Thoughts about Schools on Trial

“On most mornings, millions of young people depart from their homes and travel by cars and yellow buses to drab-looking, claustrophobic buildings. Here, they will be warehoused for the next 6-7 hours. Every forty minutes, they are shepherded from room to room at the sound of a bell. They sit in desks in rows with 20-30 people of similar age, social class, and often race. They are drilled in facts and inculcated with specific attitudes and behaviors. If they get out of their seat, talk out of turn, or misbehave, they risk being drugged to induce passivity. Their day is preplanned for them. To succeed, orders and rules must be followed.”

This is a perfect day of learning to me!

“At the end of the day, they return home bone tired. There, they are forced to complete a few more hours of…homework. They follow the almost exact same routine for five days a week, 180 days a year, for thirteen years, until they are set free or begin another game called college.”

This is a passage from the new book by Nikhil Goyal, a crusader championing experiential and democratic education, called School on Trial: How Freedom and Creativity Can Fix Our Educational Malpractice. I sure am thankful for our freedom in homeschool to learn in such a wide variety of environments and ways! He goes on to discuss everything from mindlessly copying down notes from a lecture with little or no engagement, recall-based exams of which he has forgotten it all and totally scripted labs. Near and dear to my heart, he talks about how his joy of reading was robbed by the school system.

We love visiting our libraries 2-3 times per week and bringing home many books to enjoy!

“In my English classes, we often received a reading assignment to complete that evening, and the next day, we were quizzed on the material. Five-question quizzes with each question worth 20 points. Some of the questions revolved around very trivial details: What was a character wearing? What time of day was it? It’s almost as if my teaching were involved in a plot to help us develop a fervent hatred for reading. When I was younger, I would spend my days absorbed in novels and short stories, and I sometimes came up with my own. Being forced to read these books and be subjected to these meaningless tests are why I don’t enjoy reading fiction today.”

Ample time for reading aloud excellent books is one of my favorite aspects of homeschooling!

I agree with Goyal. We don’t have book quizzes or reading comprehension questions in our homeschool. We don’t do book reports. Earlier in our homeschooling days, I wondered if we should, but it never felt right or necessary. I feel more confident than ever that my decision to just have a love affair with books as a family was the correct choice. We visit so many libraries and do so with very high frequency. I see my kids, on a daily basis, absolutely enthralled with their books. Additionally, one of my favorite aspects of homeschooling is the amount of time we have for me to read aloud to my children. We have gone on so many literary journeys together touching on such a wide variety of topics and historical time periods. This has created such rich conversation as we discuss the struggles and choices the characters make.


Overall, this book brings up some interesting points. However, I find he does spend more time than I would like being negative about conventional-school. This book espouses unschooling and Sudbury schools as the most effective method of teaching.

As an eclectic homeschooler, I like to learn from the various educational philosophies including these. I appreciate their emphasis on children naturally being curious human beings eager to learn and the value in experiencing the world. While I whole-heartedly agree with those things, and we spend a great deal of time involved in experiential learning, we also value academic studies. One of the beauties of homeschool is each family does what they think is best for their children. So, I would  recommend this book for someone who is of the unschooling/Sudbury mindset or is interested in learning more about it. I would not put this on a must-read list for homeschoolers who do not fall into this category.

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