04 Mar 2015

Schooling and Interest

When students study what interests them, their work develops a natural, invigorating flow. They engage creatively with their topic, ask their own questions and pursue answers to their own satisfaction. They remember what matters.

When someone else chooses their work, students may not find much of personal relevance. The learning becomes a chore, the students’ feelings become an obstacle to the learning, and energy is drained.

I am reminded of the title of a book: The Student Resistance Handbook. While I am not advocating any action described in the book (which I have not even read), both the title and the description point to a problem:

The Student Resistance Handbook provides students with information on how they can effectively fight back against their school and work towards abolishing this abusive and oppressive institution.

Really, is it that bad?

Ask yourself this: What is school for? If it is for learning, what is being learned, and is that the same as what is being taught? If you are a parent, what sorts of things does your child share with you about school? Does he or she pursue a topic at home because school has kindled a greater interest? Do you hear lots of complaints? Does your child tell you about every rule transgression that someone else has made? How valuable are the subjects, and is your child getting the value that the system claims to deliver? Is your child happy? Does your child find personal meaning in what he or she does? Is he or she proud of accomplishments?

There are certainly some excellent schools, and I hope your child is in one of them. If not, you may wish to look at alternatives. There may be a better public school, or you may wish to research homeschooling and alternative schools. Two places to start are the lists of organizations at Home Education Magazine and the Alternative Education Resource Organization.

Before schooling became compulsory, before truancy officers, children went to school for one of two reasons: either they wanted to or their parents wanted them to. In either case, the student could be expelled, not just for a day or a week, but for good. That eliminated a good number of discipline problems. Furthermore, many schools required that a student be able to read before they could be enrolled. Since reading was taught at home, when they entered school, children were more or less ready for written assignments. That reduced the stress on the teacher and the other children, as children could work more independently from the beginning.

(Children work independently in Montessori preschools without necessarily knowing how to read, but such schools enroll one or two new students a week throughout the school year and have an abundance of interesting hands-on materials for students to explore. Therefore teachers can take the time to teach new students individually how to work peacefully within the environment. Few US Kindergartens have that luxury, as a classroom full of new students all start their first day together.)

School became compulsory with the growing fear that new, largely non-English-speaking immigrants (such as the Irish and the Italians) would disrupt the newly-established “American way of life” that was developing with the Industrial Revolution. The desire was not only for factory workers who could follow and read instructions in English, but also for ones who would not cause any trouble. The factory model of efficiency and obedience was then applied to schools, downgrading inquiry and upgrading conformity.

Although attempts have been made to transform education to meet the needs of children, honoring how they actually grow and learn, we still have a dominant educational system that starts not with child’s needs, but rather with content that adults think they ought to have mastered by Grade 12, broken up into grade levels and simplified according to age. Does that mean it will engage the child mentally, physically, emotionally, or spiritually? Perhaps not. Will it help him or her pursue an adult life with integrity, purpose, and satisfaction? Will the student have ample opportunities for exploring and refining personal interests and connecting with others, or will he or she have to put personal interests aside until the age of 18?

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