Yesterday I received an email from a mother who’s son is deeply unhappy at school, but who is being criticised and told she is a “bad mother” for not forcing her child to attend. A week or so ago I was chatting to a mum I hadn’t met before, in a playground, and home ed came up because there were home ed kids there. The mum said that she was stressed about how to support her 6 year old son because he was getting in trouble at school. The main reasons she gave was because he didn’t want to sit still all day, and had a good idea himself of what he wanted/needed to be doing. That was getting him into trouble because it’s not ok in school to choose how you use your time. Lets say the school wasn’t particularly interested in her son’s need to move or direct his own learning, and was more comfortable labelling him as disobedient/naughty, and insisting that she toe some kind of line to get him under control.
Now, I’m going to take the space of this blogpost to address something that I think is really inexcusable. It is when parents (or children) are left feeling like they are “weird/crazy/bad” by the people around them for questioning schooling.
I’d like to highlight that this is a feminist issue, because it is most often mothers who are experiencing this – they tend to be the ones closest to the coal face of children’s experience. They also have a long history of being diminished and labelled as ‘crazy’ when challenging authority and/or deviating from the norm/what is expected of them, and we need to collectively stop doing that because it is abusive, silencing and limiting to progress.
This is also a children’s rights issue, because children’s access to their rights at all times and in all places (including school) should be a primary concern to us all. The very nature of schooling as it currently exists is a direct obstacle to this, as are the attitudes and behaviour of some adults and even children who have internalised the marginalisation of children as normal, natural or necessary. Who have also learned that conformity and obeying the system of schooling is more important than questioning whether it is a healthy space or best serving children’s needs, individuality and growth.
So, back to the main point, of parents feeling “weird/crazy/bad” for challenging schooling.
A survey of young people published earlier this year by Barnados, identified SCHOOL as being their most cited cause of stress: “By the age of 16, stress at school was a worry for 83% of children.”
There seems to be a cumulative negative effect of schooling on children, peaking at the end but starting in the primary school years. I would suggest that in actually starts in the preschool years (and continues to impact and influence throughout adulthood), and that children themselves underestimate it’s full impact because they have adapted to and accepted various aspects of schooling that is damaging to their sense of self and personal agency.
The diminishing mental health of children is a symptom of a dysfunctional system and environment of schooling. Let’s highlight here that schooling, and education, are not one and the same.
As a parent, if someone said to you: “You can send your child to school, but by the time they are 16 there is an 83% chance that it will be negatively affecting their mental health”, what would you say? “Oh yes please where do I sign them up?” Or would you ask what you other options were?
It is deeply uncomfortable to start interrogating and addressing the full problematic extent of schooling, seeing as almost all families in our society use schools, parents love and want what is best for their children, and teachers enter schools with a passion for education, not wanting to negatively impact the children in their care.
It is uncomfortable, but it is absolutely critical that we do it.
Parents and children that question the system, or make the decision to do something other than school, are deserving of recognition and support, not undermining or black sheeping. As a society we need to be questioning schooling and working on alternatives, so that things can change positively now and in the future for children and society as a whole.