Isn’t it Time to Break the Educational Mold?
“We don’t need no thought control.” Again, I find myself in agreement with the dirge-like, prophetic lyrics from “The Wall.” One very specific story comes to mind when I think about this lyric. My oldest son, then seven years old and in second grade came home from school one afternoon in a somber mood. I asked him how his day went and he became even more upset. He said he was sad because his teacher had asked the class to write a poem about what they were thankful for. It was November and Thanksgiving was right around the corner. The students were to write a poem to accompany the obligatory and oh so sweet “hand turkey” painting they had made. However, this particular teacher did not want her students to write their own poems about what they were thankful for. She wanted them to copy a poem she had pulled out of her file that was sentimental, yet soulless. My child asked if he could write his own poem. She said no. At home, safe, sound and supported by his mom, my son began to cry. I suggested that I would love for him to write me a poem of things he is thankful for to replace the one he was forced to copy. So he did. This is the “wicked smart” intensely creative boy who, later on, was failing out of middle school.
The same system we use today was created in the 19th century
and was designed to meet the needs of industrialization.
I’m not going to berate that teacher too much. Although how she could look into the eyes of a seven-year-old who wanted to express himself through his own original poem, and crush his creativity in one fell swoop is beyond me. The main problem lies not with teachers, but with the entire educational system. The same system we use today was created in the 19th century and was designed to meet the needs of industrialization. The subjects that were at the top of the hierarchy; math, English and science, were the ones best suited to secure students a job after graduation. Subjects like art and music were rarely included in the curriculum back then. Today they are such a low priority that they are primarily viewed as “electives.” If you are a predominantly creative person who struggles with advanced math, what is the system telling you? It’s telling you that your strengths are not valued and that you will be unsuccessful.
“Yes, my kids are attending school from home,
but there is a difference between home school and online school.”
There are as many different reasons to choose an alternative educational route as there are bricks in a wall. I spoke of my own reasons for looking into these alternatives, but each child is different and each one has their own way of learning. The decision we finally landed on was to enroll our boys in online school. Yes, my kids are attending school from home, but there is a difference between home school and online school. The primary difference being, I am not creating or teaching a lesson plan for my kids each day. They have a full schedule which is determined by their online counselors and teachers. They attend lectures via Skype. They complete and upload assignments and papers on their own. They have access to office hours and teacher’s emails if they have problems. And they have me.
My main job as their learning coach / mentor is to follow up and make sure they are completing all their lessons successfully each day. If my son, who is in middle school, does not get 80% on a lesson assessment, he has to review the material and retake the assessment until he achieves mastery at 80%. There is no room to fall through the cracks. I am included in all interactions between teachers and my kids, so if one of them doesn’t turn in an assignment or is struggling with a subject, I know about it immediately. The exceptions to the no direct teaching by me rule are math and chemistry. We have found that it’s more effective for me to go through the online lessons first and break them down into a more condensed platform. The blank stare, mouth open reactions to mathematical and chemical equations are much less frequent when the lessons are more to the point.
One of the benefits for me in the online school experience
is that I have gotten to understand first hand
how each of my boys learns.
One of the benefits for me in the online school experience is that I have gotten to understand first hand how each of my boys learns. Sit still and pay attention does not work for my older son. Sometimes he sits on the floor and pets the dog, or sometimes he walks around the room while I divulge the secrets of organic chemistry. I used to think he wasn’t listening. Now I know he’s processing. Likewise, I used to think my youngest son was argumentative about doing work in subjects he didn’t care for because he thought they were stupid. Now I realize that when he gets scrappy, it’s because he doesn’t understand something and wants a different explanation of the process so he CAN understand it. Perhaps my favorite moment working directly with my boys came after a particularly involved chemistry lesson. I can’t remember exactly what the subject matter was but there were equations and formulas and periodic tables involved. My son said the phrase every parent has heard ad nauseam since the beginning of time “Why do I have to learn this? When am I ever going to use it?” I just smiled and said “I used to think the exact same thing, and look at me now. I’m using it. Full circle baby!” He didn’t find that nearly as amusing as I did.
Schools today are leaving behind the most
creatively intelligent thinkers and labeling them
as failures because they don’t fit the mold,
when in reality, intelligence is much more diverse
than math and English.
Attending online school is one way to allow kids to learn in the way that best suits them. It’s a tiny bit of change when what’s needed is a complete overhaul of the educational system. Schools today are leaving behind the most creatively intelligent thinkers and labeling them as failures because they don’t fit the mold, when in reality, intelligence is much more diverse than math and English. People think in much the same ways that they experience the world: visually, audibly and kinetically. The way schools are set up today doesn’t take this into account. My son’s kindergarten teacher used to say “Criss-cross-applesauce!” before story time. Which meant, sit down, cross your legs, put away that scrap of paper you’re fiddling with and be quiet. Woe to the child who wanted to stand up to hear the story or the child who was imagining that scrap of paper as some sort of extension of the story. Your creative thinking is disruptive so please sit down and assimilate.
“Creativity is as important in education now as literacy and we
should treat it with the same status.”
I recently watched again one of the most inspirational TED talks I’ve seen. It was given by Ken Robinson, an English author, speaker and international advisor on education. The talk was titled “Do Schools Kill Creativity?” and watching it was like listening to what was going on in my brain. Robinson makes so many outstanding points throughout this talk that it’s hard to choose which one resonates most with me but this one is in the running: “Creativity is as important in education now as literacy and we should treat it with the same status.” I couldn’t agree more. Lastly, I have something to say to the teacher who made my son cry back in second grade. I leave you with one more Pink Floyd-ism to ponder: “Hey! Teachers! Leave them kids alone!” and let them flourish.