Warning: this is a rant. If your kids are in school, or going there, and you tend to take things personally, skip this post. I’m not anti-school. But I am anti-ignorant-sheep who do things just because “that’s the way we do it”, who spew rhetoric without thinking about what they are saying, and then judge anybody who dares to question why we do things the way we do…
I’ve created a wonderful community of like minded mamas around me. Whether through attachment parenting, La Leche League, or the local homelearner groups in my area the people around me are very much living the way I live, and get what I’m doing.
Every now and then I venture out into the mainstream world of parenting. It’s a frightening place. It’s a cold-water-in-the-face reminder that the way I live my life is totally foreign to most people. I wouldn’t mind so much if people weren’t so damn judgemental and ignorant. Recently I stumbled upon a thread written by a mainstream parent about Unschooling. Apparently she had just “discovered” unschooling by reading about it on wikipedia. Of course she thought it was bizarre, and many people who wrote comments passed some pretty harsh judgements about how bad it was for the kids, and how permissive and neglectful it was on behalf of the parents while at the same time admitting they’d never heard about it until now.
I tried to give as brief a synopsis as possible about what unschooling really is. And I wrote back one more time to address a few questions, and many comments that were just so Wrong in their assumptions that it was all I could do not to lose my temper and write something harsh. I ended up having to literally fight myself not to go back. Having been active on Internet discussion boards for well over 10 years now I recognize the signs: I get drawn into situations that make me so upset that I get anxious and irritated and literally fret about it for days. I’m fairly proud of myself for making the decision to leave the discussion where I did and let the rest of them pronounce their judgements and basically act like a bunch of ignorant bigots.
It did make me think, however, about how…brainwashed our society is about school. I have to wonder how many parents actually stop and think…no…*question*…whether or not school is all the things they think it is.
For example, we’ve all heard the tired old “socialization” argument and it came up in more detail in this discussion. Many people made statements suggesting that school is where kids go to learn how to “fit in to society” and to learn social behaviour. Many, many comments referred to children having to learn what life is like in the “real world” such as not being able to do “only what interests and stimulates you”. Apparently school is the only place to do this.
It amazes me that nobody stops to ask themselves how school actually models the Real World. Where in the real world do you find people segregated by birth year? Do you have to wait for a bell to ring at work before you switch from your economic analysis spreadsheet to the coding project you’re doing for the engineering team? Where in real life do you find children outnumbering adults 30 to 1?
Real life is what happens outside the school grounds. It’s the mailman doing his route. It’s the marketing people working in the grocery store aisles, checking product placement and competitive pricing. It’s the old folks taking walking tours of the neighbourhood. It’s mothers out with their babies and toddlers. It’s the guys building a highrise, or fixing a storm sewer pipe. It’s the delivery trucks bringing fresh produce to the corner market. What it is NOT is lining up in orderly fashion whenever you have to move from one location to the next. It is not having to ask permission to go to the bathroom. It is not being separated from anybody born in a year that wasn’t your own, save for the one or two adults in charge.
And as for social development, I really think there are parents out there who believe that classroom structure is designed specifically to provide an optimal environment for social development. Like a bunch of school execs sat around and said “how best can we teach kids social skills?” and then came up with age-segregation and ultra-low adult:child ratios.
Uh, no. The reason kids are segregated by age is it makes it easier to manage them and it makes public education run more efficiently. When you have hundreds or even thousands of kids that you have to move through the system combined with a shoestring budget you cannot afford to vary the pace or style of learning to suit an individual child’s needs. You can’t afford to have many paid adults around so you group as many kids as can be reasonably managed into a class and head it up with one overworked and underpaid teacher.
The true optimal environment for social development is the evolutionary context in which humans evolved, which is to say small tribes of about 150 or so individuals. Children left their constant vigil at the parents’ side when they weaned, joined in playing with all the other children, and by the time they hit puberty they were adults. You would never find a situation where a child had 20 agemates to play with. Instead there was one group of kids ranging from about 3 to about 12-14. And they weren’t isolated from all the adults and elders in their community by being placed in an institution all day long.
The simple truth is that kids learn social behaviour from those who’ve already mastered it, not from kids who are the same age and therefore equally ignorant. And we wonder why we have such bizarre situations as cliques, bullying, peer orientation and peer culture.
Okay, I’m going to end my rant now. I’m going to stay away from that outside world for a while and allow myself to wallow comfortably in a world where I’m not a freak out to ruin my children, and the people I know – whether they send their kids to school or not – question everything and make their decisions accordingly. God bless ’em.