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Our family of four (with 13-year-old twin boys) dreamed the impossible dream and reached the unreachable star! On March 21, 2011 we pedaled the final mile to arrive at the end of the world in USHUAIA, Argentina! We spent three years cycling 17,300 miles through 15 countries starting in Alaska to get there.

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Salon.com
APRIL 11, 2012 8:00AM

Let’s quit arguing about what’s wrong with schools and man-up as parents

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redefining education logo

by Jennifer Miller

Education is a particular passion of mine. I’m the third generation of professional educators in my family, so perhaps it runs in my blood.

I have four kids, aged 9-15.

We’ve homeschooled them from birth.

We also travel a bit.

Over the past ten years I’ve worked as an educational consultant and curriculum designer within the alternative education community. I’ve met a lot of interesting families and had a lot of conversations about the hows and whys of education and what’s wrong with “the system.”

Everyone loves to bash the system, have you noticed that? The flaws are so numerous, the failures so gross, the misuses of money, power, knowledge, you name it, are rampant. It’s conclusive: the educational system in America is broken. Or is it?

Read a little John Taylor Gatto (The Underground History of American Education) and you’ll quickly discover that, from the beginning, our particular American brand of education was less about high end intellectual knowledge acquisition and more about the social machinations made necessary by the Industrial Revolution. In short, we needed to produce reasonably literate citizens who held cohesive views that would support the powers that be in their quest for a functioning democracy and promote the kind of industrial growth that would propel America into the Super State that it has become. It never was about every kid realizing their maximum potential.

class picAs a teacher, who’d banged her head against the wall of educational policy and public school system politics and wondered WHY we could make the obvious changes that were in the best interests of the students, this realization was like a breath of fresh air.

The system isn’t broken. It’s doing exactly what it was designed to do: creating a homogenous American population who is educated enough to get the job done and easily marketed. Sound harsh? Perhaps, but do some more research and see if it doesn’t bear out. More money, more technology, more teachers, better teachers, better administrators, earlier intervention, more testing, more content, less recess, more or less whatever isn’t the solution. There is no need to fix it. It ain’t broken!

The schools are doing the best they can with what they have. Individual teachers are doing more than the best they can in most cases. You take a class full of 28 seven year olds, one third of them below average, one third above average and a random handful of differently abled little ones tossed into the mix and spend 8 months trying to bring them up to speed and then tell me it’s the teacher’s fault.

There are problems galore, to be sure. But guess what? We’re not going to fix them. Not in this generation, probably not in the next. A quick look over our shoulders at the past three generations will make that abundantly clear. So what’s a parent to do?

The real questions to consider are these:

  • Who is responsible for your child’s education?
  • What is your educational philosophy?

Who is responsible for your child’s education?

The school? The teacher? The state? The federal government? The lobby groups who pay for curriculum development?

No. None of the above.

You are. You. The parent.

It’s not the school’s job to educate your kid. It’s yours.

Instead of continuing to chew on the flaws and go round and round about what’s “wrong,” responsible parents are wising up to the fact that it is THEIR job to make sure their individual kids get a decent education.

What is your educational philosophy?

This, my friends, is where the rubber meets the road. The answers can be life changing. If you are seeking a homogenous American experience for your child, with an average education for an average societal role, then the public system is probably going to do okay for your kid. If your educational philosophy includes something more, intellectually, artistically, socially, globally, or your child is exceptional in some way, then perhaps you should rethink your educational plans.

A well-developed educational philosophy is the “why” behind a particular method.

And by the way, there’s no “one size fits all” approach.

playing with baby orangutanI homeschool, because I have a well-defined definition of what it means to be “educated” and that does not line up with the Public School curriculum or social machine. I worldschool because I believe that the world is the best classroom and it borders on the criminal to pin kids inside four walls for twelve straight years and then declare them ready for “the real world.” I roadschool because travel, in my opinion, for my children, is the very best way to define “the real world” and because the lessons they learn from others are irreplaceable in any other context. But that’s me. Those are my kids. It’s not that I think Public Schools are the worst thing going, it’s just that I know we can do better. If circumstances changed I’d modify my approach. That’s the essence of not out-sourcing the job, doing the best you can for each child with what you have right now.

Taking responsibility for your child’s education means that you leave nothing to chance and you don’t default on any aspect of the job.

You might decide, for any number of very valid reasons, that you’re going to employ the Public System for a portion of your child’s education. There are some very good things happening in Public Schools, they just don’t get enough press. There are some amazing teachers out there working miracles with not enough money or time.

oregon trail covered wagonBut don’t make the mistake of thinking that checking your kid into school, public, private or otherwise means they’re being educated.

I went to public, private, and catholic schools growing up. I was also taken out of school two years to travel and was homeschooled during that time. I’m the poster child for educational diversity.

When I was in school, my dad was reading aloud to us every night, we were colouring maps of the world after dinner, on weekends we were exploring the world and building houses, and working together to develop the real world skills that made our classroom experience matter.

When we were traveling my parents worked with our school and managed to talk them into letting us take our books with us on the road (there were no “homeschool curriculums” twenty five years ago in Canada). We wrote journals and communicated with our classes at home while we did some very outside the box learning.

Your child’s education is happening at every waking moment. Sometimes that might be in a classroom, but it’s not limited to that. If you’re clocking your kid in for “school time” in some form or another, and calling it “done,” you’re missing the big picture.

What’s the point?

Let’s quit arguing about what’s wrong with schools and man-up as parents. These are your kids.

They’ll succeed in school only if you grab hold of their educations with both hands and get your butt into that classroom to make sure it’s happening and augment on the weekend for all you’re worth. Model it. Make it happen.

They’ll succeed without school only if you do the same thing: create a learning environment, sell your soul to the twenty year project of their growth and development, find what they need today, plan for tomorrow, and cheerlead for all you’re worth.

We’re getting nothing done by bitching.

We’re getting nothing done by arguing about which type of school, or not is best for kids.

We’re getting nothing done by segregating off into our little subsets of weird: homeschool, roadschool, unschool, Waldorf school, Montessori school, fish school.

Segregation helps no one. Are there good things happening at your local school? Swallow your radical unschooler pride and participate. Can’t find what you want for your kids? Create it!

I, for one, am tired of the debates. I’ve heard them all, I’ve participated, ad nauseum. They’re not solving anything.

How are we going to turn education around for the next generation? By working together as a generation of free thinking parents who aren’t afraid to take our kids’ educations into our own hands and make it happen. We need to model the globally minded, intellectually inspired, arts influenced, world changing behavior we want to see in our kids and stop squabbling like crows over a corn cob.

Why? Because our kids are watching.

Listen to a group of homeschool kids sometime and you’ll hear them bashing public schools… something they know absolutely nothing about.

Listen to a group of public school kids and you’ll hear them doing the same in reverse: homeschooled kids are all weirdo religious freaks with bonnets with no social skills. Equally untrue.

Guess who’s responsible for those attitudes: we are. The parents.

An environment of criticism and judgment breeds more of the same, every time.

An environment of liberal thought (in the true sense, not politically) and problem solving will engender communication and understanding, two hallmarks of the truly educated.

What’s the point?

Let’s stop arguing and nitpicking the various forms of educations and agree that there are as many ways to get the job done as there are kids out there. Education is not one size fits all. Instead, let’s take the two, or four, or eight kids that we have and create an epic educational experience for each one. Don’t skiv it off on someone else, YOU do it. You make it happen, and don’t be a snob about it either. Use what’s best for your kid, be flexible, be open and be resourceful. Their whole lives are in your hands.

This post is part of a series about Redefining Education. You can find the other posts here:

Why the School System isn’t Educating Your Child (And What To Do About It)

4 Steps to Improve Education in the USA

You Can’t Reform an Education System Based on Oppression

Educating Kids Through Teacher/Student Partnerships

Jenn Miller is a teacher who’s worked in public, private and homeschool communities in various capacities for nearly twenty years. Her passions include travel, writing, and education. Gypsy mama to four fabulous adventurer children, Jenn and her family are in their fifth year of an open-ended world tour combining education and adventure, you can follow along at http://www.edventureproject.com Jenn is also Nancy’s partner in crime at http://www.youcandreambigdreams.com

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Amen! You said it right. Excellent post. R