Breaking an Oath

01 March 2005
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Maria Kopta

This account is by a young Austrian who was educated entirely by her parents, in Austria and Turkey. When she was considering a career, she took a placement in a school. (All names have been altered.)

 

When I went into the school for the first time, I had the feeling that I was breaking an oath. I had sworn to myself that never in my life would I enter a school. For me schools were nothing more than prisons for children.

When I first decided to do a placement in this school, I didn't know whether it was the right decision. The first three days I could hardly bear to be there. I just concentrated on the children, but I simply could not get used to the school itself. I had never known an environment like it. The children had to sit for five hours a day in this kind of prison, and only go to the toilet when they had permission. I had often heard about schools, but this overshot my worst imaginings. I talked to the teachers about it, but they said that this school had already made great progress in comparison with really conventional schools.

And the parents told me that a child who hasn't been to school can't do anything, doesn't amount to anything and will never become anything. Frankly I am shocked, horrified and infuriated by this way of thinking. Then I just talked to the children about their lives. What they told me impressed me and amazed me at the same time. 'My mum said I must get myself noticed in school,' and 'My mother said if I am good in school I can watch my favourite series on TV.' Alexander and Maximilian told me that; they were the two problem children, as the teachers called them. I spent a lot of time on these two children, who were in my group. I told them about my life and that impressed them very much. They didn't believe that there was such a thing as life without school.

After a while I couldn't stand spending the whole morning in the classroom. I decided to go outside with the children in the mornings as well. The teachers said, if you think that it is better for the children, then do what you think right, and I did. Every day I enjoyed being with the children more. We had a lot of fun. I didn't behave towards them like a great model to imitate. I enjoyed being like the children themselves.

The teachers wondered why the children got used to me so quickly. I don't understand why every teacher believes he has to teach the children to do what he was taught to do. Perhaps the children don't want to live in the way they are being taught. I have never heard of a teacher telling the children things about her own life, but that is exactly what interested the children much more than reading and writing.

For a while I looked after a supposedly mildly autistic child called Hassan. He comes from Turkey and is the most spoilt child I have ever seen - not a bit autistic, just completely and utterly spoilt. Only three of the classroom assistants are prepared to look after him, Maria, Kurt and Johanna. The first thing he did when he heard that I was to look after him was just to run away, and when I didn't run after him he came back of his own accord and asked me in a surprised voice why I wouldn't run after him. When I answered in Turkish, he didn't say anything more. From then on we understood each other better every day. We went for walks and sang Turkish songs.

It is strange that one can earn money just by spending one's time with children. In the three months I was there I learnt a great deal about children. Now I know that I definitely want to work with children. However, my opinion about schools has not changed. I would like to go on working in a school but I would either help the children to escape or else destroy all the timetables.

When I left it was very sad for me and for the children.

I have now really found out what it means not to have been to school, but I have never before been so certain that I didn't miss anything.

 

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