Did you ever experience a time in school when you realised it wasn’t for you? For me, it was the day in second grade when Sister Mary Meanass screamed at the class that not one more student was allowed to ask to go to the toilet and I took her at her word . She was a Sister of No Mercy after all, and carried a length of leather in her habit pocket with which to strike the hands and thighs of small children, not a person to argue with. And that is how I managed to wet my pants.
Sister Mary Meanass looked at the puddle, looked at me, and exclaimed, “Why didn’t you ask?” Like I was to know there was a choice after she had threatened death and destruction, while fingering the leather strap!
So that, dear adoring public, was the day that I decided school was not the place for me. My parents didn’t quite hold the same view however, and I was returned to the penitentiary run by the not so merciful nuns, the next day.
As a teacher, I never refuse a student request to leave the room, especially if it is a girl (puberty can be so cruel) and I have often wondered how anyone could treat children in such a manner. Well, except for those nasty boys who ask every class, five minutes into a lesson or five minutes before the bell. I do have the rider of only one student at a time though, otherwise there is party central in the student toilets and I am playing to an empty room (maybe I should rethink that strategy, as the empty room thing has its merits).
I never really jelled with school. Apart from the bullying and torture by teachers, I had lots of friends, and was usually considered to be in the cool nerdy group, as opposed to the to be pitied nerdy group. I did well with my studies when I like the subject (yes, history, English) and not so good when I didn’t (domestic science), lacked confidence (art), or had a male teacher who didn’t teach the girls in the class (maths and science). My objection was that I couldn’t see any connection to my world most of the time.
Today, when I start a class I try to make the learning intentions clear. I try to connect the lesson to the real world. Not always a success, as often there will still be the student who declares near the end of the class “why are we doing this?” and I refrain saying, “Because I escaped from the local mental institution and I thought I would torture myself here for 50 minutes”. However, it is just one example of how education has changed since I was a child (okay it was the 1960s/70s, smartie pants) Oh, and the fact that no teacher carries a length of leather in their pocket for beating students any more, though we have dreams of someday, one day.
I know now, that once I had been taught to read, I would have been intrinsically motivated to learn and would have quite happily educated myself in literacy and history. I probably would have been more creative if I had escaped the criticism of adults (NUNS and other teachers) who felt that it was important to colour between the lines. I suspect that my natural curiosity would have led me into science, at least to the level I acquired at school. Maths would have been a nonstarter, but as I am challenged once my elegant, long toes are out of sight anyway, I don’t think my life would have been any the different for it!
I am not advocating for the abolition of schools, but I do wonder how far we all may have gone, if we had just created a different type of institution to educate ourselves. How much creativity have we lost? How many lives, hopes and dreams have been crushed? It is one of those questions that has no possible answer, but I can’t help wondering if so many of our anxieties might never have occurred if we had just been kinder to our young.
Where might we be without the experience of our school days? Would we be better or worse without our own particular school days?