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Why children hate school

By Tim Middleton

Early one morning a mother went to waken her sleeping son. “Wake up, son. It’s time to go to school.” The son complained: “But why, Mama? I don’t want to go to school.” The mother was not taking that for an answer. “Give me two reasons why you don’t want to go to school,” she said. “OK, one, all the children hate me. Two, all the teachers hate me …” The mother was quick to respond, “Oh! that’s no reason. Come on, you have to go to school!” The son was determined and demanded: “Give me two good reasons why I should go to school?” Gently the mother replied, “Well, firstly, you are 52 years old, and secondly, you are the Principal of the school.”

Such is an apocryphal (we hope) story but many a child also hates the prospect of going to school. It starts perhaps with the little child who comes home from his first day at school and is asked by his mother what he learned that day. “Not enough,” the child replied. “They said I have to go back tomorrow.” The truth is child after child cannot wait to leave school, to move on in life, to give up on their education. They hate school. So, what is it about school that children hate? Why do children have such negative feelings towards school?

The children themselves will no doubt be very quick to point out that it is boring. And of course, they would be entirely wrong about that! It is not school that is boring; if anything, it is most likely the way school is presented to them that is boring. One person can read aloud a passage from a book and children can be spell bound by it; another person can read the same passage and the children lose all concentration. That has echoes of a scene on the old film, Three Men and a Baby when one of the characters reads to the tiny baby a passage about boxing from his Sports Illustrated magazine that he is reading and when questioned by his friend why he is reading that he replies, “It doesn’t matter what I read; it’s the tone that I use.”

The fact is that teachers do not always make the subject! Part of that may come down to the tone in which it is presented, with no passion, belief, conviction. They do not always wrap up the content in an appealing manner, like the teacher who said, “Class, we will have only half a day of school this morning” to which the class responded enthusiastically with a loud Hooray!” only for the teacher to add: “We will have the other half this afternoon.” We set their hopes up high and then bring them crashing down. We say it is important but present it in a dull, monotonous unconvincing way.

School, for many youngsters, comes across as dark, stifling and claustrophobic. There is no apparent life, no fun, no meaning, no purpose. If there is any light, it is unnatural and stark. It is boring. And that is the way it should be! Yes, school should be boring because ultimately what we get from it is worth it. The reason for that is because in some ways education is like digging for gold, that elusive, valuable, precious commodity that everyone longs for. We are mining the rich vein of knowledge, understanding, wisdom that is right there where they are. It is bringing to the surface of their lives rich and beautiful truths and assets that will take them through life. It is refining in their minds the pure and sure knowledge that will light up their (and others’) world.

We all know however that the process of getting gold from the earth is long and laborious. We have to dig deep down into the dark recesses of the earth to get what we want. It requires great effort under enormously difficult circumstances. It is a long process, repetitive, crushing, smelting, seeking to remove the contaminants. It is hard; it is not to be found on a plate or on a fancy box in a brightly-lit jewellery shop and served up without any effort or cost.

Children may be very quick to point out that school is boring and while being entirely wrong (as we have stated above) they are also incredibly correct! School is boring — school is all about drilling a hole in the hard rock of our minds into which we must put a stick of dynamite. It is in fact, explosive! Some may see school as a mine field but in truth it is a gold mine! There is plenty of reason to go to school, even, or especially, if it is boring. We must help them realise why it is good to go back again tomorrow.

  • Tim Middleton is the executive director of the Association of Trust Schools [ATS]. The views expressed in this article, however, are solely those of the author in his private capacity and do not necessarily represent the views of the ATS. 
  • email: ceo@atschisz.co.zw
  • website: www.atschisz

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