Andrew J Green, writer
Articles > 14 reasons why school is bad for our children and why they should be home schooled (home educated) instead
14 reasons why school is bad for our children and why they should be home schooled (home educated) instead
- If school, rather than home education, has been chosen for a child, he is not at liberty to attend when he wants to. At no other time in a person’s life - except if he is undergoing a prison sentence - is any person forced to remain within the confines of a complex of buildings, for a given number of hours each day. People in the armed forces are subject to a great many rules and restrictions, but they have made their own choice to be there and are paid for the job. Some people may not like the jobs which they do and may feel imprisoned within their office block or factory, but they are paid to be there and they can choose, at any time, to leave that job.
As parents trying to create an atmosphere of partnership with our children, we aim to be constantly mindful of our own (learned) tendency towards authoritarianism. We expect our partners to point out when we are trying to exert a more or less arbitrary authority on our children and, in turn, expect such failings to be pointed out to us. Teachers have no such checks and balances and can be as authoritarian as they wish, constrained only by the laws of their country and the rules of their school. "Because I say so", as a reason for children to comply with an adult’s wishes, is an intrinsic part of the school system. Whilst we can negotiate, as equals, with one or two children, it is fanciful to imagine that a teacher can do so with 20 or 30 children, when 'keeping order' is perceived as so vitally important.
As people trying to practise 'sensitive; parenting, we aim to cope with an upset or angry child by explicitly acknowledging his or her feelings and gently, lovingly and carefully encouraging him or her to express those feelings to us. Teachers, even if they want to, do not have the time, energy, space (or, in the vast majority of cases, inclination) to practise this philosophy. They must resort to playing down the child's feelings or, worse, ridiculing her in front of her fellows, in order to force her to behave in a way which they deem is conducive to good order in the classroom.
If a child is to grow up to be self-motivated, continuing to possess the sheer lust for life of the self-fulfilling child, he must be allowed to choose his own activities and how long to pursue them. He must, in addition, be allowed to 'do nothing' - to stare into space, to sit quietly by himself. School is inimical to this process. 'Doing nothing', in particular, is uniformly discouraged, since children have come to school 'to learn' and quiet contemplation is not viewed as a part of the learning process. In a primary school, the time to start an activity or move on to something else is dictated by the teacher. In later years, whatever the child is doing - perhaps writing a poem, solving a mathematical equation, painting a picture, or conducting a scientific experiment - must be stopped at the sound of a bell and work must be started on a completely different subject. For an adult, this would be viewed as oppressive and a violation of the learning process. As if this were not enough, the child’s free time is encroached upon by compulsory homework. Children need as much time as possible to play, think and simply be. The encroachment of school into home life further violates these vital needs.
Children should be encouraged to grow into responsible, useful members of society, as free as possible from prejudices based on differing age, social class, race, or whatever. They should, therefore, be free to associate with as wide a variety of people as possible. School prevents this free association, by isolating children in a same-age peer group, with a few adults - the latter viewed, not as equals, but only as figures of authority.
As adults, if we want to learn a new skill, or gain knowledge in a particular subject, we choose the amount of time which we will devote to learning and when we will do it. We consider that we will learn best when our own enthusiasm dictates the subject matter and that we have the right to determine the time for learning and the pace at which we learn. For a child at school, in contrast, what she learns is dictated almost entirely by an external authority, which decrees what she should be learning. The consequent lack of enthusiasm deadens the learning process and, in addition, the child is given no right at all to direct her own learning. This appears to be based on the demeaning and derogatory assumption that children will not learn unless they are forced to do so. Adults' rights, in this respect, appear to not be applicable to children.
Competition is endemic in the school system. Not, only are children encouraged to compete, in both academic and other activities, but schools themselves are forced to compete, via 'league tables' (the term itself deriving from professional sport). Whilst some parents may find the idea of children competing useful, by 'preparing' them for a competitive world, we need to have a vision of the future world which we can help to create. If we want to work towards a world based on co-operation, rather than competition, we need to bring up our children in an atmosphere of co-operation. In any case, a home-educated child will tend to be much more self-assured and confident and will be able to thrive in a competitive system, without necessarily having to compete himself.
Learning in school is based almost solely on the assumption that children need to he provided with externally-derived targets, otherwise they will be unable to learn. Education should be a continuing, organic process of discovery, but examination creates a finite set of goals, requiring limited skills. Anyone who has successfully passed a series of examinations will know that the one sure way of passing is to stuff our heads full of information and regurgitate it onto the exam paper. Much of it is forgotten, even as soon as the day after the exam, but that is of no consequence when the goal of a pass has been achieved. The successful examinee is the person with a large capacity to memorise information on a short-term basis. True education, by contrast, is a process - it has no goals, being an end in itself. It is a process which begins in the womb and will only stop when life itself stops. It recognises that our potential is limitless and that each person’s learning is a unique, individual process which, if contained within the confines of an education system, will falter and eventually wither away.
Self-discipline cannot be learned by discipline imposed from outside. Similarly, respect for others can only be gained by children being themselves respected and by encouraging self-respect in them. Schools attempt to impose discipline and teachers complain of children being unwilling to show respect for them. They are apparently unaware that the processes of teaching and 'keeping order' give clear messages that children cannot be respected and do not have self-discipline.
A person who is helping children to learn and who - crucially - has confidence in his own abilities, will welcome being challenged and questioned on what he is saying or doing. Indeed, this is one of the best ways in which anybody can learn and involves, in addition, the 'teacher' modifying his own ideas and himself learning. Again, school, with its emphasis on keeping order and labouring under the misapprehension that teachers always know best, is unable to cope with a child who questions and challenges. Indeed, such a child is categorised as 'difficult', 'disruptive' or, worst of all, 'having learning difficulties'. This moral and intellectual cowardice is one of the foundations of the education system.
As Maria Montessori observed, young children love order but, in contrast, A S Neill (who founded the free school, Summerhill) believed strongly that they love boisterousness and disorder. By forcing children to sit at desks and to carry out their allotted tasks quietly, their individual needs - for order or disorder - at any particular time are not recognised. Equally, break time, when a child is expected to run about and play, may not be the time that she would choose for this type of activity. Thus, once again, the schooling system demonstrates its lack of respect for the needs and rights of children.
A vital need for a young person is to be given the opportunity to validate his own work. Only by so doing can he be free of our adult neurosis of continually requiring praise from others, in order for us to be sure that what we have done is valid or useful. Praise - as distinct from recognition that something has been achieved and gentle encouragement to continue - violates a child’s need and ability for self-validation. Praise is the patronising 'carrot' in the schooling system's insidious carrot-and-stick approach to learning.
School, with its concentration on recognisable results, serves to ruin artistic free expression. A child, particularly if she is very young, needs to be allowed to produce whatever apparently formless images she wishes to. Questions about 'what' she has drawn or painted, or corrections made (or suggested, come to that) by an adult, in order to produce adult-recognisable images, transform the creative process into the attainment of representational goals. In addition, paintings or drawings are seen by schools as trophies to be taken home to parents, rather than transient expressions of a creative process. Artists take many years to learn to express themselves freely and free-expression painting is also used as a therapeutic tool for adults. How much better it would be if our young people did not have anything to unlearn and if they had always been allowed to express themselves freely in this, as in any other area of activity.
School is an institution where supposed 'experts' tell children what to do and what to think. Natural authority should rest only on greater skill, knowledge and experience, which is why it is so valuable to learn at the side of a real expert - a skilled person - whilst engaging in useful work (the essence of the concept of apprenticeship). The school teacher's authority, however, rests on force and coercion: the power to threaten and punish. The old jibe that those who can't do, become teachers, points us towards an alternative: a learning situation where children can call on any person who is an expert in his or her field and work with that person, in order to become more skilled themselves.
It is the school system itself which generates these problems. A particular school may be less restrictive than another, but these problems apply to all schools.
In choosing a supposedly less restrictive school, we are simply choosing bigger cages and longer chains.
© Andrew Green, July 1997
October 2018 - Footnote
My sons are now 24 and have both successfully graduated from university. They are essentially non-conformists, although with the key attribute of being able to fit in when it suits their purposes. Arran, for example, is in the film-making business, which relies very heavily on being able to work in a close-knit team, but is also highly stratified, such that you need to be able to follow instructions from people when necessary. So they appear to be able to be leaders and also to be part of a team.
We feel that home education was definitely the right route! It was a true pleasure being with them as they grew up and, equally, being with them now.