Why I won’t force my son to stay in school

 

” 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.

 

contemplation

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Education is a complex and unnerving predicament again for me right now. I am familiar with this approaching uneasiness, having been here once before.  Even though it may seem we have come so far in the understanding of Autism,  admittedly i still have very little faith in what is on offer in the realm of mainstream schooling.  Autism moves to a rhythm of its own, and the immensity of perceptual change needed seems far too great, before children with Autism will really be able to flow as themselves, in a conformed learning environment beside those without.   Autism is viewed and distinctively labeled as a ‘dis’ ability, diagnosed formally as a  ‘dis’order, a not quite ‘normal’ version of what is considered neurologically to be of normal functioning. There is nothing within this notion that i could disagree with more.  I have read enough to understand what the science says, i have collaborated for long enough with what the psychology is saying. I have been working my way through the often tiresome array of information and opinions on whats best for Autism right up until now.  Now, i have decided to let it go. All of it. I have let go of the psychology behind the monotonous methods of behaviour therapy,  which admittedly in the beginning i sincerely embraced, and only now do i understand was under the belief that Autism is a ‘problem’  that could be resolved and aided through repetitious behavioural training.  Quite possibly it did help on a surface level, however the notion that Autism is a ‘problem’ needing to be fixed, never has truthfully sat well with me at all. In the beginning, there was a level of expectation as a parent to take action. A portrayal of  an ‘issue’ needing to be attended to with a sense of urgency, whilst the brain functioning is still in its vital stages of development. You were considered fortunate to know early, with an increased prospect for your childs outcome,  more opportunity for implementing ‘right’ behaviours, re-developing the brains patterns to more appropriate responses and  actions. And, at a time when i believed i held limited information on what was best for my child, this was appealing and made considerable sense to me. It was easier to trust, to go along with and be told what it is you needed to do by the cultivated experts in the field of Autism, than trust your own innate wisdom.   It was easier and less confronting to go along with the preconceived ideas and recommended ways to best ‘help’ my child, before truly allowing myself the time to go through the process of really understanding what Autism meant for us. I realise now it takes tremendous  surety to step away from the opinions and conforming psychology that is embedded in the methods aimed at aiding those with Autism and it is only now, that i am able to do so in confidence.

So, after letting it all go and trusting that we are the wisdom in the knowing what is best for our child, he is truly flowing to his own rhythm. Now, only is he is really learning, he is teaching me what he needs to know more than any book or therapy session could ever do. Simply by being in the space with him and allowing him to be, allows there to be no expectation, on who he is, how his behaviours are defined and interpreted. There is no wrongness, or less than ‘normal’ view in his world now.  In this space he is opening and has the room to grow at his own pace.  He is leading the way in his education, he is deciding what he would like to know more about, what discoveries need to be made or challenges that must be conquered on any given day.  He does not have to hide himself, withdraw, or become conscious of his quirks that bring him confused and often misguided attention. By deciding to no longer try to change his innate being, and the letting go of any practices that are supporting of assertions that the Autistic way is not of normal, or appropriate functioning has opened up a space for us. A place left untethered by any of societies preconceived ideas on how he or we need to be. Now when we pay attention, it is to him, and not everything about him. This way, requires you drop everything you think you know and begin to move in a way that feels right, better, it demands your true attention, a kind of listening requiring your whole self. He knows when the attention is else where or wonders or you become distracted mid conversation. Ironically he has this way of pulling You back in, refocusing You by gently moving your face back to his centre, watching your eyes intensely to ensure the listening stays, and that you are paying attention with your whole self. This contradicts most of what is said to be true about Autism.  Looking back i realise that everything that we tried, the methods we used, was all in efforts to ease his suffering, what we believed would help settle him in the consistent unsettledness and better sustain him long-term out in the larger world. It is only now that i can see we were moving him in a way that will never serve his true self. We were teaching him to mask who he is for sake of survival, the sake of others, to move in a way that is foreign to him, to refrain from voicing truth of what he was perceiving in fear of judgement. Something that is harshly bestowed upon us in life, Autism or not.

What i have realised is, this unique way of being offers new understandings of the way in which we interact and communicate with ourselves and each other.   Autism reaches into places of raw, unattached truth and moves to a rhythm that for most is just too confronting, raising the  questions of your own beliefs and perceptions on what life is meant to look like.  It demands you move with intention and integrity, have patients and compassion, and a willingness to stay present.  For most, this simply is just too much to ask all of the time. We spend our lives listening to and being told what we need to do in order to be considered accepted and successful in our lives, often spending many years following that guidance presumably under the belief that it’s the right way, the only way towards a successful, happy life. Is it?  i sincerely wonder, about that now.   When my daughter was asked by an admired teacher what she wanted to do when she completed her senior schooling,  she replied with, ‘create something’. Her answer was not surprisingly deemed unacceptable. Her intelligence and ability to know what is best for herself was highly disregarded.  Was the honesty and integrity of her answer appreciated and respected?  I’m afraid not.  Needless to say she no longer holds this teacher in high regards and no amount of university degrees he has his name on would alter that perception.  Indoctrination comes in many ways, from lifes many teachers almost from the very beginning of our lives. She has grown securely enough to think otherwise for herself thankfully, that the only perception that matters on her life and the direction it moves is that of her own, anything anyone else thinks is irrelevant. When i asked her the question, ‘knowing what we do now, would you have preferred a different way of learning, to be offered something other than undertaking mainstream schooling? She was adamant in her answer, ‘yes’.