Education and Honesty

22 November 2014

My wife and I had a brief “discussion” recently about education, specifically the education of our son. Currently he goes to a small private school 3 days a week. The rest of the time he is generally with one of us- what we term “homeschooling” or “unschooling”- take your pick. Basically this entails his taking part in, or at least being present for, the process of our everyday lives. That means he helps around the house, goes to the grocery store with us, comes along with us when we are conducting business, and studies the topics he is interested in both alone and with our help.

This is what learning is about- experiencing real life; at this point that means seeing how we as his parents make money, spend money, what we do with our free time, how we interact with other people and the world at large, and how we go about educating ourselves, to give a short list. That he is with us as much as possible is doubly important for his developing mind- he learns about life, and he learns this from what should be any child’s primary role models- parents and family. In this way, children are not learning about life from their peers, one of the worst ways for children to be raised, and unfortunately one of the most common. But more of that some other time. Today’s rant is about education (again), and what we accept as education and why.

The first point in our discussion today addressed a test to determine how our son is gifted, and what needs to be done to promote those gifts in terms of the specific focus of his education. First, there are no gifted children. Next, all children are gifted. Okay, there are Mozarts and Einsteins and so on, those unique geniuses, but there are not many of them. But here in Boulder county there are so many schools for “gifted” children that you would think half the population of ten year olds sit at home writing symphonies before bed each night. I doubt that happens. My point is that we have taken what should be a common style of education for all (if it were mixed with plenty of family learning) and turned it into something elite, something to make us, the parents feel special. I guess that says something about how the parents feel about their lives.

Next came the topic of exactly what should be studied. Again, I proposed “real life learning”, which happens to be the focus of his present school. Along with that I would add… anything he wants to learn about. I say let the kids choose their path. Of course the kids have to be raised in such a way that makes them capable of doing that. I am afraid that most would choose to learn about the television remote, or the gaming console, or even worse things. I have raised my son to think critically, to collect and analyse data, to weigh the pros and cons of his options, and to make decisions based on these processes. I trust that he could be left to his own devices and his decisions would be good ones.

Finally, after touching on the means, we discussed the ends. What is the goal of education today? To teach kids how to read and write? To teach them how to study? How to take tests? To teach them what they need to know to become cogs in a global capitalist machine? Wow, how did we get there? Sound extreme? Just take a look at school curriculum, and look at what is most adaptable to. Start by looking at school hours, corresponding to parent’s work hours of course, pretty close to 9 to 5. Next look at the structure- sit at the desk, look straight ahead, do as you are told, work until the bell rings- we have classrooms full of complacent automatons that are already tied to the clock. I would classify this not as the ends, but as the end. I say forget about the ends, focus on the means. To quote Cervantes, “The road is always better than the inn.”

Honesty is the first requirement when looking at anything so full of emotion as the shaping of the lives of our children. If we cannot be honest with ourselves about what is really happening in “education” today, we have lost not just the battle, but the war.

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