Thursday, April 7, 2016

But you turned out ok

If you follow this blog, you know that I believe most schooling is inherently harmful to children. As Boston College psychology professor, Dr. Peter Gray, writes
"School is a place where children are compelled to be, and where their freedom is greatly restricted — far more restricted than most adults would tolerate in their workplaces. In recent decades, we have been compelling our children to spend ever more time in this kind of setting, and there is strong evidence (summarized in my book, Free To Learn) that this is causing serious psychological damage to many of them. Moreover, the more scientists have learned about how children naturally learn, the more we have come to realize that children learn most deeply and fully, and with greatest enthusiasm, in conditions that are almost opposite to those of school."
But you turned out ok, is a response I hear frequently. Heck, you even liked school.

It's true. I learned quickly how to play and succeed at the game of school. I was fortunate to be an early reader and to have a supportive family to give me the initial advantage, and then I--like many of you, I'm sure--learned what I needed to do, how I needed to behave, to gain the teacher's affections, to get the A, to be showered with accolades and praise. And really, who doesn't like praise? Who wouldn't want to go to a place that offers all that praise?

I got good grades, excelled in academics and athletics, got accepted to the colleges of my choice, and attained what we as a society have come to consider the badges of success: good jobs and good salaries.

But it was a hollow victory. As so often happens when we reach adulthood, and especially parenthood, we realize how much we don't know. I realized that I might have been successfully schooled, but I didn't feel well-educated. When I reflect on the approximately 15,000 hours I spent in K-12 public school, and the additional hundreds of hours spent in after-school athletics, the only thing I can think of is what a waste of time most of those hours were. What else could I have been doing, learning, in those hours? How much more authentic could those hours have been if I wasn't spending so much time playing the game--but actually learning, reading, doing?

For many children, the harm of compulsory schooling is obvious. Many are at a disadvantage right out of the gate and those disadvantages are amplified and embedded as their schooling continues. Others are bullied, labeled, tracked or medicated. But beyond these obvious harms are the more subtle ones. Most schooled children, myself included, become conditioned to value and seek extrinsic rewards and superficial achievements. We lose creativity and individuality as we conform to arbitrary curriculum demands, teacher expectations, and institutional mores. Once an avid reader, my love of reading for reading's sake was extinguished by about fourth grade, as reading became a means to an end, a means to an A. Fortunately I regained my love of reading in early adulthood. I was one of the lucky ones.

Kirsten Olson writes in her excellent book, Wounded By School, about "the hidden and long-lasting wounds that result from the structural violence inherent in the ways we organize and evaluate learning, wounds that range from 'I found out that I have no gift of creativity,' or 'I learned that I'm no good at sports,' to 'They drained off my self-confidence,' 'I emerged feeling stupid,' or 'They put me in the losers' line and I've been there ever since.' Equally sad and profoundly ironic is the wound that may be the most widespread of all: the eagerness to learn that we all bring into the world as infants is often diminished and even destroyed by our schooling."

So while it may seem that some of us made it through compulsory schooling unscathed--and even on top--I believe that few, if any of us, really do. We don't know how else we might have spent those 15,000 hours: to follow our curiosities, to reveal our interests, to pursue our passions, to read, and read, and read some more, to learn in freedom, to become truly educated.

We can't get those 15,000 hours back. But we can most certainly give them to our children.

1 comment:

  1. oh, thank you for articulating this. i can't really seem to tell people WHY i hated school so much, and why i feel like it was a waste of my time. now i'll show them this :)