One of my friends asked me on Facebook – what is your problem with public school, and what do you base that on?
Now – this is not so much an post about Unschooling, as it is about school, and it has been hard for me to write, because I promised I’d keep this series of posts in a positive spirit. I know many of my friends have their kids in public school, and many of them are happy about it. I don’t have a problem with that (politically I have a problem with paying for it – but that is a completely different post). What ever way people choose to raise their kids is no business of mine, as long as they and the kids thrive. All I ask is that the same courtesy is extended to me.
First off – what do I base my opinion of public school on? As I haven’t had my kids in Danish public school (which is what we are talking about, and it is a lot different than public school in other countries), I can’t claim personal experience, because it has been some 20 years since I left (and several reforms of both the schools and the teachers education since).
But I have lived in Denmark for all those years, and I have family who are public school teachers, and I have friends who are public school teachers and I have friends who’s kids go to or have gone to public school. I read the papers, and I do very very much have an interest in children’s education – actually I have been studying learning and child psychology for the last 7-8 years or something along those lines (no not in University, but reading most anything I could get my hands on about the subject). My mother has – as a social worker, and psychotherapist, and as a temp. in public school, been very very close to the kids who fail in the system – that has been my reality for most of my life, knowing the ins and outs of the kids who fail in the system.
And that is where my problem with public school lies: With the kids who fail, the kids who don’t thrive in the system… I think that the schools fail, when they fail to help these kids.
Let me explain: When ever we talk about Unschooling, or child-led learning like Democratic schools, Sudburry Valley Academy, Summerhill etc. someone will always come along and say “Yes, but that is all very good, but these kids all come from a middle class background so that proves nothing” (in terms of how children learn) or “We need the public schools, because not all parents take care of their kids like you do” – or something along those lines.
But the problem is that the kids who don’t thrive at home don’t thrive in schools either. Even the soft Danish public school. When I was in school, the kids from the worst homes, were the ones who fared the worst in school – and it is the same today as it was then. It hasn’t changed – school reform after school reform, and the kids who come from the least resourceful homes are the ones who fail in school.
I had a discussion online with a school principal online about a year ago – about the latest school reform. She was pro the “Whole day school” (Danish kids are now to go to school all day instead of going to after school day care) as the minister had proposed. Her argument was that we were loosing big chunks of every generation, because they simply did not learn anything in school. Research shows this too. The majority of these kids ends up the same place as their parents – a few make it through and are better off, but my argument is that school actually hurt more of these kids than it helps – and that is my problem.
What do I mean? I mean that schools simply caters to the middle class and that kids who don’t thrive at home often are made to feel stupid in school – even if that is not the intention of the teacher. So many of these kids leave school hating all things academic (heck that even happens to a lot of middle class kids), thinking they are stupid and can’t learn anything. My argument is that many many teachers, in their effort to help these kids, sends them a message of inferiority, which makes it even harder for the kids to learn, which then makes the teachers help them even more – it is a vicious circle. Many examples show, that if you simply take these kids out of school and let them grow a garden, or work in a garage or sail a ship – they thrive, and they learn all the things schools have taught them that they can’t learn, and more…
So why don’t we do that? Why keep them in school? And why – if research shows that all kids learn brilliantly without curricula, without schedules – why do we keep doing this? I think we are doing the kids a disservice, and in that we perpetuate a myth that this school-system is needed. I honestly think that the school-system does more to uphold the social structures with a perpetual underclass, than any other system in our society – and it gives us all the idea that if you just work hard in school, you can break the social inheritance – which makes many many people think, that if you are stuck on wellfare it is your own fault – more or less – because society gave you the chance and you did not grab it.