(Picking up where I left off. This is Part II of III, or possibly even IV.)
When I was in 10th grade, Emily and I started going to the bookstore during our free periods. We’d get coffee, and then just wander, reading title after title, picking up anything that interested us. We often read whole books in a single sitting, crouched on the carpet at the back of one aisle or another, sometimes reading silently to ourselves and sometimes out loud to one another. We read novels, collections of poetry, nonfiction volumes about science and history and feminism. This was fun — it was great, unadulterated fun, and the things we learned are immeasurable. I would learn more in ninety minutes, exploring an interesting topic with my best friend, than I did in an entire semester in any of my classes. Overall I’m sure I’ve learned significantly more reading with Emily — in bookstores, bedrooms and the blogosphere — than I did in my three* years of high school combined.
Being forced back into class every day after this was incredibly demoralizing. I’ve always been an A student and liked school more than most, but this exposed the great hypocrisy of what I was being forced to do. I was learning, passionately — and it felt nothing like sitting in those classrooms. That framework of school was actively hostile to my education, actively preventing me from learning, by forcing me to sit in my plastic chair as an often pathetic teacher tried and failed to gain control of the classroom, and as the other kids joked and flirted in their stupidly transparent ways.
(Emily simply sat silently reading through every single class, managing to get some value of that wasted time.)
To add insult to injury, those school officials would regularly force me into discussions and activities about “learning how to learn.” Learning how to learn! As if they new the first thing about it! As if learning is some trick children must be trained, like dogs, to perform!
Needless to say, there is something profoundly wrong with the school system when it inhibits learning. There is something profoundly wrong with the school system when the bookish, academic kids hate it.
So what are we doing here?
We’re treating children and teenagers like they aren’t people. People — human beings — are sensitive, curious, self-aware, self-motivating, cooperative creatures. We treat children like they’re numb, stupid, belligerent, apathetic animals, and then we complain when they act that way.
And what happened to Emily and me?
We figured out that we were people. We discovered we were smart, caring, inquisitive and enthusiastic. We discovered we were human beings.
Once the kid knows she’s a person, you can’t expect her to sit back down and shut back up again.
(Thanks to Dave at How to Save The World for reminding me of this a few weeks ago.)
In the next installment, more about the fundamental assumptions of school, plus a suggestion for further reading. Finally, in Part III if it fits or IV if it doesn’t, some ideas about what school should do and be.
* At the end of junior year I started attending college under an arrangement in which both schools agreed to let me count college credits toward my high school graduation.
Posted under Culture
This post was written by Daisy on November 12, 2008