Monday, December 27, 2010

What Really Matters

John Taylor Gatto wrote a great article that I have been looking over I wanted to quote him on a couple of things and share my thoughts.

A lot of things don't matter that are supposed to; one of them is well-funded government schools. Saying that may be considered irresponsible by people who don't know the difference between schooling and education, but over 100 academic studies have tried to show any compelling connection between money and learning and not one has succeeded. Right from the beginning schoolmen told us that money would buy results and we all believed it. So, between 1960 and 1992 the U.S. tripled the number of constant dollars given to schools. Yet after 12,000 hours of government schooling one out of five Americans can't read the directions on a medicine bottle.
After 12,000 hours of compulsory training at the hands of nearly 100 government-certified men and women, many high school graduates have no skills to trade for an income or even any skills with which to talk to each other. They can't change a flat, read a book, repair a faucet, install a light, follow directions for the use of a word processor, build a wall, make change reliably, be alone with themselves or keep their marriages together. The situation is considerably worse than journalists have discerned. I know, because I lived in it for 30 years as a teacher.
Last year at Southern Illinois University I gave a workshop in what the basic skills of a good life are as I understand them. Toward the end of it a young man rose in back and shouted at me: “I'm 25 years old, I've lived a quarter of a century, and I don't know how to do anything except pass tests. If the fan belt on my car broke on a lonely road in a snowstorm I'd freeze to death. Why have you done this to me?”
 Scary huh? And yet, as home schoolers, I feel some of us have come into the same trap. We "school" at home. We don't teach the basic skills needed in life because we are too busy trying to teach what a set of teacher instructions tell us. I know I have fallen into this trap out of fear that one day my kids will be labeled dumb and it will all be my fault. I think that this doesn't necessarily mean that we dump all curriculum and be unschoolers, although every family is different. I think that this means that outside of our "school" time, we still need to be learning. Just because we finished a checklist doesn't mean that we should shut our brains off. We need to be learning about our society, it's history and science. We need to understand the written word and how to communicate. However, there are some fundamental skills that need to be taught that our curriculum doesn't cover. If we say no to our kids when they ask us to look up some info on a certain fish just because we already did science that day, then we are teaching them that learning is only done at a specific time and structure.

People who do very well in schools as we've conceived them have much more than their share of suicides, bad marriages, family problems, unstable friendships, feelings of meaninglessness, addictions, failures, heart by-passes that don't work and general bad health. These things are very well documented but most of us can intuit them without any need for verification. If school is something that hurts you, what on earth are we allowing it for?
Does going to school matter if it uses up all the time you need to learn to build a house? If a 15-year-old kid was allowed to go to the Shelter Institute in Bath, Maine, he would be taught to build a beautiful post-and-beam Cape Cod home in three weeks, with all the math and calculations that entails; and if he stayed another three weeks he'd learn how to install a sewer system, water, heat and electric. If any American dream is universal, owning a home is it – but few government schools bother teaching you how to build one. Why is that? Everyone thinks a home matters.
Does going to school matter if it uses up the time you need to start a business, to learn to grow vegetables, to explore the world or make a dress? Or if it takes away time to love your family? What matters in a good life?
This rings true for me. I did very well in school, straight A's. However, when I got out, I didn't know how to function. I did get a job, two in fact. But I was stuck there. I didn't know how to relate to people(I wasn't home and I second guessed EVERYTHING that I did because someone else didn't tell me to do it. I didn't trust myself enough to make a decision. How sad. We question the material that public schools are teaching but few of us question the basic ideas behind them. I will always wonder if I am teaching my kids everything they need to know.  I think success would ultimately be achieved if I taught them to have a  veracious desire to learn what they need to when they need to. That way, the gaps that I may leave will always be easy and fun to fill.


John and Marsha said...

The way I personally look at homeschooling is two-fold. The first thing is their education. You know to me this is vital it is one of the biggest reasons why we homeschool. Books are crucial to me and I don't see that chaning. However, with that said, I still take every opportunity to educate my girls on "living". If I am working on the checkbook, cooking, doing laundry or simply reorganizing a drawer, I include them. I want them to, not just know, but understand why I do things and why some things have to be done.

Glad you shared.

Crystal said...

Thanks Marsha, I agree with you, education is extremely important. I think where many of us get in trouble is when we say that school/learning is complete when we finish our check off list. What happens then is a race to the finish. "Let me finish the boring stuff so that I can have some real fun" Learning can be fun and having a motivation to learn is a very natural human desire. I think in many ways we have been programmed to think that learning should happen only when we have to and that there is no such thing as natural motivation. Then again, maybe I am After all, I was one of them "programmed" kids. :)

John and Marsha said...

I think books and life go hand in hand and many of us are trying to find the right way to make them fit together. I look forward to hear the new year is going for you guys.