Has School Changed?
School is different these days.
Or so they tell us.
If you dare criticise it, you are bound to hear this.
“Not MY school. It’s different!”, “It’s not all bad”, “It’s not how it used to be”, “You obviously don’t know what school is like these days”.
I dearly wish that were true.
But it’s not. Or at least your version of acceptable change is different to mine.
Do the children choose what they want to learn now?
Are they not required to be there for 6 hours a day, 5 days a week, whether they want to or not?
Do the children have bodily autonomy?
Are they still separated into groups based on age?
Do they get to spend as much time outside as they like?
Are they able to engage in unstructured, free, risky play?
Can they dress how they like? Have their hair how they like?
Can they learn about their interests? Follow their passions?
Have they got rid of testing? Standardization?
Have they stopped using coercive methods to make them learn?
Have they ditched punishment and rewards in favour of respect?
Are the kids still isolated from real life?
Are they still encroaching on family time with homework?
Have we given up the crazy idea of a one size fits all curriculum?
Didn’t think so.
Maybe some things have changed. We don’t hit them with a cane anymore when they won’t follow orders (well, not where I live). But it looks like the same old thing to me. The number of disheartened teachers leaving the profession suggest it’s actually even worse.
It’s ok, we know exactly what we’re missing. It’s no secret. We’ve been there, we have friends with kids there, some of us tried it out for a while. We hear about it on the news, we hear parents and teachers complaints on social media, we can even read the whole curriculum online.
We’re not choosing to forgo school because we’re uninformed about what it’s like.
We know and we still don’t want it. We can’t justify using it.
Because do you know what else we know? Our children. We know them deeply. We get to spend their childhood with them. And no amount of ‘educational reform’ is worth giving that up for. Even if we could borrow those rose coloured glasses for a minute.
School has not changed in any way that is meaningful or acceptable to us. And I would go as far as to say that it never can. It simply can never compete with LIFE. It doesn’t even come close.
So thanks but no thanks. We’re not interested.
We’re not buying what you’re selling.
“…the idea of special learning places where nothing but learning happens no longer seems to me to make any sense at all. The proper place and best place for children to learn whatever they need or want to know is the place where until very recently almost all children learned it–in the world itself, in the mainstream of adult life.”
“We made a terrible mistake when (with the best of intentions) we separated children from adults and learning from the rest of life, and one of our most urgent tasks is to take down the barriers we have put between them and let them come back together.” – John Holt
Don’t forget; ‘Do teachers routinely make spelling, punctuation and grammatical errors?’ Help yes. I used to take photos of the bulletin board on the way in to class to remember just what I’d be giving up. I have a mother, aunt, cousins, brother and grandmother all (at one time or another) in the teaching profession- most in primary school. My grandmother was the only one who wrote correctly, and with a beautiful cursive hand.
None of the others can. Except my big brother who is as Bolshevised as they come. They only ‘get in’ to teacher training if they display the sort of pliable sheep mentality that I now avoid in all aspects of life- not just in avoidance of the ‘education’ of my offspring.
One question came to mind just recently. I just wish I had realized it before, to ask the school! Several times, my son and I have been told, they have a university degree, they are smarter, so we have to do as we are told by them!? (I told my son…How intelligent are they really? My college debt was paid off within a few years after I received my certificate. They will be lucky if they have their debt paid by age 45!) However, the question is:
If they are as well educated and experienced with kids as they literally are protesting, shouldn’t this fact be reflecting in the national test scores? The national scores are falling every year. Our kids should be performing higher in than they are if the education system is as stellar as they profess it (and themselves) to be!
I would argue that here in the US schools have changed – but not for the better. I’m not interested in opting into that system, even though I have fond memories of my public schooling.
I cannot understand why so few people question the system. There are far, far too many people who are educated and apparently progressive in their politics, who can unpack lots of other aspects of American life, but when it comes to school, they are straight arrow liberals. They defend the system as if it were designed by the great deity him, her or itself. I cannot understand it; they become so vacuous! I think part of the problem is that adults have not been encouraged to take a truly enlightened attitude toward children. Though this would seem to be a kinder, gentler era for children than almost any other, there is a rampant belief that adult management of kids’ lives (which is now total) is necessarily benign and well-intentioned, whereas I think a great deal of it represents pure narcissism. It’s a sad state of affairs.
The system does not train you or teach you to question it. Or any authority for that matter. Hence…after a few generations the system can easily replicate itself through those who grew up in it. Sigh….
Looking at it from the perspective of a grandmother now who went to school in the 50’s in a small country state school on the outskirts of Melbourne Aust., I see a lot of change but not necessarily for the better – despite rigid rules and draconian policies of schooling in our era, it seems to me we still had more freedom – children did not seem to be under the 24/7 surveillance of our world today and though there were definitely risks and hazards we were free to play and roam and entertain ourselves, developing self-reliance, independence and responsibility. I became a teacher myself and moved into tertiary training early childhood teachers in developmental psychology. I had a very progressive training including the work of John Holt – (probably our contemporary) and Summerhill in UK I think children today though having won some rights are micromanaged in a most unhealthy way and the competitive approach in everything from sport to parenting strategies is not what young children need at all! In fact I am seriously concerned about both teaching and parenting these days and wonder how this generation of children will ever grow with a good self-image and sense of freedom and independence. My grandson just 6 started school in Jan this year – in some ways it is more free and open than many schools as a small local school, but still with all the inherent problems you describe – so I’m very curious watching him engage with having his freedom structured and in many ways curtailed. He is a very active child who is highly competitive already. I am becoming more “turned” by your posts and seem to be even more radical as I age! I chose school for my own children in the 80’s simply for the social aspects and to engage with society – my daughter at age 15 was still moaning “why didn’t you home school us??” I tried to have it both ways, taking them for regular long family holidays and adding many extracurricular activities. ( and missing a lot of school) Sir Ken Robinson – UK expert on education is another inspiring writer and speaker to follow. ps I am very proud of my daughter as she is at Cambridge now with 3 post graduate degrees – but early school was agony for her, and as a very creative capable and confident child, she would have been much happier home unschooled I am sure!
Thank you for writing this, it’s exactly what I think too! Feeling so free, it’s true 🙂
Sara, I am so incredibly thankful that I found your blog. I was a public school teacher for 16 years. Having the unique experience of being a teacher and a parent, I couldn’t bear putting my daughter through another year of ps. This September, 3 weeks into the new school year, I pulled my oldest from ps. I also quit my teaching job. We have never looked back and look eagerly forward to each day that brings unique learning experiences through living life! Hands down, it was the BEST decision for our family! My youngest will never set foot in a ps. Thank you, thank you, thank you for sharing your wisdom and life experiences! You have helped us tremendously as we’ve navigated through the transition!
Totally agree, except for the part that school can never change. Ok, it will never be home or the outside world, but there are models of schools that work with the unschooling principles, giving children all these choices you talked about, including the option to interact with the world. Schools still have an important place in society, there are many families who are not able to homeschool for all sorts of reason. I believe schools can have a brighter future, not for my kids but maybe my grandkids.
I really just wanted to answer these questions for myself to see how our school experience rates. I thought it might be interesting for others to see my answers and compare against their own.
Do the children choose what they want to learn now? In pre k, yes, in high school pretty much, in between, no
Are they not required to be there for 6 hours a day, 5 days a week, whether they want to or not? pretty much
Do the children have bodily autonomy? pretty much, dress codes have been relaxed. The kids carry water bottles around with them and can go to the restroom as needed.
Are they still separated into groups based on age? yes, except in some high school classes
Do they get to spend as much time outside as they like? no
Are they able to engage in unstructured, free, risky play? no, risky play invites lawsuits which the schools are afraid of
Can they dress how they like? Have their hair how they like? pretty much
Can they learn about their interests? Follow their passions? yes but they are required to learn other things as well
Have they got rid of testing? Standardization? no, all kids grade 3-11 are tested yearly
Have they stopped using coercive methods to make them learn? yes , schools are becoming much more cooperative in their learning approaches
Have they ditched punishment and rewards in favour of respect? moving towards it, no punishment, less using rewards
Are the kids still isolated from real life? no
Are they still encroaching on family time with homework? not in elementary school, not much in high school. middle school -yes
Have we given up the crazy idea of a one size fits all curriculum? no, there are still standards that each person is supposed to meet at a certain age/grade level