School Reform Part II

February 16, 2012

Okay, so we covered how we can make sure our kids once again rise to the level of literacy that we had in the 1800s and once again become competitive on a global scale in math.  What about all the other skills that round out an education?

Well here is where I ask for a leap of faith.  After much reading (especially John Taylor Gatto), conferring with other parents, and observing my own children, I am fully convinced that you don’t have to force kids to learn. They are born with that desire. They can’t help but discover new skills. You have to make a concerted, long-term effort to kill their hunger for knowledge.

And we have succeeded in doing just that.

To get it back, maybe we need to give the reigns to the kids themselves.  All that stuff I talked about in Part I? That can be finished by lunchtime. And an early lunch at that. What if after the basics, we gave them unfettered access to the music and art rooms, library, gym, playground, science and computer labs for the rest of the day?

As this concept grows, we can add kitchens, garden centers, design studios, and workshops.  Instructors would be on hand to teach safety and proper use of equipment. Since kids new to this approach may flounder at first with no direction, parents and teachers can collaborate on project kits, experiments, or unit studies unique to each child. As long as we don’t try to fill every minute of every day and go back to fooling ourselves into believing that physical presence equals learning. We have to recognize that boredom, day-dreaming, and play have a place in childhood and self-discovery. We are trying to ignite a spark. Let the child fan the flame.

If a child is interested in fashion, let her design and make a dress. A plethora of videos and tutorials can be found online. Not only are you empowering children to pursue their passions, you are liberating them from the belief that they can only gain knowledge from a professional in the confines of a classroom. 

You could also allow extra-curricular clubs to meet during this time. As it stands now, we force kids to choose between activities and sports. A child who runs track in the Fall and plays softball in the Spring is hard-pressed to make time for debate.

Are you worried your kid will play basketball all afternoon and never crack a book? Well… is that so bad? At the very least they are going to graduate highly literate, very competent in math, and physically fit. Or what if they sit in the corner and doodle in a sketch pad? I hate to break it to you, but if that’s what interests a kid… they are doing it anyway. They are just getting in constant trouble with their teachers over it and learning that they have to rebel in order to pursue their interests.

Do we really think that just because a child sits through a class called Geography that he is learning what countries are where? That because she took a class called Constitution that she knows we are a republic? (Clearly very few people in our country today are aware of how our government works and government classes have been required since I was a child.)

I can’t cite studies that will guarantee that this will work. I can point to the success of private and charter schools, but plenty of critics argue that the ability of these schools to handpick students skews their numbers. I can only cite the growing number of unschoolers that swear by this approach.  Check out the Sudbury Valley School to see this concept in action.

If an experimental program were started tomorrow that embraced these concepts, I would send my kids to that school. If the administration were inclined to let me, I would even volunteer to start the program. I wouldn’t even ask to try it on the “best and brightest”. I would gladly take the two worst performers from every grade to demonstrate my concept.

In case you’re wondering what makes me qualified to decide how children should be educated, I will tell you. I’m a parent who deserves a voice. I get to homeschool because I am able to stay at home. But my tax dollars are still being used to pay for a school that I don’t want. Plus most American families can’t make that choice. I’m a relic. I’m the past. I want to be out in the world, but I can afford the time and resources to put my kids’ education first so I do. That’s just not an option for most.

I don’t think it matters that I graduated number one in my high school class, or summa cum laude from University. All that should matter is that I want better for my kids and that I am willing to do the work to make it happen.  Politicians send their kids to private schools in much greater numbers than us regular sheeples. Why do we let them get away with that? Why do we accept restricted choices and no voice?

My point is made; my proposal is done. So let’s take a moment to listen to the kids.

Here are some complaints and suggestions that were entered into a “School I’d Like” competition in the UK:

Even in the 21st century in schools pupils still sit in rows like the Victorians. You can only talk to the person next to you? this means that in discussion work, which is extremely important in today’s society, ideas and suggestions don’t come as quickly.
Joanna Brown, lower secondary

We will no longer be treated as herds of an identical animal waiting to be civilised before we are let loose on the world. We will cease to be thought of as useless vessels waiting in disciplined conditions to be filled with our quota of information. We will be thought of as individual people.
Miriam Grossfeld, upper secondary

There would be no grading, praise only for working hard not for your mental capability. We would not be concerned about whether we did the best in the class, but only about whether everyone was happy with what he or she was doing and how he or she was progressing.
Joanna Brown, lower secondary

A lot of pupils don’t get cups even when they try their best. Somehow it always seems to be the best pupils in the school who always win cups. It’s only the pupils who are good at sports and are in the top group – like me – who get awards for sport. It’s the same for history, geography, maths, science, IT and VR. Why can’t people in the bottom group get a cup for trying to improve? At my dream school I’d give out more awards and give out emerald rosettes for the runner ups.
Guy Warman, year 5

If you read the whole article, it is sad, funny, and inspiring all at the same time. Let’s start listening. These kids know that they are currently being treated unfairly. What kind of citizens do we expect this will produce? What problems might this new system solve? Illiteracy? Bullying? Rate of Drop-outs? Despondency? Over-medication? The only problem I foresee is that we might have a shortage of people who have been conditioned to believe they will only be good enough to clean toilets.

Let’s stop pretending that all these subjects we force-feed our children are being learned. Let’s stop being proud that of that fact that children can graduate in the top 10% without ever having read a serious novel or knowing their state capitals. Let’s stop sending kids to college that have to take remedial English and Math classes. Let’s topple the system that has produced kids who think it’s okay to cheat and self-medicate to stay on top. Let’s wake up and accept the fact that unless a person, child or otherwise, wants to learn, then we are just wasting all of our time.

Just give me one classroom and a handful of kids. Let’s change the world. Let’s at least try!

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