Before I begin, let me just say that I love homeschooling. Truly. In my opinion, there is no better option for my children’s education. Unfortunately, though, around this time every year, I tend to get a bit cranky.
After spending the past nine months learning in freedom with my children, the time draws near for us to complete our annual homeschool obligations for the state- namely, evaluations and standardized testing. Since I happen to have an awesome evaluator, the evaluation doesn’t really bother me. What really fires me up, though, is the fact that, in our state, homeschooled students are forced to take standardized tests in 3rd, 5th, and 8th grades.
It’s a well-known fact that schools are failing, so why on Earth do we keep trying to imitate them?
America’s schools are failing. There’s no doubt that our educational system has entered a period of extreme crisis. Violence is on the rise, teaching to the test has become the predominant method, and children simply aren’t learning as well as they should be.
Why is this? Most people are unaware that the US educational model has remained almost unchanged in the last 150 years, when it was first instituted to train future factory workers. The current method of dry textbook learning, separation of subjects, and changing classes upon the ringing of a bell looks quite the same since the beginning of compulsory education.
For most of us, this means that we were conditioned for 13 years, at the very least, to accept that this is the best way- the only way- to get a proper education:
textbooks– often dry, monotonous resources which are almost impossible to pay attention to
subjects taught like an assembly line– a generic assortment provided to each and every student regardless of their need for, or interest in it
a pre-ordained allotment of time given for each subject– more time for the “important” subjects like math, language arts, science, and social studies; less time for those pesky “less important” ones like art, music, drama
Chances are, if you have made the decision to homeschool your children, you are well aware of the problems within the established educational system. You have taken it upon yourself to give to your children what no school can- an individualized, quality education.
Which leads me to the question at the heart of this topic- why do so many of us try so hard to imitate a school system which isn’t working? We take our kids out of school- or never send them in the first place– and then proceed to purchase boxed curriculum, write timed schedules affording 45 minutes for math, 45 minutes for language arts, 30 minutes for social studies, etc., and we, in essence, try to replicate the very atmosphere we removed our children from in the first place!
Why??? Why do we do this? The most likely answer to that is what was mentioned earlier- we have been conditioned this way.
Homeschooling is our chance at allowing our kids to learn in freedom. I’m going to let you in on a little secret…textbooks are not the only way to learn. In fact, for many children- if not most- they are the least effective way possible.
What I want from you today is for you to take every notion you have about what education is supposed to look like, toss it out the window, and start from scratch. I’ll tell you what I’ve realized that learning is supposed to look like:
A baby figuring out how to take his very first steps- without one single lesson!
A toddler learning his native language simply by being immersed in it.
A little boy who is so in love with reptiles that he can identify every single obscure snake he sees, merely by poring over book after book about them in his free time.
A teenage girl who is so enamored by cosplay that she teaches herself how to sew.
That is what true learning looks like. It’s more than having the ability to spout off facts on command, only to forget them later. It’s taking the knowledge that you’ve acquired and being able to apply it to real life situations- something that most people will never do with geometry proofs (which is why my daughter who is taking geometry does not have to do them).
I do strongly believe, however, that textbooks can serve a greater purpose. Some things, like math, can be easier to learn this way, but we need to remember that they are a tool. Textbook learning holds no more value than hands-on learning, or reading for pleasure, or crafting, or dancing, or wading through the creek, or grocery shopping.
Each of these examples are rife with learning opportunities. I’d even wager that the learning in these types of activities is learning that will be absorbed- something not too common with memorizing facts out of a textbook.
Some homeschooling families would probably be horrified at the fact that my 16-yr-old son only completed book work twice last week and none at all so far this week. But it’s so important to recognize that he accomplished so much more than vocabulary assignments during this time. He spent a lot of time at the creek, finding different critters, bringing them home as specimens to watch for a few days, and researching what they ate. He attended a choral concert and a volleyball game at the local middle school. He went to the roller skating rink and realized how much he enjoys it, so he’s been skating around the neighborhood, not even caring what people may think. He’s been taking pictures outside, trying to hone his skills as a wildlife photographer.
I’m going to go out on a limb and say that textbooks would have been almost useless for what he achieved in the last week.
It’s time to take off your “school goggles” and replace them with your “life lenses.” The reason school doesn’t work is because it’s taken the life out of learning. It was doomed from the start.