So what is so wrong with the school system? I’ve believed that the school system is very flawed for a long time. I can be a bit intense about it now, but for the most part controllably so; years ago, though, I was so intense about it that I could hardly speak a comprehensible word on the topic. I would choke on my own words. I was consumed by rage.
Why? I guess I didn’t know how to deal with anger very well. But what didn’t help was the fact that I found these things so obvious, and yet no-one who I talked to would really understand me or even listen to me on the topic. I felt like everyone around me was complicit in a major crime. And yet I was the one who they thought was crazy.
My views are still essentially the same as they have always been, since I became aware of my instincts on the topic. It’s only my rage that has gone down. I still feel that this truth is as plainly obvious as I always have. I still think that the school system is a soul-and-life destroying horror on par with the genocides. (Seriously). But I can talk more calmly about it, and avoid feeling the need to throw around blame.
So what is so wrong with the school system?
First: The school system is not what it says it is.
You go to school to learn, right? That is the school system’s explicit purpose. So that children can learn.
But what do you learn in school? I mean really? What really stays with you?
Well, you learn to read and write and to do basic math. That’s good. If you’re lucky you might end up with survival level in a second language too. Okay.
But as you know – as everyone knows – almost all of the rest of it, you forget. Sometimes only two days after you crammed for the exam.
History? You forget all of the dates of events that only dead people ever cared much about.
Science? You forget the organs of plants and the formulas for working out the velocity of a falling object.
Literature? You forget those books you were forced to read and only remember how much you hated them.
You can learn everything that you actually remembered from school in about two years. I’m not exaggerating here! How long did it take to learn to read and write and do basic math? Not long. Four years at most. And if you hadn’t been distracted by the useless stuff combined with that… yeah, two years sounds reasonable.
So school is not about learning. If it was, people would have realised how much more efficiently it could be done. About 10 years of school time, then, are wasted from the perspective of learning.
It’s my contention that those who created the school system knew what they were doing, though, and from their perspective – not ours – the time wasn’t wasted.
My old self – who I can hear as an echo in my psyche – would have said: TEN YEARS!! TEN YEARS!! TEN WASTED YEARS. TEN YEARS REMOVED FROM MY LIFE. ONE EIGHTH OF MY LIFE WAS MURDERED!
I don’t want to make this article about venting, but you can see her point, maybe.
Imagine if school was your whole life. That would not be a life at all! I know I would kill myself rather than face such a life. And I think most people would too. If everyone saw school as a form of prison like I do, of course they would.
School, though, is only one eighth of your life… right? But, that still means that for every eight people who go to school, one life is “lost” overall. And it’s also true that billions of people experience the modern school system these days. So I don’t think it’s so far from truth to call it a genocide. Or at the very least, the scale of damage is that of a genocide.
I say this calmly. Nowadays I won’t use the word “murder” because it contains a judgement. I no longer want to judge the action, to condemn. I know now that that doesn’t help – all it does is poison me. But I still believe all that I’ve ever believed. School is not what it says it is.
So what is it? In essence, school as we know it is a tool to teach people to be obedient.
It is made to shape them in a lot of ways, in fact, and very little of that shaping is to do with maths and science or any of that. But obedience training is the biggest thing that school is made to do.
I believe that school should not be obligatory. It should not be obligatory to go; and when you’re there, it should not be obligatory to stay or to do things in the way they tell you to.
My old self would have raged against this so hard. She just couldn’t accept being told what to do. Nowadays, I don’t have anyone telling me what to do, so I’m okay. But I still feel that authoritarianism is wrong.
Wrong because we have free will and dignity. Wrong because it just doesn’t work very well to control others through authoritarianism; people access their creativity best when they work together on a common goal with people who consider them equals. Wrong because authoritarianism inevitably involves discipline, humiliation, and punishment.
But all of those reasons are a little unimportant to my argument. My argument is devastatingly clear if I only point out this fact: obligation is unnecessary because most of the time we spend in school is unnecessary.
You could say that we should force all children to learn to read, write and do basic math. I disagree, but I can see where you are coming from. But basically all of the rest of what we do in school – for ten whole years – is demonstrably useless.
So, at the very least, the ten years in which we are learning useless things should be optional. There’s no justification for those years; not for existing at all, and much less for them being obligatory.
Take a little time to let that sink in.
Why are these 10 wasted years obligatory? Simply because it is not facts we are teaching; we are teaching children to respond to obligation itself.
The message of obligatory schooling is this: you are not your own person. You have to do things according to the school timetable. Come when school starts; go to every lesson, whether you like it or not, at the set time. You have to do what your teacher says, even if it’s wrong. You have to ask permission to go to the frikkin’ toilet for god’s sake. The toilet. Do I even need to point out how ridiculous this is?
All of these things teach you to require authority. It teaches you to expect that other people will tell you what to do all day. It breaks down your resistance.
In the end, in fact, it makes you need it. Your independent will is so thoroughly broken down that you don’t even know what you want anymore. You just wait passively until an authority tells you what to do. In your “free time”, you don’t pursue your own passions any more: your attention is funneled into safe outlets such as television and Facebook. You are rendered effectively clawless.
Jobs pick up where school left off. They continue to fill up your time and stop you from ever finding your independent will. They keep on encouraging, requiring obedience.
Forever clawless. Unless you wake up and break out of the system, of course.
…So what about better schools, like Waldorf and so on? Well, for me Waldorf schools are a bit better but they miss the point. So long as school is obligatory, you are impinging on a child’s basic human dignity. You are teaching them to need authority rather than have their own ideas and initiative.
Some schools, however, are obligation free. These have various names: free schools, anarchist schools, or democratic schools. (Don’t be put off by “anarchist” by the way; the word actually just means no leader, which is exactly what this is. The other two terms are more common anyway).
Summerhill is my personal favourite, a long running project created by a visionary leader. There are many others, though, including a chain of schools by the name of Sudbury Valley or just “Sudbury schools”.
There is also the possibility of homeschooling. Non obligatory homeschooling is called “Unschooling” — or “Radical Unschooling” to differentiate it from diluted versions of the philosophy. The word is also used to mean the parenting philosophy of non-obligation — independent of which school your children go to. I find that part very important too, as school is only going to be part of your child’s early life.
Either way, the important thing is that free schools and Unschooling work. Children who go through these systems come out incredibly well balanced. Don’t believe me? Just check those websites for some testimonials. You can also read some experiences in this article.
And they do learn. Actually, the normal school system is what teaches children to hate learning. People are natural learners by nature, and those who go through Unschooling or free schools never have that instinct squashed. They become lifetime learners. But they do it on their own schedule.
Some children who go through these systems learn to read at age 3. Some, who enjoy more physical activities or for whatever other reason have their own plans, leave off reading till up to age 14. Generally these children learn to read around the same time as normal children, or just a little later. But here’s the thing: they all learn to read.
The apocalypse scenario envisioned by proponents of obligatory learning never comes to pass. No one becomes an uneducated, defenseless hick. On the contrary, people who avoid their obedience training grow up psychologically MUCH stronger and more independent. I would argue that the mere lack of obligation culture makes them less stupid on its own. And yes, they learn. They learn without anyone telling them to.
This, in itself, is enough to blow the concept of obligatory education out of the water. If children do not need obligation to learn, why does obligatory schooling exist?
Just let that question hang in the air for a while. Stare it down. Let it seep in. In itself, it is enough to change everything. It is a truth that can knock down towers.
If you believe in facing up to truth, all you need to do is to sit back and let it do so.
Now, perhaps some of you have read this far and still have doubts. Naturally, I haven’t been able to tackle this from every angle, because that would need a book. I haven’t written one yet. But John Taylor Gatto has. And they are devastating.
John Taylor Gatto delved into the history of the school system and found out what its original purpose was. The information wasn’t even hidden; just ignored, buried under all of the lies about what school’s purpose is.
Read his account of the history of modern schooling, check his sources, and I promise you, you will see what I see. The history is real and verifiable — and its meaning is unmistakable.
But see for yourself.
You can read some free articles on his website. They should be enough, really. But if you want to really blow your mind, read any of his books:
I think I’m justified in saying: I rest my case.
Did this just blow your mind? Support Sophia’s activism with a donation. Each one directly gives her more time to focus on this blog and related projects.