This is dedicated to Mrs Bromley, the teacher at my high school who always did her very best for her students and kept her faith in me despite the odds. And to all the beautiful, loving teachers like Mrs Bromley.
Some of us get sweaty palms and short of breath when that musty smell of the school corridor hits our nostrils. Some of us become a quivering mess when talking with our child’s Head Teacher, despite our high powered jobs. Others of us are just quietly dealing with a low level sense of failure or need to keep busy, lest we get caught out resting.
Meet your School Wound.
How does the School Wound show up?
A few of these might be true for you. Or a whole bunch:
You feel guilty when you rest or play
You fill your days with busy-ness, shying away from intentional pleasure
You feel pissed off when it seems someone is trying to tell you what to do
You find it hard to hear criticism, it feels overwhelmingly frightening
You are hungry for praise
You are hungry for praise AND ashamed that you are so needy so never celebrate your wins or strengths
You accept things people say against your better judgement – people’s opinion of you, their bad ideas – you say “yes” to them all
You are scared of rejection, you assume new people won’t like you, it’s hard for you to put yourself out there to make friends
You are locked out of your own creativity
You have big ideas but never say them out loud or action them
You want something different for your life but are terrified to step out of the norm
You are constantly trying to squeeze yourself into someone else’s idea of who you should be or how you should spend your time
You are haunted by a sense of underachieving
You find it hard to establish and assert boundaries
You have a general sense that you aren’t good enough
Hey. Everybody. It is not natural to feel this way.
It is normal, in that many of us feel these things, but are they normal human feelings?
Are we born with them? We are not.
These feelings are the School Wound at work.
The School Wound is the pain of being raised in an institution that did not have your best interests at heart. It’s the shame from specific incidences that happened at the hand of the teachers or students who were cogs in a toxic system. It’s the oppression of your character and choices because of the long term and systematic messaging from your school days – an oppression that you are still living under today.
The feelings above are easily, directly linked to the many years you spent in a system that was never intended to bring the best out of individuals, but one that was only ever designed to create more effective workers for the industrial age.
Let’s take a look:
You feel guilty when you rest or play because you spent eleven to twenty of your formative years “working” – doing stuff you weren’t really interested in but were told was useful.
You fill your days with busy-ness, shying away from intentional pleasure because every minute of your day was scheduled apart from a half hour lunchbreak and there was a general sense that you couldn’t be trusted to use your time well.
You feel pissed off when it seems someone is trying to tell you what to do because it triggers in you the feeling of your worst teachers telling you what to do with your body and mind and punishing you when you didn’t do it.
You find it hard to hear criticism, it feels overwhelmingly frightening because in our school days we were never simply told how to change something for the better: making a mistake almost always came with punishment.
You are hungry for praise because you were raised with it as a currency, you only knew your work was good if it got good marks.
You are hungry for praise AND ashamed that you are so needy so never celebrate your wins or strengths because praise was just a part of the system and asking for what you needed or wanted wasn’t part of that system.
You accept things people say against your better judgement – people’s opinion of you, their bad ideas – you say “yes” to them all because it wasn’t an option to say no – it would have landed you in huge amounts of trouble.
You are scared of rejection, you assume new people won’t like you, it’s hard for you to put yourself out there to make friends because your idea of friendship was created in a wholly unnatural setting of people exactly your age freely interacting for only hyper-energised short stints of time in a pressure cooker of institutionalised competition.
You are locked out of your own creativity because you didn’t fit the particular artistic mode popular at that time in your school’s art department or because you were shamed specifically around creativity/ art (you are one of the 50% of the population who experienced art shame so severely that it impacted the rest of your life.)
You have big ideas but never say them out loud or action them because school wasn’t a place for big ideas, but for thoughts that fit exactly into the curriculum item being taught in that moment.
You have good questions but never ask them because at school there isn’t time for any questions or you didn’t want to be the annoying one asking questions all the time.
You can’t help comparing yourself with people all the time because the way the school system operates is through testing and ranking and how you succeed in school depends on how everyone else is doing.
You want something different for your life but are terrified to step out of the norm because to step out of the norm back at school would have led to you taking on a label with your peers and teachers, and possibly to social shaming or punishment.
You are constantly trying to squeeze yourself into someone else’s idea of who you should be or how you should spend your time because there were fixed ideas of who you could be at school, and you had to think carefully about your actions and how they would be interpreted socially.
You are haunted by a sense of underachieving because when you were young you were moulded to believe that “you are what you do” and you were trained to strive for good marks and high production rather than being able to simply be.
You find it hard to establish and assert boundaries because these are not seen as important within the school system, your say around what workload is manageable, or who you should spend time with, was constantly shut down.
You have a general sense that you aren’t good enough because impossible standards were placed on you when you were a child and you were asked to betray your wishes and interests and sometimes you refused to, giving you a label of naughty or bad that’s hard to shake, even though you are a grown up with responsibilities and a big heart.
Do you see how spending such a vast amount of our young years in an institution impacts who we are and what we believe about ourselves and the world?
As adults we spend so much time acting competitively and feeling rejected and being far too busy and remaining small like life is school even though none of these things reflect the real world.
Actually, flag that – perhaps some of these things DO reflect the real world. Because so many of us are carrying around a School Wound there can be shaming and punishment when people live different lives or choose joy or pleasure or refuse to be small and cooperative.
But they don’t reflect the part of the real world that we all love and aspire to, do they?
In our favourite parts of the real world we LOVE creativity and boldness and question-asking and risk-taking and diversity and new friendships and pleasure and rest!
It’s hard to access that way of being because we aren’t tending to our School Wounds.
Can I urge you to pay attention to your School Wound? To take some time looking at the pain and shame you are carrying? If you don’t, I fear that you’ll just keep wandering around keeping whole parts of your magnificent self under wraps, feeling guilty and burdened.
And this School Wound will continue its intergenerational festering. Because not only are we bearing the weight of our own burden, but the weight of our parent’s wound and our grandparent’s wound.
Fear of rejection and unquestioning obedience and a sense we can’t be trusted have become embedded in the human psyche and seen as simply normalised human experience, rather than the result of an inherently toxic education system.
Why won’t we tend to our School Wounds?
Perhaps we don’t talk about shame from the education system because we need to believe that the adults around us were all trying their best, or because it’s such an intrinsic part of our experience that we fear illuminating the pain it caused would be like digging explosives under the walls of our own home.
One of the things that happens with negative experiences as children is that we internalise them, or rationalise them. We say the struggle had to be worth it because education is SO important, I just need to move on, not probe this pain.
And then it’s time for our kids to go to school and we’ve adjusted so well to life with our School Wound that despite perhaps a small niggle we send our kids in to much the same environment.
It’s scary to admit that we are carrying a personal and a collective School Wound because perhaps this’d lead to questioning one of the most fundamental institutions we have. This is terrifying as institutions have been giving us a sense of safety for centuries. (Somewhere along the line we forgot that the education system was a social experiment and really, really not above reproach.
The time is now
The time to address pain and shame is always as soon as possible. One of the ways we can do this is to tell our stories. Brené Brown says: “As a shame researcher, I know that the very best thing to do in the midst of a shame attack is totally counterintuitive: Practice courage and reach out!” She also says “If we can share our story with someone who responds with empathy and understanding, shame can’t survive.”
For some of you the intensity of the bullying or shaming will be so much that you will want to talk to a pro. I highly recommend this if it’s something you can access. But talking helps, full stop.
Call a good friend and tell her about your School Wound, or write down all of your experiences of receiving this School Wound. Find a place you can receive empathy and be heard.
The time is now
The time is now. Again. Everything has changed. Millions of people have been living life without ANY school. Millions of others have been living life with school but minus punishment and shame and testing.
We do not have to go back to the grand social experiment that requires competition and testing and forced learning. We don’t have to return to business as usual.
Please hear that. You do not have to go back. There are other ways.
We have a window right now to re-imagine what we want childhood to before our children.
You can refuse to keep passing down The School Wound.
I hear parents telling each other, school isn’t so bad. It’s better than it was in my day.
My friends. School was bad then, is it worse now or better? All I know is a survey of young people published earlier this year by Barnados, identified school as being their most cited cause of stress: “for 65% of 12 year olds stress at school .By the age of 16, stress at school was a worry for 83% of children.”
65% of 12 years olds are stressed because of school.
Of 12 year olds.
Because of what? Because we collectively refuse to tend our own School Wound. Because we can’t face what it might lead to. Because it’s too painful to consider what we might have been if we weren’t turned over to an institution at such a young age.
Perhaps because we are still clinging to this lie that school is fundamental to childhood, to success, to whatever.
Refuse to pass down the School Wound
You could home educate – that’s what we choose to do and it’s, hands down, one of the best decision’s we’ve ever made. And now we are in this world we see how people from all walks of life make it work. We have chosen to unschool because we see it as the primary way for my children to keep their true nature in tact.
If you are considering continuing life without school and need more information, inspiration, hand holding and confidence come and find out more about my online course DISCO kicking off in a couple of weeks.
But if you chose to continue within the school system:
- Advocate hard for your children and their rights within school – don’t let your School Wound prevent you from getting involved when a teacher is acting badly or when the work is too much or when you child’s rights are quashed.
- Advocate for all children within the system – join campaigns against testing, start campaigns against shame and punishment and homework. Find your allies in the teachers at your school – you can bet there will be some who yearn for a non-wounding education for your children.
- If you have the means, support the many expressions of progressive education. There are lots of alternatives to mainstream school once you begin investigating.
- And, give your children clear messages that counter the toxic messaging they might be receiving at school. Remind them through your words and deeds that they can be trusted, that they are good, worthy and loveable.
Finally, my message to you.
If you’ve read this far I’m assuming your School Wound is throbbing hard.
And I want to say to you that the school system that did this to you was wrong and toxic. An institution caused you this wound and it should never have happened. You did not deserve to be shamed or bullied. You did not deserve to have your wild spirit or your creativity or your contentedness shut down.
Reader, you are worthy as you are.
You have nothing to prove.
You were born good and you have limitless gifts to offer the world simply by being you.
You can be trusted to make good decisions.
Your urges for rest and play and pleasure and meaningful work are worthy and important.
Questioning and disobeying authority is sometimes necessary and doesn’t make your naughty, but responsible.
Setting boundaries and saying no is healthy and is your right and sometimes the ticket to even more compassion, better relationships and work.
You don’t have to fit in.
People want to love you if you will let them.