Do we have the right to educate children?
If I asked most people this question I think their first responses would be ‘Yes, of course! Every child has the right to an education!’. We are told this all the time- ‘Education can change the world!’, ‘It is a parents responsibility to make sure their children get a good education’. Schooling is compulsory where I live from 6.5 years of age, whether that’s mainstream school or homeschooling. But what is an ‘education’? And do we have the right to give it to everyone regardless of if they want it or not?
An education (or, what is taught in school) is pretty well defined here. We can see the curriculum online anytime we like. It is clearly laid out for us what a child should learn year by year. It appears that education is the filling up of a child with a pre-determined set of knowledge. But is there really only one type of education? And is it the same for every child? And who gets to decide what is important enough to include? Who decides what things are more important than others? Looking through the curriculum it’s easy to see that a lot of education is centered around ‘academics’. We get the distinct impression that things like reading, writing, and mathematics are more important than the arts. But what if you’re an artist or a dancer? Surely a one size fits all approach is very limiting? Surely being ‘successfully educated’ means something different for each individual person according to their strengths, interests, and what they plan to do in their lives.
Which brings me to the point I’ve been pondering…does a person have the right to dictate to another person what they should learn? How they should spend years of their time? What are the most important things for them to know? It’s generally accepted that yes, we do have this right. But if you step away from social norms for a moment and really think, it all starts to seem a little…absurd. Or is it just me?
Let’s say we’re talking about adults for a minute, not children. For example, I do not know much about geography. My husband has told me a thousand times where certain countries are but I forget almost instantly. I am just not all that interested. It’s not something I need to know right now. If it becomes relevant in the future I don’t doubt my ability to learn whatever I need to learn (there’s this useful little thing called Google). What if someone told me that learning about geography is very important and something I have to do. That I had to spend one hour a day studying geography for the next year. I would likely tell them to get lost. I have the right to decide what interests me, what is relevant to me, and what I spend my time learning. Should children not be afforded the same right?
‘But children aren’t capable of making decisions about their education!’ I hear you say. What if they are? Just because the ‘normal’ thing to do is to give children a broad and shallow education in everything and hope that this sets them up to be able to choose a path when they are ‘grown up’, doesn’t mean this is the only way, or the right way, or the best way. It’s the easiest way to ‘educate’ a large number of people at a time, maybe. But easy is not always best. There are lots of children all over the world right now who are leading the way in their own education successfully. I have four of them in my home. There are many accounts of children who have grown up learning through life and learning what interests them. I really believe that education is not so much knowing a bunch of facts, but knowing how to learn. When you know how to learn (which you are born knowing!), are supported in your learning, and are curious and motivated, you can learn absolutely anything you set your mind to. And if there are things that don’t interest you right now, does it matter if you don’t learn them? Just as an adult learns new things as they become relevant and necessary in their life, so can a child. Learning something that is not meaningful to you does not seem like time well spent.
“Watch your child’s eyes, what makes them go dull and dead, what makes them brighten, quicken, glow with light. That is where learning lies.”
– Carol Black
So if ‘education’ isn’t something to be standardized, if it’s different for each individual child, and if children are in fact capable of leading the way in their own education, then should they not be afforded that right? How can they not have the leading role in something as important as their own education? If you can’t have control of your own mind, what you learn about, what interests you, and what is meaningful to you, then what can you have control over? Why are we viewing education as something that we have to do to children, instead of something that each person accomplishes for themselves? People want to learn, you couldn’t stop them learning if you tried. It’s not something that we need to force or dictate.
Now that doesn’t mean we just say ‘ok kids, you’re on your own, go educate yourselves!’. Of course they need our help and guidance, as they do with many things. We can trust them and let them lead the way without taking over. We can respect them and their minds by being a facilitator of learning instead of an enforcer. Instead of education being something that you give to a child, it can be something a child accomplishes on their own with the help and guidance of others. We can give them freedom to learn about what they want to learn about, in their own time.
I’ve come to think that maybe insisting children from the age of 5 to 16 years spend the majority of their waking hours during the week on adult directed learning, is not something we have the right to do. That’s a lot of childhood, a lot of life, decided for them by someone else. I’m not comfortable with that. Are you?
“The secret of education lies in respecting the pupil. It is not for you to choose what he shall know, what he shall do. It is chosen and foreordained and he only holds the key to his own secret.”
– Ralph Waldo Emerson
YES!! This is a truly brilliant post and something I am so passionate about.
I couldn’t agree more with the weighted hierarchy of subjects.
I love this: “”Surely being ‘successfully educated’ means something different for each individual person according to their strengths, interests, and what they plan to do in their lives.”
Thank you 🙂
I so agree!! So much of a person’s life belonging to somebody else isn’t okay… Kids deserve to be free 🙁
Love this article. I know school for me was all about learning as little as I possibly could about the subjects I couldn’t stand and the ones I enjoyed I would have done anyhow. I’ve always loved reading and literature in many forms but I usually felt compelled to shut books as I was required to do horrible things like Mathematics which I was always destined to be abysmal at. The system however seems to be designed if you are actually good at something then less time should be given to that and much more should be focused on making students endure subjects which they loathe? Go figure. These are exactly the reasons I have undertaken home education and just now my daughters are insisting I teach them basics such as grammar , punctuation and mathematics. Do you know how quickly children learn when they are actually asking you to teach them something? Very revealing if you have the courage to wait till they are wanting more. Thanks again for some great reflections.
Doesn’t make much sense does it! And I agree, when they’re ready to learn something it comes so easily.
Yes, by all means let’s educate our children. If anything it starts at home, not just in school. And it’s also important what kind of education we’re giving to our children. I want my daughter to know her true history, and how to treat other people. If we don’t educate our childrenn now, how will they ever make a difference in the decade to come? I love this post. That question hit me right away.
Thank you 🙂
So well said! I’m a school teacher turned home educator for the simple reason that school wastes so much of a child’s time doing things that they don’t need/want to be doing. Plus, to me, a true education starts with a foundation of human values. Ironically, I just started teaching education majors at a university and I can see how ‘ideal’ education must seem to governments and school administration. A hundred years ago, a school education could be a golden ticket to escape from poverty. But things are so different today! There is no such need for such a standardized approach to education.
Brilliant post. Something I’ve often pondered myself, especially when we were home educating. If we were told as adults, what to learn, when to learn it, how to learn it despite our preferences and that we must because we’re going to be tested on it, I think we’d all respond with something like ‘get lost’!! 😉
haha yes! Children should get the same rights 🙂
I completely agree! It seems like a waste to send kids to traditional public school in the US these days. Standardized teaching is so over and doesn’t benefit the kids anymore. The spend more time worrying about quizzes an tests than actually learning or retaining the material long-term.
You’ve just summed up a few months of my own musings 😉 Love this article!
My daughter, now 15, often tells me how much she loves the way we live our lives (we home educate, natural learning or unschooling style) and that she would not have the time to explore all the things she is interested in if she ‘had to go to school’. She gasps and rolls her eyes at the thought of being off and out the house by 8:30am and then have to do what someone else says for the next 7 hours or so, and being told what she had to wear etc etc etc…
It had me thinking about how much I love the relationship I have with her especially(I have three other children younger than her), as she is growing into a young woman very quickly, and I hear stories from some parents of teenagers and how very difficult and strained the relationship is for them. It made me understand that the way I treat my teenager as another person in the household, not ‘just another kid’ is making life so much richer and more beautiful. I have no right to tell her what or when or where or why, but I can always ask, and respect her feelings and wants and dislikes, just as I would with anyone else I share a space with. Simply by me being a facilitator of information access has enabled her to learn many things all by herself and she excels at those things she is suited to, has a talent for or is just completely ‘in’ to.
Thanks for going through this topic slowly and picking out your thoughts. Much appreciated. Next time anyone asks me about this sort of thing I’ll just send them the link to this post 😉 heeheheh 🙂
So good to hear that giving them this freedom and respect when they’re little really pays off in the teenage years. Thank you 🙂
If I asked most people this question I think their first responses would be ‘Yes, of course! Every child has the right to an education!’.
This first sentence sums up what is wrong with education. The question was not ‘Do children have a right to education’ but ‘do we have a right to educate THEM’
Call it semantics, but it’s important. Yes, all children have a right to an education BUT only if they want it – as the author stated. Most people asked this question and give the above quoted answer, have been brought up in an educational system that has taught them not to actually listen to what is being asked of them and not to think. And that comes out of why our current education system started.
It was never about the children, it was about baby sitting the workers of the new factories’ children and training them up to take their place in those factories when older.
Wow! Love the way you tackle the difficult questions! I couldn’t agree with you more! I am also a former elementary school teacher and now a part-time unschooling mom. I say part-time because my son attends a self-directed learning type of school three mornings per week this year, as he is an only child and needed others, of all ages, to interact with besides myself. 🙂
I believe anyone who loved school as we knew it, is either lying, romanticizing, peaked in high school, or believes, “If I had to endure it, then my child should have to as well gosh darn it.” It breaks my heart to hear family and friend’s stories about their own children’s struggles and dislike for school. I want to shake them and shout in their faces, “PLEASE DO NOT DO THIS TO YOUR SWEET AND INQUISITIVE CHILD! THERE IS ANOTHER WAY!!”
Thank you for spreading this message!
Well said. Thank you for putting into words what I can not.
Not because I don’t know it to be true in my bones but because I fear (and I don’t use the term loosely). I fear that my husband and my methods of educating our children will not be accepted by those that make the rules. They who have never spent a day with my child let alone ever met them.
I on the other hand, have been with them for 5.5 years (+7.5 months) and know them better than anyone else. Except maybe themselves. Yes, at such a young age, they know what they want and don’t want. As leaders, guiders and parents, we listen to their cues and support them in their goals. Whatever they may be. Currently, my daughter is interested in makeup and my son trains.
Fortunately, I am able to stay at home so, if they don’t want to go to school they don’t have to. Interestingly, my daughter goes to school 1/2 of the year; in two different countries, in two different languages with two different cultures and loves it and her time off equally. My son wants nothing to do with school and sending him would break him. I am 110% positive that both of them will grow up to do great things but most importantly, I hope that they grow up to be happy. And, if I knew what I had to do to make that happen, I would do my best to make it so. To me, happiness is the ultimate measure of success.
Knowledge is power, but is power freedom? X inspiring post x
I understand what you are saying… Let the kids follow what they love at a young age and leave out all the unnecessary stuff/un interesting balongna. This exists even into college when having to take one or two years of classes that pertain nothing to what you intend on doing for a living. (Let me know if I’m way off here.. Ha). Also, do you think this travels into adult-hood? I love what I do for a living… But I get bored… I’m always actively seeking to learn something new or have the feeling I should be doing something different. If I had the opportunities to explore more of my interests at a younger age would I be in a different spot now?? Just a thought :).
I agree with u, awesome post. Very “thinkfull”…
This struck me most when I was attending University. There we were, adults, capable of managing our own learning, and capable of knowing how best we learned things. I studied Computer Science, a subject decidedly not suited to the chalk-and-talk method preferred by most university lecturers. Most people tended not to attend the lectures (since the slides were available online, and lectures consisted mostly of having the slides read to us with a bit of added filler). As a result, they started taking attendance, telling us that if we didn’t turn up to the lectures, we wouldn’t be given any help if we struggled with anything.
It annoyed a lot of students that attendance for a poor teaching method was being enforced with threats of withdrawn learning support. It annoyed us more that we were being treated like we were incapable of making our own decisions about how best to learn the subject matter.
There were subjects I hated in school. There were some that were so poorly taught that there were students who got better results from playing truant in order to read study books released for the subject rather than listen to the misinformed teacher. We made multiple complaints about the teacher, voicing concerns that the was doing it wrong. They were brushed off by the department, right up until the exam took place and few of us got above a C grade.
How on earth can we feel we have the right to educate youngsters when many of those charged to do so lack the competence to educate them?
Yes yes yes!! I didn’t think about university but I was the same. Lectures seemed like such a waste of time. I preferred to read the material and teach myself and then just ask if I had any questions.
That’s the question!!! Who decides, right?!
I like your writing. And, of course, you are right. Years and decades and centuries and cultures all over the world have proved it. I have four grown young adults who learned by way of Charlotte Mason. She is an author whom I revere steadily the way I do CS Lewis. My children have not yet lost an inkling of curiosity, they are self motivated to achieve what their father and I could never have, they are musical and love art. Most important, though, each is the master of his vessel. This is linked directly to being taught by life itself. Life is not easy. It isn’t academic. There are no shortcuts. Walking the path beside them, discovering along with them, discussing principles with them, riding in the car talking about astronomy with them, crying with them when something is especially beautiful or hard, racing the clock doing drills….things that no parent should miss out on, these are the teachers of which we never tire. How wonderful life is! Thank you for the happiness you have here!
I found your blog some days ago and now I spend every free minute reading it. So many great posts about important topics – I love it! The problem is I live in Germany and homeschooling is forbitten. I might lose my children (my dictionary says child custody) if I try. This is so said, we got one more year for enjoying our families live since my oldest was just turning six last summer but this year she has to start school.
But at least I can recommend your wunderful blog to interested friends – maybe many “free thinking” parents can work for the right to decide about our childrens education.
Oh thank you Maria, glad to have you here!
I’m so sorry homeschooling isn’t an option for you 🙁
Provocative and persuasive.
The books they read at school, made my kids frustrated. Now they go to library and pick up books they like- the really pretty ones with lot of illustrations and great stories. For teacher it might seem my children are reading baby books- but they are so nice- even I enjoy reading them and look through ilustrations:)
Love this. We run a democratic/free school in Montana (Glacier Lake School) and I’ll be sharing this with our community!