Friday, May 14, 2010

Why Unschool: Part Two

  • Test, test, test
Firstly, I'm not anti-test.  At all.  I think tests are quite awesome actually; it's a great way to see where one is along the lines of development in a particular area.  But, what I have learned this year is it's one test after another test after another.  I think if there are so many tests going on all the time then there's no real definitive measure of one's comprehension, but rather of their current knowledge.  Don't we really teach our kids things to help them learn those things?  Don't we deem them important to be understood?  I think it's the nonstop test cycle that leads to memorization, not learning.  That's what puts pressure on us to "remember" something, but things that we actually learn, things we know aren't just remembered.  They're practiced, they're thought about.  The fundamentals behind the things we learn are built upon and used in other ways.  I don't know the fictional history of Macgyver's educational background but I am fairly certain that he didn't memorize how to use all the random objects he did in order to produce the results he did.  He must have had functional knowledge of a myriad of things, probably from hands-on experience with his Dad or Grandpa.  Again, tests are good.  Testing too much and forcing children to memorize and discard-not so much! 

  • Teachers are underpaid, undereducated, and under-evaluated
  I don't think anyone disagrees that they're underpaid.  I guess looking at my general workload I am too, so who am I to talk?  Well, I'm only responsible for teaching how many children I choose to teach not 20+.  Besides, I consider myself well paid.  I have a home, clothes, food, entertainment, a car, and everything else I need.  But, I digress...  Teachers handle a lot of kids with a variety of backgrounds and home lives, pressures from the state on how to get the kids to memorize everything they need to in order to pass the next test they're given, and limited space and time in which to do it all.  And they get paid so poorly from the start.  I say undereducated because while teachers do have to go through college which includes teaching training, it's been said that most new teachers have no concept of classroom management.  Now, you take another look at the concepts behind Waldorf education or Montessori education and you see that teachers do, in fact, manage classrooms effectively.  Probably because these are specific molds of teaching that require teachers to be trained, as the flow of these methods is essential to the whole education practice there.  But, average teachers-nope.  They get thrown on in with more than enough children to teach.  Should I ever retain a college education and be thrown into a room of 20+ children who need to be molded into something "usable" the following year, remind me of this blog, please?  Bless every teacher's heart for what they do.  I think the lack of evaluation is a serious problem.  The students' performance on all of their tests is usually a teacher's main form of evaluation, which is a real shame.  I get the premise, I do.  Their job is to teach and if the children are doing well on their tests then the teachers are teaching well.  But, again, every teacher's room is different.  Whether or not all the children do fabulously on a test doesn't necessarily indicate the level of skill a teacher has in handling her classroom, communicating with children, boosting their self esteem, or any other aspect of their job that, let's face it, they do  It leads to burnout.  Zane's current teacher has a classroom full of really tough kids.  It's incredible to watch her with them, really.  She touches them (even though the rules say not to) by shaking hands in the morning and saying good morning along with their name to each one as they walk in.  When they do great she makes a BIG deal out of it.  She bought coats for a couple of them at the beginning of fall because their parents hadn't yet.  She forgives with ease and most importantly she really, really cares.  As of 2 weeks ago it was decided that she will not be returning to the school next year.  Budget cuts.  She was new to the district this year and has the least seniority.  Tell me something...  A teacher moves in from out-of-state, starts at a new school, gets a very difficult class and gets packed to the max (25 first graders, no aide), year starts with extreme behavior issues and ends with vast improvement, all students in class are leaving the year able to read and teacher gets cut.  Should stature within a school be measured more by evaluation than years in the district perhaps this fantastic and talented teacher wouldn't be out of a job next year AND more teachers just might be getting trained on how to be as good as she is.  But, what do I know...  I'm a meager stay home Mom. ;-)

  • Too much (time spent) for not enough (attention)
Classrooms are jam-packed and we all know that.  Because of that, though, kids have to be in school for an average of 7 hours per day and I'm certain they're not getting their "money's worth".   Teachers just have too many students to help, to teach, to control, to watch.  7 hours is a very long day for children, especially younger ones.  Most adults work 8.5-9 hour days at work and how many of them do you hear whining by Thursday afternoon that they're "So ready for FRIDAY!" I did when I worked, too.  And yet when our kids tell us they're bored of school or tired of school, we tell 'em to just get back in line, stand up straight, and do what they're told.  They don't even get a bonus at the end of the year or anything!!  These kids, I tell ya...  they're real troopers.  Plenty of them are truly brilliant enough that they're legitimately b-o-r-e-d all day long as they wait for the others in their class to grasp a concept or memorize a formula but the schools aren't equipped to provide alternative classes for the bored ones since you can either skip grades or not skip grades.  Often someone excels in one area but not all.  There simply are no resources for them in traditional school, so since there's no "time for them" they're left there, waiting and getting bored.  What a waste of intellect.  At the very least, they should be provided an "out" for part of the day so they don't have to sit around wasting perfectly good time.  

I do have to make one really great exception to my fourth point on Why Unschool: Part One which was "NO freedom".  I'm happy to say that I got to witness the kids at Zane's school be almost completely free on Wednesday afternoon.  The Student Council threw a school dance to celebrate the end of the year and the beginning of spring.  In all honesty, I was hoping Zane wouldn't want to go, but he did, so we went (adults were required to come with students).  I had a blast.  Stori had a blast.  Zane had a blast.  So many people had so much fun that I found myself sad to be leaving the school.  These kids were jumping on each otehr, over each otehr, all around the gymnasium and were NOT told no!!!  Oh, I was just thrilled!  There were kids break dancing, hooping, hopping, skipping, sitting, standing, lying on the floor...  Of course it's not possible to eliminate all the nay-sayers, so there was one lady who was next to one of the foil door curtain things.  I'm sure it was purchased at the dollar store or similar and it was about 20 minutes until the end of dance time and there were boys who kept running through them (cause, ummm...they're the most AWESOME things ever to young kids) and yes, Zane was one of the boys.  She says to them "you need to stop running through this or it might break."  I guess she missed the memo on 1. What kids like and 2. it was in a DOORWAY-people go through those.  But, hey... that was the maximum of limitation put on the students that I noticed that afternoon and that, my friends, is one of those times I am SO GLAD to be wrong!!!  

Many of my points are personal, obviously.  This is, after all, OUR driving force behind making this movement.  So you may ask why not home school rather than unschool and I think I'll save my next post for that.  :-)

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