…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.
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