Children, School, and Mental Health

Never let schooling interfere with education.” Grant Allen, 1895.

The coronavirus pandemic has forced some interesting debate about the benefits of children being schooled in a classroom. While some expert doctors declare that children’s mental health and indeed their future success in life is inextricably bound up in in-school learning, Grant Allen and Mark Twain respectfully disagree

 

I agree with Mark and Grant. The industrial revolution model of in-school classroom learning is neither conducive to high quality learning nor to fulsome mental health. In fact, as many of our First Nations argue, in-school learning is punishment for children. I know. I was in the public school system for over half a century, both as a student and as an award winning teacher.

Granted, most of my teaching years were spent subversively trying to get my students out of the classroom on field trips and outdoor environmental education adventures, a  quest that liberated both them and me. In the mid-1800’s, Egerton Ryerson may have had the best of intentions in dealing with those hordes of rural children moving with their families to the cities for  factory employment, or it may have been purely a mathematical necessity, or it may have been a case of cultural genocide for generations of First Peoples families.

My youngest son is now in his final year of pandemic induced online university, He was raised outdoors, but knows the necessity of schooling in this age of information and high tech. However, as I remind him, how many Engineering courses deal with Ecology and Ethics, deal with the moral choices of “I can build it, but should I build it?”

That is what a life lived in diverse ecosystems reveals. That there is no economy outside of a healthy ecology, We live in a finite frame of resources unless we get another meteoric impact of new materials. We are not 6000 years old, our planet is not a flat disc around which the sun circles, and we did not walk with dinosaurs.

When we walk and share and learn in the world we discover the wonder in children’s eyes when they discover an ancient sea fossil in the high limestone cliffs of the Niagara Escarpment … and the stories of Earth’s billion years of history begin.

To place thirty young bodies in a tightly enclosed indoor space on plastic chairs, sitting at desks, studying from the printed images of the real world on the pages of colonial textbooks is not only indoctrination, it is child abuse.

Years ago, on a visit to Eskimo Point, now renamed as Arviat, an Elder told me, “Why is the white schooling system punishing our children. They make them sit in those chairs and they can’t move or speak. Children run and play and fall down and get up and learn and explore. What they are doing is punishment.”

As I have written previously, we keep you, our children, in a box  for thirteen years from Kindergarten to High School, and on your graduation we hand you the keys to the car. We never really taught you how to drive, how to live, choose a partner, contemplate the big questions of who we are, from where did we come and to where are we going, but we hand you the keys. Good luck driving at high speed looking into the rear view mirror.

For over a million years human beings raised children in small family and community groups. There was no mass indoor schooling and our mental health seemed to be just fine. Perhaps the cure for all these modern insanities lies not in school but in family and outdoors. Perhaps as our old storytellers taught us: “Keep our children close to the wild places and sacred spaces.”

Long live free range children. The way I see it.

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Skid Crease, Caledon