First of all, I need to thank Grace Llewellyn for writing the book that completely changed my view of education and learning- The Teenage Liberation Handbook: How to Get a Real Life and Education. This was the book that made me realise that school isn’t good enough at giving a deep and diverse knowledge of the world around us.
I was schooled in the UK from the age of 4 until 9, then in France from 9 to 15. After a bad relationship with the French school system, I returned to the UK to take my A-Levels/ High School Diploma over two years. After the first year, I quit school altogether and finished my studies from home. I’ll say now that my first year of A-Levels was far from my worst year in mainstream education. The teachers were kind and genuinely cared about the students and it was different from the rote learning and humiliation I had been used to in France. However, it was still school and sometimes the teachers who most wanted to create learning were crushing it.
I took a year out and got used to my freedom. It was the first time I had been out of school in 12 years and I spent my time indulging in hobbies and exploring any subject that took my fancy. Sometimes all I did was spend time with family. Unfortunately, in today’s world, people need qualifications to begin most careers, which means “learning” the material set by the government. I began to follow a course from home, completing work and talking to tutors over the phone. It wasn’t the most interesting way of learning and I realised later that I could have simply purchased the course books and studied only from them, without the need for an expensive course, and still pass my exams. That said, I still benefitted from homeschooling, enjoying the freedom to arrange my own schedule, make my own choices and to learn other things on the side.
Although I was never a particularly bad student, it was years of frustration, anger and total lack of interest in schoolwork that led me to many reasons to leave school, some of which I will list here.
- Boredom– I have always loved reading, yet I never woke up with excitement at the thought of my English Literature class.
- Lack of spontaneity and room for personal interests– My days were always planned for me, stating where I needed to be at what time, with whom, for how long and what I would be doing. I could never get up in the morning and decide to visit somewhere, or to read, write, play a game, take a walk, cook, fix something, etc. because I had to be in school. School was a place where I studied the National Curriculum, something total strangers thought appropriate for my age group, with no room for straying off the path.
- Peer Pressure– Although peer pressure wasn’t so bad as I got older and people started developping their own styles, there was always aun unwritten code about how to act and do things. You were either “cool” and accepted or not and “weird”.
- Grades– There was no time to enjoy of fully absorb anything, because questions always had to be answered and we were constantly being evaluated. Most of what I remember from reading The Great Gatsby is the reason the room was white and the use of narrative structure and pathetic fallacy. Everytime we got into the book, reading aloud together, the teacher would stop us and we would have to analyse a certain word or situation, annotating as we went, because it was her job to get us through our exams.
- Curiosity-Yes, I was curious.Curious to know if homeschooling was as good as the books said it was. Would I still learn? (This question makes me laugh now.) Would it work for a teenager like me who only had one year left of traditional schooling anyway?
- Rebellion– Because what kid doesn’t feel the need to rebel after 12 years in the system? I realised I could leave school, so I did.
- Pointless punishment– From sitting on the naughty chair in nursery, to writing lines and staying behind after school for detention, all of these are pointless and teach the child nothing except fear, humiliation and anger. They are a teacher’s way of stopping a child from doing the “bad” thing he did again, or of getting back at a child for disobeying. My younger sister, who is in mainstream school, was recently made to stand in the corner because an older boy helped her with her work. She is four years old.
This post isn’t an attack on mainstream education and this blog isn’t about how it doesn’t work. I have seen some children thrive at school, having been used to it for so long. My point is that they would thrive even more out of school and learn so much more spontaneously, with deeper meaning and curiosity. I do agree with the many people who believe that despite the fact that school has improved, encouraging more reading and activites in which children get to participate instead of watch, it is not the ideal environment for learning. A child needs to be able to choose what to learn, because no matter how good her teacher is, she won’t learn until she welcomes the knowledge he is trying to give her.
I believe that two years of “unschooling” (my only regret is that it wasn’t more) changed me, opened my eyes to how learning really happens and made me the person I am now. It gave me back my childlike curiosity and love for learning and a surge of confidence in myself I never knew I had. I know now that if I want to learn about something, anything, I have the ability to do so by myself, or to seek the help of somebody willing to pass their knowledge onto me, without the use of a blackboard and gold stars.
Because that is what education is all about.
“The good things schools have are equipment and teachers. The bad things they have are schedules, grades, compulsory attendance, authority, dull textbooks, busywork, sterile atmospheres, too much homework, and teachers.” – Grace Llewellyn