Evenspor over at Spors in the Desert posed a great question recently, in a post about gifted education:
There is one question that I still wonder about despite all of this. How much of this really matters in the end? Don't most of us still become productive and relatively happy adults, despite public schooling? I believe there are at least a few cases where the difficulties with the system are so great that they can cause lasting emotional and motivational damage if not dealt with. However, for most kids, is it good enough to just go through the system, as long as parents are paying attention - supplementing education and looking out for signs that things are not all well with their child? Do we need to fix a broken system, or do we need to focus more on simply being the parents our children need us to be?
It's certainly so that most of us turn out all right, in spite of (or independent of) our schooling. I would agree that in situations where it is possible to separate the influence of the schooling and the parenting (i.e. not my home, and not the home of anyone who is homeschooling), it is the parents who have the greater influence.
I'm going to take myself as an example, because as it turns out, it is my own experience that informs my decisions about these matters. (Isn't that astonishing? I would apologize, but really, what other experience could I possibly use?)
I had a very traditional elementary school experience. I sat in rows and did lots of worksheets. I had deadly boring drill and kill math homework. I learned (or rather, didn't learn) social studies from dry-as-dust predigested text books. We took maybe one field trip a year, and it was to the zoo, not related in any way to anything we were learning. There was no effort made to make any of our learning relevant to our lives. We were vessels to be filled. It was as if the outside world didn't exist.
I like to think I turned out okay anyway. I did well in high school, and I went on to my first choice and relatively competitive college, where I did well enough to graduate in the usual amount of time. I eventually went on to graduate school, where I did very well, and became a teacher, a profession that I loved. I am, in the words of Evenspor, a productive and relatively happy adult.
It's probably because of the influence of my parents that I remained intellectually awake enough to survive those stultifying years in elementary school. We had interesting discussions at home. We went to museums, a lot. We did lots of logic puzzles and mental math. We watched the news together and talked about it. We played games together. My parents, both of whom are teachers, took the time to talk to me about and introduce me to the real world: the world of people who are curious and interested.
But here's the thing: for eight years of my very young life, I was miserable. Miserable. I clearly remember the day I realized, with horror, that my life revolved around going to school. I rebelled in various ways: I refused to do the math homework (didn't need it: did fine on the test at the end of the week without it) and got in LOTS of trouble for that, on a regular basis. I cried. I yelled. I stomped. I was not an easy kid to have around, I'm sure.
So yes, I believe that this stuff matters. I believe my kids would be fine in public school, and they would both turn out to be productive and relatively happy adults. They, like me, are smart, but not so smart that public school would be a total disaster. I'm sure they could handle it. But I'm also sure it wouldn't be much fun, and they would probably not enjoy it. I don't know whether they would be as utterly miserable as I was, but I don't have any urge to find out.
Here's the radical thing I've decided: the quality of their lives right now matters. I believe my kids should be allowed to ask questions and seek the answers, that they should be allowed to get outside more than twenty minutes a day, that their lives should be free of the political agendas of NCLB and its attendant tests.
It's not about the outcome. It's about giving them a good life, now.