How I Tried (Unsuccessfully) to Destroy the School System-Part I

Nov 5, 2013 by

High School System-How I Tried Unsuccessfully to Destroy the School System Part I by Robert Rose PhD

I didn’t set out to do destroy anything, but early on I began to see the schools’ rigid structures, how power was misused and abused from Washington down to individual schools that made freedom to innovate and to make significant change almost impossible. There were constant “new” ideas, materials, and techniques offered, but they were illusions that satisfied the need for “progress.” It was still the principal in total power coercing the teachers to do what came down from above as the gospel. No one dared to be creative in a way that could cause significant change. It’s the main reason that 50% of new teachers quit within five years. It’s worse now as teachers feel diminished – their hands tied to do anything beyond what is demanded – the inane standardized testing and the equally controlling static curriculum.


1959.I had graduated from UCLA with a BA in Psychology and needed a job to pay for a Ph.D. I reluctantly got my teaching credential. Hired by LA system I asked to take the most difficult students. My wish was granted. It took only a few days to realize I was totally unprepared, ignorant of how to “control” my fourth and fifth grade class. The second year with 42 sixth graders was worse. Reading was a special nightmare because I was expected to move the kids from their seats to the reading “circle” quickly, silently, sit them down, and then follow a rigid timed format of correcting the previous day’s seat work, have phonics drill, introduce the day’s lesson, read and discuss story, introduce seat work, send them back to their seats, and bring up the next group. Fire regulations forced us to have room to quickly exit. An area for jackets with cabinets in one section made the room even smaller. Absurd.

While working on my Master’s at CSLA a professor introduced Roger Williams’ Biochemical Individuality (BI). It totally changed how I saw my kids. BI gave convincing evidence that the difference in the internal organs and body system was so unique in every human that each was almost exponentially different from any other. If no two snowflakes were alike how could any two, extremely complex organism like humans be alike? It immediately made sense why a teacher (anyone talking to more than one person at a time) lecturing to a class needed to use coercion (or persuasion, merely the other side of the coin of control) if he was going to have their attention. No wonder we didn’t have time to teach as someone (an actual person with needs, interests, and a sensory system minor to major different from all the rest) would ask, say or do something to disrupt  every lesson. Now I was more confused. How was I to deal with these differences in a structure that was based on a false assumption that what I was teaching was received the same by each unique sensory input system?

I understood why, if the system wouldn’t change, teachers were doomed to fail. So, someone beside us who were following system mandates must be at fault. Aha, it must be the students – or their parents. Blame rather than face the reality of BI caused the adversarial relations between teachers and students, parents and teachers, parents and children, students and students, and administrators and everyone.

I saw an ad for what is now used in every school in the nation – the SRA Reading Kit. I bought it with my money. From the first day I introduced it to the class, It allowed me to INDIVIDUALIZE. The range in reading ranged from third to twelfth grade. They could select the story that interested them. I discovered that when they were interested (duh!) they could read (without knowing every word which I’d been taught was necessary for comprehension) one to three grade levels beyond their alleged reading level. They were so excited about the lesson they’d selected that they couldn’t wait to share it with their friends. They began helping each other with words or the answers to the reading questions. I had 42 assistant teachers while I was able to sit and individualize instruction. Caution. The room was noisy, but no one seemed to notice as they were so engrossed. One person did.The principal came in during our third day. 

He exploded in front of the class yelling at me for my egotism and insubordination (a firing offense). “Do you think you know more than the district leaders who have spent years studying reading? Do you think you can just decide that you have a better way of doing things without going through me and the chain of command?” 

My god I was back in the Air Force. I said, “Look at the kids! They’re so excited and they’re reading at levels beyond sixth grade. They’re interested in reading.” He glared at me and again, in front of the class screamed, “If this isn’t sent back today, your last day as a teacher will be tomorrow!” He left and the class saw me as I was – pathetic and helpless in a system designed to crush any uniqueness with the statement – “For your own good.” Translation – do what you’re told – or else.

I had a wife, a child, and bills galore. I returned the kit. I had learned a lot in those three days beside the inbred rigidity of the system. I learned that Individualization was the way to teach.How to do it within the system I wasn’t certain – yet. I had to find each child’s interests, the unique ways he learned based on his sensory systems. It could be done while building a relationship with him. The class and I bonded in ways few teachers experience. I had fewer discipline problems and my six gifted kids became my assistants. We ended up that year with a culmination program that they helped me develop that lasted an hour and half. An audience of 400 saw the students do it perfectly without me once moving from my seat. I didn’t know it then, but I had the basis of my self organizing classroom that would keep morphing until I could leave a class alone for an hour and it would run itself.


My grandmother controlled me through love. My mother did too, but my father did through fear. I did what I was told until college, but I did many bad things under cover of being a goody-two shoes.I didn’t have an original thought until my freshman year in junior college. A professor of world history blasted me out of my ignorance. He taught how governments controlled our lives. Another professor introduced us to Emerson and Thoreau. It was the Dr.Baracke and Bob show with the two of us crossing swords as I finally discovered the joy in learning with a man who challenged us to think for ourselves. (He was fired.) It led to me (1951 – 53) into fighting the draft board. I decided to become a conscientious objector based on political and economic reasons. I was headed for jail, but crumbled from overwhelming depression as no one, even my UCLA professors seemed to understand what I was attempting. I predated the Chicago Seven by 15 years. I joined the Air Force and got married, but hated myself for giving up on what I believed was right.

A confession. I constantly fought between my belief in my students’ right to express their uniqueness and the systems directive to CONTROL them, to eliminate nonconformity. If I didn’t conform to most of the system I’d be harassed or fired for insubordination.

(Look for Part Two)

by Robert Rose,Ph.D.

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