Book review: The School I'd Like
The School I'd Like
Catherine Burke and Ian Grosvenor
In 2001 The Guardian held a competition for children on the theme 'The School I'd like', and received thousands of entries. This book is an edited selection of them. The editors summarise the children's criticisms of the present situation as follows:
'... the school environment is hard, especially when you fall; space is limited; toilets are unwelcoming or inaccessible; bullies threaten; teachers shout and seem not to listen; belongings can be lost or stolen; bags are heavy; lockers are damaged; minority students feel victimised and marginalised; there is enormous pressure to conform; to be different is dangerous.'
The book is divided into sections about different topics, and there are many drawings and plans. In every section there are pleas for more freedom, more respect, more individuality.
These are the words of Miriam, aged 15, from Reading, in the section on 'Identities and Equalities':-
In my ideal school the whole philosophy that dominates schools now will be dropped. It will be somewhere thriving with different personalities and gifts, where these things can be developed and used to help everyone else. We will no longer be treated like herds of an identical animal waiting to be civilised before we are let loose on the world. It will be recognised that it is our world too. There will be adults who like young people there to help us discover things. They will be friends and co-workers to pupils and will be called by their first names even though they are older. The authority they will have will be based on moral leverage: they can persuade pupils to do the right thing. However, where there is no moral leverage, petty power games will be recognised as pointless. No more comments like 'Andrew, did I ask you to stand up? Hm? No. I suggest you sit back down immediately. We've still got a good minute until the bell rings,' will be overheard as soon as some poor chap who's too tall for his flimsy chair half raises himself to stretch.
There are suggestions for having fast food outlets in schools, a proposal that schools should be in outer space and one sketched design showing cubicles for snogging behind the bike sheds, but most ideas are in accord with what Lib Ed has stood for over the years.
This is an extract from the essay by Lorna, from Ipswich:-
I left school last year at the age of thirteen and enrolled at a local college. ... I left at thirteen because I felt that the regime was oppressive, and, like most oppressive regimes, coercive and difficult to change. I resented being told what to wear, what to think, what to believe, what to say and when to say it. In the average school, the children are the underclass, so low in status that they are not worth listening to ...
The school I'd like would stand for freedom, tolerance and flexibility. The school would be run by the whole learning community. ... All people would be valued, and enabled to develop their own abilities to the full, whether these are practical, academic, social, physical or artistic. It would be a place where students of all ages came voluntarily, because they actually wanted to be there.
It is inspiring that even children who have probably never heard of schools like Countesthorpe at the end of the seventies, Summerhill, Sands or Sudbury Valley, conjure up pictures of them when they write about their dream schools.
Each group of quotations from children is introduced by pages of academic discussion by the editors, peppered with pseudo-words like 'theorisation', 'performativity', 'staticity' and 'instructionist'. This may be necessary because so many adults refuse to give proper weight to the words of the children themselves.