He is not stupid. In spite of his nervousness and anxiety, he is curious about some things, bright, enthusiastic, perceptive, and in his writing highly imaginative. But he is literally, scared out of his wits. He cannot learn math because his mind moves so slowly from one though to another that the connections between them are lost. His memory does not hold what he learns, above all else because he wont trust it. Every day he must figure out, all over again, that 9 + 7 = 16, because how can he be sure that it has not changed, or that he has not made another endless series of mistakes? How can you trust any of your own thoughts when so many of them have proved to be wrong? I can see no kind of life for him unless he can break out of the circle of failure, discouragement, and fear in which he is trapped in. .. Worst of all, I’m not sure that we, his elders really want him to break out. It is no accident that this boy is afraid. We have made him afraid, consciously, deliberately, so that we might more easily control his behaviour and get him to do whatever we wanted him to do. ….They get bold and sassy; they may for a while try to give a had time to those adults who for so long have been giving them had time. So to keep him in his place, to please the school and his parents, I have to make him fearful again. The freedom of fear that i try to give from one hand I almost instantly take away with the other. What sense does this make? –John Holt, How Children Fail, 1962
Fear and Failure. I know this is not how we should be viewing our school system to be. However, it has been hard to see anything else that has been more unvarying than the fear and failure that has been systematically instilled into the belief system of my son during his ten years in the mainstream school system. I know there is nothing unique about our experience, that’s the sad truth about it. We have been at a cross roads many times. Do we stay, do we to leave, do we try another school, only to return to the one that has had the greatest detriment of all. The one where, the reinforcing has become so great that there’s almost a complacency about it. What he has is a comfortable character there, he is well liked because he is a great person, but they’ve looked passed his innate potential because they have already successfully redefined it. I have watched the influences of the educators on my sons well-being over the years carefully. Trying to counteract the messages i could see being instilled and taking effect. I have watched them change his mind on what he now believes to be true for himself. There will be so much undoing of school to do, when we finally make it and that is if we do. There has been little to no choice of this playing out any other way. An alternative way has never been an option that we have ever had the means to take. We have had to rely on and trust our State System. There simply is no choice for parents wanting to choose where their children should be educated if finances are playing a large component. That is our system, and the fact is, schools are funded not children. Possibly the idea of funding children rather than schools would free up this predicament, and give parents the choice to choose the best education facility for their child’s unique learning style. Freedom of choice, is not what we have now. What we have now, is a system in such dire restraint that its powerfully failing Australian Children.
The idea that children won’t learn without outside rewards and penalties, or in the debased jargon of the behaviorist, “positive and negative reinforcements,” usually becomes a self for filling prophecy. If we treat children long enough as if that were true, they will come to believe it is true. So many people have said to me ” if we didn’t make the children do things, they wouldn’t do anything.” It is the creed of a slave. John Holt, How Children Fail
“One is that school and society have programmed us to think our personal worth depends on how we are evaluated by others, and that our status is defined by our rank within an institution or society. Another very important habit that needs eliminating is thinking: ‘Life is a process of graduating from one externally-provided program to the next.’ – Conrad P. Pritscher, Einstein and Zen
I am at ease with my children taking the lead when it comes to what they are wanting to do. I simply don’t feel that there should be any rush towards any one objective that needs to be reached in a particular time frame. I am not holding their development to any preconceived ideas of what they should know. This is not the way i have always moved. For the most part i have been a follower of the ‘normalised route’ when it comes to educating children. Had it not been for the witnessing of the unfolding of my older children’s educational experience, it’s highly likely that i still would be following the more ‘traditional’ paths so many are accustomed to. Are we primitive in our thoughts about this process? Are we at the stage where we are willing to question it yet? Or, does is it seem too big, too hard to fathom, that possibly this system that is so heavy relied upon and trusted, could in fact be far more detrimental to our children’s spirits and abilities to learn than we are willing to admit. I’m not entirely sure what exactly or who rather that we are entrusting them to anymore. It seems it is somewhat a political game, and is far from focused on the intricate details of what is required for children to thrive in their learning spaces. Our children are spending the greater part of their childhood growing within this system. It would be somewhat naive, if you believe that during this time, that they’re not being deeply shaped and affected by those who they are surrounded by in their day to day lives. The greater part of children’s productive waking time is spent within the school domain, and as unsettling as it may be, the predominate influence in regards to what children believe about themselves and their abilities to learn has become that of their educators and peers. Children are taught very quickly that mistakes are wrong to make, that making mistakes will amount to failure, and failure inevitably is how they will learn to feel about themselves. This message is undeniable and very difficult for a parent to convince them of otherwise when the message is reinforced again and again over long periods of time. It’s a familiar pattern in modern teaching now, it’s become normalised and is somewhat expected. Whether or not we should be accepting it for our children, is the question that we should be asking now.
“Once compulsory systems of state-run schools were established, they became increasingly standardized, both in content and in method. For the sake of efficiency, children were divided into separate classrooms by age and passed along, from grade to grade, like products on an assembly line. The task of each teacher was to add bits of officially approved knowledge to the product, in accordance with a preplanned schedule, and then to test that product before passing it on to the next station.” –Peter Gray, Free to learn
“It is, in fact, nothing short of a miracle that the modern methods of instruction have not yet entirely strangled the holy curiosity of inquiry; for this delicate little plant, aside from stimulation, stands mainly in need of freedom. ” Albert Einstein
This special place is quietly tucked in between and behind urban development. It’s a place that will I imagine always remain an endangered species of its kind. It’s not greatly recognised or appreciated by a majority and even when trying to track down where to find this small existence, the local council where dumbfounded of its whereabouts. With perseverance we did find it, and even before the onset of winter where the water levels will be high and the bio diversity will be flourishing, it was already truly captivating. We arrived to a symphony of frogs that lasted for about thirty continuous minutes, before coming to a complete silence as if it was a perfectly orchestrated concert for us. These are the small existences that may not out live us without us fighting for their survivals. Ironically they would in hindsight out live humanity if it wasn’t for the perpetual threat of us. There is no doubt that we will visit here often, and watch the changes that take place over the seasons. In a few months the wetlands will be high, and we will catch tadpoles and make frog habitats of our own, bringing new life and eco systems to our garden, all the while learning about this intricate detail that helps to weave our planet together.
I am outrageously passionate about learning but not so passionate about schooling.
I have wild ones, that i am certain of. Anyone who knows them well enough would find it hard to disagree. It is true, that my little ones have the freedom to be as they are in all of their delightful and not so delightful shades. And it is true as a mother that i have recognised early what will and will not work for them without greatly effecting their inherent selves. This has taken us on a path that is undoubtably moving us away from any of the traditionalism that is usually expected right now at their ages. However, I am no longer really interested into moulding them into something that resembles little to who they are, for the sake of somebody elses idea of what they should be doing. The more I leave them alone, to follow their own guidance, the more i am recognising that they are always discovering and learning exactly what they need to be at precisely the right time for them. I cannot imagine these two little ones thriving in traditional school setting. My youngest would without a doubt conquer her experience if she was to embark on the mainstream schooling path. She would surly learn quickly to play by the rules and manipulate the system well. I’m certain she would challenge where she deemed necessary and the probability of this occurring more often than not would be high. She would absolutely, unquestionably survive the system. Except, to survive I’m afraid is no longer adequately enough. In every other part of our lives we are living truthfully, not measuring ourselves or abilities by any other person or methodical method. We are not comparing, justifying or compromising our selves. Most importantly we are not trying to please any one else’s expectations. And so much of education has been built around this calibre. Children are forever trying to please, do it the right way, the way that gets them the most praise and recognition. For what? They are taught early that what other people think, matters more than their own innate inclinations and i wonder is that really what we are wanting our children to believe? That they don’t matter as much as the one who stands before them. The one who has taken a more conventional path, the one who is older, the one who has a higher degree, the one who has a larger bank balance, the one who was born male? This familiar notion could go on forever. Disregarding our own guidance to please somebody elses ideas for what they deem to be right. I’m clear that my children were not born to please me or anyone else for that matter. Their lives are theirs to mould into what ever shape they desire, even at the ages of four and five. Their ‘wildness’ is inherently their own. Following this path of learning and living has been easier and come more naturally than any other orchestrated path we have followed before. This path is natural learning, a more natural education. It allows my children to show up fully in the truth of who they are. They don’t need to hide behind masks or pretend to be or like anything that they don’t. It teaches them to speak their truth, and maybe when they are older they will be less afraid of this, especially if their notions lend themselves towards raising a little controversy.
My children will not grow to know this day as a celebration. They will learn the heavy truths of the suffering that occurred during this time. They will not be sheltered from the painful reality of our history to follow along in this new tradition of celebration, when remembering is more appropriate for the occasion. We will acknowledge the true Australians of this land we have all laid claim to. We will recognise and validate exactly what this day represents. We will say how sorry we are in our hearts and ask to be forgiven, for the undeniably unforgivable.
“An elementary school teacher was giving a drawing class to a group of six-year old children. At the back of the class room sat a girl who normally didn’t pay much attention in school. In drawing class she did. For more than twenty minuets the girl sat with her arms curled around her paper, totally absorbed in what she was doing.The teacher found this fascinating. Eventually she asked the girl what she was drawing. Without looking up, the girl said, “I’m drawing a picture of God.” Surprised the teacher said, “But nobody knows what God looks like.” The Girl said, “They will in a minute.” … I believe passionately that we are all born with tremendous capacities, and that we lose touch with many of them as we spend more time in the world. Ironically, one of the main reasons this happens is education.”
-Ken Robinson, The Element
We have reached another final ending of secondary education. The girls are all taking a well-earned breath now. The previous year, has been one of the hardest contradictions i have ever had to give my entire support to and in doing so, it has become ever so clear that my desire to move away from supporting mainstream educating is now undeniable. These girls of ours have played the game and they have played it exceptionally well. I have witnessed them consistently refrain from voicing their truths, their opinions, their creativity and their individualities. They learned to not step on toes and to keep the peace even when it meant going against the truth because to challenge the system or the school or the teacher would have had a detrimental consequence on their personal results, regardless of the validity. They learned not to make the inappropriate comments and judgments made by teachers matter to them, and the noticeable partiality teachers held for certain co students bother them. They worked incredibly hard, kept their focus and received more than admirable results for their efforts and are all now considered to be a part of a small percentage of success stories of mainstream eduction. But are they? What exactly are we defining their success on? There is no doubt of how exceptionally proud i am of their accomplishments but it has nothing to do with a number or score that some system places such high value on. I wonder to what detriment are they having to acquire their success, and would they really choose it to be this way if given the choice?
My greatest fear is that the message that is being sent within this process of educating is that they simply don’t matter. The very fact that they are unique individuals, who consist of a complexity of different abilities and talents is being lost in the process. Instead what they are learning is that they must merely comply and be willing to shut themselves off from the very aspects of who they are, and do what they are directed to do, the way they are directed to do it. They must do this without opinion and ever raising the obvious question of, why? Why must we do this? This is a very simple and valuable question that is asked often early on in the education process and rarely accurately answered. I fear that what is being really taught is, how to successfully navigate your way through a system and play the game.
These girls true abilities and intelligence cannot be measured in this way. This is not something their education has provided them with, and even with the highest notable recognition, it still fails to see the entirety of who they are and the their immense individual worth. I hold more appreciation for their ability of withstanding spending so much time within a system that increasingly denied them the space and opportunity to really discover who they are and what they really want for themselves and still keep themselves perfectly grounded. We have been blessed with wise children. We know that they are more than capable of being in complete control of their own futures. And it will be inspiring to stand back and witness the forthcoming unfolding. I only wonder, what if the same freedom and space and opportunity had been offered much earlier? What if this process is no longer really necessary at all anymore. It is my thought that they undeniably would still be powerfully driving themselves forward in their lives, unsubdued.
‘First they ignore you then they laugh at you then they fight you then you win’ – Mahatma Gandhi
Any proposed new idea that is going to challenge a way or belief that has been followed and indoctrinated for so long is going to gain immense resistance. But to keep going along with systems and ideas that we know are no longer working especially when those systems are ones concerning our children, is no longer justifiable. We are in a time that is requiring brave people to come forth with new perspectives, even if the perspectives are seemingly unorthodox, in the beginning. It is no secret that the education systems in western civilisation are having an adverse effect on children. Some of the most revolutionary ideas of how we may move towards a more diverse and nurturing educating way to serve future generations of humanity more effectively, is coming forth now. Having had children that patently do not fit the mainstream educational systems without having to clearly identify necessary provisions in order for them to participate, indicates that change is necessary and any system that no longer endorses notions of what we are deeming to be normal and abnormal is much welcomed from where i am standing.
If there’s a book that you want to read, but it hasn’t been written yet, then you must write it.”
More and more I’m leaning towards leaving my children alone. I am no longer standing in the way of their freedom. They are free to develop, discover, learn and interact at their own will. I’m trusting my children in their natural instincts and better judgements in knowing what it is they are wanting. My parenting is radically different now compared to what it may have looked like fifteen years or so ago. I too, are radically different now. The more I allow myself to flow into the ease of life, the easier life is becoming. There is no longer any one story i am endeavouring to fit into or trying to make my children fit into whether they are wanting or not. There is no direction that has been set before us that we are wanting to follow, that feels right anymore. This story we are creating is new. The way we are moving is new. We are walking a path that few are walking, and we are alright with that. We are unafraid, and faithful to ourselves and to our journey. Maybe there in lies the answer to contented happiness. More of trusting life to happen and allowing it to flow, welcoming whatever arises rather than pushing against and struggling in what comes about. Even the seemingly negative experiences can be blessings if we open to their messages. My children were not born to conform in this world as it is before us now, that i am certain of. I too have resisted for most of my life to agree and go along quietly with ideas and ways that innately have not felt like the right way. Maybe that is why they chose me to be their mother. But ultimately, it has been the determination of my children’s Will to not bend themselves towards people or experiences that they innately know will not serve them well, that has bought us to where we are standing now. I find myself questioning everything, especially things that rise resistance in us or simply just don’t feel right. I am listening to them in their no’s as it holds as much power as what they are saying yes to. And i want them to know from the beginning of their lives what they say yes and no to in life, matters. They are not here to simple follow those who went before them around in their ways. They have their own way, most of the time they are leading it and most of the time its going against everything that has gone before us. Still, we go forth fearlessly trusting ourselves and unafraid of laying new paths that have yet to be walked by the many.
It is my daughters final year of senior education. To say I’m incredibly proud of her would be an understatement, but it’s never been her position to prove anything to me. She is already all-encompassing of everything she has ever needed to be. Her final year has been a heavy weight to endure. It has left me as a parent, quite disillusioned and a somewhat perplexed as to why we are deeming it necessary to place such astronomical amounts of pressure upon these young adults shoulders. Even the most well-balanced adult would have difficulty sustaining the weight of such pressures. Nevertheless she has held her own, in a system that holds very little room for flexibility and individual sentiments. She knows that she has given it her all, and most of all she knows she did it for herself. And that is all that is ever really necessary. For her final media piece she produced a short film focusing on concerning issues still facing women today on a global scale. She chose to use her voice, she chose to be brave and innately powerful in her message. Whats important is she is willing. Willing to be seen, be heard, and is already comfortable in the knowing that what she has to say matters. We can spend our entire lives coming to this realisation, the realisation of our own worth and how much of a role it plays in everything we choose to undertake. If this is the only message that our children take with them as they embark on their journeys, then as parents we will have done enough.
The freedom to be angry on purpose holds as much importance as does the freedom to be happy. One cannot exist without the other. There cannot be one feeling that circles around again and again, never realising anything other than itself. How would we ever possibly know what does not serve us well, if we were to only ever experience one single feeling without the contrast? Why are we taught to be so afraid of what this emotion entails? Our outrages can signify what doesn’t sit well with us, what truths maybe stirring beneath the surface of what we are yet to see. It could be what guides us in the process of recognising what is not in our best interest or what we should not be willing to settle for. Why have we been raised to be afraid of the contrast? To avoid the conflict at all costs, as if no positive outcomes or realisations could come from such experiences? We have been raised to not fight for ourselves. For some, the confrontation is so uncomfortable, that they are willing to hold themselves in untruths for the sake of peace, usually a peace that cannot and will not last or serve them well. I have had the freedom in my life to experience the contrast in such ways that i am now unafraid when it presents itself. I have learnt to pay careful attention when it rises, especially in the moments it catches me off guard. I am in a place now where i have learnt to deeply trust my own outrages. I have experienced the battle enough in life now to know that sometimes it’s necessary and required for things to move forward in the desirable direction. I have experienced it enough to no longer be afraid of what it entails. I am comfortable in the knowing that what drives my battle is a passionate truth. My own. I realise what serves as my truth can only ever be that. Not everyone is going to have the desire to live the same, they can only ever have their own truths to follow. I’m thankful for their contrast as it keeps me clear and heading in the direction to which I am wanting to go. And as hard as it maybe to fathom, it really is insignificant where others are standing in their lives. It only ever really matters and can become hazardous when you find yourself too focused on trying to change their truths rather than staying clear about where you are standing in your own. The story always only ever belongs to you. As soon as you can bring yourself into the realisation that you are always only ever creating the story, the sooner you can get on with paying attention to what it is you are wanting to look like. And becoming comfortable in all the shades we carry that take us along that journey.
There’s always a time that comes when raising children that it becomes necessary to step to the side. We can only guide and set the pace for so long, then they begin to stretch themselves in and out of the comfortable and familiar places to see whats out there, what else is on offer. They begin this process of sifting and sorting through life’s offerings usually at a time when we believe they are most vulnerable. We are wanting to keep them close by, keep them securely tucked under our wings, keep them safe from all we know is out there. But the truth is, it’s necessary that they begin to know this for themselves. It’s necessary that we listen to what it is they are wanting and needing to do, at what ever age it presents itself, however hard at times it may be to hear. Our readiness as parents may not always line up with theirs. We must be able to step to the side, even if the words are hard to hear, even if we already know what the probability of the outcome will be. Even if we believe that their choice is not going to serve them well, it remains to be their choice. I have been learning to stand to the side of my children for some time now. Their choices are hard ones to hold at times, and it has become necessary to know when to keep quite and allow the sifting and sorting of their preferences to be that of their own. My children have been learning what works for them and what doesn’t from very young ages. At times its felt as though some of the lessons have been too hard, that they have been too young to be carrying such weights. Weights, that most of the time they have chosen for themselves. It’s not easy to stand to the side, in the deepest of love, and wait, wait to see if they will come back full circle. I’ve noticed, that most of the time they usually do, on most things. They begin somewhere with an idea of themselves and they want to see how it fits out there in the world. Then they play, explore, dream, fly and fall. And eventually, usually always they’ll end up somewhere where they first began. This is the beginning of their lives moving in circles, eventually everything always brings them home, back to themselves.
This is what i intrinsically believe learning to be for him. Thinking requires immense bodily movement. Walking, talking, bare feet and tippy toes. Thought forms are spoken out loud with tremendous enthusiasm and with repetition to anyone who is readily available to listen. He will do this until it makes picture perfect sense, to him. And sometimes it is absolutely necessary for him to move to higher spaces, where the air is somewhat clearer. Floor play is the preferred play way where chairs and tables are rarely sat in for extended periods of time and if they are he prefers not to sit down in the traditional sense. He moves to the freedom of how he is feeling and there are no forced days he is required to fit into. He is moving completely at will, and to the flow of himself. Everything requires a curious explanation with the discussion beginning first thing in the morning and continuing the entire day. There aren’t really any schedules or rules to follow, except eat when you are hungry, rest when you are tired, bathe when you’ve changed colour and if you can make it yourself, then you should. This is what free learning for him means and as he embarks on his learning adventure, he won’t be constricted to rooms, spaces, furniture or shoes. His body will remain as free to move with him as his mind is. He can think out loud, as loud as required without disturbing anyone. He can speak his thoughts as they arise without needing to pause and wait until appropriate discussion periods are allocated. This point is particularly important to note as often his thoughts and ideas that arise during conversation require additional verbalization for it to make sense to him and necessary if you are wanting him to retain the information for further learning at another stage. Often if waiting is required even for short moments, the ideas and the words chosen for the communication are unfortunately, usually lost. His contribution to his learning is on going, and most importantly moves to his unique flow. He is learning to collaborate with people, not of just the same age and or development but from the many ages he is surrounded by. And like adults he choses who to engage with not by age but by the more natural laws that attract people to each other. He is fortunate in not being confined to only the experience of five year old minds. He partakes in the wild and expansive imaginations of his younger and older siblings, in a kind of play based learning that if acknowledged and rightly valued, should continue way past pre school years and will undoubtably continue to serve them all for the entirety of their lives. Materials that are usually phased out during the primary school years will most likely remain in our learning experience. We won’t be out growing our home corner, by the age of 6. Home Economics will grow and expand as he does. He will be able to learn math and operate the washing machine. We will learn about anything and everything that he arises interest in and we will learn it in a way that we have advanced to. There are few rules and no time limits allocated to any one subject. Everything can be interwoven and overlapped and expanded if there is freedom in learning. I know, there are schools like this that exist. Learning environments that are willing to take the alternative way towards educating our children, one that nurtures individuality and inspires curiosity and most of all values children’s innate ability to know what it is they are wanting to learn and know about at any given stage. And even though there are a few, it’s not many. And we are needing many. We are requiring this approach of educating to no longer be the alternative approach and in retrospect only available to a handful of children but rather how unprecedented would it be to integrate this alternative way into the whole. And allow our children to truly lead the way in their learning abilities.