You understand Teacher, don’t you, that when you have a mother who’s an angel and a father who is a cannibal king, and when you have sailed on the ocean all your whole life, then you don’t know just how to behave in school with all the apples and ibexes. —Astrid Lindgren
I wouldn’t have minded school if they taught you important things like how to have good sex and what brand of wine is the best . . . but for some reason they were hell bent on teaching me algebra. —Ben Mitchell
We must search for fragments, splinters, toenails, anything that has ore in it, anything that is capable of resuscitating the body and soul. —Henry Miller
It’s that time of year again: clean slates, full schedules, and fresh prospects. Going back to school can be exciting—new grade, old friends, different teachers. No doubt you’ll learn a lot this year, in and out of the classroom. But after months of reprieve from the rigors of school, it can be hard to shoe-horn yourself back into the grind of lectures, tests, bells, and homework.
What’s more, school isn’t for everyone. Grades and desks and raising your hand for permission to go to the bathroom can be demoralizing. Many maverick souls chafe at lesson plans, dress codes, and standardized tests. Creative homeschooling, unschooling, and magnet programs are potentially rewarding alternatives, but their success requires initiative, skilled guidance, and good resources.
So for all the free spirits reluctantly returning to an assembly-line education, here are some encouraging thoughts from sympathetic souls. For great ideas to supplement (or replace) your conventional schooling, check out one of my favorite books, The Teenage Liberation Handbook: How to Quit School and Get a Real Life and Education by Grace Llewellyn.
Education is not the filling of a pail, but the lighting of a fire.
Don’t be shy about making a teacher of any willing party who knows what he or she is doing.
There were other ways to learn, she decided. Things which could not be found in books.
Don’t exist. Live. Get out, explore. Thrive. Challenge authority. Challenge yourself. Evolve.
It is important that students bring a certain ragamuffin, barefoot irreverence to their studies; they are not here to worship what is known, but to question it.
It’s a healthy thing now and then to hang a question mark on the things you have long taken for granted.
There are no facts, only interpretations.
Our minds are information vacuums. Either we fill them with thoughts of our choosing or someone else will.
—Ray A. Davis
Try to be a filter, not a sponge.
Personally, I’m always ready to learn, although I do not always like being taught.
—Winston S. Churchill
We’re herded into schools and terrified into behaving. Taught how we’re supposed to pretend to be, taught to parrot all kinds of nonsense at the flick of a switch, taught to keep our heads down and our elbows in and shut off our minds and shut off our sex. We learn we can’t even piss when we have to. That’s how we learn to be plastic and dumb.
In school, as in adult prisons, the inmates are told exactly what they must do and are punished for failure to comply. Actually, students in school must spend more time doing exactly what they are told than is true of adults in penal institutions. Another difference, of course, is that we put adults in prison because they have committed a crime, while we put children in school because of their age.
We have not yet evolved a system of education that is not a system of indoctrination. We are sorry, but it is the best we can do. What you are being taught here is an amalgam of current prejudice and the choices of this particular culture. The slightest look at history will show how impermanent these must be.
Some Teachers Get It
The learning process is something you can incite, literally incite, like a riot.
—Audre Lorde, poet, essayist, and former professor
I’m more interested in arousing enthusiasm in kids than in teaching the facts. The facts may change, but that enthusiasm for exploring the world will remain with them the rest of their lives.
—Seymour Simon, writer and former science teacher
With large industries throwing out the factory model as counterproductive, it is long past time for schools to do the same. I wonder how many adults would do well at dealing with different job requirements and a different boss every 47 minutes.
—Susan Ohanian, teacher and writer
Slowly I began to realize that the bells and the confinement, the crazy sequences, the age-segregation, the lack of privacy, the constant surveillance, and all the rest of the national curriculum of schooling were designed exactly as if someone had set out to prevent children from learning how to think and act, to coax them into addiction and dependent behavior.
—John Taylor Gatto, New York State Teacher of the Year and three-time NYC Teacher of the Year
I believe in a lively disrespect for most forms of authority.
—Rita Mae Brown
Learn the rules so you know how to break them properly.
—H. Jackson Brown, Jr.
That fury is fuel—do something with it.
Rebel children, I urge you, fight the turgid slick of conformity with which they seek to smother your glory.
Originality is the best form of rebellion.
Do Your Own Thing
Insist on yourself; never imitate.
—Ralph Waldo Emerson
Everybody is a genius, but you can’t judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree.
Somewhere along the way, someone is going to tell you, “There is no ‘I’ in team.” What you should tell them is, “Maybe not. But there is an ‘I’ in independence, individuality and integrity.”
I have never listened to anyone who criticized my taste in space travel, sideshows or gorillas. When this occurs, I pack up my dinosaurs and leave the room.
May your coming year be filled with magic and dreams and good madness. I hope you read some fine books and kiss someone who thinks you’re wonderful, and don’t forget to make some art—write or draw or build or sing or live as only you can. And I hope, somewhere in the next year, you surprise yourself.