Values and Self-Esteem

Values and Self-Esteem – Implicit Messages in the Education System

I’ve never been a fan of alternative education. Whether it’s Steiner schools, home schooling, or faith-based learning, I believe that there is a value in the shared experience of mainstream education. But the more I think about how that system works, the more I doubt its core values.

I got a lot out of my schooling. I was a smart kid, I liked to learn, at the time it all seemed to be doing me good, even if I’d have preferred to be playing. And until recently I would have said that its impact was entirely positive. But recently I took the decision, in my thirties, to do the sort of work I’d always wanted to – trying to write for a living. And having made that decision, I then started to wonder why I hadn’t made it years before.

A lot of the answer comes down to schooling.

The education system here in the UK doesn’t encourage diversity of experience or creativity. It rewards following the path you are already on, working away at your desk, reading and writing and following processes. It is geared toward the challenge of written exams. This means that it carries a very strong implicit message, that this sort of work is of more value than anything else.

Because I was good at that, I didn’t struggle with it, or question it. But it put me on a path to an unsatisfying career, and discouraged me from following my dreams. The same is true for many others. Worse yet is the experience of those who struggle with the system, who are implicitly told that not only their aspirations but also their skills are of no value to society.

Suli Breaks makes the point about this inĀ one of his spoken word videos, and he does so more eloquently and powerfully than I ever can. But there’s another point that his video gets across, that had not occured to me – that this experience is also damaging for parents, and for their relationship with their children.

The value of this sort of education has been so thoroughly drummed into us adults that we find ourselves defending it to the next generation, encouraging them to overcome their reasonable reservations and push on through those exams. This is a dispiriting experience for both sides, made the more so for parents who know that on some level the system is wrong, yet who feel they must surrender their own credibility, along with any vestiges of their lost dreams, because they have been told that this is good for their children, and they want to push them on through.

Is taking your children out of that system, sending them down an alternative route, the answer? I don’t know. But the more I think about education, the more I write about it here, the more certain I am that the system is broken, that the good it does is balanced against a great deal of harm, and that we need to challenge its assumptions.