Friday, February 27, 2009

The Purpose of School

Here I am, at the place so many moms come to if they have learned to question social norms...I'm questioning the ways we, as Americans, educate our children.

I was a public school kid and I think I liked it most of the time. During the early years I had mostly teachers that were inspired enough and I was a great student so did it even matter much? I had a fairly decent adolescence. I enjoyed high school although I was very eager to get to college and around more people like me. I'm not sure why I feel the need to question public school with such fond memories but yet here I am.

My husband and I recently visited a local public elementary school. Nobody seemed unhappy. But something didn't feel right, at least to me. I am now questioning "what is school for?"

Some thoughts come to mind, especially those I was raised with:
1. "School is for socialization"
2. "School is to teach kids how to 'be' "
3. "School is the three R's"

But what if your home life provides all of this? No doubt not all households do, and I am not saying I even agree with 1-3. But, here's another take, what IF everything "schooling" means to you you find you can do on your own time? Or if schooling is = "homeing" or at least kind of close to it. Just what if.

Then start thinking, well, "schooling" maybe should be
1. "supplementary"
2. "additive"
3. "world-opening"
4. "exposure to various perspectives"
5. "something I [the parent] am not good at"

And what else? You tell me what schooling means to you. Because when I sit with my 5 year old and tell him about coins, I don't feel I am "schooling" him. But when I see kids at school learning about money, that is definitely "school" or a "lesson."

I am finding my own way, and I challenge all parents to find their ways as well. This may mean public, independent or home schooling. It may mean a co-op or a free school or unschooling. It may mean going solo, pairing up with other families or doing what your community does as a whole. As usual, continue to question what the experts say your child needs and look at your situation. Trust your instincts...I am trying my best to trust my own.


Stephanie said...

WHOOOOO HOOOOO!!! I am filled with so much joy to read this!!!! Too much to write here, but I would LOVE to chat on the phone about this anytime. (or anything else!) We are now in our 4th year of homeschooling and LOVING IT!! I highly recommend that you read anything by John Taylor Gatto, and also a book called The Well-Adjusted Child: The Social Benefits of Homeschooling, by Rachel Gathercole. Hoping to hear from you soon--so many ideas I would love to discuss with you!!! I am so eager to see what path you will choose, and I definitely agree that you have to use your instinct to choose what feels right for your family. :) Hooray for educational freedom!!!

Anonymous said...

My daughter goes to public school and loves it. Certainly it isn't the right choice for everyone and I support people in their choice to make schooling decisions for their child. I would never expect or want a school to teach my child how to "be," just as I wouldn't want to be soley responsible for teaching her how to be either. At this point in my life, I'm so happy with her public school experience for the depth of understanding about other kinds of people it's given to her. I choose my friends and generally they parent similarly to me, but the kids in her class are not hand picked and this gives her a wealth of knowledge that would be almost impossible for her to glean if not for this experience. To me, this is a more dramatic lesson than the three Rs, which, of course, she's getting too. She also gets to establish a self that is independant from who we expect her to be. I think this is valuable and allows her to figure out who she is and who she wants to be.

Also, I think a lot depends on the kid, the school and the family dynamic, but for us, public school has been a gift thus far.

amanda said...

Cynthia, feel free to copy my facebook comments on here. OH, they're here...I'm anonymous! I also wanted to say that not "feeling right" could certainly have something to do with that particular public school. I definitely felt such amazing vibes from Maggie's school upon seeing it for the first time. There is beautiful student made art all throughout the building, the children looked happy, the kindergarten classroom was pink and red (the teachers picked their own colors)and filled with dress up clothes and toys for every type of kid. There was music coming loud and clear from the music room. The library was a sanctuary with cozy nooks for reading. The Kindergarten teacher seemed (and I now I know) loving and nurturing, but firm enough that the kids weren't walking all over was chaotic, but calm in the right moments. Outside play seemed a top priority. Also, I can see Maggie's school from my front porch; this informs some of my feelings as well, you can imagine. And yes, this is Vermont. Her cafeteria is committed to using local foods when they can and they emphasize nutrition and good choices. SO, is this a dream public school? OR do I choose the things about it that make it amazing. I don't love that there is neecap testing...a new england standardized testing in 2nd and 4th grade? I believe. I don't love that Maggie was evaluated early on for how many letters she knew and whether on not she could count backwards! And while I said in my other comments (on FB) that I LOVE her exposure to all types of kids, I'm still not wild about the fact that she said "balls" the other day when Charlie was naked:-), something we've never said, or that she knows all about Hannah Montana!... BUT...we take the good with the less desirable in any educational decision. For us, the good outweighed the have to decide in what circumstance does the good outweigh the bad for your easy task..and sometimes it's a trial and error.

Annie @ PhD in Parenting said...

School, for me, is a place for my children to learn the things I cannot teach them.

Bird said...

I feel you, Cynthia- I have not felt like the public school system has done a good job for Mancil and am so unsure what to do for Gabriel. I went to private schools all the way through and enjoyed them all, and think I got a good education. I have lots of friends who went to public school too, though, where some thrived, others fell through the cracks or just hated it outright. I definitely think, from my own observations, that boys are treated differently- seems like it's the boys that have more trouble successfully navigating the public system. One of my very best friends was home-schooled through 8th grade and was way ahead of most kids our age when she finally went to "normal" school. It seems great if you really don't need two incomes...

I have also spent a lot of time feeling like the public school system (as lived vicariously through my friends and step-son) is oppressive and intended to make children behave the way we want them to (again, especially with regards to boys). It does not seem to foster intellectual curiosity or creative/critical thinking (except to the extent that teenage resentment can be called such), which is, in my opinion, more important than any particular school subject. Those qualities are what drive all of us to really embrace learning, I think. They are also qualities that you can instill in your kids outside the classroom.

In the end, I agree with other readers that it depends on the school and the child. It also depends on how you raise your kids. Learning really is a life-long pursuit and isn't confined to a classroom. The coin scenario demonstrates that you are already educating your kids- and in fact I think we educate our kids with everything we do, with the examples we set everyday. This or that school may make it more or less difficult to raise intelligent free thinkers, but it won't make or break them if you are willing, as a parent, to show them the world and how to explore it.