I read an article in the paper that really just made me sad. Mostly because I could empathize with the parents being written about.
I worked as a 1:1 Teacher Assistant for high school students with autism for 2 years in North Carolina. Prior to that I had subbed for grades k-12 and the kids were always surprised when I actually taught them in class.
Probably because I was only 22 at the time I started and was frequently mistaken for a student dressed for an FBLA meeting. I digress…
My point is, having worked in the public school system and had the chance to observe the inner workings from a participant/ spectator’s point of view, it is the most illogically contrived system for educating children I’ve ever observed. Indulge me in my elaboration for a moment…
To begin with, the age and maturity level of the children enrolled begins startlingly young. Our culture does childhood a lot different than it used to…
and the result is delayed maturity in kids. Even with the mandated enrollment age (usually for boys) being 6 or 7 years old, bear in mind that at that age, they’ve only been able to capably feed and dress themselves for about 2 maybe 3 years, and likely have only been fully potty trained for about the same span of time. I point this out because we as parents already tend to have high expectations for our children and their behavior. But placing 18-24 children under the supervision of one person attempting to teach them, mmaintain order in the classroom, and expecting the kids to behave themselves and act maturely when the teacher possesses no real means of enforcing classroom discipline is completely illogical, if not asinine.
Coupled with the fact that the public school teacher is handcuffed by policy, standardized curriculum, and bureaucracy, you can expect public school students to learn not virtue, but rather state approved values- which, incidentally, may or may not reflect your own. The difference between the two is that virtue instills some sense of disciplined morality, where as values are merely abstract, and often subjective characteristics of a “good citizen.” Without teaching virtue- the discipline of bringing passions under the control of reason- students possess no motive for learning outside of passing tests. And that margin of benefit to them in the adult world is slim.
I say all of that to make the point that public school as it is barely functions under it’s own system of operation. No wonder parents feel frustrated beyond measure when they are being told to replicate this system of “education” at home! Their children have been taught to memorize and regurgitate facts, not how to think, reason, and study for themselves. That is why so many students feel stressed, anxious, and confused when confronted by new material! They’re expected to retain content without having been instructed in how to learn through independent study.
Think of the Odyssey… Ok, or any of the classic “coming of age” films. There’s always a wise Mentor and a youthful, rebellious youth to be taught.
The one that sticks out to me is the Karate Kid. Daniel goes to Mr. Miyagi to be mentored as his pupil. Miyagi employs unorthodox methods of teaching through practical application.
There exists within a mentorship mutual respect, and an understanding of humility in the pupil. In order to gain knowledge and understanding so that knowledge may be applied, one first has to submit to authority and know how to learn!
Homeschooling is NOT the same as distance institutionalized learning from a public school. For starters, we as home educators set our own hours, choose our own curriculum, teach the trivium, and engage our “students” individually based upon their strengths and abilities without needing IEPs, or specialized certifications or degrees. Full disclosure- my highest level of education is an Associate of Arts degree in Theatre Performance Arts from a community college. It doesn’t take a specialist to educate your children; it takes time, effort, organization, methodology, and a whole lotta coffee and patience.
The biggest difference between home education versus public school education (aside from the ones I already mentioned) is that I don’t just impart facts to my kids, I impart wisdom, or “facts correctly applied.” I am deeply invested in my students’ success; not from a financial perspective, but from a parental perspective. I don’t have a state-run institution breathing down my neck for test scores and standardized achievements, and I don’t depend on my skills or abilities as an educator to pay my utility bills or secure my tenure. Instead, I have 4 children with natural curiosity and willing eagerness to learn and whom I am responsible for ensuring they have the tools they need to function as wise, productive, Christian members of society. I am accountable to God for what I do to steward these 4 souls and their intellect He has given. I strive to create an environment where they explore new concepts, think big-for-them thoughts, discuss matters of morality, and learn through imitation and recreation. In these early years, I am equipping my children with a worldview through which they will be able to process new information. They learn how to ask questions, where to look for answers, and how to think and reason for themselves through observation. They learn to synthesize information through practical lessons- that can be making inferences in a story based on context, pictures, or other clues- and they learn to apply those skills and information through hands-on tasks- building, cooking, cleaning, sewing, crafting, gardening, animal husbandry, etc. This is the life I chose, and it’s possible because my husband is the sole bread-winner, and I’ve learned how to s-t-r-e-t-c-h a greenback dollar bill from here to kingdom come in order to facilitate us being a 1-income homeschool family. This is my job. This is my choice. This is what God has called me to. That’s why it works.
So parents, be nicer to yourselves and your kids. Many of you are working a job and attempting to replicate public school in the margins of your already chaotic lives. If the public education system is already limping along to succeed under the weight of its own dysfunction, don’t beat yourself up for not being able to make it work at home- it barely works at school.
My suggestions for those of you concerned with your children falling behind include the following:
- Pre-prep quick cooking or crockpot meals, and be ok with cereal for dinner- you’ve got a lot going on, don’t let meal times add to your stress. Cut corners where you can to work smarter, not harder. Maximize your time with your kids and use it wisely.
- Limit screen time- studies have shown that increasing amounts of screen time, whether educational or not actually alter the structure of your child’s brain, and not for the better.
- Introduce classic literature- the internet is bursting with classic reading lists and audiobooks are wonderful, and cheap!
- Breathe. It’s way too easy to get emotionally wrapped up in the negatives of the situation and really murder the learning process. Take time to just relax and talk to your children. Listen to their concerns and feelings. Validate them. And give youselves grace to fail and try again later. You are your child’s greatest asset! Let them know you’re advocating for them and help them as much as you are able.
- Cut teachers some slack. Video lessons are helpful, and technology in that regard is a blessing, but it’s still contrived and synthesized; virtual learning falls far short of in-person interaction and instruction.
- Instead of bringing school home, make the home your school- let your children imitate you, follow you on your daily errands and help with housework. Do that all unplugged and the conversations that ensue can bring you great joy. Talk about faith, good books, their hopes and goals for their futures! I’ve learned that my 5 year old plans to buy land when he turns 12, and is already brainstorming names for his hypothetical future children! Kids are great, and they dream big dreams. Let them inspire you.
- Reevaluate how you structure your family life. Take this time to see what works and what doesn’t. Can you shave off expenses? Are you enslaved to debt? Could you live on a single income or work fewer hours and spend more time at home? Sometimes things are only impossible because we fail to seek out every option and live within more humble means.
- Spend time with God. As the One who ordered all creation and spoke it into being from nothing, He is liable to have answers to your questions and peace for your soul in the process. Spend time reading the Bible and being in prayer. Pray for your kids, their education, your job, our nation, our world. And be thankful! It is astounding the floodgates of joy that open up when you take time to thank the Most High.