Friday, April 1, 2011

School made me feel dumb

But I'm not!

When school started failing my daughter I started to see that I had been brainwashed, and what was worse? I was participating in the brainwashing of my daughter. I believed that the only way to succeed in life was to finish school and get good marks ... but I hadn't finished school and I was still alive! And my partner hadn't finished school, and he was still alive, and most of my friends had either not finished school or hadn't done very well, but they were all smart people who were doing well in their lives.

So why did we all leave school? I left because I was afraid to fail. I knew I was smart enough to do really well if I applied myself ... but therein lies the truth of it. I wanted to enjoy life! I was young and having fun, and school wasn't fun, it was anti social and boring. And my friends who quit had all quit for the same reasons, and those who stayed and didn't do well had failed for the same reasons. Schools aren't for everyone, some people will do very well within the system, but others need to get out and experience life in order to discover their authentic selves. Schools glorify certain subjects (maths and english) but completely devalue others like art, drama, and music. My friends were all smart kids but they preferred and even excelled at humanities, and the institution simply loses those children between the cracks. How sad.

So, back to the subject at hand, and why I believed I was dumb. I went to a school to learn all the things deemed crucial for modern life but I hadn't really learnt much - or so I thought. I was literate, I was perfectly competent numerically, and I had all the skills necessary to acquire any further knowledge I needed, but I hadn't learnt anything about myself or what I was good at. I had also had my literate and numeric abilities completely undermined by all the institutional measurements. But the things I had never learnt, or had forgotten had never caused me a moment's grief. After having a good look at all this I concluded that the emphasis schools placed on many subjects was not proportionate to it's usefulness in real life.

So if I'd gone to school to learn all that stuff, and hadn't learnt it, what was going to make it different for my daughter or my sons? What would ensure that they came out of school with a healthy self awareness of their abilities? There just weren't any answers for those questions, and so there was really only one course of action I could take. I began unschooling my eldest daughter after almost six years of institutionalised learning, and I will always unschool the youngest two.

I know that when they reach adulthood they will have a good and functional level of literacy and numeracy, and they will have a really solid wealth of knowledge on a multitude of other subjects too. Those subjects won't always be neatly divided into categories like maths, english, science, history and geography, but that won't make their knowledge any less valuable.

As a teenager (and even as a child) I thought learning was boring, and when I was reading a book about dinosaurs or animals and learning really interesting stuff, I didn't realise I was learning, because no one had graded this knowledge on a scale of worthiness. No one tested me on it, no one valued what I learnt unless it was taught to me by a teacher. I used to see adults learning and envy them because clearly they enjoyed learning. What didn't occur to me was that they only studied the subjects they were interested in. And they only retained their knowledge because their memory was fueled by interest and practicality. The same goes for children. That is why children forget long division but remember the names of dinosaurs.

But not knowing how to do long division isn't an insurmountable obstacle! You are never too old to acquire new knowledge or skills, and in the mean time there are calculators and the internet and libraries and many other sources where one can obtain the necessary information for living. If not learning stuff at school and not passing exams means that for the rest of our lives we are destined to fail then there are some pretty big problems with society!

When I was a schooling mother I couldn't keep up with the institution in a way that it approved of, I felt like I was forever striving and falling short of the ideals. Neat tidy children, perfectly completed homework, perfect lunch boxes, and so on. I just didn't have the same values, I wanted a happy family and I didn't see how forcing my kids to learn about completely useless and uninteresting things was going to make them happy fulfilled adults. I didn't see how fighting about homework was beneficial to education. I didn't see how any of it was actually going to work as a long term plan because it didn't inspire any internal motivation it was all external coercion and valuation - or devaluation.

So if school left you feeling confused, like you were a failure, like you were dumb or left you with no idea what you wanted out of life, maybe you would have done better unschooling. If your kids are struggling with maths but brilliant at computers, or they can't spell but they are excellent at painting or sculpting, maybe your kids would be better unschooled too! You know the expression "don't put all your eggs in one basket"? Schooling has been used as the only basket for far too long.


Mamayali said...

Lovin' your work xxx

The Seed That Grew said...

Awesome! I found you on the Unschoolers Get Together page. Love your post. You certainly pinned the tail on the donkey :) Look forward to reading more.. Angel x

MissMaeve said...

"It is a miracle that curiosity survives formal education."
Albert Einstein