Thursday, August 18, 2011

shotgun schooling

I've been gathering up all the goodies to begin our school year next week, and balance the needs of a self-starting (if grouchy) 5th grader, an ADD 3rd grader, a year-ahead-of-schedule kindergartener, and a crazy into-everything 20-monther. Exciting stuff. But you know what has come to me? In all of this curriculum wrestling, I've realized that public schooling is like shooting a shotgun. A teacher aims and shoots a bunch of tidbits of information at the class and hopes that some of it hits each student.

I'm not playing blame-the-teacher. I think about some of the genuine in-the-schools kindergarten books we've used in the past, which are nothing but activities showing children how to wash their hands, brush their teeth, stop at a stop sign, recognize safety officers, etc., etc. These are all things that a five-year-old should already know. So much of what is being taught in school to children in all elementary levels is stuff that they should already have been taught at home. But a lot of kids don't know. Their parents don't teach them basic hygiene, or safety rules. They never get to play outside. They don't come to school understanding concepts like sharing, listening, or showing compassion, because those examples don't exist at home.

You also have classrooms that have been integrated. There's no money for kids of different levels and abilities to work at their own pace, so they're grouped together and that shotgun is fired in the hopes that the students who are behind or have a hard time working any way but one-on-one (like my 3rd grader) are hopefully pegged by a few bits of the blast. Conversely, the kids who are motivated learners may be hit by even less, because there's simply not enough time to aim in their direction. Each lesson has to be taught three or four different ways to explain the same concept, because we all learn best in different ways. That's why kids can spend 8 hours a day in school and come home with an hour or more of homework when they're in the first grade.

There are also children for whom English is not the language spoken at home. These kids, too, are now integrated into a classroom where they may have a hard time understanding the teacher speak, much less learn to their full potential. A teacher has to balance the needs of all of these children because a public education is just that : an education that applies to everyone. Our public is filled with such a variety of learners from so many different backgrounds and cultures; could you imagine entering a room full of adults taken at random from your neighborhood and trying to teach them all, in an hour spent writing on a board and looking at pictures in a book, how to change the brakes on a car? I bet not too many would be able to step outside and do it.

The moral of the story for homeschoolers is this : don't let the approach of public school intimidate you. You don't need 8 hours a day to instruct your student because you are instructing your student. Not the mass public. Not the greater good. Your student. If it takes 5 minutes to understand a concept, you don't need to approach the concept three other ways to get the point across. Books are important tools, but they are just that : tools. Real life experience is a bigger tool and as homeschoolers we're often afraid to think outside the public school box for fear we "aren't doing enough" with our kids. We purchase extensive, mind-numbing curriculum in the hopes that we're duplicating a public education, when in fact we should be diverging from it.


Jen said...

Brilliant, Heidi!

Jen said...

Wow. I started reading your blog tonight after you started following mine after I posted on the hippies page on FB :)

Anyway, I cannot even begin to tell you how awesome this post is. I'm going to have to bookmark it and come back to it. I'm a former public school teacher and librarian with a master's degree who married someone who was homeschooled (for the record, he also has a master's degree ;). I told him on one of our first dates that I hoped his mom didn't expect me to homeschool our children because I was a PUBLIC SCHOOL TEACHER.

And now I have kids. And there are very few people in the world who I trust enough to let them be responsible for teaching my children. My oldest is only 2, but I still am struggling with what to do about school. I'm pretty sure the whole thing is my own fault for declaring that I would never homeschool. God said, oh, yeah? Wanna bet?
I hope He's amused by my struggle :)

But back to your are exactly right about everything you wrote. Things only have to be taught one way...the way my kiddo learns best. I wouldn't have to teach and re-teach the same thing because those 5 kids didn't get it. He gets it, we move on. It's beautiful. You have officially pushed me more onto the side of homeschooling. For now. :)

I'm excited to keep reading your blog and see what your life is like. So glad I found you!! (Does that sound creepy? Sorry if it does!! And sorry that this is the longest comment known to man! :)

Heidi said...

This was a popular post with the Jens! ;) Thanks ladies, and Jen, this insight has come only after five years of homeschooling and trying to be like everyone else, before I realized everyone else maybe didn't have it so hot. Homeschooling takes some dedication but a lot of it is common sense and relying on your instincts. You are the person who knows your children best, and that shouldn't be discounted!