Writing about my eldest son's recent struggles at school, I mentioned the clash of cultures, perhaps inevitable, between the unschooling he has enjoyed until now, and the culture of the system. I have realised this week that the clash is actually a clash of values, values being the vehicle by which a culture is conveyed ....
We had another meeting with the school this week, in which a couple of afternoon periods have been offered to my son as independent study time. He would like a lot more such time, but he seemed pleased with this first step ... "It's a start, Mum, it's a start," he said. And there is a renewed interest in studying again in the evenings, for his own sake, not because he has been told to. This is good, because I was afraid we were heading for school refusal had there been no compromise reached.
The values that are repeatedly heard from school, though, are not values our family accepts. They are values such as, "It is all about qualifications" ... "What you want to be achieving is those A stars across the board" ... "Qualifications are what will open the doors of opportunity". Schools are, by the language they speak, exam factories. And I accept that, in a way, we are using them - accepting that to be what they are. They are a means to an end, a means of gaining the precious bits of paper our society deems so important.
But, actually, the values imparted in our schooling system are not true. Life is not all about qualifications. What you want to be achieving might not be A stars across the board ... In fact, for many, this is not even possible or realistic ... leaving too many young people feeling like failures. Qualifications are not what will open the doors of opportunity. Not necessarily. It is a house of cards built on a foundation of untruths.
When the light went out in my son's eyes seven years ago, and we made the radical decision to remove our boys from the school system, it was because the values of the system did not sit right with us. In our home educating, I wanted to promote different values and to build on a different foundation. First of all, these values come from my Christian faith, which says that we are each created in the image of God. Therein lies our worth and value. It is not something to be earned or worked for. It is a grace-given truth, not dependent upon our achievements, grades or qualifications. So my vision for education is founded on the unique personhood of each child, and education needs to be respectful of that unique individual. My vision at home would be to nurture my children to be the unique individuals that God has created them to be. This is worlds apart from the values our school system currently purports. Worlds apart. No wonder I struggle to communicate the difficulties.
You see, whilst the school wants the A stars, we want our son to continue to be the unique, independent, quirky, experimentative, inventive, creative individual I have raised him to be, someone who doesn't just accept what he is told, but who questions, explores, pushes boundaries. I have spent seven years encouraging and nurturing such creative, intrinsically-motivated innovation in my boy. And if the price to pay for those A stars is all that we have worked for, then that will be too high a price to pay. Because, in my understanding, the qualities I see in him are more valuable than a bunch of A-grades, which were never our end goal anyway.
How about you? You might have a different belief system from me .... but what are your values? What is your vision for your children's education? Is it compatible with what is happening in our schools? Such questions are important, for they form the foundations of our educational choices ... if we take the time to stop, and consider and to ask.
"The starting point for all our thinking was the apparently revolutionary idea that a child is a person, worthy of full respect as a human being. “ (Daniel Greenberg, Co-founder of Sudbury Valley School)