Periodically I run across an article in the newspaper or a magazine lamenting the state of education in the United States and how we are falling behind other countries in math, science, engineering, etc. The articles usually go on to make a call for some type of drive for excellence in education or the need to prepare our children to create a country that can compete internationally in the coming decades.
What is rarely addressed is how the education reform that people seek is going to be implemented or how it is going to differ significantly from what is already a failing system. Attempts to insure future excellence by mandating a minimal level of core knowledge such as the “No Child Left Behind” program nationally and the TAKS (Texas Assessment of Knowledge and Skills) here in my home state have failed miserably.
Rather than prepare children to think, reason, and sustain a love of learning, the schools end up teaching to the test because funding and teacher ratings depend upon the student pass rate. Focused on learning only what is “covered on the test” has become the dominant strategy for savvy students. Whenever testing of this sort is utilized it always deteriorates into a focus on passing the test rather than learning, or more importantly learning how to learn.
During the Clinton administration there was a lot of discussion about “slotting” or “tracking” children down career paths based on early academic testing. While such an approach may sound reasonable in theory, it is fraught with problems practically: Are there allowances made for the many skilled and intelligent children who don’t perform well in a testing environment? Who decides what skills, content, or interest determines which slot or track? How do you account for children who are “late bloomers” academically and socially? The disturbing answers are, of course: No, bureaucrats, and you don’t.
Wilhelm Reich described an emotionally plagued system as one that appears to function rationally but is actually irrational because it is based on an invisible unstated false premise that is “assumed” to be true and is never questioned or open for debate. In essence the system itself is immune from scrutiny.
The types of solutions described above and the variations proposed periodically in the name of educational reform all fall into this category. They are based on the premise that children do not want to learn and that education must be imposed on them. When the latest pedagogic approach fails to produce excellence the approach or implementation is blamed.
With the birth of my first grandchild I have once again watched in wonder at the incredible rate of learning and insatiable appetite for discovery and exploration of the world found in newborns. Why do we assume this stops when a child enters school?
My wife and I home schooled all three of our children from elementary school through high school. They are now 22, 26, and 30, and each is successfully pursuing their interests in the world. The secret of our educational success that so many wanted us to share is really quite simple: Love your children and resource their interests. Let them show you the path to their excellence and help them to follow it.
I know that home schooling is not the answer for every child. I don’t begin to pretend that at a practical level I know what is, but I have seen the evidence of our approach on my own children. I have also seen the results on other students and their desire to learn, their creativity, and their excitement about the future when they are encouraged to pursue that which draws upon their natural strengths and interests.
If we are serious about developing excellence in our children we must allow them to develop their natural gifts and talents, follow their natural interests, and discover their own passions.
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