Is our school system really that bad?

I came across this quote on the net, I found it interesting, so I reposted it:
6 Lessons of Public Schooling:
1. You will be put where you belong, and you will stay there.
2. No work is worth finishing unless an authority figure says so.
3. You will surrender your will to a preexisting order.
4. Only the authority knows what's valuable to learn, not you.
5. Your self-respect should depend on an outsider's arbitrary measure of your worth.
6. You are being watched so you better behave.
- John Taylor Gatto

My god the responses to it were heated! There were very staunch supporters of school commenting, as well as home schooling parents staunchly supporting their dislike of school, opting instead for nontraditional education or online classes.

My response was that the whole point of school is to learn the basics of life – reading, writing, adding and subtracting. But on a larger, fundamental level, we learn how to function in a society, or rather in a job, as per the 6 lessons above. It's a very broad statement and it's not always true, but it certainly can be.

I got told by a commenter if I didn't like it I should go live on a hippy commune. To be honest it sounded like a great idea! But it had nothing to do with the quote, or education.

Why bring up this quote at all other than to point out the crappy aspects of school? Can school exist without it? Of course it can. The concept of Child Led Learning (often called Unschooling) is the antithesis of the above quote. The principle of unschooling is that humans are born learners. We learn best when given the freedom to learn what, when, and how we want. Any type of coerced learning inhibits the desire to learn. 

I think the masters say it best:
You cannot teach a person anything, you can only help him find it within himself. - Galileo
Knowledge which is acquired under compulsion obtains no hold on the mind. – Plato
It is... nothing short of a miracle that the modern methods of instruction have not yet entirely strangled the holy curiosity of inquiry; for this delicate little plant, aside from stimulation, stands mainly in need of freedom; without this it goes to wreak and ruin. It is a very grave mistake to think that the enjoyment of seeing and searching can be promoted by means of coercion and a sense of duty. - Albert Einstein

This is plain old common sense. To educate someone they've got to want to learn, and to want to learn they've got to be inspired.

This is how I learnt to play the piano. I was taught the very basics of learning to read notes by my grandmother. She passed onto me an old, mint condition, record from my great aunt by the composer Grieg. It was one of the few valuable things I owned as a child, and I played it over and over, fell in love with classical music because of it. I saved up the money to buy the sheet music from the local music store, and note by note taught myself to play it. This was grade 8 (the hardest) piano music. Every day after school I'd race upstairs to the piano and practice. And eventually I played it, just like I heard on the record.

That is child led learning. That's allowing a child the freedom to pursue their interests. And when they do, they excel, and fast. No nagging, no reprimanding, berating or punishment needed.

Inspiring kids is what education's all about; finding out what inspires them, and providing them the means and support to explore where ever that inspiration takes them. If my mother had have cottoned on to child led learning she might have provided me with more classical records, but I'm just thankful she had a piano there for us.

Right now my son Alex is 5. He loves taking things apart, he'd unscrew every electronic device in the house if he could. But instead we give him old, broken computers and toys to take apart at his own discretion. He has a giant box of bits he's unscrewed, but they are HIS bits, and he puts them back together in whatever way he likes. And when he wants he'll ask for help and we'll show him where pieces fit together (my partner is an electrician). We couldn't teach him better or faster. At his own discretion he's learning the very basics of how electronics are put together. He's focused, he's having a ball, and he's confidently progressing forward in his own education without any coercion or structure from anyone else. Yes, we are born wanting to learn.

There's different levels of Child Led Learning. A nice compromise for many parents is Montessori education which is based in part on Child Led Learning, though still is structured, and involves the same subjects you'll find in regular schooling. It has also been practiced for over 100 years. Because it's been around so long, numerous studies have been complied, and point to many advantages in learning achievement and student well being.

What I really liked about this study (linked below) was that Montessori kids had a more positive, relaxed attitude at school. Instead of being in a constant power struggle with their teacher, they were given (a certain amount of) control over what they wanted to study, which in turn made school more enjoyable, more like a collaboration between student and teacher.

The public school teachers I speak to themselves can't stand their curriculum, and desperately want more flexibility and smaller classrooms. In NZ at least our curriculum is slowly incorporating more child led learning techniques, and I have no doubt as more studies arise on the benefits of child led learning, we'll see more and more incorporation into the public curriculum.

In the mean time, whatever method of education you choose for your child, remember the desire to learn comes from inspiration, and having the freedom and resources to follow that inspiration. Try to coerce, manipulate, shame or scare a child, and inspiration (and learning) is quickly snuffed out.

And while you might choose traditional schooling for your child, at home you can still help your child to lead their own learning, by inspiring, encouraging and supporting their interests.

For more information on Montessori Education:

Evaluating Montessori Education
Angeline Lillard and Nicole Else-Quest

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  1. Fabulous! Of course, I am biased, having had our children in Montessori for the last few years, but who wouldn't agree that the best learning comes from within? That you only really learn when you WANT to? And the best kind of motivation is internal! (having no grades or testing is a big plus IMO in Montessori)
    I've always thought of Montessori as the perfect in-between of schooling & unschooling.

  2. Cheers Kelly! You know with the success rates of Montessori I'm surprised it hasn't become more mainstream yet. In NZ at least it's continuing to become a lot more incorporated into public schools, thank god!
    It's funny how people think 'learning' is an artificial thing that must be imposed. But we are born wanting to learn, but of course only what we want to learn. And I love that, it means allowing children the freedom to embrace their independence and individuality.

  3. As a former kid of Stockton Montessori academy, I am quite puzzled by this article. You realize that in spite of being more free, we still did learn subjects that we didn't like. I mean, i always hated math and probably always will. If given the choice, I would have never done it at all.

  4. What exactly are you puzzled about? I'm an advocated for child-led learning, though for many parents Montessori is a compromise they are more willing to make than to practice child-led learning at home, so at least it's a step in the right direction.