public school

If School Were Relevant, it Wouldn't Be Compulsory

(Photo by Laurie A. Couture) In a democracy, holding someone hostage, subjecting them to unpaid work and denying them the right to meet their basic needs is a human rights violation. However, since the 1850's we have been subjecting children to these conditions daily, calling it "education".

Most children do not want to go to a place where every joy about being a child is controlled, banned or used as a reward or punishment. They don't want to go to a place where their basic physical and emotional needs, such as food, hydration, elimination, physical activity, play, rest, sleep, comfort, affection and attention, are at the mercy of the people controlling them.

Children grow weary of years and years of being in a box that stifles their innate creative passions, interests and unique ways of learning. Children struggle to learn in environments that are increasingly developmentally inappropriate, hostile and stressful the older that they grow. Kinesthetic learners, especially boys, are especially agonized by being forced to sit sedentary for hours in chairs doing mindless busywork that bears no relevance to their way of exploring and interacting with the world.

Fiery, brilliant, kinesthetic, out-spoken explorers and creatives are often labeled in school as having brain disorders or behavioral problems and are subsequently referred for chemical restraint (i.e. "medication"). As if six hours per day, five days per week isn't enough time stolen from the most creative and ingenious years of their lives, children are still expected to hand over the remaining few hours of their family, social, play and free time for daily, weekend, vacation and even summer "homework"!

Can we blame children for not wanting to go along with such conditions?

When certain freethinking children assert themselves and refuse to continue to blindly succumb to treatment that has made them miserable for years, we should be praising and supporting them! However, Portsmouth, New Hampshire and other cities in the "Live Free or Die" state are now using law enforcement to keep children oppressed and compliant with their own captivity. As the mother of a unschooled son who is now in college, I am appalled that in this society we treat children as if they have subhuman status. I am equally shocked and disgusted to read that the police are violating children's private bedroom space and using physical force, physical abuse and even arrest to muscle them to attend school. In the recent case, a Portsmouth NH police officer used physical force to intimidate a 12 year old child to get out of bed. The officer also grabbed the 14 year old brother to get him out of his bed, then arrested the child when he attempted to fight back.

Imagine how you would feel if your employer sent a police officer to your home on a day that you did not go into work. Imagine how you would feel if that officer broke into your bedroom, demanded that you uncover yourself and get up. Imagine how you would feel if the officer grabbed and attacked you when you did not comply. Imagine how you would feel if the officer arrested and handcuffed you and took you away from your home before you had a chance to use the bathroom and eat breakfast. Would you want to return to a work place that sanctions that type of treatment of employees? Now imagine this happening to you when you were at the vulnerable age of 14, at a place where you are forced to do unpaid labor. Why is the community not outraged that schools collude with this treatment of children?

According to the number of times the police had reportedly been called to the home of the two children in the above case, the children demonstrated on at least 40 occasions that their school is not an environment that meets their needs. Why has their mother continued to insist that they attend?

Most parents are not aware that homeschooling is legal in all 50 states. They are also not aware of the many other alternatives to traditional public school such as alternative schools, charter schools, virtual online schools, early college and democratic, child-led schools. The media fails to educate parents about how simple it is to get started with homeschooling and that there is a strong homeschool community with active groups and social activities available to homeschoolers of all ages. When children's needs are met, when their learning is driven by their own interests, when they are free to learn via their own their unique learning styles and when they are honored and respected, every child can succeed. The media does little to bring attention to educational alternatives, leading parents to believe that leaving their children to suffer in public school- or get arrested- is the only option.

This post is based on my article that appeared in the September 28, 2013 edition of the Portsmouth Herald under the title, Embrace Options to Public Schools.

Bully Film Misses Obvious Solution: Abandon School (and Let Youth Create Their Own Education)!

I reviewed the film documentary, Bully on Amazon.com. Documenting and exposing the reality of children being tormented by peers in traditional schools is commendable. The humanizing footage of the bullied children, including footage of their emotional suffering and home-video of them at various stages of their childhoods, was painfully powerful. The film's exposé of the infuriating  incompetence, minimization and victim-blaming shown by the adults towards the victimized children was outstanding. Of course, the stories of  the children who took their own lives were  some of the most heartwrenching "wake-up calls" in the film.

However, despite these strengths, I gave the film only a three-star rating for the following reasons:

1. The film failed to address that the root causes of peer bullying are child maltreatment by adults and the child-subordinating power structure of schooling itself.

2. The film failed to state that the most obvious immediate solution to protect bullied youth is for parents to rescue their children by abandoning the schools.

The film also left viewers with a false sense of "hope". Emotional community rallies, slogans on bracelets, pledges, Facebook groups and bringing passionate speakers to schools will not put an end a problem that is a symptom of a much larger problem: The inhumane way children are treated by adults in Industrialized culture.

Following is my review of Bully on Amazon:

 

This film misses the obvious solution: Homeschool!

This film is a heartbreaking account of several children who have been tormented by harassment and verbal and physical abuse in school. The most tragic stories are of those youth who were driven to the point where they took their own lives.

I rated this film a three-star because although the anti-bullying rallies and projects are a way to help families heal and bring solidarity to victims, they are mere band-aids on the true causes of bullying: Child maltreatment and confinement.

I have been working with youth of all ages in various roles, including as a mental health counselor, social worker, mentor and educator. I am a homeschooling single mother. Children treat others with violence and hatred when their needs are not met, when they are tormented, abused and neglected at home by their parents and families and when they are forced to attend the prison-like hierarchical environments of factory schooling. The entire power structure of schools, with adults having total power and control over the lives, movement, bodily functions and thoughts of children sets up a dangerous dynamic amongst a group of youth forced to associate in such conditions. Many school teachers are rude, sarcastic, disrespectful, controlling, abusive and use their position to lash out and act out their own personal control issues onto the children. Teachers model bullying by their very position over children.

The entire structure of schooling sets youth up to be powerless and voiceless. Youth lash out against the apathy to their basic needs and against the neglect of their needs for freedom, play, creativity, autonomy and joy by developing a toxic youth culture that adults can't penetrate, despite their attempts, threats and surveillance. Youth in schools set up their own power structures, usually based upon superficial criteria. Youth feel the power and control they lack by segregating into groups and even by targeting and abusing other youth. Rallies, bracelets, slogans, initiatives, curriculum and school talks about bullying are not going to stop this abuse of children because they fail to address the way adults treat children in Industrialized culture.

I also rated this film a three-star because this film ignored the most obvious solution that a growing number of families are joyfully choosing daily: Homeschooling and unschooling! The best way to change a system that refuses to change is to walk away from it. If enough families abandon schools and either homeschool or unschool or begin establishing child-led learning communities right in their towns and cities, the indomitable power structure of schooling would fail.

Parents, your children's lives, your children's mental health, your children's safety are worth more than school. Our society's bizarre, unchallenged belief that school is a necessity and that the absence of school is akin to death is causing death to be the answer for so many suffering youth.

If your child is suffering any form of bullying, remove your child from school and research unschooling TODAY. Do NOT force your child to take the abuse for another day! Would you tolerate what they are forced to tolerate? Protect your child and help him or her restore a healthy sense of self worth, safety and self love by allowing your child to live and learn naturally, as people did for millennia until 1852. Yes, parents with minimal income and full time jobs and single parents CAN do it with sacrifice and creativity! Tap into homeschool groups and community activities. Allow your child to follow his or her passions and interests. Whatever you do, don't keep sending your child back for another dose of torture- You are not aware of their breaking point. As someone who works directly with youth who are victims or bullies (and often both at the same time) and as someone who has personal experience [with this issue] as well, I can tell you, SCHOOL IS NOT WORTH THE DAMAGE IT CAUSES.

Teacher Offended by Student Advocating for His Needs, Rights

I hope this month's post will empower children to advocate for their needs and rights and I hope it will empower parents to seek out learning environments that respect their children's needs and rights. On 2/8/13, I received an email from a middle school teacher who was displeased that a boy in her class had empowered himself with one of my articles. Her email and my response to her email (with a grammatical fix for clarity) follows.

NOTE to school teachers: I am a mandated reporter of child abuse and neglect. If you leave a comment telling me that you deny children use of the toilet, I will forward your school's info to Child Protective Services in your state as required by law.

(I redacted the teacher's name and personal information for her privacy):

"As a teacher I took offense at the tone of your article. If a child asks to use the bathroom in my class I will most likely say yes. I may ask the child to wait until I finish giving instructions, but then will allow them to go. Recently one of my students decided to use your article against me when I denied him use of the bathroom. However when he has used the bathroom in the past, he fools around. He will spend 15 minutes in the bathroom; that is 15 minutes of class he is missing! And he is already a poor student. Earlier in the week he was told to use the bathroom in the class before mine. Which he of course neglected to do. This is not a child who needs to go at the same time everyday. Requiring permission which you seem to think is unnecessary is a safety issue. This way if a child is "missing" we can check to see what time the student left for the bathroom. Yes kids have rights but when they overstep the boundaries there should be consequences."

Hi ______,

I imagine you took offense at my article because your control over children's bodies was called into question. I am not sure of which article you are referring, but I write to inform youth and their parents of children's basic human rights and their needs. My tone is meant to empower those with little to no power, not to be disrespectful. However, I have little tolerance for the beliefs that people use to justify their subjugation of other people who they deem less equal than themselves. In a democracy, it is unacceptable that children should be held in school against their wills like a 13 year jail sentence- It certainly goes without saying that attempting to control children by regimenting their biological functions is abusive and inhumane.

I am pleased to hear that a youth felt empowered enough by one of my articles to stand up for his basic human rights. What evidence do you have that he "fools around" in the bathroom? Are there cameras recording his actions? Who has a right to determine what amount of time a person should have while taking care of personal matters? There are a number of reasons why a person, especially a teenage boy, might take 10-15 minutes in the bathroom: He might have difficulty urinating because he was forced to wait so long. Maybe he gets anxious urinating in front of others and waits to be alone. He might have constipation or diarrhea. He might be feeling ill. He might feel emotionally distressed and overwhelmed and needs an emotional break. He might be masturbating to ease the sexual tension that is natural and so intense for teens. He might be bored and is trying to take space or talk to a friend to rejuvenate himself.

Being cooped up in school for six hours a day certainly doesn't give kids the time to play, socialize or take care of their many biological or emotional needs. You seem to think that 15 minutes of "class time" (that he doesn't seem to want) is more important than caring for his bodily and emotional needs. You say it is a "safety issue" for a child to leave the classroom without permission, yet you denied him permission, putting his health and well being at risk. I see it as unsafe to "train" young impressionable humans to be obedient in a democracy that is supposed to be based on consent, critical thinking, equality, mutual respect and consensus.

You said he's a "poor student"-- then likely he is a brilliant and creative person. "Poor student" often translates to "the learning environment fails to meet his learning needs" or "the learning environment does not respect the kinesthetic or artistic modality through which he learns". "Poor student" can also translate to "person who refuses to choke down and regurgitate a force-fed agenda."

I encourage you to question your training that schooled you to believe that it is acceptable to force "class time", education, confinement and bodily control over people simply due to their age and status in society. I would recommend former NY teacher, John Taylor Gatto's book, "Dumbing Us Down" and the many other books about the unschooling movement and schools that run as child-led democracies (The Sudbury Valley School is one of many examples). You will discover in doing the research that youth, like my own teen son, are passionate and responsible about learning when it is interest-led and there is no force or confinement.

I hope you will praise your student for advocating for himself and for caring for his body and well being. Isn't that what adults have to spend the rest of their lives learning to do after recovering from their schooling?

Sincerely,

Laurie A. Couture