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I am a product of our society’s public education system, with a bit of private Christian education at the end (using the same model as the public schools but with Bible class and school uniforms thrown in.)
To be honest – I loved school in my elementary and middle school years. I was totally the class nerd, usually known as one of “the smart kids”. I wasn’t all that popular, but I took great pleasure in earnestly doing my assignments and receiving top grades with little effort.
Due to a series of circumstances, I ended up at 3 different schools during high school, including a cross-country move with my family the summer before grade 12, which made things tough. Despite this bump in my education, I managed to go on to a 4-year bachelor of arts degree, majoring in Philosophy, graduating at the top of my class with distinction.
I guess you could say that I was an intelligent kid with lots of potential and a love for learning. So what happened? Well, it’s a bit of an anti-climactic ending: I grew up, got married, had 3 kids, and am enjoying a completely fulfilling life as a homemaker and writer, with no end of dreams and hopes for the future. Awesome, right?
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Unfortunately not all children emerge as relatively unscathed as I. With the institutionalized system of education as it is now, there is little room for variation. The system is set up to churn out replicas of the “ideally educated student” instead of unique individuals with a wide variation of creative expressions of their gifts and abilities. As Sir Ken Robinson points out:
Many highly talented, brilliant, creative people think they’re not — because the thing they were good at at school wasn’t valued, or was actually stigmatized.” (TED: How schools kill creativity)
There are so many finer points of the educational system today that concern me. I am disturbed by several things, including:
– The homogenized classrooms of same-age students (not a natural phenomenon in the rest of society, and certainly not even effective, given that children all develop at different rates in different areas)
– The immense burden of homework placed on kids as young as the first or second grade effectively ending free play time altogether.
– The serious lack of exposure to the outdoors (this is a grave injustive expounded upon by this excellent book)
– The ridiculous and rigorous standardized testing that students are forced to endure (which does nothing to benefit them and is a terrible way to measure success considering that not all are “good at” taking tests which clearly skews results anyway)
– The lack of breadth of subjects covered (who decided that math, science, history and reading were the most important and that the arts, handicrafts, nature study, creative free play, foreign languages, handwriting, and character training were somehow inferior?)
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You may think of me as one of the lucky ones, having graduated from the system with a love for knowledge and a creative spirit still intact. I contend, though, that I emerged this way in spite of my education, not because of it. I wonder what expressions of my gifts and talents went undeveloped because I was too busy dutifully working my way through twelve long years of state-mandated curriculum created by a group of nameless, faceless “experts”.
Now for a disclaimer: I resolutely believe that there are some wonderful school teachers out there that work hard, love the kids, and are doing incredible things in those kids’ lives. Sadly, I think they are doing this in spite of the system, not because of it. I know that homeschooling is not an option for everyone – some have no choice but to send their kids to public school for various reasons – and I believe that it is certainly possible to flourish in that system. I just think that the odds are against it.
Once I understood the overarching philosophy of education as instituted in our current society, it was undeniably clear that I wanted something different for my kids.
This TED Talk, given by Sir Ken Robinson, is an absolutely mandatory piece to this conversation. If you have not yet seen it – I implore you to do whatever it takes to watch it as soon as humanly possible.
Vanity Fair described the talk with astuteness:
If there was a moment when our crisis in education hit critical mass it may well have been the date Sir Ken Robinson’s TED talk went up on YouTube. In just 19 minutes his wry but eviscerating presentation gave voice to what so many of us are living through: our schools are failing to recognize creativity; we’re failing to prepare the next generation for the challenges that lie ahead.”
In his book, Sir Ken Robinson says:
The fact is that given the challenges we face, education doesn’t need to be reformed — it needs to be transformed. The key to this transformation is not to standardize education, but to personalize it, to build achievement on discovering the individual talents of each child, to put students in an environment where they want to learn and where they can naturally discover their true passions.” ― Ken Robinson, The Element: How Finding Your Passion Changes Everything
Links & resources that have inspired and convicted me?
Can Too Much Homework Make Your Child Sick? Study Finds ‘Clear Connection’ Between Students’ Stress and Physical Illness | The Daily Mail (on a scholarly study published from the Stanford Graduate School of Education)
Thirty Minutes Tops | The Huffington Post (a brilliant piece of satire – not to misunderstood as being aimed not at the teachers, but in fact at ‘the system’ of industrialized education.)
School Starting Age: The Evidence | The University of Cambridge Research Department
Nurturing Children: Why Early Learning Doesn’t Help | Institute of Marriage and Family Canada
Why Are Finland’s Schools So Successful | The Smithsonian Magazine Online
When an Adult Took Standardized Tests Forced on Kids | The Washington Post (and the follow-up interview)
I read that last piece when it first was published a couple of years ago, and loved it so much. The school board member who took the test had this to say:
I won’t beat around the bush. The math section had 60 questions. I knew the answers to none of them, but managed to guess ten out of the 60 correctly. On the reading test, I got 62% . In our system, that’s a ‘D,’ and would get me a mandatory assignment to a double block of reading instruction.
It seems to me something is seriously wrong. I have a bachelor of science degree, two masters degrees, and 15 credit hours toward a doctorate. I help oversee an organization with 22,000 employees and a $3 billion operations and capital budget, and am able to make sense of complex data related to those responsibilities….
It might be argued that I’ve been out of school too long, that if I’d actually been in the 10th grade prior to taking the test, the material would have been fresh. But doesn’t that miss the point? A test that can determine a student’s future life chances should surely relate in some practical way to the requirements of life. I can’t see how that could possibly be true of the test I took.”
The undeniable truth is that the public system of education (as it is in North America) is failing to empower our children to find and live out their passions and gifts. Tragically, in many cases, it kills the inherent love for learning and creativity that exists in every child, and is producing generations of unfulfilled automatons in the cogs of society.
While I believe that there are excellent teachers who are doing amazing things, and that the system can, in fact, turn out success stories, I believe that it’s an uphill battle. It’s a battle that I do not want to fight, and so my husband and I have chosen to educate our children at home with the hopes of nurturing their creativity, uniqueness, and love for learning.
This has been a five year journey of coming to these conclusions and figuring out the path we want to take. Along the way, I’ve finally reached a conclusion for what I *do* want my children’s education to look like, and so I
will be publishing (have published…) a follow-up to this post called “The Homeschooling Philosophy That Finally Captured My Heart“. I finally found the answer to that question last summer, and I have been learning and preparing since then.
At some point soon we will dive into official homeschool lessons for our oldest child (currently 5.5 years old), and I cannot wait to tell you all about the philosophy that has won my affections – it’s exciting and inspiring!
What was your educational experience? Do you feel that it served you well?
AN UPDATE (2015/2016 school year):
Although we felt passionately about our homeschooling decision when we made it, our family recently came to the conclusion that public school – while not our ideal – was our best option in this current season of our family’s life. I wrote about that decision in this post. We continue to feel that homeschooling is the best option in an ideal world, but like I said above – there are many reasons why it doesn’t work for some families. We are currently acclimatizing to the school system, and figuring out how to best support and supplement our kids’ education in it. I hope to write more about this soon!