Here’s my intuition:
Home education is just going to gain more and more traction in the coming years.
That’s really not such a brilliant insight. The growth is already there, and constant – except when it pops up a bit.
And why is this?
Parents and children are getting more and more frustrated with institutional schooling, both public and private.
Secondly, homeschooling is getting easier.
(A little easier. It’s always a challenge, but the Internet has transformed it, making it so much easier to connect with information, classes and other people)
I hesitate to even begin a post like this because the minute I do, my head explodes with a million ideas, concerns and stories, and I end up sitting here for three hours, just meandering.
I’m going to try to not wander down that road, and offer instead smaller bits and pieces.
I’ve talked before about why we’re here, doing this. That post is here.
What it all comes down to is this. Everything in life, including the education of children, is a tradeoff. Nothing’s perfect, and so we’re willing to accept a few weaknesses because the benefits outweigh them.
With a child’s education, the balance is sort of like this:
I (a parent) give an institution money, in the form of either tuition or taxes (or both! Yay!) In return, the school takes my children off my hands for seven hours a day, teaches them, and wears them out.
There are advantages to this system, it seems. I get my time to work, my children get educated. Good deal. There are disadvantages: the education is not perfect. There are gaps. There may even be points that are taught that I believe to be false or very true parts of the human story that are neglected or ignored. We try to keep the scale balanced by compensating for all of that at home. We create a rich environment, we travel, we talk. We are all, in way, home educators. It works.
(It’s the way it worked for me – public school educated up to high school, then educated in a mediocre Catholic high school and then in a perfectly good public university. All of that was balanced out by academic parents and a home filled with books, music, art and constant, intense conversation.)
But then, sometimes, the balance starts to tip.
Considering my own experience and those of many I’ve talked to and listened to, the balance is tipping in a couple of respects.
(I’m going to set aside hot-button points. Or rather, I’m just going to take them for granted – there are areas of school life and curricula in certain parts of the country that are extremely problematic to many families – those are well-known and understood. I’ve got nothing to add to that, except a nod.)
There just seems to be a feeling out there that more and more school time is just…wasted.
It’s busy work. It’s pointless projects. It’s about material that the state has determined is essential that really isn’t and no one – including teachers, God bless them – cares about. Parents are wondering why there’s so much blasted homework and why this learning isn’t happening in the actual school day. Pedagogical methods strike many as obtuse, counterproductive, boring and overly theoretical. It’s about prepping for testing, none of which is about the student, but is, rather, about teacher, school and district performance. Families are expected to do more and more at home, while less and less of substance seems to be happening during the school day.
And more and more people are saying, “Screw it. If they’re going to waste time, they might as well waste it at home, and we can all relax.”
In other words, the balance is tipping: “I’m paying you more and more money. My children are stressing out more, the demands the system are putting on our family are greater, and you know what? Our children aren’t learning more or loving learning more deeply. In fact, everyone sort of hates it and feels like pawns in some bigger game. We’re getting off the scale now. Thanks for the fish.”
Related: I’m starting to get some queries about Common Core. What do I think about it?
Here’s what I think:
No one makes money when a school teaches out of ten-year old textbooks using methods that are either common sense, instinctive, or learned twenty years ago. Seriously. No one makes money that way. The only way people make money is when everything is upended and everyone has to start over. Common Core isn’t about kids. It’s about textbook companies making bank from new editions that must be purchased. It’s about entities that make money from teacher training. It’s about financial incentives given to districts and teachers. It’s about testing companies making money from testing. It’s about consultants raking in bucks from helpfully helping everyone out.
We can all cry “common standards! national standards! The rest of the world does it! Must be good! “…and some of us are crying that. And it seems like deep common sense to say yes to that. Except when it doesn’t.
Do a bit of research. Have some conversations. Are the French universally ecstatic with their education system? The Japanese? Germans? Are they?
I’m going to make myself stop there. I’ll continue tomorrow with some thoughts on how my thinking on education has changed over the past couple of years. But first, a story. A story about an encounter I’ve remembered every single day since it occurred last November.
In early November 2012, during that Fall of Happy Memory, spent in Europe, we got on the bus in Assisi with our luggage and bumped down the hill to the train station in S. Maria degli Angeli, where we’d catch the train that would take us to Rome, for the last couple of weeks of our trip.
(I swear…I can’t even type that without a pang. For a few months after returning, I was like, DONE. GOT THAT OUT OF MY SYSTEM. U!S!A! But now….I want to go to there.)
We arrived about 45 minutes before the train, just to make sure we’d actually make it.
(I have a whopper of a European train story that I’ve not yet shared on the blog…maybe it’s just about time….well, not quite yet…)
I settled the boys on a bench, and wandered around to see what I could see. What I saw was a big sign in front of a space I’d not noticed before. It said, “ASSISI INFORMATION” and another, nearby sign said, DISCOVERY STATION ASSISI.
I entered the space and was a little surprised to find, behind the counter, an American woman about my age. She greeted me cheerfully, we started talking, and I started noticing the shape of the space behind the counter, and what was in it. Her husband came up and we started talking, too. He went and got my kids from their bench and brought them into Discovery Station Assisi to hang out with their kids. And thirty minutes later, they had me almost convinced to move to Assisi.
Almost, you see, because here I am, still in Alabama. But still, today, I wonder….
They are Jack and Helen Yuen. Americans from the Bay area, with backgrounds in law, tech and food, who adore Italy, were married there, and have three amazing boys.
And right now, their passion is this Discovery Station Assisi.
It’s something we Americans take for granted: a hands-on educational/maker space for kids – but something quite rare in Italy.
As Jack explained it to me, the Italian educational system is in a mess. It’s hidebound by tradition, emphasizes rote, abstract knowledge and the authority of the teacher, discourages questioning and hands-on experiences, and leaves the students high and dry, unoccupied, and open to trouble at the end of too-brief school days. You can argue that the American system veers too far in the opposite direction, and I’d agree, but the gap that Jack and Helen saw in their own situation was quite real, and something their enterprise is designed to compensate for. The “storefront” is tourist information, right there in the train station, but the big room behind is dinosaurs and legos and gadgets, all for kids.
I was so impressed by them. I’m fascinated by ex-pats anyway, and those with a passion even more so.
Near the end of our conversation, during which we’d talked about education and science museums and travel and Italy and homeschooling, Jack told me a story about being a young man traveling in Asia with obligations back in the States, and having an opportunity – an opportunity he’d never have again. So he tore up his ticket back home and took that opportunity.
“Sometimes,” he said to me, and eyeing me rather intently after hearing about my passion for travel, my desire to share this with my boys, my despair with institutional school – everything I knew was right, true and important – and then telling me about a rental home just come available near them in Assisi, “You just have to tear up the ticket, and go on that adventure. You just have to – tear -up -the- ticket.”
Well….I didn’t tear up that airfare, did I?
Don’t think I didn’t contemplate it, and seriously. But in the end, (honestly) Assisi is just too small for me and not super accessible to other parts of Italy. If it had been Padua or Pavi, in a heartbeat. But not that time, not there.
So no, I didn’t tear up that ticket.
But yeah…that other ticket? That ticket for the 9-month ride that takes off at 7:30 every morning, paid for by wrapping paper fundraisers, bumping along a track of worksheets, mindless readings, and just generally being a pawn in other people’s agendas? That ticket?