When I was a child, I spent the bulk of my growing-up time in public and private school classrooms. For me, school was neither terrible nor wonderful. It was just what I had to do to get the paper. What exactly did this paper prove? That I was smart enough to not completely fail. That I was capable enough to not have a nervous breakdown before graduation. That I could follow orders: line up, raise my hand, recite the expected answer, and speak only when spoken to.
The paper didn’t prove I was a stellar scholar. It didn’t prove my sharp wit, kind heart, vast knowledge, or interesting outlook on life. It only proved I didn’t suck bad enough for them to kick me out before my 13 years were up. And it proved that I could conform to the mold of a good student.
Some would argue that traditional schooling teaches kids to take orders and conform to regular society. This is the most efficient way to teach our children how to become productive workers, obedient citizens, and good consumers. But are we teaching them how to succeed in a meaningful way? And how to be happy?
Maybe this model worked generations ago, when people graduated from their schooling into a safe and predictable way to make a living. But the world is changing. It’s imperative in today’s world that we raise a generation of people who have practiced innovation and creativity and who have learned to think critically. We need people coming up who know that coloring outside of the lines is the only way to come up with fresh ideas and that sometimes asking the difficult questions is more important than having the appropriate answers. We’re headed into an era where it’s crucial that we learn to get along peacefully, share resources, work collaboratively toward positive change, and understand that each one of us is responsible for our own learning.
Instead, we’re teaching kids that doing well means you aced the test, not that you thought critically about the questions. We’re encouraging them to be competitive. Winning is important. Getting to the top is the only thing there is. We’re encouraging them also to be close-minded and, yes, I’ll say it, downright mean. If the girl sitting next to you in English class doesn’t belong to the right team or club, live in the right neighborhood, or wear the trendy sneakers, it’s “normal” for you to ignore her, talk about her behind her back, or even ruin her undeserving teenage life. Bullying and exclusive friend groups have long been a smoldering fire in the history of traditional school–and now technology like social networking has poured gasoline onto it.
But, this is just an expected part of childhood. A rite of passage. No one ever said growing up was easy, right?
Is school then simply a free babysitting facility that pushes kids into the box of conformity while teaching them only the answers that are on the test? Is it a strange oligarchy where the minority is happy and well-off while the vast majority is miserable, disgruntled, struggling, even suicidal? Is this how we want to handle the youngest and brightest brains in our country–stick them in an institution until they’re so used to following orders and being kicked that they’ve forgotten how to love themselves and love their life, ask critical questions, be creative, think outside the box, and work collaboratively? But at least we DO teach kids the very important cultural values of how to want more than they have, how to be competitive, how to be busy, how to lack awareness, how to be suspicious of those who are different, how to multi-task, how to lack focus, and how to ace every test using very limited and selective attention. And, yes, all of that is on the test.
But what if it could be different? What if our schools were filled with students and teachers who wanted to be there and wanted to learn? What if there was no such thing as grading, no such thing as a test? What if kids were encouraged to learn as much as they wanted to about the things that interested them? What if we let kids lead their own learning? What if we taught them that kind and loving acceptance of others is the only true requirement? And, if they act mean, they get kicked out? What if we could show our students instead of telling them? And give them a feeling that school is a wonderful privilege instead of a dreaded responsibility? That learning is a beautiful, intriguing life-long journey and not a brief period of hell before you can quit and never have to learn again?
It can be different. It can be different with a unique school model that may or may not exist. I’m sure many schools exist that model a wonderful way for kids to learn and grow into their best possible selves. I’m not knocking every school and certainly not any teachers. But I am saying that there’s something broken in a system that doesn’t teach kids to honor themselves, each other, and the love of learning. Homeschooling is one way I’ve found to have this perfect learning environment. It gives the control of education and values back to the parents, lets students explore and expand their minds on their own schedule, and gives children security and self-esteem for the bulk of their day. And… it’s a free and legal schooling option in all 50 states.
Nothing was terrible in our experience of sending our kids to traditional school for the last seven years. But I don’t want their childhood to be “neither terrible nor wonderful.” I want it to be absolutely wonderful! And I feel as though the rewards can be greater for them if we shift our thinking–though it’s a bit counter-cultural–and begin to think of learning as naturally as we think of breathing. And so the great experiment is on for my family. I filed the required paperwork with the school district today and we start homeschooling our four children tomorrow.
What do you think about homeschooling? Are we insane or inspired?