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Schooling Causes Psychic Damage Lasting Into Adulthood

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Schooling Causes Psychic Damage

Lasting Into Adulthood

By Linda Dobson

Parents, this is serious, serious business. Only you can rescue your child from the schooling that causes lasting psychic damage.

SadLittleGirl schoolingI’m always left scratching my head when a common criticism of homeschooling rears its ugly head. You know, when the critic says something like, “Homeschoolers miss the ‘common schooling experience’ that everyone else has.” Why do I scratch my head, you ask?

It’s because it’s been my experience that if you bring up the topic of “schooling memories” at any adult gathering, you’re likely to elicit schooling nightmares from the vast majority. Successful people who wince with the memory of feeling like a failure; ongoing frustration dreams of being late for class and unable to open the locker; the teacher throwing a piece of chalk and hitting the student on the cheek because she was “socializing” with her neighbor. To date, my “proof” that schooling causes psychic damage that lasts into adulthood has been anecdotal. No more. Now there’s a book by an educational researcher.

Late last month, Peter Gray’s Psychology Today blog featured an interview with Dr. Kirsten Olson, author of Wounded by School: Recapturing the Joy in Learning and Standing up to Old School Culture. Dr. Olsonis an educational researcher, activist, consultant, and writer deeply concerned about children, learning, and the conditions of our schools,” and of her book Peter Gray says, “If you have ever gone to school, or have a child in school, or might someday have a child in school, or care about children in school, I recommend her book to you.”

Researcher Was Looking for “Schooling Delight”

Olson gathered her research as an education doctoral candidate at Harvard, intent on writing about “the delights and enlightenment experienced in the course of schooling.” I’ll let words from the book’s foreword by Sara Laurence-Lightfoot explain what happened:

“In her first foray into the field–in-depth interviews with an award-winning architect, a distinguished professor, a gifted writer, a marketing executive–Olson certainly expected to hear stories of joyful and productive learning, stories that mixed seriousness, adventure, and pleasure, work and play, desire and commitment. Instead, she discovered the shadows of pain, disappointment, even cynicism in their vivid recollections of schooling. Instead of the light that she expected, she found darkness. And their stories did not merely refer to old wounds now healed and long forgotten; they recalled deeply embedded wounds that still bruised and ached, wounds that still compromised and distorted their sense of themselves as persons and professionals.” [emphasis added]

Because of her findings, Olson expanded her interviews to all ages, socioeconomic backgrounds, and  a wide variety of careers, “pioneering a direct way to understand the effects of school on psychological development.”

The book categorizes wounds in two main groups. The first are those that “seem to result primarily from the restrictions that are placed on students’ behavior and learning in school–the preset curriculum, the narrow set of permissible learning procedures, the tests in which there is one right answer for every question, and the often-arbitrary rules that students have no role in creating.” [Homeschooling does away with these!]

“The remaining three categories of wounds identified by Olson all seem to be inflicted by the ways that people are ranked and sorted in school. You can be wounded differently depending on whether you are ranked low, high, or middling.”

Here are the schooling -induced wounds discussed:

1. Wounds of creativity. School stifles creativity. This is perhaps the most obvious wound of school. Students’ own passions and interests are generally ignored.

2. Wounds of compliance. In school students must continuously follow rules and procedures that they have no role in creating and must complete assignments that make no sense in terms of their own learning needs. Students generally cannot question these rules and assignments; if they do they are smart-alecks, or worse. To avoid getting into trouble, they learn to obey blindly, and in the process they learn to be bad citizens in a democracy. [Editor’s Note: What this book doesn’t mention is that’s exactly what schooling is intended to do!]

3. Wounds of rebellion. Some students respond to the arbitrary rules and assignments by rebelling rather than complying. They may in some cases feel intense anger toward the system that has taken away their freedom and dignity…

4. Wounds of numbness. The constant grind of school, doing one tedious assignment after another according to the school’s schedule, following the school’s procedures, can lead to intellectual numbness….killing intellectual enthusiasm…[And now, the pressure for ever-rising test scores, compliments of No Child Left Behind and Race to the Top, creating massive lying and cheating by teachers and administrators!]

5. Wounds of underestimation. In her interviews Olson found that some described ways in which they were wounded by assumptions made about them because of their race, social class, gender, or performance on one or another test that was supposed to measure intelligence or aptitude.

6. Wounds of perfectionism. High grades and high scores on intelligence tests, too, can wound. Students who develop identities as high achievers may feel extraordinary pressure to continue high achievement, in everything.

7. Wounds of the average. The middling student, who is neither sinking nor soaring in the eyes of the school officials, may suffer from invisibility. In Olson’s interviews, these people described themselves as feeling insignificant, as people who don’t really matter much.

Everyone who goes through the system receives some combination of these wounds. Some heal better than others, but no one gets missed.

Now, forgive me, because I’m about to “holler:” PARENTS, HOMESCHOOLED CHILDREN GROW UP WITHOUT THESE WOUNDS BECAUSE THEY ARE A RESULT OF SCHOOLING, NOT LEARNING – HOMESCHOOLED CHILDREN CAN GROW FREE OF WOUNDS!!! This is what creates happier, healthier, children involved in real learning who maintain an in tact sense of self.

If you aren’t already homeschooling your children, utilize the summer break to think about how it could work for your family before the next round of hurtful schooling begins. Yes, it will require rearranging priorities, sacrifices, lifestyle changes, and possibly less money, but this is serious, serious business. Only you can rescue your child from the schooling that causes lasting psychic damage.


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6 Responses to “Schooling Causes Psychic Damage Lasting Into Adulthood”

  1. Carol Topp says:

    Interesting stuff!
    Thanks for sharing this on the Carnival of Homeschooling!

    • grandma_linda says:

      Hey, Carol! Glad you like it. I was psyched to see you're hosting tomorrow's Carnival…thank you! Always great to hear from you, Linda

  2. karrynna says:

    And this article doesn't even touch on the wounds that are inflicted by other children in school. That was one of the primary reasons we homeschool our children.

    • grandma_linda says:

      Karrynna, I believe it. While I saw this happening to my kindergarten son (I took him out thereafter), he was such an easy-going little fellow he didn't even realize it! Imagine the damage that may have been done to one so…well…easy-going. Thank you for reading and a DOUBLE thank you for sharing your thoughts! All best, Linda

  3. Kristina says:

    I read this with interest and appreciate the information. I have a healthy balance of good and bad memories… just like my home life. Hard to know what could have been if I'd been home schooled. I'm surprised but your responses though of only bad memories. The value of working as a team (classroom) was good. We were only as strong as our weakest link. Various teachers and their personalities was a good lesson on what it would be like to work for different managers/bosses/clients. We supplement public school with specialized open learning classes so there is some extra work done at home.

    • grandma_linda says:

      Kristina, Thank you so very much for sharing your thoughts. Sounds like we share a thought – what could have been if I'd been homeschooled. <g> Not a day goes by I don't think about that. I'd love for you to share more about the open learning classes you utilize…where are they? what are they? do you children like them? how old are they? (That's me – always full of questions.)
      I also understand what you're saying about dealing with personalities as being preparation for work…but what if? What if we weren't so focused on work (which has, until recently, kept the economic merry-go-round going)? What if we could all, some how, some way, focus on encouraging the natural interests and abilities of everyone? At the least, I think we'd be a much happier society, not content to work ourselves to death. I look forward to learning more about the classes your children enjoy. All best, Linda

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