It wasn’t that long ago that I was wandering the halls of my public school, forsaking it as the bane of my existence. Even though it’s been awhile since I finished with grade school, I still hold it in contempt. For me, school was torture. It was literally painful. For some people school was great (good for them), for some it was fine, but for some it was mind-numbing, soul-crushing, go to your happy place until this is over painful. I was of the latter group. For kids like me, the antsy ones who couldn’t seem to sit still, the daydreamers with a blank look on their face, the trouble makers who couldn’t wait to be expelled, school was a prison.
Why did I hate school so much? Was it because I hated learning? No, I’ve always enjoyed learning about new ideas, and still do. To this day I can easily get lost in lectures or a great book. Was it because I hated my teachers? No, they all seemed like nice people, who cared about their students. Although a few of them seemed to have more passion than others. Was it the other students? No, even though I wasn’t friends with all of them, they seemed alright. After all, we had all been forced together by our parents and the government. Plus some of them seemed to hate it as much as I did; these kids became the core of my clique. Was it because the material was too difficult? No, as I always seemed to easily get high scores on the tests. I could continue with all the things that weren’t the issue, but that might get boring.
So here is a short list of what I hated about school; hierarchical structure, age-based class segregation, teaching to the test, constant testing, separation of topics, an overemphasis on grades, homework, and curriculum-based learning. That’s just me spit-balling as I’m sure I missed some issues. Most of these issues are complex structural issues that I feel negatively affect a child’s desire and ability to learn. Unfortunately, it seems difficult to dramatically alter any of these issues due to the bureaucratic nature of public schools. Classes will still be separated based on ages. Children still will be taught and evaluated based on tests. Homework will continue to be a wasteful staple of public school. Grades will still be used as a form of evaluation and cause of senseless stress. The system will continue to be authoritarian in nature. All of these could be further elaborated on as to why I consider them serious “issues”, but that’s not my current prerogative. Instead I would rather just rant about homework while I have a captive audience.
That’s right, I have a special disdain for homework and wanted to reiterate that disdain again now as an adult. Special projects were one thing, but the never-ending supply of redundant homework will never be forgiven. I’m sure if you think back you probably hated homework too. It was such a colossal waste of my personal time. I taught English for a year, and when I asked my students what they hated the most about school (and most of them do hate school) they unanimously said homework. Is that because they are lazy little brats, spoiled past redemption? Is it because they didn’t want to learn? I think not, and I support and agree with their legitimate concerns. Sure I’m a grown man at this point who doesn’t have to do homework anymore, so why not just let it go? I won’t let it go because I could see the pain in their eyes and I felt their pain. Their pain reminded me of all the stress that school homework had caused me. And it’s not necessary. Learning doesn’t require the burden of homework. There are plenty of schools that don’t use homework to teach. Seriously, although less in number, they exist. They exist!
Now the good news is that public schools are not the only schools available. And I do understand that not every public school is the same, they do vary. And I also realize that some private schools and charter schools can be just as bad if not worse in these ways as some public schools. One alternative that I personally recommend is Montessori school, which I believe is phenomenal and much more in line with insights derived from developmental psychology. Although the majority of private schools, including Montessori schools can be quite expensive, thus financially limiting those who can attend their services. But there are even alternatives to being schooled in a public or private system which are much more affordable. There are homeschooling programs which can be structured by the parent(s) and child together. There is also un/nonschooling or self-directed learning, in which the child is given much more or total autonomy. Now depending on your states laws there are some necessary steps to not being in school. But just knowing that there is a way out would have been comforting for a kid like me. I just wish I had known about some of these other options back then. It would have saved me a lot of personal grief. And for those kids like my younger self one of these alternatives could still be an option right now.
My point is that if you are a kid or teen that feels like you are stuck in a system that is diminishing your inner desire to learn, you don’t have to sit still. You can literally get up out of your seat and leave at any point. This could even be a form of civil disobedience. If you politely refuse to go and explain why you don’t want to go, eventually someone will listen. Although it may take a while for your parents to support your decision, if they are willing to talk that is an indication that they care and are trying to understand. This might take some restraint on both sides and require some emotionally charged conversations. But some long difficult conversations with the rents could lead to freedom from the school bell. And I know that’s all I wanted, and still do – more freedom!
*Disclaimer: This is not meant to be conclusive in any way. Also I realize that there are many people who loved their school, good for you, for me it was hell.