Saturday, September 25, 2010

What I'm not enjoying about school

We put our kids in the Homeschool Options program this year. It's a fabulous program that allows homeschooled kids to go to a "big school" one day a week with other homeschooled kids. They offer very cool classes--stuff we can't do easily at home, like robotics and art.

Turns out I don't love it like I thought I would.

The problem is that some of the issues I have with public education are things you can't fix in a school setting, even in smallish classes (the kindergarten class has only 16 kids, and I still think that's twice too many for that age group), because they are inherent in managing many children. Some of them are issues with the current trends in education, which the Options school has bought into by only hiring certified teachers.

So, things I have not been happy about:

--the Kindergarten in stubbornly 6 hours long. Full day. I've sat in there for 4 weeks now, and that's too long for ANY of those kids, not just my kid. They're all falling apart after lunch and still have academic classes to do.

--there are no toys in the kindergarten room, and no time given for free play.  With a 6-hour K day, you'd think they'd fit in time for kids to go choose a toy and play with their friends. But no, there is a 15 minute recess ONCE a day, lunch is in the classroom, as are the 2 snacktimes, and those are all often paired with an activity, like reading, and are just barely long enough for the kids to eat, and they have PE for 45  minutes, which is structured and always either right before or right after recess. Plus there is no playground--the kids play on the lawn of the church for the 15 minutes they're released, with a teacher organizing the play of necessity--no free time at all to be kids and learn how to interact with other kids.

--There is way too much academic focus for K. They do art once a month (instead of once a day). They do music every day, but it's very structured time where they get singled out and embarrassed publicly for not singing along with the other kids, regardless of their interest in the song or in singing.  And I already mentioned  they are lacking the facilities and tools to allow play time.

(and all of this with a teacher who I quite like, who does cool things like have the kids make applesauce and do taste tests of different varieties of apples in class).

--Six hour days are actually too long for all of my kids. I'm actually a pretty firm believer in half-day schools up to 8th grade. So watching my kids have to suffer through 6 hours is really hard. They come home tired and  unhappy (except Anda, but Anda loves everything).

--The day starts too early. No kid should have to be somewhere, alert, at 8:00 am. It interferes with the normal circadian rhythms of childhood, which dictate both eating and sleeping, forcing kids to function off their circadian rhythm (even for normal, not circadian disordered kids, 8:00 is too early to be GOING). School is set up for kids who have circadian disorders in the form of earlybird disorders (vs our nightowl disorders). Even the teachers are only functioning because they all carry coffee everywhere in class (which I'm also opposed to, but since  most of Colorado drinks coffee I can't really complain on this one).

--The kids are forced to eat when they aren't hungry, and aren't allowed to eat when they are, which creates havoc and chaos for my two that are hyper-sensitive.  My kids want to eat breakfast at 10:00 am. Consistently. They are not interested in eating at 7:30 am, so they go to school with no breakfast. Then at 10:00, starving, they sneak a snack. So then when lunch rolls around at 11:00 am, they aren't hungry anymore. Especially for lunch foods. Then 1:00 rolls around, when they're used to eating lunch, and they aren't allowed to eat, and so far two of them have, at that point, been reduced to tears every single day they've gone.

--There is no downtime, especially for introverts. The schools feel like recess is down time, but for kids, whose job is to play and interact with their peers, that's the most intense part of the day. For extroverts, that is an intense and satisfying part of the day. For introverts, like Caleb, that is an intense part of the day that must be "come down" from. There is no quiet, alone, unstructured time for introverts to recover so they can handle the rest of the day.  Caleb needs an hour in the middle of the day to sit alone in a corner and read, or he just gets completely overwhelmed, and the school system doesn't allow for that. It's not made for introverts. (Dan needs a break, too, but not because he's an introvert. He's actually an extrovert. It's because he's exhausted from constantly facing his phobias for hours straight, and he just needs a rest).

--Schools are designed to quash creativity. In the name of keeping all the kids busy for the allotted time, I watch the teachers say things like, "Can you color it so there's no white space left?" They're trying to keep the kids busy until the slower kids are done with the activity, and keep everyone together. The kid, though, hears, "I don't color right," and the other kids hear "There's a right and a wrong way to color. I'd better learn the way the teacher thinks is right." NOT a good way to encourage talents and self esteem.  It's all subtle stuff, but as an artist who grew up thinking she was no good at art, I'm sensitive to that kind of thing.

--In order to keep kids together, doing the same thing, unintentional public criticism of kids is the norm. This seems like a little deal from the adult perspective, but I have distinct memories from my childhood of times when I was "corrected" in class over something dumb--not standing exactly right in the line, for example. The kids feel it different than the teachers intend it. It's a necessity for classroom management, and I can't think of another way to do it (As a teacher, I'm actually more harsh than the kindergarten teachers are--I just tell kids, "Stop that. It's not okay." That's why I do better with Junior High, where they're a little tougher already and  where they often need it told flat-out, immediately, and in clear terms so they know where the lines are in society as well as in a classroom. But I also believe in catching potential problems before the need for correction arises--like by not allowing kids to sit wherever they want).

--For all of the student-teacher interaction that goes on, there is very little connecting with the individual kids. No adult is sitting down and saying,  "I like that pair of shoes. Why did you choose to wear them today?" or "Do a lot of people mix you and your sister up?" or any other real true interacting with the souls of the children. Instead, the kids get told to wait, raise their hand, and only make comments that are obviously connected to the activity or discussion at hand. Again, logistically impossible (so I understand why it's that way), but the result is there is a gap that's created between child and adult. Adults are not human to children, nor children to adults, and kids learn in school NOT to reach out and interact with adults. That has a negative impact on our culture, breaking off each generation from the previous and condemning us to constantly ignore the wisdom of those who might help us (because we're not supposed to interact with them for real). Of course, if a family is a daycare family, this would be even worse because there would be even fewer hours during the day when an adult was able to listen and talk to the kid as a person, and I know a lot of parents don't believe in treating kids like people anyway. (We have a culture of "who cares what they think?" that goes both ways and is unhealthy).  This also teaches kids that they shouldn't follow the flights of fancy, but stick to the task at hand, which discourages intelligence and creativity and encourages conformity and what Tim calls "middle management mentality." We're putting the shackles on the kids minds.

--In any group learning situation, there are kids who excel, kids who are adequate, and kids who struggle. PE is no different, except that in PE, instead of teaching to the adequate, they teach to the talented, leaving 2/3 of the kids to learn that they hate physical activity and will never be good at it.  This week, BOTH my big kids came home saying they hate running and will never run again. This from two kids who joyfully proclaimed not three weeks ago that running is fantastic fun, and that they had discovered that if you modify your technique, you can increase your speed and they were going to experiment with that and work until they could run REALLY FAST.  In other words, the school managed to find a spark and snuff it out. This was especially discouraging for me because I had worked really hard to get the physical activity spark going in my kids, who are inclined to read or program computers all day and are, admittedly, somewhat lacking in physical fitness.  How did the school do this? They set up a course on the blacktop, didn't warn the kids ahead to dress appropriately for running specifically, and had them run in the heat of the day on the black road. For a mile. With no previous running at all and with the only training they received being "jog instead of dash."  Great. Naturally, about a third of the class did fine. The talented third. But what of the other 2/3? They had a bad experience and have been discouraged from both running and physical fitness. This is counter-productive. If a kid needs to be able to run a mile, I could get them to that point relatively easily. It would NOT involve running in the heat, in the wrong clothes, or starting with the end goal. So now I have to find a way to help my kids a) succeed, and b) not hate physical activity. I didn't need that extra challenge loaded onto my by the school system.

Personally, I think group PE for homeschooled kids should consist of an introduction to all the group sports, one a month, that they can't play at home. If they can do it at home, they shouldn't be doing it at Options PE because there isn't enough time in the year to cover everything. Plus I couldn't care less about the Presidential Fitness program (which is what they're doing right now in PE), especially if it makes my kids hate physical activity because they can't succeed instantly without working toward the goals. That is the ultimate in counter-productive. Homeschooling is about joy in life and excitement to try and learn and do. Not about learning to hate something because you're not the best at it or can't succeed on the first try. Why are we setting our kids up for failure?

It was, in fact, so miserable an experience for Caleb (my child who declared he loved running not two weeks ago!) that he wanted to drop out of school all together, despite the love he has for his robotics class. And Caleb is the one we  most wanted to learn to be comfortable and efficient in his movement because he wants to do sports and participate, but it doesn't come naturally for him. Perhaps our time would be better spent enrolling him in a daddy-son Karate class, where they intentionally teach efficiency of movement and control.

--Anda came home saying, "I'm bad at drawing." I was blown away. Anda is my child who draws many pictures every day. And she draws fantastic drawings, with details that I would never think to include that make the pictures come alive. Her scientific sketches catch details that you wouldn't notice looking at the actual object, but that she sees, and her illustrations of imaginary animals (all colored, mind you), are incredible. She has an absolute gift for composition, too. And she LOVES drawing, choosing art to express herself every day and thinking of cool projects that she actually makes, all on her own. I keep a drawer of "junk" just for her to use for art (the other kids use it, too, but usually prompted by seeing the coolness of what Anda is creating spontaneously). She even creates art kits for the rest of the family for fun and sits us all down for art lessons that she's created about once every 3 months. She is, in short, a talented artist, even though she's still 7 years old and there's still a learning curve. (There is the rare 7 year old artist who can do with painting what Mozart could do with music, but those are the exception and MOST professional artists learned the usual way, growing up with their skills). So when she came home saying, "I'm bad at drawing and can't draw anything except trees well," I almost called the school to withdraw her right there on the spot. We enrolled her in art to give her a chance to play, and to be exposed to new media and techniques. NOT for her to learn that she's no good.

So I'm not real pleased and spent a long time talking to Tim last night about the ins and outs of it all. Does Caleb need to learn to deal with disappointment? Absolutely. But learning social skills and emotional skills is very much like learning algebra--if you wait until the brain has developed properly for that skill, the learning comes easily. Do I want to push it? And how would I know when he's ready, anyway?  Do I want the kids to  have to "discover" their talents and fight against the tides (which tell us that only the most exceptional have talents and the rest of us don't), or do I want them to just DO their talents and not worry about it, which is the way children are inclined until they hit school. Are they going to run into having to prove themselves anyway, so we might as well get at it and teach them those skills?  And what about the PE problem? For all the sacrifices we make for them to go to school, would it be easier to just take them hiking once a week and gradually increase the difficulty of the activities so they get physically fit? I have no doubt that I can do most of what they're learning academically in school better than the system can (including art, but not including robotics), but is the non-academic learning worth it? Are they making friends and learning to negotiate systems (which, despite my dislike of them, you really have to learn to do in this world)? Or is this all putting a roadblock in the way of things they would be learning eventually anyway, but at a more appropriate emotional age......


Homeschooling is so much easier.

1 comment:

medieval.woman said...

We just put our two older kids in martial arts a few weeks ago. So far they are loving it. Today they got to break (thin) boards and came out really excited. So maybe a karate class would be a good thing.