Many things perplex me. Guns, theme parks, big weddings, cheerleaders, 4WDs, Brexit, eyelash curlers, Kardashians, Hoskings. So many puzzling questions. Why are people who have money considered more virtuous than other people? And here is another conundrum: when are children going to rise up?
"Everywhere, everywhere, children are the scorned people of the earth," the writer Toni Morrison said. (And yes, harden-up brigade, I know that there are also spoiled, entitled children, but rest assured they too suffer in their own lonely way).
Here is something else I don't understand.
We say we don't condone bullying, but as far as I can see, our schools are factories for shame. Our mainstream school system teaches compliance and conformity and belittles and stigmatises those who don't fit in.
The Government is holding a wide-ranging inquiry into the education system. So, for what it's worth, here is my submission: I suggest we scrap schools altogether.
I am serious.
Schools are not normal. Under ancestral conditions, children engaged in free play in mixed-age groups and did not participate in formal educational systems. Modern educational systems are mismatched with who we are.
The Victorians created schools to produce people to run their empire. Educator Sugata Mitra said these people must be so identical that you could pick one up from New Zealand and ship them to Canada and they would be instantly functional. The system was so robust it is still with us today, continuously producing identical people for a machine that no longer exists.
Let's be honest about the other reasons we have school: to give children a safe space to spend their day, to allow their parents to become contributing units of our capitalist society, to grind down children so they will put up with doing things they don't want to do, to impart knowledge in a regimented and systematic way. "Schools prepare us to have good skills for getting a high-paying job," one optimistic young person volunteered, bless his cotton socks.
Many parents can be productive without having to attend a dedicated workplace from 9-5. Schools are often far from "safe", and the ways of instilling discipline leave many children traumatised and angry. Or compliant and depressed. As education Professor John Morgan points out, many trendy educators these days are "hot for data" rather than hot for knowledge, like Shakespeare or those unfashionable things called facts. Oh, and those high-paying jobs your children were supposedly preparing for? Good luck with that.
Even if they make it to university, students there "are much more overwhelmed, much more stressed, much more anxious, and much more depressed than they've ever been. " That comes from Professor Laurie Santos, who teaches the most popular course at Yale University: a course not about professional success, but about how to be happy. She says: "I think we really have a crisis writ large at colleges in how students are doing in terms of self-care and mental health. Sadly, I don't think it's just in colleges."
I admit I'm totally biased. I hated school. I don't think I learnt anything there except a lifelong distrust of people and fear of the brutality of groups. And, of course, I'd concede it is good for children to learn to read and write (although they certainly don't need to do it at age 5). And you don't need to go to school to be educated. In fact, quite the opposite.
So what do we replace schools with? I don't have the answer. But maybe it's time to try something that isn't about compliance and conformity.
Developmental psychologist Alison Gopnik writes that caring for children is like being a gardener. "Our job as parents is not to make a particular kind of child … it's to provide a protected space of love, safety and stability in which children of many unpredictable kinds can flourish."
In my experience our schools still think they're carpenters – their job is to hammer children into the shape they want.
I'm a useless gardener, but I am trying to do this differently. I am the parent of two children who go to a very small independent school of about 45 children aged 5-18. There are no uniforms, no classes, no reports, no set lunch breaks, no tests, no sports, no school balls, no prizes.
You have to look hard to see a computer. There are lots of books and art materials and mattresses for making into forts. The kids are bright and delightfully eccentric. Yes, I know I sound smug at having found this amazing place. There should be more schools like this (although seeing how hard it is to keep a school like this afloat in the face of bureaucratic and financial challenges, makes you realise why there aren't more of them).
We can't know beforehand what unprecedented challenges the children of the future will face. But I do believe that shaping them in our own image, or in the image of our current trendy ideals, might actually keep them from adapting for the unknown future; a future, hopefully, without guns and theme parks and cheerleaders. Because maybe the hardest part of learning something new is not embracing new ideas, but letting go of old ones.