“School forced me to put parts of myself inside a box.” ~ by Sahar Beg
A first person account of what she gained and what she misses after she quit going to school — by 15yo Sahar Beg, an unschooling, self-learner
Ever since I stopped going to school in March, I’ve been crying a lot. In the beginning, it freaked me out a bit, how small things would make me so emotional. Only recently have I started to get an inkling as to why.
School forced me to put parts of myself inside a box and to accept a lot of things that I wouldn’t have otherwise. You’re expected to behave a certain way. You are supposed to like certain things.
People want to put you in a box with a label. You can either be the nice one, the cool one, the athletic one or the pretty one. You can’t be nice and pretty, that’s ridiculous! Everyone is always so surprised if you do something even slightly different than usual.
I was always terrified of saying something people wouldn’t expect. Now, it seems so stupid, everyone should feel free to be able to crack jokes, or be sarcastic or moody or cheerful or shy without being self-conscious, right?
But in school, it’s just a part of everyday life. This anxiety to fit in.
In school, people say something else, and mean something entirely different.
They say they won’t care if a girl and a boy become good friends. They say they don’t care whether you’re fat or skinny. They say they don’t care what marks you get.
But the thing is, people care a whole lot more than they say they do. Have you started waxing yet? Did you get your period? Do you get your eyebrows done? Did you see that TV show? Do you think that guy/girl is cute? Ew, you don’t like that band do you? How many marks did you get on that test? OMG, look how fat he/she is getting.
Most days it felt like I had been holding my breath the whole day. I would have so many things I couldn’t say, so many parts of myself I would have to hide. And I wouldn’t realize how tense I was until I would come home and just crash. I would come back from school completely exhausted and wouldn’t be able to give a reason as to why.
In the six months that I haven’t been going to school, I’ve been thinking a lot. Because that’s another luxury that school doesn’t give you time for. The time to just stare at the ceiling, listening to music. To be able to wonder about nothing and everything. Fantasize about crazy stuff.
As a teenager, I need a lot of that. Because in these moments, when you’re not specifically thinking about anything, important things that have been buried inside you come up.
And I think about them. About my two younger sisters and my parents and the world. And how once that used to mean the same thing. About my friends, and how they need spaces to feel safe too. About school and how easy it was for me to leave when my parents first offered me the choice to continue formal schooling or follow my own uncharted path. How I am glad that I was able to choose to leave, despite the uncertainty. To grieve, because I miss school so much. Conversations in the cafeteria I wish I could go back to, because there are so many things we leave unsaid. About the art rooms and music room and my favourite library. The dumb jokes that made our sides hurt. About all my beautiful teachers and how I never got to say thank you.
This is why I’ve been crying, I think. Because I left some things behind that I wish I could have taken with me. Scenes in books and movies, lines in songs, quotes and paintings that remind me of things that I don’t remember, but now at least I have the space to acknowledge that.
Emotions I didn’t have the time to feel are catching up with me now.
Time. Something else school doesn’t leave you with. Because 8 hours a day for five, sometimes six, days a week isn’t enough. No, we have a minimum of 2 hours of homework everyday, and on weekends, five.
It’s like teachers think that we have nothing better to do. Homework. God, that word still makes me want to scream.
We miss weddings, funerals, family gatherings, birthday parties. We want to paint, listen to music, dance, catch up with cousins, grandparents, uncles and aunts. We want to play, read and write for fun. We want to do nothing at all.
No wonder we aren’t in touch with our emotions. We don’t have the time to be.
My parents have always looked for alternate schools. In the beginning, we went to a small school that was just a short walk from our home. I was in one of its earliest batches. We barely had any homework, and there was enough time for sports.
But as it grew, it became more and more mainstream. The old teachers started leaving, and the new ones just didn’t seem to care for kindness. Many of them were mean and harsh and had absolutely no idea how to deal with children.
So, two years ago, I moved to another school. And I never would have been able to leave school completely if I hadn’t switched schools when I did. Because now I had seen that even though our new school was better, it wasn’t what I needed. I grew and changed and flourished a lot in the two years that I was there. I made amazing friends and had great teachers. But there were still enough people who really didn’t want to be teachers. Who brought anger and angst into the classroom and forced us to somehow learn to deal with them. People stuck in a time warp. And of course, the persistent problem of bullies for classmates.
But you know, that’s what all schools are like. It seems the best of them are still not good enough.
Unschooling gives me the freedom to learn whatever I want to learn, however I want to learn it. In school, there’s one standard pace, and you have to keep up with it. Those who can, are smart, and the others are labelled slow. But no two children are the same. We all understand things differently, and have different ways of seeing the world. Of course we’re not going to be able to understand all at the same time.
So many of these truths are so obvious. They are common sense, even for children. Yet we are supposed to pretend that we can’t really see what we do. That somehow what we feel terrible about is not so bad.
I’m glad I don’t have to live that pretend life anymore. I’ll figure out something more authentic on my own. I feel confident of that.
Sahar Beg is my 15-year-old daughter who has chosen to quit formal schooling in favour of the unschooling life in 2018.