Why You Should Consider Alternatives to School

Brad Matthews education category

You want the best for your kids. Anything less is a compromise. Alternatives to school offer something much closer to ‘best’ than traditional schools.

It’s important that your child learn what they need to know in order to become capable, motivated, resilient and empowered adults. You want them develop strong social relationships with their peers. You also don’t want them to suffer hardship or struggle if it isn’t entirely necessary and unavoidable.

If that sounds like you, I encourage you to consider alternatives to school, both public and private.

Schooled vs unschooled mindsets and values

Kids should be free to pursue their own interests and desires. Instead of following a dreary one-size-fits-all curriculum, imagine if they had the opportunity to pursue their own passions and interests to their heart’s content. What kind of life would you help set up for them by giving them the freedom to live and learn on their own terms, to choose their friends based not on zip code but an authentic connection? Show them you take an active interest in their life and are committed to helping in whatever capacity they need. Help them realise they aren’t acted upon by others, but are themselves responsible and capable of bringing about change in their lives.

Contrast this with what they learn in school. Their dreams, their desires and their wills don’t matter. All that matters is obeying the authority figure—the teacher. They learn to comply or risk missing out on rewards or facing punishment. They’re controlled and coerced to behave and do certain things every single day. What effect do you think this has on kids creativity, ability to work and learn independently; their ability to listen to their inner desires and figure out how to attain them?

What do they really learn in school?

Think about it in terms of learning. One of my favourite quotes about this comes from the Facebook page The Libertarian Homeschooler. It goes, “People think ‘teaching’ at an unwilling child is learning. It’s not. It’s participatory performance art with an audience that is literally captive. The artist’s intentions don’t really matter. What the child is learning is how to avoid the wrath of the performance artist. ‘If I do this thing, she won’t get mad.’ That’s not learning math, language arts, science, or social studies. That’s learning how to avoid emotional pain” [emphasis added]. Our children deserve better.

Think about how useless the content taught in schools really is. I’m not into conspiracies but think about this. If you wanted to create a system that could simultaneously convince society it prepares kids for the future, while really wasting their formative years with uninspiring and dull content; drowning them in material that has no value to their present or future selves—if that was your goal, what exactly would you change about the current education system?

What about socialisation?

A common argument raised by those who recognise the harm schools cause is that at least they offer an opportunity for kids to socialise. But socialisation isn’t hanging out with people in the same grade, who live in the same suburb. It’s about communicating with people much younger and much older. Learning to nurture younger children, learning to negotiate from older children, learning skills, wisdom and crafts from adults with mastery in the child’s areas of interest. Becoming a confident and capable adult can’t happen if kids associate almost exclusively with the same group for 10 to 15 years. That’s socially limiting and damaging.

Our kids deserve better

It isn’t fair to subject our kids to this. They shouldn’t be bored, upset, forced to do things they don’t want to, or miss out opportunities just because we were. They deserve something better, thankfully there are other options. You can homeschool or unschool in countries that still value freedom to some degree. When creating an arrangement suitable for your family’s needs and schedules, you’re mostly limited by your imagination. Democratic free schools in a similar vein to Sudbury Valley or Summerhill allow kids to pursue their own interests, request assistance when needed, and interact with others organically instead of through compulsion. They won’t be disrespected or taught their beliefs and preferences don’t matter. Just the opposite.

If they crave more social connection there are solutions for that. Consider co-ops in your area (or start your own), coordinate with friends, family or parents in the neighbourhood. Kids don’t have to attend the same (or any) school to be friends outside it. If a child wants to learn from adults who are working on things they’re interested in, be it programming, sport, music or something more niche, you can help them find people. Normalising adult-child educational and social interactions can greatly accelerate both the child’s interest-based learning along with their social development.

They aren’t kids forever

Kids who grow up in charge of their own life and learning don’t stop when they turn 18. They aren’t tainted with the mindset that education is something you finish. Imagine if you went for a checkup at 18, the doctor and a dentist take a few samples. They give you the all clear and say you don’t need to worry anymore. You’re ‘healthy’. Completely absurd, yet this is how we teach young people to think about learning.

All of a sudden schooled kids graduate. They have no experience creating value for anyone. They don’t know what they want and there’s no authority figure to tell them what hoops to jump through. It’s jarring and difficult to adjust to life outside the cinderblock cells. They’ve spent a huge chunk of their lives completely isolated from the real world, locked away in artificial environments working from textbooks, only to find out that’s not how anyone actually works or learns. Alternatives to school offer solutions to problems caused by the school environment and the harmful approaches and mindsets it fosters.

Don’t set your kids up for frustration and failure. Set them up to kick ass, create value, learn to create their own structure and pursue what makes them come alive. That will help them become the most empowered versions of themselves, and give them the confidence and capability to create real change. If we offer freedom to our children, we stand a chance to one day reclaim it on a wider scale.

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