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