Real and practical reform

Based on our homeschooling experiences and also in trying to help parents of publicly-schooled children, Ron and I have come up with a list of changes that could be done for the public school system. But first maybe an explanation as to why things have got so bad is in order.

In the beginning, schools were set up to complement and add to the education a child got at home. Eventually, they were set up on a massive scale to quickly process the vast numbers of immigrants coming into North America. To level the playing field, so to speak. Over time, a circle of dependancy and blame formed.

More parents wanted more done for their children, and more teachers and administrators wanted to do more for some students. Coupled with a rise in parenting books, the disassociation of families with each other and the growth of nuclear families, existing on their own far from relatives willing or able to help, in many cases the schools have taken on the role of parent. And there is a contingent of parents who are more than happy to hand their child over. After all, the message they have been receiving is that it is the school’s job.

The first order of business is for the schools to hand responsibility back to the parent. Will there be an uproar? Sure there will. Much like parents in Russia discovered after the fall of Communism, we are ignorantly creating a nation of people who are clueless at caring for their own offspring. Will there be children who fall through the cracks? Surely it can’t be more than there are already.

Eliminate compulsory attendance. You may have noted that in every state, in every province, the laws on the books refer to compulsory attendance. In the angry teenager’s terms, you have to show up. Nothing in there about having to learn, and a big gaping hole of logic that assumes that if one shows up, one will learn.

While we are at it, let’s eliminate the things in school that are there not for the children’s sake, but for easier management: – tests – age-graded classrooms – desks – lecture format (which has been proven unquestionably and frequently to be the least effective method of instruction.)

Set up learning centers or stations, have free and unfettered access to books, encourage students helping other students. In case you thought books were freely available to all children in school, I have an anecdotal story to share.

Our neighbour’s son was in grade two and reading fluently. So fluently that the teacher did not believe him. Yes, she actually told the parent she did not believe their child could read long chapter books, and refused to let him check out book above his grade level from the school library. Of course, the parents continued to let him read whatever he wanted at home, and they continued to argue with the teacher into letting his read whatever books he wanted from the school’s library. It took until sometime after Christmas for the teacher to finally be convinced.

Toss out the many layers of management and administration. Put the authority back in the hands of the teachers in the trenches. Keep the good teachers and fire the crappy ones. As the granddaughter of a major union president, I am well aware of the benefits of unions. But having a job does not mean you are entitled to it at all costs. As the wife of a former college-level instructor, and as a former student, I am also well aware of how horrible teachers can continue to hold onto their job when it is proven time and again that they are far from capable at what they were hired to do.

Close down the mega-schools. They are run in exactly the same manner as jails. We’ve been treating our children as prisoners, so we should not be surprised in the least when they start to act like them.

Since we have saved all this money by eliminating layers and huge buildings, take the taxpayer’s money and put it where it’s needed most: the working poor. Those families that, if they could, would be more than happy to have one parent at home. They would be more than happy to stay with their children, more than willing, more than capable. It comes down to money for too many families. Relieve that burden.

In Canada, we already have the Child Tax Benefit, which for many families means the difference between a good life, or at least a manageable one, and the streets. Being able to look after their own children would afford many families a real choice in education.

After the schools don’t look like schools, and the focus has turned to learning instead of teaching, hold the child accountable for their own learning. Let them make decisions about their education at an earlier age, instead of leaving them in a holding pattern to adulthood. Apprenticeships will be the norm instead. Will they fail? Yes, probably some will. Will they learn? Unquestionably. Learning the basics of reading and writing doesn’t take twelve full years. Everything else is gravy, and can take a lifetime.

We’re talking about tearing down an institution over a hundred years old. It will take time, and it will hurt. Making changes now while we can control it would certainly be better than society being forced to after a major breakdown.

Author: andrea

Older, possibly wiser, still forgetful.

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