How to Kick the Compulsory State School Habit

By Matt Hern

(For You and/or Your Kids)

1. Start imagining what it will take for you (or your kids) to flourish. If being institutionalized 6 hours a day, 5 days a week, 10 months a year, for 12 straight years isn’t how you thrive … then what are you doing? If confined with thirty of your peers, listening to endless abstractions on topics you have not chosen is not your idea of flourishing, then get out.

2. Know that learning is not the product of teaching. Learning is the activity of learners, as John Holt said. The idea that somehow teachers can take information/ideas/skills and drop them into you is pure vanity: really the only thing you can teach is yourself.

3. That doesn’t mean that the world isn’t full of great people to learn from, they are just rarely school teachers. The shot “if you can’t do, teach” didn’t come from nowhere. That dork who is up in your face is probably pissy because his pro wrestling career faltered and he just finished crawling through his communications degree/teacher’s certificate only to have to deal with packs of obnoxious and frustrated teenagers. It would put a burr under your saddle too.

4. Do you really think staring at a light bulb for 45 minutes straight and then moving the huge red spot in your eyes over the teacher’s head counts as education?

5. Get interested in something, anything: don’t pursue shit because you think it will please someone else, or because you think it will get you a job. That’s a lousy way to live. Be honest with yourself: comatose in your basement playing video games endlessly is bullshit. Sneaking blunts in the car/bathroom/broom closet, trying to get through another assembly on acid, taking one more exam on mushrooms, pounding mason jars of Jim Beam behind the gym is all good, but there is a lot more out there. Build a life by dong things that make you feel alive.

6. School does prepare your for some things, but what? Do you really want to get trained in being resentful? How long do you need to learn how to be catastrophically bored for months on end? What exactly are you being prepared for? School is explicitly about removing children (and childhood today stretches deep into your twenties) from the rest of the world: defy that agenda by getting involved in your life, and assume that you are capable of participating.

7. Spending your days in an explicitly anti-democratic institution where you have little control over how you spend your time just sux. Any place have to ask to go to the bathroom, get punished for talking out of turn to colleagues, have to change rooms at the sound of a bell, eat only when allowed, have to negotiate security guards roaming the halls, come under surveillance and assessment constantly, and get regularly derided for your appearance is not worth spending time in, if you can avoid it. These are just a quick litany of normative school realities. Who would go there of their own volition? Find places where people are gathering voluntarily to work and play together.

8. Your youth is presumed to be full of boredom and restlessness: ignore this and assume that all of your days should full.

9. When someone tells you not to close any doors, what doors are they talking about? It is absolutely true that you can get to college or university or training programs without ever going to high school. This is a lot truer than you think.

10. If you are in college or university right now, what are you doing? What are you there for? Are you sure you need to pay all that tuition to drink relentlessly and hunt for mates? Maybe, but be honest with yourself. Are you just extending your dependent childhood because it’s the easiest thing to do? How about using all that privilege for something other than your own wank / career advancement?

11. Look around for other school resisters: homelearners, unschoolers, alternative schoolers, drop-outs. They are everywhere.

Matt Hern lives in East Vancouver where he runs the Purple Thistle Centre ( and Crank magazine ( His new book is Field Day: Getting Society Out Of School (New Star).


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