Friday, 21 January 2011

Why Not 'Let' A Child 'Try' School ... if the child wants to?

Because, in my opinion, school is not benign. School are actively damaging, particularly (but not solely) to self-esteem and natural confidence in the intrinsic rewards of learning.

If I could accompany my kids to school the whole time they were 'trying' it, I think it might be possible at all to have them experience that in a way that was neutral or even educational. But left alone in that overwhelmingly persistent and pervasively indoctrinated system... particularly at a time when they're going through major brain development and having a hard time even driving their usual lives with balance and ease. 

Going into that system alone might make it so that some of what happens there is handled beautifully --a direct conflict, say. But then there is All Of The Rest. Most of which is never handled, never addressed and is very rapidly seen as 'normal.' Or perhaps 'inevitable.'


  • The seat-to-seat nastiness that the teacher sees but doesn't address (because, really, who has time, and they're sitting quietly). 
  • Or all of what the teacher doesn't see. 
  • There is the teacher-down bullying that is directed at the kids the teacher doesn't like (which is no biggie for the kids who are likeable...unless they're sensitive to the struggles of others).
  • There is the casual and ongoing violence in the halls and grounds. 
  • The tremendous energy of resistance to the system itself that is sometimes just 'forgetting' and inertia, but is often outright rebellion --where does that observation go? 
  • The basic lack of civility which (it has been my observation) homeschoolers are used to and expect --how to handle that, how to see it without it affecting the collective of 'this is how I behave in the world' a child's already gained. 
  • What to do about the errors in the textbook the teacher is marking based on the incorrect answer key? 
  • How to approach the subject that's being taught by the teacher who doesn't understand it or visibly dislikes it?
  • What about the clowning, distractions and utter disrespect for the teacher --notably more pronounced when teachers are insecure or incompetent? Do we sit quietly while the struggling teacher is being tormented? Do we laugh? Do we try to moderate it? Model more respectful approaches?
Do you stand up to the teacher about the bullying seen but not addressed? Every single instance of it or is there some scale of 'that's not bad enough to comment on'? What about the sexual assault? What about the child who is utterly ignored? What about the one getting a disproportion of the school's or teacher's attention? What do we do about the kids who are left to flail about, or sit dully until their aid comes back tomorrow? Nothing? Anything?

What about the lack of respect for the humanity, body wisdom and personal pace of everyone except the strongest willed and most confident? 


It was not lost on me in the system that affected me deeply, and for years, that I alone was allowed to wander the halls during class time, get up and leave a lecture while the teacher was speaking (without a murmur of reproach) or completely fail to hand in any portion of an assignment without it negatively affecting my grade. Somehow, I managed to import a sense that 'Linda's doing something else that's important' into teacher's heads --or I was far more trouble to deal with than I was worth-- or both, so I was respected (or at least not stomped on) when I felt the need to move around, or believed I knew enough about this subject already, or whatever provoked me to routinely leave the classroom and, say, go have a smoke. I was marked present for classes I spent at the orthodontist.


All of this, without even talking about the quality or composition of the curriuculum, its relevance in today's world, the subjectiveness of grading, the pervasive and contrived competition, the propaganda, the age-segregation and sexism inherent in the system.


Why not let a child try school, if the child wants to? Because school is not benign environment, and few adults understand the ramifications of even a short indoctrination into that system.
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photo Classroom Panorama by grampymoose, used with permission (Creative Commons, attrib/share alike)

6 comments:

  1. I feel the same way about television and junk food. And running in front of trucks. Not everyone does.

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  2. Indeed, not everyone does. Not everyone has to. That's the joy of a free country --personal responsibility and buckets of choice.

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  3. Against my better judgement, I let my 12yr dd attend school this September. Here we are in January and I am pulling her out...why you ask? For everything Linda sadly mentioned in her article but particularly the horrible mean taunting about stupid things (her clothes) and the fact that when she is not being picked on for her clothes she is being completely alienated by the entire class :( I should have known better - as I "listen" to you regularly on our unschooling site! Linda, you were right! (I know that you of all people don't need to hear that but I thought I would throw it out there as it is the truth!)

    Momof5

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  4. Although I agree that some school experience can be damaging, I think you are making huge generalisations.

    Yes, school is subjective and competition,propaganda and segregation rule, but so what?

    Do all these reasons qualify us to limit our children from experiencing difficult situations?

    How many homeschooling parents were homeschooled themselves? I would hazard a guess at 5% or less.

    Most of us attended school and still managed to become independent thinkers. To succeed in life, and even carry some POSITIVE memories from our schooled days.

    I think being over protective and not allowing children to have their own experiences is equally as harmful.

    Do I think school is for everyone - no.

    Is homeschooling for everyone - no.

    Should a student be "allowed" to try school? - yes.

    There are many valuable lessons to be learned in school, admittedly little to do with the curriculum and lots to do with how to live in a world that is not always going to accommodate you.

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  5. Hi, Anonymous!

    You seem to be mistaking 'fantasy life' for 'real life'. The choice isn't school v. a perfect-world fantasy, it's school v. the real world. Where beloved pets and grandparents and siblings die, sisters get the front seat, there aren't enough chocolates for everyone to get three... parents go bankrupt, or get divorced, or lose best friends. Or siblings arrive unwanted and unwelcome. Or clothes don't fit off the rack.

    Since it is impossible in any context to stop any human being from having 'their own experiences,' I'll leave that comment completely on its own.

    Being 'overprotective' included, in my house, giving each 3yo her own knife --a very, very sharp knife. There is a difference that is extremely real between 'treated like a unit in a crowd while being grossly under-supervised' and home life, and it's not the artificial either/or of school or oppressive overprotection you imply. See the post Hover Parent (http://lindaclement.blogspot.com/2011_02_01_archive.html) for more on that subject.

    Do you think children 'should' be allowed to try smoking? It has been long held by the opinion of experts that smoking is 'not that bad' and 'may even be beneficial in some contexts'... or will we just follow the zeitgeist of the day which says 'it's right for everyone'. Sorry, I mean 'wrong for everyone.'

    There are many valuable lessons to be learned in Dauchau. Your point is well taken. You are correct, no individual is ever going to be accommodated by the world. Why do you think that the world is inadequate to the task of pointing that out? Do you think no one found out before Prussia invented mass childhood education in the 1700s?

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  6. I think that most parents who homeschool were publicly schooled as you say Anonymous but I think you are wrong when you say that we turned out great from that system so it stands to reason that there are good things to be had in that environment. My husband and I feel very strongly that we are doing well now IN SPITE OF rather than BECAUSE OF public school. His way was to ignore the teachers who told him that computers were only for games and would never be a real job. My way was just to ignore everyone and skate out of school with a 1.6. In college, where I chose my own path, I was an A student.

    I want my kids to know about real life. To meet people of different ages and situations. Public school is not real life. It's the only time, the ONLY time, where you will ever find yourself with a group of people who are exactly your same age and generally the same socioeconomic standing. That's not how life is.

    Public school is damaging. It's not the teachers fault but it is damaging. With 30+ students to a class, what can a teacher really have time for other than crowd control. That's not where I want my kids.

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