Mainstream education presents the child with the additional stresses of large class sizes, a requirement to sit still and only move around when told to, a bombardment of often conflicting stimuli including video and computer-based resources, an approach that pits one child against another for teacher time, an overly long day and a sense that it is not learning which is important but filling in achievement cards and gaining stickers. It teaches the child to be passive, to curb their natural urge to move, to touch and to discover in favour of sitting and listening (or appearing to listen ) to what an adult has chosen to tell them, whether or not this corresponds with what they need to learn that day. It also places them at the mercy of the peers with the strongest personalities, since as one bullied child observed “when you’ve got so many children, teachers can’t ever solve the problem of bullying”. In any event, mainstream teachers feel they lack both the resources and the authority to keep children safe from bullying. They are well aware that if they tackle it, they will expose themselves to verbal abuse and much more dangerously, false and malicious accusations. Children’s behaviour, expectations and learning at mainstream schools is largely determined by the need to stay in with a particular group of peers, to preserve themselves from ostracism and to give them a sense of identity, the opportunity for which the mainstream school environment otherwise fails to provide. As the educationalist Lillard noted in the current system "Teachers are discouraged because it is impossible for them to meet the demands being placed upon them. They are asked to spend their days in the exhausting position of having to control and dominate children. They must herd, push, and pull them as one body through a set curriculum. Only those who have had to attempt the inhuman and unnatural endeavour could possibly appreciate the strain it places on the teacher". And also on the children.("Montessori- a Modern Approach" p150).
Increasingly mainstream curricula, whether in State or market driven private schools, are determined by the needs of industry. We constantly read that say “industry needs more programmers” and at once the Education Minister announces that such and such a change will be implemented to ensure that several years down the line, the State Education machine will be turning out the requisite number of programmers. It does not seem to occur to them that by then industry may well have moved on and that people whose education has been little more than training for one specific end, will find it hard to adapt. The variety and often contradictory nature of Government edicts on education over the last few years are testimony to the fact that State education is not based on a coherent understanding of or respect for the needs of the child. One Montessori teacher told of how she had over the years received several visits from government inspectors who passed on a variety of often conflicting directives as to how to teach, depending on the fashion of the moment. She observed to me; “ Recently the government advisor breezed in, and brightly suggested she had a brilliant new idea: phonics! I was to adopt this method as soon as possible” She noted wryly “ I have been teaching phonics for years, because I know it works well”. Indeed with hindsight, it is still a matter of concern and astonishment to me, that I trained as a State sector-teacher and taught in mainstream secondary schools for several years without any training in child development, or any awareness of children’s sensitive periods. Teachers in mainstream are an outstandingly resilient, talented and caring group of people. They are generally motivated to come into the profession and to stick with it, often against great odds because they really want to support children’s learning. Yet, a mainstream teacher’s primary contractual responsibility is not for the development of individual children but for the delivery of a set curriculum in a set amount of time and the demonstration that specific, constantly changing government targets are met. No wonder that very high numbers of them are stressed and many desperate to leave.
State education teaches children that it is not primarily their development, their passions and their needs which re paramount, but the needs and dictates of some obscure and often hostile adult agenda. It gives them the clear message that they are not significant as individuals but are there to be processed as a group. This is also true of many conventional private schools. It is little wonder that children in such an environment develop a protective shell constructed from the expectations of their peer group and cling to this, however hostile their peers may be to them. The result is that they travel around in their little social bubble, from lesson to lesson and that the teacher and the current course content are relegated to the level of wallpaper, as a backdrop to the main continuing event of who said what to whom.