No Adult Would Tolerate School
Homeschooling / Unschooling

No Adult Would Tolerate School

No Adult Would Tolerate SchoolImagine if your workplace resembled a school…

Would you find that acceptable?

Would it be ok if you didn’t get to decide where you worked, or what kind of work you’d like to do? If it was all decided for you and you had no choice whether to be there or not?

Would it be ok if you didn’t get to decide when to take holidays? If you could only take them when everyone else was on holiday too?

Would you accept someone dictating how you must look? Not merely a uniform, but if you were allowed to dye your own hair, if you could get your own ears pierced, how short you can cut your own hair, if you could wear even minimal makeup on your own face?

Would it be ok with you to need to request permission for bodily functions like using the toilet?

“Kids are people, and they respond just as adults do to micromanagement, to severe restrictions on their freedom, and to constant, unsolicited evaluation. ” –Peter Gray

No Adult Would Tolerate School

What if you could not eat when hungry, but only at a time dictated by others?

How would you feel about constant micromanagement? Your every moment controlled? If you could not make any decisions for yourself about how you spent your time, what you learnt, who you could talk to and when, how and when you could move your body?

What if the government was in charge of what could be of interest to you, and what could not?

“As adults, we assume that we have the right to decide what does or does not interest us, what we will look into and what we will leave alone. We take this right for granted, cannot imagine that it might be taken away from us. Indeed, as far as I know, it has never been written into any body of law. Even the writers of our Constitution did not mention it. They thought it was enough to guarantee citizens the freedom of speech and the freedom to spread their ideas as widely as they wished and could. It did not occur to them that even the most tyrannical government would try to control people’s minds, what they thought and knew. That idea was to come later, under the benevolent guise of compulsory universal education.” -John Holt, Escape from Childhood

What if your job also got to dictate how you spent your time out of work hours? What if you were punished for not using your free time to do more work?

What if you were compared and pitted against your workmates constantly?

What if your boss regularly shamed or punished you and called it ‘motivation’?

No Adult Would Tolerate School

What if your performance was not communicated directly to you, but to your parents or another third party, without your permission or input?

What if your personal possessions could be confiscated at any time and held hostage dependent on your behaviour?

What if you were not allowed to leave?

What if you were not allowed any privacy?

What if you didn’t even get paid? Received no compensation at all except reassurance that it was all ‘for your own good’?

What if you had to commit 13 years of your life to this ‘job’? What if you were not free to quit?

What if your job was all of these things?

What if your complaints, feelings, and protests were ignored? What if people even tried to convince you it was ‘normal’ to be distressed, to cry, to feel anxious, to not want to go? What if they shushed you and told you it was ok and that you would eventually ‘get used to it’?

Would this be acceptable to you? Would you feel you were treated fairly? Or, would this be a gross violation of your human rights?

Would you feel happy? Satisfied? Fulfilled? Respected? Important? Motivated?

Or would you feel powerless? Stuck? Hopeless? Defeated? Angry?

No Adult Would Tolerate School

Most adults would absolutely not put up with the same treatment that children are expected to accept in schools.

So the question is… if school would not be an acceptable environment for an adult, why would you think it is ok for children? Are they less human? Less deserving of basic human rights?

“Each day, schools reinforce how absolute and arbitrary power really is by granting and denying access to fundamental needs for toilets, water, privacy and movement. In this way, basic human rights which usually require only individual volition, are transformed into privileges not to be taken for granted.” -John Taylor Gatto

But it’s for their own good…

Is it? Or is this just something we are told so that we agree to send our children off to be treated in ways that we would never accept? Ever increasing rates of anxiety, depression, self-harm, and suicide, would suggest that there is something very very wrong with what we are doing to children. We should seriously consider how our children are actually coping, rather than listening to some vague and unfilled promise of public education being for children’s own ‘good’.

“The lowest levels of happiness by far (surprise, surprise) occurred when children were at school, and the highest levels occurred when they were out of school and conversing or playing with friends. Time spent with parents fell in the middle of the range. Average happiness increased on weekends, but then plummeted from late Sunday afternoon through the evening, in anticipation of the coming school week.

As a society, we have come to the conclusion that children must spend increasing amounts of time in the very setting where they least want to be. The cost of that belief, as measured by the happiness and mental health of our children, is enormous.” -Peter Gray, The Decline of Play and Rise in Children’s Mental Disorders

No Adult Would Tolerate School

They eventually adjust…

“Even if children are unhappy at first, they adjust. Some kids even come to love school!”

Maybe, maybe not. Did they ever have any real option to do otherwise?

“On the whole I don’t think children with any range of real choices in the world are going to want to spend much time in places where nothing but learning happens, and where the only adults they meet are child specialists whose job it is to watch them and make them do things.” -John Holt, How Children Learn

Is this kind of ‘adjustment’ healthy? Is it a positive thing to love something that disrespects you as a person? That removes your rights and autonomy? That restricts your freedom?

What are the consequences of this ‘adjustment’?

“Children are not resilient; they are adaptive. In other words, they don’t simply ‘bounce-back’: they re-shape themselves.” — Robin Grille

Children don’t know what they need…

“Sadly, in many cases, the assumption that children are incompetent, irresponsible, and in need of constant direction and supervision becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. The children themselves become convinced of their incompetence and irresponsibility, and may act accordingly. The surest way to foster any trait in a person is to treat that person as if he or she already has it.” – Peter Gray, Free to Learn

No Adult Would Tolerate School

Children may not have as much ability to predict the future. That in no way justifies taking away their rights in the present.

Are we to believe that school knows what is best for children? That creators of curriculums know without a doubt what every individual child should learn? It seems far safer to trust in a child’s innate curiosity and drive to learn than that of unknown ‘experts’ with unknown agendas.

Do we really believe that it’s best to ignore individuality in favour of standardisation? Humans have been learning from each other forever, only relatively recently in a forced and standardised way. Children know how to learn. They always have.

They need to learn to do things they don’t like…

Surely this is a dangerous belief? We should learn to do things that we don’t want to do, for the sake of pleasing others or as the result of coercion? Adults don’t have to do things they don’t want to do. Really. Sure, they do hard things, they do unpleasant things, but that is a choice because they desire a certain outcome. Many adults, having been schooled, now subscribe to this belief that they are ‘stuck’ and have no choice in the things they have to do. But, you don’t HAVE TO do anything. Really.

We’ve even started to believe that things like ‘bullying’ are a positive experience. ‘Kids need to learn to deal with bullies’ we’re told if we dare to opt-out of schooled socialisation. How people believe this is beyond me. Bullying is not ok. It is never a positive experience. Bullying is harmful to victims, bullies, and even bystanders. Children should never be expected to put up with bullying.

“You don’t have to be very old or very smart to know your friends from your enemies, to know when people dislike you, are cruel to you and hurt you. Any five-year-old knows the difference between a mean teacher and a nice one and is smart enough to want to get away from the mean one. It is only adults who are stupid enough to think that the mean teacher is somehow doing the child some good. Not that the adults themselves willingly stick around people who are contemptuous and cruel to them. Not for a minute. It is only to other people, above all young people, that we say that pain doesn’t really hurt, it really does you good. But a child should have the same right as anyone else to move away from whoever or whatever is hurting him and towards whatever he feels may help him.” – John Holt, Escape from Childhood

No Adult Would Tolerate School

They need to be ready for the workforce…

If school is supposed to be preparation for the workforce, it’s failing. Sixty-five percent of children today will end up with jobs that don’t even exist yet. How is an educational model based on standardisation and memorisation of facts preparing children for that? Really, how?

What will the jobs of the future be like? Who knows. They will require complex problem solving, critical thinking, creativity, emotional intelligence, cognitive flexibility, and many other things not taught by a one-size-fits-all curriculum.

If you are under the impression that school is a good choice for preparing children for the ‘real world‘ or workforce, then think again.

“Since we can’t know what knowledge will be most needed in the future, it is senseless to try to teach it in advance. Instead, we should try to turn out people who love learning so much and learn so well that they will be able to learn whatever needs to be learned.” -John Holt, How Children Fail

No Adult Would Tolerate School

There are many excuses and justifications that people use for removing children’s rights. None of them are valid. We convince ourselves that children ought to accept treatment that we, as adults, would find unbearable. If we would find the school environment unacceptable, how can we genuinely believe it is ok for our children?

It’s time we accepted nothing less than we would accept for ourselves.

“The requirement that a child go to school for about six hours a day, 180 days a year, for about ten years, whether or not he learns anything there, whether or not he already knows it or could learn it faster or better somewhere else, is such a gross violation of civil liberties that few adults would stand for it. But the child who resists is treated as a criminal. With this requirement, we created an industry, an army of people whose whole work was to tell young people what they had to learn and to try to make them learn it.” -John Holt, Escape from Childhood

No Adult Would Tolerate School


October 16, 2017 at 12:32 am

In the States, I think industry may be seeing the ultimate payoff for our tolerance of our public school system. Workers are in fact relentlessly compared against each other, we have more and more bullying in the workplace, (to be fair, we also have evidence that this bullying was always there). We have pay increases based on a bell-curve. And, by and large, workers are accepting it. Perhaps because they’ve been conditioned to.

Linda Sheidler
October 16, 2017 at 2:26 am

I am not attacing I am genuinely asking, they have agreed that the children come first and their need are met firstUh, have you ever had a job outside your home like working for someone else? The part of this post said “would you find it acceptable” and then asks many questions about hair color , breaks , when you eat, use restrooms what you do. Guess what when you agree to take a job you also agree to all the rules and it may be like you say ” like school. how can a company be run if every one just does what they want or feel like doing. for instance , take child care . A teacher/mentor can not leave the group of children just because they need to use the rest room. they cannot eat whenever they want they have agreed that they will put the children’s needs first that they will never leave the children unattended. When a person accepts a job they look at the rules and what the job requires and decides if the amount of money the will get is worth the time and work they put into the job. Can you imagine the chaos if a bakery or airplane plant or food service company let everyone do what ever they felt like doing because they wanted to what would happen would plane be made to the specification or food be cooked what if someone wanted to put a cup of baking soda in the bread to make it rise faster, or cook it at a very high heat to hurry up so they could go home. What a mess. the reason they are rules is so things can be done in a manner to produce the same effect to make things in a consistent manner. when you make bread for your children do you make it the same or different every time one day you may want to put 1 cup of water and oh maybe some powdered sugar, may be a cup of salt and 8 cups of flour, guess what that does not make eatable bread. I just do not under stand how you believe the whole world can do what ever they want and any one will benefit from this.

    October 16, 2017 at 5:48 am

    I was a high school teacher before deciding to unschool my children so I understand working in a workplace with very specific expectations but, and I think this might be the part you’re misunderstanding, and the point Sara is making, it was my CHOICE to work there. I could choose to leave if I wanted. Children at school do not have a choice. I taught for over 10 years before I stopped and can say with all confidence that I had infinitely more choices available to me as a person who chose to be in that work environment than the adolescents I was teaching. I think this is the main point Sara is making here; we simply would not put up with the severe restrictions on our time, our thoughts, our friendships and our bodies without first weighing up the benefits and then having the CHOICE to opt in or out. Children do not have that choice and in my experience, are often punished or shamed if they choose otherwise.

      May 11, 2020 at 3:48 am

      Imagine being forced to live somewhere you didn’t choose, with people you didn’t choose and to share toys with a sibling you didn’t choose: awful.

      Perhaps it is the mindset that is the issue and a quick reading of Marcus Aurelius or any other Stoic mind might be more beneficial than snatching kids from school because of their mother or fathers beliefs.

    October 16, 2017 at 10:30 am

    Hopefully people who enjoy working in factories, or taking care of the elderly, or sweeping the streets would choose those jobs. If they didn’t indeed enjoy them, then I would hope the at least enjoy what the remuneration from those jobs enabled them to do. If it’s neither of those things, then if I were them, I’d have to say I was doing it wrong. While we’re fairly far off topic here, (whether or not children should get to make choices regarding their own lives), I’ve found a useful maxim to be “If it doesn’t make me giggle, I’m doing it wrong.” Of course, if the challenge of a dreary existence is the sort of challenge a person needs, then I’d say that’s a good choice for them. The point is I think that we all have a choice.

October 16, 2017 at 3:18 am

You would LOVE the School Sucks Project Podcast.

October 16, 2017 at 7:28 am

Thank you for posting this. Well written article indeed. Nice to know that there are like-minded people out there. I think it’s important to question everything and reflect on our own believe systems as well. I only started home schooling my girls and am constantly questioning myself. Want them to have the freedom I didn’t have. I am unschooling my thinking on the way…

October 16, 2017 at 9:22 am

This is a very interesting article. Contrary to the article, many adults are in jobs that demand discipline, are prescriptive and controlling. This is just how the world works. People need to work and earn money and they have little choice in the matter. Obviously, there are higher status professional jobs that involve more autonomy but this is not true of all jobs. In my job, I am expected to wear smart clothes and shoes, I have to have my hair clipped back and make up. I have a set lunch break etc. My husband has to shave everyday. He has a set lunch break as well. When I worked in a call centre, all toilet breaks and lunch breaks are monitored and at particular times of the day. Self discipline and routine are the backbone of most jobs. Being a stay at home mum is a privileged job, in that you have full control over your day but you should be grateful to those who work long hours in boring jobs, so that you can live a comfortable lifestyle. Factories need to run, bins need emptying, roads need sweeping, the elderly need to be cared for, buses need driving, etc. The world keeps spinning.

    October 16, 2017 at 9:30 am

    Again, you are able to choose to be in that environment and compensated for your time.

      October 16, 2017 at 9:46 am

      It is not really a choice in the true sense of the word. Firstly, people have to work to feed and house themselves and their families. If I don’t take on a very prescriptive and tedious job, then someone else will have to do it, otherwise the streets will start overflowing with rubbish, supermarket shelves won’t be stacked, letters won’t get delivered etc. Boring, disciplined menial jobs where the worker is controlled are not ideal but I would suggest that rather than falsely going on about choice ,you are grateful to those people who keep you in a comfortable position (and perhaps work to improve their rights.) I just dropped off my daughter at Prep. The range of activities from art to yoga, construction etc is fantastic and her day will be filled with wonder and discovery. It is her parents (and most adults) who have boring repetitive days, not children in school

        October 16, 2017 at 9:57 am

        “A mother said to me not long ago, “I think you are making a mistake in trying to make schoolwork so interesting for the children. After all, they are going to have to spend most of their lives doing things they don’t like, and they might as well get used to it now. Every so often the curtain of slogans and platitudes behind which most people live opens up for a second, and you get a glimpse of what they really think. This is not the first time a parent has said this to me, but it horrifies me as much as ever. What an extraordinary view of life, from one of the favored citizens of this most favored of all nations! Is life nothing but drudgery, an endless list of dreary duties? Is education nothing but the process of getting children ready to do them? It was as if she had said, “My boy is going to have to spend his life as a slave, so I want you to get him used to the idea, and see to it that when he gets to be a slave, he will be a dutiful and diligent and well-paid one.”
        It’s easy to see how an adult, in a discouraged moment, hemmed in by seemingly pointless and petty duties and responsibilities, might think of life as a kind of slavery. But one would expect that people feeling this way about their own lives would want something better for their children, would say, in effect, “I have somehow missed the chance to put much joy and meaning into my own life; please educate my children so that they will do better.” -John Holt

          October 16, 2017 at 11:05 am

          You are right. Of course, most adult life is mundane, routine and dull. That is what I think. This is why I want my children to have an amazing, fun, wonderful childhood. I just believe that it is possible to have this kind of childhood and still attend school. School is full of variety, wonderful experiences, discovery and opportunities(at least in primary school). This is my experience. of the school system. I think the idea of school as someone kind of prison is very far from the truth and based on hyperbole.

        October 16, 2017 at 11:09 am

        Hopefully people who enjoy working in factories, or taking care of the elderly, or sweeping the streets would choose those jobs. If they didn’t indeed enjoy them, then I would hope the at least enjoy what the remuneration from those jobs enabled them to do. If it’s neither of those things, then if I were them, I’d have to say I was doing it wrong. While we’re fairly far off topic here, (whether or not children should get to make choices regarding their own lives), I’ve found a useful maxim to be “If it doesn’t make me giggle, I’m doing it wrong.” Of course, if the challenge of a dreary existence is the sort of challenge a person needs, then I’d say that’s a good choice for them. The point is I think that we all have a choice.

          October 16, 2017 at 3:56 pm

          Hamilton, you are in a dream world. People have self discipline, pride and a strong work ethic. They do menial and boring jobs because they want to provide for their families. They should be commended!

        November 19, 2018 at 8:35 pm

        Maggie, your feeling of not having a choice is purely psychological. You are trapping yourself in your own head. Of course you have a choice. You can’t not work at all but you can choose which employer to work for as there are obviously multiple employers that need the same kind of work done. If you dislike the culture of and the way you are treated at company A, you have every right to quit working there and apply to an equivalent position at company B. Also, yes, employees are paid for their time, students are not. Also, employees can use their alotted days off (if given them) or call in sick at any time for any reason without disciplinary action (as lony as you do it excessively) while students in school are only given a few acceptable reasons for an excused absence. Lastly, while employers do have rules to follow and have to do what they’re told as a condition of employment, the relationship is consensual in that you are not legally or otherwise bound to a specific employer. You took the job fully understanding and presumably accepting the rules and policies of the company.
        Even if you work on a contract, you signed it voluntarily with full knowledge, understanding, and acceptance of what would be expected of you on the job. Bottom line, you chose to work where you do. No one placed you here against your will and unless you’re enlisted military, you are not barred from handing in your resignation and seeking work elsewhere if dissatisfied. On the other hand, students don’t really have much of a choice of where to go to school, are uncompensated for their time, and when you take into consideration the long hours of homework for high schoolers, work more than the typical ~40 hours a week required for most jobs. Younger kids don’t have it as bad but in terms of workload but school life for all students is still much more restrictive than life in most jobs. Perhaps it’s been too long since you’ve been in school so you’ve forgotten. I too sometimes forget how much less autonomy I had back when I was in K-12 school compared to what I have now in college. After graduating high school after was the very first time in my life that I had a choice of what to do next and the path wasn’t preselected for me. It can be a bit overwhelming for someone like myself who was raised the mainstream way. Kate is right, teachers have many more choices available to them than the students they are teaching. It’s sad that many adults feel trapped in their jobs when the really aren’t. Liberate your mind from its psychological prison and the world is your oyster.

        November 20, 2018 at 11:08 am

        *As long as you don’t (take time off work) excessively. Typos…

October 16, 2017 at 11:07 am

PS, I love your writing on connection and parenting. Thanks x

October 16, 2017 at 9:47 pm

Love our thoughts on this

carly macaulay
October 16, 2017 at 10:11 pm

It is so very sad that this is ‘still’ considered to be ahead of our time. We have had all of the necessary knowledge to be moving so very differently with this generation of children, and still most just don’t. I fail to understand why? It is not as though we have had great success from this system of educating children, it has been a failing system in this regards for it’s entirety. Why it is defended so passionately, continues to bewilder me. Maybe people are just too afraid of the alternative, paying REAL attention to the well being of their children and what that entails. Keep advocating Sarah, as ahead of your time you sadly may still be. We can only hope that eventually the world will catch up or rather wake up.

October 16, 2017 at 11:23 pm

While I agree that all of these should be fundamental rights for all (children and adults), I think perhaps you have a bit of a middle class mindset. For millions of people, these kinds of situations are true in work as well, and they have no choice because they need the jobs.

I know so many young adults who have had to give up their colorful hair color once they entered the work force, for example, and their employers insisted on “normal” hair colors instead of the pink hair they had in high school. I boycott clothes sold in stores like Walmart precisely because they are generally produced under circumstances like those in your list — workers not being allowed to take bathroom breaks or have basic human rights. A good friend of mine was a wreck all during law school because of the mindset of pitting all of the law students against each other and making them see each other as only competition to beat.

Employers these days tend to micromanage more and more of their employees, even on their off time. People are fired for activities they engage in on their own time that reflect badly on the company’s image or raise their health insurance (like smoking cigarettes at home). Here in the states, Cracker Barrel restaurants even fire you if they find out you’re gay. There’s a company in Wisconsin that bribed their employees to let them implant RFID tracking chips in them. Undocumented workers regularly put up with the worst treatment because they’re so terrified of being reported and/or deported. And people in the military have pretty much always stuck with pretty much everything in your list.

Yes, for some it is a choice, but it is an increasingly common “choice” that people have to put up with because jobs are becoming more and more scarce and all of the other employers are doing it too.

Schools were designed all along to prepare children to be obedient workers. This isn’t a secret. Factory jobs are not much different from school, other than the fact that you’re doing one mindless thing over and over again instead of pretending it’s about learning.

I said years ago that the only thing school prepared kids for these days the military or prison and I hoped my kids wouldn’t end up in either. It’s really true these days that almost all lower income jobs are continuing this treatment of workers, treating them like small children with no rights. That’s one reason my teenagers all dread going into the workplace. They’ve heard so many horror stories from their working friends.

In the ultimate irony, those kids who go through college and continue in the school system generally end up with the most choices and the best treatment at the end. Maybe that social work job won’t let you keep your pink hair, but at least they won’t make you work an 18-hour shift or fire you for being gay.

I am not saying any of it is right. I am against poor treatment of children or adults. But it is a fact of life for many people around the world, particularly the poor and those born with fewer advantages. Life does not necessarily get better after school, and people are not always given more choices and rights. For many it only gets worse. We need to change that system too.

    September 19, 2019 at 8:27 am

    I agree with your point. However, I think it’s all the more reason to raise children well. We like to say “they are the future” and indeed this is true. So why not show them how they should be treated. Teach them to treat others this way. Have them become better employers, to also boycott brands that employ slave labour and take advantage of the most desperate. If we continue doing what we have been doing we will continue with the same results. I feel in what you are saying you want things to improve and I think a good place to start is with our children.

Christine O'Leary
November 15, 2017 at 2:36 pm

I love this post and agree 100%. Well said. It’s why my children attend a Montessori school. No uniforms (of any kind – wear a tutu, grow your hair, whatever – as long as it’s not affecting anyone else, that’s fine); freedom with limits (freedom to move, talk, to eat when hungry, to go to the toilet when you need to – no need to ask – to learn what and how they want, again, the only ‘rule’ is don’t hurt or interrupt anyone else); respect for the child, child sized furniture (no big teacher’s desk, or ‘front’ of the classroom; children working independently and encouraged to try new things, challenge themselves, make mistakes, I could go on. It’s why the likes of Google founders Sergey Brin and Larry Page credit their Montessori education for the out of the box thinking and entrepreneurial spirit. I’m homeschooling right now (as we’re travelling temporarily for my husband’s work) but my boys absolutely love their school environment and are looking forward to going back. Thanks again for the great article, I’ll be sharing it to my Ultimate Montessori Parents Guide followers! – Chris

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