Do we need formal education at all?

Despite the esteem in which it’s held, education is as hotly contested and ideologically riven as any other field of human endeavour, probably more so than most. David Didau, an independent education consultant and author writes in Teachwire.

In most developed societies, school is taken utterly for granted and, like death, taxes and other things that are unavoidable, we often view it with a mixture of resentment and disdain.

I wasn’t a good student. I didn’t know how to study and I wasn’t at all sure why I was there. By the age of 13, I had started voting with my feet.

My free bus pass became my ticket out of school, and for months at a time, I would leave home in the morning in my school uniform and catch the bus into central Birmingham.

And where do you go if you’re a 13-year-old with no money in the middle of England’s second biggest city? The library, obviously.

I read all sorts. As well as indulging my penchant for science fiction and flicking through encyclopaedias, I wrestled with aging classics like The Decline and Fall of the Roman EmpireOn the Origin of Species and The Prince, as well as more popular titles like I’m OK – You’re OKThe Selfish Gene and Surely You’re Joking, Mr Feynman?.

And for some now unknowable reason I became a devotee of Russian literature: I read Crime and PunishmentThe Gulag ArchipelagoThe Master and Margarita and Anna Karenina.

I didn’t understand them all that well – and I certainly didn’t like them all – but I stubbornly ploughed through them, day after day. And no one in the library ever questioned my right to do so.

Finally…I won’t detail the exquisite agonies of my punishments here, but the one accusation that still rings in my ears is that I was throwing away my education.

At the time I went along with it, but now this seems rather bizarre. After all, what is education?

Why bother?

What, we should ask ourselves, is the point of going to school? Why do we make children wear uniforms, sit at desks and do homework? 

What’s it all for if children can learn as much – or more – from libraries (and, of course, the internet)? The point, as I’ve slowly come to realise, is that most children are not like I was. If I’m honest, even I wasn’t much like the way I remember myself.

At the library I only read what interested me. At school I had to learn about blast furnaces, quadratic equations, osmosis and The Mayor of Casterbridge, whether I wanted to or not.

There are no end of cynical takes on what education is, as opposed to what it ought to be.

Closing the gap

But, less selfishly and cynically, when we think about why we send children to school, the answers tend to fit into three broad areas: socialisation, enculturation and personal development.

Read the full article and ask is schooling doing it’s job? Do we need formal education at all?

With homeschooling on the increase, what do you think? Please tell us your thoughts in comments or via Twitter ~ Tamsin

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