At least once per week, my sons each mumble the same phrase to me. It might be on the way to school, still sleepy and wishing they could go back to bed. It might be after a long day of sitting, practicing, repeating and testing, with very little play or physical activity. It might be in the evening when I ask them to sit down and work on their book logs or worksheets. It might be when they realize at bed time on Sunday nights that they have to get up in the morning and do it all over again in the weekdays ahead.
Mom, I don’t want to go to school anymore.
It is not that they hate to learn. They embrace it at home – experimenting, building, talking, creating, researching, and exploring. More than once I have seen a nugget of enthusiasm about a science lesson at school that involved an experiment or they come home bubbling to tell me a story about a notable person in history who made a difference in the world. And then there are the moments of pride when they bring home good grades. They know how important good grades are in the system they are in.
But the bulk of their days is spent doing work they don’t enjoy in a compulsory environment that they dislike.
Day in. Day out. More of the same. Read. Calculate. Compute. Recite. Test. Repeat.
And I, like the supportive parent I am and want to continue to be, just smile and say that I understand, but it is important to go to school and learn. I am telling the truth. It is important to learn, but it feels hypocritical. I now believe that there is a better way to teach my kids and I have not been able to bring it to bear for them yet.
This is their childhood. It is the one time in time in their lives that they are supposed to be free. They are supposed to play. Yes, they are supposed to learn, but in this day and age, when we do not depend on seasonal harvests, when most families can relieve their children of hard labor, they should be allowed to be kids first. They should be exploring, testing the limits of their abilities, following crazy, fun, silly and outlandish lines of thinking, randomly asking questions when they are curious and vegging out when they need it.
We need to change how we treat them as children, especially the ones who are miserable. (If a kid is thriving in the current system, that is terrific, but I would submit that many kids who are doing “well” are not going to be prepared to do well as adults.)
Youth is not wasted on the young. We are stealing it from them. We need to give it back to them and let them use it to become the adults they are meant to be.