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Posts Tagged ‘education’

These last few months that the kids have all been in school have been eye-opening for me.

Sometimes when I was homeschooling, I second guessed. I wondered whether the kids were really getting out of it what I thought they were. My gut said yes, but there was no real proof, no way to be sure. I knew that the kids were doing just fine in terms of knowledge base, and I knew that they were well-liked kids, that they got along with other kids, that they had all sorts of interests and were getting a lot of time outside, that they got along well with each other, that they had lots of free time, and that they were happy.

But would things really be all that different if they were in school?

What I’m discovering is that homeschooling provided something that went beyond an individualized curriculum, beyond time for them to pursue their own interests. It provided them with an environment that fed their need for connection.

They say that right now they’re kept busy all day long, and that they’re surrounded by other kids all day long, but that they feel really alone. They enjoy being with other kids, and aren’t having particular problems, but they have a constant nagging sinking feeling. They’re describing a loss of connection with their home base. With me. With their brothers and sisters. L went to school last year, but she was right down the street, so she came home for lunch every day, had extra time in the morning to hang out, and had an hour after school with the rest of us before diving. That was enough to keep her fueled for her time away. Now she doesn’t have that, and she’s feeling the loss. Tee seems to be suffering the most. I had that heart wrenching conversation with him a couple of weeks ago at bedtime, when he told me how he felt like we were all drifting apart, and I thought it had mostly to do with our crazy evening schedule. Now I realize that he was talking about the whole day.

I wonder if this feeling of isolation, this craving for contact with their attachment figure(s) is particularly pronounced for them because they have two homes. Or maybe they are aware of the contrast between what it used to be like and what it is now. They have a basis for comparison, and they know what they’re missing.

Some people reading this might say that maybe my children are abnormally attached. That by homeschooling them I’ve delayed their independence, or stunted their development. But I think that my kids are just verbalizing what many children feel. My forays into the 1/2/3 classroom this year showed me how much the younger children crave physical contact, even with me, an adult they hardly know. I think that our culture asks too much of young children when it expects them to be away from their attachment figure(s) for six hours every day.

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Teachers have impossible jobs.

My daughter is in a multi-age grades 1-2-3 classroom, with 20 or so other children. One of them has Down’s syndrome, another has a severe learning disability, and the entire clump of kids in grade one are very not-school-ready little boys who clearly would be much happier running around than sitting quietly on the carpet listening to a story.

I spend Friday mornings there, “helping out”, and even that’s an impossible job. The teacher gives me a task, and a small group of kids, and I try to help the kids do what she’s asked. Trouble is, none of the kids are even remotely interested in what they’re supposed to be doing. They don’t know why they’re being asked to color in certain little squares, or why those squares are being glued onto a long strip of paper, and the connection with those papers and their height in centimeters is lost on them. Trying to explain the concept is frustrating, because none of the kids seem to be able to concentrate on what I’m saying, and although my intentions are good and my efforts are valiant, towards recess time I find myself doing the work for them, just to have it done.

The result of our work is me gluing paper into their math binders while they pretend to know why.

After recess, the next task is drawing three pictures of Things You Like and then writing about the pictures. Some of the kids spend most of the time looking for a pencil, others need their pencil sharpened, the noise level goes way up, it’s ten or fifteen minutes until most kids are seated, and then it’s a lot of looking at the paper blankly, or copying from a neighbor, or doing the actual work but not caring about it, and as I sit next to a few of them, helping with spelling and making overenthusiastic “Good Job!” sorts of noises, my heart sinks down into my stomach. It doesn’t feel right. If even one child in that whole classroom learned even one thing that in that entire morning I would be surprised. They were kept occupied, some of them tried to do what they were told, and the time passed. Then it was lunch, and then back to school for more of the same.

When it was story time, maybe two out of the twenty were in the mood for a story. The rest struggled to sit in their assigned “carpet spot” and not pester their “elbow partner”. I have nothing but admiration for the masterful behaviour management skills of the teacher, but given the ages of the children she was dealing with, most of the words that came out of her mouth were admonishments. Sit up and Eyes in front and Not now and You come sit next to me where I can watch you. The two kids who were in the right mood and mental space for a story about a badger who found an egg-shaped rock paid rapt attention, but the rest didn’t get anything out of story time except for practice in trying not to wiggle.

It is impossible for all twenty of those children to be ready for what the teacher has planned for them every day. She has to plan, because otherwise it would be chaos, and she has to try to get all of the kids doing whatever activity she has planned, but most of the kids are only half-heartedly going through the motions at best. Maybe one of the kids is engaged in any of the activities at any one time, and only by sheer luck, because that child is interested in that topic, and it’s geared towards his/her particular skill levels, but the rest just create the constant white noise of the classroom.

Lots of apparent activity, not much being done.

The other painful truth about the reality of a classroom filled with just-turned 6-year olds is that they are still very young children who really aren’t ready to fend entirely for themselves all day. When I go in to that classroom every Friday, my own little one finds any excuse possible to crawl into my lap and lean her head against my shoulder, and the teacher’s aide constantly has little hands clutching hers, and little arms around her waist. They’re like furry little baby mammals seeking closeness anywhere they can.

The teacher is supposed to be able to meet the emotional needs and learning needs of twenty little children, while keeping them from tearing the place apart.

It’s an impossible job.

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Why do we send our kids to school?

Because we went to school. And we were sent to school because our parents themselves had been to school. It’s what we’re familiar with, it’s what’s expected, it’s what kids do. Children have to go to school because if they don’t, they won’t learn what they need to learn in order to be successful adults.

Except that for the bulk of human history, it didn’t work that way.

Read Why Schools Are What They Are: A Brief History of Education if you’re interested in learning more.

And while I’m on the topic of education, check out Organically Inclined‘s answer to the “Socialization Question”.

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I’ve learned a lot while homeschooling my children, particularly this last year, when youngest son’s distaste for workbooks and learning assignments became very clear. He’s a lot like his mother in that he hates being told what to do, and hates anyone trying to teach him anything. He hated his one year in public school because he hated being forced to do what he already knew how to do, and couldn’t stand sitting in circle time for what seemed to him endless instructions on the correct way to hold a paintbrush for art projects. He would have much preferred being given the brush and the paint and being told to get started, and better yet would have been if the paint supplies had been left out for him to use if and when he wanted. And best of all would have been if he could have had a “real” brush and “real” paint with which to do some “real” work.

In order for the two of us to get along this last year with him at home, I had to let go of my role as “teacher” and allow this child to take on that role for himself. He wanted to learn what he was interested in, which never co-incided with what I thought he should learn. I had to really step back and let go of my fear that he wouldn’t learn anything if it wasn’t all planned out. It was a radical shift in philosophy for me, but now that I’ve seen it in action, I’m a believer.

It took first hand experience for me to actually stop and examine my thinking about schooling, probably because I was traditionally schooled, but I think that we should all give critical thought to the way our children are taught. The way it’s done now is what we’re all used to, but it isn’t necessarily the right way or the only way.

Peter Gray, a professor of psychology at Boston College, who specializes in developmental and evolutionary psychology, wrote this today on his blog Freedom to Learn:

“In fifty years…..today’s approach to education will be seen by many if not most educators as a barbaric remnant of the past. People will wonder why the world took so long to come to grips with such a simple and self-evident idea….: Children educate themselves. We don’t have to do it for them.

He was writing about Sudbury Valley School, which has been operating for the last 50 years on the premise that children are capable of learning what they need to know without being taught. A few of the things that the school does differently than traditional schools:

  • students are free all day, every day, to do what they wish, provided that they follow the rules (which the students vote on)
  • the school gives no tests
  • it does not evaluate or grade student progress
  • there is no curriculum
  • no attempt is made to motivate students to learn

Graduates of the school have gone on to lead successful, happy lives, and those that chose to attend a post-secondary institution had no difficulty getting in, or doing well once they were admitted. Graduates who went on to college or university said that they felt better prepared than their classmates who had come from traditional highschools not because they knew more, but because of the attitude they had towards learning.

I think that’s the key thing. It’s not the content, it’s the process. It’s the learning how to learn, the learning about self, the incorporating of learning into daily living, the discovering of individual passions that’s important. If we sit children in a classroom and force-feed them bits of information, and take away from them the time of their childhood that should be spent in self-discovery, they’ll have to try to figure themselves out once we finally set them free, when they graduate from high school. For some kids, that’s much too late.

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Here’s a link to a new blog written for Psychology Today by a professor of evolutionary and developmental psychology which intends to “explore the roles of play and exploration as the foundation of learning”. He presents evidence for the importance of child-directed activities in the development of self, and explains how traditional schooling may not be the best way to educate our children.

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00003 We went to yet another pioneer house (I have to admit to having a special fondness for that time in history, most likely spawned by my love affair with the Little House on the Prairie series of books). This one was right in the middle of the city, so the heavy road construction and huge chain supermarket outside the front door took away from the historical feel a bit, but the four actors in period costumes did a pretty good job of taking us back in time.

We got a tour of the house, the museum next door, and the blacksmith shop. The kids decorated faux slates, took part in a scavenger hunt, and played old-fashioned outdoor games. There were horse shoes to toss, sacks to race in, and bean bags to throw.

Here’s Tee and a new friend in the three-legged race,
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which was almost as much fun as playing tug of war. Those kids just did not want to stop having tug of war contests. Girls versus boys, adults versus kids, big kids versus small kids. They could have gone on all day. I would have enjoyed the whole experience more if we weren’t right across from a Superstore. It ruined my picture taking fun. Just not the right kind of backdrop for my Outing to the Historical Place Field Trip photo montage. I like to pretend that I don’t live in the middle of the city, but these pictures show the glaring truth.
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When the planned activities were officially completed, Jay begged to go back into the house to see the nursery. It was just a teeny tiny attic room with a washbasin, a narrow bed, and one or two artifacts, but Jay wanted a second look at the cradle. She was absolutely over the moon when she discovered a baby’s dress and a pair of wee shoes. She thought they were the cutest things she’d ever seen.
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It’s hard to know with these field trips sometimes. Did they learn anything? Don’t know. Did they have fun? Sure. More fun than an afternoon in the backyard? Hard to say. Was it a useful way for me to spend four hours? Not really.

Tomorrow I’d sorta kinda planned on taking them to a mining exhibit here in town, but now I’m rethinking it. Maybe one less field trip, and one extra chunk of day spent getting the errands done that I’ve been putting off forever. Sometimes the planned “educational” outings seem more for me than them, in the sense that they’ll happily come along, but would just as happily spend the time in a world of their own imagination. I always feel good when I sign up for these things, but then the group activities end up seeming stilted and forced, and I wonder whether it was worth the bother.

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R got a letter in the mail yesterday.

It was an official acceptence to university.

For some reason, the letter made me feel strange. He’s been “taking courses” at highschool since he was nine, and now, the way he sees it, he’s simply going to be doing the same at a different building. Finding courses he’s interested in, and taking them. No big deal. I guess it’s just that the letter seemed so formal, and made me face the fact that he just turned 14 and he’ll be a university student. He’s been out of step all the way along, and for the most part, it really is no big deal, it’s just been a matter of finding things he’s interested in, but for the last couple of years he’s been safely ensconced at the highschool, and now he’s going to have to move on. Everyone else around here, including R, is blase about the whole situation, and I think I am too, mostly. I just don’t like the officialness of the letter. He was never really an official student at the highschool, he just took so many classes there that they ran out of classes for him to take.

Luckily it’s just me that’s got the case of the willies. R barely glanced at the letter, and seems perfectly relaxed about it all.

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