For too long discussion about improving the education system has gone on. Tweaks are made here, tweaks are made there, but at the end of it, the system remains the same, the problems and inequalities continue. The reality is, the kind of change needed to address and overcome the fundamental issues inherent in the existing system are too significant to be achieved by the usual channels. It requires a bold and imaginative new way of thinking, it involves us stepping away from the system that exists altogether.
What would you do, if you were creating a system of education anew? I’m talking about a new build, rather than a restoration. If you were starting from scratch, right here and now, what would that education system look like? What type of environment and focus would you take? How would you go about creating the optimum environment for people to self-actualise, to explore their potential?
You may be thinking, this is fanciful pie in the sky nonsense. If you work within the education system you may be tired of ‘fixes’, you may struggle to see that another way is possible. Schooling and the current system of education is all we know, it’s what we take as the only legitimate place for learning to happen, and as central to childhood experience.
However we also know that the system that exists today is fundamentally flawed. It is outdated. Gradually we are waking up to the realisation that an authoritarian system of education is an obsolete concept. As avenues for connectivity and self-study have opened up via the platform that is the world wide web, we are becoming experienced in interest-led and self-directed learning. We can find our own news, our own answers, our own solutions to problems. The current system of schooling is becoming a performance and a distraction from the new systems of education that are emerging.
Not only is the current system of education a red herring, it is also becoming more and more apparent that it is detrimental. The high stakes, competitive and standardised model works against our mental health, sense of self, and social justice. Pitting humans against each other for the duration of their most formative years of life ingrains and normalises the idea that some people are winners and some are losers, it teaches individualism rather than offering an environment ripe for experimenting, and exploring methods of cooperation. It creates a narrow, ageist, classist, ableist, sexist and racist neoliberal version of ‘success’. It is in conflict with the new sharing economy and collaborative rather than competitive ways of living and working. It is bad for our health and our concepts of work/life balance.
And this is a pressing and urgent concern for parents who are considering the options available to their own children’s education. We often hear of the importance of ‘choice’ in education, but what choice is there really when each option is based on the same dysfunctional model? What choice is there when all routes lead to the traditional model of schooling?
So here we come, back to the concept of a new-build system. As the arguments for opting in to the existing model fall flat, we have not only a problem, but a great opportunity. What is possible to build in it’s place? What scope is there to change what currently exists, to craft and nurture something entirely new? And I’m not talking about the future here, I’m talking about the now. In this moment is another system possible, is it already out there?
What if I told you that at this very moment there are children who from birth have been given the space to pursue their learning in a personalised, self-directed way, and that there are children being deregistered from school to join them. To live and learn cooperatively, without grading or testing, where their peers, of all ages, are their allies not their competition. What if I told you that in these conditions children develop skills in reading, in writing, in researching and critical thinking, in creating, without a classroom, but through their own curiosity and intrinsic motivation. Where mistakes are embraced as essential for learning, where there are no wrong answers, wrong subjects, wrong or right times to do or achieve certain things. Where they can follow their interests and own unique developmental readiness in the supportive context of community.
We can not afford to wait for ‘someone else’ to fix and rebuild the education system. It just isn’t going to happen, no matter the campaigning, lobbying, reasoning or ranting. Every moment we spend wishing that things were different is time and energy lost that could be redirected to working with each other on the alternative available to us right now.
The term ‘home education’ is an unattractive one, that conjures images of a chalk board on the dining room wall. However, don’t be misled. Home education is a gateway out of a broken system. It is an opportunity to work together to create something better. Something fit for purpose in the 21st century. Once we are free from the confines and rigid thinking of school based learning, we can expand and explore the true potential meaning of education. It frees us to work collaboratively with each other and the young people whose lives we are really talking about here, for them to be equal partners in manifesting this ‘new way’. It gives us the opportunity to model what learning without traditional schooling looks like, to challenge and overcome false beliefs, social norms and values about the capabilities, status and agency of children and young people.
By stepping through the doorway of home education to new connections and communities both virtual and in real life, we find a grassroots movement that will lead the way to revolutionising education as we know it. And believe me, it’s already happening.
This article first appeared in the Huffington Post.