by Ben Page, Open School co-founder
October 18, 2017
First, let me figuratively shake you by the shoulders with a few statistics:
These statistics are unbelievable and unprecedented. The new generation, known as iGen in some circles, is in a crisis, and most researchers believe the culprits are overexposure to social media, declining face-to-face social interactions, and increased levels of stress. A common theme in the current literature on youth depression and suicide is that today, more than ever before, young people feel isolated. This is the tragedy of our times.
I believe young people feel isolated because they lack community, time, and freedom. They are chronically over-scheduled, taught to pass tests and not to explore their interests. They are not allowed to freely socialize, not allowed to learn self care, not taught how to self-regulate their bodies and emotions, not allowed to seek justice in meaningful ways, not allowed freedom of speech and expression, not allowed to say “no” to an authority figure. They are like animals on a farm, segregated, assessed, graded, rewarded for obedience, valued only for their labor. So of course they feel isolated, and depressed, and anxious. Wouldn’t you?Kids are like animals on a farm, segregated, assessed, graded, rewarded for obedience, valued only for their labor. Click To Tweet
I’m genuinely sick and tired of arguing about academics and curricular objectives. I’m done. It’s obvious that the modern system of education is contributing to the systemic harm of American children, and this is where the conversation should be, not on the trivialities of test scores.
For those of you reading over the age of 30, I want you to understand that your school experience is a distant memory. I’ve been on the inside. I’ve seen it. The school experience you had is extinct. The last 20 years have been an educational catastrophe, most significantly in terms of human development objectives. You can quote statistics to me all day about academic achievement and I could not care less. You are breaking these children. The system is crushing them in order to extract those numbers. It is simply not worth it. Your child’s life is not worth it.
Look, I’m not going to say I have all the answers, but I do believe that free democratic schools, like The Open School, are a much healthier system for human development than any other model. At The Open School, young people learn to be independent, self regulating, and responsible. They are trusted, they have meaningful ways to seek justice against peers and adults when they are wronged, and they participate in the creation of rules and in the administering of justice.
Our kids are powerful and they know it. They will not be harassed or dominated, and they will not stay silent or blame themselves when it occurs. They are not anxious, because they are in control of their lives. They are not depressed, because they know themselves and they love themselves because that’s the feedback they get from adults. They are witnessed for being themselves.
And you know what? They’re smart too. They learn all the time; in fact, they love learning. So if your only detraction from my school is that you don’t believe your child is intelligent enough to be a self-directed learner, I’d ask you to consider how that attitude might be affecting your child.
I want you to know that you have options. You do not need to put your child through a traditional system of education. You do not need to subject them to a school where they are made to conform and sit still. You do not need to force them to learn everything everyone else learns.
You don’t need to worry that they will be a failure in any other system of education. They will shine in our school, and that shine will not go out when they leave our walls. They will carry it with them throughout their lives.
At the end of the day, I’ll take mental health over a transcript any day of the week. Wouldn’t you?