Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Abolish Education: The Misery Factory

This post is about the social side of education. I particularly want to focus on the damage schooling does to people as individuals and the implications this has on wider society. I believe the sum effect of the school experience is both negative and profound.

I'll start by talking about my personal experience of school.

Pretty much from the moment I entered primary school I disliked the school experience. Of course, I used to feign interest and enjoyment, mainly to please my teachers and parents, but deep down it simply wasn't fun. The first and most obvious problem I had with it was the length of the school day. It was like working in a factory. In fact, as a child I used to just view it as a job. I didn't enjoy it, but I just kept my head down and got through the day, knowing full well that I didn't have any choice but to acquiesce.

Isn't school supposed to be enjoyable? How can we expect children to enjoy learning when from day one it's a test of endurance? From the minute you reach school age it dominates your life. Like a soul-sapping factory or stifling office job. Who can really, hand on heart, look back on their school life and say they enjoyed it? Remember that dread on Sunday night knowing you had school the next morning? Remember how blissful the summer holidays seemed - no school for six weeks! School was miserable and depressing, admit it. Don't pretend it was somehow more magical than it was now you're an adult. I'm always amazed how quickly adults forget what it felt like to be a child. Pushing the school experience on their own children even though that very same experience made them miserable. I remember as a child promising to myself that I wouldn't forget that. I guess that was where all this started.

Anyway, school days are too long. Period.

Another thing I remember from childhood was the way that school forced you to choose between your friends and your teachers. You basically had to choose whether to be popular and disappoint your teachers or be unpopular and please them. Walking the tightrope between those two options was virtually impossible and whichever option you leaned towards would be bad for you psychologically in the long run. It's almost as if you had to sacrifice your social skills to get good grades or sacrifice your grades to develop your social side.

For example, I leaned towards pleasing my parents and teachers. Thus I was one of the well-behaved quiet kids in the class. I left school with great exam results, but with criminal shyness and a lack of self-confidence. Others in my class left with brilliant social skills, but nothing much academically. I don't think any of us came out of it balanced, happy or better off.

In fact, I would write off the entire school experience were it not for the social dimension of things. If I had children the only apprehension I would have about not sending them to school and home-schooling them would be my worry that they'd miss out socially. That they wouldn't have the chance to interact with other children. I'd have no worries about them missing out academically. However, under the current system this isn't a real worry as the current system tends to damage social skills anyway. Like I said children who 'do well' at school suffer socially because they have to alienate themselves from their friends in order to satisfy their teacher's expectations. You can't laugh, have fun and mess around at school and get good grades and the teacher's seal of approval. It's pretty much one or the other. If you sit quietly in class and do as you're told while others play around and have fun it just reinforces that quietness and makes you something of a social outcast. But if you do mess around and spend the school days interacting with your friends you get written off as 'badly behaved.' It's a bit of a no-win situation really.

One final thing I'd like to mention is this idea that 'good' children are somehow better than 'bad' ones. As if the children who do well at school are not only better academically, but somehow more moral as well. The fact is the children who do well at school are actually doing it out of self-interest, because they believe in the long run it'll be better for them personally - deferred gratification. It's not that they have a heightened sense of social responsibility. It's the fear that if they don't do well at school they'll end up as miserable as they are now - working in a factory or some such place. In fact, if you look at the ambitions of really ambitious children they all want to do jobs that are fun when they grow up - astronaut, computer game designer, musician, etc. And the more realistically ambitious ones tend to chose something more attainable, like doctor or lawyer i.e. something that still requires hard work, but nevertheless stills pays well, offers a good standard of living and also the chance to climb the social ladder. Not many 'good' children dream of working long hours in a dull, but useful job, for low pay.

Likewise, children that don't try hard or don't do well at school aren't particularly 'bad' either. It fact, they're no better or worse than the children that do well. It's just that they don't feel that working hard and sacrificing at school will pay off in the long run. Whether that's because they're not academically gifted enough, or because they don't have the advantages the other kids have, or simply because they just don't have the foresight to see that far ahead. Maybe it's that they simply see life as one big swizz where no one in the system is ever really happy no matter how hard they try. It's certainly not because they're bad, or lazy or any other criticism you want to lay at their door.

People often say that school should prepare children for the harsh realities of adult life. Well, actually, it already does. In fact, school children possibly work even harder than adults. School dominates their life, they have no choice over whether they go or not and they're not being paid for doing it. School is harsh. It shouldn't be, and neither should life in general.

The school day is too long. Period.

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