“It is hard to swim against the current and risk the negative judgments of parenting peers. Yet, some do, and if enough begin to swim upstream, the river may change its flow.” –Peter Gray, Free to Learn
Thats what we are doing. Bravely and confidently we are swimming up-stream, embarking on a new adventure for educating children. We are doing this because we truly believe that the current systems of mainstream education are fundamentally ‘not working’ for the diversity of all children. There comes a time when it become necessary to move away from what has been done before if it doesn’t innately feel right to be moving in that direction anymore.
“Today most people think of childhood and schooling as indelibly entwined. We identify children by their grade in school. We automatically think of learning as work, which children must be forced to do in special workplaces, schools, modeled after factories. All this seems completely normal to us, because we see it everywhere. We rarely stop to think about how new and unnatural all this is in the larger context of human evolution and how it emerged from a bleak period in our history that was marked by child labor and beliefs in children’s innate sinfulness. We have forgotten that children are designed by nature to learn through self-directed play and exploration, and so, more and more, we deprive them of freedom to learn, subjecting them instead to the tedious and painfully slow learning methods devised by those who run the schools.” –Peter Gray, Free to Learn
We are beginning a community for home and unschoolers to come together. We are creating such a place ourselves because there are no such facilities for kids to regularly be together, who are on these new paradigms of education. And even though, I’m referring to this path of education as ‘new’, it’s really not ‘new’ at all. Free to learn schools have been around and successfully operating since The Summerhill School was first founded in 1921. This model of schooling, whilst now is still seen as ‘radicle’ and alternative, is what I believe our futuristic education models will be based on and the direction they will begin to move in, eventually. Why do i think this? Because there is a movement towards this. Parents are not content with the old system because children are not content within the system. It has become clear to those ready to see it, just how much children have outgrown the system already and how exceptionally hard it is to keep themselves ‘happy’ within it. This is why they can’t sit still. This is why we have more diagnosed ADHD now than ever before. If children were free to move, speak, play, eat, rest, run and even shout as their bodies needed, ADHD wouldn’t be a problem. It wouldn’t need to be medicated. It probably wouldn’t even be noticed. Then the masses of children referred to as having “abnormal behaviours” thereupon become “normal” children once again. If you believe there is such thing that is.
Our idea for education is free from conformity, free from authoritarian fear based learning. Our community will fundamentally from a grass-roots level wholeheartedly trust children in their abilities to know what it is they need to learn about without being restricted by the confinements of their age. Much the same way we trust toddlers will begin to talk by themselves. We don’t sit them down for hours of instruction, to teach them the spoken word. We just live, talk and play with them, and we instinctively know that the words will form by themselves and in time will be mastered, when they are ready of course. Children learn better through experience, most would agree with this. If you can offer children experience in what interests them, they not only will learn about it more authentically but more important it facilitates the way for a love of learning. So much of ‘mainstream’ school is, consciously or not working against this philosophy.
“Human beings have been sharing information and skills, and passing along to their children whatever they knew, for about a million years now. Along the way they have built some very complicated and highly skilled societies. During all those years there were very few teachers in the sense of people whose only work was teaching others what they knew. And until very recently there were no people at all who were trained in teaching, as such. People always understood, sensibly enough, that before you could teach something you had to know it yourself. But only very recently did human beings get the extraordinary notion that in order to be able to teach what you knew you had to spend years being taught how to teach.” -John Holt, Teach Your Own
There is a saying “If there’s a book that you want to read, but it hasn’t been written yet, then you must write it.” [Tony Morrison] Thats what we are doing. We are rewriting the story. We will do this because we are a small part of an important movement that knows we must because it has become vitally necessary for the well being of our children.
“Like cattle most humans live and die in passive subjection..We live lives locked into narrow patterns, often filled with great suffering and it never occurs to us that we can actually become free.” -Samadhi
“My dream of course is that we give up these dreadful authoritarian prescribed hateful state systems that clearly everybody agrees.. are obviously failing..”[Derry Hannam, retired school inspector] We are so afraid of giving children the freedom they deserve in being the driving force for their own education, that we are doing them an incredible injustice in their opportunities for true learning and for their lives. This is not what children want or need anymore and It is not what is valuable for our futuristic world either.
“We need young people who are independent, who are responsible for themselves,…who can work without strict leadership, we need young people and employees who can think outside of the box. Thats what we need. Everything that our schools don’t allow. It what companies need. It’s what science needs. Its whats needed everywhere.” [ Jesper Juul, author ]
” I think i’m getting dumber”.
This is the statement my 15 year old son made to me one day after walking in the door after school. So my question is, what are ‘they’ doing to make him feel this way about his own intelligence? Why is my son no longer feeling capable? This is not the way he feels about himself outside of those school walls.
We send our children with enormous amounts of trust into these school domains that have become by law. We place our trust in allowing other people, to mould and influence our children’s own innate belief systems because we have been enticed into believing that this is the only way that they will be able to successfully make it out there in the ‘real world’. We have been led to believe that they are the better ones or rather ‘only’ ones who know how to provide them with the knowledge and experience that they are going to need. These notions are ludicrous. This is an old story. And it does not fit our world anymore. Parents are afraid to change it, children are becoming unable to stay within it.
I have seen children unravelling, questioning everything they thought to be true about themselves. I have seen their sense of worth be so diminished by this system that it’s frightening. Our children are never born into this world feeling about life or themselves in this way. So why do they get to 15 and suddenly feel hopeless? Why are they questioning their worthiness within the school domain and worse, then how they’ll make it in their lives outside of school? Suddenly this place that they have only ever known and trusted (because we said to) since they were five, no longer feels good to them? This place no longer wants them, if they cannot provide them with the highest scores, and grandest achievements and keep themselves from questioning anything. The school domain begins this subtle elimination process early, while young minds are still susceptible to easy manipulation. They question 14 year olds about what path they are considering taking in their educational futures? Are you staying or are you going? As if they are meant to be considering it at all? Aren’t they ALL allowed to stay? The system works out who is worth supporting through to the end and who should be sent packing towards other avenues. These avenues that are suggested usually feel to the students like the road the ‘dumb kids’ take. Of course, they aren’t but the fact is, that this is the perception that has been created by the system. The message isn’t even hidden, it’s said directly. [Maths teacher] Are you taking Maths next year? [15 year old] Yes Why? I’m good at Maths. [teacher] You might want to reconsider that choice.
The system is old, the story is old, it doesn’t work, it most likely never did. We are so far behind our children, that we can’t keep up, and they can’t sit still anymore. Conformity and confinement to uncomfortable conditions in rooms is cruel. Tables with hard chairs, textbooks and dictation is not working. Trying to control this situation with imposing punishments or worse medication to fit this dynamic, is unquestionably not the answer. The system cannot be reformed, the story must be transformed. Learning is innate. Learning and creating is a every human beings right, they will do this without force, if we let them. Possibly, it’s time to begin listening to these young minds and what they are wanting to learn for themselves, instead of dictating an outdated curriculum and insisting that it is what they will need for their future ‘survival’. How can we possibly even know this? We could instead be supporting their innovativeness and their desires to explore and create around their own interests. We could be assisting their learning by trusting them to know what supports it is that they need, instead of compelling them to abide by a support system that is failing to adequately support them anyway. If our education systems can move towards more agile learning environments with, student-directed programs rather than the enforced dictatorship we currently have; then possibly our young minds operating within these systems can begin to start thriving instead of merely surviving.
…thus we find ourselves trying to poke certain facts, recipes, and ideas down the gullets of every child in school, whether the morsels interest him or not, and even if there are other things that he is much more interested in learning.
These ideas are absurd and harmful nonsense. We will not begin to have true education or real learning in our schools until we sweep this nonsense out of the way. Schools should be a place where children learn what they most want to know. The child that wants to know something remembers it and uses once he has it; the child who learns something to please or appease someone else forgets it when the need for pleasing or the danger of not appeasing is past. This is why children quickly forget all but a small part of what they learn in school. It is of no use or interest to them; they do not want, or expect, or even intend to remember it. The only difference between bad and good students in this respect is that the bad students forget right away while the good students are careful to wait until after the exam. If for no other reason, we could well afford to throw out most of what we teach in school because the children throw out almost all of it anyway. John Holt, How children Fail, 1964
I know, I am unrelenting in my passion towards changing the way children are educated. I also realise that the very idea that the school system may not be working for our children, is just too hard to even contemplate for most. We have come to rely on the ‘system’. We have come to expect that this is the way, the only way our children can learn, therefore be educated, and have a successful life. This system has become so normal and so accepted, that to veer in any other direction is met with disturbing scrutiny. Nevertheless, many brave ones are tempting the path, and heading themselves towards uncharted waters. We are a part of this movement. Not just because we love Autism too much to conform it out of our children but because we are simply not willing to conform our children to fit a broken system. We are moving towards empowering our children rather than suppressing them. Moving in a direction of allowing, rather than controlling their minds and bodies. Trusting that they have the ability to learn what it is they require to know at any given time. Much the same way we trusted that they would recognise us when they were born, or learn to walk and talk without our forced instruction. Most important, understanding that they are not here to fulfil any requirements of my ideas of what they should be doing with their lives. This is not a new notion. There has been a quiet progressive movement towards this for a really long time. A.S.Neill founded Summerhill School, the first ‘free to learn’ school, in 1921 and the Sudbury Vally School in Massachusetts has been successfully running since 1968. Many more have been successfully modelled on this idea of educating. The idea of allowing children to be free to be who they are, embrace what they want, and learn in a way that comes naturally and supports their thriving, is not really as radicle as it may seem. There continues to be an unassuming movement towards freeing children from the grips of the industrialised school systems. This unyielding movement is steadily growing and I assume will keep on growing as parents become less and less contented in allowing the detrimental failings that schools are having on large proportions of children.