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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
America’s Dumbest Idea: Creating a Multiple-Choice Test Generation | The Guardian
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!
I went to public school from 1963 to 1967 (from first to fourth grade). At the time that I started first grade, there was this very strict nun in the parish school that I was raised in. My mother didn’t think that she would be so understanding. So she sent me to public school instead. She still sent me to that same Catholic school for religious instruction classes in order to receive Holy Communion and Confirmation. The classes were after school and on Sunday mornings after Mass, but they were taught by a different nun. Even though I went to public school, it was my mother’s job to raise my six brothers, my sister, and myself in the Catholic faith.
Back in the 60’s, both the Catholic and the public schools had very large classes. Just like today, a public school education back in the 60’s was a one-size-fits-all education. I had emotional problems. I was constantly crying and carrying on in class and yelling at the teachers. There were no special education classes in the public schools back then as well. And just like today, public school teachers back then just didn’t have the time to deal with special needs students. Therefore, after fourth grade in 1967, I went to special education school for the remainder of my school years.
The special education classes were much smaller than the public schools. The teachers were trained to deal with special needs students, and they gave them. individualized attention. I gradually calmed down and I treated those with respect. If I had gone to a regular high school, I wouldn”t have made it. I cannot do high school math (algebra, trigonometry, calculus) or science (physics, chemistry). In fact, I was terrible in math, science, and art when I was in school. But I was very good in English and spelling. I even developed my lifelong interest in travel when I was in special ed. I took books out of both the school and public libraries about different states, cities, and countries. Even as a teenager, I had maps of the world and the U.S. plastered all over my bedroom. Even though I went to special education school, I am very bright and intelligent. And besides, I was better off in special ed anyway.
Parents have the right to educate their kids as they see fit. There shouldn’t be a one-size-fits-all education. Education should be tailored to the needs of each child.
There are a few comments here voicing concerns about how well homeschoolers can function in the real world later in life, so I have a good example I’d like to share. My husband and his two older brothers were homeschooled their entire lives, (age 23, and 28 yr old twins), and my husband is the most social person I’ve ever met! He’s extremely confident, has excellent motivation/determination/decision-making and leadership skills, which has resulted in him being promoted to an E-5 rank at only 22 (and at just under 3 years in the Army), with an amazing reputation that he continues to build on. His brothers are 1) a Structural Engineer, and 2) a Geologist with a Master of Science. While my husband decided that college isn’t for him right now, his brothers have obviously flourished in obtaining and using their college degrees. Their homeschooling experience allowed them to participate in city sports teams/city-sponsored plays, music and art lessons according to their individual interests, and learning trades and hard work through community type jobs (my husband started working on a farm at 12, and later spent most of his teenage years working with/for a landscaper), most of which they would not have had opportunity or time for otherwise. My point is that most homeschoolers actually end up spending A LOT of time with people of ALL ages when encouraged by parents to get involved in the community, because they are ALREADY living in the “real world”, and so I would argue that most homeschoolers are actually better “socialized” than public schoolers, who mostly spend time with the exact same group of children their age from K-12. Through my husbands family, I have met tons of other homeschool families, all with different methods and curriculum’s, all of which have produced very successful children.
Alternatively, my public-schooled experience was the opposite. My parents were strict, so my typical day in high school was school until 3, straight to work at KFC until 9:30-10 pm, home to attempt hours worth of homework until about 1 am, low quality sleep until about 6 am, then waking up to get ready to do it all again the next day. I was rarely allowed any personal or free time, and I honestly didn’t have the time for it anyways. Weekends were for catching up on homework and school projects, and studying for tests that I mostly did poorly on. No matter my attempts to “apply myself” to my school work, I think my high school GPA was about a 2.6 at graduation. I am terrible at all levels of math and science, so much so that the math classes I was put in were Algebra 1, Algebra 2, Geometry A, and Geometry B, so that 1 full course of Algebra and 1 full course of Geometry took me 2 years to complete, each! I never made it to Calculus or Trig, like most others did, which left me woefully unprepared for college.
In conclusion, when done right, homeschooling can be an excellent option, and it is important to keep in mind that every child is different. Tons of children flourish in the public school system, while tons of children flourish through homeschooling. I just hope that everyone who can homeschool will consider it an option, as someone who desperately wanted that option and was denied it. You can bet that we will be homeschooling any children we have, unless they request otherwise!
One BIG reason to get your kids out of public schools, or any other school driven by federal funding money, is the astronomical over-diagnosing and recommendation to diagnose and medicate your child (aka: mosty boys) with ADHD (really inspired by the No Child Left Behind Law). I am a sub teacher, background in the medical field, and have two boys who are extremely involved in sports and the community. I used to be pro-public schools and that they are good in todays world. Ha! Once parents starting talking and opening up with each other, we found almost 100% of us were told by a teacher that our son shows signs of ADHD or ADD. That’s a lot! It always happenes right before the quarter of standardized tests ironically. And many of these boys, including my two, are straight A students with no academic issues and bored stiff. At first I thought we could do things differently at home such as get more sleep, eat better etc. but the school has an agenda and it doesn’t matter what you do or how hard you try, if the school’s budget is set to earn an extra amount of money each year off certain disabilities, by golly they will push it hard and happen to “find” kids who “have red flags”. Anymore it’s like walking into a car lot and being followed around by the annoying salesman that has an answer for everything.
Schools who are driven by their district score, to ensure and protect their budget, will find ways to filter out kids who are “at risk” for bringing that overall district score (not state score mind you which many students meet) and this is directly related to the standarized tests. The district we’re in is considered one of the top, wealthy districts around. Now I have my eyes opened to how it’s done and they do not have the kids best interest at heart. Once they filter out kids with “disorders” those children are put into a special ed category in which their standarized tests scores are no longer counted into the district score which the state looks at. Many parents did not realize that. I only know it because I interviewed the principal about it. So, no wonder at least 20% of mostly boys are considered with an disorder starting in kindergarten. Seriously? Some districts are worse than others with the drive but after talking to many parents outside our district, many find it to be the same. So, one big reason to homeschool kids. . . . . You’ll never have to worry about being sold on the ADHD epidemic that’s increased since the No Child Left Behind Act came into the scene leaving out accelerated classes for kids with straight A’s that get bored. Suddenly, they “must have ADHD”. Whatever! What a double whammy. Not only does the district take our property tax to teach our kids, they want to smack labels on them to get more money off your child. GREEDY! I’m done with public schools and their pigeonholing, not caring about the dangers of meds and labels with their catch phrase of, “a small dose of Ritalin or Adderall won’t hurt”. Job security for all of the school psychologists as well.
Amen! We sent our son to public school for kindergarten and first grade and throughout both years were continually confronted with phone calls and notes sent home from the teachers, telling us we need to see our pediatrician because they thought our son had ADHD. This despite the fact that our pediatrician did not believe he had ADHD or needed medication, and we had made that very clear to the school. Most of the things he was getting in trouble for were ridiculous. Just for being a child. Once we had a note sent home saying he was disciplined for spinning around in the hallway as they were walking to another classroom. Finally we realized that he was just bored and they wouldn’t move him to a more advanced level because of his “attention issues”. It’s just a vicious cycle. We pulled him out to homeschool after first grade, and two years later he is a much happier child and I have never regretted our decision.