Wednesday, 12 November 2008

We Don't Need No Education

We don’t need no education
We don’t need no thought control
No dark sarcasm in the classroom
Teachers leave them kids alone

Most of you will probably recognise those lyrics as belonging to Pink Floyd’s ‘Another Brick in The Wall’, which I was listening to last night surrounded by candles (LM’s doing, btw) and those lyrics, no matter how many times I hear them, always hit a chord with me.

I’m a believer in free education, y’see. By that, I don’t mean education that doesn’t cost anything, although I do believe in that too; what I mean is education where youngsters are allowed to form their own opinions and conclusions rather than having to go along with what teachers and text books say is right, where the pressures of ‘performing’ are obliterated and where kids can be free from bullying, not only by fellow pupils but by teachers too.

Mainstream education may well be the right choice for some but for many it isn’t. I remember Lise’s first year of Junior school, and how she was reprimanded for not writing ‘joined up’. Oddly enough, the same teacher had earlier commented on how beautiful my hand-writing is, so I went to the school and asked her how she could punish my daughter for not writing in the way the school had decided was correct when my handwriting was perfectly acceptable and so was hers. The teacher had no answer other than “it’s school policy that children should be taught to write this way”. Not good enough I’m afraid. I pointed out that hand-writing is individual (hence why we have graphology) and the teacher had to admit defeat. I was not going to allow my daughter to be pressured into writing in a way that didn’t come naturally to her.

There have been many such incidences that, on the surface, may appear petty and insignificant, but they can have a huge impact on a child’s sense of ability. Everybody isn’t good at sport, math, language, science etc. We all have our areas in which we thrive and we all have things that we really don’t enjoy. By utilising the subjects that our children do enjoy, we are, I believe, giving them a far greater chance for the future than by pushing them to do well in areas that just don’t come easily to them. By doing so, I believe we’re bullying them - pulling rank - into being something they’re not.

And then there’s the playground bullying. I don’t care how much a school’s administrators insists that bullying doesn’t exist in their school, it does. It exists in each and every mainstream school I’ve ever encountered (and my kids have been to a fair few) and it isn’t easy to stop. Kids are bullied going to and from school, in the playground and in the classroom (just a look can be enough) and too many kids have already ended their lives because of it. My own children were traumatised by it and eventually I realised that there was an alternative - home education.

I’m sure there are good private schools around too, such as Steiner schools. I don’t have any experience with them so I couldn’t say, but a good friend of mine was once a teacher in a ‘free thinking private school’, teaching philosophy to five year olds in order to open up their minds and allow them to think for themselves, thus drawing their own conclusions and forming their own opinions. That has to be a good thing but we can do it ourselves too. Children need to be able to explore their minds, make mistakes and learn from them without chastisement, and learn to be true to themselves. This, I’m afraid, rarely happens in mainstream state schools.

All too often they’re ‘educated’ to be Just Another Brick In The Wall.

Sharon J


Photo Credit: LNX


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Kat said...

Really interesting post, Sharon.

I often wonder about the value you get out of a modern day school curriculum and set-up. These days as you say it just seems like an exercise in performance box-checking. We had some fantastic teachers, but the ones I always loved best were the free thinkers who taught what they were passionate about.

Bullying is so tragic. Also tragic is the fact that it still goes on between adults! I see it every day of my life and it makes me furious.


Grow Ur Own said...

I to have doubts about our education system. Both of my children are in the local authority schooling system, but unfortunately one of them seems to be having problems.

Not in the fact that he has difficulties in learning, in fact it is quite the opposite. He has been deemed "gifted and talented" and for a 12 year old has the learning age of a 16 year old apparently. However whilst his abilities have been noted, a good number of his teachers have problems keeping him stimulated enought to keep his mind focused.

He had always been a bright, very lively, free thinking, chatty boy and because of this and the fact he tends to finish his work quicker than the other children in class he quickly gets bored and starts chatting, and as such gets in trouble for it.

I am a disiplined parent and constantly remind him that this is not acceptable behaviour in the classroom environment. However, when asking the school about maybe moving him up or extra work to keep him occupied I have been told that it is not school policy to give a single child an advantage over others.

How are we supposed to help our children become forward thinking individuals when the system keeps them all like sheep in a pen?

I wish I could afford to send him to a more suitable school, but sadly that is not the case.

Any ideas on how I could resolve this situation would be greatly appriciated. x

Sharon J said...

@ Kat. Since the government introduced SATS things have, in my opinion, gone from bad to worse. Schools are now more interested in getting results across the board than they are in the abilities of the individual.

@ Grow Ur Own. What an awful situation for your son (and yourself) to be in. I'll be speaking to my friend who taught philosophy to children on Sunday, maybe he has some suggstions that would help. I'll get back to you on it :)

neimanmarxist said...

it's true but alternatives are so difficult to come by. i am terrified of the day that i have to send my kids off to be badly influenced by other children. what to do though?

WebSmith said...

The problem with our schools everywhere is that they have become oppressive and what they teach is controlled by the major corporations that now run our governments and also own the companies that print the textbooks.

Too many teachers don't like their jobs or kids and they hide out in the teachers' lounge at recess and talk about the little idiots in their classrooms and what they would like to do to them. In the meantime, the bullying goes on unsupervised. They like to say that it's not their job to raise our kids when our kids are with them more than they are with their parents during the school year and it most certainly is part of their job to nurture and provide guidance.

Kids don't respond to oppression and they see through the games that people play in order to control their minds and their behavior. The more intelligent ones are also the most sensitive ones and when they feel that neither the other kids or the teachers like them, it makes it emotionally hard for them to be successful in school.

The social setting at school is something that kids don't experience at home and teachers should be out guiding their students through it instead of sipping coffee or tea. If a student isn't learning, they should change the way they teach instead of trying to bully the student into changing.

wombat064 said...

Hi Sharon,
In Australia there is a growing movement of Home Schooling, where as the parents have a basic guideline set by the education dept. It has the advantages of learning the curriculum and a whole heap of life skills at the same time. There are also groups of home schoolers that get together and have sports days and outings. I i had known about this when my 2 girls were young, this would have been the way I would have educated them.


The Dotterel said...

Couldn't agree more, Sharon. I 'flunked' out of my own schooling (fed up with the learning factory) at age 15 and then - bizarrely - spent twenty years teaching in secondary schools. I think I thought that I could make a difference; now I know I can't. Home schooling's the answer!

Kirsty said...

I home educate my kids. I know it's not for everyone and not everyone agrees with it but I do it (among many reasons) to try and keep my kids as free thinkers, keep them from the bullying that goes on but mostly to keep them as kids. They grow up so fast!

The education system as it is today has never appealed to me. I just feel very lucky I found out about home education and feel like it's a choice for us. It's not perfect though and has its hard times too.

Sharon J said...

@ Neimanmarxist. Other than home educate them, I really don't know.

@ Websmith. I agree with most of what you wrote there. Bullying children into learning never has and never will work. My French teacher was a nasty cow but I still can't speak a word of French. Being as I'm fluent in Norwegian though, I doubt it's because I don't have what it takes to learn a language.

@ Wombat. Home education is becoming increasingly popular here too only once we take our kids out of school, that's it, no back up. And what's more, they're treated unfairly when they sit their exams.

@ The Dotterel. I flunked too. In fact, during the last two years of school, I spent more time bunking off than I did actually in the school. It wasn't because I didn't want to learn - I have a very enquiring mind - I just didn't like school.

@ Kirsty. Good on you! I do believe they stand a greater chance of growing up as free thinkers if they're educated away from the mainstream school environment.

L-Jay said...

I've learnt that there are actually seven ways of learning:


An important thing is to find out how a child learns first before choosing an school. That way you'll be able to make the best choice for the child.

I personally think one of the most important things a child can learn in life is how to learn ;)

Anonymous said...

Great post I'm a mixed Montessorian and Steiner all the way. Education should open the mind not close it, which is exactly, sadly what it often does...

Debi said...

But there are very good examples of state schools too. My son is fortunate enough to be at one. Although it's a massive inner city comprehensive, they seem to manage the trick of making each child feel that they count.

Bright children are encouraged and stretched. Extra support is given to those who are struggling. Behavioral problems are examined to work out the causes and address them.

Every member of staff that I have met has been committed and dedicated beyond the point of it being 'just a job'.

My son has just come from Saturday school - his presence there is entirely voluntary! He's doing course work for GCSE geography. He's being entered for the exam 2 years early.

Until very recently, this school had a very bad reputation (entirely undeserved in latter years but mud sticks). Unfortunately, such high standards of teaching and care are all too rare.

Sharon J said...

@ L-jay. That's an important point you made there, about teaching kids how to learn. If only more schools would help them develop their natural curiosity instead of suppressing it.

@ Frugal Trenches. I've never heard of Montessorian. Will have to look that one up :)

@ Debi. You're so lucky (or your boys are). My girls have both been to several state schools here in the UK and none of them have been anything like the school you've just described. If only they were all like that.