Why I’m Not Sending My Daughter to School.

“I have never let my schooling interfere with my education.” Mark Twain.

I have a 4-month-old daughter. Before becoming a mother, I had no idea how quickly I would need to start thinking about her future. Preschools in my area are already booking up, and I’m barely out of the newborn fog.

When my partner, Lucy, and I sat down to discuss how we see our daughter’s future education, we quickly realized we were on the same page. We have no intention of repeating the broken system of education we had passed through. We want to give our daughter the best chance we can of succeeding in her future.

I’m aware of the privilege entailed in picking and choosing what type of education I want my daughter to receive when many across the world cannot access even the most basic schooling. That said, we’ve decided not to send our daughter to school when the time comes. Here’s why and what we’ll do instead.

I was a school drop out.

One reason I don’t want to send my daughter to school is because of my own experience. I was a good student, but I lost my way and dropped out at 15 without gaining a single qualification.

Fast forward to today, and I have three degrees — Two in English Literature and the third in Physiotherapy. I almost had 4, but I quit a Ph.D. in English just in time. I don’t set out these achievements to boast — I believe that much of the time I spent in education was wasted. My degrees embarrass me when I think of how I could’ve better spent that time and money?

Leaving school without qualifications didn’t prevent me from achieving significant career wins. I’ve worked as a university lecturer, a narrative designer for immersive games, and I retrained as a musculoskeletal physiotherapist specializing in running injuries.

I succeeded in my later academic life because I was ready to learn. The school came at the wrong time for me and offered the wrong skillset.

[A]cademic learning comes easily once a person has acquired the requisite intellectual foundation and wants to learn the academic skills’. Peter Grey.

When I think about my work today and the skills I value most, I struggle to recall them ever being a part of my schooling. I never attended classes on financial planning, self-improvement, or developing an entrepreneurial mindset. Instead, I’ve invested in honing these skills as part of my journey of life-long learning. It would’ve been useful if they could have been honed a little earlier.

Education and entrepreneurs.

Educating my daughter will mean preparing her for a world of work that I can’t yet imagine. She will need to be able to think outside the box, be internally motivated and passionately curious. She needs to be prepared to fail — something I only learned to do in my 30s.

She will need to develop an entrepreneurial mindset to survive in an uncertain economic landscape. As it happens, some of the most successful entrepreneurs dropped out of education.

Tech entrepreneurs that dropped out of college:

Michael Dell (Dell)
Steve Jobs (Apple)
Bill Gates (Microsoft)
Evan Williams (Twitter/Medium)
Mark Zuckerberg (Facebook)

For a long time, I was ashamed about dropping out of school and later on quitting my Ph.D. But it turns out I’m in good company. Too bad I’m a writer and not in tech…

The Factory Model Classroom

Addressing the room in his 2015 Ted Talk, the late Sir Ken Robinson said:

Nobody has a clue, despite all the expertise that’s been on parade for the past four days, what the world will look like in five years’ time. And yet, we’re meant to be educating […] for it.

The basic school classroom set up has stayed more or less the same since being rolled out in the 19th century. Joel Rose called it the ‘factory-model classroom’. The idea is that schools use classrooms to scale up the delivery of education in the same way that a factory scales up goods production.

That’s a problem.

Factories are impersonal. So are classrooms — they don’t consider the individuality of pupils or the unique specificity of their interests and passions.
Going back to his brilliant Ted Talk, Robinson explains that public schools came into being to serve the purposes of 19th-century industrialism. Subjects that are most valued within schools are the ones that were most useful for work. My concern is that the world of work that schools built themselves to serve is far different today than in the mid 19th century and will be unimaginably different again in my daughter’s future.

Even today, schools are failing to produce school leavers with the skills they’ll need to thrive in the workplace:

If you look at the skills employers constantly cry out for: empathy, communication, teamwork, agility, flexibility, and the ability to design and make solutions to multidisciplinary problems, a traditional education barely offers students any of that. Instead, there are lots of dates, facts and formulas to remember. Andrew Webb

It’s not the lack of technology that makes modern schooling unsuitable for the future. Those schools that weren’t already embracing technology before the pandemic certainly are now, as lockdown measures worldwide force children out of the classroom and into virtual learning environments like Zoom.

My problem with today’s schooling system is that it overemphasizes ‘dates, facts, and formulas.’ The kind of work that relies on that type of knowledge is most likely to be automated in the coming years. My daughter will need a different kind of skillset to succeed in tomorrow’s world.

That is what work will be in the future, the human things that machines can’t do. Andrew Webb.

Alternatives to traditional schooling

Homeschooling/Unschooling

The obvious route for us is to homeschool our daughter. It’s perfectly legal to home educate your children in the UK as long as they receive full-time education from the age of 5. You don’t even have to follow the national curriculum.

Homeschool successes:

Venus and Serena Williams (Tennis Players)
Condoleeza Rice (Former Secretary of State)
Jill Ker Conway (First Female President of Smith College)
Whoopi Goldberg (Actress)
Margaret Atwood (Writer)
Billy Eilish (Singer)

Billy Eilish had this to say about her homeschooling experience:

I’ve never been to school. I grew up homeschooled. Stayed homeschooled. Never was not homeschooled. The thing is I still learned everything, you know? But I learned it in life […] I learned like how to do math by cooking with my mom […] and then I learned, like, how to build shit from my dad.
I feel like when you’re sat down, and somebody’s shoving things down your throat. You’re not gonna want to eat them.

A homeschooled child follows a program of learning determined by their parents/guardians. An unschooled child doesn’t follow a set program but rather guides their learning based on their interests. We like the idea of unschooling, but we’ll likely use a mixture of both. Why? We don’t want to take the risk that essential subjects are left uncovered. I am willing, though, to have my mind changed as to what those subjects are. I’d be ecstatic if our daughter is the one to change my mind.

I’m not deluding myself that I will be able to teach our child maths to the level she’ll need, or physics, for instance. Lucy and I have a diverse and varied skillset, and we’ll be able to fill gaps in the other’s knowledge. But for subjects outside of our skillset, we’ll explore platforms like Udemy and Khan Academy and take advantage of Massive Open Online Courses offered by many of the world’s top universities.

A major benefit of these learning platforms is the relatively low cost for a high educational return. Full disclosure — we are a medium-income family down to one income now that I’m on maternity leave. But educating our daughter outside of the norm doesn’t have to cost the earth.

We’ll also look into hiring specialist tutors where appropriate. Since the pandemic, tutors — zoom tutors supplementing or replacing traditional teaching — have become much more common. It’s hard to see the tutor going anywhere anytime soon. We can use their rise to our daughter’s advantage.

Alternative schools

Believe it or not, I’m not anti-school. I don’t think that most schools are up to the job. However, some schools are designed differently, such as Agora in the Netherlands. This school guides its students through an educational journey that is individual and driven by each child’s passions.

Andrew Webb explains that, at Agora, the students learn to use the abundance of information technology provides us in a way that instils a sense of confidence in their abilities to tackle problems and communicate with adults and each other’.

Steiner schools — known as Waldorf schools in the US — are another alternative to bricks and mortar schooling. Steiner schools emphasize the holistic needs of pupils rather than pure academic concerns. Montessori schools embrace child-led learning and are less structured than Steiner schools. In common with the Agora school, Montessori schools follow no set curriculum.

While there is only one Agora — with a long waiting list — there are many Steiner and Montessori schools worldwide if we chose to follow this route for our family.

Closing thoughts

My experience of dropping out of school tells me that many aspects of the school system are broken. Some of the world’s most successful people rejected traditional school models by dropping out and forging their own way.

To be successful, today’s children need skills that traditional schools can’t teach.

Luckily, there are alternatives to the generic system of education. Homeschooling or unschooling, and alternative bricks and mortar schools like Agora. My daughter is only 4-months-old. I’ve learned never to say never, but I’m not sending my daughter to school as it stands.

I don’t just want her to learn — I want her to thrive.