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  • Writer's pictureRaj Kanani


Schools do not allow children and adults to experience lives full of happiness, meaningfulness, and liberation.

I’ve been teaching for 10 years - eight years in Oakland, one in Chicago and a part of one in New York. I’m still teaching in Oakland. I’m in it.

At the school I'm at, we’re pushing for Deeper Learning, advocating for student agency, and experimenting with multi-age spaces. We’re trying to reach the whole child. We try to take kids into the outdoors and have students present their learning to the community. We try to do projects that are social justice-aligned and relevant to the community.

Why do I feel like I NEED to explore what learning looks like for children OUTSIDE the school system?

There is a feeling within me everyday when I'm at school... any school. There is the realization that school, at its core, is an oppressive institution. There are many critiques of “schooling” that are out there, and I’ll go over my own critiques in upcoming posts. For now, I want to focus on the question:

What is the purpose of the human childhood?

For most animals, the primary purpose of life is survival... physical well-being. Of course, this is also a large purpose of the human endeavor. But, that’s not what makes us human.

"What makes us human are higher purposes such as happiness, meaningfulness, and liberation. Therefore, the purpose of childhood must be for children to experience happy, meaningful, liberated lives themselves, and to prepare for such a life in adulthood. "

Happy, meaningful, and liberating are obviously LOADED terms. What do I mean by these terms:

  • Happiness: An existential state of of BEING... not momentary entertainment or fun... but a lasting feeling of contentment, of harmony, of lightness, of love, of warmth.

  • Meaningfulness: Living for a greater purpose outside of just the needs of one's own self.

  • Liberation: Living free of oppression; having the ability to make the decisions that affect one's own life.

From my experience, all people want these in their lives. Some people don't think it's achievable, but that desire for it still exists.

Does our “schooling system” facilitate happiness, meaningfulness, liberation, and physical well-being for children’s lives NOW and in the future?

"Do schools allow students to be happy, to pursue meaningful explorations, and to practice liberation? Is that what "schooling" was even designed for? The emphatic answer to that is 'no'. "

If you look into the history of compulsory schooling, or if you ever attended a school yourself… then you would agree with me.

How can children have a happy, meaningful, and liberated childhood, and prepare for a happy, meaningful, and liberated future?

Thinking of my 3-year old daughter, all the kids that I've taught over the years, and all the kids I currently teach, it breaks me to see the oppression that they suffer in schools on a daily basis. Even if they attend a "great" school with social justice-minded and empathetic teachers, happiness, meaningfulness, and liberation were not a part of their lives every day.

"We take school as a 'given', but compulsory schooling is a social experiment... an experiment that has had its benefits, but also its glaring faults."

In our minds, childhood and school have become inextricably linked. However, childhood does NOT have to be tied to the school.

In our minds, learning and school have become inextricably linked, but learning is always occurring.

"Humans are natural learners. It's what we do best."

The minute we are born (and probably before that), we are learning. We learn to speak COMPLEX languages within a few years. We don’t need to be forced to do it. We don’t need to be taught. We don’t need to become gears of the system.

How do we learn naturally?

We just play and live. We create and imagine. We are curious and exploratory. We connect to those around us. We make our own choices. We are ourselves. We are free. To a large degree, we live the life we want.

And as soon as a child goes to school, so much of that is lost.

This is why I'm exploring what childhood could like outside of the school system.

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