alternative education

  • Why do we go to school?

    Neon sign
    The thrill of learning (Photo by Nick Fewings)

    Like most people of peasant stock, I regard education as an incredible privilege — one my forebears never had.

    But what did I actually get?

    Often (not always, but often) it was bored or uninterested peers facing bored or frustrated teachers moving us towards tests with set info. For most people I knew, the last day of school was the best day — a day they dreamed about. I have watched everyone I know who has become a state school teacher in the UK (from my parents to a large amount of my friends) grow more and more disillusioned.

    Most have quit the profession altogether.

    Why is it that students and teachers seem to dislike the school system so much? As I said at the start, education is one of the greatest privileges in life, right? Maybe it’s not that we hate education, but that we hate what is delivered and how it is delivered in our school system? I have a three-year-old child. Do I care about him? Yes. Do I want him to have the privilege of education? Yes.

    Do I want to send him to a British state school? Not really.

    Stormtrooper under a lightbulb
    Stormtroopers have imaginations, too (Photo by James Pond)

    I visited a Steiner Academy Open Day (yes, the fluffy, sandal-wearing schools — in fact, a German system established in the early 20th century that is more holistic in approach than anything in British schooling). While I love much about the concept, I was also struck by their dated insistence of desk-based lessons, in rows, with one-way information processing.

    They were also passionate about rules and obedience (perhaps to impress OFSTED?), and very anti-technology and team sports.

    This bothers me. Just because the state school system isn’t working doesn’t mean that the answer is to shun tech and football in favour of a pseudo-early 20th century schooling system, but with an arts and crafts ethic. Education should be open, disruptive, innovative, not scared of bringing the passion out of children, and not obsessed with standardized testing and factory line production.

    I have worked as a teacher in a Swedish school.

    They achieve one thing Steiner is also good at, namely, letting children become self-confident and engaged, unafraid to talk to an adult as an equal. I was particularly impressed by the fritids concept — late afternoons given over to self-directed learning by the kids. As a teacher, I facilitated them in whatever project they thought up, from building a wormery to creating a handmade comic book.

    But I’m still left with the question: what is school for here in the UK?

    What are my choices? Hmmm…

    While we’re thinking, here are two thought-provoking videos from Seth Godin and Sir Ken Robinson, people who’ve been umming and ahhing themselves.