I am only a few months away from leaving school and I’ve been reflecting back on my school life. I remember so many times counting down the years I had left until I could ditch school and finally get on with my life and I have to say it is with some relief that I have finally gotten to my last year. I hated school with a fiery passion as a child, feigning sickness and throwing tantrums, getting into hysterics because the last place I wanted to be sent was school. Being bullied most of my childhood didn’t help, but that wasn’t the only reason I detested school.
As I got older I got resigned to the fact there was little I could do except get on with it. And in many ways I did; I became a model student, who never got into trouble, got good grades, had lots of friends and got on well with most of my teachers. However there where a few things I refused to take on board. When they tried to convince me that grades are the only things in life that matter and will help me succeed it confirmed that my way of living and working will be what makes me the most successful person they have ever taught, because I know who I am first, not by what I do.
When they tried to tell me that I needed to disregard my wellbeing, heath, mental and physical to obtain these grades it confirmed to me that the vehicle I carry with me in my life needs caring for and from there I will be able to face all life's challenges with ease and grace.
When they tried to scare and stress me into working hard it confirmed that hard work is what is needed in life to build a foundation, but that commitment and dedication is more powerful than stress.
When they told me that to get into University I had to do things I didn't want to confirmed both that my body ultimately knows where to go, and that there is always space to change my path when I am older; it doesn't have to be done now.
When they told me I needed to know where I was going in life to the detail, that I needed a plan, it confirmed that if I let life take its course everything will turn out exactly right in the end - this was the most difficult for me.
When I felt the pressure to conform to the groups in school, to drink, smoke and sleep around, it confirmed that the feeling of not fitting in was my greatest tool to realise that in a few years, the people I could base my entire life around, people I would have to change myself to fit in with, wont remember me and I wont remember them, but I will have to live with the life changing choices I made for them.
From that understanding I chose my health over making my life about school. And it was hard, and I’m still not perfect but I have no regrets about the way I behaved at school, because for better or worse, all my actions have taught me something valuable. I could go on about everything that school tried to teach me that only succeeded in confirming the opposite in me. But what I am not doing is bashing education, or saying getting good grades aren’t important. What I am saying it that there is a way to do it that doesn’t involve leaving your body and your dignity or self respect behind. I love to learn, I love education, but every cell in me disagrees with the system all our children are going through.
Every one at school is pushed in the same direction – your choices are University, University, University or some other vague path that is basically labeled as failure or for idiots. The closer I got to making a choice about what I was going to do after school, the more narrow and suffocating the choices became. I never wanted to go to University, and yet I got swept along in the panic, pressure and excitement of visiting Universities, choosing courses, living away from home etc etc. But at no point did anyone sit me down and ask me what would be the best path for me, for my interests and passions, for my way of learning. Slowly the stress and anxiety of having to choose a course and/or career became too much and I just dropped everything. To try and get some support, I went to my schools careers advisor, who basically said that there was no other option than University, and that if I didn’t go I would amount to nothing and regret it for the rest of my life. Safe to say I saw through the fact that she didn’t really care about me, she simply wanted to relive University life instead of being an adult.
So I put my foot down and flatly refused to apply to University when I had no idea what I wanted to do. It took some persuasion, but eventually they listened and left me alone to get on with what ever I was going to do instead. I started doing my own research, and with the help of one teacher who was actually supportive of my choice, discovered there are so many other options outside of the box of University – but no one is told about them! Two really great websites – Student ladder and notgoingtouni.co.uk, helped me to see that I wasn’t alone in feeling like a sausage in a sausage machine, and that going to University isn’t the only option, and isn’t for everyone – talk about a breath of fresh air!
I have found so many possibilities that actually appeal to me, and the way I want to learn or work. One of these options is student leaver programs – for people leaving school with good grades that don’t want to go to University – you get paid to work, and at the same time study for a degree that is completely paid for by the company. After 2-4 years you have a degree and no student loans, several years of work experience in a field you are interested in, hopefully some savings and an almost guaranteed job – what more could you want? And that’s just one alternative, there are many.
I am not saying University is a bad choice, just that for so many it is not the right choice for them, but no one ever stops to consider and support them if that is the case. So many of my friends have applied, got offers and then found they actually don’t want to go to any of their choices. I read so many article of depression, self-harm, eating disorders, rape and mental health issues in the top Universities. Perhaps they aren’t everything our teachers like to crack them up to be?
Eventually the suffering beyond measure, the horrific acts occurring every day in this world will cause us to stop and think more carefully about how we bring up our children, about what our true priorities should be in life. England’s education minister is making decisions about my education, and those younger then me, but I have had no say about it, no say in the way they will shape us to live the rest of our lives. They don’t remember what it was like to be in school. Heck, I only have to miss school for a day and it becomes a distant nightmare. And yet they call the shots, want to make days longer, terms longer, exams harder, learning more intense. I mean come on, seriously? Are they blind to the fact that no one is living a life of true health, that everyone is struggling with exhaustion, and they wants to start that exhaustion even younger!!!
And then there are the teachers that don't know any better, that have to deal with the kids trying to break free of it all, trying to get attention – how can they tailor a curriculum that is as constrictive as a strait jacket and dry as parchment? When they are so weighed down by the endless rules, regulations, paper work and tick boxes, how will they find time to connect with the students who learn differently and support them, or to see when a student doesn’t seem right. They need to be supported to stop labeling smart kids that learn differently as slow or dumb, and the curriculum needs to stop them from pushing 4 year olds to stop being playful and carefree - only praising them when they do something well, not because they are amazing already. If the way we educate our children doesn’t change then we will continue to have this problem. How can the wrongs in this world be righted if the younger generation is not being given all the tools possible to do that?
All of the blogs on From Our Eyes have been written by young people. They are about the kind of issues and problems teenagers face on a constant basis, as well as worldwide epidemics that not only youth, but EVERYONE experiences day to day.