Unschooling as capitalist ideal?

Got your attention with that one, didn’t I?    Let me explain.

We live in a capitalist country where the people who are most successful at capitalism are often perceived as corrupt and greedy (and sometimes that’s because they ARE corrupt and greedy) and therefore it is popular to view capitalism itself as something that breeds greed and corruption.   The Occupy Wall Street protests are in part about this perception.   My good friend Jeff Rutzky has been spending time down at the protests with his friend and artist De La Vega,  and his most popular poster in that setting is the one that says “Capitalism breeds dishonest men.”   (Don’t get me wrong, I love De La Vega’s stuff, particularly his “Become Your Dream” art, and the shirt that Jeff – standing to the right in the photo below – is wearing that says “Inspire Children to Become Powerful Thinkers”.

The artist De La Vega on the left and my friend Jeff Rutzky on the right

As far as the ‘dishonest men’ theme goes, I think it would be equally valid to say that “Communism breeds dishonest men”,  or maybe just “Politics breeds dishonest men” or even, “There will always be dishonest men in any system”  though that last one is way too vague  and a little long to be catchy.

Not all capitalism is bad.   As you know if you’ve been reading my blog over the last week or so, I’m reading Michael Ellsberg’s  The Education of Millionaires , which is basically a book on how to self-educate toward the goal of monetary success, although if you do things the way Ellsberg discusses, moral and spiritual success are likely to follow.    Most of the very wealthy and successful people interviewed either dropped out of college or didn’t go at all.   Some even dropped out of high school.   The utter lack of devotion to institutions of learning  is right in line with unschooling or life learning ( the perfect term in the context of Ellsberg’s book).

Except for one thing.

While it is true that many unschoolers grow up to have their own businesses – life learning being the perfect foundation for an entrepreneurial spirit – I have also noticed a distinct bias in much of the unschooling community against great wealth and capitalism.    So in other words if you have, for example, an organic farm it’s ok, but somehow making good money from it is suspect.   It’s cool to live off the land and eschew the trappings of comfort and wealth.   Reading Ellsberg’s book, after the first chapter, started to make me uncomfortable as I imagined the comments I might get from some in the unschooling community upon discovering that Ellsberg is a huge fan of capitalism and amassing wealth.    But in fact that issue is addressed in the book.   This is from Chapter 2 starting on page 98:

“One thing I see in common among all the successful self-educated people I’ve met – which is different from the way most other people think – is that they tend not to see a contradiction between living a comfortable life for themselves and helping others.  Most of us tend to hold these two as separate.  We tend to focus either on improving our own material circumstances without much attention to improving the world, or giving ourselves over completely to some cause (impoverished martyrdom).  These two spheres correspond roughly to the two main types of jobs recent college grads go for:  entry-level corporate jobs and entry-level non-profit jobs.

I never understood my fellow Brown graduates, who said they wanted to ‘make a difference in the world’, and then went into some $36,000 jobs licking envelopes at some nonprofit organization while eating ramen noodles at night.  Whatever difference spending one’s time licking envelopes for $36,000 a year makes in the world, it’s  a fairly low-leverage difference.  Furthermore, whoever ends up licking those envelopes didn’t need to study for four years in college to do so, and my fellow Brown grads who took these kinds of jobs could have spent their years between the ages of eighteen and twenty-two learning the skills and mind-sets of having a real impact on the lives of other people, the way the people in this book learned.   Instead, they take these kinds of jobs because they assume if there’s money, profit or commerce involved, it’s not making a difference, it’s greed.

The entrepreneurs in this book, in turn, understand that true giving generates wealth, and true wealth helps you give more.”

After reading this passage I thought  that if life learners can take the already enormous advantage they gain by not spending the first 16-18 years of their lives being programmed to follow directions and doing as they’re told,  and capitalize on it by implementing the skills Ellsberg discusses at length in his book, we might really be on to something.

Imagine ten, fifteen or twenty years from now if the top entrepreneurs, top job producers, top wealth earners and top philanthropists in this country were life learners;  people who’d never spent any time in schools or universities.   What would people say about unschooling then, if that were the case?     Instead of furthering images of capitalist greed, they could be examples of capitalism at its’ best.

Something worth striving for, don’t you think?

About Amy

Amy Milstein was born and raised on a farm in Indiana, but after 20+ years considers herself a full-fledged New Yorker. She is married with two kids, who do not go to school but are instead life learners. This means they learn by living in the world (real life ) instead of hearing about it and simulating it in a classroom. With her family, Amy loves to travel, read, watch movies, write, sew, knit - the list is endless.
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One Response to Unschooling as capitalist ideal?

  1. Miriam AKA Grandma says:

    Some eschew monetary returns because it is “more righteous”.