The Assumptions of School

I saw this article on ABC’s website yesterday about ‘unschooling‘ – raising children without a formal education at all, even without the structure of homeschooling. This obviously won’t work for every child, but I could see how it might be beneficial for some. But, the article got me thinking about the assumptions built into the system of formal education that most countries have.

Here’s an incomplete list which I might come back and revise periodically:

  • Learning is for children.
  • There is a building for learning.
  • Learning is done outside the home.
  • Learning does not involve work. (In fact, it is cruel to make children work.)
  • There are specially appointed days and times for learning.
  • Knowledge flows from older people to younger people.
  • Only certain people are able to teach.
  • Learning is done best while sitting.
  • Learning comes from reading, listening and writing, not doing, problem-solving, nor exploring.
  • Subjects are separate. Music is not a form of Art. History does not involve Science. Physics is not Math.
  • Children should interact primarily with people who are within 6 months of their own age, live in the same neighborhood and, in some cases, who are all the same sex and/or religion.
  • Topics for learning should be assigned to you.
  • The problems you encounter will be written down in one paragraph on a piece of paper. All of the information you need to solve that problem will be on that one piece of paper.
  • The purpose of learning is to prepare you for working.
  • On certain days made known to you well in advance, you will be tested on information that you have recently acquired.
  • Physical activity is a ‘recess’ from learning.
  • There is a book with all of the answers in it. Someone besides you has this book.

I don’t know if I’d say that all of these assumptions are wrong, but I think education would work better the more of them that could be discarded.

Even the word ‘school’ is a poor assumption, in my opinion. It comes from the Greek word ‘scholḗ’, meaning “leisure employed in learning”, as if education is a luxury and the purpose of a school is to occupy the leisure time of those who go there.


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