Friday, June 7, 2013
I was recently visiting with a close friend who has been a public school teacher for many years, working with 7th and 8th graders in language arts. The comment she heard most often from her students about her class was how very much they appreciated the choices she gave them. They chose their own books and writing topics, and believe it or not, she actually gave them regular time in class for silent reading! She even expressed to me that she wishes more parents would do unschooling (life learning) activities with their kids, as the burden of education seems to rest almost exclusively with school teachers.
This brings to mind a strange day in my high school geography class. Our teacher was asking questions to which we students did not have answers. Suddenly he punched the chalk board. If we had been dozing, we woke up then! "It's not your fault," he said dramatically. "Your parents should have taught you these things." How much time do parents of school children have to teach them anything? My friend seemed to think that the school day is not really that long. Yet if kids get on a bus at 7:30 a.m. and do not come home until 3:30 p.m, that is 40 hours a week away from home. Add after school activities such as sports and clubs, and then add a couple hours of homework a night.
Kids are tired. I remember many an evening that I slept right through dinner, woke up to eat by myself and do my homework, figured out what to wear the next day, and went to bed. Today kids have many more distractions in the way of TV, computer use, and video games. The school system, combined with these modern diversions, separates family members from one another and impedes meaningful connections. The peer group at school becomes dominant over relationships with parents and siblings, neighbors, and extended family.
My teacher friend's students loved having real choices. This gave them the opportunity to make their own decisions. It gave them the impression that they were people whose opinions and preferences mattered. I remember telling my mom that my 5th grade teacher addressed the students as "people," rather than calling us "children" or "kids." That small gesture signaled respect. That teacher also read to us out loud on a regular basis, even though we could read by ourselves. I loved this teacher. With all the pressure today put on teachers and students in preparing for standardized testing, many teachers cannot find a way to personalize education or encourage individuality, critical thinking, and creativity. Reading out loud to students would seem superfluous.
The world is full of never ending choices. Children need practice in making them. The problem I see is that the goal of school is supposed to be preparing young people for the "real world", as if they have not yet begun to really live. We become accustomed to always thinking that life will begin only after some educational goal is accomplished, and this continues on to after I get this new job, after I get married, after I lose the weight...The list goes on, the years go by, and life happens, whether or not we fully engage it. How about if children just live and learn in the real world in the first place?