The Robot Factory Rebellion
Lee Ann Leach
I hated school. I still hate school at 39 years old. I love learning, but school and anything resembling a stuffy room with little desks all lined up like obedient soldiers with a droning teacher and a blackboard makes my skin crawl. Just whose idea was it to place 30 hyperactive, energy filled children in a single room and expect them all to pay attention and learn anything? The whole concept is ludicrous and poorly thought out. Frankly, I would actually love to be a teacher, but the thought of having to deal with 30-odd kids from varying ethnic, financial, domestic and mental levels scares the life out of me. Each person learns and receives knowledge differently. Why is it that we are all expected to be taught and understand information on the same level with the same method of delivery in teaching? It doesn’t work, and it’s quite obvious with all the “graduated adults” roaming the Internet message boards that can’t even write out a complete sentence, let alone, use proper punctuation and grammar.
My school days were a long time ago. I “graduated” in 1978, but not with my own class in which I was placed in 1966 when I first stepped into a classroom. In about 5th grade I saw the futility in the whole classroom concept and started falling apart in my academics. Everything shifted from learning to the peer pressure and the social aspect of school with me.
Luckily, I had an observant teacher in 5th grade and she saw my discomfort and boredom and placed me in a special teaching program being developed at the University of Alabama called Project Pegasus. Project Pegasus was a lifesaver for me. It involved using the student’s own creative energies and individual thought process in its teaching method. It mirrored a lot of the Montessori method, but with emphasis on writing and the arts. We were scheduled to learn a lot of world history and culture in the 5th grade. Instead of a teacher standing in front of the classroom lecturing about Panama or Bolivia, the student teachers assigned to Project Pegasus created a program where the kids got their hands into the teaching of the subject themselves. We were given a country each week and expected to participate on Friday in class in teaching the other students what we had discovered during our research. This didn’t just involve reading a report. Fridays were a day of celebration in what we had learned during the week, with food prepared from whatever country we studying, games played, traditional clothing worn, folklore stories told, music performed and art projects shared and created. It was a party atmosphere, and it made the kids look forward to actually learning the curriculum. There was interest renewed in attaining that knowledge. The eight students chosen for Project Pegasus that year have all gone on to become writers, lawyers, artists, and yes, even the few innovative teachers in the school system today. Why this method of teaching hasn’t caught on as a rule of thumb is beyond me, because I learned more in Project Pegasus than I did in all the other years in attended public school.
After 5th grade, I went back into the regular curriculum of the day in and day out sameness, and once again, fell apart. Eventually, the peer pressure of the social elite got the best of me, and I simply quit going to school in 9th grade. But that doesn’t mean I gave up on my desire for schooling and learning. I contacted the American School out of Chicago, Illinois. The American School was the first home schooling program I had heard of, and the idea of learning on my own devices attracted me greatly. I completed my high school curriculum on my own, at my own pace and without the hassles of Buffy the head cheerleader looking down her nose at me for not having a date to the prom. Home schooling also gave me the opportunity to travel and experience things outside the classroom without the restraints of school schedules. We didn’t have to wait for Spring Break or summer vacation to go to the nation’s capitol or to England and Scotland to satisfy my insatiable need for learning British history. If there was a Bay City Rollers concert across the continent that I wanted to go and see, I could. School didn’t pose an obstacle to all the other things in life I wanted to experience as a teenager. School became something that I finally enjoyed and that I could integrate into everything else going on in my life and the world around me. School was not a burden anymore, and I didn’t have the constant reminder that I wasn’t in the popular clique or the homecoming queen. The elimination of the social aspect and peer pressure opened up my own desire to learn and relaxed my ever-present worries of being accepted by my classmates. My problems in school and the lack of desire to learn were directly related to the system ignoring the needs of students that weren’t in the “in crowd” or part of the cookie cutter mold they wanted all of us to be. I wasn’t about to allow the school system to turn me into another robot of their disciplines. Therefore, my rebellion against their predesigned system of teaching resulted in my being considered a “problem student” simply because I didn’t adapt to their laid out plans for my brain. Believe it or not, I graduated a year ahead of my class and was in college for that last year of their school experience, which consisted mostly of pep rallies, senior breakfasts, proms, and the ordering of caps and gowns, class rings, and senior portraits.
I’m a parent now of two teenage boys, both educated in public schools until that infamous 5th grade turning point that I experienced myself. They are now home schooled, just as I was. My oldest, at sixteen years old, completed his early education this past spring and is now planning his career in audio/visual engineering. His classmates from elementary school are still churning it out in high school classrooms and attending proms and football games. He is stepping out into his career. We’re planning a trip to Washington, DC and to the Cherokee Nation in North Carolina in the fall about the same time other kids will be purchasing school clothes and getting ready to squeeze into those tiny desks. My youngest will start his 8th grade year at home and on the road. He plans on studying marine biology at Clearwater Marine Science Center and writing extensive reports on aviation technology that he has found on the Internet.
School does not have to be limited to that brick building with the mascot painted on the walls. School does not mean being force-fed useless information by a teacher that is, more than likely, less intelligent than your own kid is. School does not mean, and never should have meant, conforming to what is printed in a textbook or what some teacher tells you is true. Learning means finding out for yourself what is true and what you’ll need to get through your own personal life.
We’re intelligent human beings with unique and individual minds. Why not simply allow those that want to learn and want the knowledge to seek it out themselves and not be forced into learning a curriculum that 98% of us never use again? Eventually, those that choose not to seek out knowledge in their youth will come to understand that it’s necessary to gain that knowledge to survive and will go after it without the pressure of laws that put them in those classrooms where they do not want to be in the first place. If there is a desire to learn and to be successful, there are ways to learn what you need without that sheepskin hanging on the wall proclaiming your devotion to a broken system of conformity and what someone else believes you need to be considered an “educated person.” School is what we wake up to every morning and the last thing we deal with before going to bed at night. School is supposed to be the gathering of knowledge and a learning environment, not a building with kids that feel trapped and bored. Real “school” is what you learn outside the walls of the system and in the real world. It’s all out there for the taking… you just have to take the initiative to find it.