Saturday, January 08, 2011

More on Schools - Cookie Cutter Education

I love the comments we receive on the blog, and they make me think more deeply about things I have written about our beliefs I hold.  it gives me the impetus to write things down that I hope will be valuable for the kids to read one day, as well as provide others with some insight into parenting kids like ours.  Even on  subjects that appear to be somewhat unrelated, there is always a connection.  Thanks to "Kelly and Sne" for their comment below, which I'd like to address a little here:

While I DO agree that we are in bad need of school reform, I don't think that homeschooling is the answer. While it may work for some, I don't think it works for all and, frankly, I think many parents could use some additional schooling themselves and are in no position to teach their children. There is a reason that teachers have special skills and special training. Maybe we just don't have enough of them.


I think much of the issues that you are describing have a lot more to do with bad parenting than bad schools. IN fact, as many of your commenters have stated, parent involvement seems to have made a world of difference in the quality of the school. And I would add, the quality of the child.
 
First of all, nn rereading my post I think I made it clear..and in all of my previous ones for that matter, that I do NOT think homeschooling is the answer to our nation's educational woes.  I have never advocated for anyone to homeschool simply because we found it to be the best solution for our strange little needs over here, and I agree 100% that not every mom or dad should even consider it.  I think the dynamic it sets up in a family can be very challenging depending upon the personalities involved...and yes, I would even agree that some parents may be ill equipped to teach their children if they don't have a certain level of intellectual and cognitive ability themselves.  That statement pretty much flies in the face of all conventional homeschoolers, who disturb me when they say that ANYONE can homeschool, and ALL should.  Sorry, I find that perspective to be one of the reasons why ardent homeschoolers are often seen as less than realistic about the way they educate their kids, and throw out statements that are way too far reaching and honestly, a little ignorant.  Can you honestly tell me that you think the poor kid who sat next to you in high school history who could barely write a coherent sentence ought to be teaching their child?  No.  Do I think they have a right to?  Well, that is a very different question  and I tend to ere on the side of parental rights over state's rights so I would have to answer "yes", as I feel every parent has the right to decide what is best for their child, even if I would disagree.
 
However, I do think the parent of average intelligence has the ability to teach their child.  I consider myself to be of quite average intelligence...there is no genius here in the LaJoy house (and I daresay that the vast majority of wonderful teachers I have encountered aren't exactly Einstein's either...just reasonably bright folks who care...caring and motivation are FAR more important than high IQ).  What many people who don't homeschool fail to see, is that most homeschooling parents don't see themselves as academic superstars who fall in the realm of Teacher of the Year.  Most of us, I daresay, see ourselves more as educational facilitators, looking for opportunities and mentors, outside classes (of which there are many if you need them) and tutors to help guide our child's education.  We are more of a general contractor, if that helps create an image that is more easily grasped, we teach some things, find experts in others, and eventually our kids learn to teach themselves many things they are interested in...just as we adults do in " real life" when we find we need to learn something new. 
 
And let's face it, if a parent functions reasonably well in the working world, there is no reason they can't confidently teach well into the upper grades themselves.  There is no magic to it, other than deeply caring about your kids and being willing to put in the effort to revisit all that stuff you learned yourself as a kid. After all, you DID learn it once, it is NOT all foreign to you!  The teacher's manuals spell it all out for you fairly well, just as it does for any teacher in public school who finds themselves suddenly teaching a grade or subject they have never taught before.  There really is no difference...but we like to think there is because then it is easy to say we could never do that.  I know, I was there 2 years ago :-)  Now, I won't lie to you and tell you I feel confident enough to teach subjects like trig or calculus, but that is why we will enroll in local classes for those subjects as the need arises...but I'll bet you 90% of the elementary school teachers I know would not feel confident teaching those subjects either...hence the parent as educational facilitator, not "expert of all things". 
 
As for the special training a teacher receives, I think I see a little different side to that, and it actually goes to the other issues raised in the comment.  Much of a teacher's special training has nothing at all to do with subjects to be taught, nor does it have to do with the best approaches.  A large portion of their training addresses classroom management and the array of behavioral challenges they will encounter in the classroom.  This has nothing at all really to do with creating specialists who really are amazing and gifted at helping bring out the best in every child based upon that child's individual learning style and interests, well versed in specific subjects they will teach, but it has everything to do with keeping a class under control, learning how to be part counselor, traffic cop, disciplinarian, family therapist, role model, and many other things that have little to do with the actual teaching of academics.  Why is this sort of special training needed?  Because of exactly what was pointed out in Kelly and Sne's comment...bad parenting is rampant.  I would even go so far as to say that often that special training is necessary as it is an effort to combat no parenting at all.
 
There are other factors, however, and they mirror society as a whole. This is the crux of what I was trying to say...we have completely lost a sense of community in our schools.  They are large institutions where kids are just a number and where teachers seldom get to know kids well once they enter middle school.  Parents are no longer involved and have completely abdicated responsibility to the schools to educate (and sadly sometimes parent) their children.  At moments I wonder though, which came first...the chicken or the egg?  This is just ruminating here...but I have often wondered if parents spend less time in the schools because the schools have taken over more of the parental role, or if the schools have taken over more of the parental role because parents won't parent.  Our schools now weigh our kids and tell them what to eat, drink, when to sleep, and explain sex to them.  They reach into the home life with so many hours of homework as the child grows older that it is impossible to have a well functioning home life after school hours.  On the flip side, parents send their kids to school ill prepared from the very beginning, figuring it is the school's job to teach them their ABC's or how to count.  See what I mean?  It could be that both sides are a little skewed and have contributed to the problem of absentee parents.
 
I have to ask the question though...what would happen if we stepped back to the days when education worked better?  What if kids had the same teacher for several years as in the one room schoolhouse, where a teacher could grow to know that child intimately and work with their strengths and weaknesses, making sure there were no learning gaps as much of the previous learning would be well known?  What if kids went to neighborhood schools that were tiny in contrast to what we have today, where a real sense of community could be developed because everyone was going with neighbors and saw each other out on the front lawns of their homes.  What if we didn't worry about high school football teams and cheerleading squads, but worried more about spelling bees and science fairs?  What if parents pooled together their tax dollars and created their local school and reviewed and voted on curriculum?  What if your child attended a school with 40 students rather than 400?  What sort of difference in terms of accountability and sense of community would that make?
 
I see it as similar to the solution that larger mega-churches have come up with in light of their challenges...they created "small groups" to help form mini-communities that basically sort of mimic the feel of a much smaller congregation, but still allows one access to larger church programming when it is desired.  Why can't our schools follow a model like that?  Maybe it is not about more funding, but better use of the funding that currently exists...and a system that encourages parental involvement over "drop and run" for even those parents that would prefer to be more involved but are intimidated by a large "system".
 
I guess that I see our educational problems as two fold, both a school problem and a parenting problem.  When a teacher can not find more individualized solutions for a child because they can't make changes to curriculum because it is not "District approved", we all have a problem.  When a parent sends an angry, defiant, ill equipped child to school, we all have a problem.  When we focus solely on college as "the" road to success in adult life and we leave out training for kids who are not college material but hard working, functioning, responsible kids, we all have a problem.  When we have a system that is prison like in order to maintain control over the inmates...oh...I mean students, we all have a problem.
 
Anyone could list a million ways in which our schools could be reformed, but one major key to stopping some of the on campus violence we see today is "relationship".  With it, people become connected and interdependent, without it, people become strangers who are easy to ignore or dehumanize.
 
And please, please, please...don't see our family as being fanatical homeschooling advocates, for we are not.  We know good and well that for all that we have gained with this decision, we have lost a lot as well.  You can't have it all, and we don't see public school as the "evil" that so many others do.  It's funny, but just as it seems to happen with adoption decisions, others want to categorize you.  We have spent years justifying our decision to adopt, our decision to adopt internationally versus domestically, our decision to adopt trans-racially, our  decision to adopt more than the acceptable norm of 2.5 kids, and our decision to "destroy our family" and adopt older kids.  We never said anyone else who made different decisions was wrong, and honestly don't think anyone should ever follow in our footsteps. 
 
Now we find ourselves defending our decision to homeschool as assumptions are made about our reasons, our perspective about public education, our religious beliefs, our own educational background, and so much more.  It has been "out of the frying pan and into the fire".  I have never had so many raised eyebrows as I get these days when someone finds out we are homeschooling, and I have no teaching degree...or even any college education at all.  I never imagined that our personal decision to educate our kids at home would create such an opening for others to judge us (I am not referring to Kelly and Sne's comment, just making a statement in general and want to be clear about where we stand.) or make assumptions that we somehow think THEY are wrong for having their kids in public school. Nothing could be further from the truth, but others seem to forget that they are not, nor have they ever parented our kids or faced our challenges.  This works for us, and it works right now.  We hope it continues to work and that our kids continue to thrive. 
 
It's been the right decision for us, but it comes at a cost...the loss of "fitting in" more with societal norms, the loss of the casual friendships and connections we so enjoyed, the loss of my own personal confidence as I jump into something more scary than I care to admit at moments, the loss of life as we knew it, the loss of myself outside of our kids and I have yet to regain that, the loss of a shared common experience of childhood with our children as their childhood experiences now veer far off course of our own, the loss of my time as already thousands of hours have been spent teaching or researching and planning, and so much more.
 
With all that being said, the gains are worth the losses.  We have gained a closeness that can't be matched, we see our kids gaining confidence where it once was being chipped away, we have gained watching our kids develop a love of learning they never before had, we have gained a deeper sense of gratitude for the family we have become, we have gained the ability to allow each child to approach each subject individually and move at their own pace which is priceless in our situation, we have gained a very different sense of "home", we have gained a very different understanding of what education is, we have gained so very much.
 
And still I say it is not for everyone.  If we had different kids with different needs, this would not work at all.  If we had different kids with different personalities, I would dread doing this.  If we had different lives and I had indeed been better educated myself and had a true career, I would likely never have considered giving that up to do this.  That is truthful, and not necessarily something I am proud to admit but it might be too hard to give up what I had, and I would have missed out on something quite precious for us.  If we had better local alternatives, we would probably have tried that over homeschooling.  But for THIS family in THIS place with THESE kids, homeschooling has proven to be our best bet. 
 
I don't claim to have any of the answers...just a bunch of opinions that may make little sense to anyone else.  It can not be denied, however, that something is broken and needs to be fixed.  The finger points in many directions as we try to find the cause and where to begin to create a better functioning educational system. Fault does not fall in one court only, but bounces back and forth in a virtual game of ping pong as we all say "Yea, but...." and then volley with another "Yea, but...". 
 
The important thing is that we keep the dialogue open, that we don't bury our heads in the sand.  We need to look at what IS working, and be open to trying new approaches.  That is exactly what we did as we searched for a solution for our family.  That approach may not be right for everyone, just as various approaches and solutions for public education may not prove to be best for everyone either.  We have to keep trying though, and recognize that through a variety of options we might be able to provide solutions for a variety of children.  None of us are cookie cutter learners or families.  What we currently have is basically a cookie cutter system.  We need to roll that dough out and try different styles of cookies...drop cookies, pressed cookies, rolled cookies.  Believe me, there will be someone who likes each style.

8 comments:

Anonymous said...

You know, I respectfully disagree that the answer is parent involvement. I have considered homeschooling for my son because the schools cannot meet his educational needs. I am an involved parent. I am in his classroom one day a week, I work with him on his homework and I am here for him. The teacher has a parent helper in her classroom every single day of the week.

None of that negates the fact she has 35 children in her kindergarten classroom, or that she is teaching in the country's most under-funded district. Going to college to learn how to teach did not help her to understand how to use resources appropriately, or wisely. I spend my time in her classroom stapling and pulling papers apart - I have a Master's degree and have taught at the college level. My child's teacher is stuck in a system that leaves her no room for creativity, or thinking outside the box...she must ensure that her kids test at a certain level. Period. So, she spends her time trying to get those kids who far behind up to speed for the assessment. My child's teacher, in response to my concern that my son was working above-level in math told me that I should tell my husband to STOP TEACHING the child math topics, or we would be homeschooling next year. My kid's teacher told us to STOP LETTING HIM LEARN!!!

I have been in the classroom and have seen that it simply is not working. I don't think the answer is as simple as "parental involvement" or "homeschooling" or "funding / vouchers." What we have right now is not working. It is a complex problem that requires a complex solution. Complicated solutions require dedicated, smart people to think outside the box. Whether this will happen at any level - federal, state or local remains to be seen.

And in the meantime, parents are stuck, children get short-changed and the future of our nation is at stake.

Kelly Raftery, aka Vegas. Mother to a five-year old math whiz.

Anonymous said...

I agree also wih the above comment, in that there are many complex problems in classrooms. One of our daughters is amiddle school guidance counselor and deals with so many emotional/ social issues durin her days in her school of 800 students (multi-racial/ethnic/majority low income). It also seems, at least in our small, rura community, that more and more kids are coming to school with issues/diagnosis which need to be addressed within the classroom and building. And while I agree to some extent that kids with special needs should not be "swept away" in the special ed room, I also see how hard it is for one teacher to "mainstream" all learners. Our Guatemalan daughter (home 3yrs) qualified for special ed math. That, along with her language learning, has made it difficult for her to keep up in the classroom...but that's the focus, keeping her in the classroom rather than taking her to another room for more one on one time of catching up.

I'm sorry that you're again struggling with feeling judged, Cindy. You're only responsible for those kids God gave you, and not how others feel you should teach or parent them. My homeschooling friend once told m that I had the harder job, by sending my kids to public school. She meant by that, I would need to work harder to oversee what my kids were being taught.

I also remember how incredulous the K teachers were when we approached them that we would keep our 1st daughter home until 1st grade. "How would she learn how to read?" Well, golly gee wiz, I know how to read...and if I needed to read how to teach her to read, I could do that, too. I thought at the time that it surely didn't say much for our educational system, if someone who had been taught in the same could not then pass on their learning to a child of six. I sometimes have to remind mysel that I did homeschool, as it didn't seem like all that much to just teach my kids to read and count and do simple math that year we held them out. Compared to what "real" homeschool parents teach, it was pretty simple! I know from our homeschool friends, that kids do reach the age where they teach themselves and parents are more the facilitators.

I taught six of our eight children to read. It wasn't always easy, as some were less interested that year, and it came more naturally to some than others. But they all read now, ages 14-28. Our last two girs knew how to read in English when they came from Guatemala, but they've needed much help in comprehension. I can do that, too...having a fairly large vocabulary from my college education and life's experiences.

It takes an incredible amount of discipline to be a good homeschool teacher. I think your family is blessed to be able to all learn at their own pace, and for you to be enjoying the learning alongside them, watching them flourish.

I hope and pray you'll find the support for homeschooling that you deserve, Cindy. But if not, you'll always know what you know in your heart about your own kids.

Nancy in the Midwest

Anonymous said...

I agree also wih the above comment, in that there are many complex problems in classrooms. One of our daughters is amiddle school guidance counselor and deals with so many emotional/ social issues durin her days in her school of 800 students (multi-racial/ethnic/majority low income). It also seems, at least in our small, rura community, that more and more kids are coming to school with issues/diagnosis which need to be addressed within the classroom and building. And while I agree to some extent that kids with special needs should not be "swept away" in the special ed room, I also see how hard it is for one teacher to "mainstream" all learners. Our Guatemalan daughter (home 3yrs) qualified for special ed math. That, along with her language learning, has made it difficult for her to keep up in the classroom...but that's the focus, keeping her in the classroom rather than taking her to another room for more one on one time of catching up.

I'm sorry that you're again struggling with feeling judged, Cindy. You're only responsible for those kids God gave you, and not how others feel you should teach or parent them. My homeschooling friend once told m that I had the harder job, by sending my kids to public school. She meant by that, I would need to work harder to oversee what my kids were being taught.

I also remember how incredulous the K teachers were when we approached them that we would keep our 1st daughter home until 1st grade. "How would she learn how to read?" Well, golly gee wiz, I know how to read...and if I needed to read how to teach her to read, I could do that, too. I thought at the time that it surely didn't say much for our educational system, if someone who had been taught in the same could not then pass on their learning to a child of six. I sometimes have to remind mysel that I did homeschool, as it didn't seem like all that much to just teach my kids to read and count and do simple math that year we held them out. Compared to what "real" homeschool parents teach, it was pretty simple! I know from our homeschool friends, that kids do reach the age where they teach themselves and parents are more the facilitators.

I taught six of our eight children to read. It wasn't always easy, as some were less interested that year, and it came more naturally to some than others. But they all read now, ages 14-28. Our last two girs knew how to read in English when they came from Guatemala, but they've needed much help in comprehension. I can do that, too...having a fairly large vocabulary from my college education and life's experiences.

It takes an incredible amount of discipline to be a good homeschool teacher. I think your family is blessed to be able to all learn at their own pace, and for you to be enjoying the learning alongside them, watching them flourish.

I hope and pray you'll find the support for homeschooling that you deserve, Cindy. But if not, you'll always know what you know in your heart about your own kids.

Nancy in the Midwest

Anonymous said...

So sorry I published twice. Hope you can delete me once, at least. I'm also sorry that my computer is not currently keeping up with my typing speed, such as it is. I forgot to proof. So much for my college education, huh?
Nancy again

Tim and Anne said...

I am at the other end of the spectrum from 'Vegas'. My kids all have physical disabilities (most invisible to the eye) that cause them to have learning difficulties.

Our 4 kids are biological siblings. We adopted them 2 years ago. Our public school did not seem to know about auditory processing disorder or grasp the gravity of it nor visual processing disorders (strabmisic amblyopia and convergence insufficiency) - they don't test for any of them in their annual screenings.

I think Cindy's point is (but don't let me put words in your mouth) that, if your child is to be successfully educated to the highest level of his or her abilities and interests, the parents MUST be involved. It doesn't matter if you do that in public, private or home school.

Our public school district is pretty big where I live. I didn't have the inclination to fight through "the system" while my kids continued to not have their needs met by the mainstream, cookie cutter educational system we have.

We chose private schools to meet our needs. Our older two kids go to a "special education" private school (class has 4 kids, 2 are mine), our younger two to a "regular" private school (one class with 19 and the other 12 kids). If we didn't have the kind of schools our kids needed in our area, I'd probably be homeschooling our kids. I have a college degree, but I don't think I would be "Teacher of the Year" because of it.

BTW, I'd be a no bake cookie. That's just how I roll...

-Anne

Julie said...

As an experienced teacher, with a BA and MA under my belt, 13 years teaching experience, and as a parent, I have to chime in here. I am also a supporter of homeschooling, because I know the classroom model doesn't work for every kid. But some of the points you make are not true.

"The teacher's manuals spell it all out for you fairly well, just as it does for any teacher in public school who finds themselves suddenly teaching a grade or subject they have never taught before."
False: After NCLB legislation, teachers are not allowed to teach outside of their subject area. In my state, that means a minimum of 30 credit hours in your subject. Before NCLB, I did find myself teaching outside of my subject area, but nothing out of the ordinary. I'm a language teacher, with good computer knowledge, so I also taught a basic keyboarding class. I would have never been thrown into a math or science class, for example. And now, it would never happen. As such, comparing my knowledge of my teaching areas (German and TESOL - Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages), to other subjects (math, science, history, etc), I would *never* think that I am qualified to teach my children these subjects. I have rich, deep knowledge in both the content area, and the pedagogy of teaching English and German. That's it.

"Much of a teacher's special training has nothing at all to do with subjects to be taught, nor does it have to do with the best approaches. A large portion of their training addresses classroom management and the array of behavioral challenges they will encounter in the classroom. "
False. Very little of my teacher training was on classroom management or behavioral challenges. These were addressed only during practicum (student pre-teaching and student teaching). You would find no classes on my transcripts related to these things. However, you will find such subjects as: First and Second Language Acquisition, Psycho- and Sociolinguistics, Syntax, Phonology, Teaching Reading to ESL Learners, Teaching Writing, Teaching Speaking and Listening Skills, Testing and Assessment, etc. All of these classes integrate best approaches to teaching the subject matter, and what you're left with, is a teacher that has a deep and profound knowledge in teaching language. There's also undergraduate and graduate level courses in the content area itself (German language and literature, English literature). I only learned how to be a counselor, cop, disciplinarian, mother, and family therapist, *on the job.* :)

As such, I know homeschooling works for many. And I also know that there are many failing schools. I have worked in both good and bad schools. I would say, in general, the best schools I've taught in do the sorts of things you mention: modifying curricula to meet the individual's needs, small class sizes, teachers that spend more than one year with a group of students, connected and caring parents.

I also believe that *all* children deserve a good education, and I know that we, as a nation, are not doing a good job at it. The moment we start putting the same amount of money into education as we do into bombs, we'll be on the right track. Side note -- what was the defense budget last year, something like $533 billion?? You want to know what my annual classroom budget was? It was cut from $25 to $0.

Julie said...

As an experienced teacher, with a BA and MA under my belt, 13 years teaching experience, and as a parent, I have to chime in here. I am also a supporter of homeschooling, because I know the classroom model doesn't work for every kid. But some of the points you make are not true.

"The teacher's manuals spell it all out for you fairly well, just as it does for any teacher in public school who finds themselves suddenly teaching a grade or subject they have never taught before."
False: After NCLB legislation, teachers are not allowed to teach outside of their subject area. In my state, that means a minimum of 30 credit hours in your subject. Before NCLB, I did find myself teaching outside of my subject area, but nothing out of the ordinary. I'm a language teacher, with good computer knowledge, so I also taught a basic keyboarding class. I would have never been thrown into a math or science class, for example. And now, it would never happen. As such, comparing my knowledge of my teaching areas (German and TESOL - Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages), to other subjects (math, science, history, etc), I would *never* think that I am qualified to teach my children these subjects. I have rich, deep knowledge in both the content area, and the pedagogy of teaching English and German. That's it.

"Much of a teacher's special training has nothing at all to do with subjects to be taught, nor does it have to do with the best approaches. A large portion of their training addresses classroom management and the array of behavioral challenges they will encounter in the classroom. "
False. Very little of my teacher training was on classroom management or behavioral challenges. These were addressed only during practicum (student pre-teaching and student teaching). You would find no classes on my transcripts related to these things. However, you will find such subjects as: First and Second Language Acquisition, Psycho- and Sociolinguistics, Syntax, Phonology, Teaching Reading to ESL Learners, Teaching Writing, Teaching Speaking and Listening Skills, Testing and Assessment, etc. All of these classes integrate best approaches to teaching the subject matter, and what you're left with, is a teacher that has a deep and profound knowledge in teaching language. There's also undergraduate and graduate level courses in the content area itself (German language and literature, English literature). I only learned how to be a counselor, cop, disciplinarian, mother, and family therapist, *on the job.* :)

As such, I know homeschooling works for many. And I also know that there are many failing schools. I have worked in both good and bad schools. I would say, in general, the best schools I've taught in do the sorts of things you mention: modifying curricula to meet the individual's needs, small class sizes, teachers that spend more than one year with a group of students, connected and caring parents.

I also believe that *all* children deserve a good education, and I know that we, as a nation, are not doing a good job at it. The moment we start putting the same amount of money into education as we do into bombs, we'll be on the right track. Side note -- what was the defense budget last year, something like $533 billion?? You want to know what my annual classroom budget was? It was cut from $25 to $0.

Anonymous said...

A friend who used to teach, over the years, ground his teeth to a nub feeling that when a student failed or didn't live up to his/her potential it was somehow his fault. He cared deeply for his kids, but his vision was skewed by not factoring in the kids' own participation, the parental support, the community atmosphere.

A friend who teaches now is in despair that teachers can no longer be innovative because their focus has to be on teaching toward the test. Others report the large classroom numbers, economic extremes, ESL kids, then factor in gangs, violence, parental ennui, drugs, alcohol, whatever is happening in society at large reflected in the classroom.

We now have no money to rethink or properly fund the education system. The first step toward rebuilding the system will have to be looking at where education is flourishing and what makes it work.

That said, schools and teachers are doing an outstanding job (for the most part) given what they are now given--or not, and yet it is not enough.

Money will still place a child in the better schools in a given district. Parents can move to the school district and school they desire, advocate for their child.

Each child deserves a stimulating, challenging education wherever that may be found. You, Cindy have chosen a daunting, challenging, rewarding way to give your children an education, and you have raised the questions so many others are raising. How can we maximize education for each child? How can we make the public school system work?

For now, we work one, two-maybe five children at a time.

Hang in there,
Lael