An Education

In which I bash traditional schooling and make a plea for something different. 

I think, perhaps, I’d like to start a school. An alternative high school where students are engineers of their own education. Where students learn like I did.

Until high school, I was homeschooled. I spent my days at home, diving into the subjects I found interesting, letting my schoolwork be guided by what I was excited about. I read and wrote constantly. I made art of every subject. I skipped from one field of study to another. I was learning for the sake of learning, not for anything else. At eight I became an expert on the pioneers with Laura Ingalls Wilder as my guide. At thirteen I learned about the Holocaust without opening a single textbook: I read fiction and memoirs about children who lived through it, I watched movies, I visited the Holocaust Museum in Washington DC and Dachau in Germany. While science never seemed particularly fascinating, I found ways to become engaged in it. I wrote poetry about the structure of a calcium molecule, made a Mythbusters-style video with my brother based on experiments we’d conducted. There were never curricula, never clear starts and ends to my learning about a particular subject, never grades to motivate my academics. With homeschooling learning was like breathing: it happened naturally.

I decided to go to high school because I wanted to expand my world. I thought I wanted to learn in a more structured way. When I got to high school I decided to let success become important to me. Honestly, I stopped learning and started getting As. I learned to mindlessly memorize, follow formulas, bubble in, match, and restate. In high school, thinking became answering questions to prove that I read something. I don’t see much thought in that. There were places in high school where I did get to think: in particular, art classes and debate team. There, I was handed building blocks but no floor plan. I was given paints or facts, but it was up to me to draft and build. Ironically, both activities are considered “extracurricular” and “non-academic.”

There’s a part of me that wonders what I would be like if I had never gone to traditional high school, if I had spent four more years finding myself and my interests in the pages of dystopian fiction or modern art museums or travel abroad. Maybe I would have spent four more years understanding learning as something to love and explore rather than something that was defined by a report card and a pile of tests whose answers I had already forgotten by the time they were handed back to me with a tidy percentage written on them. But maybe I’d never have realized how unique and valuable my homeschooling learning experiences were. Maybe I never would have found a fascination in the very subject of learning itself.

I get so worked up about education and all its possibilities. I look around me and see a generation of kids being told that we need to solve the problems previous generations created. But how can we be innovative if our education is not? As teenagers, we are full of excitement and questioning and desire to do something. What if those urges could drive our education? More than anything I want to give others a chance at an education that gives them room to have individual interests, to have ideas, to stop being “schooled” and start actually learning. My own experience shouldn’t be such a rare and unusual education. Every teen deserves a chance to understand that education can be about passion and creativity and learning simply because you want to.

So, perhaps I’d like to start a school. Perhaps I feel like I have to.