Wounded by School

We’ve been doing a lot of thinking about school lately.  Widget goes to kindergarten next year, and, as much as I would love to homeschool (and I would love it), we think it’s best for him to get used to the structure and routine of a school with other children.  We’re thinking hard about how to ease the transition, supplement the academics, and help keep the love of learning alive in this little boy who reads himself to sleep at night (at four!) and his baby brother, who takes small appliances apart and puts them back together (at two!).  Both are incredible problem-solvers and little thinkers, and I’m so proud of them.

I just finished reading a new book, Wounded by School, written by Kirsten Olson, and it’s a very interesting report on some of the latest educational research (she was a doctoral student at Harvard with Dr. Sara Lawrence-Lightfoot) and updates of some of the most intriguing research from the 60’s (some of which, astonishingly, I’ve read).  She discusses the experiences of children and adults in detail with regard to wounds received in school — by which she means things that have happened to derail a child’s natural love of learning and intellectual curiosity.

Longtime readers of my blogs know that my whole reason for staying home with my children for so long has been to provoke and nurture their natural intellectual curiosity, so this is of course right up my alley.  I was appalled at some of the stories that she writes about, but encouraged to hear them brought out in the open and discussed, and the homeschooling option discussed as a positive thing that not all of us are able provide.  The author herself admits that she chose not to homeschool, and talks about that experience right alongside the others as she delves into the mystery of why school wounds — what is it that takes away the joy of learning?

Is it being rewarded for doing things that we enjoy naturally?  Is it the regimentation, or the schedule?  Or is it something else entirely — and how can we get it back — or at least stop taking it from our children?

These are important questions, and questions that will haunt me as we go through the next year deciding on kindergarten for our children.  This book helped me frame some of my questions, and I think it’s an interesting read for anyone interested in school culture and the experience of learning.

Now … what’s next on the reading list about early childhood education?  Any recommendations?

A review copy of Wounded by School was provided to me by the publisher and will be donated to my local library.

7 responses to this post.

  1. Oh, I do hope that you’ll try before deciding. We started home educating our three sons when our oldest was going into 5th grade. I can’t tell you how *huge* the difference is in their education–and they were always at very good schools.

    This isn’t about early childhood education, but about educating boys specifically. It’s called The Minds of Boys by Dr. Michael Gurian. The book is based on the brain research that shows the differences between the male and female brain.



  2. Thanks, Jennifer, but because of my health, homeschooling is not an option for us. I have heard of The Minds of Boys — I’ll go take another look! Thanks!



  3. […] more of this post at Review Planet, my review […]


  4. Posted by Monica on June 28, 2009 at 6:02 pm

    Don’t feel bad about not homeschooling – they’re out of school more days in a year than they’re in school, so they still have a fighting chance! 🙂


  5. Susan, It’s great to read your review of my book, and as you may have guessed, I really, really struggled with whether to keep my own four children in public school, especially as I became more and more aware of the long-term psychological and intellectual consequences of attending. However, to cheer you in your decision, this past weekend I went to the national Alternative Educator’s conference in Albany, New York (AERO) with my youngest son Sam (who is 16), and I felt really okay about the choices I’ve/we’ve made. Sam and all my children are very able to “see” what is wrong with the school systems they’ve been in, negotiate this without too much friction with teachers/administration (okay, some, and I think that’s okay), and still be who they are. They are good, empowered learners who feel a lot of joy in discovering new things. Are/were things perfect? Far from it. But Sam’s an awesome kid who said in one of the conference sessions, “Revolution is the work of ants,” (meaning all of us!) in Spanish. I bet your kids are going to be okay with your help.

    I look forward to reading your blog more, and thanks for your words about my book. I really appreciate them.



  6. Posted by NYFriend on July 3, 2009 at 8:46 am

    Sorry it has taken me so long to reply! I only read a few essays in this book, and found them very interesting:
    What to Look for in a Classroom: And Other Essays (Paperback)
    by Alfie Kohn

    I’m not a huge Alfie fan, but I could relate to these essays.

    Here’s the school we are planning on sending our kids when they are first-graders:
    Some nice summaries there that apply universally. 🙂


  7. i have this same worry, especially since I read “Weapons of Mass Instruction” In fact I found out recently that I used to take things apart and put them together when I was three, and I’ve been telling everyone I’m just not that kind of engineer. We’ve been lucky to have more “laid back” teachers – more concerned about the kids learning and enjoying learning than sitting still or keeping up or back with their neighbors.


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