Category: public school

An Open Letter of Apology to My Former High School Student

Dear Jacob,

I taught you in English class when you were eighteen years old and I owe you an apology. In fact, all your teachers do.

I bought the lie and I lied to you, and it had a profoundly negative impact on you.

I told you that since you weren’t interested in dissecting Shakespeare, you wouldn’t amount to much in life. Oh I didn’t say it in those exact words, but close.

I remember taking you into the hallway–I know you remember it too (shame on me for shaming you) and telling you that “successful people pay attention and do well in class and study and make good grades.”

Your eyes filled with tears because that news must have been a crushing blow. (I can’t imagine being told that if I didn’t paint as well as the others in my art class, I wasn’t as good as them, and doomed to a life of failure.)

That’s what we’re all brainwashed to believe. That’s what the “smart” people say, and no one really sees how stupid it is. That grades are what makes someone successful? How were we even convinced of such nonsense?

You were smart. You were smart in a hundred ways but we used our tiny little measuring stick in our tiny little boxes and the ones who refused to jump through our tiny little hoops were made to feel stupid.

Thousands of children still suffer every day the way I made you suffer.

You knew back then what I refused to see. That there is nothing normal or productive about forcing energetic, curious boys to sit in desks all day and force-feed them Chaucer. Some are even being drugged to sit there. Perfectly wonderful boys, sedated to act like something they aren’t, to waste valuable time on a lecture they won’t remember when they could be learning so much more–stuff that will really give them a good life. I can’t believe we sit by and let it happen.

You didn’t need Chaucer.

You needed freedom. You needed to work with your hands and do what you were good at. To improve those skills that were uniquely yours and uniquely wonderful and just as important as writing essays.

And you needed us to tell you that. To say that there are a thousand ways to be smart. Some people do love Chaucer and some people love taking a car apart and putting it back together. Both of those things are good and needful and should receive equal attention and affirmation.

We told you it was good and normal to be isolated from real life all day in small cells, requiring permission to even go to the bathroom. You were a man and you couldn’t go to the bathroom unless I let you! We used bells to program you to stop and start on command, essentially saying that nothing is worth pouring your time and energy into until it’s finished.

We told you we were the experts and we defined “success” and we got to stamp your card for life to tell the world you were either a “good student” or a “bad student.”

Jacob, I am so ashamed to have claimed to be helping children, all the while hurting you and many others.

You survived despite our efforts to keep you confined within that box. That’s what the human spirit does. But I’m sure you would have been so much better off without us.

Well I’m different now, Jacob. I fight, in my little corner of the world, for people like you. For people like my own children–for the majority of children who are having their creativity, their originality, their unique gifts and interests crushed by those they trust.

Please forgive me. And don’t buy the lie. I was wrong. They are wrong.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

There is an alternative to forced-schooling. Think Outside the Classroom.

“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.  We see those grades and hoops jumped through as measures not only of our children, but also of ourselves as parents.  We find ways, subtly or not so subtly, to brag about them to our friends and relatives. All this has nothing to do with learning, and, really, we all know it.” -Dr. Peter Gray, Schools Are Good For Showing Off, Not for Learning

Practical Ideas for a Real Education-John Taylor Gatto Part 3

Part 1: Schooling Has Nothing to Do With Real Education, Part 2:Learning What Matters Most

The tricky part outlining a “how-to” for a real education (provided you don’t want your children to have a fake one–that’s kind of tongue in cheek,just so you know), is that it takes your life, your experiences, your children and your opportunities to make it happen.

So I’m going to offer you what I’ve been using to give me inspiration, guidelines, ideas and direction about how to implement a real, living education. You may simply scour these ideas to supplement a more structured routine. Either way, this is where your comments could be SO helpful. Because the idea of a “real” education is so foreign to us, the more tangible the ideas, the better. I would personally love to hear specific ways some of you carry out these ideas.

General Thoughts:

“In centuries past, the time of a child or adolescent would be occupied in real work, real charity, real adventure, and the real search for mentors who might teach what he or she really wanted to learn. A great deal of time was spent in community pursuits, practicing affection, meeting and studying every level of the community, learning how to make a home, and dozens of other tasks necessary to becoming a whole man or woman.” -Gatto, A Different Kind of Teacher

 

“Once you understand the logic behind modern schooling, its tricks and traps are fairly easy to avoid. School trains children to be employees and consumers; teach your own to be leaders and adventurers. School trains children to obey reflexively; teach your own to think critically and independently. Well-schooled kids have a low threshold for boredom; help your own to develop an inner life so they’ll never be bored. Urge them to take on the serious material, the grown-up material, in history, literature, philosophy, music, art, economics, theology—all the stuff schoolteachers know well enough to avoid. Challenge your kids with plenty of solitude so they learn to enjoy their own company, to conduct inner dialogues. Well-schooled people are conditioned to dread being alone, and seek constant companionship through the TV, the computer, the cellphone, and through shallow friendships quickly acquired and quickly abandoned. Your children should have a more meaningful life, and they can.” -Gatto, Should School Be Boring?

Gatto listed 15 Themes for Private Education I found helpful:

1. A theory of human nature (as embodied in history, philosophy, theology, literature and law).

2. Skill in the active literacies (writing, public speaking).

3. Insight into the major institutional forms (courts, corporations, military, education).

4. Repeated exercises in the forms of good manners and politeness; based on the truth that politeness and civility are the foundation of all future relationships, all future alliances, and access to places that you might want to go.

5. Independent work.

(This is an area I’m finding more difficult to wrap flesh around. My best idea is to create a springboard of questions that might ignite curiosity, having a child set out in search of the answers, hoping he gets lost in the pursuit. Or it could be a far more structured assignment with a topic of his choice, documented or completed with an essay.)

6. Energetic physical sports

7. A complete theory of access to any place and any person. (This is interesting and big.)

8. Responsibility as an utterly essential part of the curriculum; always to grab responsibility when it is offered and always to deliver more than is asked for. (Applause and standing ovation.)

9. Arrival at a personal code of standards (in production, behavior and morality).

10. To have a familiarity with, and to be at ease with, the fine arts. (cultural capital)

11. The power of accurate observation and recording. For example, sharpen the perception by being able to draw accurately. (Huge.)

12. The ability to deal with challenges of all sorts.

13. A habit of caution in reasoning to conclusions.

14. The constant development and testing of prior judgments: you make judgments, you discriminate value, and then you follow up and “keep an eye” on your predictions to see how far skewed, or how consistent, your predictions were.

15. Family  Curriculum-Gatto placed high value on family life and the inner workings of the home, the routines created there, and the dependence of family members on each other. From knowing how to set a table to being familiar with changing diapers, unlike our culture, he esteemed these as essential lessons that both bonded family members and better prepared children for families of their own. We’ve added to our routine two different children planing for and preparing supper each night. This leaves me with one night with a younger child and overseeing the others until they get the hang of different dishes. So far, everyone is excited about it. Remember too, the value children feel when they can participate in real ways, regularly, to the functioning of a home. We should verbally remind them of that value, both inherent and added as they work willingly.

My random notes:

  • Much of Gatto’s insight has helped me to relax and allow my children to spend significant time doing what they love. Solving problems happens while playing, building, creating and dreaming. Let them.
  • We have designated Friday’s as “Good Deeds Friday”, and a large part of that is writing letters to express gratitude or encouragement to those who may need it. Having a piece of writing that someone else will see encourages them to work on syntax and grammar.
  • Letting them, as young as possible, do things like make purchases, pump gas, grocery shop with a small list, use a debit card, etc. builds confidence. Often they rise to whatever challenge you treat as expected.
  • Service, whether in the form of organized volunteer work or more organic meeting of needs in your community and church cannot be underestimated for its importance both in teaching and developing important character qualities.

Real life. Equipping men and women to think, process, analyze and DO things; to work out conflict in relationships, to live lives that are a continual blessing to others; to foster a deep gratitude–a life-changing kind that transforms the way they live; to make choices grounded in wisdom; to grasp the power of contentment; to love, laugh and inherit the peace that comes with trusting in God’s will in their lives. This is the education we want for our children.

 

“This book changed our lives. I had no idea how I was squelching my children’s love of learning by trying to reproduce something that we already knew doesn’t work very well. Now they thrive and we’re all much happier!” -Sandra L.

 

 

 

 

 

 

——

Matt Walsh: College or Misery

Reading Matt Walsh almost makes me feel like not writing anymore, simply because he has said it all and he has said it so brilliantly.

I had to share one of my most recent favorites because I know you’ll love it. You will. Trust me.

Kids, Go to College or You’ll Die Alone in Misery

“I’ve written this Message About Education. Call your kids into the room, this is addressed to them:

Hi kids! Hey, let’s discuss college! Actually, this is not a discussion. You WILL go. You MUST go. Only lazy, dirty losers don’t go to college. You aren’t a lazy, dirty loser, are you? ARE YOU?….” Read the rest

Follow up with his answer to a letter he received:

“My child is gifted. He’s also 29, unemployed, and living in my basement”

Don’t forget to come back and tell me what you think…

 

What if Learning Isn’t Anything Like School?

“…one thing we do not have to worry about is how to educate children. We do not have to worry about curricula, lesson plans, motivating children to learn, testing them, and all the rest that comes under the rubric of pedagogy….The more we try to control it, the more we interfere.” Peter Gray, PhD, Children Educate Themselves

Think about it…

Ignore, just for a minute, everything you think about school, learning and education.

You just had a baby. Probably the most important thing your child must learn is how to communicate. You’re a smart parent so how do you prepare for this most important educational feat? Well first you must find an expert to teach her. No? You’re going to attempt it yourself?! Then certainly you have researched and found the most rigorous, well-known language curriculum money can buy, right? Long hours of study? Co-op classes?

NONE OF THAT?! What will become of her? What kind of lazy parent doesn’t teach her child the most important subject she’ll ever learn, the most crucial life skill without which she will be a failure?

See? Until our children are about five years old, we don’t worry about how they will learn, even though they’ll learn more in that span of time than in all their years combined. No one is testing them to make sure they’re on target,  no one is questioning our academic capabilities requiring us to keep progress reports, or threatening us with an over-the-shoulder “I’ve got my eye on you.”

Yet our children learn what they need to learn, remarkably well, without any of that. Through a natural process of interacting with the world and people around them, they have the miraculous aptitude to combine knowledge with experience, resulting in real education.

Just what if that kind of learning continued past the age of five? What if we didn’t worry and fret so much about how many facts they memorized or how much information we could pack into their minds? What if we let them learn what they needed to, what they wanted to, when they needed it?

Can we not think of a thousand things we’ve learned that way?

But we have to do things we don’t always like…

I used to think that since part of living in the real world includes doing things one doesn’t want to do, that was sufficient reason to force-teach children. But reason prevails: there are many opportunities in life to learn that lesson. Why should we sacrifice a child’s natural propensity to learn and enjoy learning, for the sake of a lesson we can teach in another way?

I still have reservations.

I believe in the logic of people learning on their own, I recognize that schools are failing monumentally despite their best efforts, and I know that generally, kids hate school, something that should be a red flag to all of us. Admittedly though, even as I’ve been thinking outside the box for a while, I still have reservations, difficulty breaking out of my own indoctrination of “how school should be done.” Scary, isn’t it, how we can be so convinced of one thing, that even when faced with the reality that it might be wrong, we continue to cling to it. We are afraid of having our familiar methods yanked out from under us. But fear enslaves. Thus, I write and think and continue to push the questions.

I haven’t thrown the text books out, by the way. I may one day, who knows. My intent here, with such a one-sided look at education, is to get us to look at all, past our preconceived ideas that conventional schooling has all the answers. We’re so bent to the left, sometimes we have to bend severely to the right, then maybe we can come up with a more balanced view of things.

Perhaps unschooling (as this method is best-known) is merely one color of a rainbow of ideas about the best way to educate. But at best, it cannot be ignored as a powerful theory, and conventional, test-driven methods, failing so often as they are, need to be highly scrutinized.

Great thoughts by some others.

A few other thinkers like Gatto, Gray and  Schank have dared to propose this simple observation, but it’s doubtful that the mainstream American will ever be able to shake his ingrained philosophy of education, so radical from the idea of natural learning. Still for the few who dare to question the status quo, there is a world of opportunity and freedom awaiting.

What about higher education?

And for those who think this style of learning can’t prepare children who desire to go to college, think again. An increasing number of unschooled adults are sharing their testimonies which include college degrees and successful businesses.

“Children learn wonderfully without anyone systematically or deliberately teaching them, but yet, we adults do have, or should have, the responsibility of providing the conditions that allow children to take charge of their own learning. Real educational reform, in my view, is reform that provides those conditions.

The most important condition is freedom. To learn on their own, children need unlimited time to play, explore, become bored, overcome boredom, discover their own interests, and pursue those interests.” -Peter Gray, PhD, Is Real Educational Reform Possible?

 

How Will Your Kids be Prepared for the Real World (Unless They Go to School There?)

It’s the number one opposition homeschoolers face from doubting questioners, and unfortunately, one of the biggest obstacles preventing parents from deciding to homeschool: parents want their children to be prepared for the real world so they think they must send them to school.

Stop: who got us to think upside down? Essentially, what this means is, we feel like the best way to prepare our children for the real world is to take them out of the real world, put them in an unrealistic world all day for twelve years, try to simulate the real world, and then tell everyone this is the only way to prepare them for the real world. It’s hilarious just writing that out!

“Bill Gates recently gave a speech at a High School about 11 things they did not and will not learn in school. He talks about how feel-good, politically correct teachings created a generation of kids with no concept of reality and how this concept set them up for failure in the real world.” Resource for Kids

All I want to do here is to help people who want to homeschool but are gripped with this irrational fear to “let it go!”  This is not an attempt to put down anyone, but to offer a discerning look at an often misunderstood topic. If you’re happy with the simulated circumstance (and many are), this isn’t about convincing you to homeschool.

However, we should all want to talk and think like rational humans so for the sake of everyone who must make this important life decision about educating his child, we at least need to make it based on the facts and truth of reality. It’s a bit like my choice to bottle feed my first baby. I knew I would have to go to work and I was still in school and so I decided to bottle feed because I didn’t see a way to breast feed. I did not, however, pretend bottle feeding was better or even the same as nursing in order to justify my decision. I knew it was second best, but it was the decision I felt I had to make. Regardless of our decisions, we need to at least be honest about them.

How schools must recreate the real world

In the first several years of school, especially, a classroom must try to recreate real life which is hardly possible, making the classroom second best for real learning. That’s not an insult, it’s simply a truth, like saying real hair is preferable to a wig. Exploration, creativity, freedom, hands-on learning, it is all greatly limited if not extinguished, in the classroom.

“Tell me and I’ll forget; show me and I may remember; involve me and I’ll understand.”

I was thinking about this as my 5 year old asked me what time it is. I’ve never given my children clock worksheets–we have a clock on the wall. And when they begin to be aware of time and the clock, I show them, until they understand, how time works. That’s it. They all learn to tell time. (Same way they learned the English language.)

We don’t even have phonics books. We use phonics as we sit down with books together, sounding out letters, blends and memorizing sight words, and eventually, they begin reading.

We don’t read books about “opposites” or colors, or numbers; all those things exist in our daily conversations and children are remarkable learners. It comes naturally in real life. We learn about vegetation outside, we classify real birds and real trees when we go for walks. We talk about current events at the dinner table, asking probing questions that require thought and analytic skills.

We discuss lifestyles and how to handle different situations after we leave events, family gatherings, or vacations.

Life teaches.

Hygiene from a health book? No. Weather? It’s there.

Is it reading about the solar system (a perfectly wonderful thing to do) or would the words come alive if they were just given a telescope and notepad to chart their observations?

Another unrealistic thing (necessary only for keeping order and tracking of large groups) is the idea of “school in” or “school out”, deadlines, and grade levels. I could write a book, but suffice it to say, it’s optimal to embrace learning (i.e. “school”) as something always happening, without the confines of time and space. We will never learn all there is to learn; why not develop a mindset of always-learning what is in front of us and what we need to know to enhance our gifts?

As they get older, what then? Is real life being confined to rooms lined with desks and people the same age with little time for conversation and interpersonal exchange? Or is it being allowed to mingle, in the real world, observing and attempting adultish things? Exploring all their interests? Following their passions? Figuring things out on their own?

Do we “sit down and do school”, ever? Yes, but not because it’s necessary. We mostly read a lot, I give writing assignments and go over those for proper grammar and usage, the older ones have a formal math curriculum (I’m tweaking this a lot) and they do copy work. Most everything though, can be and is being learned in the context of real life. There are far more pressing things than whether our children can recall the area of a trapezoid (Google it if you need it!)

Keep in mind, the evidence consistently shows that qualities employers desire (if the goal is to work for someone else) hardly ever include test scores or the ability to memorize facts, etc. It’s almost always about character, communication skills and the ability to solve problems–all most easily learned in the real world, where children are free to satisfy their curiosities and find solutions, an amazing trait the Creator gave us all when we were born. In fact, even most highly specialized jobs provide on-the-job training, requiring the capacity for learning, not a specific set of facts already learned (which most students forget anyway).

(Yes, I know there are those needed jobs where students must still jump through the hoops of the system (achieving certain test scores, etc., homeschooled or otherwise). Thankfully though, even this is being widely reconsidered as the job industry is discovering how a college degree or other “certification” may not always be a comprehensive representation of a person’s expertise. More and more are seeing the benefits of apprenticeship/hands-on training.

If you worry about your children learning to cope in the real world, I don’t blame you; consider homeschooling them.

 

Your Kids Don’t Belong to You: Public Education Gets Honest

For years, those of us who have spoken against the government school system, warning parents that the state has an agenda that is more about controlling your kids than “teaching” them, have been largely ignored or regarded as misinformed extremists.

Finally though, the public school proponents are being honest, making no attempt to disguise the way they view your children.

Most of you have probably seen the clip by Melissa-Harris Perry on MSNBC, representing the progressive liberal agenda, about “why we haven’t invested in public education as we should”.

“We have to break through our kind of private idea that kids belong to their parents or kids belong to their families.” -Perry

The scariest part of it is that many Americans will be OK with what she said. And I finally understand why that is:

“The truth is that parents are one of society’s most incorrigible sources of inequality. If you have two of them who stay married and are invested in your upbringing, you’ve hit life’s lottery. You’ll reap untold benefits denied to children who aren’t so lucky. That the family is so essential to the well-being of children has to be a constant source of frustration to the egalitarian statist, a reminder of the limits of his power.” MSNBC: Kids Don’t Belong to Their Parents

To the parents who don’t want to take the time to invest into their children, and so are at their “wits end” or for whatever reason simply don’t want to do the hard work of parenting, it’s good news to them to let someone else do the work, easing their responsibility.

But, if you are a Christian parent with even a slight understanding that our children are given to us as a gift and it is our sole responsibility to steward that gift, this open agenda should cause you to yank your children out of the government’s clutches without a further thought about what else is terribly wrong with the school system.

What is the alternative, you ask? Anything. Take your pick. We have got to let go of this notion that school is a god and our children are going to fail without it. Our children are going to fail with it. Droves of them are already. What are we so afraid of? We should be willing to do anything to save them from the tyranny of the state.

Private school, homeschooling–even if it’s at night, around a work schedule–there are options. Great options. Our country’s only chance of preserving freedom and survival is dependent, I believe, on our commitment to taking back our children for the glory and purpose of God.

WordPress Themes