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
“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.
I’m excited about my children’s education for the first time. After spending too many years on opposite sides of the bench with the school system and the education of my older children, it’s a much welcomed relief and an exciting new prospect for us. For the past 2 years i have been endlessly searching for alternative schooling approaches to educate my children that differ from the mainstream system that we so often seem to be hauling our children through. Homeschooling or better still un-schooling has gotten my eager attention. It’s not the conventional way to go, or even the most popular form for alternative ways to educate your children, nevertheless something is swiftly moving us in that direction. And really after having already been down the conventional schooling road before, i’m afraid it leaves little to be desired for at this stage. After researching the array of approaches to begin embarking on the homeschooling journey, it became apparent and with a much welcomed relief that we were already innately flowing to this rhythm of learning. And whist it may seem alternative now, my predicament is, as a society facing the enormities of such neurological diversity we will begin to explore these new learning styles more predominately in the future anyway. Right now, everything we are doing feels right. Moving in the natural flow of the children is easy, much easier than the rush of meeting expected time tables and fitting into a routine that doesn’t really fit with us. Now, we move slowly in the mornings, especially on the stuff that doesn’t really matter, like washing faces and getting dressed. The creativity usually begins before the first cup of tea. Everything is always open, accessible and available, nothing stops or finishes at a certain time. I know the learning is happening when they wake and look out to see if anything has grown in the garden or changed form while they were sleeping. They notice a bee has taken up residence in the lounge room and they are unbothered by its presence, ensuring me that its alright, because it’s just pollinating our plants. Painting in your pyjamas is normal, brushing teeth at some stage before lunch is alright, imaginary play is unrestrained and not restricted to any parts of the house, and can take over and last for hours. I can’t emphasis enough how important this kind of play is and how important it is to allow the space in children’s lives for this to happen naturally. We live in a world that is on sensory overload most of the time. Children are losing their way, forgetting how to be without the aid of an electronic device, clouding their minds. I’m seeing it so often now, children are struggling to think of ways to play. They have forgotten this innate wisdom they have been born with and its disturbingly heartbreaking. Playing this way for us happens often and easily, they listen to each other, contemplate and cooperate together, most of the time my involvement is unnecessary and is kept to a minimal. The children are happy, excited to wake in the morning and begin their days, they know that they have the unique experience of leading the way on how the day will unfold and its alluring to watch them in the freedom of this space. It would be hard to imagine now, a life of rushing them out the door by eight with breakfast on the run to spend 6 hours in a classroom, five days a week. I’m thinking we have stumbled onto something uniquely wonderful here, un-schooling is undoubtably unorthodox and still really quite seldom, nonetheless we do like the idea of taking the road less travelled.
Asperger would often just sit with the children, reading poetry and stories to them from his favourite books. “I don’t want to simply ‘push from the outside’ and give instructions, observing cooly and with detachment,” he said ” Rather, I want to play and talk with the child , all the while looking with open eyes both into the child and into myself, observing the emotions that arise in reaction to everything that occurs in the conversation between the two of us.”
-NeuroTribes, Steve Silberman
This is how i want my children to learn, i want to be the observer not the dictator to their curious and instinctual minds. I want to watch what they are drawn to, and where they take themselves naturally when provided the space, opportunity and environment to do so. I don’t want them ever to become accustomed to what is perceived as normal or abnormal about themselves in a class room, by the opinions that are deciding where they sit on some grand scale of intellectual competence. Children are loosing their natural flow. They are being denied the access to learn by instinctively following from their own interests, a naturally occurring process that is inherent to everyone. There is no room for individual self-directed learning anymore. Instead they are being shaped and moulded, and filled with information about things that are meant to support them in their lives, but really have nothing to do with their life at all. By the time they are reaching high school it’s all but gone. Thats when it really becomes prevalent to what is happening. It is then that they too begin to realise the sad truth of how little they matter in the system, how small their voices are, unless of course they have an exceptional skill that can offer some personal gain to the school. It becomes entirely about working hard, retaining the masses of information, memorizing as opposed to learning, endless testing and our children tirelessly keeping pace, trying to prove themselves over and over again. It is about them illogically having to have their whole life plan set out before them, at the tender age of sixteen. This is not the learning we are striving for. The learning we strive for is one that doesn’t require forcing information upon them with the expectation that they retain it and then perform it back in some way, as proof of a job well done. My children are learning to count, I know this. I hear them practicing all the time, for their own pleasure. I have also watched them refuse to count on demand or worse feel so under pressure, to prove themselves that they simply can’t. Testing children is much the same. It fills them with dread, panic and insecurity, and really is no way to conclude where a child’s level of understanding is really at. Testing children in this country in the educational systems is out of control. We test everything, even how fast they can run, in ‘beep tests’. This has nothing to do with nurturing the physical health of our children, or guiding them towards naturally being aware of how to take care of their own bodies, and everything to do with competition and adequacy verses inadequacy. Never before in our history has the pressure to perform been so rampant, you have to wonder how much learning is actually taking place. We are living in a time where we are now recognising the expansive neurological diversity amongst ourselves, more than ever before, and the educational options to cater for the diversity in our children’s differences is few. Parents are wanting a new approach, they are wanting individual learning styles for their children as they are uniquely learning individuals. They are recognising that many children cannot learn effectively in a traditional school environment anymore. With the number of children being diagnosed with learning differences it is inevitable that something will have to change. There is simply no one size fits all model that can be followed effectively anymore.