Tuesday, September 27, 2011

There's More Than One Way to Skin a Cat

I was raised by a fairly judgmental mother.  It's funny because now she is so much more open minded that it actually surprises me when she reverts back to her old ways.  As with all people I think I carried some of that self righteousness into adulthood.  When I was a teacher, I was extremely irritated to watch parents make such gigantic mistakes.  It seemed to me that they must not even be trying.  Then I had my own kids...

Curly was a wonderful baby... as long as you never out her down.  So my instinct was to keep holding her.  In truth I held her for at least 3 months straight.  was that the "right" thing to do?  Hmmm well maybe it helped know that she was loves and could trust that someone would always be there for her... Or maybe it kept her from learning to comfort herself, and it is the reason even now at nearly 10 years old she struggles with that skill.

As a baby Bear was a happier baby when she had some space.  So I held her much less.  In her case, since Curly was still only 2 (and I've mentioned how she clung to me) it was good that Bear wasn't a clingy child.  And maybe the space I gave her as an infant allowed her to become the independent child she is today... Or maybe it caused her to question whether anyone else is actually there for her and keeps her from asking for help today.

My point is that in both cases I did my best.  I made the choices I thought were right at the time and hoped for the best.  I came to realize that parenting is not a one size fits all experience.  I look at my cousins and I who were all raised in vastly different ways, and for the most part we all turned out to be good people and good parents ourselves. It is obvious that as long as a child knows he or she is loved and can honestly say that his or her parents did their best they will turn out ok.  So why do people insist there is a "right" way to parent?

The same holds true for homeschooling.  I have tried different ways of homeschooling.  They range from classical to unschooling, and we have found an eclectic mix that fits our family's needs.  I try very hard to not judge other people's methods.  It turned out that classical was far to rigid for my kids.  There weren't enough opportunities for self expression early on, and so we decided to try something else.  Unschooling felt like flying without a parachute to me.  Actually both Curly and I felt lost without a plan.  I have seen unschooling work for people, but I am too much of a control freak to trust on the process.  We all loved the unit study approach but found it difficult to keep up with preparing for each unit.  Finally we tried a balanced approach.  We use fairly traditional methods and materials for math, writing, and spelling.  I look at these things as skill based, and I believe that skills can be taught and need to be practiced regularly.  All the other subjects, art, music, history, science, geography, social studies, etc. we learn through experience.  I try to arrange a rich life with plenty of opportunities to hear, see, smell, taste and touch.  Because these other subjects are knowledge based experiential learning ensures that facts are connected to something real.  In this way they are more likely to stick.

So why am I making a big deal about this now?  Because at much as I try to have a live and let live approach to life I feel judged regularly by unschoolers.  Not as much by the ones I know in real life, but by the ones who's blogs I read.  They act as if the only way to truly embrace life is to be an unschoolers and the rest of us are just sheep.  I have experienced more bigotry from them than from anyone who questions whether homeschooling is a good idea.

My question is why?  As homeschoolers we all struggle with moments of insecurities.  In fact, this applies to us as human beings in general.  So why do we judge others?  Does it make us feel less insecure about our own decisions to bash other people's.  Wouldn't it make more sense to assume that we are all doing the best we can with the information and wisdom we have.  We all chose to step off the beaten path, and follow our own instincts.  We need to remember that there are as many different new trails as there are people to blaze them.

Thursday, September 1, 2011

What's Wrong With the Pubic School?

I've been pondering the state of education lately.  Obviously the system is failing in many ways.  Nearly everyone agrees on that.  Of course, the specifics of how and why it is failing are another matter all together...

Being a former teacher who now homeschools I think I may have a different insight into it.  The simple answer is that school fail because we cannot agree on what they are supposed to be succeeding at.  Each individual, whether it be a school official, teacher, parent or student has his or her own idea of what a successful school would be.

Just ask a group of homeschoolers why they homeschool.  There will be as many different answers as there are people in the group.  Some want to shelter their child from alternative viewpoints.  Some think the schools force kids to conform too much.  Some think it lacks the structure and intensity that children need.  Some believe that kids time is better spent pursuing their own interests.  The list goes on and on.

And so it goes with people discussing the public school.  The school day too long, or maybe too short.  The curriculum is too rigid, or is it too flexible?  Do we test too much or too little?  Does the school get too involved in teaching morality or not involved enough?  Do we spend too much money or too little.  Should we invest more in remedial education or gifted programming?  Why do we have these unanswerable questions?

The news is always comparing us to "other" industrialized nations, and we come up short.  Why?  Let's look at those nations... Korea, Japan, Finland... All ethnically and culturally homogenized countries.  Of course it is easier to meet the needs and wants of similar people than it is to meet the needs and wants of a motley crew of assorted groups cobbled together from years of immigration.   We are doomed to fail from the beginning.  There is no way to keep our diversity and take a one size fits all approach.

So can it be fixed?  Obviously, I don't think it will be fixed any time soon.  That is the true reason I homeschool.  I have no expectations that the public school would meet my wants for my kids.  Until, more opportunities for charter schools are available I think things will continue as they have for decades.  Lots of well meaning passionate people will continue arguing points that are all valid for some students.  The pendulum on each issue will make giant swings from side to side, and no one will emerge entirely satisfied.