Monday, June 29, 2009

More thoughts on Education.

Someone on Facebook posted a link to yet another news article detailing the excruciating battle between Christian Values and Scientific Learning that is taking place in school science classrooms. Expressing frustration with the fact that yet another class of children is going to be put through Creationism as a theory while ignoring all the other possible creation myths out there. She claims that she's going to put her kids in private school and supplement their education at home to work around this. I said "Homeschool, duh!".

Someone else claims that public school will be just fine for their kid, with parental involvement tacked on the side after the public school day to make sure they actually learn something. That got me thinking, because that's what my father tried to do with us for years.

The problem with putting very bright, home-educated children into an environment like most public schools is that they are incredibly likely to suffer for it at the hands of both teachers (who are statistically the underachievers of their own past high school classes - what does it say that your kid's teacher probably has a lower SAT score than he will?) and kids (who are either jealous or distrustful of a child who knows so much more than they do and prefers learning over making fart jokes). In some ways, having a parent who is active in your academic life either in or out of the classroom is a dividing factor, especially in days when many children are raised by the TV. Even if they claim happiness with this method, there can be no doubt that many of them desire more attention from the two most important people in their life, and realize that in some way when they react poorly to students who show signs of a strong parental bond.

I know - I was one of those kids. By high school, the system had crushed my love of education pretty badly, and I consider myself one of the lucky ones. The educational system is not only failing our underachieving youth; it's failing the overachievers.

With the exception of a few star pupils who are reading so far above grade level that their parents enroll them in college successfully at 10 years old (and make the national news doing it), most "gifted" kids never find the recognition and challenges they desire in public school. I know I was reading at an 8th grade level (coincidentally, the level that most newspapers write at, and the level at which most kids stop learning) when I was in 3rd or 4th grade. I only know this because my parents bothered telling me. No one at the school, that I am aware of(although this could be due to a fuzzy memory - in those years I was reading so much that I lived half my day in a fantasy world of one sort or another), ever told me that I was smarter than the rest of the class. I wasn't placed in any advanced classes, given harder material, differentiated at all from the others. One of my clearest memories of fourth grade is reading Hatchet in reading circle and being so frustrated with the pace that others were reading at that I wanted to blurt out every word they stumbled on, which was most of them. The teacher told us to follow along, but I couldn't make myself read that slowly, so I half-listened to parts I had read 10 minutes ago being sounded out by the slow readers while I flipped ahead. Inevitably I'd be caught and chastised for reading ahead, as the teacher would skip around the circle instead of following an order, presumably to 'catch' poor students who would otherwise attempt to predict their reading passage and pre-read it several times instead of listening to the story. She never did seem to catch the poor readers (they were right in front of her, stumbling over words like 'assumption' and 'porcupine').

It got worse from there, but after my parents split and I stopped getting so many impromptu engineering lessons from dad, my head start faltered and I ended up in the top percentile of my class instead of high above it. I have no doubt that with the right combination of teacher support, parental challenges and financial aid I could have gone to college a few years early, but no one in the educational system wanted to realize that, and my bet is that they didn't like the thought of pulling their student funding until I had been thoroughly wrung dry by the system and they could graduate me "on time". Consider this: The school districts spent an average of $7000 per pupil to educate us in the '99-00 school year [1]. Considering that lovely sum, why would a school remove a student (and therefore, the student's $7k or more in funding) for early placement in a higher grade when they can continue sucking money out of taxpayers and government?

Teachers really don't help; students seem to despise peers who achieve better than they do. I had friends, but mostly I had competition. By fourth grade it was clear that some of use were "smarter" than the others, and our small group competed within itself for the honor of highest grades and most teacher praise. I remember being especially envious of one boy whose father had helped him with a civil war project. Mine was a clay figure of Abraham Lincoln holding a tiny, painstakingly copied Gettysburg Address in his little clay hands. Mom couldn't find modeling clay so it was the cheap Crayola clay, and it fell apart quickly. The boy (who I also had a crush on) had a plywood board painted as a battlefield, complete with plastic hills and two opposing armies of blue and grey toy soldiers. It was a masterpiece of elementary school projects and I hated him for it. But back to the point - the other kids hated all of us "smart" kids. So we tried our best to stay quiet and not achieve too much, lest we be tormented mercilessly (I bet those kids didn't even know how to SAY merciless at that point!) by the peers who were either jealous of our success or hurt by it.

In a school situation like that it's not hard to see why I'd prefer my children, if I have them, to be homeschooled. I know that even if I adopt, my kids are not going to fit in with the educational system by the time I'm done with them, and I don't want them to. The schools have failed us, and I want them to know this. I don't blame parents who want to send their kids to a better school because they don't think they can homeschool a child. Not everyone is a teacher, and not everyone has the time and energy to play teacher to a bright and curious child. However, I don't think we should be giving bad schools any more support than is legally necessary (keep payin' your taxes, folks), and in fact I think we should protest every board meeting that goes by without improving the situation in our schools... if more of our children were getting a proper education, and not just shoved into boxlike rooms and told to behave for 6 hours a day, I think a lot of our other "problems" would start to fix themselves... but that's another post

1. Gross, Martin L. Conspiracy of Ignorance, The. New York: HarperCollins, 1999. Back to post

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