How Schooling Disrespects Children

Respect: due regard for the feelings, wishes, or rights of others.


Attendance within mainstream education is mandatory. Schools are not required to acquire a child’s consent in any way and a child has no right of refusal. Because children are not invited to be a part of the decision, they are often not entirely informed about it either.

School is often spoken of as an opportunity but it is not one a child has the option to decline. It is in fact an expectation.

Education: free and compulsory – what a way to learn logic! — Frank Van Dun

It is not respectful to disregard consent.

Compromised Autonomy

Despite never consenting to attendance in the first place, children are also issued with a multitude of conditions to comply with whilst there that infringe upon their right to self-governance.

Children are restricted in what they can learn, how they are to learn it and how they demonstrate that learning.

Children are restricted in what they can wear. From their clothing to their hair, jewellery and make up.

Children are restricted in what they can eat and when.

Children are restricted in when and how they can play. Risk within schools is determined by administration, not individuals and play directed personally is only available during limited windows of time.

Children require permission to use the bathroom, to talk and often even to use a pen.

Autonomy is a human right, it should be considered the standard. It is not permissive to honour that for a child in the same way it would not be permissive if an adult got a drink, went to the bathroom or stayed awake in my presence. — I’m Not A Permissive Parent

It is not respectful to restrict a person’s expression of their existence if it in itself does not restrict that of another.

Behaviour Modification

How you meet the conditions school demands of you is met with various forms of external input to inspire compliance; namely praise and punishment. If you are compliant, you are rewarded. If you are not, then you are liable to face disciplinary measures.

Schooling restricts your rights and then partially sells them back to you in exchange for being tolerable to said restrictions. Your rights become “privileges” that you can earn or lose depending on how well you conform.

And that just isn’t how autonomy works. When the options are either they conveniently oblige without resistance to external expectations or they don’t and their options are therefore removed, there is no space for self. — The Self-Regulation Lie

It is not respectful to manipulate a person into choosing the choices you’ve determined for them.


The same limited capsule of knowledge is offered to everyone, delivered in the same way despite individual needs and preferences and huge shifts in society. No consideration is given to what a particular individual might want and need in their life, rather they are required to complete this subset determined by the goals of others whether they have any desire to or not.

The goal doesn’t even appear to be anything to do with specifically what is learnt; curriculum is not decided by genuinely determining what information will be most useful and relevant to the majority (if there could even be such a thing), it is more about how one is learning within the confines of school. An exercise in normalising this model of compliance and servitude to authority.

School prepares people for the alienating institutionalization of life, by teaching the necessity of being taught. Once this lesson is learned, people lose their incentive to develop independently; they no longer find it attractive to relate to each other, and the surprises that life offers when it is not predetermined by institutional definition are closed. — Ivan Illich

It is not respectful to decide for somebody how they are to use their mind. It is not respectful to deny a person’s individuality.

Required Assessment

Children are forced to prove their competence. They are not given the option to learn to their own specifications and benefit, they must meet the expectations of others.

Assessment is undertaken in a universal model, despite limitations in its suitability (for anyone, really). This small snapshot of somebody’s so called “ability” within these very specific conditions is then used to make overarching decisions for said person.

Whilst one might argue that this information is required (I do not agree) and therefore justifiable; whether it is or not is actually irrelevant. Something stolen out of need is still stolen.

Learning as an adult, I get to choose that which I actively share, I’m not forced into constantly demonstrating my knowledge. Sure there are things that people could observe improvement of, say if I cooked the same dish a few times or I was more consistently hitting the ball during casual tennis as time went on but those who noticed wouldn’t generally be passing judgement about this and if they were in a way that made me uncomfortable, I could remove myself from the situation. Many children do not have these same options and I’m not sure why we think that is okay. — Private Learning

It is not respectful to require a person to prove themselves to you and your standards.

Forced Detachment

A child’s primary attachments for the first years of their life are family. These are the people a child feels most comfortable around and supported by. Schooling requires a child to detach from that.

Children often clearly protest this separation but their feelings are in the majority of cases not a consideration. If they do not openly protest, children still often show signs of this being a detrimental circumstance but they are ignored because school’s benefit is thought to be unquestionable.

Forced independence is not independence, it’s survival.

In the end, what is more reasonable; for a child to adjust their needs prematurely or for the parent to create circumstances where they can meet those needs until they are authentically no longer necessary? — Who Should Adjust

It is not respectful to separate young from their family, especially when they are uncomfortable with the situation.

Respect: due regard for the feelings, wishes, or rights of others.

Ultimately, as beneficial as school intends to be (and I feel that is very up for debate in itself), without hearing the child’s voice in the process, it could never be deemed respectful to children.

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  1. This article is brilliant, and brought a tear to my eye as I thought of all the restrictions that will be placed on my daughter when she starts school in September and will no longer be with me every day. I fear it will undo so much we’ve built together over the first five years of her life will bring a SAHM. It also brought back memories of being told off or shamed for being excited, loud or enthusiastic at school; each time chipping away at your confidence and putting me in my place. I love reading your work. Thank you.

    1. So why on earth are you putting your daughter in school, then?

      We lived in a country where school is compulsory when our daughter, at two and a half years old, told us she didn’t want to go to school. We changed our entire life and are now commuting between two countries in order to make unschooling possible for her.

  2. Brilliant article. I agree wholeheartedly. We have been unschooling from scratch and it is so worth it!

  3. I love this, but more often than school is framed as an “opportunity” it is framed as a “right.” This is obviously ridiculous, but I have often commented in online discussions that you do not have the right to something that you do not also have the right to decline. (Adults don’t accept this illogic as applied to themselves, but they have no problem with it being applied to children.)The response is always silence. In any case, this idea of education as an “opportunity” is popular and very important to convincing people to question schooling. Most liberals are completely convinced that without school poor kids would be really screwed. I work to show them how racist and classist this idea is (sometimes it’s a barely veiled belief that poor kids are “unsocialized” by their dysfunctional parents), but it’s a hard sell. I love the approach of this piece and agree 100%, but if we’re going to really deconstruct school for the majority of Americans (or at least liberals, who are its staunchest supporters), then we have got to focus on this bigoted idea that all the failings of school must be tolerated because school is the savior of poor children.

    1. Wow, love your thoughts. Well said. Will have to dwell on that a little more but I see how there is a bigger picture here to explore.

    2. And it’s worth noting that school is not a good savior of poor children, either. Our school system, by design, offers “equal” opportunities while still allowing the middle and upper classes to retain their advantage through higher-level classes and better access to higher levels of school or more prestigious schools. It can be a tool for *some* individuals to get out of poverty, but will never work for the majority of people to get out of poverty. (Though I can’t really naysay things like free lunch programs for children living with hunger.)

  4. This is all very true and in many respects is actually considered in current preservice teacher education (I am studying teaching) however I can see how many of our future teachers do not get it. Having done one placement with a successful and well-liked teacher, who cared deeply for the children, it is clear to me that our society does not understand how to respect children. The hardest part to this discussion, which is necessary, is getting adults and teachers to step away from the feeling that it criticises them as teachers. Most teachers, if not all, care deeply for students but are unfortunately part of a society and set of cultural norms which do not recognise there is something fundamentally wrong. I’m not sure that everyone should unschool, and many people want to work in jobs and that is their choice. But certainly school needs to be less rigid and more options for education need to exist for children to be able to access learning in a way that suits them.

    1. Yes. It is hard to have the conversation if people take it personally. There definitely needs to be a safe space for children when their primary care givers are unable to care for them, school just isn’t currently that <3

  5. My child has separation anxiety ADHD because his curious and has a mind of his own..ODD because he wants to be respected not scolded at because he doesn’t understand something and is strong willed.well school is for robots and not children

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