Friday, May 27, 2011

Why I Don't Like Schools

If I ever have children I will not send them to a school. If I could afford a very good private day school and was completely satisfied with how it operated I might consider the possibility, but even then I doubt that I could be persuaded. Most of the following is about state schools, but it is to be understood that many of the points apply equally to private schools.

Schools are not very good at what they do, and what they try to do is not what they should be doing. When a massive bureaucracy uses enormous amounts of tax money to construct a conceptual edifice which gives it almost complete control over all children, all parents and all taxpayers you can be certain that its sole interest is in increasing its budget and its power, and it has long forgotten that it ever had any function that involved the good of children.

The original aim of tax-funded education was forgotten almost as soon as the system was created, and the result is that children waste their youth herded into smelly, half-ruined rooms listening to people telling them things they will never need to know, telling them what they must believe, what they must be, who they may like and who they must hate, or just inventing pointless activities to pass the time until everyone is allowed to go home.

What children need to know can be learned in a couple of hours a day over a fairly short period of each year. And there is no need for schools themselves, they have long been obsolete, but no one cares to notice this because too much depends on maintaining the fiction that it is all essential. To many people it is, but not to the children.

Children do not need to be taught together, they do not need to be taught most of what they are taught, they do need to learn many things which are ignored, and they lose the chance to become properly socialised, and to learn to take their place in the world, in a natural environment, because they are forced to spend their days in a highly unnatural, unproductive environment invented by socialists.

Some would need or want more time, broader or deeper content, a different approach, and it can and should be provided. Some children cannot benefit from education because they are incapable of learning anything much that will be useful to them in later life, and certainly not at the rhythm that collective education requires. Some children don't want to be there and the efforts to convince them that they need to learn are a great distraction. (Let their parents convince them. If they can't, why should anyone else have to?) The standard model, in short, forces teachers, and the education system in general, to waste an enormous amount, perhaps the majority, of time, energy, and reources, not to mention the patience, goodwill and opportunities of the other students, on children who can't, and who don't want to, gain any appreciable benefit from that effort. This model simply guarantees that all children will waste many hours a day for the whole of their childhood, for no reason that benefits them.

In short, schools are an outdated institution, they try to do far too many things at once, many of which they are very poorly suited to, and most of which are of little benefit to the people who they are supposed to exist to help.

I would never subject my children to that.


James Higham said...

In this country, surprisingly, there is still the freedom, is there not, to arrange your own children's education. Wonder for how long.

CIngram said...

There is, but it's under threat. The denormalization began a long time ago. In the US homeschooling has been associated in the public mind with knuckle-draggers and Bible-bashers. I don't suppose they can ban it there but the controls and demands are ever greater. In Britain the assocaition is with 'right-wingers', which means racists and undesirables generally. With the help of the EU it might one day be compulsory to give your children over to the stat for indocrination, because that's what it really is. There are influential people working towards it.

In Spain you cannot educate your own children. You have to let someone else do it. On the one hand there are more children in private schools than in Britain, but on the other they are very tightly controlled as to what they must and must not do, and the paperwork both in state and private school is stifling (and pointless).

The law justifies this by using the language of rights, not that of prohibitions. But the motive and the outcome is the same. If it comes to it I will find a way round the law, but the law is there, it does not recognise my right to educate my own children, and the rest of Europe may soon follow.

Vincent said...

I'm pleased to read your argument as it reassures me about the education of my three grandchildren. One is at a Rudolf Steiner school. It does seem to work, and I have never had issues with it, even though I have no time for Steiner's philosophical baggage. The other two are home-educated, and their parents are part of a collective of home educators. I was very uneasy about it because the elder one learned to read very late despite being highly intelligent, and my son broke off all contact with me as an alternative to arguing his case. Eventually I called in the school attendance inspector, after discussing with him over the phone at length. Months later he called on the household and eventually rang me to say how impressed he was with the children's development, the home environment etc etc. I gather he was a maverick in his own profession and on the point of retirement. Anyhow, I later got back in touch with my son & grandchildren, now aged 11 & 7, and am very happy with how they are turning out - bright, well-adjusted, well-informed and full of enthusiasm for everything, with time for deep immersion (whole days at a time) in all sorts of activities that schoolchildren might only dabble in: horse-riding, ice-skating, drama, drawing etc. In the matter of reading (which I considered so important) they have had the chance to choose what and when. As a result they lack the weariness of endless mediocre days spent in class.

However I don't regret taking the stand I did, because (conditioned to my hippy past) my son & family live rather eccentrically, in terms of beliefs and attitudes, and I wanted their children to be exposed to the wider world in which they will all too soon have to find their own way.

Are you a teacher yourself? How old are your children?

CIngram said...

A fascinating tale, Vincent. I have no experience of Steiner schools, though I also find some of the theory unconvincing. But, as I keep saying, education is a practical business and if it's working for your granddaughter nothig else matters.

Home-schooling is not a magical solution, of course. It requires a great deal of planning and effort to make it work, and it is common, and perhaps essential, for people who teach their own children to work together locally, and advise each other more widely. Most people don't have the time or the competence to do this, which is why schools exist in the first place. But where the possiblity exists, and it is done properly, thye results are likely to be far better than in homogenized institutions subject to bureaucracy and mission blindness.

I think of myself as a professional Englishman. That mostly involves teaching, to groups of children of all ages, to young teachers preparing for their selection process to the civil service (don't get me started), to professional, individually or in groups within companies, and I was a schoolteacher, in a private school, for seven years. I also do a lot of translation work, and write textbooks now and then.

I prefer teenagers and young adults. I feel I can get more out of them and they respond to me better than youger children (I leave that to my colleagues, who are experts at it), but I do have to teach young children at times. My experience is wide, and in some areas, deep, and I know from my own experience what a difference a good education can make in life (I acquired one almost by accident, and thamks to it I am happy and reasonably successful, at least on my own terms).

One thing that is often not understood about teaching, evcen by teachers themselves, is that it's great fun. Spending your days in the company of young people, who are generally optimistic and enthusiastic, is enjoyable. Trying to understand them, so as to teach them useful things in interesting ways, and learning from them, is fun, and keeps you young.

James Higham said...

We need to keep our eye on it and blog or tweet about it as it looks like changing.

CIngram said...

@James Higham

Yes, we should.