Is it ethical to send my child to school?

Our ethical columnist gives advice on a proper education.

Ethan Greenhart

Topics Politics

Dear Ethan,

My first child will be five years old in October, which means it is time to sort out her schooling. However, I am somewhat concerned about how to go about it. I hate industrial society, yet we give our children an industrial schooling. What should I do?


Thomas Brown

Dear Thomas,

I couldn’t agree more. We still have a factory system for our children except that we send them into classrooms rather than up chimneys. And, frankly, our children would learn more up a chimney. We take innocent, loving creatures, give them a decade or more of ‘schooling’ and produce ignorant, cynical adults. The recent wave of gun-related violence is clearly a product of alienation brought on by our current school system.

Take for example the clearly masculine system of mathematics. ‘2+2=4’ clearly leaves no room for an emotional understanding of the collection of things together. Why can’t ‘2+2’ equal ‘one love’ for example? Nor does it allow for different people’s experiences. What if a child says ‘2+2=5’. Who are we to say they are wrong? No wonder children become disillusioned when they are constantly told that their thoughts are ‘incorrect’.

Then there is the process of learning other languages. Now, while greater human understanding is an important thing, what is the logical consequence of learning French or Spanish? Travel. And this at a time when we’re supposed to be saving the planet by cutting down on trips abroad. And learning languages means one arcane grammatical rule after another. Why can’t we be allowed to express ourselves the way we want to?

Outside the torture of the classroom is the torture of ‘physical’ education. Children must run long distances, climb things, chase balls and even commit acts of violence against one another. As a resident of Rugby, Thomas, you will know all about one particularly sadistic game.

And the whole process of stripping naked in front of adults is an open opportunity for abuse. As that thoughtful songsmith Morrissey once described in a typical tale of school sports teachers: ‘Please excuse me from gym / I’ve got this terrible cold coming on / He grabs and devours / He kicks me in the showers / Kicks me in the showers / And he grabs and devours’. How many millions of people can only nod their heads in recognition when they read those words?

There are rays of light in the darkness, however. There is more talk of environmental concerns on the curriculum than ever before. And children are finally learning about the reality of human nature with history classes emphasising slavery and the Holocaust (though note my views on the idea that there has only been one Holocaust: Is it ethical to commemorate just one Holocaust?).

There is also the new trend to Eco Schools. As the Eco Schools website notes, the aim is that by ‘encouraging pupils to take responsibility for the environmental management of their school, they will develop an increased sense of responsibility for their surroundings’. That means lots of recycling, walking to school and discussions about how we’re destroying the planet. If we can make children feel bad about the damage they cause to the environment, it can only cause them to make better choices than their parents – like not having children of their own.

However, all this is ultimately tinkering with a pernicious system. One way forward would be to have parents educate their own children at home. This is excellent from the point of view of resources as no new buildings are required, and no extra heating or lighting (if they choose to live like us low-impact Greenharts, of course!). And there’s none of the inevitable bullying and abuse of industrial schooling, either.

But in truth, can we trust most parents to give the right messages to their children? They may foolishly buy traditional textbooks that fill their children’s heads with mathematics and science and foreign languages and the whole unseemly mess would be recreated, simply in a smaller form. And the opportunities for abuse in so many forms (physical, sexual, dietary and planetary) are perhaps greater in the home than anywhere else.

What we need are small groups of enlightened parents to band together and teach children in each other’s homes. There they will be free to develop their creative and personal skills while the adults can keep a watchful eye on each other. These are real eco-schools. We don’t need books – we can learn orally about each other’s traditions. We can listen to and learn from nature. We can learn that human beings should stop trying constantly to dominate and control their surroundings. When there is so much fuss about allowing religious ‘faith schools’, I like to refer to these local, humble and planet-aware groups as ‘fate schools’.

We have a collective where we live and my kids have benefited enormously. ‘Small is beautiful’ as Fritz Schumacher rightly said – now we need to produce small-minded children.

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Topics Politics


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