When School Goes Against Your Very Nature.

Via Katarina Silva
on Feb 25, 2012
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I was born severely allergic to school.

Not to learning, but to school.

There is just no other way to put it. Sitting in those little chairs when my whole being wanted to move, sharing the teacher with so many other children, being told to color inside the lines when I was wired to think outside the box: all of this and much more, just seemed to stifle my indomitably wild and creative nature.

School seemed to be a place that had obviously omitted my kind from its design considerations.

“Why aren’t more of the children resisting this?”, I thought. “Am I the only one who doesn’t feel entirely welcomed here?”

Some of my earliest memories are of my three-year-old-self screaming and kicking, and reaching out to my mother with tears in my eyes, as she handed me over to my kindergarten teacher every morning.

Stuck in a room filled with other children my age and only one adult to tend to us felt so unnatural to me. I wanted my mother’s undivided attention back. I missed her. School seemed to be telling me that heartbreak was acceptable, even necessary.

Then there was the trust issue. School taught me that people don’t always trust you. The older boys had stolen my homework, but even after I had explained that to my teacher she still made me stand in a corner.

There were rules, she said: “No homework, no playtime.” This happened to me repeatedly in kindergarten. I have memories of standing in that corner, peeking over my shoulder as I watched my classmates frolic in their tailored, little catholic school uniforms, wondering why my teacher didn’t believe me. Mother always believed me, even when I saw fairies in the flowers outside my bedroom window. My voice had lost its power.

At school I had somehow become less believable, less trustworthy, and definitely less important. I even felt somewhat disposable alongside the rigid rules that were to be upheld at any cost, even if it meant losing me. What were these rules anyway? Allegedly made for the benefit of the group, they seemed to sacrifice the individual. Some of them felt downright dehumanizing to me. Who invented these rules, I wondered. I wanted no part of it.

So, in elementary school, I was the girl who danced on the tables when the teacher went out of the room and enticed the other children into wild, imaginative games.

When I turned six my parents sympathized with my plight and enrolled me in a very liberal, private school. But school was school, and even there my “allergic condition” acted up, which translated into my spending most of my math classes hiding under playground equipment the teachers could not fit into.

“Come on out or you won’t get to have recess!” they threatened. But I was already having a great time in the playground! I’d have to be a fool to come out, I thought. Was school trying to turn me into a fool?

“It is paradoxical that many educators and parents still differentiate between a time for learning and a time for play without seeing the vital connection between them.”

~Leo Buscaglia

At the age of eight I equated obedience with those of impressionable, simple, easily manipulated minds. And I certainly didn’t want to think of myself as having one of those! Naturally, I became one of the school’s main mischief-makers and was often kept afterschool, cleaning classrooms as punishment. The school’s principal and I were on a first name basis. She liked me because I was smart, she said. But apparently not in any of the ways the school rules needed me to be.

“Everybody is a genius. But if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will live its whole life believing that it is stupid.”

~ Albert Einstein

As a child I noticed that there seemed to be “right” and “wrong” ways to learn. Most of institutionalized education’s “right” ways of learning seemed to clash with my free spirit; with my natural learning pace and inextinguishable curiosity. It clashed with my need for movement, and the outdoors, and stimulation that affected me on all levels.

In public high school I hated the impersonal bureaucracy. The red tape that said I could not continue my foreign language classes and take psychology at the same time, because I had already used up my two electives.

“You can give up art”, the guidance counselor announced with apathetic nonchalance. Give up art? The only class I actually enjoy? Never.

So I reluctantly dropped French in my fourth year, because of the required computer technology course. No one seemed to care that I had already mastered use of my father’s Mac.

“It’s not what you know”, the guidance counselor told me, “It’s your participation in the required courses that counts.”

So they chucked my life experience, and I ditched their computer class, and they told me I would not be able to graduate without it. Negotiations? Well, this is an American public school we are talking about, so… no.

There is no negotiation. Ever. You follow their rules, or you fail. Period.

Technically, I was missing a few credits here and there of their “required” subjects. Never mind that I had an excess of credits in other areas. Never mind that I aced all my college credit dual-enrollment classes. I refused to waste my time sitting in a classroom, under the aura-disrupting buzz of florescent lights, learning a bunch of fluff I already knew, just to appease their senseless system. Yes, I knew the “consequences”, and felt I could live with them, so I dropped out of high school, and my little sister followed.

But it wasn’t really defiance and frustration that made us drop out of school. It was depression.

We would come home from school feeling as if the wind had been blown out of our sails. And yet, as Leonardo da Vinci once observed:

“Real learning never exhausts the mind.”

Yes, we were as miserable in school as birds in cages. We resisted it from the start. Our mother had to bribe us with toys and books to go. Lulu and I felt trapped there. We longed to be free, and school seemed to try to squish us into little boxes we didn’t fit into, and then make us feel defective when we didn’t. So, when we dropped out of high school, it felt more like a means of self-preservation.

Yes! Freedom!

Being on the outside felt liberating; like we could breathe again; like we could be ourselves; ike learning and pleasure could finally become friends again!

Because, you see, my sister and I actually loved learning. Ironically, we considered ourselves good students. And now we were free to really learn!

The least of the work of learning is done in the classroom.

~Thomas Merton

To the school board however, Lulu and I became part of the faceless, poor-learning 1.3 million students who drop out of school every year in the United States.

We were a statistic that represented failure. But the failure, as we experienced it, was not our failure to conform to the system, but the system’s failure to recognize, honor and accommodate our style of learning. Which —judging by statistics— doesn’t seem to be that uncommon after all.

After we emancipated ourselves from the stifling high school environment, Lulu and I turned our everyday living into learning. And we surrounded ourselves with everything school had deprived us of. Ah! The relief of not submitting to the system’s assessment of what we “required” to be educated. Instead…

We decided on our own —totally independently of any superimposed authority— what we wanted to learn, how we wanted to learn it, the pace and depth at which we would do it, and the means through which we would learn it.

It was empowering!

Why give all that over to someone else?

Nothing could have been sweeter. We had gone from starving in the militaristic, monotonous desert of school, to the exciting and nourishing lifestyle of two thriving autodidacts. (From the Greek words auto, or self and didaktikos, or teaching/taught.)

Lulu spent endless hours on the piano, practicing her violin and learning Russian, while I devoured Karl Marx and Eric Fromm, and covered my parent’s large living room floor with materials for my art collages. I painted, she collected vintage fashions, and together we harmonized melodies on our father’s Spanish guitar.

We hung out in university libraries, took ghost tours of local historical districts and met other radicals every Sunday morning for peace marches at the bay. We protested outside laboratories that tested on animals, and in front of fancy restaurants that served veal, with our shocking homemade signs that slowed traffic.

Driven by our own interests and curiosity, my little sister and I turned anything we wanted to into an educational experience. I designed my own line of clothing; my sister modeled.

We had our hearts set on Paris so we practiced our French at fancy pastry shops, to the meter in Baudelaire’s love poems.

We packed up our mother’s Volvo station wagon and drove it up California’s mountains; dipped in desert hot springs and visited organic date farms where residents lived in teepees. We danced under the full moon at reggae festivals, hit the art museums in Manhattan and even watched Mikhail Baryshnikov dance like there was no tomorrow.

We’d have to be crazy to turn all that in for school!

What was school anyway?

As Paulo Freire so aptly put it, education as we knew it,

“transforms students into receiving objects. It attempts to control thinking and action, leads men and women to adjust to the world, and inhibits their creative power”.

Lulu and I wanted to improve the world, not to “adjust” to it! We desired to transform it, not yield to it.

So we turned Freire’s Pedagogy of The Oppressed into our own, proud, little anthem. And were ever grateful that we had extremely liberal parents that let us do so. Yes, my sister and I were thankful we hadn’t been given the type of parents that were persuaded by the political conspiracy between the pharmaceutical monopolies and the government to push Ritalin on nonconforming students. Yikes! Now that’s scary!

Surely it’s less dangerous to drug our future generations than allow their creativity to naturally run amuck. Stagnant order is preferable in the public school system to dynamic progress, if this is outside their control. Students only have three options in this paradigm: surrender, rock the boat or jump ship. So my little sister and I jumped. And we’ve not once regretted our decision.

Lulu and I were dreamy, idealistic, artistic youth determined to disregard the status quo and create an alternative way of being.

But what if no one hires you because you lack a college education?

Heck! Does a diploma guarantee you’ll get a job? Plus, we didn’t want to be a part of “the system” of jobs and bosses anyway.

My sister and I favored bartering and generating income in creative ways that inspired real connections between real people. Ways that invented and explored alternatives to the nine-to-fivers and had nothing to do with exploiting others or our planet.

Lulu and I refused to participate in a system that reduced us to numbers, to robots, to factory-working machines without feelings or independent thoughts.

Being a deviant felt so damn good! Yes, we were high school dropouts and proud of it, despite the negative stigma surrounding that label; because we redefined it.

Contrary to the ugly pictures society paints of us, there is no generic portrait of a high school dropout. We are all as unique as the lines on our palms.

At seventeen my sister made it to Paris, backpacked through Europe, went paragliding in the French Riviera, and won all night salsa contests to live music. I, on the other hand, did India and yoga, learned to weave with tribal women in Chaing Mai and philosophized with western Tibbetan Buddhist nuns in Kathmandu.

Instead of school, we opted for attending only lectures of our choice, and book signings where we could chat with the authors. Fun!

(Photo: “Paris Bench” by Yanidel)

But, the sweetest times of all, in our varied adventures in learning, were the meetings of the mind and heart, that occurred most spontaneously on park benches with strangers.

There you discover that the homeless man you just bought an organic fruit smoothie for, had just taught us more about life in a single conversation than any public school teacher would ever be allowed to teach us  in a whole year of schooling.

He taught us about death, and politics, and power by narrating his runs through the jungles of Vietnam with tears in his eyes.

And we had many such encounters, my little sister and I.

We met all kinds of unexpected teachers that appeared on our path of alternative learning, outside of any kind of structure, or implemented rules and regulations or time restraints or schedules or dictates of what was worth learning and what wasn’t.

In our “school” there was no one telling us which lessons were “required” and which weren’t.

Life itself seemed to plan our syllabus, and everything around us pulled us in with the same alluring wonder and excitement that we recognized from our early childhood, when our imaginations grew like wildflowers.

My sister and I didn’t bother to label what we did as homeschooling, or unschooling, or free-schooling, because it just was. It was who we were, and we loved learning. And I have a strong suspicion that all humans love learning.

Sometimes, the best way to discover that, is to separate oneself from all the places where learning is “supposed” to take place, and explore the rest of the world, where learning and living merge into one singular, organic experience.

That’s what Lulu and I did. And we’re still at it. Care to enroll?

Education is what remains after one has forgotten what one has learned in school.

 ~Albert Einstein


[Photo: “Paris Bench” by Yanidel]


Editor: Andrea B.


About Katarina Silva

Katarina Silva is an artistic self-expressionist who thrives on the spontaneous thrill of creating photographic images in ten seconds, and inevitably employs witchcraft to do so. Her autobiographical art reflects her emotions and dreams, and is characterized by the mysterious absence of her complete face. She lives unafraid of darkness, wrapped in nature, in an obscure corner of the planet with her magical kitty. You may view her work at The Art of Katarina Silva. Or connect with her on Facebook or Twitter


67 Responses to “When School Goes Against Your Very Nature.”

  1. Stu says:

    I'm sure it doesn't hurt that you and your sister a super hot so you probably had an easier time of it that us normal people would 🙂

  2. Stu says:

    *are supper hot

  3. Stu says:

    Yeah, supper hot. Like when you have a bowl of soup for supper… and it's reall hot… Holy crap what is wrong with me?

    You know what I'm trying to say.

  4. […] Remember your third-grade teacher who told you that you couldn’t color your sun purple, and there was no such number as eleventy-billion and memorizing your times tables and your state capitols was much more important than exercising your imagination? She was wrong: […]

  5. […] a lot of them have “no way out.” They’re in a trap built on dead-end jobs, too many kids, high schools that wasted their time, abusive parents, too many drugs, on and on. (I hear about all the rest of this in other discussion […]

  6. It is so tragic to me to read your response here, @brennagee. Your children have ONE childhood. They are begging you to remove them from that prison that violates their basic human rights, but because school has taught you to distrust that your children can learn on their own, with you simply providing love and support, you are willing to jeopardize them. Your children are "going well in school"? But at what cost? Are they "doing well" at feeling free, living their passions NOW? My beautiful son is 18 and I will be having a graduation ceremony for him to celebrate his unschooling journey. My son has done remarkable things and we are so close because of unschooling. He has been living his life, he will not just be "beginning it" at adulthood!

  7. brennagee says:

    Laurie thank you so much for your heartfelt, passionate response. Your relationship with your son and his education sound heavenly. Since my initial comment my daughter has actually changed her tune and is going to be very sad when school lets out for the summer. She is a 2nd grader (almost 3rd). My boys (12 and 10) do a lot of their learning outside of school. Our school district, like many others, has wonderful teachers with great ideas about teaching to individual students but with a packed curriculum and growing class sizes individual attention is at a premium. I do believe my ex-husband and I provide a well-rounded education outside the classroom. We're both curious and have different areas of expertise. Right now we are focusing on the emotional health of our kids since our divorce. We are looking forward to lots of exploring this summer.

  8. Skye says:

    YES! Thank you for sharing this! Your journey brings a sense of validation to my own… knowing there are others out there like me who have experienced similar ideals from a similar perspective. Keep rockin'!

  9. bridget jones says:

    As a Kindergarten teacher who was recently informed by administrators that my students will only be allowed one recess and one bathroom break ALL DAY, I am at the end of my rope. What is going on today in education today goes against everything I believe about what teaching and learning is about. I want my students to LOVE learning…. after all that is the basic joy of life!! What we are turning school into is no where near that! I think education needs a revolution!! How can we take government OUT and get back to what we all know it should be????

  10. Stuart Marshall says:

    My kids hated school too – yet it was a good school!
    WE have now been autonomously educating with them for 5 years – it's great – you can do it!
    Go with the flow and listen to that they want to do – that's all!

  11. cathy says:

    I got tired of reading the 'history of your hate'. It's a too lengthy intro fo rwhat is most important- need for freedom for children in learning.
    We can always dig up hate and gather those who were nto successful in education systems to comiserate and add mor ehat emolecules to the world OR we can work in a positive way to support alternative schools, Waldorf Schools, home schooling with some focus.. I hav eworked in the traditional public education system over 20 years. My favorite and most flourishing teaching experience was working in an alternative school with a focus on arts and field trips to provide avenues to academic study. The skills and lessons developed there I use regularly now at another stage in my career.

    Please fidn a way to reduce the length of your past anger so readers stay with you onto framing and reaching to stimulate the mind and curiosity to remain firm in self faith to use the brain to explore and learn to develop oneself for life.

  12. delPhoto says:

    I dropped out and I'm proud of it. Only took me 27 years to figure that institutionalized education is just that. Institutionalized. Limited. Not free. Now that I teach yoga, I am able to breathe, focus, refocus, deal with change, deal with situations that are not seemingly beneficial to me at the time and turn them into something priceless. Learning experiences. It's what life's all about, not learning from what others think is right but by figuring things out on our own with what God gave us. Brains, breath and the divine nature to learn about this funny thing we call life.

  13. Nelson says:

    School can be rough and tough sometimes. The best thing to do is suck it up. All the corners, homework, projects, and trips toschool uniform shops will be worth it in the end.

  14. […] many innovative, creative, game changing and world changing people, school was not where they found their passion. It wasn’t the first thing they tried. It wasn’t doing the expected thing. It was the […]

  15. Kim Lyons says:

    But think about all those other kids and parents to whom school is a lifesaver – for me, it was better than home – at school I had attention (of the good sort) and felt important. As for parents, there aren't many who can afford to stay at home and give the kind of education that is required to be a functioning part of society – imagine a society of non-functioning adults – anarchy springs to mind. As a parent, I would enhance and build on what they did at school – they are all free spirits but function and give much back to our society and are extremely successful in personal and professional lives.

  16. Gaia says:

    Inspiring article! I’m struggling to tell my parents that I don’t want to go to college, but they don’t seem to understand..they’re worried that I won’t get a ‘good job’ if I don’t go- which is exactly what I’m trying to avoid- a 9-5 would be my nightmare.I will remain true to my soul’s desires though 🙂 xox0

  17. Ali says:

    I love this article…but how did you get the money to live and travel? xoxo

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