Thursday, March 24, 2011

A Perceptive View from the "Unschool"

I just read an extraordinarily perceptive comment on Unschooled: Superman Isn't Worth the Wait that concerns the general state of education. It comes from a homeschooled high school student named Amanda, and I will repeat her comment in its entirety:
I’m currently a home-schooling high school student and everything in this post resonated with me. I take a full course load online in addition to a few classes with tutors, and the writing level of my peers is appalling. We often have “discussion” assignments where the instructor asks a question and each student has to respond on a forum, generally in one or two paragraphs. I am always elated to find a student who has answered the question, stated a thesis, written in complete sentences, and spelled everything correctly. However, this does not happen often.

It’s not only in the English department that education is slipping, it’s everywhere. It seems like the basics are being taught quickly and shoddily so the students can be moved in more specialized directions, god knows why. For example, why are high schools in my county offering nuclear physics, psychology, and Latin American literature classes? I would be delighted in such diverse opportunities for my friends, if it weren’t for the fact that these courses are considered “core” courses, not electives. From what I’ve come to understand these courses are being offered as core curriculum because there are too many students to supply teachers (in the current economic situation) for everyone to have the basic, building-block courses. This is going to be incredibly harmful to future college students. Their foundations will be brittle in many areas. I have a good friend that I’m tutoring in Calculus who is struggling because she does not understand how to factor. How to factor! How have her math professors missed this central building block in the past four years of her schooling? Something is very wrong with the educational system.

There is also far too much pressure on students at all grade levels. Unfortunately the problem runs deeper than just the educational system. There is something terribly disconcerting in a society where childhood is something to be embarrassed about and rushed through. I think standardized tests are laughable, grouping children by grade is socially impairing, and homework is generally redundant. Learning should be eye-opening and miraculous, it should be a fun experience for everyone involved. It shouldn’t be associated with being locked in a cinderblock, artificially lit building for eight hours a day, five days a week, nine months a year. That sounds like a punishment to me.

Your brother is right. Regardless of home schooling or not, if you are not taught how to memorize information, transitioning into college will probably be more difficult for you. Having said that, in my opinion, all levels of education should be about learning, not memorizing. Of course there are situations where you need to know your unit circle off hand, or the composition of amino acids, or the Transcendentalist authors; but that should be a part of learning as a whole, not the means of learning.

I sound very bitter, but I’m not at all. I have many, many fantastic and intelligent friends who have come out of both public and private schools. I attended a wonderful preschool, and two different Montessori schools for elementary school and freshman year of high school. I am just increasingly disappointed in the school system and infuriated for my friends who haven’t read the classics, or studied world history in depth, or have missed out on because topics were covered too quickly.
Thank you Amanda.


Anonymous said...


Some brief thoughts on this critical topic:

All kids are different. They show up every September with different strengths and weaknesses as well as different levels of readiness and motivation. To think that a teacher can stand in front of a class of 25 kids and give one lesson to the whole group is insanity and it is THE reason our schools continue to fail. Educational reform? It's not happening as long as this issue is continually ignored.

Whole group instruction originated in the twelfth century at Oxford University and it's long past time our schools moved to shatter this failing model. While it's clearly easiest for the teacher it does nothing to meet the individual differences (and there are many) of the students in any class.

Think of what medicine and the law would be like if doctors and attorneys attempted to deliver their expertise to their clientele in this manner. And teachers continue to wonder why they're looked upon in such an inferior/negative light ??

Again, it is the reason our schools continue to fail and it does not get the job done for the majority of the kids. Our schools are never going to improve until this pedagogical holocaust is called out and finally amended so that students become the focus of attention in our schools, not teachers.

Elaine Fine said...