'As far as I can see, this whole "problem" has its basis in the compulsory element of education. How different all this would be if facilities were invitational!'
- Barbara Stark, Chair of AHEd
'Something is going seriously wrong when more than half of children are deteriorating in their education despite turning up at school every day for three years.'
- Nick Gibb, Conservative party School Spokesman
'We regret that the drive towards full employment in an expanding economy will result in a greater institutionalisation of children.'
- The Association of Teachers and Lecturers Annual Conference
'We have an increasing number of kids who are deciding that they don't want to do either a certain subject or a certain teacher's lessons.'
- Teacher, TES message board
'It is part of the mythology of childhood itself that children hate learning and will avoid it at all costs.'
- Daniel Quinn, Schooling: The Hidden Agenda
It's not only children and families who are poorly served by a compulsory education system - I really feel for the teachers too. I think it's tragic that so much expertise and natural teaching ability is wasted in trying to force children to comply with this counterproductive law.
There is nothing more demoralising and frustrating than trying to teach someone who doesn't want to learn that thing, at that time, from you. They struggle to pay attention, they're not interested in asking questions or learning the answers and all their thoughts are focused on escape. In that way it's worse than prison. Prison only seeks to contain a person's body. Compulsory schooling also seeks to contain their mind.
Very good teachers can sometimes succeed in capturing a student's interest in something by finding creative ways to draw people in and make things look exciting, but this is impossible to maintain on a full-time basis, in respect of every student. Especially when the teacher has to produce a certain quota of paperwork from the class every term. We take people who passionately want to teach, and then ask the impossible of them. And give them no option other than resignation or sick leave.
Natural teachers love to teach just as much as willing students love to learn. This is a magical, powerful, essential relationship in our society, but we repeatedly thwart its development by making education compulsory.
I have in my mind an image of an 'invitational facility', as Barbara puts it so well and how very different its teachers' lives would be.
Such a teacher would be free to convert his/her classroom into an inspirational space: a physical demonstration of their specialist subject. There would be time for the teacher to study more, and freedom to make the space comfortable for everyone. Students would come when they wanted to learn from the teacher - and they would certainly want to learn from a teacher who wanted to teach and did it well.
Instead of standing infront of a class of unwilling, increasingly unruly captives, exhaustingly battling against closed minds, the 'invitational' teacher would wait until someone came with questions or requests:
"Can you tell me about...?" "Can you show me how to..?" "Can you help me work out..?" And the teacher wouldn't be expected to know all the answers like an endless encyclopaedia (although some might!) but would instead provide resources, guidance and a shared enthusiasm to help the student learn from the point he or she was at, to the point he or she wanted to know.
There would be no problem with teacher recruitment, student behaviour, truancy, quality or quantity of work... or monitoring home educators! In fact, such a solution would solve a great many of society's problems in one fell swoop.
So why isn't it happening?