by Aaron Browder, Open School staff
September 6, 2018
About two years ago, I decided I didn’t want to wear shoes anymore. I had read about health benefits of walking barefoot, and it seemed like a fun experiment, if not necessarily a permanent lifestyle change.
In Southern California, where it’s virtually always warm, there aren’t many practical challenges to having a no-shoes lifestyle. I now only wear shoes when I’m required to, which is at most commercial establishments. At the school where I work, The Open School, barefoot is no problem.
The main roadblock to going barefoot is a psychological one. We are used to a heavily curated, controlled environment: air conditioning, supermarkets where everything is always in stock, fast food chains that are exactly the same everywhere. When you wear shoes, you always know exactly what you will be stepping on: the inside of your shoe.
When you’re barefoot, you can watch where you’re stepping and avoid unpleasant objects. But, for the most part, you’re at the mercy of whatever terrain you happen to be walking on — whether it’s concrete or gravel, dry or wet, hot or cold. In order to go barefoot, you have to make peace with chaos, with the feeling of not being totally in control. You never know what’s going to happen from one moment to the next.
This can be a little scary, but it’s what our human brains are wired for. We are very good at adapting to changing conditions. And beyond the fear there is opportunity — the opportunity to experience the sensation of the land you’re walking on, as well as to exercise your foot muscles, your skin, and your nervous system, and make them stronger.
When you go barefoot in public, you force others to confront this chaos. Often they are not ready to confront it, and your bare feet make them uncomfortable. Many commercial establishments have rules against bare feet (although I’ve found that California is more relaxed about it than most places). It’s not that bare feet are indecent exposure (the establishments allow flip flops, which reveal exactly as much skin), or that being barefoot is dangerous (the establishments keep their floors immaculately clean). I think bare feet make people (and in particular business owners) uncomfortable, because bare feet are a symbol of chaos.
In conventional schools, bare feet are especially problematic because the purpose of conventional school is to transform students according to a standard or mold. These schools apply to children what business owners apply to their businesses. They attempt to remove all variables in order to make children as predictable and standardized as possible.
A barefoot student in a school says without speaking, “I’m free and independent; I will not be controlled.” This is a problem for conventional schools because their entire purpose is to control and modify students. Bare feet are a symbol of freedom and wildness, and freedom and wildness are the antithesis of conventional school.
It doesn’t have to be this way. The Open School is fine with students not wearing shoes, because it is fine with freedom and wildness. Far from spelling its destruction, chaos is the essence of the school. Actually, what looks like chaos from the outside — kids all going in different directions, exploring different activities, changing direction from one day to the next and defying explanation and measurement — is actually perfectly ordered from an individual perspective. Each child has a personal narrative which is internally consistent. It’s just that no two children have the same narrative.
In order to attend this school (or to send your kids to this school) you have to make peace with chaos, with the feeling of not being totally in control. When your environment is not curated and standardized, you never know what’s going to happen. This can be scary, but beyond the fear there is great opportunity — the opportunity for each child to realize their true potential.
6 comments on “Barefoot at school To go barefoot, you have to make peace with the unknown”
I LOVE not wearing shoes and do it as much as i can!! At work i take em off soons i can!! At home the supermarket small business places it’s amazing!! I drive barefoot alll the time and LOVE it! I even walk the mall barefoot
I go barefoot as often as I can.
“When you go barefoot in public, you force others to confront this chaos. Often they are not ready to confront it, and your bare feet make them uncomfortable. Many commercial establishments have rules against bare feet (although I’ve found that California is more relaxed about it than most places). It’s not that bare feet are indecent exposure (the establishments allow flip flops, which reveal exactly as much skin), or that being barefoot is dangerous (the establishments keep their floors immaculately clean). The original purpose of the barefoot restriction seems to have been to get rid of poor people. More explicitly, though, I think bare feet make people (and in particular business owners) uncomfortable, because they are a symbol of chaos.”
This has been my experience. Going barefoot is dangerous. (It isn’t) Going barefoot is illegal (no it’s not). Going barefoot is immoral (WFF???) Going barefoot is unhygienic. (really? My barefeet are clean and dry, with no toenail fungus, no athletes foot, no calluses, no bunions, no ingrown toenais, no skin infections, and no foot odour. You, the critic, take off your shoes and socks and we’ll see how we compare)
Going barefoot is liberating. Every school should allow its students this option.
I Love going barefoot and advocate for children to go barefoot for health reasons. Most of my childhood was spent going barefoot outside of school, and I still go barefoot when I have the oppertunity
I have gone barefoot probably 65% of my life. It would be more save the times it has been mandatory, mostly work. Since May 28 2021 when I retired I have been barefoot 95% of the time with only flip flops otherwise. May 28 was the last day I put on shoes or socks and I Love it!
I definitely wish I could have gone barefoot at school!!!!
I’m from the UK and ten years ago decided it was long overdue in realizing a preference for me going barefoot. Prior to this, desperate as I wanted to pursue this lifestyle, the thought of going barefoot in public places filled me with dread due to social inhibitions. Sadly, my country is not all that tolerant nor understanding to new ideas. Sure, there are some people who noticed and approached me to have a friendly conversation, but such people are few and far between. And I’m absolutely fine with those noticing, looking surprised or shocked, as admittedly it is unusual in the UK (although Cornwall might be more understanding, some kids on a school outing were wearing flip flops which you hardly ever see elsewhere in England due to health and safety insurance fanaticism). I’ve had ridicule and scorn – which can spoil the experience. Of course, it won’t stop me from continuing with the barefoot lifestyle, but there are times when I wish I lived in a far more tolerant barefoot-friendly society, such as New Zealand or even parts of the US. The UK may be officially democratic but clearly it is becoming ever more draconian in its attitudes, especially in the workplace. Very recently, I wore flip flops during a TA placement at a primary school; the staff feedback to my agency mentioned that in future I had to wear shoes, that open-toed footwear wasn’t professional! However, going back several years ago, they didn’t bat an eyelid when I did volunteering at a primary – besides which, many other members of staff wore sandals. I also recall that during the late 80’s/early 90’s, a few people didn’t bother with shoes, especially during the hot summers. On more than one occasion, girls at my school loved going barefoot when walking back home, and at College a girl mentioned that during one evening she went into town in bare feet. I thought it was really cute and, at the same time, envied how she could do so within such a scornful society. I have to wonder: what happened to those distant, carefree times when there wasn’t so much judgement from those around us? The world moves on, I guess, but not always in the best way. Cue that song ‘Cynical Days’ by XTC’s Colin Moulding – just about fits the bill. Even so, it’s nice to see that The Open School supports such a lifestyle. I only wish we had more positive establishments like this throughout the UK.