Although we are grateful for our educations and experiences as students and teachers in traditional schools, here’s why we don’t want to work within schools anymore, ever again, nor want our children or grandchildren to be subjected to the tyranny of the classroom.
School worked for me. I was always on the honor roll, a teacher’s pet, a nerd, an academic achiever, a lover of reading, writing and math (until trigonometry). I liked school and made many wonderful friends there. I graduated near the top of my gigantic class in 1998 in a suburb of Austin and immediately matriculated at the University of Texas, all of 20 miles from my childhood doorstep.
Going back into the classroom in 2004 as a substitute teacher and then in 2006 as a certified, full-time, bilingual elementary school teacher for me, at first, was like a sweet homecoming, bringing back cheerful memories of my early school days. So why wouldn’t I want that same experience for my daughter?
Well, even though the 1980s weren’t that long ago, our world has changed drastically. The internet mushroomed. The planet is facing dire environmental crises and by that I mean the System and the ecosystem are on the verge of destruction. We cannot, should not and will not stand back and watch helplessly.
But what can we do? We can and we must… connect with our local communities and increase the sustainability of our lifestyles through becoming way more mindful about the foods we are eating, the liquids we are drinking, the clothes we are wearing, the products we are purchasing, the mode of transportation we are using… and the education (formal and informal) that we are giving our children.
As a teacher, I gradually became more disillusioned each year of my career. After just three years in a low-income, public elementary school in south Austin, I fled the district, state and even country. Working at an elite, private K-12 school in Guatemala City for the next three years, I had access to incredible resources and made some amazing friends, yet I felt more and more clear on the fact that the traditional, “American-school” style of classroom education was not for me. My last stop on the education career merry-go-round was at a small, private school in rural Guatemala, near the shores of gorgeous Lake Atitlan. My first two years there, in retrospect, felt like utopia to me, thanks to small class sizes and a caring, close-knit community of fabulous folks. In contrast, my third year was a nightmare. Leadership and almost the entire staff changed, as did much of the student body, and we were left without the core of compassionate community that had sustained us.
I realized that even a very small, progressive school that teaches “global citizenship” and promotes peacemaking (in theory, at least), is still a school, and still just simply does not work for the vast majority of learners.
I am still a teacher and a mentor. I am also a mother, which clearly did help shift my perspective on education as I contemplated what I want for my girl. I am excited to never again have to coerce kids to sit still, nor make them line up like little soldiers, nor force them ask my permission to use the bathroom or get a drink of water. I am blessed to have this opportunity, yet I have also made it happen through my choices which have led me to drop out of the system and to try and encourage others to unite in a new learning experiment here in our neighborhood. I’ll let you know how it goes…
School also worked for me. Because I was a hard worker. Apparently, I was even well-rounded. I was the top academic athlete in my school year after year. I even got a full ride scholarship to play soccer in the U.S. After the degree came the career, the house, the car, the husband… then the depression, illness, divorce and desperation to figure out who the hell I really was and what this “real” world was really about.
My teachers and coaches were right. Hard work did bring me success, but I wasn’t satisfied with society’s superficial version of happiness. By this point, I had read, travelled and seen too much injustice and exploitation to accept the textbooks’ versions of truth. Everything I had ever learned and worked for was a lie, an illusion, complete bullshit. I was angry, fragmented, full of contradictions. That didn’t feel like me either, so through trial and error (and reading, writing, hiking, relaxing and meditating – and yes, counselling), I learned to love.
Once upon a time, school worked for me, so much so, that I had decided to work for it. Initially, I wanted to help students gain opportunities to further their education, like I had. It was my way of giving back. But at the end of the day, between mandatory tests, curriculum, and policies and procedures, I felt I had little left to give, regardless of how creatively I approached the content. Some teachers do somehow manage to create more than consumers from within the educational system. Maybe, for some time, I was even one of them.
But when it came time to relocating, again, and submitting my collection of certificates (this time to teach in B.C., Canada, not the U.S. or Guatemala or Costa Rica), I noticed that my heart wasn’t in it (maybe it never had been and I had previously let my mind boss me around). When my teaching certificate became due for some upgrades, I got trained in NLP instead; courses in unlearning seemed more intriguing than learning about lesson plans and assessments. There weren’t even teaching job openings here anyway, so this time, everything – but school – worked out.
I fell in love – not only with myself or with life this time. I started writing more. I moved, again, this time to a small town in the mountains. I spent more time at home, learning how to garden and preserve food. I began to dream of having a child, an integrated child who will be free to become who he or she is. I’m not claiming a happy-ever-after, but this could be the beginning of a new way…
Where did you go to school? What are your feelings on your school experiences? What would your ideal learning environment look like?