Why School Is Not Worth the Risk
This post is a guest post written by my husband about his school experience and views on unschooling. Enjoy! You can read more of his posts here.
If you were asked to invest $50,000 in Lotto tickets for the chance to win $100,000 would you do it? I know my answer and I’m going to fathom a guess at yours – no. Too much risk, not enough gain, can’t control the variables to increase your chances or the return. No brainer.
Set that aside for the moment.
As babies we are completely at the whim of the environment in which we are raised, and so apart from some potential genetic dispositions that may or may not materialise later in life…we begin with a figurative smile on our faces.
The hope for all children is that they are surrounded by loving family and friends, they feel safe in their physical and emotional worlds, and they are free to explore the world around them and their own inner curiosities and geniuses without restriction.
Philosophers argue that the meaning of the word genius does not infer levels of intellect, rather it refers to the essence of something. By this definition and according to Professor Deepak Malhotra in his speech to graduating Harvard MBA students in 2012, it makes more sense to ask not if someone is a genius, but what is their genius. Professor Malhotra contests that the difference between how happy you could be and how happy you are, is the level of understanding you have of your own essence and how closely you’ve embraced your genius; so that the life you have created is synonymous with this genius…so who you are and what you’re doing are the one and the same.
Children, in my opinion, are the best examples of exhibiting genius. They live in the moment and live passionately.
When does this end? At what stage do we as parents, or by extension does society decide that it’s time for children to no longer live life so freely? Some would say it never ends, that we always hope for our kids to feel that way about the world in which they live; others would say that society is simply not designed to be so idealistic, and that kids need to find their way as soon as they can otherwise they will flounder.
I believe the answer lies somewhere in the middle. I want my kids to feel loved, protected, safe, happy and curious…but also aware, empowered, assertive, capable and adaptable. The world isn’t always easy, the unexpected does happen, but the glass isn’t half-empty. They still have absolute control over their happiness and it’s our job to ensure they have the environment and support to make the choices they feel necessary to make that happen.
For the most part, I was lucky. I had a loving home, loving family, and access to a good range of extra-curricular activities that I was passionate about and friendship circles that were regular and healthy. I was a “heart-on-your-sleeve” child, energetic, creative, confident, and loved social gatherings.
I was bullied at school from the ages of 12 – 15, and although the bulk of the bullying stopped at 16 the perpetrators were still present in my latter years of school; for me, their continued presence was a timely reminder of who they thought I was and by extension, who I thought I was. I was “lucky” in that my bullying came before the age of online bullying, which makes the present day bullying suffered by many all that much worse. I was body shamed and personality shamed; ridiculed and humiliated; excluded, ostracized, and degraded. Nothing I tried made it stop. The school was useless (not helpless, but useless). Being good at sport or relatively smart was no buffer; socially the aim of school is not to be too good or too shit…just find the middle ground and you’ll go unnoticed.
Fast forward to now and I’m a 33-year-old father of four who is still scarred by the bullying I received as an early teenager. Most would perceive me as successful based on my job title, income and family…but define success.
I am perceived as confident, but my self-esteem is still a work in progress.
I have body image issues. That was hard to type.
I have negative thoughts about how I perceive others think of me.
I don’t know what I am passionate about.
I have a very small, non-existent friendship circle.
I shy away from social gatherings.
Unless I am going to win or achieve something that is beyond what a normal person would consider a big goal, I don’t consider it.
I quit before I get started, because I don’t want to fail.
I make excuses for performance or attempts at goals, so that I’m not seen as trying hard for something only to fail.
I’m easily triggered by minor disputes between my children when I perceive an older child exerting authority purely based on age, and tend to react badly in such situations.
I feel a burning need for peer acknowledgement for work completed, and if/when that doesn’t come I take it as a personal affront. Totally stupid.
I can’t tell you what I learned in school. I can’t give you any clear academic benefits from having completed 12 years of schooling (with above average grades), but I can tell you that the environment in which I spent those years continues to shape and play havoc with my emotional being.
What is most heartbreaking is that there are other kids going through this right now and going through a lot worse, and there is a viable, positive, and beautiful alternative that they can’t access because too many parents are openly closed-minded (and that was a purposeful contradiction), scared of the social outcry, and/or has their head in the sand (the actual closed-minded). At best a small percentage of kids will come out unscathed, but the majority won’t. At worst, kids make the only choice they feel is open to them and that thought is terribly, scarily depressing.
A survey of schools in about 40 countries found that Australian primary schools were among those with the highest reported incidence of bullying in the world. The stats are scary and it seems to be getting worse; every day we seem to read of a child or teen suicide as a result of bullying. The schools are powerless to stop it, and alarmingly further survey results suggest that teachers and parents are less likely to report bullying of children than the children themselves, despite being charged with their physical and emotional care!
In Australia, the National Safe Schools Framework says:
“In a safe and supportive school, the risk from all types of harm is minimised, diversity is valued and all members of the school community feel respected and included and can be confident that they will receive support in the face of any threats to their safety or wellbeing.”
Excuse me while I shake my head vigorously.
The sheer nature of the schooling system is to minimise individuality through standardised curriculum and testing, and the social pressures through conformity and exclusion; so being respected and included will always be a tough sell for any school. No school can guarantee safety (nor can any workplace), but as adults we choose the work we do and feel confident that we can make changes when necessary if we feel the environment doesn’t meet our needs. Children cannot make that decision (unless they live in a family like mine), so able parents need to be brave enough to buck the trend – to give children a voice in their own life.
We chose to unschool for two very real, and very important reasons;
- Our kids will learn and experience more through life than in any classroom and by doing so will be free to invest in their passion, curiosity and themselves; and,
- The school environment would provide an unsafe and unreliable environment that would negatively impact their emotional (amongst other things) well-being.
So let me ask you: If you were asked to invest 12 years of your child’s life in an education system that cannot meet their needs in modern day life, and the environment of the schooling had a better than fair chance of negatively affecting their emotional being…would you risk it?
This is a great post and beautifully written. Sadly, it reflects many of my own experiences at school and my feelings about those experiences. As a teacher, I also see the exact effects you have described being played out every day. It hurts my heart. Also, I find it weird that people deride unschooling when it’s largely about learning by doing. At school, we try to come up with “authentic learning experiences” which basically mirror real-life learning such as going to the shops and having to figure out what you’ll buy based on how much money you have. We try to recreate these experiences in the classroom, which we can’t actually do, of course. But the fact that we try means that, on some level, we know this is how children learn best. Yet we think it’s not OK for children to learn these things for real? I just don’t get it.
So much love for this post. Thank you for sharing your difficult experience and for your insights.
The choice to not school your kids is worth every second of the experience.
Not regretting it, even if I was convicted for it. I gave her 9 beautiful years and a solid base on which to build on and grow from.
Thank you for this post!
I couldn’t have read this post at a better time. Been up since 4 am googling, struggling with the ongoing problem of an 11 year old who hasn’t been to school since the beginning of the year. Just enrolled in Distance Education to keep everyone off my back until I sort this out. Well guess what, he’s not even interested in learning this way and his anxiety around learning is in full force. It’s becoming more and more obvious that a natural learning approach is what my son needs. I should have been listening to what he wants a long time ago. Two years ago, he told me he didn’t believe in the school system and I wrote his thoughts off as a smart boy who watches too many YouTube videos.
Thank you for sharing your story, I have read it a few times now and you have just helped me make a decision.
Olivia, you and your son may like https://www.self-directed.org/.
This was such a well written thought provoking post! I am so happy with my decision to unschool. 😊
My answer is a firm No, it’s not worth it, I’m a homeschooling mum and a world traveller with my 2 children, we have had the blessings of being fortunate to travel for long periods and experience a whole world of learning and new experiences. For my family this is how we choose to live life. The school systems are collapsing and the children suffer. They suffer immediately through bullying and later in life from inadequate skills and education which doesn’t prepare them for coping and transitioning into the modern world. Homeschooling for us deals with these issues and prepares the young minds to navigate in a forever changing world.
Thank you for sharing this. (you are an awesome writer!)
We unschool too, mainly for those two reasons, and can’t fathom the alternative anymore! (12 years min of slavery)
Keep up the sharing, please!
These words vibrated through my whole body. Thank you so very much for writing down this and even the hard parts.
Never was gambler and certainly was not going to gamble with my precious little ones in the traditional education system.
Can you please tell me how to “unschool” as you call it? Do I have to be registered as a home school and if so, how? You cant just not send your kids to school right? I would like to know more because I completely agree with schools and I have been fearing the idea of sending my daughter every day since she has been born and she is only two. I don’t want her to go through what I went through and now it is even worse. It starts earlier and is harsher and don’t even get me started on cyber bullying and social media. At least I didn’t have to deal with that. Thank you for this article!
I’m with you! My daughter is nearly 4 and so not the kind of child that will thrive in a school environment
I will be creating a page for Dads over at the Unschooling Mom2Mom website. I will definitely link to this!
Thanks Sue! You can find his other posts here too: https://happinessishereblog.com/tag/unschool-dad/
I really enjoyed this post. I hope it inspires other dads to write about their unschooling journeys.
The main problem I see is employment opportunities. In the U.S., the Prussian School System is certainly not the best route or the safest environment for children to learn, but without the Diploma and/or Degree, my children won’t even be considered for employment here. Furthermore, since I’m not wealthy or self-employed, I don’t see how my children could ever benefit from “unschooling” in this era, when it comes to their basic placement in our economic structure.
Hi Alex! Just wanted to let you know that all 3 of my grown kids (24, 27, 29) were unschooled. One got a bachelor’s degree, one went to a conservatory, one a trade school – all three following the paths they wanted. They own homes, have families, work side-by-side with the other young adults who suffered through 12+ years of the school system. The school experience gave them no advantage over my own kids. In fact, the unschooling experience opened more doors for my three.
I know everyone fears they’re doing something that will close doors and shrink the opportunities for their kids. But that’s really not the case. If you look at the grown unschoolers that are actually out there – you’ll see the truth.
Here’s a link that might help you see:
I love this! This is how I feel about schooling. I am trying to convince husband that we should homeschool our three girls. I don’t see school having a majorly positive impact. The emotional stakes are too high.
Thank you for putting this in words so succinctly.