Book Review: Don't Do Drugs Stay Out of School

Column by Will Groves.

Exclusive to STR

Those engaged in science know that the search for better answers continues for as long as inconsistencies appear between a theory and experiment. When the mind that has genuinely opened asks questions, it cannot hide from the answers simply because they go against convention. The metaphorical essence of this appears as an unwillingness to apply ever greater numbers of epicycles to explain the positions of the planets in order that the earth should remain at the center of the universe. The intellectual jump toward better understanding of the world genuinely involves putting the sun at the center of the solar system even when it means living with the “Heretic!” label.

To ask pointed questions when we swim in a sea of conventions, we must first perceive a problem or inconsistency within our current understanding. What seems like a small surface imperfection can sometimes lead to a full-blown change in philosophy, as anarchists know well! While this openness to ideas shows itself in many ways, unconventional thinking in one area often leads to unconventional thinking in others because an open and active mind not only notices what doesn’t make sense but also seeks resolution. When we find someone outside the mainstream on one topic, we often find uncommon views about diet, health, money, and what constitutes a life well spent. And if we’ve ever wondered where we can find the great results of a hundred years of forced government schooling, we might also have some thoughts about education. Enter Laurette Lynn’s new book, Don’t Do Drugs Stay Out Of School, and let her take aim at the entire institution. Her motivation is no secret as she begins the introduction: “I wrote this book because I have come to believe that school is bad for us; that is the simplest way to say it . . . I am going to try to talk you out of using school.” And with that start, she provides plenty of evidence to support her belief. The book begins with a short exposé on the modern history of schooling, one that appears strongly influenced by the research presented in John Taylor Gatto’s Underground History of American Education. This history reveals that the legal maneuvers to make schooling compulsory in the 19th and early 20th Centuries did not aim to better educate the youth, but rather create the masses who would run the machines and consume the products of the new industrial civilization.

Moving on, we see the unflattering lens through which Lynn views the school system when she writes on page 5, “At very young ages, young humans are herded like cattle, away from their families and into warehouses . . . . It does not require very much of a stretch to recognize that this process is just not quite right.” Not quite right, indeed. I feel the charge these words carry, and that charge thrusts through the entire book.

Lynn identifies and addresses a long list of attributes that schooling cultivates to the detriment of the individual and the family. In her fourth chapter, Lynn’s writing shines as she points out the blatant ways in which schools intentionally train children to become submissive, conformist, and unable to think clearly or exercise judgment. In a world filled with people trained this way, we have the basis for support of the status quo. For people who want to see change in the world, for people who value freedom, she compels us to seek alternatives.

The book encourages parents to trust their instincts with respect to their children and does not fault youngsters for their fears and dislike of the system. Viewing the system itself as toxic, in multiple places Lynn makes no call for reform, only abolishment. For instance, she writes on page 64, “The school experience actually shelters kids from reality, teaches acceptance of the artificial and rewards smooth assimilation with unnatural replacements of reality. School defies realness and inhibits growth. The entire school experience is a strangulation of autonomy, ingenuity, creative intelligence and innovation. It is time that we do away with it, and the way to do that is by first realizing that humanity has outgrown systematized schooling, and then by embracing something better.” Lynn brings passion into her writing, and as the father of young children, I noticed that this book brought out strong, visceral emotions within me several times. In the way Lynn presents the problems of school, she succeeded in her objective: I felt more compelled than ever that I have no option but to avoid sending my kids into the system.

If school does not foster the development of an educated person and mind, then what better alternatives to school do we have? Lynn advocates home-based education. I found one of her most interesting points about this on page 83: “It’s very common for parents to begin by looking for ways to do school at home simply because that is what we are all used to . . . . Remember, you have made a deliberate decision to avoid school, so don’t try to bring it home. If you do then I assure you that you will find yourself overwhelmed, stressed, and feeling inadequate very quickly because the truth is that you can’t homeschool. You can’t. Nobody can do school but school. However, the good news is that you are not supposed to do school. You are supposed to do life.” Indeed, among the homeschooling families I know, all have abandoned schooling for unschooling, but only after discovering for themselves what Lynn pointed out here.

The main weakness of the book involves Lynn’s attempt to connect schooling to many peripheral subjects in just one hundred pages. In the chapter, “What is Schooling?,” Lynn alleges the motivations to shape schooling by the elites, the bankers, the monetary system, the Federal Reserve, corporate interests, and political interests. While to her credit, Lynn encourages us to investigate beyond her presentation, I found the unsupported statements, lacking even footnotes, gave this chapter a conspiracy-theory slant that subtracted from the power of her work while simultaneously giving critics a giant target to attack. Moreover, even if each of these organizations only had pure and philanthropic intentions, Lynn already made a powerful case that the institution of schooling has failed to create well-educated masses, irrespective. Also, the book could benefit from some editorial clean-up and fact-checking such as on page 64 when Lynn writes “a huge majority of adults are dependent on a psychotropic medication to supposedly treat a mental or emotional disorder,” a claim easily debunked.

I have read a lot of literature dealing with homeschooling, unschooling, and other alternatives to schooling, and what this book lacks in finesse, it makes up for with punch. This book is not an academic treatise, it’s a well-deserved slap to knock off our rose-colored glasses and create action instead of endless discussion. It’s Mario Savio on the page, passionately arguing that we can’t take part in this institution any longer. Freedom lovers already have the intellectual backbone to go against the mainstream. Once our eyes have opened to what school does, we have to consider what we owe our own children.

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Will Groves's picture
Columns on STR: 6

Will Groves is an old-school craftsman who knows good work when he sees it.   


Mark Davis's picture

Bravo Will!  Teaching children at home is imperative for protecting them from being indoctrinated by the state, but also important for their health and well-being.  It was the best thing that I ever did for my son and was also a rewarding experience for me.

alaska3636's picture

As a personal anecdote, every year that went by in high school and college, proved to be a greater drag on my psyche. By my senior year of high school, I was beginning to really get depressed going to school every morning. I remember towards the end of that year being morally outraged when an English assignment had me doing a shoe-box diorama. An eighteen-year-old putting together the equivalent of projects that had initially been assigned to me in 3rd grade.

As an example of how institutionalized the schooling system is, my parents and I would erupt in the occasional fury over me not wanting to go to school. I had good grades, played on the basketball team and had plenty of friends; but I still hated being institutionalized. This last feeling is in retrospect. At the time I just felt pissed off and confused. But I felt compelled to go along with things because my young brain really could not conceive of another way, and I was getting so much pressure to just go along.

After I got into college, I started ditching as many days as I could get away with. I probably missed 1/3 of my senior classes and would have skipped more, but the school eventually contacted my parents and revoked my right as an adult to sign myself out of classes.

I really hoped college would be a different academic environment, but as early as my first class I realized that this was just high school 2.0. My grades dropped a little ever year since I was a fifteen-year-old freshman; by the time I graduated college, having learned nothing but with a degree in finance, I had just below a 3.0 gpa.

The worst part of the system is that after the elation subsided of my release from juvenile prison, I had not one wit about working in the real world. No experience, no leads, very little self-knowledge about what kind of things I might be good at, just anxiety about getting a job.

It took me three years out of college to really adapt to the world, and I had to travel a bunch, read very widely and do some deep philosophical tinkering. It wasn't until I finally stumbled on Austrian economics that I had a viewpoint that actually made sense of the world around me and allowed me to start moving forward confidently. I still feel I'm just starting out, but I feel like had I skipped the 16 years of indoctrination, I might have been where I'm at in my early 20's rather than my late 20's.

Still, just glad to see the world with my own eyes now and make decisions that are right for me. And if I had to go through hell to get to that perspective than the experience was not in vain. But I still can't help but wondering what I might have done with all those productive years of manic youth.

Are you there wizard?
It's me, alaska3636.

Glock27's picture

A teacher, I aplogize that you failed to attain the enrichment you should have received, but I, as a teacher, know that you can learn something even from the worst possible instructor. We each ar endowed with certain abilities and academics is not always one of them, but you must have learned to read, to write, to spell, to do math. "You mention "Maniac youth" so how much was this your problem, how much the teachers, how much the home, how much society? Everyone of us can lay blame somewhere for our own failures; I do. I could have been better but I chose special education. I could have been an electrical engineer but I am not--I am a retired special educator who made not one bit of difference in the lives I touched and that I deeply regret. I done all I could possibly do but failed.

Mitrik_Spanner's picture

Thanks for the book review. This topic hits home for me. My story is like alaska3636's (thanks for that commentary too). John Taylor Gatto opened my eyes as well.

Glock27's picture

Read your piece. It was a nice now I know not to buy the book. I would anyway. My kids graduated a long time ago and I partly disagree that the education system is indoctrinating our kids. I just don’t believe they know how to teach or what to teach and they certainly do not take out kids safety to heart. Physically or mentally when you read some of the stupid S**t these administrators do to 5 year old kids. Public education is stupid and should be handled completely by the community. But there is the delimma of what to the poorest of Americans do? How do they get their kids an education. Those whom home school are fortunate.
If we look through history of the public education system we have seen some great people come through it and have improved the way of life here. We have seen it do a trashy job with gangs running the schools. I think it comes down to us individually that have caused the school system to fail.
I like your idea of the book review and believe it should be an on going piece for strike the root on a monthly or bi-monthly basis . I am sure this has been performed before but it is the first I have noticed. It appears as if you have done an objective piece of work here.
Best of luck Will.

Will Groves's picture

Thanks, all, for the comments.  It does not surprise me that this topic strikes a nerve among some STR readers.  Looked at from afar, the subject matter taught in school seems less significant than the institution of schooling itself.  The main lessons school imparts result from the institution, in other words.  While we should consider the concerns Glock27 raised, I think the answers, plural, share one thing:  gaining education aligns with our self interest, and we therefore need no compusion to become educated.  What education means and what learning has significance seems utterly personal and definitely different from one person to another.  Also, does anyone else think that the amount of useful stuff we learned through twelve years of school is astonishingly small given the 12,000 to 15,000 hours they kept us in captivity? 
Of course, from where we currently stand, it may seem like a great leap to argue that we don't need schooling to become educated, but then again, it seems to me like the same as arguing for anarchy when we live in times that ultra-statist thought predominates.

Glock27's picture

Let me add a few extra points here )1 teachers didn'tgo into teaching to indocrinate the kids, only teach them the fundamentals of the tools they were going to need2)politics is an administration thing. They have their plan and agenda for the district and the teacher has no say in that. 3) I say get rid of all administrators and principals and have teachers fill in these positions 4)parents should be served to attend school board meeting of at least 100. Failure to show would be a $100 fine increasingly as the number of board meetings missed. Reduce class sized to no more that 20 and that is a hell of a lot of students for one teache. Have an effective, but honest diciplinary plan, not suspending a 5 year old boy for a plastic lego gun he made (God. What kind of brain trought that one up?)
Let the communities begin to gradually take over their own education system instead of having some unknown political figure lead the district. Teacher payroll incrimentization up to an amount then frozen. You want more show you are worth it.
This is not perfect, but it's a start.

Glock27's picture

some newthoughts: Teachers are demonized because they fail to teach your ignorant children. I haved heard excuses that it is your job to teach mr. teacher. It's your kid not mine, ergo, he/she is your ultimate responsibility to teach as a parent which has been reiterated time and again here and there on this site. My job is to stimulate, provide practice, send home work home--there it is your responsibility to see the work is done and done right not mine. The school is not a failure it's the parents whom have failed and yes there are some horriable teachers out there, its alsways been so, but I would venture to say there ar more horriable parents out there than there are good ones.
Thefirst step is to get the deparment of education out of the fed gov. It's not going to happen until you are ready to play the game. If you are unwilling to play it's going to stay the same as it has always been