In a previous article, I offered 5 Ways to Improve the Public School Experience with Unschooling Techniques.
As an unschooling parent, I often struggle with the thoughts of what happens to all the other children that are still in the public school system. While we believe very strongly in the benefits of having our children at home and following an unschooling lifestyle, I know that it is simply not possible for everyone.
I feel that the public school system is a completely inefficient model for gaining knowledge. Our public school systems are deeply rooted in an archaic mindset that we should consider updating to be in step with current technological and societal advancements.
With the foundational goals of happiness, confidence, safety, and encouraging children to seek out their own passion, I think it is time that we look at what we should remove from public school philosophy, so that we prepare our children better for the real world that awaits beyond the orchestrated schoolyard experience.
Separation of children by age
The practice of separating children by age only fosters the idea that we cannot work with others that are different. This couldn't be further from the truth. Not only is working with different age groups good for development, but it also keeps in mind the highly variable rates at which young children develop. Not all five year olds are on the same level. Why not offer them the opportunity to learn from older children, or to help younger ones?
Having a wide range of ages in a classroom will do a couple things. For starters, young children seem to benefit greatly by learning from older children, as they love to emulate older siblings and peers. Older children gain a confidence and pride in helping others and learn to be more tolerant and considerate of others when they are helping younger children. It benefits everyone and can easily be arranged.
Mentoring programs are wonderful and they work well. But why not offer that same type of interaction in school? Institute an age range of possibly 3-4 grade levels together, at least for certain subjects and activities. Play with it and see what best works for the students. Montessori schools are already doing this and it works well to foster creativity and self-esteem. Two things that seem to be falling by the wayside in our school system at the moment.
When test scores go up, we should worry, because of how poor a measure they are of what matters, and what you typically sacrifice in a desperate effort to raise scores. - Alfie Kohn
Testing our children is sold to us under the auspices of accountability. How on earth will we know what our children know and if the teachers are doing their job without the tests, they tell us. Accountability should come from parents' and children’s happiness. Not everyone will be pleased, but if the overall sentiment is positive and the children enjoy their days, that should be enough. Again, if parents had choices, they could simply choose a school that emphasizes testing or one that does not.
Universal testing of children is no longer an accurate measure of ability. Book smarts and ability are not universal. Additionally, many teachers complain that they are losing any autonomy they once had in the classroom in an effort to teach to the tests. The quality and flexibility of education drops as the focus is solely put on what the test makers think is important. Meanwhile, kids are having creativity and diversity sucked out of their lives. Finally, every answer to the questions on these so-called tests could be found or calculated with a tablet in seconds. So, really, what's the point?
Busy work is a huge component to homework and the need for children to be in school so many hours a day. Relaxation or free time is not appreciated at all, yet we all need it. Playing games and interacting with parents and siblings is a far more useful way for children to spend their time. If they are done with their work in the classroom, allow and encourage them to do what they want. They will still be busy, but busy working on what has value to them. Isn't that important enough? Even forcing them into full-time extracurricular activities can be harmful.
In my opinion, homework should be done away with altogether (I can hear all the children cheering now). When a second-grader is in school all day, five days a week, why on earth do they need to do more school work? It's madness! Mindless worksheets just to have the appearance that they are always working or always learning. I have news for you; they are always learning, and usually most effectively through play. Get rid of homework all together, and allow children time to be with friends and family, play, and view the world on their own terms.
Long hours away from home
We ask children to do for most of the day what few adults are able to do for even an hour. How many of us, attending, say, a lecture that doesn’t interest us, can keep our minds from wandering? Hardly any. - John Holt
Simply put, our children are overworked and separated for far too many hours from their family. Family ties are extremely important for child development, especially when children are young. Interaction with their siblings, parents, extended family and pets is vital to their formation of identity. At this point, we see our children for a very limited time during the day, and that time gets quickly eaten up with duties like extracurricular activities, homework, baths, dinner, and sleep.
Cut back the hours that they are in the classroom spent on traditional means of educating. If we have smaller class sizes, then 4 hours per day should be plenty to gain what currently is achieved in 7 or so hours. If parents struggle with work commitments, then use that other time to allow children creative outlets to explore their world. Plant gardens, allow computer time, set up apprenticeships for older children, etc. Let children decide what they want to do and get them involved in it.
Institutional feel of classrooms
If you wanted to create an education environment that was directly opposed to what the brain was good at doing, you would probably design something like a classroom. - John Medina
Schools and classrooms are overly institutional feeling, which is cold and unhealthy. The oppressive rules are increasingly prison-like. This stifles creativity and curiosity and makes our children accept the life of living in a box. I know building all new schools is not possible, but bringing the outdoors inside, allowing classroom time to be outdoors, colorfully painting, and encouraging ideas from children are all things that can be done to help this.
When a new school is being built consider what would foster your own creativity, what would help allow you to see the world and all its possibilities. Isn't that the best we can give to our children?
The bottom line is that no matter what you think of homeschooling or unschooling, the public education system needs a massive paradigm shift. How can it hurt to incorporate new ideas into the classroom? I know many of you reading will probably question how to fund these changes. But again I would argue that it may not be about increasing funding, but rather a simple change in how and what we are funding.
You may say I am a dreamer, but I'm not the only one. - John Lennon.
I know there are more people out there that see the pitfalls in the way our children are being educated. Let’s stand up together and make a change!
This article first appeared on Bohemian Travelers family travel blog.
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