February 16, 2011

School and Learning

I want to say first off, I know present-day schools face many challenges.
It seems there is never enough money. Kids have less structure and discipline at home and there is little teachers can do with an unruly child. There are overcrowded classrooms and underpaid staff. Not being involved in the administration or staff side of the school system, I'm sure there are many other challenges that I'm not aware of.

Second, I know there are good teachers in the system.
Teachers that truly enjoy children and everything that goes with them. There are teachers who truly care about teaching. There are teachers who love their career choice and go to work with a smile on their face. If you are one of these teachers, I am not referring to you in this coming rant.

Third, I know my children, any children, are not perfect. They are children and make mistakes like children do. They will goof off occasionally, they sometimes get distracted. If they are tired or hungry, they have trouble concentrating. They don't always pay attention when they should be. But they are also good hearted, intelligent, creative, usually ready to learn and (mostly) responsible.

Now to the point of this post.

I'm worried about the school system and the education of our children. It seems that their most precious, learning, absorptive years are being wasted in an antiquated system. True, learning styles have changed some, and there are new approaches to learning constantly being presented to teachers and applied in schools, but is it enough?
No matter how many times you renovate the system, it is still the same building. It just has new wallpaper.

Certainly the school system was a great idea. Coming about when many people were not able to read or write and formal education was something for the wealthy, it was a good thing. But back then, schools were one room with perhaps 10-15 children total for all grades. The teacher was usually one who spent her life in one area, often returning to teach in the community where they grew up. The teacher knew the families and would spend a Sunday meal with them or other activities. Children were raised and taught at home regarding life skills and discipline. Most children who attended school already knew a great deal regarding day to day living like cooking, cleaning, caring for others, working in the garden, etc.
Obviously this is not true of today.

I believe if you look at society, you have to agree that something is broken. Children dressing like sex symbols, taking weapons to school, committing suicide... it's almost more than the heart can bear if you dare to think about it too closely. Our schools are producing children that don't know how to read well. They can't count back change in retail employment. And except for the aggressive few, they are wasting their best years to learn. To learn logic and reason and ethics. To learn accountability and empathy.

To teach it all seems like a tall order for our schools. It is a tall order and it is unrealistic. We all want our children to have a teacher that will see them for the wonderful, special child that they are. To bring out the best in our children with all the knowledge inside them. To form a special bond with them that enhances the want to learn in our child.

In reality, teachers have over crowded classrooms. Somehow they are supposed to teach a lesson to a class of 30 children. Of that 30 children, maybe half of them have any type of discipline at home and some rarely follow instructions. This spills over into class. Besides the regular disruptions there are fast learners who finish early and get bored and slow learners who are lost. Taking time to form a magical bond with a child is fairy tale talk. I'm not saying it can't or won't happen, but it's not realistic.

After reading a weeks worth of multiple blogs and informational sites on homeschooling and the assorted styles and options... and the popularity of the internet... why is there not a better system in place. Is it because we are against change too much to look at it? Is it because we are too proud to admit what we are doing is not working?

We can't teach accountability if we don't have any ourselves.

Why have we not combined our amazing pool of resources to give our children the best of all worlds. Take advantage of the resources and have learning at home. Add in learning co-ops and community programs that go beyond what is taught currently (think gardens, sewing circles, a community garage). Have an ongoing learning year that can be applied to your life for the best fit. Schools could teach courses in smaller segments with more specifics (like a six week course on the flowers rather an entire semester of biology) and children could sign up for different classes according to what is missing from their coops.

Well we do have that, you say. That's what homeschooling is (or can be) about... options. And while I understand that, it still makes me wonder why the official school system hasn't be overhauled to include more of these in the standard educational system. It would certainly reduce class size. It wouldn't reduce the need for teachers. Those that learn faster would be able to move ahead at their own speed. Those that need extra help would have greater access to it.

Why do we still have grade system with a pass/fail design rather than progressive areas of learning that a student can work through at their speed, to truly learn the material?

With children at home more hours of the day, there is more time to teach them our personal ethics and morals. More time to just be with them. To guide them and encourage them as they learn about the world.

When did we lose sight that schools are to educate our children, not to babysit them. And if the schools are without proper funding, why have we not made allowances for that beyond stretching staff to the limit? Why is teaching at home, or partly at home, so strange and foreign when it was the main way to learn up until around 1850 or so? And even then, children were often kept at home for life-related duties like harvest or spring planting, because they recognized that this too, was education.

We have wonderful tools at our disposal and it seems like we are moving forward at a snail's pace. That's not to say the school system is useless. It is of course better than no system. And of course like anything human-touched, the value or contribution of the system all depends on the people involved where you live. I guess it's mostly very curious to me, and a little sad, that we can advance in so many areas, so fast... and forget about something as important as our children's education. Forget about its importance because of cost and convenience.

Thankfully there are schools for alternate learning, and home schoolers out there. Eventually perhaps the public system will evolve to incorporate more of the 'free style learning' of homeschooling.

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