Abraham, Rachel, Soren and Liam. Our life together in Smalltown, Idaho.

Friday, December 09, 2011

Some Thoughts on Education

About two years ago, I shared some of my thoughts about homeschooling on my blog. The topic has been weighing on my mind again more recently because, if we follow the traditional American educational route, Soren will be enrolling in public kindergarten this fall. This causes me more than a little anxiety.

Here are some of my concerns:

1) I am a big believer in child-centered education, meaning that the individual child's interests and readiness to learn should guide the educational process for the child. I know this isn't generally how public school classrooms are structured: there is a boxed curriculum that each child is expected to adhere to, regardless of capability or interest. There are standardized tests to pass. I don't worry that Soren won't be up to the task-- he's a bright little guy and I know he'll do just fine in school--I just worry that the structure will suck away his love of learning, turning it into a chore rather than a joy.

That said, I do believe that the public school provides good opportunities for children to learn about structure, self-discipline, and responsibility. It also provides opportunities to learn about things that they might not initially be interested in but later enjoy.

2) I don't believe that the social environment at school is optimal. You know how it is...kids learn quickly to dislike anyone who is different, to be jealous of anyone who seems "better," do what they can to blend in, act "tough" and "cool," tell dirty jokes in the playground tires. I'll admit, I want to shield my boys from this for as long as I can. Maybe that's wrong. But my job is to protect my children and I want to do it. And I ask you: Soren doesn't fully grasp the concept of modesty yet....how do I equip him to not be dragged down by bad language, inappropriate topics, and even pornography at the age of 5?

That said, I believe that school provides wonderful opportunities for a child to develop his or her identity outside the home, learn how to cope with authority figures other than his or her parents, and develop friendships independently.

So what I'm saying is, while I'm not totally sold on traditional school, I'm also not ready to homeschool my own children.

This year Soren has been attending preschool three times a week for two hours a day. He attends school with six other little people. His teacher, herself a mother of five (five!), is an engaging instructor who has created a positive discipline and educational structure in which the children joyfully learn. They read stories, they sing songs, they dance, they snack, they craft, they learn about letters and numbers, they learn about people in the community. This week they went on a field trip to the bakery. Soren adores Miss Misty and he behaves himself perfectly at preschool. He will buckle down and learn for her in a way I know I could never get him to do for me. At the end of every day the kids sing a song and Misty gives each one of the children a hug, a handshake, a high-five, or a "homerun" (all three). I love this. He's also learning to interact with other children his age. At home, we reinforce and expand on what he's been learning at school. For all this, we pay $65 a month. Totally worth it.

So what I want, instead of public school and instead of homeschool, is for Soren to be in preschool forever.

I'm serious.

And I don't mean that I want him to be a fifteen-year-old sitting at a preschool table shaping letters out of playdough. What I do mean is that I really like the concept of formal learning happening in a small group in someone's home a few hours a day, a few days a week, with that learning reinforced and expanded on at home. The time spent in school could increase over time to four or five hours a day four or five days a week, providing opportunities for the participating child to interact with the outside world on a regular basis, develop an identity outside of the family unit, build self-control, and explore topics he or she might not otherwise pursue. The small group would allow for personalization of the curriculum and for closer monitoring and control of social interactions. And during the time the children aren't in school, they can be pursuing their own interests. Imagine a group of high school aged kids who receive formal mathematics and writing practice in their school and then are left to pursue and report about their other interests. Maybe they could form a Shakespearean reader's theater! Or a science club! Or a swim team! Or an art group!

I would be more than happy to make some financial sacrifices to pay for this individualized attention and education and supplement it at home. Imagine, if one teacher taught two classes a day (morning and afternoon), and each class capped out at ten children, and each child paid $100/month for tuition, the teacher would be making $2000/month. Not fabulous, but not terrible either.

So now I just need to find people willing to teach and mothers willing to participate in an educational co-op like this. What do you think? Am I out of my mind? Should I just buck it up and send Soren to kindergarten in the fall?


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