Recently it was my fathers birthday. It fell on a Friday which is one of the East Kent Sudbury days off. Myself and the children spent the morning making birthday cards, then we hopped on the train to go spend some quality time with him. As we trundled along we passed two schools in our area. I noticed that while it was a beautiful day, the wonderful playgrounds were completely empty. These being mainstream schools meant that the children were most likely inside at their desks being ‘taught’. The play areas always in view from the classrooms, yet tauntingly out of reach. What they were being taught is irrelevant seeing as the students have no choice or even say in the matter. It doesn’t matter how tired they are or in need of a break. They are forced to work to the timetable set out by grown ups who have only been asked to consider what their academic achievements should be. Well-being and happiness are not taken into consideration.
It reminded me of the drudgery I endured throughout my childhood at mainstream schools (my father was in the armed forces and with moving around I got to experience quite a few of them). My parents didn’t have the option of home educating or sending us to alternative schools. They did their best to honour our needs for play and free time. I distinctly remember my mother pleading with my sister to stop doing her homework and just relax!
Of course, as parents with children in public schools, you have to play the game to a certain extent; making sure your child’s uniform and appearance is to code, checking they have at least done the minimum required homework so as to avoid punishment from the teachers – although my parents never agreed with children being given homework – basically doing any of the schools bidding to ensure your child stays out of trouble. Trouble they could get into for essentially being their own person.
If it was a school day I woke up dreading the day. I got through every single lesson by drawing at the back (or on the covers) of my workbooks and daydreaming. Despite attending institutions that were designed to ‘teach’ me, I used the power of imagination to escape that monotony for the entirety of my time there. I was as shocked as my science teachers when I received a B in my GCSE’s. My coursework was often rushed through during morning registration, as my teacher was striding across the playground to collect it from me (it was always a week late). As for the exam, it was multiple choice so I just went with the answers that seemed most logical; I guessed well.
It was no surprise to me that I had nightmares that night, of my eldest daughter in a school uniform about to attend a mainstream school and begin the fourteen year onslaught. Being told what she could eat and in what order or when she could go to the toilet. What she was to learn and for how long. Never being allowed to question their authority. It was with great relief that I awoke to realise it was all just a really bad dream.
My daughter doesn’t attend one of those institutions, she has been lucky enough to have been home educated and as of January this year began attending EKS. She can get up and play or watch cartoons before the day begins. She can wear whatever she wants to school, being able to express herself completely through her own personal style. We make our way casually to school; stress free. As I say goodbye to her at the doors there is no anxiety, no angst, she is happy and looking forward to her day at EKS.
What her day will consist of is entirely up to her. She can socialise, play in the garden, get creative, read books, play with toys, go to the park with staff, organise school trips with the other students. The possibilities are endless. The staff are her equals, she knows that they are not there to enforce, but rather to guide and facilitate learning and self discovery. My heart never feels heavy when I drop her off, of course I miss her but I know that she is happy and enjoying herself and I feel grateful. Grateful that I had the sort of upbringing that taught me to question the status quo, which led me ultimately to home education and democratic schools. Grateful that EKS has been founded and has dedicated members of staff, who work diligently to ensure that the ethos of the school and the autonomy of the students is upheld every single day.
It’s not easy holding space for children as they grow and mature, taking their opinions and thoughts into consideration. As adults we have experienced more of the world than they have, we have seen the dangers and consequences of certain actions. More than anything we want to shield them from that, to protect them from that pain. But what good would that do them? To rob them of the right to choose, to fully enjoy the unrestrained freedom of childhood. This isn’t to say I’m advocating letting children put themselves in dangerous situations, but rather to acknowledge that they are legitimate people too. What they have to say matters. They deserve the right to be respected by us and treated with as much consideration as we like to be by other members of our community. This is their world too, they get to have a say in how it looks, and more importantly what their childhood looks like. They get to have a say in what sort of person they want to be. As adults all we need to do is have a little bit of faith.