The Problems With School


A friend shared the following video on Facebook yesterday:  (I'll wait here while you watch it.)

If you can't be bothered to watch it (please watch it), it's a guy rapping about how the things we learnt at school are useless and the things we actually need to know (the law, first aid, politics, how to get a mortgage, how to look after a baby) are nowhere on the curriculum. I thought it was awesome and represented my experience of school 100%, so I shared it on Facebook and Twitter.

Then I got a reply from someone saying that they didn't agree, and that they felt it was easy for children to find out this kind of information if they really wanted to. I replied, saying that not every child has access to the internet or supportive parents to ask about these things and that every child should be given the same opportunities. That's what school is for, isn't it?

Anyway, I don't like arguing on Twitter, because 140 characters is never enough to form coherent points, so I stopped replying and will write my thoughts here instead.

As I said above, having been through the 'normal' English school system, I agree 100% with the video above. It's two main points : 1) That most things we learn in school are useless and 1) That we aren't taught anything valuable to help us through life, are obvious to me.

I had one, maybe two, sex education lessons which were 75% anatomical and 25% scaremongering. I learnt nothing about relationships, domestic violence, consent, sexual harassment or rape.

I learnt how to not get pregnant, but not what to do if I ever did. The only method of contraception every mentioned to me was condoms. I watched a video of a baby being born, but have no idea how to care for one, or even look after one for half an hour.

I learnt how to bake bread from scratch but not how to make beans on toast or pasta or scrambled eggs.

I took an archaic multiple choice test to determine my future career prospects, but never learnt how to apply for a job or what to say in an interview.

I learnt how to make a CD rack out of scrap wood, but not how to change a fuse or unblock a drain.

You could say it's my parents' fault that I didn't learn any of this until I was an adult (apart from the baby stuff, which I still have no clue about). I was lucky enough to have brilliant, supportive parents who taught me how to read and write, save money and not walk into traffic, but not everyone does.

Plus, was it really their job to teach 13-year-old Kate how elections work, when they probably don't even know themselves? Is it their job to help me understand things that they were never taught or have never had experience with, like saving someone's life or identifying a mental illness? They weren't expected to teach me physics, so why should they be expected to teach me about human rights?

And what teenager really wants to learn about mortgages and budgeting and politics? This one didn't, and I still don't know anything about politics, even with the vast internet at my disposal.

No child is going to actively seek to learn maths if they don't know maths exists. I would never have asked to learn the differences between our political parties, but shouldn't I have been taught anyway? Even if I hated it and thought it was boring, should they not have at least tried? They tried over and over again to teach me quadratic equations and failed miserably, and now I have no need for them, nor any idea of what they are.

That's what school is for. School should be making these things enjoyable and interesting to learn, so that we remember them for when we need them as adults. That's what they were doing when they made us cut up eyeballs and learn songs in French. That's what they were doing when they had us re-enact a Catholic Christening (using me as a baby). That's what they were doing when they let us create our own vegetable self-portrait versions of Giuseppe Arcimboldo paintings.

Why can't school use the amazing teachers at their disposal to teach us useful things and - as Dave says in the video above - things that would literally save thousands of lives?

And this isn't my only issue with the school system.

The other main problem I have is that every child is taught in the same way, and that they aren't taught how to find out what their best method of learning is, so that when they get to university or get a job, they still struggle to learn anything.

For example, I find it hard to take in information by simply listening or reading, and remember more if I write things down or watch a video. Some people are the opposite.

If I need to, I can memorise anything, no matter how long, boring or pointless. This is why I tend to be good in academic situations, like exams. Some people simply cannot do this, regardless of the method they use.

I am awful at maths, or anything involving numbers - sometimes I struggle to add two numbers in my head - but I love writing and have relatively good spelling and grammar skills. Some people are incredible at maths, but can't read or write coherent sentences at all. I am creative and would rather spend my time painting that studying another painter's life. Some people can't tell one end of a paintbrush from the other.

I am an introvert and generally hate working in groups and discussing things. At school, I utterly loathed it. I often tried to sit on my own in lessons so I could concentrate better. Some people thrive in groups and can't stand being on their own for any length of time. Knowing who you as a person is a key part of knowing how you process information and interact with other people.

It wasn't until I went to university that I learnt all of this about myself. I actually didn't even know about the differences between introverts and extroverts until a year or two ago. Now, if I need to learn something for work, I know how best to go about it.

I taught myself how to learn and how to get the best out of myself, and I now know that I can teach my children the same thing, but how many other people do? My parents certainly didn't, and that's not their fault. Why was I never taught this? Why was there never even a conversation at school about different learning styles? Why was I never told that wanting to be alone is okay? This is key information required for living and working and existing.

If schools did nothing else apart from split children into classrooms of solely introverts and extroverts and teach them accordingly, I think both children and grades would benefit massively. And don't get me started on the school system's focus on exams and grades. Here's a great Ted talk on the subject: Ken Robinson: How schools kill creativity.

I feel a bit guilty, though. I am saying all this as a person who did well at school and went onto successfully do A-levels and a degree. I am good at the things that schools test - memorisation, writing essays, following instructions - but so many children aren't. So many children are told they have ADHD, when really they just aren't suited to sitting still in classrooms for any length of time. But, give them a plug to wire, a computer to code on, a blank canvas or an empty dance studio and they excel.

I don't know what my children will be like, what they will be good at or how they will learn. They might be like me, or they might be the opposite. They might want nothing more than to be a plumber or a florist or a butcher. What am I supposed to do if they don't fit into the school system's definition of a 'good', 'clever' child? Home-school them? I could, but then I wouldn't be able to work. That's a decision I may well be able to make in the future, but right now I don't need to, but right now thousands of families are facing this problem with no option whatsoever to give their children an education specific to their needs.

Right now the school system is broken. I can't fix it, and it might take generations to even get the people in charge to seriously think about this, but maybe now is the time to really try. The video that started all this has been live for 3 days and has nearly half a million views, and is much more eloquent and to the point than this post, so if you agree with anything I've said, please share that video. And maybe send it to David Cameron or Nicky Morgan, the Secretary of State for Education, or your local MP.

Like I said, I don't know anything about politics, but it seems like it might help in this case.

Thanks for reading.

ThoughtsKate2 Comments