as the people in the film.


Education Reform:
A Logical Overview

Shaun Kerry, M.D.
Diplomate, American Board of Psychiatry and Neurology

Logic is Based on Assumptions

Given this method of reasoning, if our assumptions are faulty, then our logic is built on a foundation of sand.

Many articles about the politics of education are based on the assumption that good education is entirely measurable by standardized test scores.  This narrow-minded assumption not only damages the lives of countless students, but also wastes huge amounts of money.

According to an article printed in the September 8, 2001 edition of The Los Angeles Times, approximately 600 campuses may receive $200 million for under-performing schools.  The article goes on to state that the 'under-performing' status is based entirely on the Stanford 9 academic achievement test scores.

Educators might argue that mindfulness is not measurable, and therefore, not meaningful.  My response is that psychiatrists measure this quality routinely using an objective test called the mental status exam.  Rather than a written examination, this test is based on an oral conversation.  A mindful teacher will do this automatically in his or her day-to-day interaction with the students.  The notion that Stanford 9 test scores measure the effectiveness of education is outrageous, simplistic, and erroneous.

Each page in this series of web sites represents a piece of the puzzle that I term "the root causes of social dysfunction".  After reading and understanding each page, and integrating these concepts together in your mind, the fundamental picture should become relatively clear.

In our lives, we will encounter both things that we control and things that we do not.  Knowing the difference between these is critical to navigating through this often confusing existence.  One of the most important aspects that we can control is faulty logic, with regard to our world-view.

When Galileo said that the earth revolved around the sun, he was nearly killed for voicing this unpopular opinion.  But because his opinion was verifiably true, he ultimately had a great impact on our world outlook.  Similarly, we must examine our beliefs regarding the functioning of society, a topic infinitely more important to us than the orbits of celestial bodies.

If I were forced to choose, from this series of websites, the false notion that most critically needs our recognition, it would be the excessive value that we place on written test scores.

Sometimes, people are concerned with the ideas that we present  because they are of a radical nature.  As in Galileo's case, it does not matter if these ideas are radical, as long as they are true.  If these notions are verifiable, history tells us that in time, they will be accepted.  Some people argue that although these ideas may be correct, they will not be implemented into our world-view for a very long time.  Communication, however, is much faster now than it was in Galileo's time.  Each day, approximately twenty unique people read this web site.  Each time one of these people uses the activism site, nearly one hundred letters are sent to key government representatives.

Our objective, though a daunting task, is to liberate society by defining and correcting the most basic misconceptions that have formed the root cause of our social dysfunction.  We refer to this as "mindful activism".  It is energy efficient, has maximum impact, and its value lasts forever. 


Education as Top Priority: The Challenges of Education Reform

Shaun Kerry, M.D.
Diplomate, American Board of Psychiatry and Neurology

For many decades, education with its seemingly insurmountable challenges has captured the public spotlight.  Ideally, education serves a critical role for society by cultivating future generations who will be able to express their individuality and creativity, thus improving society as a whole (Blitz, 2001, p. 24).  However, this goal is often buried underneath the nation’s obsessive pursuit to raise test scores as an indicator of improvement of the education system.  What have truly alarmed policymakers and the public are the low scores of students, especially disadvantaged ones.  National reading tests indicate that almost 70 percent of inner city fourth graders do not have a basic level of reading proficiency.  In international math tests, high school students in Cyprus and South Africa surpass American high school seniors in their results (“No Child Left Behind Executive Summary,” 2001, p. 1).  On the most superficial level, the failure of the school system to improve test scores has thrust it to the forefront of the federal government’s and the public’s agenda.

Upon his succession as the new President, President George W. Bush created the No Child Left Behind proposal in a bid to accomplish the incredible feat of passing a landmark education reform bill (“No Child Left Behind Executive Summary,” 2001, p. 1).  The recent passage of the education reform bill is a result of the federal government’s persist promotion of the bill and the endless negotiations with the key politicians of Congress behind closed doors (Robelen, 2001, p. 1).  The federal government’s focus on the education reform bill is further evidenced by the difficult journey of No Child Left Behind Act from the White House to its current status.  Contentious discussions between Democrats and Republicans over the controversial provisions of this bill such as vouchers, the type of annual tests and the overall funding for these programs constantly jeopardized the bill.  Even in the midst of the economic slowdown and the war against terrorism, the federal government finally succeeded in pushing through the passage of the education reform bill (Samuelson, 2001; Anderson, 2001a & 2001b; Brownstein, 2001; Garvey, 2001a & 2001b). Clearly, education is one of the top priorities of the federal government.

The substantial government spending on education over the years also reflects the high prioritization of education.  According to the U.S. Census Bureau (2000), the total government spending on education at federal, state and local levels was $311.7 billion in 1997, an increase of six percent ($18.9 billion) from 1996.  Total expenditure per public pupil has also climbed steadily from $5,000 in 1983 to $6,943 in 1998 (“1998 Digest of Education Statistics,” cited in Public Agenda Online, 2002c). Even more recently, Christie (2001) reports the increase of per-student expenditures by 30.6 percent between 1996 and 2001.

At the same time, education is also considered the top priority for the American public.  In a poll conducted by Princeton Survey Research Associates, 76 percent of the respondents asserted that the federal government should increase spending for education, thus ranking education as the most important issue among 14 issues including health care, Medicare and crime (cited in Public Agenda Online, 2002b).

Today, the trends of globalization and technological changes that have transformed the workplace has given education reform a strong impetus in order to create an education system that will work in a new world.  For close to a century, people were accustomed to obtaining a well-paid professional job once they completed their high school and college education.  However, with the restructuring of the economy, even professionals such as lawyers, engineers and doctors struggle to acquire and hold onto their jobs.  These realities send a clear signal that the traditional school system of education needs to be changed in order to move in synch with the times (Aronowitz, 1996, p. 144).

Although the environment for change has been ripe for several years, American policymakers, educators and the general public are divided in their perceptions of the problems plaguing the education system.  Currently, there are four conflicting perspectives regarding the deficiencies of the education system and proposed solutions:

• Improve existing public school system by increasing national standards: The proponents of this approach believe that schools have failed to provide a basic level of academic education to students. Therefore, the establishment of core courses and higher academic standards will improve the education system (Public Agenda Online, 2002a).  The education reform bill with its emphasis on testing and accountability falls into this group.

• Improve the existing school system by providing adequate funding: Because many schools are forced to operate on a small budget, they are unable to provide quality education for students. However, this approach is undermined by the simple reality that even with the massive investment of federal education programs amounting to $120 billion a year, the academic performance of elementary and high school students remains abysmal (“No Child Left Behind Executive Summary,” 2001, p. 1).

• Challenging the existing school system by offering educational choices: The proponents of this approach believe that the problem with the school system is the lack of affordable educational choices available to parents.  Because public schools monopolize the education industry, they do not need to compete with other schools.  Consequently, they do not have the incentive to improve their performance (Public Agenda Online, 2002a).  These individuals thus support the use of vouchers and the establishment of charter schools (Blitz, 2001).

While the education debate among policymakers and the public in this country has largely revolved around the first three perspectives, the perspective that comes closest to addressing the ultimate objective of education is:

• Reform the public school system completely by creating student-centered schools: The proponents of this approach argue that the teacher-centered traditional school system that imposes a standardized curriculum on students is the fundamental problem.  This perspective strikes at the heart of the current public schooling system.  However, authentic learning can only occur when students are encouraged to take an active role in the learning process.  They learn how to solve problems and collaborate with one another in various settings.  Beyond acquiring knowledge, the students are cultivating a capacity to think that will enable them to handle real-life situations.  As generalists, these students will grow up to become adults who are able to rapidly adapt to a variety of situations in the challenging new world, earn a decent income and become happy and productive citizens of the future (Gordon, 1998, p. 390).

Anderson, N. (2001a, May 4). Revised education bill is unveiled. The Los Angeles Times, p. A21.
Anderson, N. (2001b, May 23). House endorses plan to expand school testing. The Los Angeles Times, p. A1.
Aronowitz, S. (1996, January-February). National standards would not change our cultural capital. The Clearing House, 69(3), 144-147.
Blitz, M. (2001, January). Setting domestic priorities—We need a federal government that encourages individual freedom and responsibility. World and I, 16(1), 24-28.
Brownstein, R. (2001, March 7). Allies are forcing Bush to bend on school testing reform: He’s yielding on how states measure student performance, as some in GOP push ‘local control’ issue. The Los Angeles Times, p. A1.
Christie, K. (2001, December). Stateline—States wrap up the year. Phi Delta Kappan, 83(4), 281-283.
Gordon, R. (1998, January). Balancing real-world problems with real-world results. Phi Delta Kappan, 79(5), 390-393.
No Child Left Behind Executive Summary. (2001, January 29). Retrieved February 5, 2002, from U.S. Department of Education Website:
Garvey, M. (2001a, June 13). Senate won’t buy even a diluted version of voucher remedy education: Modest pilot program, what’s left of Bush plan, is defeated. The Los Angeles Times, p. A16.
Garvey, M. (2001b, June 16). Trouble may lurk in details of education bill: Questions loom about funding, testing. Critics say potential effects are being oversold. The Los Angeles Times, p. A12.
Public Agenda Online (2002a). The perspectives in brief. Retrieved February 5, 2002, from
Public Agenda Online (2002b). Princeton Survey Research Associates. Retrieved February 5, 2002, from
Public Agenda Online (2002c). Spending per pupil. Retrieved February 5, 2002, from
Robelen, E. W. (2001, December 13). House overwhelmingly passes sweeping education reform bill. Education Week, 21(15). Retrieved February 7, 2002, from
Samuelson, R.J. (2001, January 31). It’s about goals, not vouchers. The Washington Post, p. A21.

U.S. Census Bureau. (2000, August 28). Education facts from the U.S. Census Bureau. Retrieved February 5, 2002, from


Institutionalization and Deschooling: The Death and the Resurrection of the Self Institutionalization

by Kah Ying Choo

The institutionalization syndrome that frequently occurs in individuals who have received long-term treatment or care in institutions such as psychiatric facilities encapsulates the following characteristics:

• Loss of independence and self-confidence,
• Erosion of desire and skills for social interaction,
• Excessive reliance on institutions and fear of authority (Lamb, 1976).

With their daily routines, organizational structures and practices that are imposed on patients, psychiatric facilities are notorious for cultivating patient dependency and hampering the development of independent functioning that will facilitate the patients’ reintegration into the community.  In such institutional settings, patients are required to conform to the instructions of doctors and staff members or deal with aversive consequences.  They thus learn to submit to authoritative figures such as doctors.  Furthermore, they are also expected to adapt to an externally imposed schedule of eating, socializing and other activities.  In addition, their individual perceptions and responses are disregarded and their interests neglected.  In this conformist environment, patients’ efforts to express their individuality and display their skills are thus discouraged, or even suppressed (Lipsitt, 1961).
Because their activity is constantly regulated and restricted by staff members, patients do not have the freedom to exercise initiative and assert their individuality.  The constant suppression of their individuality and attempts to initiate activities typically results in frustration and depression.  Over a long period of time, these patients eventually lose their sense of identity and initiative in order to cope with living in such a rigid and controlled environment.  Furthermore, since the institutional settings satisfy all the basic needs of the patients and extinguish their unique needs, these patients eventually become disconnected from the outside world.  They also abandon their beliefs that they can satisfy their basic needs on their own.  Although psychiatric facilities are supposed to “help” improve the lives of their patients, they are ultimately guilty of sabotaging their patients’ recovery (Boettcher & Schie, 1975; Denner, 1974; Wright & Kogut, 1972).

The adverse impact of institutions on patients living in psychiatric facilities can be analogized to the experiences of children who have been subjected to the pressures of traditional schooling.  As with patients in psychiatric hospital, children in traditional schools are required to conform to the rigid routines of school schedules and their learning limited to the standardized curriculum.  Their teachers and principals restrict their ability to move and exercise their curiosity by expecting them to sit at their desks quietly and forbidding socialization among peers during class time.  Struggling to adapt to an environment that rewards them for their compliance and punishes them for their expression of individuality, these children eventually become excessively dependent on schools to direct their learning.  The suppression of their individuality and interests eventually extinguishes these children’s passion for learning and life (“What is Deschooling”; Meyer, 2000).

Therefore, when children are removed from traditional schools to embark on the journey of homeschooling, they need to undergo the process of “deschooling.”  Deschooling can be considered a detoxication period that enables these children to unlearn the negative concepts of learning associated with traditional schooling such as “grades, semesters, school-days, education, scores, tests, introductions, reviews and performance” (Dodd, qtd. in Bell, 1998, p. 1).  By eliminating these ideas from their mindset, these children can regain their intuitive love of learning and discover their sense of self.  Thus, deschooling is a healing process that is critical to the future of the children as they recover from their wounded psyches and prepare to create their unique idea of learning (Bell, 1998).

Depending on the individuals and their experiences in schools, the deschooling period lasts an average of one year and upto two years (“Homeschooling gifted kids,” 2001).  Experienced homeschoolers suggest that the children need one month of deschooling for each year of schooling (Hayes, 1999). During this period, most parents offer their children complete freedom to transition from traditional schools to the home.  Although deschooling is a difficult period for parents who are concerned that their children are not engaged in learning, it is important that parents do not act like teachers in schools and attempt to imposing their learning objectives on their children. (“What is Deschooling,” p. 1; “Homeschooling Gifted Kids,” 2001).

Once the children are free from the pressures of time and the dictates of teachers or any individual, they will be able to rekindle their interest in learning.  When they are ready to begin learning, these children will take the initiative to pursue subjects of their interest without external prodding.  Although they will be frustrated initially by the fact that their parents do not provide them with answers and tell them what to do, these children will begin to learn and enjoy their independent ability to conduct their own research and apply their learning in an interesting fashion.  Instead of directing their children’s learning, parents play the role of facilitators and provide supportive guidance and assistance in order to ensure that their children have access to the necessary resources for their projects (“Zone FAQ: What is “deschooling,”” 2001).

However, the institutionalization effects of schools not only affect children, but also their parents.  Many parents who have been exposed to the oppressive experiences of traditional schools also need to undergo the process of deschooling.  The deschooling of parents is critical to the ultimate success of homeschooling.  Otherwise, parents are likely to replicate the components of traditional schooling such as worksheets and textbooks in their homes.  In order to realize the intrinsic objectives of homeschooling, parents thus have to address their traumatic experiences in a rigid and organized classroom and embrace innovative learning concepts that challenge those of traditional schools. For example, they need to promote their children’s freedom to learn in community settings and acknowledge the ambivalence of issues that do not offer simple solutions (Meyer, 2000; Hayes, 1999).

Although some may perceive the comparison of the impact of schools and the effects of psychiatric institutions as excessive, this juxtaposition captures the tragedy of children who are oppressed in classrooms, which is enacted day after day in our country.  The fact that children need to be detoxed from their experiences in school highlights the adverse impact of schools on their whole being.  Apart from their academic learning, these children need to rediscover their identity and regain their passion for life itself during the deschooling period. The journey towards successful homeschooling, beginning with the deschooling process, can be a frightening experience. However, this courageous decision will reap incredible rewards that are captured succinctly in this beautiful statement by a homeschooling parent:

When we started homeschooling, I felt as though I had tucked a child under each arm and jumped off a cliff. Imagine my surprise to discover we have wings (Maura Seger, qtd. in Hayes, 1999).

Bell, A. (1998). Natural Learning Page. Retrieved February 4, 2002, from
Boettcher, R. C., & Schie, R. V. (1975). Milieu therapy with chronic mental patients. Social Work, 20, 130-134.
Denner, B. (1974). Returning madness to an accepting community. Commit Merit. Health Journal, 10, 163-172.
Hayes, L. C. (1999). What is deschooling? Retrieved February 4, 2002, from National Home Education Network Website:
Homeschooling gifted kids. (2001). Retrieved February 4, 2002 from
Lamb, H. R. (1976). Community survival for long-term patients. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.
Lipsitt, D. R. (1961). Institutional dependency: A rehabilitation problem. In M. Greenblatt, D. Levinson, & G. Klerman (Eds.), Mental patients in transition: Steps in hospital-community rehabilitation (pp. 34-45). Springfield: Charles C Thomas Publishers.
Meyer, J. B. (2000). Homeschooling anywhere. Retrieved February 4, 2002, from Denver Northwest Homeschool Community Website:
What is deschooling? (n.d.). Retrieved February 4, 2002, from
Wright, A. L., & Kogut, R. S. (1972). A resocialization program for the treatment of chronic hospitalized schizophrenic patients. Diseases of the Nervous System, 33, 614-616.
Zone FAQ: What is “deschooling”? (2001, May 28). Retrieved February 4, 2002, from


Animals in Captivity vs. Animals in the Wild

Kah Ying Choo

One of the key problems with placing animals in captivity is the fact that the typical development of their authentic being is arrested at all levels. Although scientists working with animals in captivity claim that the needs of these creatures are satisfied, they have failed to acknowledge the adverse impact of the deficiencies of the physical and social environment on the quality of life of these animals. For example, orcas and dolphins in the wild exhibit high intelligence, a strong need for social interaction and intense activity. The challenging environment in the ocean propels them to exercise their physical and mental prowess constantly. In contrast, the typical physical and mental activity of dolphins in aquariums is limited by the static quality of the environment and the size of the tanks. Essentially, the orcas and dolphins are living in prisons (Animal Protection Institute, 2000, p. 1).

Another negative side-effect associated with the physical environment provided to dolphins in captivity has been found in the study of echolocation in captivity. Unlike the
ocean that has softer sounds covering a wider bandwidth, dolphins in captivity often become deaf when they are exposed to the excessive concentration of sounds in the aquariums. Concomitantly, their ability to function normally is also affected (Ellis, 1982; Harrison et al., 1994).

Moreover, animals in the wild such as dolphins and orcas co-exist in distinctive groups and forge strong and enduring bonds with one another, which can last for as long as ten years. Within each of these groups, or pods, the family members communicate with one another with their own unique vocalizations. On the other hand, in captivity, the development of social organizations among the dolphins is undermined by the fact that family members can be traded and sold to other aquariums. Some dolphins are separated from their mothers when they are only six months old, thus preventing them from experiencing a typical social life (Animal Protection Institute, 2000, p. 1). In addition, different species of dolphins that have different social organizations and habits are restricted to the choice of their tank mates without the possibility of seeking out members of their own species.
Without the opportunity to learn social organizations and habits, many animals in captivity are unable to nurture or care for the young. In the case of chimpanzees, wild female chimps acquire their nurturing skills from their mothers and other female relatives within their social group. However, young chimps that have grown up in captivity do not have the opportunities to learn from their wild-born relatives. More adapted to human ways, these female chimps have lost their natural propensity and skills to care for their own young (Rock, 1995, p. 71).

Therefore, animals in captivity are affected by extreme boredom, lack of appropriate exercise, poor quality food and a lack of variety of food, especially in poorly run facilities. Since the development of their natural instincts and typical behavior has been stifled prematurely, animals in captivity that are released are unable to function normally in the wild. Animals in captivity that are used to being fed with dead fish and meat by trainers are unable to eat live fish. Unaware of the social organization that exist in the wild, dolphins and orcas that attempt to join pods of animals of a different species are often attacked. In fact, the mortality rate of the released captive animals is 15 percent (Ellis, 1982; Harrison et al., 1994). While this fact can be used to support the captivity of animals, it testifies to the tragedy of animals in captivity, which have lost their connection to their authentic being and identity at every level.

Because they are deprived of their natural environment, social interaction and typical activity, animals in captivity often divert their energies and anxiety into stereotypical behavior that are not evident in animals in the wild (Animal Protection Institute, 2000, p. 2). For example, tigers in the wild typically spend ten hours of the day hunting and monitoring their territory. However, their circus counterparts that are unable to perform these activities are forced to replace the typical physical activity by pacing their cages in order to release their energy. In their study, Nevill and Friend discovered that only by providing circus tigers with opportunities for exercise did the amount of pacing decrease (cited in Chenault, 2002, p. 2).

The above discussion has illuminated the tragic consequences of suppressing the typical development of animals by placing them in captivity. Deprived of their natural environment and social groupings, these creatures are unable to learn in a way that will help them achieve their full potential and realize their authentic being. Instead, their natural activity is transformed into stereotypical behavior such as the tigers’ pacing of their cages or unpredictable eruptions of aggression by circus elephants. I believe these concepts can be extrapolated to young school children who are trapped not only within the physical confines of the school classroom, but also its oppressive rules and expectations, thus preventing them from achieving their human potential.

Animal Protection Institute (2000, April). Serving a life sentence: orcas and dolphins in captivity. Retrieved August 19, 2002, from
Chenault, E. A. (2002, July 2). Hold that tiger: research studies circus tigers’ behavior, environment. AgNews. Retrieved August 19, 2002, from
Ellis, R. (1982). Dolphins and porpoises. New York: Alfred & Knopf, Inc.
Harrison, R., et al. (1994). Whales, dolphins and porpoises. New York: Facts on File, Inc.
Rock, M. (1995, March). Human ‘moms’ teach chimps it’s all in the family. Smithsonian, 25(12), 70-75.


If you examine the books on school reform, there is a huge body of literature that supports the conclusions that we present. These books are by far the most popular and highly rated by the general public.  Reports that take the opposing view tend to use test scores as the sole basis of their analysis. They tend to be dry, lifeless, and unconvincing.

John Caldwell Holt Series
How Children Learn, Holt, 1995, Perseus Press
How Children Fail, Holt, 1995, Perseus Press
Learning All The Time, Holt, 1990 Perseus Press
What Do I Do Monday, Holt, 1995, Heinemann
The Underachieving School, Holt, 1997, Pittman
Freedom and Beyond, Holt, 1972, Dutton
Growing Without Schooling: A Record of a Grassroots Movement
by John Holt, Susannah Sheffer

John Taylor Gatto Series
A Different Kind of Teacher: Solving the Crisis of American Schooling by John Taylor Gatto
Dumbing Us Down: The Hidden Curriculum of Compulsory Schooling by John Taylor Gatto
The Exhausted School: The First National Grassroots Speakout on the Right to School Choice by John Taylor Gatto

Alfie Kohn Series
*****The Schools Our Children Deserve, Kohn, 2000, Mariner - If you only read one book on school reform, read this one.
Punished By Rewards: The Trouble with Gold Stars, Incentive Plans, A's, Praise, and Other Bribes, Kohn, 1999, Houghton Mifflin
The Case Against Standardized Testing: Raising the Scores, Ruining the Schools, Kohn, 2000, Heinemann
Beyond Discipline: From Compliance to Community, Kohn, 1996
No Contest : The Case Against Competition, Kohn, 1992, Houghton Mifflin
What to Look for in a Classroom: And Other Essays by Alfie Kohn

Home Learning Year by Year : How to Design a Homeschool Curriculum from Preschool Through High School, Rebecca Rupp
The Complete Home Learning Source Book : The Essential Resource Guide for Homeschoolers, Parents, and Educators Covering Every Subject from Arithmetic, Rebecca Rupp
Homeschooling Almanac, 2000-200, Mary Leppert, Michael Leppert
If You Want to Be Rich & Happy : Don't Go to School? : Ensuring Lifetime Security for Yourself and Your Children by Robert T. Kiyosaki, Hal Z. Bennett
The Teenage Liberation Handbook : How to Quit School and Get a Real Life and Education by Grace Llewellyn
Complete Idiot's Guide to Homeschooling
by Marsha Ransom, John Taylor Gatto
The Unschooling Handbook : How to Use the Whole World As Your Child's Classroom
by Mary Griffith
Challenging the Giant : The Best of Skole, the Journal of Alternative Education
by Mary M. Leue
Deschooling Our Lives by Matt Hern
Family Matters : Why Homeschooling Makes Sense by David Guterson

Other Education Reform Books
Contradictions of School Reform : Educational Costs of Standardized Testing (Critical Social Thought) by Linda M. McNeil
One Size Fits Few: The Folly of Educational Standards by Susan Ohanian
Will Standards Save Public Education by Deborah Meier (Editor), et al
Schools Without Failure, Glasser, 1969, Harper and Row
Child's Work: Taking Children's Choices Seriously
by Nancy Wallace, David Sullivan
I Learn Better by Teaching Myself and Still Teaching Ourselves : And, Still Teaching Ourselves by Agnes Leistico

Child Development
The Continuum Concept: In Search of Happiness Lost (Classics in Human Development) by Jean Liedloff
Attachment Parenting: Instinctive Care for Your Baby and Young Child
by Katie Allison Granju, Betsy Kennedy
Three in a Bed: The Benefits of Sharing Your Bed With Your Baby
by Deborah Jackson, Tom Newton


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