I drove past a school recently and noticed the sign out the front that read something about ‘inspiring young minds’.
A comforting thought. That is absolutely what parents sending their children off to school each day want to hear. That their children will be inspired, empowered, motivated, successful. But while it’s comforting, I can’t agree that it’s altogether accurate.
In reality, school is a place where children are disempowered, and that is definitely not inspiring.
“We must understand the way schools by their very nature disempower children, place conditions on their ability to have their needs met, and perpetuate the paradigm of control and power.” – Teresa Graham Brett
6 Ways Schools Disempower Children
1. Teaching the need to be taught
The first lesson of school is that you need to be taught. You are no longer free to learn on your own, at your own pace, in your own time. That is not good enough. School is here to get you up to standard. To actively teach you things that people in authority deem important for you to know, despite the fact they have never met you.
It is assumed that you would never adequately learn enough on your own. You are no longer seen as capable, but in need of constant direction. Eventually, you will come to believe these things about yourself too. Thirteen years of indoctrination will do that to a person.
2. Lack of autonomy
In school your right to autonomy is removed. There are rules about how you must dress, when you can eat or use the toilet, what you must learn, when you may speak, how you must sit, when you can stand, if you are permitted to even run around as kids should be able to, what games you can play, and much more. Every minute of your life is micromanaged so that you are making very few decisions for yourself.
We are told this teaches children ‘personal responsibility’ and how to cope in the ‘real world‘. Yet, there are close to zero chances for personal responsibility when everything you do is dictated by someone else. It is likely that when you are finally set free into the ‘real world’ no one will dare try to micromanage you to such an extent because you have earned the status of ‘adult’. Now, having had little practice in making decisions for yourself, you are somehow supposed to be able to manage that. Good luck!
3. School in not consensual
In school, consent is not a consideration. It does not matter whether you want to be there or not. You have no choice. It does not matter what you would like to learn, or what interests you. You must learn the same things as every other child your age or you will be punished.
Consent is an extremely important concept for every person to understand, but it cannot be taught in an environment where people are forced to be there. That is just not believable at all.
4. Grading and comparison
Children in school are pitted against each other. They are tested, graded, and compared. Whether you are the top or the bottom of your class, this is not an empowering situation. Either way, your worth is determined in relation to others and that is a very shaky foundation.
5. Overriding natural learning
“Children are biologically predisposed to take charge of their own education. When they are provided with the freedom and means to pursue their own interests, in safe settings, they bloom and develop along diverse and unpredictable paths, and they acquire the skills and confidence required to meet life’s challenges. In such an environment, children ask for any help they may need from adults. There is no need for forced lessons, lectures, assignments, tests, grades, segregation by age into classrooms, or any of the other trappings of our standard, compulsory system of schooling. All of these, in fact, interfere with children’s natural ways of learning.” – Peter Gray
Children are not designed to sit at desks and listen to teachers all day. This is not how learning happens. In school they are taught that their own natural instincts are wrong. That they cannot trust their innate ability to learn. That they must override what their brains are telling them to do, for their own good.
6. Hierarchy of power
“All educational institutions are based, to greater or lesser degrees, on relationships of control. Teachers, in our dominant culture, are set up to exert power and control in the classroom. The position of teacher is believed to carry with it a particular kind of authority that includes having special knowledge that should be passed on to children as well as the power of the institution to enforce behavioral norms.” – Teresa Graham Brett
In school there is a very clear power hierarchy. Adults are in charge, students do what they’re told. It is abundantly clear to any child in school that they have very little power over their own lives. If they try to break free from the control, they will be punished. If they meet expectations, they will be rewarded for their compliance. People do not feel empowered within a system based on control and oppression, that much is obvious.
It’s a nice idea that there could be a place that’s perfect for children, provides free education, empowers and inspires. But, that place is life. School in it’s current form is a very poor comparison.
If we want different for our children, then let’s stop pretending and actually see school for what it is. The first step in any change is identifying the problems, not glossing over them. School, by it’s very nature, is not an empowering place for children.
Choose life instead.