Saturday, July 31, 2010

Schooling & Deschooling

I was a very sensitive kid. I would cry at the drop of a hat and I was constantly ridiculed for that, from kindergarten. I remember a teacher told me to sit under a table "like a dog" because I bit another child. It never got any better.

I went to a conservative school and it was hung up on trivial stuff and controlling children's behaviour. So I spent a lot of time in detention for doing things like not eating my bread crusts, crying, wanting to swap sandwiches with my friends etc. I got the cane for calling a sports teacher "a sexist pig" when I was seven (I called him it because he kicked me out of the game). That was 1992.

Then I went to a public school where anything went. There were kids there who were full on, they swore and carried on and all sorts of behaviour I wasn't used to. I had spent so much time getting kicked out of class at my school that I hadn't spent a lot of time in class learning and so I had fallen behind. In grade four I got changed to a different classroom with a different teacher because I didn't get along with that teacher. He physically dragged me out of class one day and I was trying to break free from him and accidentally scratched him. I just wanted him to let me go.

I used to like to read books and do my own thing and this irritated the teachers. I daresay that teacher had been telling me to stop reading and do what he wanted, move to a different space in the room or something, but I kept reading my book.

While I was outside of class after that teacher dragged me out (and I accidentally scratched him) I heard him say to my class of 9 year olds "I hope she doesn't have HIV".

So once I was switched to the other class I pretty much stopped participating. I wasn't coping so I gave up. I brought books to school and I read them quietly, not doing what the rest of class was doing.

When I started high school I ended up at a school that none of my friends went to. I felt like the teachers were picking on me, my science teacher haaated me. She used to threaten me and tell me she would get me kicked out of school. My home room teacher said to me one day "you think you're so fantastic, but you're not" and that was supposed to be the caring one I was meant to be able to go to if I was having problems transitioning into high school.

The other girls in my class started bullying me around that time. They called me "tag along" coz I didn't have any friends. I used to hide in the library and read books, but it was closed to students three days a week so the VCE students could use it without younger kids there.

I had an altercation with my science teacher and the next day I woke up the next day and thought "fuck it, I'm not going". I could see six years of bad schooling behind me and I could see another six or seven years ahead of me and I didn't feel like I could take it anymore. I didn't feel like I had anybody on my side. I said to my Dad "you can't make me go."

Dad got angry and yelled and tried to convince me to go back. Everyone seemed to think it was a phase, that eventually I'd go back to school. No one from school ever chased me up or asked what happened to me. I never went back to high school.

I used to sit at home and read books and watch TV. At one point Dad thought I had dropped out to watch Oprah and the midday show so he took the TV away, thinking it would make me go back to school. It just made me bored. He looked into alternatives for me, schools for kids with behavioural issues, distance education subjects, but it didn't really work. There were no programs or anything to help 12 year old drop outs.

Dad used to threaten me, asking if I wanted to spend my life on a minimum wage. But I was really traumatised by school, enough to not go back.

I taught myself cross stitch and other craftwork. Now when I look back, with the knowledge I have now I can see that I was unschooling myself but it was sabotaged by other people who couldn't see that. I was constantly being told I was a failure because I wasn't at school, because they believed I couldn't learn anything if I wasn't in a classroom.

We had a social worker come to the house and she worked on getting me less fearful and getting me out of the house. She found me a community house that had an education program for adults with learning difficulties.The community house program was meant to be a gentle way to ease back into institutional education. I really enjoyed it because there were only six of us in the room and they were all adults who had chosen to be there. But my teacher told me that she could see that whenever I thought I had got something wrong she could see that I was waiting to be told off. She said she could actually see me "cowering".

When I look back now I think what a pity it was that I wasn't encouraged to follow my own interests while I wasn't in school. All I got from everyone was "if you're not in school you can't learn anything, what are you going to do with the rest of a life, you won't be able to get a job" etc. All of the things I was doing at home to keep myself busy like teaching myself to sew and cross stitch didn't really develop because I was made to feel guilty for doing them because I wasn't doing "traditional" schoolwork.

I'm still interested in the same things I was back then: handcrafts etc. But it's only now (at 25) that I'm getting up the courage to teach myself, after feeling guilty for years and years for "not studying". If I had have been encouraged I'd be an advanced sewer etc. and what a great skill that would be!

To this day the idea of doing "traditional" schoolwork still makes me feel sick to my stomach. It causes me massive anxiety (this is one of the reasons I haven't written blog posts regularly). There are things I've wanted to study but I haven't pursued them because I've been too scared of returning to study, even after thirteen years of being out of the schooling system. I'm still deprograming and deschooling my brain.

Coming to the decision to unschool my girls has helped me realise that there was never anything wrong with me. I'm finally starting to let it go and get the guts to follow my interests and finally looking at studying again.


  1. Thank you for being brave and sharing your schooling story, I am very glad you went along to the community house program cause I met you there and I knew right off that you would turn out to be someone special in my life. I love you lots and think you have done an amazing job of educating yourself and building your skills by doing the things you love and what comes naturally to you. I think you are a remarkable sewer, the creations you make are fantastic. And I think that your experience has made you a wonderful teacher not only with your children but even when your helping me out with showing me sewing or cross stitching stitches (BLOODY FRENCH KNOTS!!!!) Your patient gentle and kind. I admire and appreciate who you are xxx

  2. Wow Sarah! I'm aghast at the treatment you received! It's heartbreaking to think of little Sarah enduring such horrible treatment and having no one stand up for her and say "This is not okay! There is nothing wrong with Sarah!" If anything your extra sensitivity should have meant extra care from your teachers :(

    I really admire you for being able to reflect on this stuff, grab hold of the issues and make a conscious decision to protect your own children from it. I can imagine Iris going through the same as you did in the system, and just thank the universe that you're her mum - the perfect person for the job!

  3. Thankyou for writing this.

    I went through much the same at school and have no faith in the education system along with many institutional phobias and severe anxiety issues.
    I am super sensitive and spent my school years being abused by my teachers and hiding in the library reading or being teased.
    I don't ever want to send my children to school to have them belittled, controlled and their spirits crushed.
    I never see other people admitting to these experiences and I always grew up feeling like there was something inherently wrong with me as a person.

    I still get disrespected for not finishing school.
    For not having a formal education and right now never planning to get one.
    Instead to teach myself and my children what we want to learn.

    You are a wonderful mama and a wonderful unschooler.
    I don't know you well but I have alot of respect and admiration for you.

  4. Thanks Leesa:) It was meeting people like you who were friendly and helpful despite all my 'issues' that helped me change the course of my life and finally start to build some self esteem again. And Sazz I wouldn't be the person or the parent I am today without you either. You've taught me to be proud of who I am and how I'm raising my kids and I can't thank you enough for all the support, especially in the past 6 months.
    Lauren I'm so sorry you had to go through the same thing and hearing that I wasn't the only one victimised just confirms I'm doing the right thing by keeping my kids out of the system. I hope you've been able to get some healing on those school scars *hugs*.

  5. *tears* thanks, Sare-wee xoxo

  6. Oh Sarah, what a journey. I'm so sorry you experienced such cruelty and misunderstanding. How can people have so little compassion for a child? I admire the guts you've had to write your story, and wish you many blessings as you continue your journey -- both for yourself and your girls. xxo

  7. Thankyou so much for writing that out. Its awful that people can treat others like that.
    I know I learned so much more when I did things on my own. School can be such a fantastic time waster.

  8. "To this day the idea of doing "traditional" schoolwork still makes me feel sick to my stomach. It causes me massive anxiety (this is one of the reasons I haven't written blog posts regularly)."

    The other reason is that I steal all the everyday stuff you'd blog about like what your children are doing and put it on my blog first ;P lol


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