Will you do a quick experiment with me? I want you to see something.
Go to google.com and type “school makes me” and see what suggestions (the most commonly searched terms) drop down.
Do those predictions break your heart? They break mine.
If you weren’t able to follow along, here’s what you missed:
School makes me sad
School makes me cry
School makes me so tired
School makes me feel bad
School makes me angry
School makes me tired
School makes me feel dumb
Perhaps some will dismiss these results as an example of a “snowflake” generation who can’t handle hard work or “hurt feelings.” Maybe some would remark that they didn’t like school either, but they turned out fine. I’ve seen both of those responses before when I’ve talked about what we are continuing to learn about the effect of compulsory education on young people.
But these results, when looked at through the lense of what many experts consider a child and youth mental health crisis in this country, should stir in any concerned and compassionate adult a desire to identify and fix whatever is making our kids and teens feel so very sad and hopeless.
Every time I write about the failures and—dare I say—dangers of compulsory education, I hear from one or two people who tell me that they are very happy (and so are their children) with the public education system where they live. Sometimes, a few teachers will take offense at articles or opinions critical of the education system because they see it as a criticism of themselves and their passionate work.
To families who are thrilled with their kids’ teachers and with the education system where they live, I say, “Wonderful! I hope things continue to go well for you.” To those who teach, and love their profession (and their students) I say, “Thank you for all of your hard work and care. We need more teachers like you!” I know some really great teachers who care deeply for their students. Those great teachers are one of the reasons that Mrs. Miner, the Tuttle Twins’ caring and compassionate teacher, has played such a prominent role in so many of our books.
Unfortunately, the reality for a lot of families is that their children are not thriving in school. Not only are they not thriving, but they are turning to the internet en masse to find answers to the feelings of sadness and loneliness and despair that they are feeling every single day. The truth is that the system simply isn’t effective at meeting the unique and individual needs of children and families.
The world doesn’t look the way it did fifty years ago, and although arguments can be made as to whether the changes have been for better or for worse (I tend to think there’s been a great deal of change in both directions), the fact that the system may have worked okay for the majority of families a generation ago doesn’t work anymore.
Our kids, through their actions, their behavior, and their Google searches, are trying to tell us something. Are we listening?
The late John Taylor Gatto was listening when he said, “School reform is not enough. The notion of schooling itself must be challenged.”
I’m encouraged when I read about programs like this one launched just this week called Unschool.school. Part of their mission reads:
Unschool.school offers families access to a wide variety of alternatives to conventional K-12 schooling. From in-home microschools run by local parents and educators, to in-person group classes led by dynamic subject-matter experts, to out-of-school enrichment activities in your community, Unschool.school supports and champions real-life learning without schooling.
By creating connections to an array of local schooling alternatives and passionate educators, Unschool.school helps families shift from a one-size-fits-all schooling model to a personalized learning model focused around each learner’s distinct passions and goals.
Their site goes on to talk about the type of educators they are recruiting—people who have retired after many years working in their profession, hobbyists who have refined their skills and talents outside of formal training, former educators who want to continue to teach but like Mr. Gatto before them feel that their chosen profession actually causes more harm than good—anyone with a set of skills and the desire to share them with young people.
Cities and communities all over the country are creating groups and organizations to help parents and children find ways to meet their education goals outside of the outdated and often harmful walls of traditional classrooms. This education awakening even touches the Tuttle family in our tenth book, The Tuttle Twins and the Education Vacation where, encouraged by Mrs. Miner, the Tuttle family attends a lecture by John Taylor Gatto where they learn all about the history and purpose of compulsory education. If you haven’t read it yet, I won’t spoil it for you—but let’s just say that the Tuttle family makes some pretty big changes after Mr. Gatto’s lecture… with the blessing and encouragement of Mrs. Miner, of course. 😉
Regardless of what the ideal method of education looks like for your family, the important thing is that parents and families remain free to choose the path that is best suited to their unique needs. There seems to be a lot of effort these days to politicize education choice, and that’s a real shame. Because I’m willing to bet that the commonly searched phrases about how school makes kids feel doesn’t follow any political or economic or racial or any other easily polarized demographic.
They’re just kids. And regardless of where they are from or where they go to school—many of them are miserable. I believe that parents know what’s best for their children. And the best way to help kids who are miserable in school is to allow parents all the options and opportunities and freedom to create the education experience that best suits their child.
I will continue to support education choice within my community and I hope that you will consider doing the same—regardless of what type of education you’ve found works best for your own family.