Origins of the Magic Schoolbook

By David A. Cooper

Children are people: they have as great a need for freedom as everyone else, and yet most of them are forced to spend what ought to be the best years of their lives locked away in what are frequently suffocating institutions where their opinions can appear to be regarded as worthless. Most of my childhood was spent in a state of deep depression because of school: I was as keen to learn as anyone can be, but for the first nine years of school I was hardly ever allowed to learn anything at all. I felt as if I was serving an eleven year prison sentence just for the crime of being a child. All the adults were adamant that school was the best thing for me, certain that I'd look back on my time spent there as the happiest part of my life, but I can tell them now that they were every bit as wrong as I told them they were at the time: how am I supposed to be happy as an adult when so much of my childhood was stolen from me and put so completely beyond use? How can I be happy when I know that millions of children are going through exactly the same thing right now and that a substantial proportion of them do not like it? Whatever the intention behind them, the truth is that for many children schools feel like little more than child-minding prisons: they have just enough education tacked on to maintain the fiction that they are a force for good in the world, but their real impact is to prevent learning, to prevent happiness, and to prevent childhood. In school, children are simply "taught" the same things over and over again for many years, things which for the most part they already knew just through normal living and from watching television. This appalling situation can only be changed by allowing children to take control of their own learning, though it must be on condition that they do actually work hard enough to learn either at or faster than the traditional learning rate.
indentWhen you explore the content of this Web site you will be horrified when you realise just how little genuine teaching a primary school does. The few things that are taught are stretched out over many years by using the most inefficient teaching methods known to man: the great revolutions in teaching which you hear about so often in the news are invariably ones of style with absolutely no substance to them (a rare exception being the recent story about synthetic phonics, a method for teaching reading which is considerably more efficient than the old fashion for putting books in front of children and asking them to guess what the words say by looking at the pictures, but even here they've managed to choose one of the slowest and most oppressive systems of phonics ever devised). You occasionally hear stories about "child geniuses" who manage to pass a maths exam for 16-year-olds at the age of eight, seven or even six, but these are in fact normal, bright children who have been lucky enough to have access to real teaching and who have been motivated by the freedom inherent in a home education. Most children should be able to pass such an exam by the age of eight without difficulty, and they needn't spend more than a few minutes a day learning all the maths involved. The difficulties children have with learning are actually nothing to do with their age, but rather the result of inadequate instruction: many five-year-olds are already intellectually adult, having the full set of thinking tools at their disposal, but they are held back by their lack of access to adequate teaching and to useful knowledge. I want to change that situation by making the best teaching available to all children, but my top priority is to free children from the unnecessary imprisonment of school so that they can actually enjoy living - if they learn faster as well, then that's a bonus, but the most important thing is that they are allowed to learn how to live, because if they aren't given the time and space to develop a proper imagination, their future is likely to depend heavily on the substitute life offered by alcohol or drugs.
indentI'm now going to tell you a little about my experience of school so that you understand what led to the creation of The Magic Schoolbook. I was actually looking forward to going to school in the beginning, and my first day there wasn't too disappointing: we didn't learn anything that day, but I assumed we were just being given some time to settle in before we got started on some serious work the next day. However, I was more than a little annoyed the second day when we spent another five hours sitting around doing absolutely nothing - it looked as if everyone else was eagerly waiting for the learning to start too, but the teacher was completely oblivious. When it became clear that the third day was going to be as empty as the first two, I decided that we must be getting a whole week to settle in, so it wasn't such a surprise when the Thursday and Friday were also completely devoid of learning. I was very puzzled, however, when the folloing Monday also turned out to be completely empty because I couldn't see any good reason for it to be that way: we simply sat around again doing absolutely nothing for yet another five hours. Alarm bells were beginning to ring in my head by this time, but it was still too early to make a final judgement. On the second Friday I was struck by a thought: I had often wondered why my sister had never told me anything about all the exciting things I imagined she had been learning during her first two years at school, but what if she had kept quiet about it all not because she was jealously keeping it to herself, but because there was in fact nothing to tell? I took a look through one of the school books for primary 1 and was shocked to discover that even the maths at the end of it was ridiculously easy. I wandered into the primary 2 class area to examine the later pages of their maths book and was even more shocked at what I saw there, because it had hardly moved on from the end of the first book. My worst fears had been confirmed: my sister really had been taught absolutely nothing in two long years of school! I watched the primary three class and tried to listen in on what they were doing, but from what I could tell, they were doing nothing of any value. A conversation with my sister later that day confirmed that her primary three class wasn't learning anything either. Was it going to go on this way for the full seven years of primary? That was the day when my depression began; an entirely rational one which stayed with me all the way through school.
indentThat day when I realised the truth about school, I wondered if there might exist a book which spelt out everything we were supposed to be learning at school as concisely as possible, explaining it all in such a way that I could just read straight through it and learn everything in just a few months: surely then I would never have to go to school ever again! It would be a magical book with the power to rip the prison bars off the windows of every school in the world, freeing every child from at least seven long years of utter emptiness. Sadly, no such book existed: I knew this had to be the case because there quite simply wouldn't have been any schools if there was such a book (or at least, not the kind of school that you'd have to be forced to go to). The only schoolbooks I ever saw contained little more than repetitive exercises, with no attempt to explain how they were to be done, so there was never any way for me to get far enough ahead to prove that I was capable of learning everything on my own. I spent many years wishing someone would write that magic schoolbook so that the rest of my childhood might be salvaged, but it never appeared, and so all my hopes gradually died. I vowed right at the start that I'd write the book myself some day if no one else got round to it first. Well, no one else ever did, so I've kept my promise and written it myself, though it's now become a Web site rather than the paper book I had originally envisaged. I actually started trying to write it twenty years ago as a set of books, but I found it virtually impossible to get access to children to test everything to make sure it all worked, so it's taken twenty years longer than planned. Anyway, because the book has now become a Web site, I will be able to fine tune things in response to feedback, so it doesn't matter if there are a few faults here and there: the important thing is that all the key ideas have now been tested and I know that they work when they are correctly applied.



Most of the rest of this is probably way too far ahead of its time to be taken seriously by the mainstream, but another twenty years from now it will be considered so obvious that everyone will ask why we took so long to act on it, another entire generation having lost their childhood to the traditional school system while people dithered.

Safety issues:-

Do children really need to be locked up throughout childhood to gain an education? Of course not! This Web site has been put together to demonstrate that they can learn many times faster than they do in school while at the same time spending far less time on their work - just try it out and you will see for yourself. But do children need to be locked up throughout childhood to keep them safe? Well, what's so safe about a school system which prevents children from finding a purpose in life, leading them instead to grow up believing life is all about drugs, drinking and shopping? What's so safe about a system that cuts them off from society so that they have to stick knives in each other in a desperate attempt to gain the recognition they desperately crave? Society is sick: children want to be recognised as the brilliant people that they are, but instead we lock them away and keep them completely cut off from the real world. Children long to be seen on television, but we blank out their faces in case a weirdo might stalk them. When we pass children in the street we are required to avoid looking anywhere near them, making them feel as if they have no right to exist. But children actually want to be included in our society, not stuck away out of sight in a ghetto, so what do we think we're doing? They need to be let loose to play so that they can work out what life is actually about. It is dangerous adults that need to be removed from the streets - not the children.
indentIs it really so impossible for us to have a natural society in which children and adults can talk to each other freely and make friends according to their shared interests? The paranoia about paedophiles that runs through modern society is a ludicrous response to a problem which causes far greater harm to children and society than the paedophiles do directly. I'm not saying that paedophiles aren't a serious problem: I've seen for myself the extreme mental damage that can be done to a child by a paedophile who had apparantly only done enough to merit a caution from the police (the punishments are nowhere near strong enough to fit the crimes), and the fact that the same man was subsequently able to go on to abuse half a dozen children living in his street also shows that there's something far wrong with the system for monitoring these people once they have been identified, but surely there's got to be a better way to solve the problem than imprisoning all the potential victims! Why can't all known paedophiles be tagged for life as soon as they're identified and then put in prison for life if they ever tamper with the tags or go anywhere they aren't allowed to? Why can't they be banned from living in or visiting parts of towns where children live: is it beyond the wit of man to provide child-free zones of housing for the many people who can't stand noisy children where paedophiles could live too? Is it rational to remove the names of paedophiles from a register of sex offenders once a certain number of years has gone by? No: they often become more dangerous as they get older. I think we should be systematically putting adults into FMRI scanners for sexuality tests to identify paedophiles before they have a chance to harm children in the first place (show them pictures of naked people of different genders and ages to see what lights up their brain): some of the scientists working in this field claim that the technology to do just that already exists, and the expense would surely be trivial compared with the gains. We could clear paedophiles right out of society if we tackled the problem intelligently, and we would then be able to give children all the freedom they deserve without constantly fearing about their safety.
indentOf course, it will take time to prove that the FMRI scanners really are able to identify all paedophiles accurately, but there are plenty of obvious things we could do to make things safer for children. Ideally, all girls and all well-behaved boys (i.e. the non-agressive type who never grow up to be abusive men) should be encouraged to take up Karate, Tae Kwon Do or Kung Fu: classes in one of these ought to be available in every primary school. More importantly, children should also be given and taught how to use attack alarms of a special design: they should have more than one of these on them, hidden in unpredictable places in their clothing so that they can guarantee being able to set one off, and they should be able to set them off just by knocking them and not immediately cancelling them (which might be done by pressing four buttons in a certain order). These alarms could also be tied into the mobile phone networks such that anyone nearby with a phone could be alerted to the possibility that a child needs help and then be directed to the scene. These simple devices would make children safer than they've ever been in history: we could make it as good as impossible for children to be abducted and killed by strangers. That has to be worth doing, and yet no one appears to be bothering to act on this idea.
indentHowever, attack alarms and self defence training can't stop children being abused by the kind of paedophile that might be known to them: the ones who make friends with them and find weaknesses which they can exploit to make them keep quiet about what's going on. These paedophiles are the cleverer ones who charm their way into people's lives, and they are experts in making themselves seem highly likable so that they are above suspicion. They are very hard to spot, but the children they target will necessarily find out, and that's where we can make sure it stops. We need to have a system in place where children can report incidents without all hell immediately breaking loose: children usually keep quiet about these things because they know that as soon as they tell, control will be taken away from them and dozens of people will be informed about what's happened to them without their permission, including their parents. Children need a guarantee that they will remain in full charge of who is told and who is kept in the dark. They need to be able to report an incident to an organisation which will then move in on the paedophile immediately and work out the best way to get proof. Those potential paedophiles could easily be spied on using modern technology. If they are indeed found to have abused children, then all the children who reported that individual would be rewarded with a substantial amount of money (which should come from confiscated property belonging to convicted paedophiles), so it would swing the balance irreversibly in favour of children telling, and the paedophile would typically be caught and put permanently out of circulation after just one or two incidents, which is far better than the way things happen now with abuse going on repeatedly for many years before the child finally gets up the courage to tell, added to which, if paedophiles were likely to be caught that quickly, most of them would never dare touch a child in the first place. And what about the danger of false claims? Well, false claims would never count for anything because there would obviously be no proof, and the person they made the false claim against would not be disadvantaged by it beyond being spied on (which is harmless if you're not a criminal). We could implement this system tomorrow if we put our minds to it.
indentThere are other safety issues, so let's look at those. Thirty years ago, over a thousand children died in accidents in England and Wales every year, but now only two hundred die in accidents a year. This is clearly a huge improvement, but what are the causes of this massive reduction? Nearly half of all the accidents happen on the roads, so the introduction of seat belts was probably a major factor (the statistics aren't available anywhere in a genuinely useful form so it's hard to tell what happened, absolutely no distinction being made by RoSPA between children being run down by cars and those dying inside cars). Thirty years ago, I was driven about in cars which only had seat belts fitted in the front. Even so, I'm sure a lot more children were run down by cars in those days simply because so few are allowed out today, but you could say the same about adult safety: lock all adults up and you'll see the number of them dying on the roads plummet in exactly the same manner, so does that mean it would be right to keep them all locked up to keep them safe? In order to live good lives, you have to take a certain amount of risk and some people will inevitably die in accidents, whereas avoiding all risk results in a completely wasted life spent in extreme frustration and depression (which is likely to lead to experimentation with drink and drugs). Is life so much better as an adult than as a child that it's worth squandering your childhood in order to have an infinitesimally better chance of becoming an adult? I certainly don't think so, because life as a free child is the most magical form of existence, and to miss out on that is a tragedy. Do adults have the right to make such a decision for their children? I don't think they do. What they can do is insist that their children be trained to be as safe as possible so that they are prepared for any situation they might reasonably find themselves in, but such training is happening less now than it ever did in the past (with children not even being taught how to cross roads properly) - most parents now seem to be deciding instead that their children are to be treated as if they are complete morons who need to be locked up. The result is that they're bringing up a generation that has no idea how to live.
indentIf you look up the statistics that are available, you'll find that the main cause of death after road accidents is drowning. At the moment I'm looking at RoSPA's stats for England and Wales in 2008 (207 in total, 91 of those on the roads). Most of the drownings (17) happened to children of age one to four (11), so it's clearly mainly toddlers in baths and garden ponds. Only one child in the five to nine group drowned. After that comes fire (10), and again it's the children of one to four who are the main victims, being less able to get themselves out of a burning house. Next on the list are poisonings and falls (8 each). Children in the age range ten to fourteen are most at risk here, but what are they being poisoned by? That information isn't available. What are they falling from? Again no information, but we now live in a crazy society in which a head teacher can be found guilty of a crime for not making sure a couple of steps in a playground weren't properly supervised - a young child died after jumping off them and trying to fly like Superman. You simply can't legislate against that kind of accident, and yet we act as if we can. A third of all the deaths in the statistics (73) are labelled as "other accidents", so that isn't very helpful, but each of these will be less common than poisonings. I have to say, I was absolutely amazed to see how few deaths there were in a year in a country with the best part of ten million children in it. Only 36 children of age five to nine (inclusive) died in accidents, and 21 of those were road accidents.
indentThe reality is that even thirty years ago the numbers were small. During my entire childhood, only one child in my community died in an accident. My village/town had a primary school with 500 children in it, plus a secondary with a thousand. The boy who died was run down on the pavement (that's a sidewalk if you're American) by a car while walking either to or from school (I forget which) - he managed to push two younger children into a driveway and saved their lives, but it cost him his own (he probably didn't realise that by pushing them ahead he would slow himself to a halt). There were plenty of busy roads, and plenty of stupid children about just asking to be run down, and yet somehow their survival instincts kept them alive: children evolved to be survivors. The real answer, of course, if you want to make roads safer is to reduce the speed of the cars, and most of our residential streets now have 20mph limits on them. It should actually be safer for children on the streets today than it ever was in the past, and yet few of them are allowed out: that isn't their choice, but it should be. Children should have the right to play outside and explore the streets and woods like they did in the past, because it quite genuinely wasn't dangerous. Parents should not have the right to keep them in, but they most certainly should have the right to put them to the test to see if they're behaving sensibly and to train them to stay safe, requiring them to pass those tests in order to gain their freedom.


My vision for a new education system:-

A lot of people don't understand why I always hated school, because they apparently absolutely loved it, and it is often claimed that most children love school today. Well that's absolutely fine with me whether it's true or not: I don't want to take school away from them if they really think that's the best place to spend their childhood. I just want children who don't fit into the current school system to be allowed to spend their childhood in the way that suits them rather than in a way designed to suit teacher-pleasers, and that means that they should be free to learn as fast as they like (so long as they work hard enough to ensure that they learn at or above a set minimum rate) and that they should be given as much freedom as possible, within limits appropriate to their own individual abilities to keep themselves safe, and also provided that they behave responsibly and don't go round causing trouble. They should be as free during term time as they are during the holidays, and they should be allowed to decide for themselves whether to go to school or not on any given day: they might decide to go to school on rainy days, but to spend all the dry days playing in parks or woods (whatever's available where they live). They should also be able to go to school during the holidays if they want to, because the schools should never close: what's the point of a six-week summer holiday if it rains the whole time? Some children might never need to attend school at all, except to sit occasional tests to prove that they are learning fast enough (and also so that their welfare can be monitored). Clearly there will always need to be somewhere for children to go if they genuinely need to be watched over and there is no one else available to look after them, and school is the obvious place for that, but they should not be dictated to as to how to spend their time there. Space within schools should be available where they can do their own thing with minimal supervision, while the library, music room, art room, gym, playing fields, video-editing facilities, etc. should be open for them to use. Teachers should be available to help and guide them, but the children should be in full charge of all their learning, and of their play.
indentMost children will in future use school in this new way, coming and going when they or their parents decide that they can. If a child's parents are both at work, that child might be able to spend the day at a friend's house rather than going to school, and the school system should allow this. They shouldn't be tied to any particular school either: they should be able to attend whichever one is most convenient on any particular day. This will also give them a wider range of friends to choose from if there is more than one school near their home. Older children who have proved that they can look after themselves might be allowed to spend all their time playing outside if they want to, far away from both home and school and completely unsupervised: evolvution designed us to spend our childhood in this way and it is totally unnatural to have this freedom heavily restricted. I never understood why my freedom had to be so tightly controlled while totally uneducated children in third world countries were allowed to wander freely many miles from home without anyone obsessing about their safety: we evolved to be survivors, and while accidents do sometimes happen, they can happen in a school as easily as in the world outside. Apart from the few children who have never really woken up properly, the only ones who might actually be safer when locked up in a school are the idiots who play on railway lines and climb into electricity substations, but I can't see why all the responsible children should have to have their childhood stolen from them just to protect the irresponsible minority. Does anyone seriously think that first-world children are mentally inferior to children in the developing world and need to have adults with them holding their hands until they're into their teens? I could look after myself perfectly well when I was five: the only things I wasn't fully on top of were situations involving agressive dogs (though you can blast them with ultrasound these days to repel them), and I didn't react too well to cuts and scrapes, but young children are still capable of getting themselves home with minor injuries even if they do make a lot of noise about it and cry a lot - this is simply a defence mechanism designed to attract adult assistence, and we only lose it as we get older so that a person injured during a hunt won't scare off the quarry or to avoid unwanted attention.
indentChildren should be given an amount of freedom directly related to how sensible, responsible and knowledgeable they are, with their age being completely ignored: some five-year-olds should be given more freedom than the average ten-year-old, so long as they can prove that they are mentally on a higher level, and they have to be given the opportunity to prove which level they have reached, because restricting their freedom more than is necessary for them as individuals is mentally very harmful to them - it is extremely frustrating to be treated like a moron when you know full well that you are not one, and very unfair when you go out of your way to be well behaved and fully responsible only to be treated no better than the worst of the trouble-makers purely on the basis that you're the same age as them. Good children need to be rewarded, and if you reward them with more freedom, you'll encourage the badly behaved ones to sort themselves out so that they can gain more freedom too: we currently treat all children the same, so there is absolutely no advantage for anyone in being good, and there are even situations where the badly behaved ones are rewarded for not doing something bad on the odd occasion, thus actually making them better off than the children who always behave well (which is crazy). The more responsible children should also be able to supervise those who would ordinarily have less freedom so that everyone's freedom can be maximised (though they should never be forced to supervise anyone they don't trust to behave well), and training them in first aid would obviously increase their right to look after others in this way. This whole business would result in a massive change in children's culture where the responsible ones would become the "cool" ones that everyone wants to be friends with.
indentAdults from the community (those who are considered safe, many of them retired) should be able to help out in the school, sharing their knowledge with children who have the same interests, running clubs, organising trips, etc. There are masses of safe adults who would love to get involved with children in this way, but they don't because they're shut out by a paranoid society which has lost touch with reality. We are designed to love children and to want to look after them, and we are designed to enjoy their company, just as they are designed to enjoy ours. Just seeing the face of a child causes chemicals to be released in the adult brain that makes that adult feel happy, and if adults are denied all contact with children they can easily get depressed, just as children get depressed when they are shut away from the world. I spent most of my early childhood longing for intellectual contact with interesting adults who could answer my questions about all manner of scientific issues, and now that I have become the kind of adult that I would have loved to have known as a child, I live in a society which is so sick that I hardly ever speak directly to children at all. I'm going to say something now which most men are too scared to say for fear that it will be misinterpreted: I love children, and I get deeply depressed when I am cut off from them for any length of time. They are the light of the world: they give us our reason for living. When I see children playing, I often want to join in, but of course I'm not allowed to. Maybe I'm not normal, but that's how I am, and I'm sure I'm not alone. I expect that there are huge numbers of people like me who should be involved with children but who currently aren't: we should be in there with them exchanging ideas and expanding their minds, mentoring them and acting as positive role models, inspiring them to get involved in all manner of positive things that will lead them towards the better pathways through life. If you bring them up in concrete prisons which cut them off from society, it's too late to change most of them by the time they're let out because they tend to become fixed in their ways and simply aren't prepared to give anything a go. They end up with nothing but drink, shopping and Facebook in their heads, because that's what they think life is about.
indentWith this new kind of school there will also no longer be any meaningful distinction between a home-educated child and a school-educated child: this Web site already allows home-educated children to take full control of their own learning, but when schools get into line with it, these children will be allowed to go to school if they want to and as often as they like, taking part in any activities on offer which appeal to them: they will no longer be forced to grow up in such unnecessary isolation. Another advantage of this new school system is that parents will be able to take their children away on holiday at any time they please and for as long as they want: it would have no negative impact on their education because they wouldn't miss any vital steps while they're away. Yet another advantage relates to separations: children are often used as a weapon between divorcing parents, and one parent invariably ends up feeling that they have lost everything when the other wins custody. This occasionally results in children being killed by a suicidal parent, but in a great many other situations it leads to deeply depressed people losing their children when they absolutely didn't deserve to. This new education system will allow children to be shared exactly 50-50 between their separated parents not just during the holidays, but throughout term time too, thus removing the children from the battle completely. Many cheating women currently divorce their husbands secure in the knowledge that they will almost certainly gain custody of the children just because they are women, and the government will then rip money off these impoverished men to send it to the cheating women even if they've married the wealthy men they cheated with and are absolutely rolling in money: the new system would bring all of that nonsense to an end.
indentPeople often ask, what would happen if children simply can't be bothered learning or if their behaviour is so bad that they don't deserve more freedom than they have now? Well, such children should obviously be forced to go to school full time in the standard way, sitting in classes all day and having to do whatever the teacher tells them to do. They will quickly learn how to behave properly so that they can gain their freedom, and they will be motivated to work hard so that they can then maintain it. Society will gain enormously from this new way of doing things: the oppressive nature of school currently turns many children bad, setting them up for lives of drug taking, crime and prison. The new system will reward them all for behaving well, turning out good citizens who will transform our future society. Children who have genuine learning difficulties will be able to get the full attention of specialist teachers who will do their best to keep them learning at the minimum rate while taking up as little of their time as possible, thus allowing them to be as free as possible while still gaining a high level of education. Ideally, children should also be paid for teaching themselves as they will be saving the state a fortune. Having such a state system of pocket money would additionally help to ensure that children from poor families don't feel so left out of things. As much as half the money used to educate a child under the old school system should be made available for the child to earn in return for learning independently, while most of the rest could be saved (to reduce tax), only a fraction being needed to cover the cost of that child using the school and its facilities from time to time and seeking the odd bit of assistance from a teacher, although the children could pay money to the school if they want to get involved in the more exotic activities and trips that may be on offer.
indentI have no doubt that Magic Schoolbook will make a big impact on the world when it eventually takes off, though this kind of thing can take years to be noticed: it concentrates entirely on real learning, making it clear what is required learning and what is optional, allowing children to jump past any parts which are already known to them so that they can get on with the things which are genuinely new and which they most urgently need to study. It also allows them to pursue their own interests, studying a subject all the way up to the top level if they want to, even if they are still only five years old and just keeping up with the minimum learning rate in every other subject. Freedom of this kind is essential if children are to achieve their full potential, and many children are unrecognised geniuses who need to be able to get to the edge of human knowledge as early in life as possible if they are to achieve big things: they need to set their minds up for highly specialised kinds of thinking, something which may be impossible to do later in life. To become a top chess player you have to start the hard work while very young, and the same applies to any other kind of brain-intensive activity, and likewise to sport, where the younger you start, the better your chances. I expect Magic Schoolbook will be attacked ferociously by many, but quality will inevitably win out: the teaching methods used throughout this site absolutely wipe the floor with the old methods. It's time to get rid of all the child-minding prisons and replace them with real learning institutions which liberate the world's children so that they can live and to learn, because up to now they quite simply haven't been allowed to do either. Spread the word, and start the vital work on transforming your school today.

Children's rights and responsibilities under the new system

At the moment, children officially have a "right" to a free, compulsory education. That's actually a mixture of a right and a duty, so it's rather badly worded, but the duty part is fair enough: children should have a duty to make reasonable efforts to acquire a set minimum level of education appropriate to their abilities so that they can be useful members of society who are capable of pulling their weight. However, the actual business of being institutionalised in schools is not a requirement, though many governments don't seem to understand that. Provided that children behave responsibly and don't fall short of what is required of them educationally, there should be no automatic requirement for them to have their freedom restricted in any way. Restriction of freedom should only be involved where there are genuine safety issues. In some locations it may be completely impossible for children to be on the loose, no matter how sensible and well behaved they are, but this would only apply to extreme environments where children shouldn't really be living. We can't sort out all environmental problems of that kind overnight, but everyone needs to be aware that children have a psychological need to get out of the cage. They can understand restrictions in their freedom where they are rational, but the frustration when the restrictions don't make sense are nothing short of torture.
indentIt is most important at this stage to spell out what children's rights should be within a school which they are wrongly or rightly forced to attend. If they are well behaved and put in sufficient work to learn at a pace appropriate to their abilities, there are certain rights which they should have that they are currently denied, and these relate primarily to how they are expected to spend their time in school. Let me spell them out: no one has any right to force a child to spend time drawing or painting, a common activity used by teachers to kill time - if children want to draw pictures, they'll do it happily enough, but why shouldn't they just be allowed to go outside and run around instead if that's what they'd rather do? No one has any right to force a child to take part in "musical" activities (because they are frequently indistinguishable from torture - if you make them optional they might actually become fun, while those who misbehave should be banned from attending them so that they don't spoil things for the others). No one has any right to force a child to take part in any kind of artistic activities at all because if the quality of teaching is good enough, they'll want to do it anyway. You can encourage them, but that is as far as it should go. No rewards should be withheld for non-participation. Children have a moral right to opt out of any lesson, class or learning situation of any kind if they are able to do so without falling behind the learning schedule expected of them: if they know that the teaching is of low quality and that they can do better on their own, they should be fully entitled to do something else instead and to decide for themselves what that something should be, just so long as it is not disruptive. The same applies to homework: it should be entirely optional for all those who are keeping up with the pace of learning expected of them. Homework should also be optional for those who are failing to keep up with the pace expected of them, so long as they are well behaved: school takes up far more than the optimal amount of time for serious learning per day already, so any additional work is going to be counterproductive. If such children want to take time out of classes during the school day, they could be allowed to do so if they agree to make up for it by doing homework to compensate, so in such circumstances it would be fair for that homework to be compulsory. It is also fair for homework to be compulsory if children waste lots of time in lessons by misbehaving, but it should never need more than half an hour to complete: children who misbehave like that probably can't help themselves, so even half an hour of homework is a substantial chore for them, and it may be impossible to do in any case because of difficulties at home (e.g. some children have to spend the whole evening trying to stop their father beating their mother - they'll never tell you that, but it happens all too often - back off if they get upset when they can't explain why they couldn't do their homework because the fact that they're upset is proof that it is not their fault that they haven't done it). If the school has an outside within its bounds, children who are well behaved and who are keeping up with the learning schedule expected of them should be entitled to spend as much time as they wish in that outside space, so long as they are taking sensible precautions not to be damaged by too much exposure to the sun or anything else that might impact negatively on their health, and so long as they aren't interfering with organised sporting activities or other outdoor lessons. Any school which breaks these rules is quite simply guilty of child abuse, so if you work in a school, take a good look at how you're running things and make any necessary changes. History will judge you very badly if you don't make serious efforts to sort this mess out now.