unhappy at school

When children are unhappy at school it is the schools that need to change, not the children. There are so many children who are unhappy at school in the UK that some schools are introducing lessons in happiness. This is like giving cookery lessons to the starving.

Everyone wants to be happy, just as everyone wants to eat, but for many children school and happiness are simply incompatible.

It is a rational reaction to be unhappy when you are prevented from studying subjects that interest you and forced to study subjects that do not, when you are punished for wearing clothes of the wrong colour, when your possessions are confiscated, when your behaviour is governed by hundreds of apparently arbitrary rules, when you are frequently punished, when you are publicly humiliated for failing to complete tasks that you do not understand, when you are treated without respect, when you have no power to change the situation you find yourself in, when you cannot escape, when for a large part of every day you are frightened.

If you do not think it reasonable to be unhappy in such circumstances, re-read the paragraph and imagine it all in relation to yourself as an adult. Notice the words ‘forced’, ‘prevented’, ‘punished’, ‘confiscated’, ‘humiliated’, ‘frightened.’ It is more like George Orwell’s 1984 than a reasonable place of education.

Unhappiness is not the only unfortunate result of conventional education. It also stifles a child’s natural creativity and enthusiasm for learning. It prevents children from developing their own interests. It destroys opportunities for social learning by denying children the right to speak out. It creates an atmosphere in which children and adults are enemies rather than colleagues.

All this is unnecessary. There are schools all round the world that avoid these mistakes, where children learn because they want to, where they share control of their schools with adults who are their friends rather than figures of authority.

I have a wide experience of such schools. I taught in two of them for thirty years and I have spent time in dozens of others. This site leads you into a world where schools are happy places.

More articles by David Gribble