Wander into the comments section of any online article about unschooling, or even homeschooling, and you will discover many many people who are outraged by the concept. The thought that kids could live a childhood without the interference of school? Well, it just plain scares people.
They say things like…
‘The kids will never have any sort of life’
‘Without structure, they won’t know how to cope with adult life’
‘They will never have the skills to get a decent job and leave home’
‘The kids will be unemployable’
‘These kids will end up with mental health issues’
‘Children need to socialise!’
Yes, people are very very afraid.
Anyone would think school was some kind of magical wonderland where a perfect childhood and amazing prospects for adulthood were guaranteed.
Let’s take a minute to just congratulate school on pulling off that massive deception in the relatively short time since it was invented. That takes some serious effort.
Now, back to reality. As for school being a safe option, a guarantee… for most children that is just not the case.
The risks of sending a child to school are far greater than those of unschooling…
The risk of losing yourself
“We get to age 17 and we’re expected to decide on a career path or a University degree and we have no idea what we want to do. Some people take a gap year to ‘find themselves’. And I wonder, when did they lose themselves?” – Getting Educated, Losing Yourself
Childhood is a time of exploring and discovering, both the world and yourself. But what if you spend the majority of your time being told what to do, what to wear, and what to think? How can you possibly come to know yourself? Rather than helping children discover their passions, school too often leaves them feeling unsure and directionless. At the end of this ‘education’ process, you’re supposed to make choices about what you want to do with your life when up until now you have not been allowed to make choices about even the simplest things such as when to eat, or when to use the bathroom? No wonder so many people end up feeling lost and needing to ‘find themselves’ later in life.
Supporting our children to grow and learn in ways that are meaningful and unique to them seems far less risky. It’s harder to lose yourself when you’ve always been free to be truly you.
The risk of disconnection
“One of the first effects of school is to break the bond between parents and children, when the children are five or younger. It breaks bonds between siblings, and replaces them with prejudices about age and grade, with rules against playing with kids of other ages, and with social pressure to be hateful and secretive” – Sandra Dodd
People talk often about the amount of disconnect in modern society and the loss of the ‘village’. It begins at such a young age when children are taken off to school, as if meaningfully contributing to life and learning from the adults around them can’t possibly be enough.
Children need to feel connected to their parents, to their siblings, to their extended family, to their community. When you spend most of the day, 5 days a week, apart from each other, that’s bound to impact on your relationship. Children were not made to be routinely separated from their families at 5 years of age or younger. Connection is such an important part of parenting. If we don’t feel connected we find ourselves in many struggles with our children, leading to more and more disconnection. It’s a vicious cycle, which is perpetuated by the daily separation of school.
The risk of losing confidence
“The lesson of report cards, grades, and tests is that children should not trust themselves or their parents but should instead rely on the evaluation of certified officials. People need to be told what they are worth.” – John Taylor Gatto
School is a tough place to try to hold onto your self-esteem. You are constantly tested, graded, and compared. You are pressured to be ‘better’ and threatened with ‘failure’. You must live up to other’s standards, not your own. How you feel is not as important as how other people feel about you.
This risk of losing confidence in yourself is high. Very high.
The risk to passion
“Because schools suffocate children’s hunger to learn, learning appears to be difficult and we assume that children must be externally motivated to do it. As a society, we must own up to the damage we do to our children…in our families and in our schools.” – Wendy Priesnitz
We have all witnessed the joy on a young child’s face when they learn something new. We marvel at their passion for learning that seems so rare to us. Children are born bursting to explore the world and find out everything they can. Nothing about this magically changes when they turn 5, except the introduction of school.
In school you are not free to learn what interests you, on your time schedule, to the level of detail you are ready for. You must now learn what you are told, when you are told, and be tested on how well you do it. It’s no wonder children begin to hate learning and actively resist anything that feels like school. Learning becomes work to be avoided. What a disservice we do to children.
The risk of bullying
One of the biggest arguments for sending children to school is that they need ‘socialisation‘. People seem to believe that humans don’t exist in the world outside of school and you won’t have any opportunities to interact with them. Clearly, that’s not true.
Let’s not pretend that school is the standard for socialisation. That it is not, in fact, failing at educating kids on how to interact civilly with each other. Every other day we hear about the ‘bullying epidemic’ on the news. Children are literally taking their lives. They don’t need to learn to ‘deal’ with this, they need to be protected from it. They need to know that it is not ok.
Bullying effects so many children every single day, never in a positive way.
“Children are not resilient; they are adaptive. In other words, they don’t simply ‘bounce-back’: they re-shape themselves.” – Robin Grille
The risk to mental health
“We would like to think of history as progress, but if progress is measured in the mental health and happiness of young people, then we have been going backward at least since the early 1950s.” – Peter Gray
The rise of mental health disorders in children should alarm anyone. This article and this video explain very well how the decline of play and freedom, and the increase in pressure and coercive schooling have contributed to our children’s suffering. Such control over children’s time and minds, such lack of autonomy and respect have consequences. Our children are paying the price.
School is not the safe option. School is a risk, in many ways.
People have no concept of what childhood looks like without school, and so they are afraid. Afraid of what might happen if they deviate from a well worn path. Better the devil you know, huh?
But the thing is, if you choose not to send your child to school, you’re not pushing them down that new and uncharted path on their own and hoping for the best. You’re walking with them. You’re there. Any problems you encounter, you encounter together. You can support them, guide them, and deal with any bumps before they become mountains.
School is not the safe choice. There is no 100% safe path or guarantees. But you can certainly minimise the risks.
“I feel ashamed that so many of us cannot imagine a better way to do things than locking children up all day in cells instead of letting them grow up knowing their families, mingling with the world, assuming real obligations, striving to be independent and self-reliant and free.” – John Taylor Gatto
An important note: I understand that for some children school is a safe haven where they are more likely to get their needs met than in the home environment. This is heartbreaking and I do not wish to take that away from those children at all. What I want is a better system of ‘schooling‘ for all children. Maybe children in these circumstances need change the most. This post is not dismissing child safety issues, but rather addresses erroneous viewpoints like those in the quotes above where people believe that all children need school because it is guaranteed to provide ‘better’ outcomes than homeschooling, even in loving and safe homes.