Saturday, 5 February 2011

The strange lifestyle of school

I have probably remarked before on how bizarre I find it when people claim that school is a good preparation for life and that children who don't attend are likely to become asocial misfits. I sometimes wonder if those expressing such views have ever really stopped to think about what school is like.

When my daughter began studying A levels at an FE college, she had never spent a day in school. She was thus able to approach formal education from a fresh and unbiased perspective. I asked her casually, a few days after she had started at college, what she made of it all. She told me that it was the strangest atmosphere that she had ever encountered in her life. For one thing, many of the children, all of whom had been at school from the age of four or five, kept calling the lecturers 'Sir' or 'Miss'. They simply could not grasp the idea that they were now to address these individuals by their Christian names. Some of them told my daughter that it just felt wrong to call somebody in the position of a teacher by their given name. This alone should alert us to the archaic nature of education in this country. At one time, it was common for people to be addressed as Sir or Miss. This was routine in the workplace, to call one's superior 'Sir'. Shop assistants or bank clerks would call women 'Miss' as a mark of formal respect. I cannot remember when last I heard anybody called 'Miss', except of course on Upstairs, Downstairs.

I asked my daughter if the other students were enjoying being at college and she told me with disbelief that the single most exciting aspect of tertiary education for the girls in her group was the ability to visit the lavatory when they wished, without first seeking permission. She found this such a peculiar notion, the idea of not being able to void one's bladder when one wished, that she simply could not grasp what sort of lifestyle these young people had been experiencing, day in, day out, for the last eleven or twelve years.

Another feature of the students that she noticed is that they did not seem to have individual opinions. Their tastes in music, clothes and television programmes seemed to be a reflection of what others liked. All the girls dressed in the same style, all had the same type of makeup, their hair was done in the same way; it reminded us both of the Stepford Wives.

I am not attempting to draw any particular conclusion from all this and it is possible that the college which she attends if not at all typical, but I have observed a number of these features now when I look around. For example, my daughter wanted her hair to be cut short when she was eleven. It's no affair of mine and so I was happy for her to do this. Looking around though, I could not help but notice that short hair is an absolute taboo before the age of eighteen or nineteen. All the teenage girls one sees conform to certain standards. Those who don't stick to the regular standard, Goths or Emos for instance, conform to other standards, those of their own small group. There seems to be no individuality at all. I am not suggesting that this is actually caused by school, but it is interesting to see that home educated children often do look, dress and behave differently from those at school. I have remarked before on the tendency for home educated teenage boys to have very long hair.

Personally, I regard the urge to conform as a dangerous scourge which at worst leads to things like the Nuremburg rallies. Even in its mildest forms it crushes individual taste and character. I don't think schools create this desire to be the same as everybody else, but they certainly exacerbate it. Quite apart from any educational benefit, I am glad that my daughter was freed from this need to look and act like everybody around her.

1 comment:

  1. "Personally, I regard the urge to conform as a dangerous scourge which at worst leads to things like the Nuremburg rallies."

    My children had very similar experiences at college. Your comment here though seems to contradict you views about alternative forms of education. You seem to believe that at least some aspects of life should conform to a norm decided by the majority despite a lack of evidence of any harm caused by alternative approaches.