Monday, April 07, 2008

Me and My Big Ideas, part 3

OK, last one. Promise. (I originally meant to make these posts at decorous intervals, but that was back in November before I had my baby, and he's asleep now, so, well, I'm carping diem.)

This final post was written in response to someone who asked what values homeschoolers were so afraid of having their kids exposed to in school.

In case it needs to be spelled out, I speak from my experience (based on having served fourteen years in the Irish school system (1978-1992), and on what I know about that system now from teacher friends, other parents, and the media), and from my feelings relating to school ("feelings", specifically, since the question mentions "afraid").

What I'm "so afraid of" is not a set of pernicious personal values that I fear a given teacher might hold (e.g. homophobia, violent nationalism, ultra-Catholicism) - children encounter people all the time whose values conflict with each other's and with those of their immediate circle: it's part of life. Instead, I'm afraid of a set of values that I feel are, sadly, implicit in a system wherein large(ish) groups of children are taught by (at any one time) a single adult, and where children do not have any genuine power. I am not in any way suggesting that these values are deliberately asserted in the school system, but I believe that (in Ireland, at least) they are rooted very deeply. Teachers within the system cannot totally avoid working within these value frameworks, whatever their own convictions might be.

In no particular order, then, here are some lessons that I would quite like my children not to have to learn - or at least, not at the impressionable age at which I learnt them:

* What you are interested in at this moment is less important than what I am instructing you to focus on.

* You are powerless; the rules are the rules; the adults in charge here have essentially arbitrary authority over you. (Corollary: might is right.)

* Your passions are irrelevant to your education; they must be indulged either furtively (risking punishment) or only after your school duties have been discharged.

* If a teacher tells you to do something, no matter how absurd or pointless it may seem, you must do it or face punishment.

* Conform. It's safer.

* Boredom and fear (chiefly of adult retribution or disapproval) are part of the package, not something you are entitled to do anything about. If you are bored and attempt to alleviate this state, expect trouble.

* Mistakes are bad.

* Proving to someone else that you can do something is more important than doing it to a level that you find satisfactory (e.g. sufficient to accomplish a related personal goal).

* In general, the measurable takes precedence over the unmeasurable.

I could go on, but I suspect you get the gist. Please don't anyone take this as a personal attack!

1 comment:

Ailbhe said...

Good one on the values.

Over here, academic achievement is almost never first among schoolers' concerns - they ask me about the child's social life.

About which I cannot at present be articulate. Guh.

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