Hi Zed Omega’s,
First I’d like to say congratulations on what you’re doing here, igniting much needed conversation and introspection on a topic that touches us all.
When people in high up places talk about kids disliking or dropping out of school they usually categorise them as people who aren’t very smart and can’t keep up with the work -and as people who need school or else will spend their life illiterate and innumerate. You guys are clearly not that. And I too hated school, despite being bright. How much did I hate it? I missed a heap of school as a kid due to psychosomatic illness because the thought ofschool literally made me sick with anxiety. And I was lucky enough to go to a ‘good’ school, so I can’t even begin to imagine what it would be like for those who go to under resourced schools where the teachers don’t care.
Equally, I am now an adult and a mother so I have another perspective: that of a parent who has had to think about what school I want my child to go to, hoping that she won’t spend 14 years of school hating every minute. I wanted something better for my daughter. This decision took a lot of reflection about my own schooling as well as what I’ve learnt is important life.
My priorities in choosing my daughter’s school were not primarily about ‘education’. She’s a bright kid, she has two loving parents who spend time helping her with learning activities, and I know for myself that this accounts for a lot of learning regardless of school. My priorities for my child’s school were the things I didn’t get from my own schooling, and the things I’ve realised have made life more difficult for me along the way, that I want to give my daughter.
A school is an environment that can be positive OR negative. It can be a community OR a battlefield. It can inspire kids OR destroy them. Boost their self confidence OR squash them. I was a shy anxious kid and my schools contributed to a loss of self confidence, with some of my teachers being horrible and bullying, the school environment being negative, clashes between kids, overly restrictive rules, a general sense of unfairness and lack of respect for kids.
Interestingly enough the final 2 years of school were somewhat different, with teachers treating students more like adults, and wanting to be liked, students were given more autonomy and choice - and these were two of my most enjoyable years of school. The other years I remember enjoying were year 1 & 2 when I had fantastic caring creative teachers who took the time to build a personal connection and coax me out of my shyness when they could.
So, for my daughter more than anything I wanted a school that cared about the kids and worked on building their self esteem, mutual respect, a sense of community. My daughter goes to Darlington Public School which, while not perfect, does work hard to create these things. Kids that in another school would likely be bullied for looking different are happy here. Older kids ‘buddy’ younger kids both formally and informally, so all kids develop leadership skills and contribute to a sense of looking out for one another. Right from a young age they are involved in getting up in front of others to speak or perform so they quickly get over stage fright and consider it a normal activity. Diversity is welcome, with kids from all kinds of backgrounds, shapes, and ability levels.
Academically it’s not fantastic, but my daughter is a happy confident sociable kid, and growing more so over time. I look at her and her friends and am amazed by their sense of self, confidence, and how they will stand up for themselves in a way that I couldn’t at their age (only 7 years and they can hold their own!)
So this is what I want to say to you, Zed Omegas:
School is not just about education, it’s about developing a range of interpersonal skills and the right environment will help you grow as a person on so many levels - preparing you for adulthood. The wrong school will not do that, it will crush you instead. No school is perfect (nor is life!) but perhaps before you give up on school altogether you should consider if there is a ‘right’ school to suit you?
It’s true that school is not the only place to learn interpersonal skills, or an education. However, to work on these by yourself you have to be really self motivated and work a lot harder. School may have it’s failings, but it’s easier than the alternative.
My younger brother dropped out of school at 16 after dealing with bullying and unsympathetic teachers. His plan was to study by distance education and complete his High School Certificate (diploma) that way. He’s bright, but the need for self motivation when you have no structure, and no teachers, and so on… it got the better of him. He didn’t get his HSC (diploma).
He took low level casual jobs that sustained a teenager’s lifestyle, and when he was older he applied to university as a ‘mature aged student’ where he got in by sitting an ability test (no need for his HSC). Since then he has studied on and off around low paying jobs but not yet completed his degree. So on the one hand you don’t “need” a diploma, but on the other hand the fractured education has meant he’s still studying at age 27 - which he would have completed by 21 if he’d just done it the traditional way.
True not every career needs a degree, however the things you acquire if you do one are harder to acquire elsewhere (interpersonal, knowledge, skills, relationships). The reason I say this is that I am a ‘life long learner’ - I am constantly seeking to learn more. I do a lot of this myself, reading books, blogs, attending conferences, interacting with people who know more than I do, etc. However I also enrol in courses because they push you in a different way. A set course makes you learn everything you need, not just the bits you feel like - you are pushed outside your comfort zone (necessary!) - and must apply that learning through set tasks. You also meet other people who are sharing your experience, form bonds, networks, that can be more difficult to do in self-study mode.
I’m not saying you can’t do it outside the system, just be aware it’s much much harder. Even with all the resources now available on the internet, I know that I personally would not have had the self discipline as a 16 year old to apply myself to self study, I needed some structure even if that structure was an imperfect school. Not to mention my terrible social skills, being a shy anxious awkward teenager - I would not have cut it going straight into the workplace.
Unfortunately many of the things you hate about school are things you will also hate about work. Even if you go into a profession you love like acting, there will be many tasks associated with it that you won’t want to do but will have to. I don’t say this to depress you - I say it because the up side is that you will learn to deal with things better, to not let the little stuff get to you so much, develop coping techniques that help you focus your energy where it’s worthwhile and tune out the crappy stuff. That is a big lesson in life.
As such I’d recommend a hybrid approach: use the system that is there, but game it to your advantage.
Use the resources in a way that works for you. Find a teacher you connect with and ask them for more interesting work or help or support. Do extra learning activities that stimulate you outside of school, and see if you can influence what or how your teachers are teaching. Form study groups or activity clubs that make school more fun - remember half of school (and life) is interpersonal!
If you can master this lesson (how to turn lemons into lemonade), you will have it made.
Best of luck, Luci