Are you a parent to a child in school or do you plan to be one day? If so, I’d like you to join me in a thought experiment. How we’re going to do that I’ll explain in a moment, but first let me explain why exactly I’d like you to join me in this experiment:
Working as a teacher I’ve come to realize that parents hold the key to changing the education system.
Parents, unlike teachers, aren’t paid to do what they do. You don’t get paid to be a parent. As teachers we are hired to follow guidelines and curricular, often stipulated by governments and other formal institutions. Our jobs depends on us following and adhering to the goals and principles set by the status quo of the current establishment. This means, that even if we see fundamental flaws in the education system, there is little we can do about it because our very livelihoods are dependent on that same flawed system. As parents, your primary interest is the wellbeing and success of your child. You don’t get paid to be a parent and so within the boundaries of the laws of your country, you have the right to raise your child as you see fit.
Now – I know that many parents are worried about their children’s future and whether the education system is equipped to effectively educate their children to step into that future. I also know that many parents feel left out and unable to effectively direct their child’s education because so much is left up to schools to decide and most parents have very little time to acquaint themselves with what’s going on in school. What the media and politicians are sharing is often ambiguous and confusing as they in one moment talk about how advanced the education system has become and in the next, expose one troubling result after another showing how schools in many countries are failing even the basic task of teaching their students to read, write and do math. Because of the poor results, many countries are implementing reforms and taking measures into improving the academic performance of students. Students are therefore being tested like never before.
As a teacher spending every day in the education system, I observe and reflect on children’s experiences. I do that because I care, because education is my passion – because I would like to see an education system that truly supports children to grow into their full potential. I see that the current education system is in no way optimal. I see things happening in schools that I would never want my child to experience. But as a teacher there is little I can do about it, because my job is to stand by the status quo, that is what I am hired to do and the children are in an even more disadvantageous position as their voices doesn’t count in the grand scheme of things. They’re there because they have to be, whether they like it or not, whether it supports them to truly learn or not.
The people with the greatest power and ability to speak up and stand up to change the status quo of the current education system are parents. But most parents don’t know what’s really going on. Instead they put their faith and trust in the teachers to teach and in the politicians to effectively determine what principles and values that their children are being taught. But what do you as a parent actually know about the life your child live when they are in school? When you ask them how their day went or what they learned, what do they say?
Therefore, I would like to give you as a parent a glimpse into what your child may experience as they go to school on a daily basis. I’d like to give you a glimpse into what it is really like for a child to go to school in today’s society – so that you may start to see that what’s really happening within education is not what is best for your child. I would also like you to see that there is an alternative, that there is a solution, that this is not how it has to be and that learning and going to school could be so much more than what it is today.
But before we get to that, let’s us start with our thought-experiment:
The following is a story of a day in the life of a student of unspecified origin, age and gender. Some of the details may coincide with your child’s experiences, others may not. The story is based on my observations of the lives of – and conversations with children in today’s Western school system. As you read the story, I’d like you to imagine that you are this child, that these are your experiences – and to then ask yourself whether this is the kind of education you would want if you were a child today.
I’m snugged into my bed when my mom yells at me to wake up. I open my eyes and see that it is still dark outside. I tug the blanket over my head. My mom comes into my room, yanks the blanket off and says that I have to get up or I will be late for school. I drag myself out of bed. It is cold and my body feels tired. I can barely open my eyes. I put on my pants and suddenly remember that kid yesterday who teased me because my pants didn’t have the right cut. The right cut. I feel embarrassed and ashamed. I quickly pull the pants off and throw them in a corner. I yell at my mom and ask why she bought me these pants that aren’t even in style and that I want new pants. They have to be this brand, it’s important. She yells back from the kitchen that we’ll have to see if we have enough money at the end of the month. I sigh. It’s always about the money. I scavenge my closet for a pair of pants that can pass as acceptable. When I put them on I feel nervous and hope that no one notices the patch that my mom has sown on. It would be so embarrassing. I feel a knot forming in my stomach.
When I come into the kitchen, my mom is running around looking for her keys. With a stressed look in her eyes she tells me to quickly eat my breakfast so that I won’t miss the school buss. She’s frowning. I don’t feel hungry at all but I chuck down a bowl of cereal with milk as fast as I can while I watch TV. My stomach feels funny afterwards, but I feel more awake. I hear the school buss pull up and I run out, grab my backpack, and barely get to put my shoes on before I’m out the door. I can hear my mom yelling from the kitchen that I didn’t finish my breakfast. I run as fast as I can but still miss the buss. Now she’s going to be pissed. I come back to the house.
My mom is already standing outside the door with her car keys and a tight look on her face. She says that she has an important meeting today and that she can’t be late. We get into the car. None of us say anything on the way. Right when we pull up to the school she asks me if I remembered to do my biology homework. I feel the knot in the stomach again. I tell her I did, not to worry her or get into trouble… but I didn’t. I tried for half an hour, but I couldn’t understand the questions. The knot is there again, churning in my stomach.
I get out of the car and start walking up to the school. It is a towering grey building with tiny windows and a cemented yard. It looks intimidating and cold, like a prison. I think to myself: “why does school look like a prison?.” I hurry in through the door to not be late. The staircase is dirty and the wallpaper is crumbling off the walls. As I walk into the classroom the teacher looks at me with a sour look in his eyes. There are 35 students in the class and I wiggle my way down in-between the tables and chairs that barely fit into the small room. Someone throws a paper ball directly on my head. I turn around, unsure who is out to get me. I pretend like I didn’t feel it and sit down, feeling slightly paranoid whether I am now going to be targeted by one or more bullies in the class. The knot in my stomach churns.
The table I sit at is too small, too tall and the chair is cold and hard. My stomach already feels empty again and it starts rumbling. I’m afraid the other students will start laughing at me if they hear it, so I quench my stomach muscles to make it stop. While the teacher is talking I try to pay attention but it is so difficult. It is literally like the words are buzzing around my head like a swarm of mosquitos or a fog that surrounds my head, but its like I can’t tune into the right frequency and clearly hear and absorb the words.
Mechanically I write down what the teacher is saying and writing on the board. It is math. That much I know. The muffled sound of the teacher’s words feels oddly soothing and I start dozing off. I realize it when my head nods and I try to stay alert. The worst thing that could happen is if the teacher calls on me, so I am thankful that I am so far back in class. I hope he won’t notice me. When the bell rings I feel a sigh of relief. One lesson down of a day that feels like its going to last eternally.
All the students run out of the classroom pushing and shoving each other. The hallway fills up with children and a loud, almost unbearable cacophony of voices. The kids are bumping into each other, some start wrestling, and others take out their albums with soccer stars or stickers to trade with other kids. Someone starts crying. Everyone puts on their coats, some grab a soccer ball and we all walk out into the yard. The rules stipulate that the students must be outside during recess. Today I would much rather be snuggled up somewhere inside with a book. I long for the peace and quiet of my bedroom. In the yard, there’s not much to do. There are two broken hockey nets that the kids use for soccer. There’s a faded hopscotch patch that the girls don’t use anymore.
Mostly the kids just run around or walk around. It reminds me of one of those prison movies that I saw one night when my mom was sleeping. In the prison movie the inmates would walk around in the yard, play cool and tough and would make deals and break out fights with each other while the guards look the other way. It’s the same in our schoolyard, except that we are children and the guards are teachers. Someone is always getting picked on and I try my best to make sure I don’t get noticed so that I’m not next. Some girls are whispering about another girl that walks away crying. An older student knocks down a boy with funny looking legs that can’t walk straight. They laugh. I look away.
The noise is reaching its heights when the bell rings. I’m almost grateful the recess is over and I drag myself to yet another classroom, yet another lesson. One of the teachers is real nice and I like the lesson, but it is so short and many of the other students didn’t read the book we had for homework so we don’t get far. I try to talk to her about what happens next in the book cause I found it so interesting and I have a question I’ve been waiting to ask her since last week. But she hushes at me and instead goes over everything again so that the other students can keep up. It’s the third time I’ve heard it. I draw doodles on my book.
And so it continues until lunch. I go into the cafeteria that is again filled with the buzzing and deafening sound of voices. I feel starving now. At the cafeteria I look around to see who I can sit with, it’s like playing chess in my mind. If I sit with that girl, the other kids might think I like her, but she got bullied last year and I don’t want to be next. That kid used to be my friend but everyone hates him now so I’m not going to sit there. There’s that cool kid that everyone looks up to, but he’s such an asshole. Last time I sat next to him he stole half my lunch and I was hungry the rest of the day. So I sit alone.
The lunch is cold and soggy. After I’ve eaten it I feel a little fuller but its like the food doesn’t really fill me up. So I go to the vending machine. They put up these machines all over the schools with soda and candy. Then the soda and candy companies came and gave us some pens and other material. So I have a soda. Afterwards my teeth itch but I feel a little bit more awake.
After lunch we have a test. I can barely understand the questions and I can’t sit still. I keep looking up at the clock. Tick tock. It feels like the time is moving faster than normal. I try to concentrate on the questions on the test but the kids behind me keep talking and whispering. The letters on the test look all mushed together and I can’t focus. I guess and hope that I got enough right to pass. I count the time till the bell rings.
All I want to do is to go home to my nice cozy bed, play some computer games, watch some series and sleep. The bell rings. I take the buss home. When I come home my mom is again running around in the kitchen looking stressed. When we sit down to eat, she asks me how my day was. I say: “Fine”. I go to my room and close the door. I exhale.
This story might seem thought provoking, unrealistic even. Much of it might not resemble what your child experiences on a daily basis; some might be worse in real life, some might be better, but what I would like to show with this story is how the current education system is not an optimal learning environment for any child.
As I mentioned earlier, what I’ve realized as a teacher is that most parents know very little about what school is really like. Obviously all parents have gone to school themselves, so they do have some reference and probably remember much of what I’ve described here from their own experiences – and yet there is this hope and faith that the education system will effectively take care of their children, when in all honesty it will not.
Obviously as teachers we do what we can to provide your child with the best possible education, but at the end of the day we have no choice but to conform to the standards and conditions we are met with. We don’t have time to talk to your child individually. We don’t have time to even get to know your child enough to effectively teach them in a way that works best for them. I certainly wish we did. But we don’t decide how many students are to be jam-packed into one class. We don’t decide what curricular to teach. We don’t even decide what principles to teach according to. We’re given standardized tests to hand out to students because that’s what the current establishment sees as the best way to optimize the current education system, to get your children to achieve better… for the sake of the economy and the competition on the global market.
The question I would ask myself as a parent is: is that enough? Is that all I want for my child? Am I satisfied with that? Can I honestly say that the education I received as a child sufficiently prepared me to face life as an adult? What would an education system look like that truly prioritized the learning and wellbeing of my child?
To answer this question, in the next post, I’d like to invite you to join me in another thought experiment.
This time we will imagine what school would be like if the wellbeing and expansive potential of our children was a top priority in the education system. We will imagine what school would be like if the status quo of our society changed its governing principles from competition in the global economy to a system of mutual support, a system where each citizen is supported by society as a whole to thrive. We will imagine what happens to a child’s education when parents take active part in their learning process – and we will discuss how this has the potential to, not only change the life of each individual child, but in fact the world as we know it. So stay tuned.
If you are ready to get involved in a political and economic change of paradigms and thereby also a change of our education systems, I invite you to investigate the Equal Life Foundation’s proposal of a Guaranteed Living Income System. This proposal suggests a groundbreaking change in political paradigms that doesn’t ‘take sides’ but instead presents a completely new approach to solving the problems we are currently facing in this world.
Re-Educate yourself here:
A couple of weeks ago I was part of the panel on a Live Google Hangout about the Common Core standards initiative. I definitely recommend watching it.
The Ultimate History Lesson with John Taylor Gatto:
PROPAGANDA | FULL ENGLISH VERSION (2012)
The Century of the Self
The Power Principle
Human Resources: Social Engineering in the 20th Century
The Story of Your Enslavement
Inequality for all documentary:
The Four Horsemen:
On Advertisement and the end of the world:
Third World America – Chris Hedges
More articles about parenting and education in a Guaranteed Living Income System:
Watch the hangout about Education for a New World in Order: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zlj5wGCRnSU