Another Brick in the Wall

Let’s be honest – school is shite.

Can anyone here say that they enjoyed the experience? I loved primary school, land of dressing up and paints and stories and fun assemblies and putting on little plays. But secondary. Jesus. What a nightmare. I remember standing in the biology room at the end of the day, waiting for the bell to go, chairs were up. I was in the second year (year 8 for you youngsters) and it suddenly occurred to me that I had a whole three and half years left of this crushing monotony.

Many years later I became a teacher in a secondary school. I didn’t last long. Backstage was even worse than I thought. Half the teachers got pissed at lunchtime and the other half spent their lives screaming at year 11 boys to take their coats off on entering the sacred walls.

My eldest son was, like me, completely destroyed by secondary school. My education didn’t start until I was 25 and I went back as a mature student. My eldest never bothered going back. He’s nearly 28, and still completely disillusioned by the whole thing.

I’d been thinking with my youngest, who is nearly ten years younger, that he might fare a bit better, being a bit calmer. But he just ended up lonely and unhappy. The last straw for me came when he was in year 8 and suffered a compound fracture while playing basketball in a games lesson. If that had been me or my other kid, we’d have howled and cried until we got attention. But the little ‘un isn’t that sort. So he just limped about, barley able to walk, and not one teacher noticed!

He came home with a foot like a balloon. The hospital said he should have kept weight off it immediately. The next day I phoned the school and told them he wasn’t coming in. The day after that they threatened to send the rat catcher round, saying a broken leg was no reason to not come to school.

Naturally, I had a right Benny at this, and informed them that I was taking him out of school and was going to home-school him. I’d googled it in anger, and saw how easy it was. So that’s what I did.

His dad went batty, So did my then husband. So did my eldest son (probably jealousy) and the rest of my family were less than impressed with my decision. I had to do a bit of justifying to the home visit lady who the council sent round, but not much. And so suddenly the boy was free.

I decided that as I used to be a teacher it would be pretty easy. But lessons weren’t really on his agenda. It was a bit like the home schooling Eric Cartman episode of South Park. He’s not a daft lad, and he seemed to spend a lot of time on cool websites, looking at cool sciency stuff, and lots of Top Gear. I left him to it, deciding that once he’d had a break he’d be more inspired.

But as I left him to it, I realised that he naturally gravitated towards educational stuff. At first it was all a big holiday with cartoons, but eventually, he was watching documentaries that interested him, things he’d found by himself. If he asked me a question and I didn’t know, we’d find some video or website and find things out. It all happened really naturally.

He went to college to do a couple of GCSEs, when he was 16, and is now 18 and studying engineering. He’s really balanced compared to me and the eldest. And I don’t think that’s just by virtue of the fact that he’s generally a bit mellower than us. I think we’re not as mellow because we were subjected to that process of conformity, where it doesn’t matter if you do your work. If you try to be a bit of an individual and express yourself in any way you got suspended. If you played up, no one asked if everything was ok, they just gave you detention.

When I was teaching, I formulated positive reinforcement techniques for dealing with unruly year 8 and 9s, but got hauled over the coals by the headmaster because you weren’t allowed to do that. It wasn’t school policy. You had to give detentions, referrals, removes. Negative, negative, punish, obey.

Free education in this country only became a thing because the powers that be wanted and needed an educated workforce. They realised that this was a bit too risky perhaps, and it seems that an ever present dumbing down on educational provision, apart from for those who will fill the top political or city jobs, has become the mode of operation. They don’t want us thinking.

But we have YouTube, and alternative news sources now. We can learn whatever we like at the touch of a button, from a thing in our pocket. The education system has been long outmoded, but no one wants to make an effort to change that and improve it. Why would they? They’d much prefer an illiterate and brainwashed mass to argue with each other on the internet about what their favourite paper told them they should think this week.

Primary school seems to me important, because that’s where you make friends, do fun stuff, experience things that are new, work in groups; but after that, secondary school just became a whirl of learning how to deal with bullies and feelings of loneliness and not fitting in, then being beaten by teachers into a conformist attitude.

Any bright spark with new ideas is quelled and subjugated, until they either rebel and get a reputation for being naughty, and can therefore be written off that way, or they fall silent, at which point, they’re easy to simply ignore.

What is churned out the other end is a group of disenfranchised, confused teenagers, who were forced into making decisions at the end of year nine that they will carry with them forever. And not one of them knows how to do their tax, register as self employed, change a tyre, cook a Sunday dinner, milk a cow, grow some veg, fix a lawnmower; not one useful thing is taught, unless you’re going to be an academic or work in IT.

We have a computer workforce, made up of the geeks who can’t believe their luck to finally be the rich, cool guys, and everyone else is wandering around lost with no industry to enter. We need trade schools back. We need un-schooling, and home schooling, rolled into one. I see a utopian situation where kids get to gather in their groups and learn social ways, but where they encourage and inspire each other, with teachers as guides, not as coat thieves and banshees. NO homework unless you want to. Which most kids, left to their own devices, do want to.. they just want to look at the stuff they’re interested in. What’s the point of getting a kid who is enamoured of space rockets to stop looking at them and come look at this Jane Austen novel instead. What’s the point of taking a kid from their books and forcing them into a game of hockey?

Let them find their own way and they will. Kids get bored eventually, and seek input. They all like their computers so much, let them. They’ll educate themselves, and they’ll do it a lot better that the current secondary system does. One of my students once told me all about Plato’s republic. “How do you know about that?” I asked, surprised as hell. “From a game.” He said. Genius. Best way to learn anything! My youngest son became an expert in classical weaponry from playing games, and my eldest son, who didn’t like books a whole lot, didn’t care about learning to read until he realised you had to be able to read to play Pokemon. After that, he was reading fluently in about a week.

And ok – we’re lucky to have free education when many countries have little or none. But our gratitude traps us into accepting a conformist model, based on the “best”parts of history and a preference for those who look like they may make the grade as city slickers – though “making it” from a Comprehensive school system is a pretty rare thing.

In fact, the ones that seem to do the best are the ones we used to shockingly call the “remo” class. These guys, not academically gifted it was assumed, and probably in hindsight, dyslexic, or having some other special educational needs, got to do super cool stuff like building and horticulture. And those boys – for ’twas mostly boys – from those so called “lower” stream classes are the boys that you see around the place with their names on their vans, having built some good and essential local business. The so called brainy kids all seem to have mental health issues now, probably from being forced into experiencing the world in a way they didn’t understand and having their brains fried by cramming them full of of things they instinctively knew were wrong or irrelevant; wasted talents, not picked up and nurtured, just churned around in the same old washing machine system, ensuring that the bright working classes stay average.

But we have out own schools now. Online. It seems much more useful to educate ourselves in a way that suits us. Teachers should be guides, not form you into a mould of thought. If you get the chance to go to university, you’ll find that they encourage lots of research and study of what has been, and then you are encouraged to make your own assumptions, and have thoughts of your own. Up to and including A level, that doesn’t happen. And having taught at both university and secondary school level, I can confirm that the uni kids, the ones who got to choose their subjects, are a lot more into their thing than the kids in the school being told what to learn. I remember one of my year 11 pupils refusing to turn up for a practical drama exam. “It doesn’t matter miss,” he said. “I’m gonna be a dentist.”

Good lad.


Published by Tess Delaney

I mostly only come out at night... mostly....

2 thoughts on “Another Brick in the Wall

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