Thursday 24 January 2008

I hated school

I nearly got kicked out of school at 16 for truancy. I went to Dumbarton Rock and read for my exams near the end of term, in my bedroom. I stuck it out (just) and decided to keep going. I wish I had left earlier.

I don’t know if it’s the same everywhere, but the school system I experienced revolved around a very dangerous and wasteful system of dumbing everything, and ultimately, everyone down to conform and produce a predetermined product or result. The problem comes in that young people are people, not ticks in boxes.

It seems ironic, but the reason underlying my truancy (climbing) was the driving force behind my education. But it was stifled.

The ideals of school were ‘average is good’ and ‘different is bad’. They reasoned that if I wanted to do things a bit differently, then all the kids might expect to be able to do the same! God forbid. I certainly don’t have any easy answers for exactly how it should have been. Sure, it isn’t easy to educate a huge amount of young people with little resources. But here are some thoughts from my experience.

Before I found a focus, I was in the same situation as many kids. I went to school and sat in classes where teachers spent a big proportion of the time keeping order and not developing interest. I didn’t enjoy it, and even as a kid I could recognise there was much time being wasted.

Once I started climbing, and began skipping school, I was the opposite from a draw on resources. I learned by myself, eagerly. Where before it took teacher time and resources to force feed me learning, now I took it in as fast as I could with no additional help at all. In an ideal situation, school should have been a place that focused this energy, and facilitated even faster, deeper and broader learning. But my teachers were too busy trying to get me to fit the straightjacket to get near this opportunity.

That’s not so much of an indictment as a sympathy vote for teachers.

The solution for youngsters – skip school and go climbing? Of course not! Try lots of things and find something that makes you want to stay up at night and read about video compression algorithms for whatever you want to shoot and get on youtube or something, or training for climbing, or… – whatever it is, it doesn’t matter. If you can find the psyche, you will need the skills. Like pure magic, gaining them won’t feel like chores anymore. But until you do find that passion about something, keep turning up…

NB: When I use the word ‘passion’ to describe a level of psyche, I mean a level of commitment that makes a lot of the people around you think you are pretty strange. A level of psyche that makes you think this is normal behaviour.

The solution for teachers? Find a way to communicate the power of the ideas, rather than force feed the detail of a world youngsters can’t connect easily to. It is possible, even within the constraints of ‘the system’. If you don’t dig deeper to find a way to achieve it, who will?


  1. From what you read about schools nowadays it's so sad to see that not much has changed.

    I was really lucky in that the school I went to encouraged you to think for yourself and brought out each student's individuality rather than wanting them to conform to the 'norm'. It used to make me look forward to going to school.

  2. Things are changing!
    It is now well recognised that the "old" system attempted to produce well qualified pupils but in general, no emphasis was given to applying their skills in real life situations. Much more focus should now be placed on pupils being creative and challenged by their teachers with failure no longer being taboo. Unfortunately the assessment system (the SQA) is lagging behind progressive teaching methods with teachers being caught in the middle.
    In your case Dave climbing is your vocation and there is currently a big resurgance in vocational education in Scotland. As for college course on bouldering techniques we may wait a while.