Saturday, July 5, 2014

What if School Didn't Exist: A thought experiment

What if school didn't exist? I wrote a little fiction story that explores that as today's article. HERE is the link.


Maria Lopez said...

Some criticism of your story as fiction.

The bit about artificial insemination is unnecessary unless you give Mary an ideological reason to do without men. It would be interesting to make her some kind of a radical feminist separatist, but that would make it easy to write her as an awful parent for a boy which might not be what want. It might be easier to simply give her children a father who left or died.

Lightning bolts in stories which hit and kill people should probably not be used as plot devices. Even if you set it up by giving the character the eccentric habit of staying outside during thunderstorms it still suggests the wrath of G_d.

Mary's homestead is described by what she didn't have. I find it surprising that with all the tings she didn't have, she apparently had reliable internet that Luke didn't have any trouble paying for after she died. She also apparently had expensive electronic devices that someone like her might not be able to afford or might choose not to own.

To make things more interesting you need to describe her and her children's daily routine and tell what she did have for her and their survival. Chickens? Goats? A well? To avoid the lightning bolt you can have her health deteriorate to the point she can't do daily chores before she dies.

If Mary had a radical ideology her children would likely see things through the lens of that ideology at first and you could tell the story of how they either abandoned or modified it as they grew.

Finally you have a tendency for your characters not to face financial obstacles if they act according to your values. It was convenient for Western Governors University to give Luke a free ride but that convenience reduces the tension in your story and makes it less interesting.

Also, if you wish to make your parable into a more fleshed out story, I would suggest using a novel format. The events you narrate took place over a long period of time and probably in several different locations. A novel is more suitable for that type of thing.

Marty Nemko said...

Thank you, Maria for your comments. Here are my reactions:

I've written four screenplays and love fully fleshing out characters and plot, but that was inappropriate for a column. The story was merely a device for me to explore unschooling.

Here are my reactions to your specific suggestions:

1. She needed to be artificially inseminated by an anonymous donor. If not, it's possible the father would know the mom's whereabouts.

2. I don't believe most people would think the lightning suggests the wrath of God. I used that device because I needed a fast way to kill her. As I said, this is a column. I embed a tiny story merely as a vehicle for me to explore unschooling. I didn't want to take the time for a long death.

3. Good point regarding the infeasbility of the free internet access. I've now added a sentence to explain--a decade earlier, Mary's only friend worked at Apple and gave her a free iPad including permanent free internet access. I know it's a stretch but I need him to have internet access--the point of this column is to describe how a kid can self-educate well with just nature and an iPad.

4. Regarding describing their daily routine, presence of goats etc, that would take up too much space in the column. I just wanted enough story to establish a situation in which a kid would have to craft his own education with nothing more than nature and an iPad.

5. Same reasoning behind not developing the characters--Mary, Luke, nor Grace.

6. Re the scholarship, again, of course, in a traditional novel or screenplay, you create lots of obstacles for characters. As they say, story is: Get him up in a tree. Throw rocks at him. Get him down. But that would take up too much space in a column. I just wanted to provide a plausible explanation for how he got a degree without paying. Because Western Governors offers has no campus and is non-profit, its cost structure is low and can afford full scholarships more readily.

Maria Lopez said...

It's too bad you don't want to develop this as a story, it could be really interesting.

Also the problem with free Internet can be gotten around by assuming Mary has a large library. Another helpful thing about a paper library is that electronics will break eventually while books last a long time in a dry vermin free environment.

I'm skeptical of the ability of children to learn to read using electronics but they can certainly advance that way once they learn the rudiments. I don't think it damaging to your story if Mary taught him some basic phonics.

Also, in my experience, my daughter advanced in reading by playing educational games off of CD's, so if there is a working computer Luke could learn without net access.


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