Few institutions in America are more revered and romanticized than our public school system.
But I'm not interested in perpetuating a myth, especially when the future of our kids is at stake. So I'm going to start off by barbecuing a sacred cow:
Schools are for showing off, not for learning. When we enroll our children in school, we enroll them into a never ending series of contests—to see who is best, who can get the highest grades, the highest scores on standardized tests, win the most honors, make it into the most advanced placement classes, get into the best colleges. Peter Gray, Freedom to Learn
Deep down we know this, but we don't want to admit it. We've invested far too much, and now we feel like we have to keep this system in place. Too many people are in positions of authority, power, and respect, and there is no way they are going to sacrifice any of that for the good of our nation's children.
So - year after year, parents put children in school because they believe it is the best - and sometimes only - way children can learn and become successful adults.
And yet we also know that every child learns at home, and this is no more evident than during their early years. Why do we seldom give ourselves or our children the credit they deserve?
Because this kind of learning isn't "organized" or "tested", or given a stamp of approval by a professional educator.
But wait a cotton-pickin' minute - just think of all the things children learn at home with their parents in an unstructured and natural way:
- Crawling, walking, and eye-hand coordination.
- Letters, numbers, colors, shapes.
- Language skills like listening, speaking, and object identification.
- Control over body functions.
- Emotional self control.
- Absorbing clues about human interaction and manners by imitation and instruction.
- Building from memory, creating from their imagination.
- Basic math and reading skills.
Why is it that our society is so incredulous about the idea of education continuing at home past the age of five or six years old?
I think we revere the public education system because it offers us a sense of security - it is an investment every taxpayer contributes to, it is organized and staffed by professional educators, and let's face it - it's what everyone else does.
The problem is that this sense of security is false. Attending a public school is not a guarantee that a child will master the necessary skills and content in order to be successful in their chosen career path, assuming that they choose a career path before graduation.
We recognize children learn a great deal about the world by playing, singing, daydreaming, and generally goofing around. Then we come along with age-grade classrooms, desks, textbooks, tests, and "Sit down and be quiet". Children must sustain this suspension of their natural desire to move and ask questions for six or more hours a day, five days per week, and then we have the nerve to wonder why children become reluctant, stressed, and even antagonistic toward learning.
Why do we continue to think learning is a definitive step-by-step process, regardless of the evidence to the contrary.
This harmful trend continues all through school, with teachers becoming the 'enemy' and peer dependence growing by leaps and bounds. Children who enjoy school are labeled (brainiac, geek, nerd, teacher's pet) while athletes are honored regardless of their GPA, and Rebels Without a Cause are looked upon as cool.
Eventually most of us realize that learning did not stop when we left those brick-and-mortar institutions to venture out into the real world. If we did not acquire this knowledge at home or school, we suddenly had to learn skills such as:
- living within a budget
- deciphering utility bills, insurance paperwork, and medical records
- maintaining a household
- doing minor repairs and basic automobile maintenance
- caring for children
- proper nutrition and exercise
- handling complex financial and legal issues such as purchasing a car or home
- learning about how political ideologies affect our daily lives
- observing current events and their impact on our society
- acquiring job knowledge
- learning to collaborate in a variety of settings and situations
- adopting new technologies.
These accomplishments aren't graded or recognized, and we often take them for granted. When we need to learn something new, we just do it. We find a resource or class or mentor and we get it done. We aren't sitting around waiting for permission to turn the page or skip to the chapter we need at that moment. We are almost never tested, nor are we labeled by the federal government as being below average, above average, or advanced. We learn to have a sense of individuality and value for our unique qualities, not how well we can fit into a box.
How do we correct our doublethink about learning? I'll admit it isn't easy. We've accepted the traditional classroom as the best method for academic instruction and standardized testing as the best measure of its success for several decades. It takes time to unlearn those methods and deschool ourselves and our children. Even when we've homeschooled for several years, we tend to fall back on the safety net of rigid scheduling, lesson plans, and textbooks.
Become aware of how much we all learn about the world around us by simply interacting with it.
Realize that the goal of education is not just to acquire knowledge but the skills needed to apply it.
Value the importance of teaching our child to be a person of good character, responsible for making a positive impact on our family, community, nation and world.
Pay attention to your child's excitement about pursuing their personal interests, as well as your own enthusiasm for the projects you've chosen and skills you choose to build on.
Encourage a personal sense of satisfaction of a job well done as the reward for success instead of gold stars and certificates.
I don't expect the public school system to embrace change any time soon. Too many politicians have their hand in the till and teacher's unions control the playing field with little concern for students.
But parents have a choice - you can choose to be more involved and take back your responsibility for your child's education and future. You can choose a different school. You can choose to homeschool.
Once you've chosen to homeschool, you can leave behind out-dated methods and give your children the freedom they need to embrace learning and make it part of their every day lives.