Why don’t I Believe in School?

Right now I don’t know what to write but I promised myself to write 30 mins a day and it has been 3 weeks since I did that last… One of my new ways of “getting things done” is doing a little every day. Well it is not a new thing – it is actually something I have promised myself to do, many times over – but I fall off the horse. Well – I have also learned from many smart people, that it is not about the number of times you fall off a horse, but how many times you get back up – essentially you succeed by getting back up one just one more time than you fall off.

So I am back on the horse. Writing – I like writing, I’ve always liked writing, enjoyed it. I was actually offered an internship once at one of the biggest newspapers in Denmark… Decided to become an Engineer instead. My Danish teacher in school told me that I was a good writer – but that my stories weren’t interesting, so she thought I should stop writing fiction and stick to the factual analytical writing… that sort of killed my dream of becoming a Novelist – one of the many dreams I had as a child. I also dreamt of becoming a professional dancer on Broadway – that wasn’t spoiled by a teacher though, but by reality – meeting people who were far more talented than me. I know that some research shows that talent is 90% perspiration and 10% inspiration – I did not have the 10%, just wasn’t there. Dancing turned me from being a clumsy nerd into … someone not quite as clumsy. But elegant? Never! No matter how many hours I would train I could not. So it wasn’t for me. My perfectionism stopped me from drawing – I wanted to be better than I were, but I weren’t willing to draw and draw again – I wanted to be there yesterday.

I was good at school – and it earned me a great many “stars” in the eyes of the grownups – I was set up as an example of how to be… Always prepared, always knowledgable etc. Fact was – I wasn’t – it was so easy for me, that I didn’t have to prepare – ever. Not even at University… I didn’t go to most of the lectures, only handed in compulsory work, only did enough to land me a B+ – the extra work needed for an A wasn’t worth it – I mean I could get a B by writing an essay in the early morning, never fact-checking and correcting spelling and grammar – why put in more to get an A? Once I’d convinced the teacher/professors that I was smart, I could bluff my way through the rest – essentially I could raise my hand and they’d think I had the answer… i.e. never asking me. I did this al the way up to university level – even my Masters Thesis… I regurgitated a lot of text-book stuff, just put it into other words, but more or less copied what it said – often didn’t understand what was going on… Who cared right? The professor seemed to like it. What mattered was the grade – not my deeper understanding.

I once had a discussion with a friend – because I said that I was sorry that I had passed Thermodynamics, because now I would never understand it. He asked my why I didn’t just sit down and study it now? I couldn’t see the point – you study to get a grade, I had passed (albeit with the lowest grade I ever got in any subject), so why study it again? He was mortified… That was not what studying was about…

But it is… or that is not what the “Principle of Humboldt” is about – that is about apprentice ship, about understanding your subject. But the way the university system is, that is not what is communicated: Pass your subjects, get good grades, get a good job. Whether you actually understand what the subject is… doesn’t matter – you’ve got good grades – most of what you learn at university/school is never used again anyway. I actually got an A on my High School exam in Physics – A-levels, the highest grade in the class. I studied Applied Physics for three years – I’ve got a Bachelors in Applied Physics – again with an A on my thesis, but honestly – I think in many ways I don’t understand physics, and frankly it doesn’t interest me that much. I once got a A on Newtonian Mechanics – and one of my friends who knew that I didn’t get it was furious, because he got an A too. But it doesn’t matter – because on paper, I’m just as good as him. And I never looked back and I never had to use it again…

In the meantime – I learned to write html, PHP, CSS – because it was fun, and I could make money doing it. I haven’t done it for years now – but it wouldn’t take me long to relearn, because I have internalized it. I learned to read before I started school and I spoke English better than most of my teachers. Since school I have learned a lot about breastfeeding, enough so that people rely on me to give them answers when they have problems – ie. a real life applicable skill. I have learned about allergies, causes, effects, treatments (allopathic and alternative), child psychology, learning, permaculture (and I still don’t have a diploma), because I needed it. Economy, politics, history, philosophy – just because I wanted to. I have started writing again, knitting, sewing, drawing. Real life applicable skills. Math maybe, is the only thing I learned in school – but once I got it I didn’t need school anymore. That was in 3rd grade… It was one remark, from one teacher “It doesn’t have to be hard Dawn, if the way it works in your head works for you, then go with it” – after that I read math like other people read music. If someone had pointed me to a curriculum that would take me to university level math, I’d have been able to get there much much sooner than I did… Funny thing is though – I never use math above 3rd grade level anyway, didn’t even use it when I worked as a statistical programmer…

Why don’t I believe in school? Because anything worth learning, that I have ever learned – I have done on my own accord. I have found the people I needed to learn from and learn what I needed to learn. I don’t believe in school, not because I failed at it, but because I was so good at it, that I know that no real learning takes place there, and that learning isn’t the purpose of it.

When is the last time you used what you learned in school?


4 thoughts on “Why don’t I Believe in School?

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  1. One of my colleagues wondered the other day if there was any point to what we were doing, would our students learn English anyway, being in England, without our help? Whether we go to school or not, knowledge and skills are different things, some of it is useful, some of it is interesting. I’ve taught myself about gardening – and as a language learner myself I’ve always thought you don’t really need a teacher to progress – just someone who can answer your questions when you can’t find the answer yourself.

    At the same time, education isn’t just about passing the test. Speaking as a pedagogue, my colleagues and I despair see courses as a means to an end rather than an end in themselves. But then English is only a means for them to learn what they really want to, so it would be unrealistic to expect anything else.

    1. I agree – for me the problem is that knowledge that you have learned because domine required it from you, which you then never use – isn’t nessesarily interesting. The most fundamental freedom in my mind is the freedom to choose what I put into my head – my thoughts, my knowledge. Children learn to the test when they are tested – I we wanted to show them that we value learning and not tests scores, we would not test. When we put some learning above others we also tell them something profound about their passions – some of them are not worth as much as the others: Drawing is not as important as math. I learned that lesson well, and deschooling myself from that way of thinking is a process that I am not finished with even after 7 years as a stay at home mom.

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