Friday, June 23, 2006

Education Thoughts

I've been in two conversations recently where my thoughts on sending my children to public school came up. Both times, partly to my surprise, I responded "over my dead body." When I first reflected on this response I thought maybe that it was a bit too strong of a sentiment. After all, I could think of a few cases where I would consider public school. But as I thought through my exceptions to the rule I realized that for the most part there would be exceptions to those expectations and I can't truly think of one "for sure" case in which I would send my kids to public school. Perhaps if laws were enacted requiring it, but you better believe I would fight hard to make sure those laws were never passed in the first place.

I have many concerns about public school, but let me state from the beginning that very little of the concerns are on the individual school level. I know many people who are teachers, thought about being one myself, and I have encountered many great public schools. I went to public school and although I know there are same gaping holes in my education, for the most part I did very well and came out better for it. And although I know that there are probably many poor teachers out there, I have encountered very few in my time in school and overall consider my interaction with my teachers to be some of the greatest benefit I had while in school.

I do have concerns large enough however to keep my children from attending. The first is simply the time that is taken. The schools days are long, many elementary schools are cutting programs like art, music, PE, and recess in order to have more classroom time to get students ready to pass national tests. Which means for the most part we are taking children at around 6 or 7 years old and having them sit still and quiet for 5-8 hours a day (depending on how the classroom is run and what activities the school still has). That is too long if you ask me. Small children should no be holed up that long, period. Especially not little boys, it simply isn't how they are made. Before having children I taught at a school that met from 8-12, during that time there were two fifteen minute breaks and 45 min. PE 3 times a week. All students were taking at least 5 classes, some more, and all students were taking a foreign language. They were taught how to learn, how to think, and how to use their time wisely. Busy work wasn't given because we didn't need to fill up extra hours that we didn't have activities for. The school got more done with just 3.5 hours of work than most do with 8. After seeing that system I'm not sure how comfortable I'll ever be with sending my children to schools that meet all day and then send homework home on top of that, public or private.

Which is probably a good sage way to say that I don't necessarily think private schools are the answer either. There are often many problems with private schools, and generally all private schools run on the whole day model that public schools do, so while the overall education might be better, it is still a really long time for a little boy to sit at a desk.

Now, I also have some serious issues with Public School and how they are paid for, but those are thoughts on government more than education, so I shall save that for another post.

Overall, I fear the Public Schools try to teach to the median student. (Remember those math lessons on averages?) And granted, there are many students who will be served by this. But there are two categories who won't be and who I fear will not only have their education needs not met but will also have very wrong ideas about what is important in life. These are the "gifted" and "special education" categories. Don't get me wrong, it isn't the ranking so much that I am concerned about. It is of course a fact of life that some people are going to be better at some things, some people are going to be prettier, some more musical, some smarter, etc. That is simply how it is. My concern is that the gifted students will come to think that they are intrinsically better as a human than the ungifted students simply because they are better at math or history, while the special education students will come to believe that they are some how less as a human because they can't do long division. Our worth as people are not defined by our reading skills, or our ability to understand geometry. But when you take everyone of a certain age group and say "you should all be able to do this ______" you are creating a false model. Most every teacher or parent understands that each child is unique, and while a child may be way above grade level at math the same child can be way behind in reading. That child is neither gifted nor stupid- that child is simply that child. But the system is not set up to handle a 5th grader who can do Trig. but can't read Dr. Sues. One way or another I think the majority of student are short changed by the way the most schools are set up. There isn't any margin for the individual child. I'm not saying that a classroom needs to cater to every whim of every child, but if we want a student to be well educated I think the instruction has to start at the level they are actually at, not the level we want them to be.

And so I think that the ideal system is either a half day school where the subject levels are distinct from grade level (ie: you can be in 3rd grade but taking 9th grade english and 2nd grade math) or to homeschool. This is what I think will ultimately teach children the most about the subject and foster the best environment for teaching one how to think and learn and to desire to learn.

There is another thing to consider though in the subject of education- what is our ultimate end goal? What, at the end, will be defined as success and what will be defined as failure? Spunky at Spunky Homeschool asks "Why do we educate?". It is her premise that we must answer the why before we answer the how. I think there is great wisdom in this. When she was asks why she educates her children she gave this response:
"My children's success is not determined by a degree or a dollar. That a well educated child is one who knows and loves the Lord their God with all their heart, mind, soul, and strength, and loves their neighbor as themselves."

I would put forth that this is ultimately the goal for all Christian parents. We mustn't define our success by the world's standard: a good job and lots of money. An education might produce those results, and that is well and good, but that is not success. When my children complete their "formal" education I will not care if they know that 1588 was the defeat of the Spanish Armada, that F=ma, or pi is 3.1415926.... I will consider their time spent in school successful only if they love the Lord, fear Him, serve Him, and desire wisdom from His hand. That's it. I don't care if they are Nobel Laureates or have their doctorates by 23, if they don't know God I failed in their education. Period. Everything is a waste of time if you don't know Christ and serve him. Read these thoughts for further clarification of this principle.

What other results would I like to see besides that? Once again, they have nothing to do with book knowledge. I want my children founded in a solid Biblical world view. One that is purposeful in comparing all things to God's standards. I want my children to have hearts that are turned towards home- to love and enjoy myself and their Abba and brothers and sisters. I want them to consider time spent with family time well spent, and that their siblings are the best friends they could ever ask for. Does this mean I intend to keep them locked up here 24/7? Absolutely not. For I also want them to love their fellow man, Christian as well as not, and to hunger to serve and share to God's Word. I want them to understand what the world is like and to have hearts which break over the lost. And I don't see how separating the family and siblings for 8 hours a day (longer if they do extra-curricular activities) will best accomplish these goals. Yes, students do come out of public school who serve Christ and love their family, but it is my observation that is the exception and not the rule. New recruits are not put on the front lines, nor are young plants without strong roots exposed to the elements. Yes, sometimes both would survive, but it isn't worth the risk.

Do I think I'll homeschool for all 18 years? That depends heavily on where we live as well as the individual child. I might have a son or daughter who is an amazing musician and homeschool suits them very well because it would give them ample time to practice. And I also might have a student who is incredibly gifted at science and would be better served at a school with a good lab, or perhaps just going to work with their father. We'll cross those bridges when we come to them. But I don't see having my kids get up at 7 and have breakfast, be in school from 8-3, after school activities from 3-6, dinner from 6-7, homework from 7-9 and then to bed just to get up all morning to do it again. That gives us maybe 2 hours a day as a family together and I don't think that is acceptable. I will go so far as to say that it probably isn't acceptable for any family. I know that will step on some toes, and I'm sorry for that. I too was a child who loved being involved in activities and had one for pretty much every season. The schedule above was my schedule. And as such I didn't have a heart that was inclined towards my home and family. Yes, I loved my parents, but really I preferred time with other people over them, and got out of the house to pursue my own interests at the earliest age I could manage. It has really only been since having children of my own and moving across the country that I have realized how much I missed by this attitude.

So what is your goal? Answer that question first and then make decisions about how to achieve it. Pray hard, seek God, live out the end result you hope to see in your children. Don't simply do it the way that the government says to, or your friends say to, or how your family did it. Seek the best, don't settle.

More thoughts are sure to come on this as I move closer to school age with my kids. I don't expect that in 18 years I'll do things exactly like I think I might do them now. But the goal still remains, God's call on our life still remains, and that must be the most important factor.


At June 24, 2006 2:28 AM, Anonymous Shannon said...

we will have to discuss all this in person...I definately see where you are coming from but I have some thoughts.


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