Trust The Children

Sunday, June 18, 2006

A New Prescription for Public Education?

In a recent trip to Washington D.C., I read a full page article in The Washington Post Daring to Think Outside the K-12 Structure. I couldn't believe what I was reading. If there is a place in the world where union control is evident on many fronts, it is DC. However, may I share several headlines? "Students Move at Own Pace Toward Proficiency". "Fast Learners Benefit From Skipping Grades, Report Concludes." "Learning When, Where And How They Choose."

Here are a few excerpts:

Fast Learners Benefit From Skipping Grades, Report Concludes

"Few educators these days want to go back to the early 19th century, when often the only opportunities for learning were one-room school houses or, if you were rich private tutors. But a report from the University of Iowa says at least those students had no age and grade rules to hold them back."

"What was lost in the 20th century was "an appreciation for individual differences," scholars Nicholas Colangelo, Susan G. Assouline and Miraca U.M. Gross conclude in the report, "A Nation Deceived: How schools Hold Back America's Brightest Students." Now, the report says, "America's school system keeps bright students in line by forcing them to learn in a lock-step manner with their classmates."

"The report is part of a national effort to move gifted-education programs away from keeping students in the same grades and giving them extra, enriched classes and projects. It is better, the report says, to let third-graders capable of fifth-grade work go to fifth grade. Or break out of the grade system altogether. "


"The Iowa report contradicts the widespread belief that skipping grades or heading for college at age 15 risks social trauma and psychological harm. Accelerated Students are often more comfortable with students at higher levels of learning and seek out older students when denied a chance to skip grades, the report says."

"No other arrangement for gifted children works as well as acceleration." (Washington Post, Tuesday June 13, 2006)

Doesn't all of this sound very very much like a home based education family talking to a disbelieving parent or sibling? The advantage to our children to go as fast or as slow as they want or need to go and the benefits in every way to the child and the family, have become self evident to home schooling families for years. Books like "Dumbing Us Down", and "School Can Wait" along with "Growing Without Schooling" from the late John Holt, were all primers of the first order as our family considered the Home Based Education model. We concluded before such studies The Post cites, that greater freedom in education to be sensitive to the true educational pace of our own children, offered more advantages than the risks. Some who attempted to convince us of the folly of home based education where quick to enumerate all that we would be losing by not taking the public education medicine in it's complete dosage. How thankful I am, that we also considered the side effects of that medicine as well as the benefits of a "home-eopathic" approach. To put it in athletic terms, it seems some in the education establishment are taking pages from the Home Based Education playbook.

While any forward moving changes cannot and will not eliminate all the inherent injuries done to children in the public setting, especially at the younger ages, these changes, can only include more of the children who must use the public option in an ever growing circle of more effective educational approaches. Any educational option closer to what we can do at home, may yield for others the increased educational benefits we have at home. This may constitute a brighter future then for the public side of things, and a broader public affirmation of what we do at home. However, for those trying to decide now, with young children still at home, perhaps this kind of public comment provides the added confidence required to venture forward for the benefit of your children. Just what the doctor ordered.

Sunday, June 04, 2006

Is Home Education All About Location?

Over the years, we have observed many families come to the conclusion that "Home Schooling" is the solution for an unmotivated child, or a child for whom the public system is not meeting needs. This is not a shock to us. After all, we came to that same conclusion years ago as our children were younger. There are many many advantages and benefits that come to the family and the children of that family, when parents can so order their lives to provide an education at home. However home education is not for everyone. Our world is full of people who had no such opportunity growing up and become productive and positive influences for good.

There is, for most families, a period of transition from a public environment to the home schooling environment. This transition can take days, or weeks or months or even years. Can the parents patiently wait while the transition occurs? For many the answer is NO.

Some parents create a false expectation that years of influence in the public system of education will suddenly go away once the child is home. Parents often don't realize that children absorb habits of thinking and expectations for personal initiative from the public system that won't go away immediately just because the location has changed from bricks and classrooms at the public school, to the welcoming walls of the home.

This is especially true when, as I recently observed, the parents view, of home schooling, is a virtual reproduction of the disciplines and schedule of the public system, only relocated at home. It is almost as if the parent worships the system of public education so much, that the child himself, is relegated to a lessor position in the scale of importance. It has appeared to me, in many years of observation, that often the parent's need to fulfill their own expectation and vision of what education IS, takes strange precedence over the more obvious needs, interests, enthusiasms and passions of their own child.

My dad used to call it, in our business, people with a "plane and train schedule" mindset. More emphasis on the schedule, than the needs of the customer. In an educational sense, this is an almost rabid dedication to the form and function of education, including curriculum, testing, grading and grade level, to the frequent exclusion of the child's natural interests or curiosities or passions. Yes, the children at home need to be "DOING SOMETHING". However, in the first few weeks and months after coming home from years in the public system, it is going to take a while to undo what the public system has done. Be patient. (ie. Dumbing Us Down, John Taylor Gatto).

After years of being told by someone else, what should be of value to them, what should be important, what should be their loves passions and ambitions, a time of adjustment is required, especially, when at home, someone actually gives to a child the opportunity to answer that question themselves, from within themselves. The muscle of reaching inside themselves for answers is just not often highly developed. Mostly because it just isn't practical to encourage this in the public educational setting where there is only one teacher and 30+ students. But also, because, public education, by its very nature, can be more like building a car using a "Henry Ford Production Line" rather than a custom"one at a time" operation. Fitting the approach to the child is an enduring contrast and advantage that the home education environment forever offers. But getting to the point where a son or daughter can connect to this, may take some time on their part and patience on yours as parents. Patience and encouragement that thrives in a less structured environment and more responsive environment to the child instead of bringing the structure of the public system home.