In recent months I have started to learn about the history of our school system. And quite frankly, it is scary!
When I was younger, I never really got the point of history. I was always much more focused on the present and the future. A couple of my best friends at university majored in history and it always mystified me – how on earth could history be so important that you would spend literally years of your life focusing on it?
As my friends kept trying to tell me, history explains why we are where we are. And it helps us to learn from mistakes.
I finally truly understood this when I read Peter Gray’s inspiring book Free To Learn.*
Have you heard of this book? It’s a fascinating read about the importance of childhood play. The real kind, where children spend hours playing together without adults getting involved, where there is no expectation from their parents that they are getting any benefit from it. The flipside is that this kind of play is actually the very thing that benefits them most!
While I loved and devoured the whole book, the section I found most interesting was when he outlined the history of how humans have educated children. Starting from hunter-gather societies, through the agricultural and industrial revolutions, to the introduction of modern-day schooling as we know it. He discusses the impact of the Catholic Church establishing schools, and then Protestant schools that aimed to indoctrinate children and emphasised obedience. Followed by the rise of government schooling and in particular the Prussian model. This was built around turning children into “ideal patriots and workers”, with the government controlling what they learnt in the sake of national security. Interestingly, it is this very model that most modern school systems are actually based on.
While the content of what we teach children has changed over the last century, the actual structure (6 hours a day, 5 days per week, divided into age levels, government-controlled curriculum etc) has not.
I highly recommend this book for many reasons, mainly being it will change how you think of play! But while reading, don’t be tempted to skip the history section! Read it and really consider what we learn from it.
Is our school system actually based on a decent model?
Are we just tinkering with a very flawed framework? Do we really want our children in a system that was initially designed to indoctrinate them, control their beliefs and turn them into a government’s idea of ideal citizens? Would it be better to start from scratch and rebuild it with a whole different set of values in mind?
This book has made a profound impact on my views recently. Weeks later I am still getting my head around these ideas of how we view childhood, parenting and education. Certainly it has already changed the value I place on my children’s free play time. The impact this will have on our school choices is still playing out.
Have you read Free To Learn? What did you think? Has it changed the way you think about our school system? Leave a comment below.
Want to read it? I get my books from Book Depository – you can buy Free To Learn here *
For more information on the history of schooling in Australia more specifically, David Gillespie also has a great overview in his book Free Schools.
*please note these are affiliate links and I get a very small commission if you choose to buy them. However these opinions are my own. I am not paid to promote these particular books, I just really like them!
A mum of two trying to find her way through the Australian school system.