There is probably a ‘critical mass’ when it comes to traditional education - the kind of schooling that we have all become accustomed to, in which children are divided into classes and are supervised and taught by a single teacher. This model, growing as it did out of the Industrial Revolution, proved so workable that it has lasted over a hundred years and has spread over most of the globe. But in the last fifty years or so, class sizes have grown beyond the theoretical critical mass to a point of unmanageability along with central government demands for a ‘better educated workforce’. This has been coupled with increasing drop-out rates and a level of violence and rebellion amongst the student populace that would have been unimaginable to an older generation. Teachers are today not only terrified of showing affection to their students, they are restricted from even talking about what used to be recognised and conventional moral values. This deterioration is creating a growing demand for public and private alternatives to the existing system.
Observant parents can usually tell when something is wrong, but here are some specific indicators that mean that it may be time to review the kind of education your child is getting:
1. The desire to learn is blunted.
The child’s natural desire to learn, to develop an affinity for the world around them physically, intellectually and aesthetically should grow as time goes on at school, if the schooling is being done right. If this is being impeded - if a child is voicing or demonstrating a lack of interest and enthusiasm about learning - something is wrong. If your child is coming home tired, grumpy, out of communication, their school experience, which should be energising and uplifting, is misaligned. A child of any age should be coming home buzzing to tell you about their day and what they have learned, not sullen and apathetic.
2. The child only wants to interact with his or her own age group and avoids adult communication where possible.
Because children are grouped in ‘classes’ according to age, and sometimes to ability, that group becomes the norm for that child. They develop agreements, empathies and common codes of behaviour with children in the ‘class group’. One specific sign of this is a fixation with fashions or trends that are popular only within a particular age group. That’s all very well, but if it is at the expense of communication with other age groups or wider interests and especially if it is hindering communication with adults, treat it as a warning sign: that child is being restricted and their communication potential reduced.
3.There are frequent complaints of injustice.
Part of the traditional ‘industrial’ model of schooling is that individual pastoral care is an ‘add-on’. Children being funnelled through channels called classes and year groups parallels an ‘assembly line’ and necessitates swift and streamlined discipline if an individual ‘item’ falls out of line, so that the rest of the line are affected as little as possible. This evolves into adult-led disciplinary systems because they tend to be faster and can be more easily made uniform. Individual care, taking the time to involve individuals in their own development, is labour intensive and requires a high degree of flexibility and understanding. Consequently, individual children may get ‘trampled’ by the existing, unfeeling system. Of course there is a need for justice and a child needs on occasion to be disciplined, but the point to watch for is whether the child’s own determinism is being consulted, or whether a rote scheme of penalties is being applied.
4. Creativity is suffering.
In the push to have ‘better educated and work-ready citizens’, central governments have sought to focus on the so-called ‘academic’ or ‘core’ subjects which supposedly make one ‘work-ready’: mathematics, science, English language, computers and sometimes modern foreign languages. Natural talents and abilities in the fields of art, dance, drama, literature and music are frequently relegated to ‘second place’ as they have apparently no utility in a competitive work environment. And so individual students are curtailed, blunted, reduced, and the worth of the individual goes down.
Two important things to watch for here are
a) is the child is doing the bare minimum need to get by, or just concentrating on assignments relating to forthcoming tests or assessments? This is a sure sign that something has happened to the exciting, engaging processes of learning which should be the norm.
b) does the child put off homework until the last minute? This usually means that the learning is not perceived as being anything to do with them as a person - in other words, they have something better and more fulfilling to do, or fail to see the purpose of the work they have been given.
5. Chemical remedies have been suggested.
This is a red alert: any mention of ‘ADHD’, ‘Ritalin’ or any other behaviour-regulating drug means that the school is failing and can only seek behaviour control as an aim.
Any student, discouraged from following his or her own passions, expected to sit for over six hours a day with limited personal attention and interaction, would begin to exhibit signs frustration and rebellion.
Look for an alternative urgently. There are schools out there (Montessori and Waldorf schools, for example) which emphasise traditional academics and the arts; there are hundreds of independent schools which involve parents and students in taking responsibility for their own educations.
Homeschooling is also an option and has taken a variety of approaches in recent decades, varying from a ‘school at home’ approach with a curriculum which mirrors the traditional one, but with parents teaching their own children, to support groups providing alternate curriculums and help with assessment and so on. Some go as far as to leave education entirely up to the child and simply record what has been covered.
The reported experience with homeschoolers who then re-join the more conventional education system at a later date is that the student is often found to be more independently minded, creative and original, as well as being more mature socially, than students who come up through a traditional path.
If alternative models grow in size and popularity, expect resistance: central government considers it its responsibility to shape the society as whole and to enable the nation to compete most effectively on the global stage. Part of this is to monitor educational results and to tamper with these as it sees fit to try to prepare a workforce for industry. A ‘rebellion’ from this model amongst the populus could be interpreted as undermining this approach and may not be treated kindly. But at the end of the day, a society is as great as the individuals within it, and an education system which curtails and limits individuals rather than enhances them is eating away at the foundations of a nation rather than strengthening them.