Wednesday, April 04, 2007

My reponse to "Do Schools Quash Student's Enthusiasm for Learning?

One of the posts in this week’s Carnival of Education is by Scott McLeod who asks Do Schools Quash Students' Enthusiasm for Learning? I started to add a comment, but it became so long that I turned it into this post.

The way public schools are structured is after a factory model. The factory model means that teachers teach to the average student. Sometimes the students who already got it will be bored out of their skulls. And the students who didn’t get it will soon be lost. This means that the classroom setting is only fueling the fire some of the time. Some of the time a student’s love for learning is being starved or worse being doused.

Scott asks "What is it about our educational system that (dare I say it?) beats the academic enthusiasm out of our children?"

My answer is it is the very nature of public schools.

I graduated from high school with little love for learning. I knew it was something I had to do, but it wasn’t something I enjoyed doing. I headed off to a university and got a degree. It wasn’t until my late twenties that I was able to rekindle a love for learning, learning for the fun of it, not just because I was suppose to learn something for a teacher, or for a job.

There have been huge efforts over the last several decades to improve or reform education. Fifty years ago lots of intelligent people responded to “Why can’t Johnny Read?” Unfortunately things got worse.

A couple decades back the 1983 report, "A Nation At Risk" had this famous quote:

"If an unfriendly foreign power had attempted to impose on America the mediocre educational performance that exists today, we might well have viewed it as an act of war. As it stands, we have allowed this to happen to ourselves."

Again thousands of smart, dedicated people tried to fix the problems with public schools. But again, things got worse.

People keep trying to tweak public education so it will be better. It isn’t working. I don’t think it will really improve as it is currently structured. After millions, or maybe billions, of man hours invested in trying to fix public schools, maybe it is time to think out of the box and acknowledge that we need something fundamentally different. Maybe it is vouchers, maybe it is charter schools, maybe something else. But public schools haven’t changed their basic nature in a long time. Every year hundreds of thousands of children graduate from high school who are functionally illiterate.

Young children are naturally curious. At three to five one of their favorite questions is “Why?” They hit kindegarten and are told to be quiet. They have to wait. They are taught stuff they have little interest in, or even understanding of. As Scott painfully points out most children graduate from high school with little love for learning.

I don’t believe that public schools can nourish a love for learning. By the very nature of forcing children to learn with everyone else, each child’s fire is often being smothered.

This is one of the reasons my wife and I choose to home school. We wanted to feed the love of learning so our daughters would become life long learners.

I just now asked my three daughters about their attitude towards learning. My twelve year old said that she finds most subjects interesting, but she doesn’t enjoy grammar. My ten year old said she likes to learn. My six year old had to add that she recently cried because my wife wasn’t giving her another math worksheet. (The youngest likes to copy her older sisters.)

To keep things in perspective there are times when all three daughters will fuss if we ask them to practice their piano, or write a report. But in general homeschooling has fewer times that we are dousing the fire. Our daughters are very rarely bored being forced to study something they already know, or confused because the lesson has moved on to the next topic before they mastered the current topic.

In the afternoon when the lessons are done, they will often play games together, or read. But they will also learn on their own. For example they love to read about cats, dogs, and especially horses. They frequently check out The Ultimate Horse Book from the library. They studied it and talked about it. They have learned a ton about horses. But they have also learned some about biology and history.

One of our goals as parents is to keep our daughter’s love for learning alive to their adult years. So far I think we have been successful.

Technorati tags: homeschooling, homeschool, home school, home education, parenting, children, education

1 comment:

ChristineMM said...

Dear Cates,
I have awarded you The Thinking Blogger Award.

You can pick it up here.

Thanks for all the work you do with your blog.