If you're answer is - 'because it's the law' then you may not be ready to enter this discussion with me. And it truly is a discussion, a conversation that I feel needs to be had. We learn some pretty important skills at school like literacy and numeracy but in my view, school clearly goes beyond that - otherwise we'd be leaving school as soon as we can read, write and add numbers in our head. It seems to me, the reason we send our children to school is so that at the end of their learning they will be able to enter the workforce, in order to earn an income, in order to look after themselves. Seems like a good plan really - we do want our children to stand on their own two feet in time. I can't help but wonder though if schools couldn't assist our young people to become self reliant adults without pushing them through a one size fits all system?
We are individuals. Some of us learn very differently from others. We have different interests and passions. Why do we carry on using a schooling system that treats everyone the same? A system that sprung from the industrial revolution with the intention of churning out an obedient workforce? We have advanced as a society in so many ways - it seems clear to me that the system needs an overhaul. We, as the people, need to start calling the shots on the sort of education system we want to see for our children. It doesn't have to be anarchy - just a slow tweaking of the current system overtime as we all decide to commit to teaching our children what they are interested in rather than what 'god knows who' decided they should learn.
Almost always when I have brought up this question of 'why do we send our children to school?' people have said to me that I should consider home-schooling. The suggestion really doesn't answer the question. It seems to be more of a 'well if you don't like it, do home-schooling' sort of response. What I'd really love is for people to really, really consider the question. Perhaps I'm sensitive about it because I went to a strict private school. I really hated being told to respect authority when the person in authority was being so disrespectful to me. To this day I don't respect people simply because they are in a position of authority. I respect leadership and leaders (in my view) lead by example.
So for a while I did consider home-schooling. I mentioned it to a few people who told me outright that my children will be shut ins and anti social. Oh my - really? There was no mass school system in England before 1833 - how antisocial everyone must have been up until then. Really, the comments people come up with can be quite amusing. But yes I looked at home-schooling, I looked at Montessori, I looked at Steiner and in the end - I feel like the answer is somewhere in the middle. A mix of learning and teaching approaches that nourish the child's interests as well as learning core life skills. My vision involves parents coming together and coming up with a community led education programme that teaches core knowledge while using flexible teaching methods and allowing children to follow their interests. Most importantly though - it will be a collaboration between teachers and parents.
I feel that parents could be involved in the classroom as teacher aides (yes I can feel some teachers shuddering from here at the idea). It would certainly require some firm guidelines, boundaries and open communication between the parents and teachers for it to work. I'd like to be involved with a school that allows for parents to be involved in the classroom and I don't just mean as a helper on school trips. Bringing parents and teachers together in the classroom could help to break down the 'us' and 'them' battle I've seen rage on. What's more - teachers and parents could agree on universal virtues to teach the children as part of their learning to assist them in becoming well rounded adults. For example, there are a growing number of schools across New Zealand incorporating the 'Virtues Project' into the curriculum. The Virtues Project introduces virtues to the classroom that are universal and don't belong to any one religion like kindness, patience, compassion etc. http://www.virtuesproject.org.nz/
I guess it could be a sort of home-school co-op mash up. As I said, I have no idea really how it would work but I get a strong sense of how it will feel. Structured yet flexible with the main focus on teaching the children in ways that work for them as individuals. Allowing them to pursue what interests them while still teaching them the core learning required to function in society. There are potentially many more barriers and difficulties for such a schooling system to arise and I am sure there will be someone who will tell me that it can't be done. It's at times like these that I turn to Tim Finn who sang:
"We had no idea that it couldn't be done
All we needed to find was a like minded someone
Who had no idea that it couldn't be done"
So if you're a parent like me who wants to foster a learning environment for their children that encourages them to pursue their passions rather than assimilate into the rat race then please get in touch (firstname.lastname@example.org). The more we brainstorm about ways we could pool resources, research options and find more like minded someones the more likely we are to find that it can in fact be done. Teachers - I'd be keen to hear from you too regarding your thoughts on what would and wouldn't work. I believe there are hundreds of ways we could be teaching our children but we've got ourselves stuck focusing on what already exists. As I said, it could be a matter of a school being open to introducing new ways of teaching and learning. Perhaps having the parents available in the classroom could allow for more flexibility.
As I said I'm on the look out for a school for my eldest so if you know of a school that is already finding ways to be flexible with children's learning needs as individuals - I'd love to hear from you.
I am open to constructive criticism and feedback. It's time to have that conversation.
Bronwyn Bay (a like minded someone who has no idea that it couldn't be done)