Teach Your Children Well
My kids having a crazy good time outside of school....I bet they learned something too.
Editor's note: I thought a lot about not writing this post. It strays a little from the stuff I normally write about. But...I have a blog and I guess that means I can write about whatever is poking me to write about it at the time. I'm also kind of opinionated (in case you didn't know that yet). I honestly try very hard to reel it in and not be completely obnoxious, and I do pretty well for the most part. (Those of you who know me can stop laughing now). I do a lot better than I used to anyhow. But there are certain things that I have a really hard time keeping my trap shut about. Education is one of them. So here goes....
Have you seen that video circulating around Facebook? The Michael Moore one about the education system in Finland? Basically, it's about how in the Finnish education system, the focus is on play, happiness, less time at school, no homework, more time enjoying real life. The nerve! As a result, Finland's education system is ranked #1 in the world. As a side note, their teachers are also rigorously selected and teaching is considered the most prestigious career in Finland. If you haven't seen the video I'm referring to yet, you can watch it here. It's a short excerpt from Moore's latest film, where education isn't the only issue he covers.
The fact that this video and others like it, are getting so much attention, makes me both happy and crazy at the same time.
Happy because it's about freaking time that as a collective, we started giving serious thought and sustained attention to WTF is wrong with our educational system! Because stuff is definitely wrong. Moore's film centres on the U.S., but there are a lot of similarities between public education in Canada and the U.S. No, we aren't the only perpetrators of bullshit in education, but Canada is where I live, so I have a vested interest in the system here.
I also realize that we can't paint every school or educator with the same brush, because there are a lot of alternative schools and a ton of individual teachers, educators, administrators and dare I say, even politicians, who are forward thinkers, free-thinkers, people who 'get this', and do their best within the confines of what they have been dealt by an archaic, complicated, clogged up, money first, system that prides itself on turning out drones. As a family, we are quite fortunate that our kids go to a small public school right down the street from us, with many open minded, forward thinking educators on staff who are doing their best on a daily basis to make sure school is as enjoyable and worthwhile as possible. These are people who you can tell really care about kids and have their students' best interest at heart. Our kids get a lot of extras by virtue of the fact that they go to school in a place were the community has close ties to the school and the staff have their hearts in the right place. But, it's still a public school that has to operate within the limits imposed.
Where I live, there are no truly alternative options for us. Bigger cities have access to publicly funded alternative schools, but not us. And those aren't always perfect either I know....but they're options. There ARE a couple of private schools here (namely a Christian one and a Montessori style one that goes to age 8), but the cost of sending your children to these facilities is prohibitive for most families, and truthfully, neither philosophy appeals to me. Listen, you can send your kids wherever you want, so no need to get all defensive if one of these formats is your preference. Carry on.
I also know that homeschooling and unschooling (the rejection of an imposed education) are options that a lot of parents choose these days. I commend these people for taking matters into their own hands, and to be honest, I've often thought about this set up for our own family. But, for a whole lot of reasons that would make this blog post way to long, this isn't an approach that we feel would be optimal for us, or our kids. So, we are left with sending our kids to the local public school and giving them all the opportunities we can for learning outside of school, as the most viable/desirable option. It's kind of the lesser of the evils for us. Again....whatever works for you and your family, do that.
Getting back to the video; the reason the recent popularity of these types of videos and posts makes me a little crazy (o.k. maybe a lot), is because as you may know, for about 10 years, I was one of those public school teachers. I also worked with children in some educational/development capacity for about another 10 years before I ever became a certified teacher. Education and human development have interested me for a long time, and I've been keenly aware that there are many educators, parents, administrators, and others out there, who have known that this kind of play based, hands off, less structured, more creative, child-led learning, is what helps kids thrive.
Student-centred learning (I mean real student-centred - not just the paying it lip service kind), happiness, individual interests and strengths, taking a holistic (body, mind and sprit) view, play, learning from the world around us, respect for self and others.....Is what education SHOULD focus on! Not the damn scores on provincial/state testing, how well kids can regurgitate the answer you want to hear, how well they can sit still in uncomfortable desks, through a lecture or book they have no interest in, how adeptly they can follow the rules, get the answer on paper, or whether or not they fit into the box that has been constructed for them. You know? The SAME box that has been constructed for EVERY other kid in the system. Children are living, evolving, feeling, thinking, unique human beings, not drones. Why is this a surprise to anyone?!! Why do we even need someone to tell us that the Finnish-type approach makes more sense? No really? I seriously don't get it. What is wrong with us? (Wait, don't answer that). Personally, I think a huge part of what's wrong with us as a collective, is that we were educated in the same stifling, conformist system I am talking about here.
People like, whose book, The Homework Myth, I used to direct many parents and other teachers to. My point is, this is not a new philosophy folks!
So why do we all keep acting like this is some newfangled way of teaching/learning....like it's the 'latest thing'? FAR from it! It's just that we haven't been listening to the people that have been trying to tell us this for ages! The fact that we still have to spend copious amounts of money, or search out 'alternative' schools and methods for our children to learn, in environments that make sense and have their well-being at the forefront, is utterly, completely, ridiculous! Most folks still have this idea that when something's not main stream, it must be weird, scary, and only for people on the 'fringes'. And why do people still think like that? Because the education system most of us grew up with, taught us to follow the rules, listen to the authority figures and not question anything. See how that works?
When I was still teaching elementary school, I used to talk to people in 'the system' about this kind of 'alternative' learning, ad nauseam. Mostly, I got met with glazed over, confused or disapproving looks, or rolling eyes. I was just a 'hippie' teacher parading around in polyester pants (because my administration said jeans were unprofessional). Yep, not wearing jeans was going to somehow magically make me a better teacher. THIS is the kind of thing that the system concerns itself with. Who gives a shit if kids are happy and thriving? At least you look 'professional' when you're sitting on the carpet doing your math lesson with the class. ARGH! Seriously. Crazy. Making.
I really tried to do things a little differently in my classroom. I learned to play the game and break the rules where I could. But it wasn't always easy, and if certain people noticed what I was doing, it wasn't always welcome, or approved of. Parents never seemed to have a problem with it though. Hmmmm. Anyhow, I tried to do what I knew was in the best interest of the students. But this can be nearly impossible when you are confined by the rules, regulations, curriculum, schedule, philosophy, that has been imposed on you from higher up. Eventually, I decided that the gap between what I was being asked to do, and what I knew in my heart was right, got too big to bear, so I quit....I'm still not convinced you can ever change a system from the inside so I have absolutely no regrets about my decision.
I know there are a ton of other folks working in the system who feel the same way. I know there are even some administrators. I get that not everyone can or will just up and quit because the system is not in alignment with what they know to be a better way. I feel for them. I feel for kids who have to be subjected to testing and eating and playing by the bell. I feel for families who struggle with homework every night when they are already doing everything they can just to keep it together. I feel for administrators who are working in a system that they know is broken and who hold out hope that things will improve and that miniscule, incremental change will really make a difference. (It won't).
When I hear about initiatives like teaching kids about mindfulness and play based learning, I admit to feeling a slight glimmer of hope. But I also know that more often than not, these are just temporary initiatives and when the funding runs out, the next director comes on board, or a new government takes the reigns, the gears will shift again. History indicates that nothing sustainable or substantial ever seems to happen in public education. Far too many people, still seem to have their heads firmly planted up their asses to see the light. Moves towards a more open, less stringent, more humane, child centred, happiness focused system, are long overdue and happening far too slowly and piecemeal in my opinion. But better slow and late than never....I guess?
"We can best help children learn, not by deciding what we think they should learn and thinking of ingenious ways to teach it to them, but by making the world, as far as we can, accessible to them, paying serious attention to what they do, answering their questions - if they have any - and helping them explore the things they are most interested in."
"When kids play, they are working on imagining the kind of world we live in."