The mental and emotional developmental rates of teens in high school is the equivalent of the developmental rate of somebody who is put in jail, according to Joseph Allen, professor of psychology, in his book Escaping the Endless Adolescence. Teen brains are developing at a very fast rate at that point in life, but they develop at a slower rate when the limitations of their exploration is so severe as in school.
It’s the structure of school–the limitations of the format–that makes the homeschooling choice so superior for your kids. We rarely think about what the structure limits, but here’s what’s clear to me.
1. Quitting is a fundamental human right.
Peter Gray, who is professor of education at Boston College, is one of my very favorite homeschool bloggers, and he has a phenomenal post about how quitting is a fundamental right. It’s not just quitting school. It’s quitting learning something that’s uninteresting to you. It’s quitting recess if you don’t want to be outside playing. It’s quitting group activities if you don’t feel like being part of a group.
The idea that quitting is a fundamental human right is something that I never thought about until I thought about how, in adult life, we have all kinds of laws to enable people to quit whenever they want.
For example, all employment is at‑will in the United States because we consider non‑at‑will employment to be slavery. So in employment law we equate the inability to quit with slavery and we do, actually, as a society acknowledge that quitting is a fundamental human right.
2. Exploration is a fundamental human right.
There’s a fascinating study about suicide rates in Sweden, Denmark, and Norway by Columbia College professor Herbert Hendin. Here’s a summary of the research from the Guardian.
In 1960, Denmark (with Japan) had the world’s highest suicide rate. Sweden’s rate was almost as high, but what of Norway? Right at the bottom. Hendin was intrigued, particularly since the received wisdom was that Denmark, Sweden and Norway shared a similar culture. What could possibly account for such a dramatic difference? After years of research, he concluded that reasons were established in childhood. In Denmark and Sweden, children were brought up with regimentation, while in Norway they were free to roam. In Denmark and Sweden, children were pressured to achieve career goals until many felt they were failures, while in Norway they were left alone more, not so much instructed but rather simply allowed to watch and participate in their own time. Instead of a sense of failure, Norwegian children grew up with a sense of self-reliance.
When researchers looked more closely at what was the difference between the two systems, what they found was that kids need to have the ability to explore in order to develop into their true selves
Since that study, Sweden changed how they managed children in society and put all children in universal schooling and made school a 24‑hour service that parents could bring their kids to at any point. And the suicide rate in Sweden climbed dramatically.
When we look at the fundamental rights that we protect in citizens as adults, the right to travel freely is something we protect carefully. Figuring out where we want to go and what we want to do is something we consider to be an inalienable right. It’s unclear why that inalienable right starts at the end of school.
Sure you can’t let a two‑year‑old go wherever they want to go because they’ll walk off a cliff, but at some point, well before age 18, people need to be able to exercise their inalienable right to go explore where they want.
3. Rest is fundamental to humanity.
Humans sleep more than almost any other animal, and we know that if humans don’t sleep, they become raving mad lunatics.
What we also know from personality type research is that even when we’re not sleeping we’re recharging ourselves throughout the day. So we don’t have a constant level of energy. We have up‑and‑down energy, which helps us to stay engaged in the work that we do, whatever our work is.
The key to understanding rest is to understand whether you’re an introvert or an extrovert. The personality test at Type‑Coach gives a great explanation of how to understand extroverts versus introverts. The basic difference is how these two people recharge their energy. Extroverts recharge their energy by talking to other people. Introverts recharge themselves by being alone and thinking. School completely controls how kids recharge and when kids recharge.
In an earlier post I suggested that school favors introverts, and the comment section is loaded up with introverts who said they hated school because it was geared toward extroverts, yet, as an extrovert, I perceive school as a time when I have to stop talking.
So what I realized is that we each have a fundamental need to be able to recharge when we feel the need to recharge. Otherwise, we feel exhausted and drained because school forces everybody to recharge at the same time. Since there are 30 kids and one teacher, school undermines our fundamental human need to rest and recharge on our own terms.
When we look at how to reform school, it’s really disheartening that we look at things so ridiculous as how to get kids to read earlier, how to get kids to improve their test scores, how to get poor kids to have test scores like rich kids, and how to get bad teachers out and good teachers in.
These problems are distractions that keep us from focusing on the real problem, which is that the modern version of school undermines the humanity of a child.