The impact of being part of a family that lives in a fish bowl is that I am a lot more conscious of when I’m lying. To other people, to myself, to anyone, really, because the more you lie the more you have to compensate for the lie. (I know you know that, but you probably don’t risk the wrath of popular sentiment like a blogger does.) So I end up thinking all the time about if I’m being honest with myself.
I used to be a person who holds onto hope for our schools getting better. I used to hope that my particular school district is already an exception to the rule that US schools are terrible.
But blogging about the topic of school reform made me realize that it is so fundamentally wrongheaded, that there is no reason to believe we will see any school improvement in the near future.
The more I understand the absurdity of hoping for meaningful school reform, the more I see that homeschooling is something I choose because the alternative is complete insanity. In order to send my kids to school I would have to pretend I live in an alternative reality.
I homeschool because I want to model for my kids that I am honest and brave even when reality scares me. Here’s what I tell myself.
1. Be someone who’s honest about schools because you can’t lie to kids.
Schools do not really improve. Not even charter schools. This article is about the fact that most charter schools are no better than the schools they are an alternative to. But the most interesting part of the article is that you can tell if a school is good or bad after just a year of operation. Apparently research from Stanford shows that schools do not improve. The team of researchers says that the charter schools that are not good should close down. But in fact, the charter schools are just as delusional as the regular schools—they think they’ll improve.
What this tells us is that even the most earnest efforts to reform schools are not making headway. It’s too big a task.
2. Be someone who faces reality and makes changes instead of hiding.
Real reform is not something that most people can handle. It will have to be forced on them. Substantive school reform gets squashed by people who are overly invested in the status quo. Like teachers, who want to teach the way they know how to teach. And parents, who set up their lives around the free babysitting schools provide.
One example of an education reform leader being squashed is Jo Boaler. She does such outstanding research about how to teach math that she was awarded tenure at Stanford. Even so, there are math professors who take swipes at her research in ways that are so unacceptable that no journal will publish their critique.
So there is a huge online argument about why these math teaching naysayers should shut up. And what’s fascinating to read is how upset the professors are at the idea of teaching math a new way.
Even when the evidence is there—that self-directed learning is best, and new ways of teaching math are more effective—reform is squashed by people who have too much invested in the old, ineffective ways.
3. Live according to your values if you want your kids to respect your values.
There’s a fascinating problem in Finland right now. The schools are always rated high compared with the rest of the world. Wait. Do not think for one second that we could ever achieve that, because a big reason Finland is rated so high is that the population is homogeneous. Notice number two is Korea, which is the exact opposite of Finland—tons of hours in school featuring rote memorization The only thing they have in common is they are homogeneous.
So our schools could never be like Finland’s, but let’s pretend, for a minute, that they are. There emerges a new problem in that case, that home life becomes less and less meaningful as parents give up more and more control to the school.
In Finland, parents trust the schools to the point that family life is becoming dull. Everything centers around the school. We could debate community vs. individuality. I have done that before, because where I live I’m surrounded by Amish families, and their commitment to the community over the individual is remarkable.
But the issue is that individualism is core to American culture. We absolutely do not believe in putting the community before the individual. It’s why we lead in things like start-ups and the arts and Nobel Prize innovation and we are relatively terrible at scoring high on tests. It’s American culture, and it’s not going to change any time soon.
4. Tell your kids who you really are.
The hardest thing for me was sending my kids to school but refusing to do the inane homework they had in their folders. It was a mixed message to the kids, which I tried to cover up, but in reality, it was a mixed life I was living: doing things that I didn’t actually believe in.
The real reason I started homeschooling was that I didn’t want my kids to know I had to tell myself a million little lies to send them to school every day.