Why I Want to Start a School

Posted by Patriciaaobrien on Mar 22, 2019 in education, Musings of a Green-Eyed Girl, Parenthood |

They say why is more important than how. That it’s important to know. That it will fuel your success. That it is what will keep you going when things are hard. So I will start there. Why do I want to start a school?

For Asher. My son was not thriving in traditional public school. In fact, it was becoming detrimental to him. He was having anxiety, insomnia, headaches, stomachaches. He hated school and felt like he didn’t belong there. He didn’t fit into the system, and the more the system tried to force him into their mold, the more he both felt like a failure and honored his sense that it was the system that was failing and challenged it. His natural tendencies to explore, create, tinker, question, persist, spend time on his interests, play, be physically active, be social, expect mutual respect, take risks, be curious, take responsibility for himself and use common sense were being denied and squelched and punished. This kid would use Alexa to get the answers for his homework because he found it ludicrous to waste his time doing something of which he was capable but had no interest in when he could easily access the information with a number of tools that anyone can use. He saw no point in it. He would rather spend the time learning magic tricks, making slime, sculpting clay, teaching himself new flips or tricks on the trampoline, practicing his ninja moves, playing video games, riding his scooter or bike, curating his collections, watching videos, playing floor hockey with his brother, drawing or learning how to draw new things, cooking, hanging out with friends, building a bridge, designing a miniature house, playing with magnets, doing experiments, taking something apart, using parts to make something new, checking out how lasers work, tending a garden, playing with his pets, making up crazy entertaining stories, playing along the river, swimming, playing games with other kids, building forts….

He is very capable in the world outside school. He is tender and nurturing with younger kids. He can talk intelligently with anyone of any age. He is empathetic and compassionate, charismatic, charming.  He is persistent.  He has a way of going after what he wants and getting it.  He has already run a business in which he made, advertised, and sold a product in our community. When he opened a stand at the local farmer’s market as an outlet for his products, the other vendors treated him with respect, admiration, and encouragement.  He can cook and bake. He can care for pets.  He can also be exasperating!  I love this kid more than anything and he drives me to my wits end at times.  I know he can be frustrating and he has things he needs to learn and ways he needs to grow.  I don’t think he is perfect.  However, all kids are this to varying degrees.  All of us have things to learn and ways to grow.  That’s another reason he needs a school like this.  It will require him to take responsibility for himself.  It will hold him accountable in fair and clear and respectful and real world ways.  When he needs to make different choices he won’t be able to blame it on the system.  He will have to confront himself and have a process for learning and finding different patterns of behavior without being made to feel bad or shameful or attacked.  He will have a path forward.

And for kids like Asher.  He’s not the only kid who so clearly doesn’t fit into the system.  There are kids with anxiety who struggle with being forced to be out of their element constantly.  There are kids who learn differently than schools teach them who feel confused and like they are failures.  There are kids whose talents are never exploited and even discouraged who don’t understand or develop their unique greatness.  There are kids who are shy or quiet and are told they need to be more outspoken or participate more like being quiet is a weakness.  There are natural leaders with great ideas who are told what to do and never asked for their input.  There are kids who are naturally curious, who are bored and find the things they are forced to learn irrelevant.

 

And for kids unlike Asher who need this school, but for different reasons.  There are kids who seem to do well in the traditional school system.  They like structure.  They want to follow rules and please authority figures and know clearly what to do and how to achieve.  These kids are praised, rewarded, and encouraged in this behavior.  They are held up as the standard of excellence to emulate.  They are promised a bright, successful future.  However, there are at least two reasons why many of these kids would benefit from a school like the one I envision.

First, many kids who find success feel much pressure to continue in this success.  They feel pressure to compete with their successful peers, to not make mistakes or fail at anything, to maintain their successful status and identity, to continually achieve at higher levels, and to follow some artificial path to greatness that often doesn’t lead to happiness and after the years of formal education end is irrelevant.  So much meaningless stress for young people to assume.

Second, this type of educational structure does not translate to real world success.  In fact, it can be quite detrimental.  In order to succeed in a traditional school setting, students must  become adept at blindly following rules, accepting others’ authority to make decisions for them without their input, following a preplanned path, not questioning or thinking critically.  After they have graduated there is no preplanned path set out for them to follow.  They have to decide what they want to do.  They alone are responsible for themselves. They are often out of touch with their true interests because those have not been valued.

And finally, for all children.  If you dig into why school is the way it is, you find that it’s not because it is the best way for kids to spend their time and grow into successful  members of society.  It actually has grown out of various groups in power attempting to achieve their own ends.  Currently, there is a lot we know about how kids learn best, develop, and thrive.  And much of it is ignored and not applied in school.  In fact, much of what schools do goes directly against this knowledge.  The things we’ve doubled down on like testing and measuring and evaluating everything and setting standards that every child must meet on an arbritrary timeline, and developing more rigorous curriculum that demands more academic achievement out of younger and younger children,  have no data to back them up, no evidence they are leading to good results.  It is exploiting children, abusing educators, and costing taxpayers a lot of money.  Why are we letting politians and businesspeople make these decisions?  There is a different way.  One that is based on scientific research and educational expertise and real life results.  It respects and frees and empowers teachers and allows them to do what they do best.  It respects and frees and empowers children and allows them to do what they do best.  And it respects and frees and empowers parents and allows them to do what they do best.  Why not give it a try?

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