In last week’s post I addressed the issue of safety in public schools. Today I’m moving on from there to examine the importance of personalized learning as a means to a successful education.
Personalized learning isn’t something one usually thinks of when thinking about public school. In fact, as I searched for stock images to use for the photo here today, I simply typed in the word “learning” and found that almost all of the pictures that came up had something to do with desks, books, and classrooms.
Why is that? I’m going to venture a guess that when many of us set out to learn something on our own, we are not going to run to our desk, shut the door, and plop open a huge textbook. Yet that is the accepted image of what learning looks like because that is how it is done in school.
But what if learning doesn’t look like that for you? What if it doesn’t look like that for your child? Chances are, if they are in school, they are going to be singled out as “special education” students. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, you might say; and for those students who truly do have learning disabilities, it surely is not such a bad thing. But what about those students who are simply wired differently?
Mounds of evidence have recently been produced detailing the complex differences in how people are wired and how they learn. Indeed, there are people who thrive in a school setting- I was one of them- but to assume that all people should be able to do so does a great injustice to the millions upon millions of intelligent people who would greatly benefit from a different approach to education.
For those unlucky students who are singled out as “special education,” the harm done outweighs any good that may be done through the schools, no matter what the school’s intentions.
During my children’s time in public school, one of my sons was recognized (labeled) as being delayed in reading comprehension when he was in 4th grade. Naively, I assumed that the teachers knew what they were doing and agreed to an IEP (Individualized Education Plan) to help him with this. The help that he received was minimal, and the only input I received from one of his aides was that, “He understands better if it’s about something he’s interested in.” Well, duh. He needed an IEP to find this out? How many adults have a hard time reading about things they have no interest in, let alone a 9-year-old?
After about a year, I was informed that he no longer required assistance, but that they recommended that we keep his IEP in place, just in case. Again, I trusted that they knew best, so I signed another one. The following year I withdrew my children to homeschool them, and I received a letter from the school district stating that I needed to have a Special Education teacher approve his homeschooling objectives because of his IEP. (This is in the PA Homeschool Law.) I called the district and explained that, while the IEP was still in place, he hadn’t actually been receiving any special instruction because he no longer needed it. Since he still technically was listed as Special Ed., however, I did have to comply.
After about a year of homeschooling him, we moved, and he asked if he could try school again because he wanted to see what middle school was all about. I reluctantly agreed. The new school took notice of his former IEP and decided to start putting him in special classes again. I told them that this wasn’t necessary, but they said they would just try it for a while. A few months in, I noticed that he was bringing home reading homework that was equivalent to what I was teaching his 3rd grade sister who was four grades behind him. I resolved then and there to take him back out and homeschool all of my children through graduation.
I called the Special Education Department of our school district and told them I wanted his IEP removed. A few days later I received a phone call from his learning support teacher telling me that he wasn’t ready to have his IEP removed. I immediately informed her that he had received straight A’s, and I was confident he would do just fine. I also explained that he wouldn’t be coming back in the fall anyway because I was planning on homeschooling him again. She reluctantly agreed. (I’d like to add that she had to because the law says that an IEP must be withdrawn if a parent requests it.)
Shortly afterward I discussed this ordeal with a friend of mine who is a retired teacher from that district, and she told me to never allow the schools to label any of my children because once they are labeled, they are always labeled. This is obviously bad for the students but lucrative for the schools who receive federal funding for these programs. The more students with IEP’s, the more money.
The ill effects of our experience with the Special Education label have not ended. Years later, my son still considers himself to be unintelligent and slow because that is exactly what was ground into him during that period of his life. I am not saying this was intentional, but that is exactly what happened, nonetheless.
The stigma of school-sponsored labels has no place in a home learning environment. One of the most awesome things about homeschooling is the fact that we, as parents, have the autonomy to educate our children in the way that we see fit. If they do well with textbooks, then that’s what we can do. If they need to move around quite a bit, we can offer lots of hands-on activities with shorter stints of written work. If our children love to read, what better way to learn than by reading a good historical fiction or any other books written by people with a passion for the subject? As a matter of fact, children who love to read can easily be the least expensive children to educate because the library is free!
Understandably, schools cannot and will not tailor their curriculum to meet the needs of each individual student. It would either require far more resources than schools could ever have, or it would necessitate a complete overhaul of the entire government school system, and I think we all know the likelihood of that ever happening.
So as it stands, parents of children who are not flourishing in the school environment simply because of learning styles have two options. We can either go with the status quo and agree to have our children labeled for life, or we can bring them home and design a method of learning that will work best for them, no matter what that method may be.
Now tell me, which sounds like the better option to you?
Join me next week as I address the issue of including our own values in our children’s education!
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