the purpose of school

I’ve been in the same public school system since my first day of Kindergarten, when I was dragged into the classroom kicking and screaming. I’m now a high school senior eagerly counting the days to graduation. (131 school days, not counting weekends and holidays.)

I don’t think school has taught me much.

That isn’t to say that I don’t know much; I know plenty. Of course, there’s loads more that I don’t know, but isn’t that true for everyone?

However, with the exception of a very small handful of classes, what I have learned has not been in class.

Perhaps some of it has been a result of class; I peruse my textbooks on my own. I don’t necessarily read the required parts at the required times, though. I read what interests me.

I have learned through reading books on my own. Some are what you might call educational. Most are not. I successfully wrote an essay on last year’s AP World History exam (on which I received a 5) using information I’d gotten from fiction.

I have learned through the internet. Just by reading blogs, doing google searches to answer whatever questions occur to me, you know, just general messing around on the internet, I have learned about topics from technology to unschooling.

Which is what I’m about to discuss. I first discovered unschooling, I believe, from Lisa Chellman’s review of Brian Mandabach’s wonderful book …Or Not.

From there, I did my own research into the topic, using books and the internet, and I only wish I’d discovered it earlier in my school career. It seems a bit pointless in my final stretch to wish I’d been unschooled, but I do.

I am curious. I learn on my own. I only wish I could have that much control over my education! I believe in education. I just don’t believe in school. Though I’ve had two classes which are the exception to this rule, school is not about education. School is about test scores. School is about doing as you’re told. School is about not thinking outside the box. School is about conformity.

No, not in all cases–if you’re a teacher reading this and disagreeing, maybe your classroom doesn’t follow these rules. This is a generalization.

In any case, I would love to learn on my own. I would love to have the time to explore all the topics that interest me, rather than memorizing formulas for my chemistry class. Is chemistry important? Yes. But I already knew some of how it worked, just not the technicalities of it. And I figure that, if I had never taken the class, I’d still learn what I need to.

When I have a need or a desire to learn something, I find answers to my questions (of which I have a lot). I think that most people (were they never brainwashed by typical schooling) would be the same.

In general, I do not believe that school has served me well. I used to beg my mother to homeschool me almost daily. She always said I needed socialization. I firmly believe that there are other ways to get that besides going to school. School is not necessary for education or socialization. It’s more of a hindrance to the former. Natural curiosity would serve us well enough, if only our parents would believe that!


  1. anilee Said:

    Well said.

    My mom is a special education teacher, but she hates NCLB and the stress on test scores, especially as her students just couldn’t and would never be able to be on the level that someone decided they should be one.

    And I love the assumption that homeschoolers don’t get any socialization opportunities. I know that I don’t because I don’t like socializing all that much, but you can always find someway to get together in a group at least once a week, by like taking an art class or playing a sport. Something.

    But I think that schools work well for some people. Some people need that structure. Some like being in that setting. My older brother never wanted to be homeschooled. My younger brother went back and forth, but he’s back in the public school, from which he’ll probably graduate. I left and never really wanted to go back.

    But yeah…it’s like, when you feel that the school really wants you there because you can score in the 99th percentile on the state standardized test…it kind of makes you just want to mark all the wrong answers, just because you can. There’s way more to learning than just what you can learn in school and spit back out to score well on a test.

  2. jocelyn Said:

    Thanks, Anilee. My mom is also a teacher, she’s done regular special education in the past but right now she’s a deaf ed teacher, so she definitely knows the struggle of trying to get kids to pass the tests when the kids really aren’t capable of it. It’s ridiculous. My mother’s doubting that homeschoolers socialize is especially ridiculous because she once taught a sign language class for homeschoolers where they were together socializing. And I definitely know the feeling, wanting to mark the wrong answers. I get into trouble at school sometimes, but it’s usually bored trouble rather than bad trouble, if you know what I mean?

  3. […]   I know most of my book blog readers don’t read my personal blog, but because this post was kind of sparked by something related to a wonderful book, I’d like to point you in that […]

  4. Erin Said:

    I always get a kick out of the assumption that homeschoolers aren’t social or don’t have social lives. The homeschoolers I know (and I hope myself is included in that, heh) are some of the most outgoing, friendly people you could find.

    I’m really thankful my parents made the decision to homeschool my bro and me. I went to a private school one year in elementary school and I really didn’t like it.

  5. jocelyn Said:

    I think that the opposite might even be true; socialization in school is tough because you’re there every day and you have no way to get away from bad social situations, which might make you less social in the future. And, if you’re homeschooling, you have more choices in your social interactions. You don’t have to be in situations that are bad for you. So perhaps you turn out more social. I know several very socially adept homeschoolers (Anilee and Erin included!), and some very antisocially and/or socially awkward kids who go to regular school.

    It’s a theory, anyway.

  6. anilee Said:

    When I was still in the school, I would always doodle on the math worksheets. And still get like A+s…then there was that time in fourth grade where a bunch of us were out in the hall doing logic stuff while inside, they were graphing Lucky Charms marshmellows. And we got some Lucky Charms that we were allowed to eat…only we spent the whole time tossing the cereal into the the air and trying to catch it in our mouths…And then in sixth grade, I was skimming through a book in Home Ec, and the teacher actually totally knew I was, but was okay with it because she knew I was a good student.


    When I was in school, I’d always come home and go right up to my room to read and write. I never wanted to spend any more time with people. I think I’m a lot more social now than I was then.

  7. jocelyn Said:

    Anilee, how long did you go to school?

  8. anilee Said:

    I was there until three weeks into sixth grade. 😀

  9. jocelyn Said:

    Sixth grade was just generally horrible, isn’t it? My sixth grade year was so awful that my mother genuinely considered letting me switch schools, which, if you knew her, would amaze you to no end. You’re lucky you got out of it!

  10. anilee Said:

    I think that it was always an option, homeschooling me. I later found out that my parents spoke to my elementary school teachers a lot, asking them for enrichment stuff for me. Most obliged. But sixth grade in this district is when you start switching teachers for each class and it’s just harder to make school fun and everything. I just never really fit in at the public school, but cool teachers can make it worth staying. But not so much in secondary, when you might have one cool teacher, but is forty minutes a day worth being miserable and wasting time when you’re there for like seven and a half hours?

  11. Ink Mage Said:

    “My mother wanted me to have an education, so she kept me out of school.” -Margaret Mead

    Very well written piece!

    I don’t think school would have taught me much. (I was been homeschooled for my entire school-aged years and unschooled from whenever my mom realized that “when the subject isn’t interesting, the wall goes up and learning stops.”)

    From what I’ve seen with friends who went to school and from reading books (most of them novels 🙂 ), school is designed to teach students how to pass the standardized tests. Like you said, not thinking outside the box. It’s almost as if they want you to conform, and then test you on how well you blend in with everyone else.

    Socialization is completely possible outside of school, and in fact it gives one a broader range of social experiences because homeschoolers are exposed to all ages of people, not confined to kids in their grade. During my school years, my family went to park days, held science clubs, planned parties, went to the opera and theatre performances with groups, were involved in Scouting, talked to interesting people we met, and had friends over.

    Just my random ramble…

  12. jocelyn Said:

    Is everyone except me lucky enough not to have to go through thirteen years of public school? Sigh.

    And, Anilee, that’s exactly how I feel. Have I had a couple of great teachers and classes? Sure. But was it worth all the misery? Not at all.

  13. SadieSadie Said:

    I have totally felt like school was not really about the learning and more about the tests and the grades before, but still home schooling isn’t always the best option. I know some home schoolers that say it is really hard to meet new people and who don’t really get the best education for that matter. It’s definitley something you have to judge on an indivdual basis you know? Public school is going to be good for some people and homeschooling is going to be good for others.

  14. […] concerned by the fact that so few activities are considered worthwhile or educational uses of time. I have done most of my learning outside of the classroom, and the internet has facilitated that. Almost anything can be a worthwhile use of time and a […]

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  17. Elizabeth Said:

    I say, good for you for taking charge of and responsibility for your education.

    One of the things I struggle with (as a grad student) is how to set my own standards for what I care about learning, rather than simply adopting those of my professors, while also being humble enough to recognize that their experience gives them a different kind of insight into what I need to know than what I have. I don’t think there’s any single answer for how to navigate this.

    In the ’60s, when students felt empowered by the social movements they were creating, it was routine for many students to design their own education, often to the chagrin of some of their teachers. Their engagement with the world helped them figure out what they needed to know.

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