Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Thoughts on Education, Child Development, Homeschooling, and the Future

Having watched various RSA Animate videos on youtube recently about education, motivation, and empathy, I have been thinking about my own children and their future. It started with Ken Robinson, whom I have heard speak before. I like what he has to say and this video is awesome! From there you can watch the other videos.

The point is this: it got me thinking about my children, especially my oldest son and his heartfelt desire to be homeschooled.
Now, take this desire with a grain of salt; the grain that he thinks if he stays home, he will be closer to his video games and legos and that the proximity carries the promise of opportunity to play with them.

So I ask myself the big question: What is he getting out of school?

Based on the videos, which are extremely accurate, kids today have short attention spans and spend most of their time in games where they are active participants in the world. Kids play. They WANT to be ACTIVE.

Real life example in my own life: My youngest loves to use the vacuum. He likes to push the big red button and use the hose to suck up the cereal he spilled on my carpet. He is learning to cleanup after himself and enjoy doing it. I reward him with hugs and attention and I get a clean floor! Win, win!

My son comes home with his brain fried. He wants to play. He doesn't want to do his homework, all pen and paper work by the way, he wants a snack and a game. All day he has been told to sit down and be quiet. Don't fidget. Speak when I tell you to. Stay in your seat. Pay attention to me talking at the front. Answer my questions. Write this down. It's passive learning.

And I substitute! I KNOW his curriculum as well as how hard it is to get 25 students to all do what you want them to do! 80% of my subbing days are spent talking, just like a regular teacher. 80% of the day the children are expected to listen to me. They are also mostly in a large group setting. They are asked to perform individually. With pencil and paper. Quietly.

Is there anything wrong with this? Yes and no.

No, it's not wrong to ask children to learn to sit quietly and pay attention. But some jobs in the future will not ask the worker to simply sit and fill out papers. Some do, sure, but what do we want in our workers of the future? Ingenuity, cooperation, responsibility, communication skills. Ingenuity is frowned upon the most in schools unless they are doing a project. Ingenuity takes divergent thinking. It is coming up more and more as the most important skill.

From the video, kindergarteners are geniuses at divergent thinking. That is something we grow out of in the school system, but is highly valued in characters like Benjamin Franklin and Thomas Edison. My little guy is closer to Ben Franklin at his young age than my older son and certainly closer than I am!

Yes, it is wrong to ONLY ask that they learn to regurgitate information for 12 years. It's all 'teaching to the test'. I think about my own education, and think about yours; raise your hand if you memorized information for the test that day and later forgot it?
Certainly we cannot all remember EVERYTHING of every day, we NEED to forget some things. And we all have strengths in certain areas, intelligences they are called. But most kids, some as young as 9 or 10, already understand and ask this question: "Why do I need to know this? I will never use this in my life!" True also, we cannot know what we will need to know for the future, BUT we re-learn things all the time. "Oh yeah, I forgot that arsenic and phosphorous were chemical cousins." (Lake Mono in recent news)

Many students feel pushed ahead through school, too. What if they were allowed to learn at their own pace? Some would be in accelerated maths and low reading. Is that a crime? (I teach special ed classes too, and this is indeed made into a way to ostracize the peer in the current system. We do a LOT of damage control. It is beginning to be seen as a help instead of a mark of stupidity.) They would feel comfortable and progress at a rate that makes them feel competent. Hey, isn't this what a one-room school house used to do?

What would happen if you graduated with a transcript at 18 instead of a diploma?
I'm not talking special ed where you get a certificate of completion, no, I'm talking revolutionize the system. What if you still needed to pass certain criteria, no matter what age, to get a level of a diploma? Level 1, Core 40 basic skills, Level 2, Advanced Skills, etc. With that transcript-style or leveled style diploma, you could get into levels of college, or jobs, or still take the SAT if you wanted. (*ideas swarm my head*)

Does my son feel pushed ahead? Well, he is succeeding academically, but he is not flourishing. There is no smile on his face when he gets an A. He shrugs it off. He did it, it was easy, let's move on, can he play a video game now? When he is reprimanded for a careless error, "you forgot your s on shows!" he feels stupid and the lecture about going back to ensure quality work is lost on him. He has already shut down. Punishing his mistakes with a big red X doesn't teach him anything positive. Yes, we can learn from our failures, but you never repeat the same test over in school so you can never fix the errors and learn from them! My son has learned this. So I made a mistake, I can't fix it, it's in the past, why look at it again? Then we expect them to build on these skills! (I had innovative teachers in high school that let you fix your errors and re-submit a test, and yes they were favorite teachers of the students.)

Why is tutoring such a big money maker? It's on their level, uses small groups, and gives extra practice for failed questions. It's focused on the individual. Skills are mastered, not learned to pass a test and move on. I have worked for 2 different tutoring companies. I know what I'm talking about.

Homeschooling is basically tutoring your own kids. I could do that. Special Ed teaching is basically meeting the child where he or she is and building the skills up. And doing it by creating your own resources!

On a basic level, it's all about reward and punishment: Life, what motivates us to live it, what motivates us to learn and to excel.

What does school reward?

  • Photographic memory
  • Passivity
  • Regurgitation
  • Pen and Paper work
  • Individual success
  • Obedience
  • Conformity
  • Responsibility
  • Being average or above your 'grade level'

What does school punish?

  • Creativity (to a point, i mean it puts creativity in a box, a playpen)
  • Inattention
  • Learning by moving or talking
  • Low Comprehension, and if you don't get it the first time..

What Does Job Industry Want in Workers?

  • Ingenuity (new ideas make money)
  • Cooperation (even our robots need to be courteous)
  • Obedience (until you are your own boss)
  • Basic Skills (math and reading)
  • Grasp of Language/Grammar for communication
  • Responsibility
  • Being on time
  • Technical skills (these are changing too)
(Can you think of more?)

Future jobs will be more computerized, or more people will become self-employed or open small businesses in unique areas to fill unique markets and niches. If we have cookie-cutter kids with cookie-cutter educations, and CUT cookie-cutter jobs like manufacturing and offices and banking and teaching, where will they go? Our kids know this. Give them credit. Our schools are training them for jobs that aren't there.

Oh, college you say? Inflated prices, needing more training and education to stand above the crowd carrying the same degree, and they have to want to go to college and incur that debt. Many kids hate school, you think they want to go to college? It doesn't look so glamorous these days.

Many jobs don't require a degree, just passion.

Can I do better at home? Probably not. I was educated in this system and I was trained in an evolutionary cooperative-learning based system in college that I have yet to see encouraged in public schools. That's why I was so frustrated when I graduated. Schools were not like the college classes said they would be!! Nothing had changed, but me. Homeschooling, however, is the only option to combat the forces that be. (Some areas have charter schools or trade schools or arts schools, where you can enroll your kid in the school they are best intellectually suited to, but not here.)

I'll have to learn how to teach TO my kids instead of AT my kids if I homeschool. I have to get back into that tutor mode and be creative. (Creative? did I just say creative? doesn't that take ingenuity? Where did I learn that? I didn't. I was born with it.)

Teaching is like throwing a ball at the class. It bounces off the heads of some kids, some catch it and hold it and look at it and some throw it back. Some throw it back because they saw others throw it and think that's what they should do, too. And a few take that ball and make it into something new.

We reward those that throw it back, and frown on those that changed the ball, because they aren't supposed to do that until they have earned their own ball. We punish those that never catch it. Sometimes we help them, but it takes so long that we both give up.

Public school is cheaper (especially if you get free lunch and textbooks) and provides children field trips and guest speakers and social stimulus. But it's also the easy way and the lazy way.
Homeschooling is hard and expensive. There are no set lessons pre-made for you for the whole year (unless you buy workbooks $$$), nor group discounts and big school buses to take you places for a few dollars (unless you find or create a group in your area, but it will still cost more than school prices). Books are only free at the library (even lessons, but there's gas cost to drive there). And your children only socially interact with each other, unless you find out where homeschool groups meet in your area or enroll your kids in sports ($$$). Plus you have to have one income, but if you can swing it, and your child will thrive, flourish, and excel as a human being, then the dividends outweigh the cost of investment.

Don't we say to invest in ourselves, in our future?

So will I be homeschooling my kids or will I be lazy and assume a broken system can do it just fine for me?

I don't know. I hope things change. Perhaps I homeschool until my children need high school courses taught in Trades or some area I can't teach them nor find a viable source to do it for me (apprenticeships or skilled family or friends). Perhaps I leave them in school and see what happens.

I will be keeping a close eye on education, my children, my job situation, and our lives. The choice is what's best for our family, ultimately.

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