The Fear That Kids Won't Learn
Krischan Müller, a student at the SchülerInnenSchule in Vienna, wrote this when he was sixteen years old. It was published in the newsletter WUK-INFO-INTERN, June No. 3/11
There are a couple basic questions that anyone who is afraid that kids won’t learn in an alternative school should ask themselves.
- How does this fear develop?
- What is the cause?
I have been going to an alternative school since primary school, basically from the very beginning. And I have to say, as far as I can remember back to my primary school time, I know that it can take a while until the system starts to ‘work’ or until children understand it. This being said, the process is different for every child.
My mother told me that, at times, she also had her doubts that we had made the right choice. I think (almost) all parents sometimes have doubts, and it probably takes a lot of willpower to stay with it.
Willpower to stay with it .
So what is the breeding ground for this doubt and the fear to have made a bad decision? I will try to point out a few reasons:
- the reputation of alternative schools and the preconception that children will not learn anything without compulsion and without marks
- the parent’s own childhood and the way they were raised
- set ideas about the child’s future, making it impossible to let go, observe and trust
- competition and societal pressure to achieve
- old, ingrained “beliefs”
- the parent’s own work overload, which can leave little or no time to support the child with his or her learning
- no clear idea of what a typical school day is like
- doubts coming from relatives and friends
- little faith in the child’s independent development But when parents, in spite of this fear, stay focused on the advantages of the alternative school system, stay strong and don’t let their fears get the best of them, their perseverance eventually pays off. It just takes a while until parents notice that the concept of the alternative school has started to work. And once it all clicks and the child understands what it’s all about, then everything goes pretty fluidly. A parent’s fear that the child is unable to cope with the responsibility is not totally unjustified, and there are such cases, but these are pretty rare.
Like a delicious cake
I think that alternative schools should have certain elements, and these have to be well proportioned, i.e. a good alternative school, like a cake, has many yummy ingredients:
- a structure that the child can hold on to
- support with learning, where needed
- a good dose of freedom with a pinch of obligation
- moral support
- appetising courses, projects and activities
- a positive social climate
- a good relationship between students and staff members
- a lot of shared decision-making.
If these ingredients are combined in the right amounts, the cake will turn out just right. And when all of these things are in place, it probably won’t take long before the child realises that learning is not something bad, but, on the contrary, that it’s even fun! After all, people learn constantly.
However, a school shouldn’t make things too appetising. The child should learn to rise to his own challenges or at least try. It’s not that the child should be left alone with these challenges, but he should be allowed to try to approach a task alone and get support where it’s needed. Sometimes even children in alternative schools have to learn or deal with something that is not interesting to them. There are just certain things we have to learn, and the less will we have to learn them, the more support we need. And every child learns differently.
I decided to do a short interview with my mother on this subject:
Were you afraid? Yes, on occasion I was.
Do you have an anti-fear recipe for other parents? I would say, a discussion with my child about my fears would be the first step, and if that doesn’t help, then take the time to find out everything you can about the way children learn at alternative schools, also through books. I participated in the recent seminar “BildungsFrühling” and found a lot of inspiration there. .
Are you afraid at the moment? No, not in the least.
So your fears did not become reality? No, none of them, and I am very optimistic about the future.