Education in Skellig
How we learn affects us all. Is there a right way to get an education? What is effective? These questions are of interest across the globe. In Skellig, written by David Amond, the author discusses the three different ways to get an education. Throughout the book, Almond suggests that there is no “right” way to get an education. First he gives us a balanced picture of and a symbol for regular school life. Second, he introduces the character Mina, who is homeschooled, showing both the advantages and disadvantages of homeschooling. Finally, the author emphasises the idea of lived experiences as a method of education.
In Skellig, school is potrayed as a place to learn respect, teamwork and value of hard work. Although Michael calls his teachers with pet names such as “Monkey Mitford… Rasputin… Yeti…” (11), the nicknames are more affectionate than disprespectful, and he takes pains to complete his homework. He also mentions classwork repeatedly despite Mina’s mockery of the constrained system: “is this really the kind of thing you do all day” (70-71). Despite limitations of the school, Michael still regards his lessons and his teachers with respect.
Above all, Almond symbolises school life through his repeated references to football. Football is a game played by teams with rules, where each player is a key part of the whole. This is shown when Mrs Danda states: “Your mates were looking forward to getting you back again. They say you’re the best tackler in the school. The reader infers from this that in formal schools, each team member is valued. While school is something he doesn’t love, it is clear that it frames his world. Almond shows us that school, though frustrating at times, allows social interactions and support for individuals.
However, Almond also argues for the benefits of homeschooling through the character of Mina. Unlike formal schools, homeschooling is about freedom and creativity. Mina’s mother is an artist who recites William Blake. Like her mother, Mina does the same. This is demonstrated when she says “See how school shutters you. I’m drawing, painting, reading and looking. I’m feeling the sun and the air on my skin.”
Mina reinforces Blake’s attitude to school: “Thank god I was never sent to school, to be flogged into following the style of a fool” (86). Almond uses similes and metaphors to highlight the connection between Mina and nature. Mina is described as a “crow” (86). She is frequently found near trees or watching birds. Her recitation of Blake’s “Tyger, Tyger” (70) is the best example of her strong connection with nature.
At the same time, Almond also shows the reader many of the criticisms against homeschooling. An example is when Michael says: “you might know about William Blake, but you know nothing about ordinary people”(86). In this passage Almond tells us that there are downsides to learning in a solitary environment. Homeschooling does not refine a person’s social skills. Almond is telling the reader that, unlike in formal schools, homeschooled children are wild and free but not always good at engaging with others..
Finally, Almond emphasises how both homeschooling and formal schooling cannot suffice without courage, faith and imagination. Michael and Mina show courage when they venture into the garage. It takes courage for them to remain friends despite being mocked by Michael’s friends: “that lass that climbs like a monkey” (80,84). It requires faith for them to accept that Skellig exists with no logical reasoning. This is shown when Mina says “we can’t know, sometimes we just have to accept there are things we can’t know” (110). Faith also tells them that they can help Skellig and that he can help them(130).
Both Mina and Michael need imagination for linking what they know from their schooling and their experience with Skellig–for example, their discovery and treatment of Skellig’s calcification/ossification (62). They also need imagination for trying to understand what Skellig is. This is displayed when Mina says “we have to allow ourselves to see what there is to see, and we have to imagine” (110). In Skellig individual experiences drive the story forward.
What we believe in and what we can believe in cannot be taught in a single way. Almond does not value one way over any of the others. However, he does acknowledge that the desire to learn is fundamental. Formal schools are symbolised by a team sport, football; homeschooling aims to experience the freedom of nature; and Skellig eptomizes the journey of an individual as he makes moral choices, accepts help from others and finds his own freedom.
The whole book is filled to the brim with teachings of all sorts. There are hidden messages, allusions and symbols everywhere, from the food of the gods (27 and 53) to Michael’s name, which is Biblical, and the repeated mention of Greek myths allows the readers to extend their knowledge even more. Skellig is truly a book that all age groups can explore and enjoy.