The School of Life

January 30, 1996

(Originally published in the George Street Co-op Newsletter)

By Sarabeth Matilsky

I have been wanting to write an article on homeschooling for a while, but I couldn’t think of what to say. Then I picked up The Home News & Tribune on Monday, October 30, and in the Education Section there was an article. It made me very angry, and the thoughts just came tumbling out. The article was about teen-agers who don’t want to attend college, and there were several points made that I disagree with wholeheartedly.

First of all, this paragraph: “For years, [parents] have pushed private tutors, summer camps and motivational training, hoping to interest their kids in a thirst for learning. _It’s just not there._” (My italics).

I am a sixteen-year-old unschooler, and I can definitely attest to the fact that I have not yet lost my “thirst for learning,” and don’t intend to do so in the near future! I think that if I did go to school, I would be as brainwashed as the next person into thinking that learning was boring. And think about it--“school-learning” is boring. Kids sit in a classroom for the better part of the day, reading about other people doing things and learning things. (This brings me to another point--being locked inside a building for six hours a day: that must do something to a person’s psyche!) This is supposed to prepare you for the “real world,” as so many of my concerned relatives tell me. (I think that is pretty ironic.) If I had to study English as an assignment, and I had to do it, I would most certainly hate it!! But because I can choose my own course of study, by reading, or even writing this article, I love it. Let’s face it--no one likes to be forced to do something. Even if schools did offer the most amazing resources, you can’t get away from the fact that the students have to be there. If I were told, “Sara, you must learn how to conjugate a verb today,” I would immediately balk and think of an excuse to get out of it. But because I choose to do it, writing becomes something real, not just an exercise in punctuation.

From the end of the newspaper article: “ ‘I don’t think I have anything to be ashamed of [by not wanting to go to college],’ says Angela. ‘I just don’t want to be unhappy going to more school. I want a job. I want to work. I’ll be perfectly happy being a manicurist. Even working on an assembly line would be better than having to go to school anymore.’ ” Now, I agree that Angela probably will not in fact be content with being a manicurist for the rest of her life. But I do not think that by going to college she will have necessarily broadened her horizons. When you come down to it, college is a credential--a little piece of paper saying that you have spent four years of your life in such-and-such an institution. And it most certainly doesn’t guarantee you a job in our present-day economy--look at the unemployment figures for educated adults. Now, I am not saying that college can’t be useful. There are resources there that you can’t find anywhere else--I think that you can make it whatever kind of experience you want it to be. But again, It does not assure you a job, happiness, or anything else.

I feel bad for Angela. I can empathize with her--If I had been in school for twelve years, the prospect of yet another four would definitely turn me off.

It seems so silly to me that parents and teachers and these so-called “professionals” spend so much time trying to figure out why kids don’t want to learn!! (There are therapists that deal exclusively with kids that don’t want to be in school. I’m not kidding you!) They never ask the kids, and even when they do, they don’t believe them. “Oh, you’re bored?? You must have ‘school-phobia’--off to the child psychologist with you!!” I get so infuriated when people tell me about their children or their students who aren’t “motivated.” They can’t seem to get it--the kids really are bored! Maybe if they took some of these kids out of school, and let them start to experience life, they would stop being afraid to learn! But wait--maybe this isn’t such a great idea--all of those children’s therapists would be out of jobs...

This fall I decided to try the textbook approach to learn English. I gave it up in a few weeks. There were so many stupid rules in that book! Things that I would never use again once I learned them. And even the rules weren’t clear, although this book was a supposedly “good” text book. One example (and I quote): “Comma Usage: Use a comma to separate items in a series. Use a comma to separate two or more adjectives preceding a noun. _Use a comma wherever necessary._” And kids are bombarded with contradictory messages like that every day!

Aside from the fact that it’s boring and contradictory, it can be harmful. Do you really want your child exposed to the things they teach in schools? Take, for example, history. The government doesn’t want those kids to find out how racist and sexist our country is. What better way to conceal that than to teach kids lies, or better yet, don’t teach it at all!

So you pick up an elementary history text book, and what does it tell you? It says, “How wonderful Christopher Columbus was! He discovered our country, boys and girls!! He sailed here from Spain on three cute little boats called The Nina, The Pinta, and The Santa Maria. When he arrived, he found a bunch of people that he called ‘Indians.’ Now, those ‘Indians’ needed a little help--they had to be ‘civilized!’ You see, they didn’t use money or even own many things. Imagine that! So Columbus helped them to live like normal people, and in return the Indians were so grateful that they gave Columbus and his friends all of their land. That land is our beloved country, boys and girls--the ‘land of the free and the home of the brave.’ ” (You must notice that they never mention women--“Obviously there weren’t any, or at least they never did anything worth hearing about”--so thinks the little girl reading that history book). And on and on and on it goes, telling about the great leaders of our country--how “We had a wonderful president named Thomas Jefferson. He was against slavery. He did own a couple hundred slaves, but that’s beside the point--he still believed slavery should be abolished.”

Schools are the perfect place for our government to mold kids into the kind of people that they want--meek, patriotic, law-abiding citizens who care very much about our country--but not too much! Only enough to vote. Never enough to think about why we have homeless people on the streets, an AIDS epidemic, pollution everywhere, or an economy going to pot. You see, if children grew up to think for themselves, it could be dangerous.