Your school sucks
There is a cognitive dissonance about public schools. Everyone knows public schools in the US are terrible, but everyone thinks their school is the exception. The reality is that your school would be the exception only if it teaches using project-based learning. Which it doesn’t. The public schools that are exceptional are exceptional at teaching to the test – a process that’s widely discredited.
Give your kids more credit than that.
Public schools suck. Reformers say child-driven learning and project-based learning are best. Parents are the only educators in a position to do that. So all kids will get a better education at home. And kids can teach themselves if you don’t knock the wind out of them with school early on.
I put links in that paragraph, but I don’t think I have to. I think all I have to tell you is that public school suck and Time magazine is telling you that you’re delusional about your particular school being the exception to the rule. Do you need someone more mainstream than Time magazine telling you that?
Take some personal responsibility. It’s so easy to bemoan the status of our public schools. And hope someone else fixes them. But get real: Our country is too diverse and too much in debt to fix those schools. The problem is too big. Maybe we’ll solve the problem, but not in your kid’s lifetime.
Talking about school reform is a way to shift the responsibility of educating your kids from you to someone else. Who really, you don’t even know. Because who is in charge of fixing schools, really? Who knows? Instead of talking about school reform, take your kids out of school.
Instead of practicing learned incompetence, admit that you could do as good a job at project-based learning as a school that is not even trying it.
Well this should make for some interesting discussions….hmmm. I think we just don’t want to know. I was that parent once. The one who is always at the school but pretty much unaware of what was going on academically with my son. He was well like and got good grades and we live in Orange County, CA…land of the great schools-the exception. Sometimes it’s easier not to care and pretend everything is okay.
I’ve been thinking about this issue for a while and I’m inclined to think it’s a bigger problem than that. Jana is right that it’s easier for people just to not know – and hard to make the effort if your kids seem to be doing okay compared to everyone else (without seeing 20 years down the line). But there’s also the effect of so many people who went through the system themselves that the only thing they can do is engage in cognitive dissonance resolution by telling themselves that “I went through the system and I turned out fine”
It’s not necessarily cognitive dissonance if the parent’s primary concern is the long-term outcomes that await their children as opposed to their ongoing experience of the learning process as a child. Wanting your child to feel good about learning is a great goal. Wanting your child to grow up to be a successful well adjusted adult is also a great goal. Penelope seems to conflate the two whereas the link for most people may not be that strong.
My other blog deals only with the question of how to be successful in adult life. And it is now clear to me that people absolutely must have fulfilling work in their life in order to feel like they are successful adults. For most people, the barriers to finding this work are
1. not knowing how to figure out what they are interested in
2. not knowing how to continue learning as adults
Both these problems seem to me to be the crux of what education reformers are trying to fix. I suggest that people could solve the two biggest problems in their future work life by having their childhood learning process be what education reformers think it should be.
So my homeschooling advocacy is absolutely about what makes people feel successful as adults. I think the thing that just blew me away as I was trying to figure out whether or not to homeschool is that education reform people and career counseling people are completely aligned.
I’m not claiming that the two goals are working at cross-purposes. I agree with you that homeschooling is likely beneficial for most children, and likely supports the process of growing into a successful adult. However, I think it’s impact on the margin differs for different children, and that most children’s outcomes as adults are driven by many other things. In particular, I suspect that a child’s genetic heritage plays a larger role in influencing their adult outcomes than does their educational experience. In other words, the number of children for whom homeschooling will prove the decisive ingredient in determining success or failure at finding a meaningful adult life is not as large as you seem to suggest in your advocacy.
an opinion piece in time magazine, and cross linking to your own opinion pieces do not represent the result of solid research on cognition and learning.
This blog is turning into a collection of accusations for people who do not share your OPINION. No, not sharing an opinion does not mean they are horrible people because they do not do the best thing for their kids. Which is in your opinion homeschooling.
Please accept that there are good arguments for school (no, they are not the use of a school as a fancy playground for homeschooled kids). I am leaving the debate, which is not a debate any more about learning but has become “bash the non-homeschooler”
I want to point out that yesterday I bashed homeschoolers. And other days, I have been most critical of myself. But all real debate is critical of someone. Otherwise it’s not real.
I think there we disagree: critical debate has to be about issues, and not about critical of someone as being critical of a person who does something. If you manage to have a debate where the person you are talking to does not immediately feel antagonized and painted into a corner, you will actually be able to have a debate. Otherwise you only will get the personal defense. It is the same thing with offering critique: we all have to do it in our job or family. But critique can be done in more or less constructive manner. Lets say someone makes a mistake, you can either say:” now you made a mistake, and you have done this one wrong thing AGAIN, why can’t you do it right? “, or you can say: ” lets sit down and find out what went wrong. ” the second approach allows a person to step back from the issue and look at it, the first approach creates defensiveness.
… and as a piece of background info: I went to public school (admittedly in Germany and not the US, but it does work pretty much the same way), and while classes were boring, I did not really feel that I cannot go out and learn stuff I am interested in. I lived at the local library and read several books a week, among other things. Nobody stopped me…
I’m confused about why you keep linking to that Time magazine article, which is really an opinion piece written by a man whose children are in public school, and presenting it as “case closed” for why everyone should home/unschool.
Yeah. Hm. I’m confused too. I read Time magazine religiously (is this old-fashioned to do??) and they just put all the articles behind a firewall. And I can’t find the last issue to get my subscription number to get past the firewall. So I think I am lost in my Time magazine links right now. You have a point there. I will do better. You could take out that paragraph I wrote with the questionable link, though, and the post still works. It’s really me saying the schools suck, based on all the research I’ve collected. And I’ve written articles just like this for Time magazine, so I’m certified to be good enough at collecting data and drawing conclusions from it :)
you never “bash” homeschoolers except for the title of the blog post. You only bash those not doing homeschooling the way you think is right.
lol that the link to the time mag article is “our-we-deluding-ourselves-about-our-schools”. our we? i think we our.
So, Penelope, you’re getting kind of shrill here. I’m tempted to say “no zealot like the convert” and leave it at that, but I actually would find very useful a more coherent picture and/or discussion of what homeschooling/unschooling looks like on a daily basis for your family (or others’).
What year, phase, day of the week?
Let out the neighbors’ horses, muck stalls, ride
Go outside and observe, catch, play with wildlife
Go outside and collect clay and sculpt horses and people
Cook food or experiment with ingredients and cook something inedible
Listen to a story and make with illustrations for each day into a book
Play with the rats (bird, guinea pig, fish), clean cage, feed, water
Swim, ride bikes, go to friend’s and read, knit, do math, play music
Research animals in books and do an illustrated project on them
Go to creative writing/lit co-op
Have 4 friends over for a sleepover and sculpt with beeswax, play music, go outside or all of these things
There’s no order, eating is always included and there are outside lessons, classes and meetings. Different ages hold different interests. Age 4 was a lot of knot tying.
A regular day in my homeschooling daughter’s life (12 years old):
Feed her sourdough starter and then bake something: bagels, boule bread…
Read current book
Listen to current audio book for a few hours as she multi-tasks with cleaning, coloring, etc.
Build or create something, she’s always spontaneously building and creating.
Play imaginative games with her toys (she does this a lot!)
Go out with me to do business and other errands. I run a business from home.
Visit family and friends (a few times a week)
Make dinner together
Play with neighborhood children
Watch series or documentary at night
Read books together in bed, do projects, activity books, writing etc. Night is our time for the most productive things together.
Of course other days look different. We have homeschool classes, homeschool groups, library classes, theater and volunteer jobs. Every day is another beautiful, different and free day!
I think it is funny because I always thought school sucked even when I was in it. Not because I didn’t do well – I did, but because it was fricking boring and so much memorization which didn’t do much even for those who were good at it.
When I had my own kids I frequently wondered how I would ever get them through school and how I could possibly handle as a parent some of the bs I put up with without yanking my kids out of school. I am so thankful to just not have to fight that bureaucracy since we homeschool. It is so wonderful to see how interested my kids are in everything all the time. They have no dumb learning prejudices – like hating history or math or science. It is wonderful when my 4 year old is asking how the water gets into her blood and what keeps her heart beating…
I am as devoted to homeschooling, to unschooling, to individualized learning as anyone. But this premise is as false as the premise that homeschoolers are unprepared for the world. It is reflexively, emotionally subjective. And it is objectively untrue.
To ignore the millions of kids who thrive in public school is no better than ignoring the millions of kids who thrive in homeschool.
This attitude creates walls. And worse, it absolutely requires that you can look at a child who loves his school, who loves doing everything he does in it, and telling that child, “Your school sucks.” It requires that you look at the fantastic, devoted parents of this child and say, “You are robbing your child of a good education. Because your school sucks.”
It’s a fantastic way to ensure that people stop listening to what you’re saying, and being right in doing so.
In the old story, the old bull and the young bull were standing at the top of the hill overlooking a paddock of many gorgeous young heifers. The young bull said, “Let’s charge down the hill, knock over that fence and service one of those heifers each”. The old bull wisely replied, “Why don’t we saunter down the hill, open the gate, take a sip at the water trough and then service ALL of those heifers?”
I am with LJM on this one, preferring the old bull approach. Taking it slow and easy gets better results than charging down the hill.
It’s natural to be enthusiastic when you have suddenly opened your eyes to a new truth. But to be given respect and freedom, you have to grant freedom to others, and treat them with respect.
Changes like this come from the bottom in their own time. No one alive is wise enough to impose the right solution on everyone from the top. You know why? Because there is no single right solution to impose. People make choices that are in harmony with the context of their lives and their values. And that’s ok. Because it takes all kinds.
When you say “your school sucks”, I think you have to include colleges and universities – at least at the undergraduate level since they also “teach to the test” to some degree. Education reform has different meanings to different people. As part of education reform, maybe we should emphasize self-directed and project-based learning in our college and university undergraduate degree programs. Why should it be any different than the education homeschoolers are advocating? Wouldn’t it be something if colleges and universities set the precedent for this type of learning and further more admitted students without depending on SAT and other test scores to the extent they do now? Change the teaching, recruiting, and admission requirements at the colleges and universities. Then watch the public schools and parents scramble to figure out how to educate kids so that they can gain admission to college other than the “teach to test” method. Here’s another idea – graduate future educators and school administrators with the ability to be more creative in their teaching abilities. Something other than subject based teaching.
I think this is really true, Mark. And you remind me that I am not new to this argument. I have spent years investigating college, and what it gives students who are looking to be prepared for adult life. I have concluded that graduate school is a complete waste of time for almost everyone, and college is a big ripoff.
Here’s a link to one of those posts:
I have said, over and over again, that the best way for kids to prepare in college to be successful in life is to get internships and start working at cool jobs for no money. That’s a much better use of a college kid’s time than getting good grades.
So it makes sense, then, that I would easily become hard core about school prior to college. Because I’ve been looking so closely, for so long at what prepares people to succeed as adults.
It’s true that I’ve become hard core about the homeschooling. But it comes from years of research. The final step, I think, is that given what I believe about school and life, I need to take my kids out of school now. That’s really hard.
so, you project is to build a bridge. You mean you can really do it without subject based learning and studying for a few years? The scope of real-life large projects require more then project based study with little projects in college or grad school. It requires a solid extensive knowledge base. If you only do project based learning you will inevitably leave out critical subjects, after all you are not going to test the bridge designer beforehand because this would be learning to the test?
If you want to build bridges when you grow up, that means as a homeschooler you were interested in engineering and building things so you learned a lot about basic engineering principles. You might have even held an internship at a civil engineering firm. You then take that knowledge and get accepted to an engineering school because to build bridges you need to have a degree these days (technicality). Then during college you get summer internships with companies that build bridges and build upon your knowledge plus network. Finally you get a job with a company you like and they teach you how to build bridges. On the job is where the real learning takes place.
there is a reason our bridges now are better than in the middle ages (where your model was practiced).
I can’t believe you really think high school prepares you better for building bridges than hands-on exploratory learning at home! My experience at high school was simply reading the text books and then doing fairly non-relevant problems. At home you still read the text books but you also combine that with building your own projects based on those principles you learned while reading. A child who is interested in engineering is going to become interested through legos or erector sets or by picking up found objects and building something, or by taking things apart. Can they do that at school? THEN once they are hooked they become interested in how it all works and they are drawn to the theory books. They write a paper about an apparatus (or bridge building technique) or they enter a model bridge-building contest. They DO learn everything you are talking about even better since it is fueled by their interest.
My occupation is scientific in nature and I have a masters degree, but I can honestly tell you that everything I do now I learned on the job. Even college didn’t prepare me well for the applied work I do now.
I am not saying that you should just learn without enjoying what you learn. Being drawn to a certain profession is not just determined by your type of schooling, homeschooling does not magically make interest appear, school does not automatically take them away. And I think there is a difference between jobs which would be much better served by an excellent apprentice system than a college education, but I also think that there are professions where you need the rigors of college and maybe more to succeed. I don’t think a set of internships gives you the rigor of a good college education at least not in engineering and science.
redrock, when I say “Something other than subject based teaching.”, I don’t mean to infer leaving out critical subjects. I think of subject based teaching as a process where the great majority of the learning takes place in the classroom and then you’re sent out to the “real world” and told to do what you’ve learned. I think there’s a need for some blend of subject and project based learning – done concurrently – similar to a work/study program where the theoretical and practical ideas and principles come together and “stick with you” in a memorable and meaningful way.
sure, both components are necessary. That however does not seem to be the theme here. And I am also pretty sure that most students spend more time learning and studying outside the classroom then inside the classroom. I mean a typical college course is 3 hours/week, home study takes up much more time then that. But classroom teaching provides the glue to keep things rolling in a certain direction.
Perhaps you had it different than I did in college, but this is my experience: I chose Geophysics as a major for several reasons. One was that I loved geology because I got to go on field trips a lot, camp, and have a great time, plus learn how the earth has deformed over time. Geophysics was just an extension of that — a way to delve deeper into it. Plus, it sounded cool at parties. I had no idea what it was until i finally went on a geophysical field camp and then I learned about the field aspects of it, which were really cool. Unfortunately, I still did not know what it meant to have a real job in geophysics, and I didn’t learn that until I got an internship with an oil company my senior summer, and boy was it different from school!! I didn’t have to use equations or theory. I started over and learned everything from scratch and realized what I really needed on that job were social skills! I actually learned that I didn’t like working for an oil company due to the extensive amount of time spent inside the office, but by the time I received my M.S. I had so much debt from spending so much time in college that I had to go where the money was.
College is all about cramming for tests to get a passing grade, then forgetting what you learned. You are idealizing it too much. I got A’s and B’s in college, but learned very little. Those things that I did retain were the life lessons I received from going through that whole experience. Lucky for you though, it is extremely difficult, if not impossible to get a job as a geophysicist without a masters degree in a related field. So there are reasons to go to college, but personally I think that institution needs an overhaul.
Since college I have been working at an oil company, moving up the ladder “successfully,” but I would have been happier if I had gone with something I was more passionate about from the beginning. Schools don’t teach you what it means to actually have a job in something. They are too pre-occupied with making sure you get through the textbook. With homeschool you can cater your program to the individual, making sure your child gets a good picture of furure possible jobs, and even trying some out. It would have been so wonderful to be able to do that before I got into debt, and before I made the decision to go into geophysics. One career fair once per year does not prepare you well enough for the real world.
I am not idealizing, I am saying that there are and should be many different paths. And there are many different jobs for a given major which is sadly enough often chosen with the wrong idea as to how the majority of jobs look like. I also think that very often people do not realize how much analytical skills and tenacity and overview of the field and information is gathered while you are sitting in class (and a lot outside class). WHile you might not use the exact equation you learned in class, you would most likely not perform in your job equally well without that education. I am saying most likely, there are exceptions. I am for the diversity in education, and agains the one thing fits all (like only homeschooling is good, and college is always garbage).
I have read many of your posts because I am currently trying to decide if I should homeschool, but I still haven’t seen anything that speaks to me. I am one of those who went to graduate school and got a degree in something that now makes me lots of money so I can send my two kids to a good AMI accredited private Montessori school that does not teach to the test. I agree with everything you say about public school and have done a lot of research on it. However, I am not sure whether homeschooling is better for my kids, or this really great school with teachers who are devoted and talented and where my kids are able to explore their interests. The problem is I have grown to hate my job and we are just not living life well. We are too rushed and we get irritable. I get annoyed because at the end of the day I just want to rest, but they are jumping all around me, and wanting attention. Their fighting is at their worst right after school. I don’t want a nanny because I am afraid I will rely on her/him too much and loose touch with my kids. So most of your posts seem to be about how much better homeschooling is than public school, but what if I don’t send my kids to public school? Is there a good enough quality-of-life argument for homeschooling? Oh, and I keep reading your other blog too for a good excuse to quit my job, but haven’t found a good enough reason yet. I’ll keep looking! I went to public school and I am a very dissatisfied customer. Everyone keeps telling me I am successful, but I don’t feel that way at all.
Hi, Kristin. I feel like I’m a lot like you. I am not great at homeschooling. But working full-throttle among childless 25 year-olds was not right for me either. So I like your comment because you remind me of me :)
Anyway, I asked my homsechool mentor, Lisa Nielsen, what she thinks about Montessori. She says that, “Montessori can be great if it is done right. You have to test out the school and see how it is working. It’s popular in early elementary but some schools do continue all the way through secondary.” Lisa also directed me to a post on Kate Fridkis’ blog about Montessori. (Note: Kate and Lisa have guest posted here. I love them both.)
Here’s the link to the post about Montessori on Kate’s blog:
It’s interesting to see how you say this about “public schools in the US.” But really, schools in pretty much every other country in the world with systemized education do way more teaching to the test than US schools. Some of those are public, but in most cases parents abroad pay to send their kids to schools where the teachers do more testing than teaching. I have student I tutor on weekends here in China who claims that the teachers at her school (a highly ranked middle school) have about five or six class periods of tests for every one period of teaching.
Tamar, this is an interesting comment from your student regarding the extensive use of testing in China. It made me wonder what the teachers at her school were doing with all the data being generated by the extensive amount of testing being done. I think of “teaching to the test” as a way for educators to teach specific material to their students and then grade them on that material. Perhaps all this testing data is not being used to pass or fail a student but rather for the teacher’s benefit to hone their skills and the student’s benefit so that the teacher knows what material to review – the material that really wasn’t fully understood by the student the first time around. If you have or come across any published data on the extensive use of testing in China, I’d be interested in looking it over.
China has a long history of exam-based learning. For centuries, the exam to become a public servant was the only way to escape the lower classes – an option which Europe never really had. Now, the infamous university entrance exam (gaokou) is the main focus of all high school/middle school teaching and prep exams. Most students here in china have loads of tutoring to supplement their regular education. For wealthy urban Chinese students, summers are filled with English and science and camps, their weekends and evenings are packed with all sorts of lessons. With well over a billion people and an over educated workforce with too few jobs, the competition here in every field is insane. There’s nothing comparable anywhere in the world.
When you have a set of parents and two sets of grandparents who will depend on your future earnings (thanks to the one child policy) your future is not your own.
One way to add project-based learning to a not-so-great school is to participate in something like FIRST Robotics or Odyssey of the Mind. We homeschool but our community FIRST Robotics team has several non-homeschoolers on it. There are a lot of school-based teams. While FIRST focuses on STEM, there are roles like presentations, video, managent, etc. for kids that aren’t as into the core STEM stuff.
I get that this is about homeschooling, but I think it should be acknowledged that all schools don’t suck. My kids go to school in an amazing system. My 8th grader is taking interesting courses, works through creative and challenging assignments and projects, explores the scientific process, takes part in a book club in which they read classic novels and discuss them with a longtime teacher/author, has daily orchestra classes, art, phys ed, lots of stimulation. She is doing great.
Debate is only useful when it is elevated. The idea that all schools suck and do nothing but “teach to the test” is an anti-intellectual reduction of a complex set of issues. All homeschoolers aren’t geniuses and don’t all know enough to create good, strong curricula for their kids. Stop trafficking in stereotypes.
kathy, I’ve been homeschooling my 12 year old son since he was 3, I am passionate about individualized learning, and I agree with you 100%.
I’m more frustrated seeing this attitude on this site than I am seeing anti-homeschooling attitudes, which I’ve come to expect. Interestingly, the attitude expressed in this post, “your school sucks,” comes from the same emotionally driven defensiveness that creates reflexive anti-homeschooling attitudes.
My dearest friends have kids who thrive at their schools and they have been nothing but supportive of my decision to homeschool my son. There are fantastic schools out there with fantastic teachers, and I’m glad to hear you found one.
Hmm, doesn’t research show that taking a test does a better job of teaching the material than even a good lecture?
I also think that a test (a well-designed test) can indeed push you farther then you would go without it. You start questioning the material more, and try to find connections, and one often gets more immersed than without a test on the horizon. Overtesting is certainly not the way to go, but a test at reasonable time intervals? I don’t think thats a bad thing.
Actually, it doesn’t. It’s a great place and a learning community—a word that people who “home school” couldn’t begin to define nor understand.
Most schools—public and private—in America are very good. Billionaire propaganda and their paid shills like the vile Michelle Rhee are the ones who are trying to brainwash us to believe otherwise.
Maybe you can tell us why these same rich people always send their kids to fancy private schools?
But, I suspect you couldn’t tell any of us very much when it comes to the reality of education, as opposed to your juvenile fantasy.
To start off I know my comment is long,but it was for a college assignment.
What has become the norm in the public school system are teachers using the same dried up curriculum year after year. Why using a system that has failing students every year. Doesn’t make sense at all but schools do it anyways. This is because in most public schools, if not all, the school picks the curriculum. The curriculum is usually the same dry up curriculum from the pervious year and the year before that thus keeping the kids from the new information that is lurking around in newspapers and journals, etc. There are too many teachers teaching for the sole purpose of the “test” ex: state test, regents, SAT, etc. Since they are doing this there is no need to change the curriculum every year. With homeschooling there isn’t one style of teaching therefore the curriculum and way of teaching is usually fresh and innovation to the student, a fact that President Obama should pay close attention to. With state laws being created for the advancement of homeschooling, homeschooling is becoming more favorable. Homeschooled kids can now, in certain states, take classes, join extracurricular activities and groups at public schools. Something that Quarterback Tim Tebow did. What needs to happen is more groups let it be know what their message is within the homeschooling movement/ community and parents who homeschool their children need to start paving the way and not wait for the way to be paved.
Homeschooling works for many kids, it doesn’t for many others. One of my nephews was homeschooled through high school. Another went to public school, another went to private prep school. In each case, it was the best choice for -that- kid.
It really comes down to the child’s needs and personality, the parent’s skills, the family budget and family’s skill in time management. Most parents don’t really think about what they want their child to learn (except vague concepts such as “I want them to read/write well” or “get a good job someday”) so it’s not surprising that they sort of drift and show up for parent volunteering at their kids’ school, and leave it at that. Sometimes I think that is the real advantage of homeschooling…it forces you to think about what you want your child to learn before they leave formal schooling. But you can do that even if your child is in a private/public school, too.
I think the other big question, when considering homeschooling, is how do you want your kids to spend their time? How are you willing to spend your time? Homeschooling gives you enormous freedom in that regard, but it also requires serious commitment, no matter what method/approach/curriculum you use.
Some stuff I see over and over in homeschooling communities is sweeping/simplistic or doesn’t always take into consideration some cynical realities. Simplistic/sweeping “Schools don’t use project-based learning?” Huh? It’s been used in Maryland public schools since 2000 or earlier, and several other states as well.
Re: cynical realities – “teaching to the test” critiques and research are often motivated by the concerns of teachers unions. Teachers’ unions are paid to secure job benefits for their members, and protect them from unfair or illegal employment practices. Which is great, but it means a lot of research needs to be evaluated to see who was the PI, who paid for the research, where was it conducted, and whether it was truly empirical or not. I worked for many years in school reform, and read tons of widely-quoted studies that wouldn’t hold up to scrutiny.
It is so sad to look back and see that my talents were never discovered or cultivated in the public school system. :( I wish I could have been homeschooled and mentored! Thanks for your frankness!
Yes, they really really do!
When my son was having meltdowns and refusing to go to our local, “best in the area” public school. (because it “was boring” I “bit the bullet and attended 2 months of public 2cnd grade.” with him. Didn’t take long to see the light. I just about went mad from boredom. Actually, periods of feeling exceptionally sorry for the kids who obviously needed a different style of instruction or extra help and weren’t getting it, and boredom. He was right, so we found a local hybrid charter home school program shortly after my 2cnd grade “adventure” and I learned a great lesson in listening to one’s kid!