Who died of Ennui
Poor Neville suffered the fate imagined by many children while they languish in grey and brown concrete buildings, the drone of an uninterested teacher wafting over an unengaged classroom. You can’t really die of ennui, or boredom, can you? Physically probably not, but creatively, emotionally, intellectually? Most definitely. Imagine what 12 long years of ennui must do to the spirit, to the joy we as humans feel innately when learning.
Edward Gorey was a masterful illustrator, and this drawing from his macabre series The Gashlycrumb Tinies perfectly illustrates the ennui and desperation for the clock to strike 3pm that we all felt in school, that kids continue to feel. Neville looks out the window, desperate for anything interesting, anything real, to reanimate his bored to death brain. Alas, for Neville it was too late.
Most young teachers I’ve spoken with tell me that everything they were taught in their teaching program goes out the window as soon as they get their first real classroom. The methodologies they study, the techniques and practices they test for, everything just doesn’t apply when faced with living breathing children from every kind of situation imaginable. Teachers I’m sure have the very best of intentions. The problem is that the traditional method of institutionally educating children doesn’t work. Following a cookie cutter one curriculum fits all for each age and grade level does not work. Rote memorization and standardized testing might achieve right here right now success, but lays the groundwork for failure, lack of creativity and individuality for the future.
The more serious issue is that institutional education creates all kinds of situations of harm for children. Bullying is rampant, despite what everyone spouts off about non-bullying policies and initiatives. Anyone who proudly boasts that their students are safe because their school is a ‘bully-free zone’ is either a moron or a liar. Read Lord of the Flies please. As a culture we are hardwired to bully. The school system provides a fertile ground of bullies to thrive, despite initiatives to such abuse. Teachers bully. Teachers in Bully-Free Zone schools bully. The parents of the children in the schools bully. Politicians, CEOs, and celebrities us the benefits of being a bully. It’s never going away and to think it can is delusional. The only way to stop bulling–for real–is to stop sending children away from people who actually care about them–for real–to a room in an institution with 30 other children where they might never encounter a single soul who honest and truly gives a crap.
But back to Neville and his Ennui. One of the primary reasons we chose to educate our children at home (and there are MANY) is that they have the opportunity to discover who they are and what they are interested in, not what a teacher at the front of a classroom believes is best for all 30 children. It’s individualized attention, tailored to one child. It’s each child being excited to wake up and learn, every single day of the year, not laying in bed with the covers pulled up, hoping for a freak storm to cancel school so they don’t have to go through all that for just one day please. It’s our oldest learning to read by choosing books that he genuinely is interested in and can’t wait to turn the pages, rather than an assigned text that meets bureaucratic criteria. It’s our youngest wearing a tiger costume all day for two weeks, and in the process learning everything she can about tigers, sub-species, diet, and habitat which then leads to a geography discussion, which organically turns into talking about the dwindling numbers of tigers in the wild and how a species becomes endangered. None of this was ‘taught’ with the grown up at the front of the room and the children industriously taking notes in their lined notebooks. It was learning, facilitated by parents, and it happened naturally and easily.
And no one died from ennui.