Tuesday, February 12, 2013

It was not the Real World

I was one of those kids who love to learn (I still do), but hate school. I loved my friends, I loved some of my teachers, but I hated school as an institution. I was a bookworm so I've always read my schoolbooks from cover to cover before the school year even began, and I was generally meek and eager to please, so my grades were good. But whenever there was a teachers' strike, I would have this awesome feeling in my chest, like the swelling of a golden balloon. A couple of times I found an opening in the fence and ran off, just wandered in the streets and parks until it was time to go home, and all the while I was terrified of having the police on my tail. :o)

Of course, it didn't help that I was the scapegoat/punching bag of school bullies, and/or those who wanted to be on good terms with them. I was ridiculed, I was ostracized, I was picked on, I was reduced to tears, I had monstrous cockroaches shoved under my nose... I still shudder when I remember that. And when I do, I wonder - are those the kind of experiences that are supposed to prepare kids for the "real world"? Because somehow, at least in my case, that Real World was left behind in Junior High, (thankfully) never to be encountered again.

I believe there is just something about a large number of children being cooped up together for many hours in a day that brings out the worst in them. You can take 30 children, 27 of which are basically good, and 3 of whom have bullying tendencies which would never be brought out in isolation. But together with his two friends, the bully forms a gang; then they find several more kids who are desperate for approval and the feeling of importance, to be their cronies. That's 1\3 of the class already. Another 10 tag along, and the rest is divided between scapegoats and children who are either immune to peer pressure, or just by a stroke of luck find themselves left out. Together, the gang of bullies may commit acts of cruelty none of the individual children would do on their own. 

Teachers may try to stop it, or at least keep it at bay, at least when direct bullying is involved. No one, however, can stop children from quietly making fun of someone's glasses or clothes or the way someone speaks, and no one can make a singled-out child feel any more accepted. Overall this is something children grow out of (but many carry the pain that was inflicted well into adulthood). Although I've had my disagreements with people in university, at work, etc, somehow I never found dead cockroaches in my desk again. In "real life", you won't often find yourself spending all day long with 30 other people who were all born in the same year as you, either. You meet people of any age, which gives a multi-dimensional perspective and discourages unhealthy competition. 

Then there is the element of simply being cooped up for too many hours, every day. I believe children benefit from less theoretical lessons and much more exercise, free play and hands-on experience. But then, if you have 30 children in a classroom (and that's optimistic - many times in Israeli schools it's actually closer to 40) it only makes sense you'll need 30 minutes of enforced discipline to have 15 minutes to explain something, answer questions, and give homework. 

It will sound simplistic, but we've seen the same restlessness, followed by bullying, happens with chickens when they are cooped up for too long. There is always a higher-hierarchy chicken picking on one of the "lowliest", but when they are let out, the lower-hierarchy chicken has plenty of space to wander off, scratch for bugs and worms in a different place, and avoid the bully. If they have to spend the day in the coop for some reason, however, feathers will fly, because the birds grow restless and bored. 

You may say I am biased because my own school experience had been so awful. Many children are popular and happy at school, have many friends, and thrive in a classroom setting. They pay a different price. 

But that would be a story for another day. 


Yamuna said...

Thank you for this! I so needed to read this right now. You're affirming why I'm struggling so much as a grade school teacher. I attended a "homeschool school" my entire schooling - kindergarten through highschool. I then taught in the same school for ten years after which I homeschooled my daughter for seven. Now, for the first time, I'm teaching in a "real" school. And, wow, do I miss the homeschooling environment ...for all the reasons you stated. Yep, every single one. I look at each and every student in my class and think constantly how much happier they'd be in a homeschool environment. And it kills me that I can't give that to them.

Tammy said...

Excellent, excellent post!

I have almost the same story, way over here in SE Georgia, USA.

You make very good, very true points, and I thank you for this post.

Kim said...

I can relate, minus the cockroaches, because I too was an outcast at school. Yes the scars are carried into adulthood. I fear for my daughter. I will be interested in reading your follow up post.

Mrs. Anna T said...

Kim, I do hope to write a follow-up about the other side of this coin, but I know it will be more difficult for me to write because I haven't experienced it personally.

Anonymous said...

It seems you have described the catalyst for bullying quite well, Anna. There are a few things that could help lessen the bullying but they are hard to make happen: more attentive parents, parents who are not bullies themselves, smaller classrooms, fear of the Lord.

Yet another of the things I am so thankful for that we could home school. I am thankful that my children were not victims of bullying, not pressured into being bullies, or pressured into conforming to what an immature peer group finds acceptable.

Chava said...

Funny I just wrote about how I couldn't be feminine in school due to bullying and all. I was denied homeschool by our public school in GA :/

Anonymous said...

In a public school, your experience may have been common. However, in an Orthodox Jewish school where parents raise good kids with good middot, Torah values, and where the teachers believe in Torah, I doubt such bullying would be allowed to happen. Part of being a Jew is having faith in our rabbis and our communities. I have faith that my neighbors raise good moral kids that are good classmates to my own kids.

Mrs. Anna T said...

Perhaps actual violence and open cruelty are less prevalent in Orthodox Jewish schools, but I am sure the hierarchy and intrigues and peer pressure and the "Queen Bee" (for girls) are still there. However, as I said, many kids are happy in schools. Families who homeschool don't do that while counting the school negatives, but rather, the homeschooling positives, which can never be achieved in a schools setting. It isn't for everyone, I know, perhaps not even for us in the long run, but it can and should be a valid option.

Ganeidaz Knot said...

I did well in school ~ both socially & academically ~ & I hated every minute of it. I am not socially inclined by nature & constantly being cooped up with people I honestly didn't like very much left me prone to chronic headaches & the ability to dissemble beautifully ~ which is just a fancy way of saying I learnt to lie really, really well.

I have both homeschooled & had children in public school. I would never put any child in a school environment ever again. Homeschoolers do much better in every aspect I can think of.