Children running

Learning according to inclination is not an option; children's inclinations are not considered relevant; adults tell them what they must learn.

They make the best of it and enjoy themselves as much as they can, but they are always under someone else's authority, unable to conduct themselves as they would wish, unable to follow up their own interests. School seems to be designed to destroy their individuality, to turn them all, as the Swiss teacher, Jürg Jegge says, into cogwheels that will fit smoothly into the machinery of society.

Governments cannot make schools ideal merely by altering the amount of topic work or testing children more often or buying more computers or improving the staff-student ratio. The ideal school must have an entirely different atmosphere. It must not even try to manufacture cogs.

Dan Greenberg of Sudbury Valley School, Massachusetts, commented that when compulsory education was introduced in the nineteenth century, parents objected because it prevented their children from learning anything useful. They wanted their children at home, observing and helping adults at work, learning the things that they would need in the future. Time directed by a teacher was time wasted.

Nowadays people seem to believe the opposite - for children, time not directed by a teacher is time wasted. The pendulum has swung too far. Educationists have become so fascinated by the concept of teaching that they have forgotten to consider what children actually need to learn.

Ideal school-leavers would be literate and numerate, of course, but they would also be happy, considerate, honest, enthusiastic, tolerant, self-confident, well-informed, articulate, practical, co-operative, flexible, creative, individual, determined people who knew what their talents and interests were, had enjoyed developing them, and intended to make good use of them. They would be people who cared for others because they had been cared for themselves.

Conventional school organisation seems designed to produce superficially competent people who, underneath, are evasive, self-interested, ruthless, frustrated, cautious, obedient, timid conformists; they will be complacent about approved achievements and easily humiliated by public failure; they will have spent so much time at school struggling to acquire knowledge that does not interest them and skills that are irrelevant to them, that they will probably have lost all confidence in the value of their own true interests and talents. They will be people who don't care much about others, because most other people have never seemed to care much about them.

The school curriculum is supposed to equip young people for life. I would suggest that the lesson that you remember most clearly from your years in school is simply the importance of doing what is expected of you, the importance of fulfilling a proper function as a cog.


All over the world there are conventional schools that ignore children's curiosity, suppress their energy and overrule their generous moral impulses. And all over the world, as I have at last discovered, there are people who have seen the damage that this does, and have set up schools that are different. I have written about eighteen of these schools in Real Education: Varieties of Freedom, and another four, at greater length, in Lifelines. They are schools which decline to train children to become cogs, and indeed help children who have been so trained to lose their "coggishness."


In all of these schools the adults have a fundamental respecting the children and believe it is right to allow them to develop naturally as themselves. Children are not seen as clay to be moulded or pots to be filled; they are not regarded as trainee adults, but as people, just like anybody else.

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