Wednesday, 30 January 2013

Bad Education

My youngest son, who will be 17 in August, is disgusted with his peers. He vented forth at the weekend on his disappointment at his own generation. When he looks around at the vast majority of the kids his age he sees laziness, stupidity, lack of motivation, and a general bad attitude.

I reminded him that for many of them, the influence at home is largely responsible, bad parenting. I told him there's hope for them once they get out into the world and meet lots of different people, of all age groups and backgrounds, some of whom may be guiding lights for them.

But it shouldn't be this way at all. Look how much experience "we" (older people, who run the show) have of raising kids and educating them. Why are we getting it so wrong?

A friend who homeschools pointed this out to me:

And added:

"If schools in Ontario were like this, I wouldn't have a reason at all to homeschool."

Whatever your views on homeschooling are, one thing's certain, it shouldn't be necessary. It shouldn't be an option taken simply because the school system is failing. But frequently that is the reason parents turn to it.

I experimented with homeschooling by accident. When James was in Grade 4 we lost water supply to the barn in mid-winter. That meant I had to schlep endless buckets of water through the snow to our sheep, from the house. At the same time he had been having some issues at school which I thought I could address. So for a few months he stayed home, helped me with the water carrying, and using the material supplied by his teacher, I kept him on track with school work.

No. That's NOT what happened. We got through the school work for the entire semester in about 3 weeks. Initially we did a little each day, but it was ridiculous. There was so little to do it took no time at all. So we just went through it until we ran out. I expanded on it, adding my own material. By the time he returned to school he was so far ahead they wanted him to skip a grade. We decided against that, but it was very telling.

Why does it take SO LONG to teach kids the amount of material they get through? Some of it is disruption, classes are chaotic. Students do not sit quietly and pay attention. Some of them need more attention by the teacher than others. A large class would work fine if all kids were ready, able, and willing to learn, but the reality is that many are not, and this slows things down for everyone.

Obviously I'm not a person who believes homeschooling is automatically better or I would have done it permanently. However, I'm certainly very supportive of anyone who does. Yes, there is bad homeschooling. Oh yes. There is DREADFUL homeschooling. It's done for all the wrong reasons, and by parents who really aren't capable. But when it's done well it can be very good indeed.

So let's look at what education involves. The idea behind it is to prepare a child for adult life. There are many skills modern humans need above and beyond basic literacy and numeracy, and we send children in groups to learn all of this by one person, skilled at teaching. It works some of the time. Some kids respond very well to this system, and come out at the end of it ready to go, as it were. Some fail horribly because they need a completely different approach, and this was never recognized or addressed. The majority sort of muddle through, not quite reaching full potential. UGH.

The system semi-works. That's not good enough. Kids are falling through the cracks and instead of saying "WOAH, time to re-group, fix this!" less funding is being put into education instead of more. Ontario teachers are at loggerheads with the government. Funding in British schools is at an all-time low, with more cuts to come. Meanwhile in the US....oh I won't even go there.

When a generation is properly educated we all benefit. Crime rates are lower. It is absolutely a win-win.

The benefits of the academic skills are obvious, but there's more to it than that. When kids are compromised  by bad homes, behavioural problems, learning problems, then schools can help with life skills. There is often the idea that this is not the responsibility of a school. That teachers "shouldn't" have to deal with all of that. Then who? If parents are not doing it, because they can't or won't, somebody has to. Yes, "we", the big we have to pay for this. Because if it isn't the school system doing it, then it'll end up being the social services or justice system. The rest of us end up paying anyway. Far cheaper and better if it begins early, in school.

This is not a question of whose responsibility it is, not really. We can argue until we are blue in the face that parents ought to do this or that. Well some of them DON'T. That's how it is. Shoot them if you like. Ultimately kids with problems become society's problem. The dumb, lazy ones are a burden. They create new problems, including distractions for the kids who can and want to do well. Apparently it costs too much to educate the problem kids separately/in smaller groups/properly/at all. But this is an investment in the future.

Does anyone care about the future?


  1. There is no longer an interest in the child as a child. As a a a funding oppourtunity. But not as a child. There are teachers, like Kyle, who are amazing and I would LOVE it if more teachers were like him. Sadly, they aren't. They're jaded and I don't blame them.

    Our school system is wrong. Like I commented, on a local level, the system is dumbing down the students instead of teaching them, inspiring them. And that's only on a local level that I am commenting.

    But, instead of looking at Finland and saying "Hey, something is going right, there," our government is looking at the US with all of its testing and such and following them like a good little herd of sheep.


    So yeah, I homeschool. If I want my kids to be smart without a lot of extra b.s., this is my only way.

    1. Yes. A few outstanding teachers isn't enough. We must start over. Find out why more capable people are not attracted to the teaching profession. Fix THAT. Then fix the rest. Society cannot move forward if it is not educating its people.

  2. It is sad at how much has changed since I was in high school. I once heard a story about a former English teacher, who used to be strict about vocabulary and proper writing, was seen grading what looked like artwork. When questioned, he explained that it was an English assignment in which the students had been asked to draw pictures showing their impressions of the book they were studying at the time. Apparently students have been reduced from writing essays to drawing pictures.

    I have a 16 year-old niece in Grade 11 who doesn't know how to properly write a term paper. Nobody has taught her how.

    1. Every time I saw a homework assignment that I considered stupid, I challenged it. How many parents bother to do that, or even notice? The only way to get improvements is if we keep on their backs. Sadly, most won't.

  3. Public education by default teaches to the weakest link. A couple of years back I read the letters home of a 17 year old Civil War soldier. His command of the language, his grammar, his ability to convey complex thoughts clearly and simply, was breathtaking in its eloquence. He had a third grade education, yet I bet that not one out of a thousand liberal arts graduates could write as well.

    Modern education by default is geared to teach to the weakest link in the class.

    1. He was not redundant in his commentary, either. :P

  4. Here in Missouri I have noticed something that really makes me want to homeschool even more. My oldest was supposed to learn to read in 1st grade. I ended up homeschooling him for 2nd and 3rd grade and he finally caught on to reading at the end of 2nd and the first part of third grade. He is known at school for always having his nose in a book. My middle son was supposed to learn to read in 1st grade. He qualified for special reading classes and we took advantage of them. He learned to read in third grade. He hates to read even now in his teens. Now I have been investigating schools. If I send Malcolm to public school he is expected to be able to read by Christmas in kindergarten. If I send him to private school he is supposed to be able to read by the beginning of 1st grade. He knows a lot of words that are important to him, but I am guessing he won't really get the concept of picking up a book and reading it to get information until about 3rd grade. But US schools need him to be able to read in kindergarten so he will do well on the standardized tests.
    Of course if Malcolm is under the desk screaming because the classroom noise bothers him or if he becomes violent because someone touches him without his permission he would end up spending his days in the "isolation room" which is a padded room where he will learn nothing.

    1. Give me the name and address of a teacher that would shut a sensitive/autistic kid in a padded room, and I will hunt him down like a dog....................

    2. That is the solution here in Missouri. If they can't sit and follow the rules and be "normal" they spend time in a padded room. I believe it is called the "therapy" room. I think some parents have plans that help the kids avoid those rooms, but most of them don't. Malcolm has learned to cope in some situations and then he flips out once we get home. So maybe he would do okay at school, but then I am not sure how we would handle him at home. I am thinking I want to get at least another year of understanding him before I deal with that.

    3. From what I hear Amy, the schools in your area are not equipped to deal with a different child. This is me being nice. What I'm actually thinking is mostly four letter words.

    4. They are only equipped to deal with average compliant kids. I have one of those. He does really really well in school. He will never do anything creative, but he does just what the school expects. Schools here don't even teach kids how to write term papers anymore.

  5. What an excellent commentary on education today, and I like the fact that it isn't just a 'local' problem. I think we see systemic problems with education these days which cannot all be "caused" by the slowest learners in the class. Financially, it can be extended to the economy, but that's part of the problem, too.

    On the other hand, maybe the slowest learners in the class are no longer in the classroom? Those slowest learners being those of us who can make change happen. Once upon a time, parents and the community carried a much broader sense of support for the local schools. I can remember when "booster" programs did not pertain to vaccinations. School kids used to come home and fund raise selling little tickets of support that neighbors could tape on their front door to show they've paid something toward the local institute of learning.

    Also, "back in the day" the school buildings themselves were much more open for public scrutiny. Not that problems didn't exist back then (I'm sure they did), but back when moms were home during the day and were not working outside the home, more of them came in to do parent-teacher work, help in the classroom, maybe serve as aides in the office, classroom or lunchroom. With all the people unemployed these days, these things could/should be equal-opportunity. However, with all the safety and clearances involved with being "official" these days along with all the other safety-related "prohibitions," good luck with that kind of involvement. And schools wonder why parents do not want to come in for meetings or other fun events. :(


  6. As for how to "start over," if they are going to really look at education as the business it is, then some real analysis needs to happen--you know, comparing worker-bee teachers to the number of administrators would be a start. I know some nice school administrators, but how many are needed in one district? If most of the admin work is paper-pushing, can any of THAT be automated for tracking? Can administration be combined regionally? Is there a working ratio?

    And if we're going to upgrade, we would need to take a good look at all the parameters that make education what it is, at every level. We talk about a continuum of care when it comes to health, but what about school? If transportation is a big-ticket item, would it be less expensive to purchase equipment to cyber-school individuals or groups? If the building is too old or materials outdated, same question--why not use online info to have the latest in what kids need to learn?

    If a preschooler is identified as being either gifted or in need of other special services, these may be the kinds of identifiers that would benefit from going to an assortment of 'educational services' that could run the gamut of home school, magnet school, expedited learning (how those young people manage to graduate college while their peers are just getting out of high school).

    What about developing a student's interests and encouraging them to continue doing what they do well instead of trying to fit square pegs into the same round, bubble-circular hole? Each child learns differently, and you can be sure that if someone's behavior impedes their own learning others are being shortchanged as well, maybe somewhere right across the aisle.

    This would mean everyone gets refresher in how to communicate, manage time, deal with others, help with crises, mentor peers, etc. Human services being what they are these days, schools ARE more than simply showing up to learn.

    And with education being the 'business' that it is, we might think more about catering to the needs of each student, making all public education person-centered, and "not" cutting off education funds with an upper age limit--make the learning based on the results, just like any other good investment. We cut off funding from the "juvenile" system at age 21, often when things start to get interesting.

    If we are educating our kiddos for them to get life sustaining, employable skills and knowledge, we do need to revamp what happens in between the starting point and the finish line. With you all the way on this one. ;) ~ Blessings!