Schooling our kids out of learning

There was a bright little pre-schooler running through the town the other day. She was on an adventure away from mum. She stopped suddenly, turned round and realised there was an awful lot of people who weren’t mum. Her face dropped.

Mum, ever watchful, called out to her and she went running back happily. Despite that slight panic at mum being momentarily out of sight, she didn’t hesitate to go off and explore again. After all, there’s such an intriguing amount to learn – about everything, why would she not?

Twelve years later and learning doesn’t look so appealing. In fact most of her inclination to learn has been switched off, like for many young people.

What happened?

My theory is that schooling happens.

What happens is that we corral our wonderfully idiosyncratic and diverse children into institutions which enforce comparison and competition in their most destructive forms, judge them by a narrow set of margins only a particular few could hope to excel at, lead them to believe that anything else they might be good at is unimportant, stress them witless by endless irrelevant testing, and expect them to develop emotionally, socially, intellectually and personally within that unfortunate climate.

It has always seemed a bit ludicrous to me.

This schooling of our children is putting them off education and learning. Education of their whole being, of their diverse potential, individual talents, and original personalities, all of which are essential to the longevity of our world.

Instead we are chiselling them down into one set of talents, one way of thinking and performing, measurable by a narrow set of definitions, invented by politicians who are ignorant of education, out to impress those parents only interested only in social stature or getting the kids off their hands.

Harsh words maybe, but how many politicians know about the world outside their elite existence – let alone what’s useful for survival in it? And I’ve come across many parents who only want scores and grades for their own adult gain, or their kids minded; there are relatively few who’ve actually thought it through and reached an understanding about what’s good for their individual developmentally.

Childminding aside, the fallacy that most believe is that kids need teachers, tests and schools to learn, develop and progress towards a fulfilling and productive life.

But in reality they don’t, as many successfully home educating families are proving.

What they need instead is to be happy, confident, interested, curious and motivated like the little girl running through the precinct. With those traits kids move themselves forward into work and life successfully, but there’s only a relative few who come out of schooling with those personal attributes intact.

And you have to define success.

Some would define a successful education from a consumerist point of view as the getting of lots of ‘good’ grades.

I wouldn’t. In fact, it’s hard to define education at all because any definition would suggest it is finite and it isn’t, it is ongoing and doesn’t have an end.

My definition of a successful education would be so interlinked with what I consider a successful life to be which has nothing to do with getting anything, grades or otherwise.

It is more to do with a practice of living that is happy and mindful and content for the most part, full of warm loving relationships, fulfilled through purposeful work, independent and responsible and that continues to build and grow and improve as we learn and educate ourselves. It’s something with encouragement young people could do for themselves – if they haven’t been put off.

Education, like life, should not be something our children have to endure till it ends so they can get on with real life, as many feel it is.

It should be an integrated part of their real lives from day one, ongoing and always accessible. It should inspire. It should be something youngsters are gagging to involve themselves in not playing truant from. And something that serves our needs as humans to develop creatively, personally and emotionally as well as intellectually. And finally, something that we should be brave enough to accept is not actually measurable as such, yet is still wonderfully successful.

Roll on the day….

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8 thoughts on “Schooling our kids out of learning

  1. This is something I have also been contemplating rather a lot. I really do believe, like you, that school serves to force children into boxes. It teaches them that there is one way to do things and that their opinions don’t count for much at all.
    As you know I home educate my boys and they learn in the way they choose. Their education is tailored for them which means that my eldest is learning in a structured way because that was his choice this year and my youngest is learning in a more hands on way. The main thing here is that they both have a choice and we respect their opinions & ideas.
    We learn all the time -‘ we’ because I don’t like the idea that learning is mainly for children. We learn in the forest, at the shops, in the library, in our pyjamas and in the playground. Everyone has fun and importantly they want to learn.
    This is another superbly inspirational post – thank you:)

  2. I love this and exactly how I feel about it all, my past school education and now my own HE children. My eldest has been through the school system, dropped out of 6th form as it got too much, he’s now attempting College because he doesn’t know what else to do or how to develop what he wants to do himself, I still don’t think he’s happy and suffers anxiety and depression. I wish I could have done for him what I am doing now for his siblings but we can only do what we know at the time. Thank you for your articles x

    • Lovely to have your comment – thank you so much. So sorry to hear about your son – he’s sounds so let down by the system. He sounds like he just needs some time to find himself – that’s the beauty of education that is often overlooked; it doesn’t have to happen in a time frame dictated by schools! Some of the Home Ed youngsters we know have found their paths much later than 16 and are flourishing all the better because of it! Wishing you all well. x

  3. My home schooled lovelies learn what they want, when they want (within reason..ie not at bedtime). They spent today building a shaduf to over our pond. They learned masses,they got wet, they played with real tools and had a blast. The last bit seems to me to be the bit that sums up home school, that they have a blast with their life. They are living right now. We use computers but my children rarely ask for them as there is always something to do and doing is more fun. I want to give them freedom and a spirit of adventure because I don’t need to worry about the learning, they are taking care of that in their own way. Now to decant the fish from the shaduf bucket back into the pond……;)

  4. Ross, you are so right – your suggestion that learning is ongoing reminded me of a thought I had recently. When asked about how my children could learn without being ‘taught’ I thought of my elderly grandmothers. Both are over the age of 80 and both competently (if not slowly!) email and surf the ‘net…including Facebook!!

    Neither had computers until the age of 75 and neither had been to computer classes or had any formal instruction. Their learning had stemed from a desire, necessity and lots of trial and error, coupled with a few pointers from family and friends when stuck. Funnily enough, this is exactly how my children learn too!!

    Learning is so much more than school!

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