Tired, cranky, bored children are causing many people to reconsider traditional schooling.
Homeschool Mom: I recently read a great article on homeschooling. In the article, the author related the story of how she had explored kindergartens in a middle-class area of N.Y. She said she was shocked by the deficiencies in the classrooms -- and she wasn't referring to a lack of school supplies. She was referring to the basic building blocks of a good developmental kindergarten: easels, play kitchens and sandboxes. One kindergarten teacher informed her that "those types of things are for preschool."
Kindergarten now means, "To the salt mines with your 5-year-old!" (Or, rather, to their desks -- with only a pencil and paper.) The quickest way to exhaust, bore and basically suck the joie de vivre from a 5-year-old is to sit them at a desk and drill them, then have them laboriously try to write with their uncoordinated little hands for hours a day. As anyone who has sat through early-education college courses knows, children are best able to accomplish tasks when their brains and emotional maturity are at the right developmental level.
These are just some of the reasons my husband and I decided to take matters into our own hands and teach our children ourselves. But homeschooling is only a tiny part of the answer. Obviously, not everyone can (or even should) homeschool their children. Not everyone can live in a neighborhood with the best school, or afford private school. We shouldn't have to. Public schools should be decent in a country as rich and powerful as America.
But the No Child Left Behind Act has been a disaster, and instead of making meaningful and dramatic changes in the way we educate our children, the Obama Administration is basically just renaming the Act and making mild changes to it -- but essentially leaving it the same.
In the Southern Calif. district where my teacher-sister works, she has been told that 100 percent of the children are supposed to be at grade level by 2014. Not only that, but she used to love teaching -- yet after 20 years, she would rather do anything than continue on in the class. All the joy and excitement of teaching has been reduced to standards and outcomes. My sister used to play classical music for her students, teach them about masters of art and have them perform Reader's Theater. Now she just drills them all day.
I think there is a basic misconception that the education of a child should be about loading them with facts and skills, when really, educating a child should teach them how to gather information and communicate and engage with their world.
My son has recently returned to school. He is most of the way through his first year of high school, and his observations have confirmed everything I believe about education. He says the kids are bored, and disrespectful, and not engaged, and it is annoying for him to witness. His first report card was filled with teachers' comments like, "A joy to teach; respectful and teachable spirit." (This is at a private high school, mind you.)
We were discussing next year, and how he would have a heavy load with more difficult classes. His response was, "That's okay. I like to learn new things." He is engaged with his world, and he is interested in exploring it still, because he had the chance to learn how to do those things. He is looking forward to college and a time when there is more discussion and writing and less busywork.
The way to overhaul education is to make it more like "The Magic School Bus" and less like "Oliver Twist." Then kids might be interested in more than the latest virtual world. Obviously, having exploration all the time in a class full of thirty kids is not going to be possible, but there are plenty of changes that could be made to get us closer to the ideal. We are never going to be able to compensate in the classroom for poor parenting, but school can be a place where an at-risk student becomes engaged with the world and might find his own way out of his circumstances.
Can the American school system be saved?