Sunday, April 22, 2012

5 Ways to Improve the Public School Experience with Unschooling Techniques

Bohemian Mom
Activist Post

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. What can be done to help those children?

How can we care so much about our children while knowingly walking away from the other kids that are stuck in what I feel is a completely inefficient model for gaining knowledge?

We can’t completely ignore these challenges. While I am not there in the U.S. to personally advocate changes, I can offer up some tips to help bring some homeschooling philosophies of learning into the classroom.  It will require an open mind and a willingness to try something new, but I believe these ideas could revolutionize the way our public education system functions.

It will seem idealistic to some, but isn’t that what we need? Our children deserve new ideas to help guide them into the quickly changing future. Our public school systems are deeply rooted in an archaic mindset and it is vital to change sooner rather than later.

I started to think of what an ideal school setting would look like to me, as an unschooler. If we look at the ways in which home educators teach, there are many components that can be introduced on a larger scale and used in schools now! In my opinion, these things could make our children successful on a whole new level. Happiness, confidence, and seeking out their own passions can take precedence even on a large scale.

The following ideas are how I think that can be achieved.

Change the way we view educating children
The secret of education is respecting the pupil. - Ralph Waldo Emerson

First and foremost, we need to begin by looking at all children as individuals, and make sure that they know it is okay to be exactly who they are. Acceptance by others is one of the easiest ways we can instill a positive sense of self esteem.  One of our biggest problems with a mass education system is that children are judged on one path and one centrally-dictated curriculum. They are also constantly compared to peers and encouraged to do things no matter what their own ideas of happiness or success are.

Throw away the list of arbitrary rules that make children feel mistrusted right out of the gate. Children need to feel like they are being guided, not controlled. Allow them the freedom to make choices individually about what they would like to do for at least part of the day, and then respect and encourage those choices.  By showing children respect, we will gain it too -- as well as boosting their self esteem and allowing them to pursue subjects of their passion.  This can be done by simply allowing them choice and encouragement!  This concept is already proving successful by some Montessori schools.

So many children dislike school yet they spend a huge percentage of their lives within those walls. By treating children as equals rather than subordinates that need to be controlled, it's my opinion that they will enjoy their childhood and find excitement in learning.

Most people learn best by doing! As soon as kids are 12 or so, I think it would be a great idea to offer different internships in the fields that cannot be covered in the classroom. Get children out in the community learning from everyone around them. Let children follow their passion and see how far they can take it.

Very little about being confined in school resembles the "real world". Why not get children out in it as soon as possible? Mechanics, plumbers, electricians, contractors, computer programmers, and even artists are all people that have a wealth of knowledge to offer, yet it seems as though what they do or what they have to offer counts for very little.

Many high schools in Northern Europe use apprenticeships as part of their standard curriculum.  Most students graduate and can go right into a career already trained.  While others may only need another year or two of university to build on their specialty.  The whole system is less costly and more effective toward educating young people for the profession they desire.

Accept that learning takes place all the time and in many ways
Knowledge which is acquired under compulsion has no hold on the mind. Therefore, do not use compulsion, but let early education be rather a sort of amusement, this will better enable you to find out the natural bent of the child. - Plato

Whatever a child shows interest in is important, period.  Let their creativity shine through in what ever way speaks to them. Offer as many possibilities in a day as possible, but never force anyone to partake. No real passion is born out of coercion. Passion is something we should be building up in children; that is how we will end up with happy adults that follow their dreams. Show them the possibilities in the world, not just the path that most take.

The hardest part is for adults (especially teachers and parents) to let go of what we have been taught is important.  Useless facts, memorized dates, etc. are all wonderful if pertinent to your life, but when it is not, it very rarely stays with us.  We need to show our kids that what they love has value, whether that is playing video games, learning about animals, or reading Shakespeare.  It all holds value and they are learning all the time.

Disclaimer:  Even most unschoolers feel that reading and basic math are important, as they are the basic tools that help us learn on our own.  However, even these can be taught in creative ways that tickle the passions of the student.  For instance, math concepts can be taught by playing card games or calculating outcomes of reward systems; and reading can be taught using only material the student wants to learn about.

Open up the system for competition
Class size is perhaps the biggest challenge to implementing some of the other changes suggested here.  Of course, homeschoolers are usually in a one-on-one situation, which is obviously not achievable in public education. However, nearly everyone in education would agree that smaller class sizes are more beneficial to the students.  The question becomes how best to achieve this goal?

For years the debate has been about money.  Special interests on all sides say that more money is needed to achieve this goal.  Yet, America already spends far more per student than any other developed nation -- with rather unimpressive results I might add.

The U.S. government currently spends over $10K per year to educate each student. Sure, more money might be helpful to achieve this goal if spent properly. However, trusting that will happen with all of the special interests and bureaucracies seeking their cut is highly unlikely.

In my opinion, the only way to reduce class sizes in public schools is to open them to competition.  In other words, open public funding to private schools to compete with public schools.  Drop the centrally-dictated curriculum or board-certified teachers' requirements for these private schools to receive funds and let the free market determine who's most effective at educating our children.

Naturally, parents want the best for their children and will choose a school that gains a reputation for success, however it is defined by the parent.  Whether the school is geared toward apprenticeships, learning foreign languages, the arts, meditation, or sports shouldn't matter in regards to how funds are distributed.  Again, it's more about choice.

We don't need to look any further than Canada to find an example of how this could work.  In Calgary, students can choose between public schools, Montessori, Catholic schools, and a host of other private schools.  Each of these schools receives funding per student as if they're a public school. However, each is still strictly regulated by curriculum and teacher certifications.  I say shave those regulations back even further and let parents decide what's important in a school.

Utilize technology
If the schooling system does not rapidly close the gap between what it does, and what it should do in response to the demands of the 21st century, it will simply become irrelevant. - David Hood

I know that many schools and individual teachers are starting to see the importance of this, but I think it needs to be happening at an even faster pace. The world is so much different decade to decade; we need to help keep our children on track.  I would argue that teaching and utilizing technology effectively in education may be one of the most important things to helping prepare our children.

So many jobs that are now supporting families did not even exist five years ago.  Personally, our family's travel lifestyle is only possible because of the Internet and this technology.  Keeping that knowledge from children, or making them feel that it is a less valuable way to spend their time seems completely outrageous to me.  They need to learn it in order to be able to make educated choices about their own future.

Tablets like iPads are just the latest gadgets that parents are told can be damaging to our children, but I wholeheartedly disagree.  Young boys and girls need to know how to function on these tablets in order to open up all possibilities to them in the future.  It's far more beneficial than spending countless hours practicing penmanship which still goes on in schools.  Besides the operation knowledge of this technology, the educational applications are endless -- the Kindle app alone holds thousands of backpacks worth of books.

Finally, with these handheld devices, students literally have access to all of the world's knowledge in the palm of their hand.  The ramifications of that ability on our current brick-and-mortar educational paradigm are almost too many to list.  I do not expect that my unschooled kids spend the entire day on the Internet, but allowing children to play games and learn in unconventional ways online will allow them to discover technology first hand and learn how to harness it.

In the next installment, I will offer 5 additional ideas about what can remove from the outright destructive aspects of public school, so that our children can learn in a healthier, safer environment. 

This article first appeared on Bohemian Travelers family travel blog.

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Lokaire said...

Check out the anime "Baka and Test" on Netflix. It has an ingenious incentive program. The test and homework scores are used in a competitive game where 'avatars' stats are determined by the results. The avatars then attack each other and they win prizes in tournaments. When their avatars life is reduced to zero the student can take tests to restore life. Its a very clever system.

howardtlewisiiiffy said...

If the nation's leader sets a true and steady course, the nation and its children will follow, except when goofing off. Now, war has been declared on honest people by all the crooks who use deregulation to backstab and plunder and destroy. Think numerology and the recent evil run amok in America under the lobotomized passive eye of The Obummer and The Bernanke.

Anonymous said...

Yes indeed.

Unfortunately, it's the whole system which is againt us truly learning. In fact, it's not even about learning, it's about training kids to grow into good little citizens - wage slaves, cannon fodder etc. So, the state, more and more, needs to take over the role of the parent.

The education system is part of the bigger system, and just as the health care system is not about health, just as the food industry is not about providing nutrition, so the education system is not about learning. It's more like the death of learning. WE NEED TO CHANGE. It's our own responsibility. And it's good to see that there are people out there willing to make thes changes. Keep going. Keep insisting that your kids are truly educated. I'm rooting for all these kids.

Anonymous said...

Is it more important for a child to be "given" knowledge of something or be able to realize that knowledge for themselves? Is it more important to "give" children information about something or provide the means to a deeper understanding of it?
Just a thought...
Anyway if anyone is interested in alternative means of education I highly recommend reading A.S Neill's "Summerhill School: A New View of Childhood".The book presents a completely different approach to schooling.Backwards in a way.

Anonymous said...

Everyday we are finding out that the his-story are a conglomeration of falsehoods. With Rocekefeller's Carnegie Foundation his-story has been rewritten. All the pumped up illusions of "how it was" prefabricated by the elite stuffed down our throats as children to create an indoctrinated herd of good little obediant dumb ass's. Shakespear didn't even write what he was given credit for, Francis Bacon most likely did. History needs to be left out of the schools and the basics of reading and math encouraged. Then we can add up as we research what the hell really happened hundreds of years ago.

Anonymous said...

This seems to be a conserviative prescription for improving education in America which is more thoughtful than most. I think 3 of the 5 changes suggested are well-taken:

1. Give children the fredom to make individual choices about what, when and how they learn. (plan their own education)
2. Apprenticeships
3. Learning is all day long, all the time . . . not according to a rigid school hours schedule.

Unfortunately, Bohemian Mom seems to accept rightwing cliches rather uncritically. Her last two suggestions are:

4. Open up the system for competition (she means private and charter schools)
5. Utilize technology (apparently she thinks kids should have the latest and greatest tech toys)

Personally, I agree with truly free choice in schools. However, even though they loudly claim otherwise, I know deep down that rightwingers actually only support freedom of choice for themselves, not for others. For example, are Republicans going to support public money for my charter school, The Vegetarian Anti-War-Crimes Wiccan Academy? My guess is that right in the middle of spouting off about free markets and freedom of choice, Republicans will begin sputtering and then fall back on the trusty Republican tactic for being faced with their own inconsistency: name-calling and personal attack.

If Republicans truly believe in free choice, then I support them. As I said though, Republicans promise freedom while campaigning, and then deliver dictatorship and censorship after they get elected. I don't trust them to tell the truth, based on their track records.

As to technology, I have seen several recent articles that say too much technology is not only expensive, it can be a crutch which gets in the way of true learning. Sure, use Excel to take a square root . . . but make sure the child understands the process, and can manage if the computer stops working.

Anonymous said...

Nothing in this article is political. Your own conditioning may see "right wing/left wing" BS.

These are just ideas, and free choice is something all parents should have. Charter schools are NOT even mentioned in this article until your left-right mind spit it out.

Private schools could be any design that parents deem worthy. The State should not dictate how and what we learn. Period. The history of this is on Bohemian's side.

Steven G. Berry said...

We should school horses but educate children.

Anonymous said...

It still wouldn't be a bad idea to teach kids how to write or at least print in case technology fails us and we are flung back into a new stone age.

Anonymous said...

Hey this was great- just the kind of stuff i could've used in school.

I wish Id been able to word what made it so hard for me at the time. So much pain and frustration could be lifted from those formative years if we'd just stop being so constrictive & oppressive about schooling. How many kids who couldn't keep up in this conveyor belt system were labelled as failures & stupid and then believed it and went on to have tremendously difficult lives because of incorrect assumptions foisted upon them by brainwashed adults? Ugh, it hurts my head to think of all the ignorance; we make it soooo hard for ourselves in this life

They tell us they're preparing us for the REAL world and yet we barely interact with the real world at all, just sit in a room for hours on end! Its struck me as so insanely unfair when i there

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