Against a Xeroxed Education




“Xerox” is a great metaphor for our educational system. It’s one of those brand names that has become synonymous with the product it represents due to successful marketing, longevity, and popularity—like Band-Aid, or Popsicle, or Q-tips. We identify strongly with the brand name because we’ve heard it, read it, seen it on TV, and bought it so often that it becomes a generic monopoly on the item itself—the copy machine, the adhesive bandage, the ice pop, the cotton swab.

As consumers, we tend to be fiercely loyal to these brands. We think of them as mainstream, reliable, even comforting. And we come to accept them over time as the product itself, the real deal, regardless of price or quality.

Because these products sell well, they are often given prime real estate in the supermarket, pharmacy, or appliance store. Displayed at eye level and at arm’s length, we easily forget that other choices are readily available. We simply don’t see them because they aren’t in our peripheral vision. This is the tipping point for the successful marketing of any brand. When we buy without thinking, they have us exactly where they want us.

In this same way, over time, School has become the generic brand for education; just as Student has become synonymous with the person being taught, when in fact “Student” could readily be replaced with “Consumer.” We continue to accept the School brand name without question despite an ever-growing dissatisfaction with compulsory education, making text book companies, the test-writing industry and the general business of school quite successful. At the same time, we have bought into and continue to support the corporatization of education through homogenized curricula, depersonalized learning, and standardized testing as acceptable defects.

Rather than turning to another choice, completely overhauling the product, (or taking it off the market altogether), we repeatedly try to “fix” school, throwing catchy slogans and billions of dollars at the education industry, clinging to the possibility of reform through repackaging, while teachers, who might hold more insight into the defects and possible remedies, remain consistently underpaid and stripped of any input into how we might improve upon the product.

Choosing a “xeroxed” brand of education for our children also means we are subjecting them to a mass, one-size-fits-all learning platform that doesn’t allow for individuality, creativity, or freedom of thought and expression. Supporting the school brand without considering alternative options is a blatant form of educational bias. Any time something becomes a packaged commodity with a marketing machine behind it (and a direct path to Big Finance)—whether it be seeds, clothes, wine, food, or education—the essence of the thing has lost its authenticity. Those who push for a globalized agenda are merely phantoms of progress who have highjacked the very idea of democratic learning.

School is not a brand holding a monopoly on learning, and we need to stop feeding it as such. It’s time to open our eyes and see that there are valid alternatives to the faulty wiring of compulsory schooling and corporatized testing. And they’re right there in front of us on the educational shelf in the form of homeschooling, self-directed learning, open source course platforms, democratic learning centers, nature/wilderness programs, community volunteer opportunities, and even your local library or art museum. In fact, they have been there for some time now. It’s time to dust them off and let them shine. We need to help our children forge their own path to a democratic future based on freedom of educational choice.


This essay is an excerpt from the book, “Everything I Thought I Knew: An Exploration of Life and Learning” available here.

4 thoughts on “Against a Xeroxed Education

  1. Ellen…. as always…. thank-you for writing and saying the stuff (so elegantly… so beautifully)… that’s already in my head!!! Now… tell me… WHAT small island in Greece are you living on? Is there a post about that?? My husband (as you know) is Greek… and we’ve also been toying with the idea of hanging on a Greek isle for a bit. If you’ve blogged about that, I’d love to know where!!!! I’ve shared this post on my FB page too…. (I need to stop shying away from the unschooling conversation due to fear-of-conflict)… anyhoo! Would love to know your recent news, etc…. and as soon as I get on my iPad (which has the iBooks app unlike this blasted old laptop)…. I’m gonna download that book of yours too!!! X

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks HAT! So happy to hear from you and also a bit telepathic. I was just reading your latest post on FB yesterday about all the well-deserved, great stuff going on for you and I thought, “I really need to get in touch with Heather!” I’ve got your email address, so I’ll send you a long message in the next few days.Too much to write here! 😜


  2. Ellen, making conscious choices about anything—school, food, even wine–forces us both to think and to take responsibility. It’s much easier to let others do the heavy lifting. Plus, that makes it easier to push the blame away from oneself should things go south. Taking that little detour, looking toward what’s on the periphery instead of blindly reaching out for what’s easiest and most accessible, is too hard for most people. But oh, is it ever rewarding!

    Liked by 1 person

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