When is School Ideal?

“I wish we could unschool… BUT school is necessary for us”…

Usually this statement is followed up by a person explaining their circumstances, I suppose hoping I will commiserate with their perception of their reality as though I even have the authority (or desire) to condemn a child to school, whatever the situation may be.

Unfortunately, beyond that limitation in my capability, the specific barriers one faces that prevents them from unschooling or the reasons one feels compels them to school have basically no impact on what compulsory education is.

Your necessity, however valid it personally feels, does not have the ability to alter the core that is compulsory education; a child in a situation without their consent. It is like suggesting the necessity of formula somehow alters its molecular structure for that particular user… but choosing something, even with the best of intentions, isn’t magic and cannot change reality.

In regards to schooling, you can work hard to mitigate damage, if you have a deep awareness and acknowledgement of such (plus a whole lot of time and energy directed at the wrong person’s growth) but at the end of the day, it’s still school and your child is still required to be there whether they desire to or not. And I just can’t comprehend that being ideal.

See, unless your child is choosing to use compulsory education as tool in their own journey, school is a (not very effective) solution to YOUR problems, YOUR barriers, YOUR fears. And an uncomfortable question may be; why then should a child shoulder the responsibility of solving them, facing the concessions and consequences of a choice they never made?

It’s like forcing a jumper onto somebody because you feel cold; perhaps comforting for you but completely irrelevant and uncomfortable for the person who had no want or need for a jumper. The dynamic of a relationship whereby one party expects the other to resolve their issues at their own expense is not a healthy one.

As a society we need ways of ensuring people have their needs met without being forced to invest unreasonably long hours generally in personally unfulfilling avenues, as a society we need safe spaces for children to be when they cannot be cared for by their immediate community, as a society we need awareness of the value in a varied and vibrant world of skills and knowledge (and the reality that this need not reside in one and every individual).

But the systems of compulsory education doesn’t actually address these things! They don’t dismantle the global capitalist economy that chases raised profit instead of raised standards of living for all, they are not safe spaces for all children (or any within my definition of safety) and they do not honour the spectrum of human experience in even the slightest sense. Schools are not a necessity when we actually focus on resolving the specific issues people face.

So when is school ideal? Perhaps the question isn’t when but for whom? And the overwhelming reality is when the child is denied the right to choose it’s anybody but the child. It is not to suggest that your barriers or fears are simple things to sit with or work through but then having to endure a childhood caged isn’t so simple either…

And I hear you, schools are shifting… they keep trying to arbitrarily inject them with all that we hope for children and their childhood; inspiration, curiosity, wonder, contentment, connection to themselves, others and the world… but think about it; if you began with those values in mind and created an image from it? It would never be a classroom, it would never be school.

If you’re looking to process your barriers, start here.

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  1. I love this so much? I am a former high school math teacher now enthusiastically pursuing unschooling with my own family. Thank you for your clarification and inspiration of some fundamental yet revolutionary ideas/ideals!

  2. I’m going to respond to this but first I wanted to say why I’m here when my daughter chooses to go to school.

    So much of your blog resonates with me and it is what our home time is like. My children have been brought up RIE and I’vebern influenced by Reggio Emilia and Montessori although RIE predominantes. My children have freedom to play.

    My daughter however, chooses to go to school. She knows the option is there to stay at home (I would be quite happy to unschool her) but every day, she puts on her uniform and is asking to go 20min before it’s time. She comes home bouncing and happy, joyfully putting her activities, crafts and stories on our wall.

    I read your posts on school and it is so far from our reality that is is actually quite upsetting.

    Immy (my daughter) has a new world she’s exploring and she is revelling in her independence and confidence.

        1. But you don’t believe it applies? I’m just not sure why you would find it upsetting for me to believe something different than you do.

          In school, children are directed. They’re told where to be at what time, what to do during that time and how, what to wear, when to eat. That is the cage I am referring to; the one that keeps the nature of their existence under the permission of others.

  3. I went to school 76 years ago when I was 6. I never disliked school and graduated from High School in 1955. My two daughters didn’t seem to dislike school until Middle School and one of my daughters was born my granddaughter so their schooling was not at the same time. I suggest from my school books and their school books, that school has been dumbed down a bit since I went to school and discipline in the schools is different (in fact much less) than when I went to school.
    There is also the object lesson of my three granddaughters (including the one I raised,) The two older girls are married and have children. One of them loves little children and runs a home nursery. She may in fact, decide to unschool. The other can’t stand to be around her own children and moved into an apartment away from them. She is said to visit rarely. Perhaps she should not have had children but she did. Obviously not everyone has the freedom in their own life or the desire to work with children to unschool. The third granddaughter has put her life on hold to help take care of her sister’s children but is sort of looking forward to the oldest one going to kindergarten next fall when she thinks she might be able to resume her own life. Most families in this country have to have two wage earners just to get by. Nothing goes up in this country but prices. Wages have been stuck for years now. And when mom and dad have at least one job each, it might just be difficult to unschool. I am merely talking about keeping a roof over your head, something to eat, clothes, heat and light and insurance so they can see a doctor when something is wrong. The granddaughter who moved out probably is the best paid among all the others except for the baby of the family who is a boy and unmarried and is very talented at digital art.

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