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Eldorado

I’ve watched Kelsea’s education with an interested, inquisitive and critical eye for almost ten years now.  It continues to be a journey, one that has brought up many memories of my own education.  As  a parent, you find yourself having to help with homework, and trying to remember things that you learned 35 years ago, and have now forgotten.  Thank the Gods for Google – it’s a great mind-refresher.

The questions that Kelsea keeps justifiably raising are, “Why do I need to learn this?  When am I ever going to use this?”  Well, I provide the standard maternal responses – “We all have to pay our dues.” “You never know what you’re going to wind up doing with your life.”  But inside, I’m saying, “She’s right!  When is she EVER going to have to know about Elodea leaves and what happens to their cells when you put them in salt water??  And when is she ever going to have to use negative numbers?  This person wants to be a paramedic.  She wants to work in a bookstore in Hay-on-Wye in Wales.”

Our academic system – the whole “no child left behind” and C-SAP testing – may (and I say MAY) support children who are at a disadvantage in one way or another, but for the majority of children, it doesn’t seem to teach them anything useful, anything that will actually help them develop their identity and the skills they will need for whatever profession they choose, unless that profession is academics.  A friend told me that all of the things they are teaching her really boil down to teaching her different ways to think.  I support THAT, if that is so.

But even if that is indeed the case, why is it not possible to make the entire academic experience more engaging?  It feels as if we are training our children that they must get up at a certain time and go do something that bores them until they are “freed”.  Sounds like a lot of our jobs, doesn’t it?  Are we just conditioning them into the same monotonous, choice-free way of life that the majority of us now experience?  Why is it not possible to foster a culture of free-thinking entrepreneurs among our youth?

I understand and appreciate that there are academic standards that need to be met — that all students need to be measured by some bar that indicates their level of competency.  What I don’ t understand is why it has to be so dry.  There are teachers out there who have very creative and engaging ways of educating, but who are stifled by the regimentation of the system.  Typically, those teachers are beloved and remembered by students, not because their classes were slack, but because their classes were inspiring and fun, and subsequently, their subject matter is remembered.  But these are the same teachers who are challenged and reprimanded by principals and school boards (and by parents who fear non-conformity.)

When children are in the lower grades, creativity and fun are emphasized in the learning process.  Make the child love school.  Why do we abandon that at the higher grade levels, when children are once again changing, and need to be helped to love school again?  Kelsea used to cry when she was unable to go to school because she was sick.  Now, it’s like pulling teeth to get her enthused – and she’s smart, social and has good grades.  Imagine if she were none of those things.  The challenge for both her and us would be magnified to the nth degree.  (To her credit, when Pat and I both wanted her to take a mental health day not so long ago, she employed her own ethics and decided it wasn’t the right thing for her to do – even though she had begged us to not make her go to school on previous days.  I was proud of her.)

Yes, it might take a little more work to come up with interactive and interesting ways of getting core information across.  But wouldn’t it be more interesting, rewarding and challenging for the teachers and the students?

While I have been evolving this opinion over a number of years now, what really heightened my awareness was my introduction to the grammar texts of Karen Elizabeth Gordon:  The Deluxe Transitive Vampire and The New Well-Tempered Sentence: A Punctuation Handbook for the Innocent, the Eager and the Doomed.  Both books teach all the core concepts of grammar and punctuation, as well as some valuable nuances, using examples that are entertaining and memorable.    Since the English language can be a toy, of course it’s easier to make English textbooks fun than to make an Algebra textbook fun, but by gum, I’m certain it can be done, and there are no doubt geeks or academics who would be more than willing to take on the challenge.

And about school start times….physiologically, kids in the teen years don’t have their melatonin levels raise until late in the evening.  They’re not ready to go to bed early and they’re not ready to get up early.  Everyone’s lives would be more pleasant and productive if school didn’t start until 9:30 or 10:00, and get out at 4:00 or 5:00.  What’s the rationale?  An 8:40 start time does not allow parents to get to work at 8:00, and a 3:30 release time does not allow them to work until 5:00.  (Not that I am in agreement with an 8:00 to 5:00 workday either.)

Who among us adults, even now in our 40’s, does not have those dreams of going to a class and realizing you’ve missed the entire semester and are now here for the final?   Or of not being able to find the classroom for the entire year?  Why do we still have nightmares about school when we are well-established professionals?  I think it speaks to the angst and trauma that the current academic system instills in us on a level of which we are unaware — unaware because we are following a formula that is incompatible with our core.

Make classes have a more global focus.  Make them more interactive.  Make them fun.  Make school a comfortable and welcoming place to go.  Respect our children’s native intelligence.  And our children will learn and be hungry to learn more.  It’s that simple.  Then perhaps our children will not be subject to our nightmares later on.

education1

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