Updated: May 20
We all hear complaints about public school. It's boring. There's too much homework. There isn't enough homework. It's dumbed down. It's underfunded. Teachers aren't paid enough. There's bullying and indoctrination. While I believe that each of these problems can be damaging to children, I also believe that even if we did solve all these problems, the schools will still not be good enough.
I feel very strongly that the number one reason why public schools are not as effective as schools should be is because they are funded by tax dollars. Out of the total year state spending of $208.9 billion, the state of California spends over half the budget on education. That's a lot of money! Of course, we as taxpayers expect the state to be responsible with the money they spend. We want to know that the money is being used wisely. But how can we make sure education is effective?
Ironically, the very thing the state must do to ensure the money is spent wisely is the same thing that also ensures that government schools will never be good enough: state standards and standardized testing. In order to measure how well the schools are doing, they need to have a measuring stick. So the schools test, evaluate, and grade all students according to a single measuring stick. Children are then judged, categorized, and divided by this one stick. As if all children could - or even should - be the same.
But we know there is no such thing as a standard child. And to be honest, if a standard child did exist, we wouldn't want that child to be ours.
We all believe our own children to be special. And they are! No two children are alike and they should not be treated as such.
The only place where it matters in what year a child starts reading or how quickly they can learn to solve for Pi is in school. Children that fall behind in one or more subjects are often stigmatized and accused of stupidity and laziness. This can destroy a child's self-confidence and lead to depression and misery. Sadly, it also teaches a child to hate school and learning, thinking that if they can't do it, why should they even try?
But not all children learn the same or on the same schedule. Very frequently, a child that is not up to state standards in one area can excel in another. These other areas are not always on the standardized tests and therefore are not valued. These skills include things like sports, arts, interpersonal skills, sciences, understanding nature, etc. Excelling in any of these skills can contribute to a successful career.
So right about now many of you may be panicking, worrying that if you were to allow your child to expand on their innate talents, they will fall behind in all the important stuff. Take a deep breath! These thoughts come from the deep-seated belief that all children need to do the same thing at the same time. They really don't!
State standards are not a magic formula. They simply represent the things that the majority of students are capable of doing at each age. Parents often fear that if their child doesn't learn a skill at the same time as all the other kids do that they will forever be behind. It's just not true. Children can learn reading, writing, and math at any time. As a matter of fact, many that wait until they are ready to learn have been known to master these important skills in a matter of months. These kids find it fun and exciting to learn many things at once.
It does not take sitting at a desk for six hours a day for twelve years to learn all this stuff. Kids are so much more capable. Interestingly, expecting a child to learn little bits of pre-digested information each day is a formula for creating bored, nonchalant learners. Like the rest of us, children enjoy getting results.
So unless your child has severe learning disabilities, your child will learn all the basic skills they need to succeed in life. It just might not be at the time that the schools say it should be.
Same ol' same ol' is not good enough anymore.
A shift in focus is necessary.
Instead of focusing on making sure that your child is like all the others, your children are better served by making sure they are NOT like all the others!
Every child is different. Every child has unique abilities. The more time we spend focusing on their weaknesses, the more we dumb them down. We need to focus on their strengths!
That's what adults do! You and I don't usually look at improving the things we are worst at. Instead, we tend to focus on the things we're good at -- the things we enjoy doing! It is through our strengths that we pursue our education, hobbies, and careers. Why would it be any different for our kids?
It is by working with a child's strengths that the children really come into their own. You wouldn't tell a child actor or professional athlete that they should spend less time in the studio or at the gym, would you? These fortunate kids know their strengths and we appreciate that they spend extra time working on their talents.
That's what tennis Superstars Venus and Serena Williams did. These girls were homeschooled, an option that enabled them to work on their talents from a young age. But we also know that this focus on their skills did not prohibit them from also becoming very adept at their other school subjects as well. We know this because these girls are also college graduates, business owners, investors, actors, and authors. Nobody would say that their education has suffered because they spent too much time playing tennis.
The Williams sisters didn't miss getting a well-rounded education. They just did it their own way. It is when children are allowed to focus on their genius that their learning experiences better match their natural proclivities, thus growing more brain cells (smarts) that will also help to improve learning in all areas -- including those pesky R's that we all value so much!
I'm not saying we shouldn't challenge the kids. I'm saying that every child should be given unique challenges. There are plenty of challenges to be found when working within strengths.
You know your kids. You -- not the government -- are in charge of their education. If we've learned anything from the homeschool movement it is this: Learning is more effective when the students get to work one-on-one with the teacher (i.e., mom) than when a child is in a classroom with 30 other children. Additionally, a child does not need to sit in a crowded classroom to read a book. They don't need to be there to watch educational videos. They don't need to be there to write in their journal.
What good is school then?
Parents generally don't have access to a variety of learning materials at home. It's too much to expect families to purchase and stock things like science equipment, art supplies, sports equipment, an entire library, and even video recording equipment.
Additionally, there are many great things a school can do for a child -- when it is done right. Children can go to classes for learning experiences that can't be done at home. Things like collaborative projects with other students, playing in a musical group, playing sports, etc.
The way I see it, schools need to change, but not in the way most people think. They need to be a lot more flexible and accommodating of individual talents. I imagine an ideal school is one that sets out to enhance each child's genius. It's a dynamic place where each child gets to take classes that interest them. A place where there are supplies on hand that students can access as needed. A place where kids choose their own learning experiences.
With the right environment and the right incentive, the children will amaze us all. Given the freedom to work and learn at their own pace and within their natural talents, our children will not only learn the things society says they should learn, but they will also set themselves apart as individuals that possess talents and complete projects that impress colleges and employers.
There's simply a lot more to life when you're not trying to be like everyone else!