Thursday, March 20, 2014

The Question of Schooling

Chris and I have been talking a lot lately about Cole and his education.  Private school? Public school? Home school? Unschooling? Charter school?  There are a plethora of options out there for Cole's education - and I believe it is one of the most important decisions we will ever make while raising our children.

Here's the thing.  I was a public school teacher.  I believe in public school teachers - they are awesome, dedicated, loving, and amazing.  In the five years I worked in various public schools, I met only a couple of teachers that were lower quality. 

BUT - and it's a big but - I don't believe in our education system.  I hate it.  I think our current system sets kids up for failure.  No Child Left Behind was the worst thing to happen to education in years.  Here's some of my reasons:

1.  Standardized tests.  UGH.  What an awful way to measure intelligence.  Not individual growth, but pure black and white facts that all children are measured the exact way.  But not all children ARE going to have the exact intelligence.  Children's brains are fully formed by the time they are 5 years old - which is the age public schools get the kids.  During those first five years, if kids are exposed to nothing but television and video games, their poor neural pathways are already wired to expect that level of entertainment and no work. 

2.  Because of NCLB, schools are losing huge amounts of federal funding.  The only way they can get that funding back? Teach to the test.  Teach children to regurgitate answers.  Take away recess, art, music, PE to increase classroom time to force more "learning" down the kids' throats.  Creative learning and thinking is out, because it takes more time to teach (without prep time teachers used to have during those recess, art, music, and PE times, they have much less preparation time to prepare excellent lessons).____

Also a result of less funding?  Less money for field trips, learning programs, and materials.  The old argument of how schools keep asking for more and more money is accurate; however, new technology that we must expose to kids to like computers and smartboards take more funding than they did 20 years ago. 

3.  Our whole way of teaching kids is skewed.  "Sit down and shut up" seems to be the prevalent way of teaching - and it's totally not how kids learn best.  Kids learn by being noisy, working together, hands-on messy and fun activities, not by listening quietly to a teacher teach. 

4.  Not to brag, but Cole is extremely intelligent.  However, that doesn't matter.  Yup, you heard me... he can be as bright as the day is long and it DOESN'T MATTER.  What DOES matter?  Creative thinking.  The ability to ask the right questions, to experiment, to keep trying.  No one is going to figure out how to cure cancer by regurgitating memorized answers onto a standardized test.  The person who succeeds in creating those new, inventive, important ideas is the one who is taught from an early age to be a scientist, to explore and question and experiment.

Can I encourage this behavior outside of school?  Of course.  And the old argument against paying for private school is "how much enrichment outside of school could that money buy?".  But if Cole is in school for eight hours a day learning to NOT question the teacher, to memorize instead of learn, to take a standardized test instead of experiment, it doesn't matter how much money I spend for the rest of his waking hours... he will be learning the WRONG way to learn.  Schools are sucking the joy of learning right out of students and if Cole is in public school, there's nothing that can counteract that effect.

I have always loved to learn.  So far, Cole loves to learn as well.  I desperately want him to keep that love of learning for his entire life, because learning = success. 

So what to do?

Fortunately, we have several amazing school options, one of which we just visited last week: Madrone Trail Public Charter School, our local Waldorf charter school.  I attended a magnet school that was semi-Waldorf for a couple of years in elementary school, and it was the most amazing educational experience of my life.  There's a private Waldorf school that is also amazing in our nearby town of Ashland.  And, of course, there's always the option of homeschooling or unschooling, neither of which are my favorite options but are still on the table.

Tell me, how do you feel about your child's education?  What's your opinion on the best way to educate?


  1. We were in the same conundrum as you and Chris with our Isaac. He is also a highly intelligent boy (he discussed salmonoids and sculpin with an international professor of both topics for over 20 minutes as a 4 year old, and the professor was blown away. He also schooled a grad school student about the tsavo lions and the railway over in Africa while he was 3-4 years old...the student had to google it). And being the daughter of a public school teacher, I also know that the mass majority of them bend over backwards with their limited funding and supplies to help their kids because they are "their kids" and they want nothing more than the best that they can provide for them. Tyler has a background of private schooling. I'm half homeschooled/half public schooled. Since we live in the valley, we did our research. From a public schooler's eye, I saw the downfalls to my husband's education...he was the downfalls to my public school we compromised. Isaac attends one of the highest rated schools here in the valley (thank the Lord we actually lived in the district so there was no tussle to get in). As parents, we do lots of our own field trips--Isaac basically lived in the fish lab at OSU for the majority of his preschool life, we regularly visit the aquarium, the zoo, orchards, berry patches, nature walks with our field guides, and on top of that, he does workbooks at home that have propelled him far ahead in math and reading. For the science end of things, we talk about the human body and anatomy physiology on a regular basis, Tyler does science experiments with both little guys, and we are involved in a group called Destination Imagination--Isaac is competing with other groups around the state with presentations, research, and instant challenges with impromptu performances.

    We decided on public school education for a variety of reasons. Number one--financial. We are still not in a place of financial security to get him into a private school or alternative school. But we also don't believe that money has to be such a hard focus--you do what you can for you babes, and we would have homeschooled in a heartbeat had we not been in the right city. Corvallis has *incredible* schools. Number two--both Ty and I thought that Isaac could rise to the challenge of being with other children, establishing himself with his teachers, and going above and beyond. We are in constant contact with his teacher. We ask her to challenge him if she feels he needs it, and she has sent home extra things--a book that is three levels higher so we can read through it with him. His kindergarten teacher gave him a book report form to fill out and present to his class! Number three--typically the children that Ty went to school with were the privileged and higher class and a few scholarship kids and then a few who were kicked out of public school and were attending private as a last resort. I was in with a menagerie of upper class, lower class, middle class kids, farms kids, special ed kids, non-english speaking kids. That basically all panned out even. So #3 was really a toss up for us.

  2. Isaac as truly experienced an aspect of life in public school that has caused us to sit, talk, help problem solve, encourage, hold him as he vents and struggles. It's not the academics that are doing that. Academically he is soaring, and with a few bumps in the road, he's also soaring socially. He has two friends with pretty severe medicated, one not. His compassion and tenderness has the child with cerebral palsy as his table buddy because Isaac can pull him back from being scared by talking quietly with him, reassuring him that everything is okay, and distracting him from the chaos during a class party to calm him down. He's secured fast friendships with other children that encourage him to be a leader, but also to listen to them instead of being the bossy one. And he's also stood up for his friends on the playground (unfortunately with clenched fists) when a group of bigger kids tried to push them out of a play area.

    This can happen in both public or private schools though (and I am soo sorry for how long this has gotten!). It all truly depends on *your* heart. Where do *you* see Cole accepting challenges and going above and beyond? Isaac's kindergarten class had children who were reading chapter books and comprehending them...he had children in there who were normal kindergarteners too. Right now, I can honestly say that Isaac is one of the highest in his 1st grade class. He will be tested for TAG, and by 3rd grade he will be able to take alternative courses through OSU built especially for TAG students to learn more. We have a 3rd grade friend who took an 8 week programming course through them. Trust your Mommy gut. Research. Talk with parents. Talk with teachers and principals. You will know what is right, and Cole will shine :)


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