I’ve been thinking a lot about schools and learning the past days. It all began with the question of whether our son should be starting elementary school early (that would be this fall) or regularly a year later. I had been thinking about this already last year. In all the thinking and talking to kindergarten teachers (“Better wait.”) and the pediatrician (“But of course he has to start school this fall!”) I got totally emotional and nervous. And I wondered why. Because, truth to be told, I don’t think that it really will make much of a difference for our son and both ways would be sound. And, as much as we can tell so far, he probably will do well in elementary school. Either way.
I only realized why I got all worked up about this when I went to look at a nearby Montessori school. I entered the classroom, I saw the teachers, I heard their presentation and thought, “That’s how school is supposed to be!” And I realized how much I had suffered as a child in school because I had to learn so slowly. I didn’t get top grades but basically I just sat there, made an attentive-looking face and thought of something else.
I’d like my son to have the chance to learn as fast or slow as he needs to.
The other thing that has me all worked up is the Bavarian school system. When I studied music education I learned a lot about the various school systems in the different parts of Germany. When my husband and I got married, and when I briefly worked as a music teacher in a Bavarian school, I told my husband that we had to move somewhere else in case we had children so that they didn’t have to go to school here.
All in all it’s a jumbled mess of reformed reforms, of decision made hastily and then altered because it all didn’t work. That’s possibly true of most institutions but the Bavarian school system is especially prone to promote only a few elite students and leave the rest behind.
There are only very few students who still love knowledge and learning after leaving school even if they have been successful there. I can see it right now at kindergarten level when dozens of people tell my son that he should be glad to still be in kindergarten because he won’t be having any time for playing anymore once he’ll start elementary school. (Which is crap by the way, school’s from 8 to 1 and they don’t have much homework the first two or three years.) I see it in a kindergarten teacher telling another parent – while I and our two children were standing nearby – that it’s a shame, the things first graders have to do these days in schools, some of the lessons were too hard even for the kindergarten teacher!
And then, in third grade, it gets worse because then the children are pressured to get good grades otherwise their chances of getting access to a college or university education later in life will be minimal. (Really.) And if they get top grades and get admitted to the Gymnasium the fun only begins. With the recent reform of the system joy of learning and knowledge has a very hard time in school today. “Learning” is again used as a synonym for “cramming as much facts in your head as it can hold until the next test and then forgetting all about it”. Learning is considered to be hard, to be something one only does when forced to, something that isn’t fun for sure. And it’s not as if the students were taught how to learn, it seems as if they just get fact after fact dumped on them, without any strategies of how to deal with that.
I, on the other hand, still believe that learning is fun, that it’s something that occurs naturally, and especially that children are eager to learn as much as they possibly can. Just like Maria Montessori did.
In order to have our son visit a Montessori school we’d have to pay about 350 € every month for school, have him driven to school to the next town, and we’d have to be lucky to get him in since there are much more people interested than they can take. Regular elementary school is free, it’s nearer to our house than kindergarten, and it has to take him by law.
Those of you outside Germany might ask why I don’t homeschool him, seeing that I am that passionate about learning and a teacher on top of that. Well, homeschooling is illegal in Germany. This goes back to the 19th century when children were forced to go to school for the first time ever, even those whose parents depended on their labor, like farmers. I always believed that this is a good thing that it makes society a bit more equal.
But now that it is about my son I’d like him to be a bit less equal, or better yet, that all the children can have access to schools where learning is fun and where both teachers and students are looking forward to go to every day.
I know that there are still a lot of children in the world who would love to go to school and can’t. Children who have to work for money like they were adults, children who’d love to learn anything, and can’t. But still I’d like to live somewhere where learning is driven less by fear and more by enthusiasm.