originally published on July 19, 2017
‘every child is an artist. the problem is how to remain an artist once they grow up’- Picasso
*two books related to this topic…and that I highly recommend reading are The Global Achievement Gap by Wagner, and Home Grown: adventures in parenting off the beaten path, unschooling, and reconnecting with the natural world, by Hewitt.
Also, check out this blog on Unschooling by Leo Babauta
As Matilda grows closer to school aged, I find myself thinking about her education more and more. She’s 4 years old now, and won’t be old enough for kindergarten until the Fall of 2018. So there is some time…but none like the present to consider options. I honestly haven’t made any conclusions about how I feel in regards to kindergarten and school yet. But I have read a bunch, spoke to some others about it, and think on it often. Hopefully, writing on the topic will allow me to explore it more deeply, and help define what I truly believe in.
While you may think I’m speaking of a Steph Curry ‘step back’ 3 pointer, I’m talking more about what I believe all of us ‘citizens’ need to practice before thinking about education. It’s a term that I’ll use to describe a pausing, stepping out of the box, and the employment of a wide and general perspective. You see, I never questioned school really. I’m not sure my parents did either. Maybe your parents didn’t. It’s just been accepted over time that school is where you go starting at age 5 and ending at age 18. It’s what everyone does. We’ve done it for a long time, and now you’re going to do it. But what does that allow our children? What does it provide them? How does it challenge them? How is it tailored for them? What will it prepare them for? And how will we determine their success within this institution?
It is pretty obvious to me that a student that attends 180 days of school (let’s say a first grader), will know more facts and things than a child that doesn’t go to school for that 180 days. The schooled student will test better, follow rules quicker, and be better prepared to take on the 2nd grade curriculum. They will be ‘ahead of the curve’ compared to the unschooled child. ‘Stepping back’ though…is saying ‘who cares’ to all of that. It’s saying, standardized tests are not what define my child. It’s recognizing that rules can be bent in life outside of school…there is always a loophole…and questioning everything is actually very beneficial. It’s submitting to the rat race of parent’s claiming high percentiles of where their child sits, admitting that the curve that we’re all trying to get ahead of is a slippery slope that doesn’t matter as much as we’re drilled to believe. Stepping back is believing that it’s ok that my child doesn’t ride a bike as well as other 4 year olds. It’s ok if my child’s reading level isn’t where the common core says it should be. I understand it’s difficult to be ok with that, especially considering societal pressure. But…we don’t need to constantly compare each to another…and rank accordingly. We all contain multitudes. These microcosms and measurements are small pieces of our entire selves.
6 hours per school day (approx) multiplied by 180 school days = 1080 hours per school year.
12 school years + kindergarten = 13 school years.
13 school years x 1080 hours = 14,040 hours of total schooling through completion.
Is it too much? Is it enough? Are the hours used most effectively?
The average American 15 year old spends about 5 hours per week doing homework…and since students with a more advantaged socio-economic status tend to do more homework than less fortunate students, ‘homework helps perpetuate existing inequalities in education’, says the PISA (Programme for International Student Assessment) researchers.
According to the Pew Research Center, the United States ranks ’38th out of 71 countries in math…24th in science…24th in reading’.
While there have been some very small gains since the 1990’s, standardized test scores in the US have gone down since 2013.
How are our schools failing us? How are they preparing our children for the unpredictable, ever changing future? Do test scores matter? Do world rankings matter? How are our children allowed to fail, and encouraged to try again…a different way?
This TED talk is one of the most watched ever. It asks the question, ‘do schools kill creativity’? And I highly recommend it! …the video…not killing creativity.
How kind is kindergarten?
Recent NH news has described how full day kindergarten will finally be funded here, as it passed through the NH legislature.
Having discussions with many parents about this, I’ve heard a common thread…and that is that the schedule of full-day kindergarten will allow parents to send their kids away without having to pick up or drop off midday. So basically, it’s the logistics that people are most happy about. This is just what I’ve heard the most…not the entire story.
I’ve also heard a bit of ‘my child will be more ready for 1st grade, which will then lead to future success’. This argument is somewhat obvious to me again…but another area in which I use the step back approach. Of course, any student that goes through the routine of a full day school schedule will be ahead of one that doesn’t. They will test better, follow rules quicker, possess a deeper understanding of how a school day functions, sit at a higher reading and math level, etc. etc. However, the ‘leading to future success’ part has been proven wrong. The intellectual and social/emotional gains from kindergarten are found up to a 3rd or 4th grade level. After that they drop off. So if we step back and consider what the real pros and cons of full day kindergarten are, there is more of a story that I need to be told. Some questions I have about it are:
How much ‘free play time’ will children have? What is the curriculum, and where I can I find it? What arts will be part of the school day? Is funding this thing with Keno (a lottery game that I believe is currently illegal in NH) a wise decision…sustainable…respectable? It feels…icky.
I don’t believe anymore in sedentary, sitting in the desk, receiving curriculum from the teacher, following structure and rules, no risk involved, being told how to think and learn. I know this isn’t every school and every teacher. There are so many good ones out there…and they make a difference. But the structure/institution seems to be broken…or lacking…and not providing the best possible return on investment.
Take a look at this kindergarten in Tokyo, and look how different it looks from something our children will receive. It’s experiential, creates wonder, involves risk, allows bending of rules, includes inherent challenges (physical and emotional).
I was a teacher once. I didn’t leave because I ‘disagreed’ with school. I had surely lost the passion I once had though, and was feeling totally burnt out, lacking resources, lacking technology, looking at a pay cut the following year, wondering how to best provide for my young daughter in the years to come, and trying to run a small business on the side. It was a multitude of variables pulling me away.
I was a student once too. I remember some good moments in elementary and middle school. I had some fun, and made some great connections with people. The early years of school felt easy to me. I got good grades, and I had good manners. On the other hand, I remember often staring off out a window, or at a wall. Not an inspired and dream-filled daydream. It was always filled with the thought, ‘when will this be over?’ I remember feeling insecure, especially as I got older and entered high school, not fitting in, not knowing where to sit, how to get along. Things became much harder for me then. I failed. I quit. Fortunately, I went right back and finished. But high school is a sad memory for me, and very negative. I envy others when I hear they loved high school so much. I’m happy for them, but that is foreign to me.
I’ve recently became infatuated with this idea of Unschooling. It’s not homeschooling, with a curriculum and standards. It’s simply not going to school…and allowing the parent and child the decision on what to learn, when, and how they want to…ultimate freedom. It sounds scary at first…and those thoughts of meeting grade level standards, keeping up with the Jones’, and how will my kid be successful with that? start to creep in. But if we step back, we can accept that those worries don’t truly hold weight. They don’t define us as individuals when we leave school anyway….and the same questions can be asked of a schooler…with similar validity. There are so many other meaningful experiences that can be had within 14,040 hours, that may lead to more influential lessons learned.