School violates fundamental rights of children

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.

14 replies
  1. Bev P
    Bev P says:

    Bravo! Those are some fundamental rights that we need to hear about more often. It hurts me to see children we know only get 6 or 7 hours of sleep a night and then they don’t perform well at school and have behavioral problems as well at school and home. To think – they don’t need another pill, they need some SLEEP! Some consistent, age-appropriate, sleep! Traditional schooling is squashing the creativity and imagination of children and making them dull as adults. I read recently that suicide has now replaced auto crashes as the top cause of injury death. Something has to change.

  2. Francesco Scinico
    Francesco Scinico says:

    Wait until they get to college. That will give a whole new meaning to violation of their fundamental rights.

    First Amendment lawyer Greg Lukianoff shows how most universities are proudly manipulating students, stifling debate, and promoting politically-correct groupthink.

  3. MBL
    MBL says:

    And let’s not forget the rights to go to the bathroom, eat when hungry, laugh when something is funny, wear what is most comfortable, sing when the impulse strikes . . .

    Imagine if a child in school wanted to sing out the answers. They would be told to “wait until music day,” march to the office, or the classic “I can’t let you do that. Then all the children would want to do it too.” God forbid there be a room full of joyful kids at school.

    It is so tragic that we forbid children to listen to their bodies. Hello metabolic syndrome X.

  4. Mark W.
    Mark W. says:

    In #2, you write – “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.” Yet, the referenced link to ’24-hour service’ makes no mention of suicide.
    However, the Guardian article in #2 does mention the word ‘suicide’ 12 times and says (after your quoted and italicized section) – “Unfortunately, in the decades since Hendin’s work, as Norway became more centralised and urbanised, childhood altered. Norwegian children now spend more time indoors in sedentary activities, such as watching television or DVDs and playing computer games, than they do outdoors. The suicide rate is now far higher.”
    So, while both articles are interesting, I don’t know what can be said about the rate of suicides in Sweden and the reasons why.

  5. Jana @ 333 Hand Lettering Project
    Jana @ 333 Hand Lettering Project says:

    Please run for elected office Penelope! You get it when so few others do. (i’m not joking)

    The Denmark, Norway Sweden research is fascinating.

    PS-I just finished Escaping the Endless Adolescence, a book you recommended. Loved it even though my son is 19.

    The biggest takeaway-we separate kids from adults in our society and then we want them to grow up and act like adults when their only role models have been other kids. Hmmm.


  6. Lizarino
    Lizarino says:

    I agree with Jana, unschooling needs a spokesperson and you have a way of cutting through the bull without being overly militant and angry like some other unschooling parents who are in the public eye seeking celebrity. (Nothing wrong with celebrity, I just don’t appreciate the militant demeanor of some)

    On one of my unschooling groups I’m a part of one mom said her mother in law commended her son for being able to read because his mom was not a ‘real teacher’. The son said he taught himself to read and that teaching someone to do something that they didn’t know how to do before qualifies them to be a teacher, he is 8.

  7. Kay
    Kay says:

    This is a great post, Penelope! Thank you! This is a great summary. I have been thinking about this a lot, lately, and find that I often think about the rights of my children as we go about our day. It is a great lens through which to view their lives.

  8. Erin
    Erin says:

    A lot of people think homeschooling has a negative effect on your student when it comes to social interaction. I think the one on one attention your child receives is a blessing compared to the general full classroom atmosphere in public schools. It is indeed the structure of the public school classroom.

  9. karelys
    karelys says:

    wow, the line “fundamental rights” reminds me of all the times in school in which that was bridged and it hurt so bad.

    I remember being in 9th grade and always having sinuses issues. I ran out of tissue for my nose and I couldn’t get up and go get more. Everyone had to do work with their head down. The teacher said the entire classroom would be deducted points if only one person spoke.

    I sneezed (because I was sick) and my boogers came out and I had nothing to wipe my nose with. I was humiliated.

    My friend who didn’t care for rules ran to the bathroom (far away. Please tell me who builds bathrooms far away from classrooms!) and brought me tissue. I was so thankful and she paid the price for her loyalty. She didn’t care since she was a rule breaker her grades were nose diving.

    When I was in high school the teacher said he expected us to act like adults since many of us were already 18. I felt excited to do work that was engaging and to be treated as an adult. I thought there would be a certain amount of trust and freedom. He said that he wouldn’t count attendance but we had to show results.

    Two days latter I got my period by accident and as I felt it rush down I got up and walked away to the bathroom. When I came back he berated me in front of the classroom because I didn’t ask for permission.

    Had I not understood we were expected to act as adults I would have asked to go to the bathroom but honestly the classroom was quiet, I didn’t want people to know, and it was an emergency.

    I was so humiliated.

    No thanks. I won’t send my kid to school.

  10. Wendy Lady
    Wendy Lady says:

    I really enjoyed reading this. I have two kids with two unique circumstances. My youngest who is autistic who fortunately has options in his special needs classroom and it works great for him! Structured where his autistic world needs to be (as in routine to help offset the unknown and harshness of unexpected stimuli) and caring and understanding if there’s a meltdown. Then there’s my older son who is “neurotypical”. He was diagnosed ADHD when he was younger and I refused to accept that. I saw too much of myself in him. He was like me where when I was given the opportunity to explore and find my way in the world, I thrived. I went to an alternative high school for the first two years of high school and then when they fired all the teachers and set it up more rigidly, I made the decision to just go back to the regular highschool where I’d have that same rigidness, but more opportunity for class choices. As for my son, I kept getting the calls into the school (kindergarten) that he couldn’t sit still. He wouldn’t complete the required assignments, which I later found out that he would have to repeat the same objective 3 times. He would do it once and say “but I did it right the first time! At 6 years old, he had a very good point. But the pressure kept coming. And I’d cry every time they told me that my child was a problem child. They put him in a classroom with other problem children. I visited the room and realized that the other kids were thugs, mean kids, talking back, swearing, downright aggressive kids. !!! I was mad. My kid didn’t have those issues. He just wasn’t interested in fitting in their mold and never did anything but had a hard time expressing the feelings he was feeling and consequently just not doing the work. I finally moved out of my small area and into a bigger city with more opportunity. This was hard on him, now that he was in middle school and the school was bigger and he had no friends. The schools were more understanding, but also more rigid. Plus more bullies to deal with. But since then (a little over a year ago) I found out that I could have put him in a school that allowed him to explore his options. At least I found out in time for him to start high-school next year. He found a school that he loves. It involves his interests. Science, art, computers, math. The teachers are accepting of all learning styles and the classes are smaller. He said “Mom, I’ve never smiled this much about school…ever in my life.” If I could go back and show his past teachers who made me feel like a bad parent every time I went into their meetings, the principal who told me “well, my kids don’t do that”, the advanced class teacher who told me “He just needs to do the work…the world past school isn’t going to be as accepting”…if I could find them….I just would want them to see the smile on his face entering a school that gets him. He is like me and thrives in a world of exploration. I’m going to encourage that and avoid being stressed when the school calls me about his “behavior” which is really just him saying “I don’t feel interested in doing this”.

  11. Sarah
    Sarah says:

    Like the right for young children to go to the bathroom when they really do need to, to eat regularly and healthily and be given enough time to eat, the right to be listened to and understood and validated instead of hated for being different (often by teachers–not just by students). The right to be loved and spend time with family (taken away by homework).

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