I’ve learned alot about John Adams and American history this past month.Â I didn’t learn it directly from the John Adams biography written by David McCollough that sits mostly unread next to my bed. I’ve learned it from watchingÂ the HBO Series on John Adams.Â John Adams, I’ve learned,Â wasÂ not someone that I would have liked.Â I would have admired him and respected him. But I wouldn’t haveÂ been likely to be someone that would join him and his wife for the evening. Â Ben Franklin on the other hand, seemsÂ like alot more fun.Â Both, in their ways, were committed American patriots. But theirÂ ways were very very different.Â
Now, moving from my education to the broader question of education, JohnÂ Adams said:Â “Education should teach people how to live or how to make a living”. I think he is right.
Recently, some critics, one of whom (Roger Schank) I’ll quote, have observed:Â “Our schools do neither. They teach how to pass tests about meaningless knowledge that never comes up in real life.” I think he too, is right.
I think that today’s curriculum and our understanding of what education is, and how to go about it, are way overdue for a major rethinking. Of course, the current national debate on educationÂ has only to do with how testing is helping or hurting. Sigh.
AlthoughÂ the focus of the national debate is depressing, the most uplifting trend that I’ve seen in education is the homeschool movement. These people are not debating, they’re doing.Â They’re making an end run on the whole stiltified education system and experimenting and innovating and customing education to fit the needs of their children.Â It’s amazing. Let a thousand flowers bloom. I’ll bet that the 2-4% of our population that is being homeschooled will be the leaders of tomorrow.
Many are unapologetically unschooling.Â Lets follow the kids’ interest as our lead. They like to read and show an interest in biography? Great, lets serve up biographies of politicians and scientists and artists and mathematicians and see how much they can absorb.Â My kids likes computer games? Great, lets find a way to visit a game development studio and use that trigger a need to learn math and engineering and develop art and technical skills.
Many are using unit studies. This month is bees. Great, lets study bees in every which way.Â Any great bee literature? Who can draw a bee? What about the types of bees and how they fit into the animal kingdom?Â Can we dissect a bee?Â What about the math of a new bee colony? The economics of honey making?Â Lets goÂ visit some bee farms. Lets see how they fit into our agricultural system? What makes people allergic to bees and what is an allergy?Â Â What makes honey taste sweet?Â What bees are native to what place? Can different types of bees interbreed? What’sÂ going on with the African killer bees? Lets go observe some bees and see what we can see? Â And we’ll have the 5year old, the 10 year old, and the 15 year old all immersed in bees for a month studying it every which way.Â And they’ll learn things that will stay with them for life. For life. They’ll learn to research, to have curiosity, and to generalize.
The Internet?Â In elementary and middle schools today, the teachers are getting comfortable using the mouse and there are often several computers in every class of 30 kids.Â After the studentsÂ finish their work, they can play educational games on the computer. But in homeschooling, it’s like the real world. There is one computer per person and it’s an intrinsic part of most studies. From funÂ homeschooling curriculumÂ to great spelling games to writing coursesÂ to the endless research possibilities of the net, the computers are integrated as a tool in many homeschooling families. Just like in the real world and the future and Â not at allÂ like the expensiveÂ timewarp reality of public education. Who can afford computers when they have to buy all those $75 textbooks for each student and have all those curriculum specialists guiding the teachers along the straight and increasingly narrow definition of education.
Schools today rely increasingly on high stake tests to motivate and evaluate. High stakes tests and grades lead to cramming. Most crammed info remains in memory just long enough to get thru the test.Â The entire curriculum of high school science ignores the reality of the lives that most people will lead and does not equip them to make their own medical decisions or to evalute other life choices. Instead, it provides preprofessional training for the very few who might make those subjects their career.Â One reason thatÂ few students todayÂ care much about scienceÂ could beÂ the endless time spent in highschool chemistry on the valences and the periodic table with no broader discussion of anything relevant like the miracle of new materials developed over the last fifty years. The incredible story of synthetic rubber, of plastic, of nylon and rayon, of silicon and silicone is not taught in high school chemistry. Instead, the mind numbing trivia of classical chemistry is studied which is only of value to the fraction of a percent that pursues a career as a chemical engineer.Â Where’s the national debate on that?Â
Â Am I ranting? The public school system, ironically,Â is not evolving. The homeschoolers are.Â I love that the homeschoolers are taking fresh approaches to education. I hate that the federal government is increasing the pressure for a single approach to curriculum without asking any questions of whether our education “teaches people how to live or how to make a living”.
Â Anybody have a view to share?