Posts Tagged ‘school’

home reading 002

Tee is in grade four at the local public elementary school this year. One of the programs his teacher has in place is called Home Reading. As the teacher explained at the beginning of the year, it has been proven that readers become better readers by reading, and for her, the next logical step was to enforce that reading. So she insists that the children in her class read for at least a half hour every day at home, and after each reading session, write down the name of the book, how many pages were read, and a comment about the reading.

Up until this year, nobody had ever insisted that Tee read.

Predictably, within several weeks of starting school, his interest in reading dropped dramatically.

When I asked him about why he wasn’t reading much anymore, he told me that whenever he felt like reading, he remembered that he would have to write down all that stuff, and that made him not want to read. When his teacher began insisting that he read at least a half hour every day, he really became resistant, and started “forgetting” his backpack at school and “losing” the book he was supposed to be reading. Then he started getting weepy about it.

So I went in to the school for a little chat with the teacher.

I explained the situation. She said that “we all have to do things we don’t want to do.” I said that it was my understanding that she was trying to encourage reading. She agreed. I said that this program was not encouraging Tee’s reading, that it was in fact squelching his desire to read. I went on to explain that Tee didn’t need encouragement to read. That he had been an avid and skilled reader before he started in her class. That if she left him alone with his reading, he would continue to read. That we didn’t need to document the number of pages he read, and that by taking such an overzealous interest in his reading, we were taking away his intrinsic enjoyment of it. She pulled out the research that provided the evidence that children who read a lot become better readers.

Back to square one. We were clearly going in circles.

So I smiled and said that while her program might very well work for some children, it obviously wasn’t working for my son.

She said that it would be unfair if Tee was excused from doing homework that the rest of the class was expected to do.

I said that I thought it was unfair to be inhibiting Tee’s interest in reading.

She said that Tee needed a better attitude, that he was homeschooling no longer, that he was now part of a group, and that sometimes “we” do things because “we” are told to do them.


I finally just told the teacher that I truly did appreciate her care for her students but that I disagreed with her opinions on this matter. Then I said that I would no longer be insisting that Tee do the Home Reading when he was at my house. That I wasn’t willing to coerce him into doing something that I thought was to his detriment. That I had to pick my battles with my contrary young son, and that Home Reading wasn’t going to be one of them. She said that she would be having a chat with Tee about doing the homework, that she was his teacher, that she insisted. Fine by me, I said. Give it your best shot. Just don’t expect me to be one of your henchmen.

In counselling lingo, what I did was extricate myself from a relationship triangle.

I was no longer willing to be the middle person in a conflict between two other people.

I’m not sure what ended up happening with the Home Reading. I found the journal, soggy and torn, on the kitchen table this morning, and there were some entries in it, so he must record at least a bit of what he reads. All I know is that when he’s at my house, he’s back to his old reading self, and that’s what I care about.

home reading 001

note: why are the entries for dates that haven’t happened yet? and does he read anything but comics?

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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.

love 002

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Stuck in Cement

The frustrating thing about having very, very bright children in the public school system is that their needs are hard to advocate for. Because they’re able to handle the work, because they’re clever enough to adapt to whatever situation they’re in, and because they aren’t any trouble, they end up being practically invisible.

Time and again I’ve heard teachers say how wonderful my children are, how much help they are, and what a charm they are to have in a classroom. They get glowing reports saying that they’ve had no trouble mastering the material, and they ace whatever national test happens to be making the rounds, so they’re seen as success stories. Proof that the schools are doing their jobs.

What the grade-appropriate tests don’t measure is what these children could be learning, if they were being given the material that adequately challenged them. Sure, in grade 2 she’s able to do the grade 2 work. No surprise there. Yet it’s been my experience that the officials in charge are unwilling to test to ability, which leaves the teacher without the information necessary to provide the learning material that the grade-2-who-could-be-doing-grade-6 really craves.

There’s ample funding for the assesment and aid of children on the left side of the bell curve, probably because those kids would be a real handful for the teacher if they weren’t catered to. But for the kids who have special needs because they’re two standard deviations from the mean in the other direction, there’s nothing.

This is a direct quote from my 7-year old:

I feel like I used to be on this river, and now I’m on the banks of that river, watching it go by and I’m stuck up to my knees in cement.

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The Curmudgeon Speaks

I reluctantly agreed to volunteer for Tee’s class field trip to the local Writer’s Festival today. I say reluctantly because I’ve had experience in these sorts of situations, and there isn’t much I’ve enjoyed less than being responsible for a group of school children in a public space. Today was no different. They acted like little hooligans, like a bunch of 3 year olds, or some chimpanzees that were let out of their cage. Maybe that’s it. Stuck inside a classroom all day, and when they’re finally allowed to move, they go crazy. Each time I’m forced to spend time with a herd of children I go home and tell my children that I apologize for the times I’ve thought of them as being irritating. The difference between my kids and most of the ones I was around today is that my kids actually listen to me when I speak. These other kids were absolutely, completely oblivious to adult speech. They seemed pretty oblivious to the world in general, actually.

Pity the poor authors who were commissioned to read their books out loud to the restless, squirming, chatting, giggling, wiggling masses.

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Big girl L found out at school that she’s expected to read 10 books in the next twelve weeks. According to her calculations, based on an estimate of 250 pages per book, and leaving weekends out, she’ll have to read 40 pages every day. Outside of school hours. Which for her is either at lunch or in the half hour between the end of school and the start of diving practice.

She WAS reading A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, but now that it’s become a job, she decided to re-read a book from two summers ago, thinking that it would be faster and that she’d be more likely to be able to meet the quota.

I can think of no benefit to making reading a despised chore.

Here we have a girl who reads for pleasure, who reads whenever she has a spare moment, who never once thought of reading as anything other than something she did for herself, in tears at the thought of all the reading she has ahead of her.


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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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One argument against homeschooling that I have heard a few times is that kids should go to school to learn how to deal with “the real world”. Implicit in that statement is the assumption that the school experience is a necessary training ground for adult life, and that “protecting” children from possible hardships they may encounter at school is doing them a disservice.

My reaction to that has always been that there is nothing inherently natural about grouping 30 children of the same age in a classroom with one or two adults, and that there is nothing about that artificial situation that a person would need to experience in order to function well in the social world of adulthood.

Bullies are often used as an example. People will say that there are bullies in the workplace, and that kids should have experience with bullies so that they’ll know how to deal with them. I argue that an adult has the option of leaving that particular workplace, while a child doesn’t usually have the option of choosing a different school. Children don’t have the emotional maturity or the perspective that an adult has, an victimizing experiences at their age do not set them up with a better understanding of anything, other than what it feels like to be scared and helpless.

If a child is stuck in a classroom with a group of individuals that he/she doesn’t have anything in common with other than age, how is that a beneficial “socializing” experience? Adults choose their friends based on common interests. Kids choose based on who happens to be in their class. Sometimes they get lucky, and find that they share interests with their peers, and other times they aren’t as lucky, and they have the miserable experience of being lonely in a crowd. Many, many adults work for years to overcome the feelings of insecurity that they developed because of their being “different” in some way from their peers. Children in groups do not celebrate individuality. Is it a positive thing to put children in situations in which their social success stems from their ability to stifle their uniqueness?

I would argue that while school isn’t necessarily a negative environment for all kids at all times, it certainly shouldn’t be considered essential for healthy development. Toughing out difficult social situations during childhood doesn’t make for healthier adults.

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