A boy struggles with school work at his desk


Are Kids Truly Thriving in Traditional Schools Anymore?

Jun 12, 2019

I’ve long been slightly uneasy at the notion of my kids participating in the traditional school system.

In spite of some truly amazing teachers, and fabulous friends, it has always seemed a bit of a forced fit. A make-do scenario, if you will.

And that “good enough” attitude has me reflecting constantly as to whether this system is best for my kids. Because it’s a pretty major influence on their lives. Not to mention the fact that they will have spent 14 years — formative years —  within its rules and norms.

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As my children grow into imaginative, sensitive, bright, inquisitive and passionate beings, I’m increasingly aware that their loves — for art, the environment, music, drama, philanthropy and generally making the world a better place — are not necessarily being nurtured in a land of constructed environments, from monkey bars to fill-in-the-blank worksheets.

And it’s not just that I wonder what else is out there — I know.

I read longingly about nature schools and homeschooling. I salivate at the accounts of people world-schooling their kids, or participating in international schools, where every day is an exposure to different places, cultures and experiences.

When I was in school, university was a foregone conclusion. Now? I’m just not sure.

However, these experiences have a high price tag. That includes homeschooling, which in my mind is not free because, as lovely as it sounds, it takes away my time and energy that would otherwise be spent earning money. 

It looks like we are stuck with the traditional school system.

Which isn’t all bad. My kids’ experiences have included being part of a school eco team, brainstorming and implementing sustainable campaigns. 

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They have participated in a drama club with performances about fairness and anti-bullying. They have enjoyed some nature studies, and even an all-too-brief session with African hand drums. These are all wonderful experiences, and made possible by caring, committed teachers and staff. But it’s not enough.

Because they are the exception, not the rule. The standard is still sitting in desks, inside, following music or physical education programs from a screen, because there is no longer a separate strings or band program, and certainly no gym teacher. Sports teams are confined to ridiculously short seasons because they’re not permitted to practice before or after school, this being a bussed school. Independent study, getting lost in the woods, painting, photography, environmental studies… going, going, gone.

What school instructs them on how to be happy in a time so filled with anxiety I’m amazed that any child or teen can function?

Am I the only parent who wonders if this school system is serving kids? Is it preparing them for the world that lies ahead? When I was in school, university was a foregone conclusion. Now? I’m just not sure.

What program is going to teach them to follow their passions, to fight for what is right and to try to save the world and other people? What school instructs them on how to be happy in a time so filled with anxiety I’m amazed that any child or teen can function? Why is it OK to dream of being a lawyer, but not a gardener?

People point out that school is less about what is taught and more preparation for dealing with people and issues in the real world. I don’t disagree with that, but it seems that kids often succeed by accepting a less-than-optimal experience. One child may be crushingly bored with the pace of study. Another might be so anxious that every day is fraught with terror. Still, others look to be doing fine, because they have learned how to play the game and not rock the boat. Is anyone truly thriving? Who is following their dreams and getting the most individual experience out of our traditional system?

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Whenever I hear of a really neat endeavour, whether a child has done something philanthropic, or made a difference in fighting against climate change, or found peace through art or music, it always seems that these achievements took place outside of the traditional school system. Maybe they were at private school, homeschooled or at a specialty arts school. Perhaps they achieved these things on their own time, through sheer will and determination.

Like a relationship that’s just hanging on by a thread or two, I’m not sure that my kids will stay with traditional schools, because there’s little true love there, only habit and convenience. It seems like settling, which is alarming considering how formative and fundamental their education is and will be in shaping their lives. And I do truly support the teachers and staff. They have such hard jobs and I am so appreciative of what they do. It’s just the system and approach that doesn’t seem to do much for these little, amazing people.

Should we stay or should we go? We don’t know yet. I guess that’s my homework over the coming weeks and years. To weigh the issues and to help my kids gain the knowledge and experience that’s right for them.

Article Author Janice Quirt
Janice Quirt

Read more from Janice here.

Janice Quirt is a yoga teacher and freelance writer who lives in the beautiful hills of the Headwaters in Orangeville, Ontario, with her blended family of seven. With kids spanning a decade in age, there are always some shenanigans on the go, and she loves being in the middle of it all. Janice loves sharing nature, eco-living and new experiences with her family and friends, as well as a fine cup of coffee and a good book.

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