Political theorist Toby Rollo has pointed out how the forcible subjugation of children by adults forms the psychological underpinning of every other model of political and economic subjugation. This is not a metaphor; it’s a structuring principle of political reality. During the days of overt empire and colonialism –– the same days in which our modern school system was created –– Indigenous people, people of color, women of all colors, and lower-class whites were all viewed as childlike, in need of fatherly tutelage and discipline. And because it was understood that children often required violent “chastisement” –– for their own good! –– it was natural that childlike adults would require the same.
I almost dropped out of high school when I was sixteen. By my sophomore year of high school, my mother was starting to run out of resources. She tells me now about the time she sat down with her friend, defeated and debating on letting me go through with it. “I’m going to lose her,” she said.
I often tell people that I hated school. “Oh, all kids do. Haha!” No, no. Not like that. I mean, I hated school, I loved learning. I talked about it like many adults talk about their office jobs when at their most desperate. I would get dressed in the morning and tell my mom I felt like it was draining the life out of me.
Nothing like a little drama.
I had always taken the hardest classes available. I always read. At home. On my own. Voluntarily. I got good grades. I did my homework on time. And so on, and so on.
By middle school, I had developed an eating disorder. I had very few friends. At least, that’s how I remember it. By high school, I decided to embrace being a loner. Then I found friends. They were weird, but confident in their weirdness. I liked it.
Through them, I started reading new things. Different things. I was able to describe what I wanted and why I didn’t like going to school every day. My mother and I started looking into alternatives. Into un-schooling, home schooling, alternative schools in the city. It wasn’t realistic for where we lived and a single parent household. But tenacity is genetic. We made a deal.
“I’ll help you graduate a year early if you hang in there for one more year.”
I did. It made things easier. I went to college. I want to go back to college at some point. I do think my life would look very different now if I hadn’t finished school, but not necessarily in a bad way. Just different.
Recently, a few friends and co-workers shared this article from Carol Black, “On The Wildness of Children.” It’s a reasonably long read, but a good one. It’s been a while since something resonated so wholly for me. The longer I spend outside of school (and the more time I spend at Automattic), the easier it is to forget how much I bray against too much structure, particularly if it isn’t self-imposed.
I have strong opinions about the school system and education, but I also don’t have children. I just know my own experience and I appreciate articles like this one that remind me it wasn’t just me. People learn differently, and our current education system was born out of our culture, and the perceived needs of that culture. Alternatives aren’t available to everyone or feasible to everyone, but I hope one day they will be.
Kids are smart and curious. We don’t give them enough credit. We were all kids once, got to this place where we are now, relatively successfully. So much imagination and energy that is disciplined, lost. Everyone’s adaptable, but what are we adapting to?
These children are the canaries in the coal mine, the ones who will not obey our masters, who will not take their place as cogs in the machine that is destroying the earth. They are not the ones who have a “disorder.” They are the ones who still hold the perfect Kosmos in their hearts.
The revolution will not take place in a classroom.