Technically my son Cedar does attend a real school. It’s a Free School, but school none the less. However, since we’ve been an unschooling family since Cedar was born we get asked, “Why doesn’t your son go to a “real” school?” often.
Normally this question is partnered with a look of shock, as if I just punched a kitten or something. I don’t like the looks, but the question is easy enough to answer. Really I could sum it up with what Peter Sacks, the author of Standardized Minds said in an interview I read:
“We should hold schools accountable for something meaningful. For outcomes that have a real connection to the American economy and the productivity of citizens in a democracy. That demands citizens with creative, intelligent, critical minds—not standardized minds.”
I 100% agree. Technically, I’ll go a step further and say parents and caregivers, not just schools should be accountable for this, but well, you get the gist.
Most schools hold kids accountable for test scores and grades, not creative critical minds, so why would I send my son there? That said I do have some other reasons as well.
- Schools forget that little things matter
- Memorizing arbitrary facts for tests is not learning
- Punishment and reward
- Schools decide what, when and how kids will learn
- Everyone learns differently
- I don’t want Cedar drilled about topics
- Schools give kids labels
- Random other reasons
- My son’s life doesn’t start someday – it’s happening now
Schools forget that little things matter
Take desks for example. Most people don’t consider desks much. However, I don’t want Cedar forced to sit in an uncomfortable desk for the first 12+ years of his life. I’d be hard pressed to ask that of anyone, even someone I don’t like, so I especially wouldn’t ask my own child to do this.
There are plenty of other little things that bother me about school too. For example, I don’t think Cedar should have to ask every time he wants to speak, or get a drink or use the restroom. In adult life most of us get the luxury of doing these things when we choose, and having this freedom also allows us to learn when appropriate times for all these activities may be.
A girl I know who goes to public school recently told me that she hates having to ask to go to the restroom. She says it makes her feel out of control of her own life. It should. If you have to ask for such small things, you aren’t in any sort of control of your life – that’s someone else controlling your every minute. Kids who don’t have control of these ‘small’ issues can’t easily learn how to regulate their own time – a useful skill.
Memorizing arbitrary facts for tests is not learning
Schools confuse test taking skills for smart and/or successful. As noted before, in school I did great on multiple choice exams. However, in reality I was officially learning very little that would take me though life. Good tests scores don’t equal smart or long term success or even indicate that you’ve learned something new.
Good test scores may mean you’ve learned stuff but it also might just mean you memorized enough stuff to pass the test, guessed correctly or that you just naturally do well on tests. During school, my friends and I would memorize facts just long enough so that we could cough them back up for a test.
I know public and charter school kids who do this now as well. Training a child to take and pass a test doesn’t actually mean that child has mastered certain skills, it means the child has mastered what’s on that specific test. Life is full of loops and whirls that kids need to be ready for, and that means well-rounded learning and experiences choices, not tests.
Punishment and reward
Schools (and many parents) offer coercion, rewards and punishments attached to learning. Learning, real learning isn’t about that. I want Cedar to know that learning is about gaining knowledge, skills or fun; not gaining material rewards.
Learning certain skills can pay off with material rewards in some circumstances. It’s fair for kids to know about natural consequences. For example, picking up a new skill at work can earn you a promotion or learning to read can help you beat a hard video game – but rewards or punishment shouldn’t be the main motivation for learning.
Schools decide what, when and how kids will learn
Traditional school systems choose what kids should know with very little parent or child input, then they decide which kids have learned this stuff up to snuff. Kids who do learn what the school deems necessary are considered a success and the kids themselves have little say in what constitutes ‘success’ in the school atmosphere.
FROM AN ADULT POINT OF VIEW: Honestly, as an adult, would you take up new activities or try to learn new skills if you knew there would always be a set way to do it, a time limit and a final grade involved. Would you want to learn to garden, play the guitar or how to make good pie crust if a major judgment call was going to be made about you based on another person’s idea of a successful project?
Everyone learns differently
Schools don’t have enough time, money or staff to make sure everyone gets to learn in a way that’s best for them. If you’re not learning in a way that’s best for you, learning doesn’t work as well.
Kids who learn with their own style or in their own time aren’t valued by the school system. It’s not technically the system’s fault, or the kid’s either, but it’s just a fact of school. If you had a class of 30-40 kids and the goal was to get them to the same place at the same time, test proficiency wise, there’s no way you’d be able to cater to individual learning styles either.
I’m sure there are more decent schools than others and some teachers are very nice and do try – but the plain fact is there are too many kids and not enough time in most schools.
I don’t want Cedar drilled about topics
I really don’t want Cedar drilled about any topics, but most of all I don’t want him drilled about facts and topics he’s interested in. What a great way to kill something that was once enjoyable. If someone drilled and tested me every time I asked a question about my favorite topic, I’d quit asking and likely lose interest.
Schools give kids labels
Lucky kids in school win labels like A or B; quiet, advanced group one, smart, popular and good – i.e. successful. Others, not so lucky kids get called lazy, hyperactive, bad, disabled, D, F, and dumb – i.e. not successful. Almost everyone in school ends up labeled as something and sometimes those labels follow you for a very long time.
Random other reasons
- I don’t want Cedar to assume that learning happens Monday through Friday from 9am to 3pm. I want him to know that learning is a natural part of life not based on some arbitrary time table.
- I believe that anyone’s natural learning process can be hindered (or lost altogether) when too much emphasis is placed on standardized tests, grades, set curriculum and scheduled learning.
- There’s a million little annoying issues too such as limited movement allowed, bells dividing your day into pieces, 15 minutes to eat and so on.
My son’s life doesn’t start someday – it’s happening now
Schools very much focused on someday qualities. Once you get this A; once you pass this test; once you graduate and go to college; etc. Schools commented to me, and other people I know that “school is for getting you ready for real life.” In fact, your real life starts at birth; not many degrees later.
I hate that most school systems set you up to wait and wait to live and don’t trust that you’re born a fully capable human, if given the chance to be a fully capable human. You don’t just magically become alive and needing of autonomy at the age of 18 or 20. My son learns, asks questions and makes decisions now. He has interests and dislikes and goals now.
I’d like for Cedar to have the time to follow his interests now if he was in a real school that would be impossible. Kids in school don’t get to participate in their own life as much because they have to spend so much time doing what the school decides is important for their life, rather than what the child finds important.
So, that’s why Cedar doesn’t attend a “real” school – in a not so small nutshell.
Image ©kaboompics via Pixabay