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.