Why don’t Students like school

I’m not sure I could say it much better myself. The whole article is worth a read 🙂

I shouldn’t be too harsh on Willingham. He’s not the only one avoiding this particular elephant in the room. Everyone who has ever been to school knows that school is prison, but almost nobody says it. It’s not polite to say it. We all tiptoe around this truth, that school is prison, because telling the truth makes us all seem so mean. How could all these nice people be sending their children to prison for a good share of the first 18 years of their lives? How could our democratic government, which is founded on principles of freedom and self-determination, make laws requiring children and adolescents to spend a good portion of their days in prison? It’s unthinkable, and so we try hard to avoid thinking it. Or, if we think it, we at least don’t say it. – Peter Gray

HT: Carlotta

Children: Products or People?

Carlotta penned the title in an excellent post. In New Brunswick (I assume it’s all of Canada, but I only know NB for certain) the current fad in educational theory is something called ‘outcome based learning’.

The ‘idea’ behind outcome based learning is that you define the education based on the qualities (skills) that you want the student to have at the end. And, in so doing, you must be prepared to accept at the beginning any student (any skill level, aptitude, base knowledge). On the surface, it may seem to be a noble undertaking to redesign education so that anyone can take the program of study. But, in reality, the student ceases to be regarded (or even taken into account) as a person. They become a product to the educational program.If they graduate, they are a product of the educational program. The only way to ensure that educators can ensure the predefined outcome is to restructure the educational program in such a way that the student is the object of the process.

The socialization question

Carolyn has done yet another fine piece of writing regarding the question every homeschooler gets asked. Here’s a sample:

“How will your child learn to deal with bullies?”

A homeschooled child learns to see bullying for exactly what it is: unacceptable behavior. Homeschooled students do not grow up in the constant shadow of bullies, and do not become accustomed to kowtowing to them.

Learning Disabilities – Part 2

Because I knew a while ahead of time that I was going to be away for a few days, I wrote the Learning Disabilities entry before I left and future posted it so you would have something to read when you dropped by. So, I’ve had a few days to let what I said in the closing paragraph/confession of a rant to hit home.

Carrie K. commented on the closing sentence. Until I was writing that paragraph, it hadn’t really occurred to me that, in general, saying that some people thrive in an environment doesn’t make it a good environment. It certainly doesn’t say that the environment is necessarily good for either the people who do thrive in it or those who don’t. There are people who thrive in a bureaucracy. But, the ones who do, are not the people who are getting things done. They are the ones that waste everyone else’s time. Some people thrive in jails. Some people thrive hopped up on drugs.

running2ks added ‘I wonder how many “hyperactive” kids – aren’t?’ When I was growing up. I spent alot of the time outside and we were very active. So, I honestly don’t know if I were growing up today whether I would be labeled hyperactive or not. I think the larger question she has brought up is, how many of the problems kids are labeled with are created by the fact that they are made to sit cooped up in a room all day doing stuff that someone else has told them to do? While I can’t speak for all children, I have yet to see an active/energetic child who upon finding something that interested them did not settle into an activity level which fit the interest. Were they more attracted to things that involved activity? Sure. Does that mean there is something wrong with them? I don’t think so.

Learning Disabilities

Here and there along the way, I’ve mentioned that I taught in college. Recently, I was having a virtual conversation with a public school teacher. One of the things I said to her was,

For 3 of the last 4 years, I’ve been a college instructor. When we started homeschooling, we used a formal curriculum. By the time I started teaching college we were much less formal and structured but still not unschooling. Speaking without disrespect to dedicated public school teachers or my students, if the only thing I do is shelter my 5 year old’s curiosity, self confidence, initiative, and outlook on life she will be head and shoulders above the average student entering college.

Often, when I get involved in discussions about the public school system, a single student always comes to mind. To further obscure the identy of my students, I’ll always refer to any of them as he, even though I had students of both sexes. And, insofar as to the effect of public school, I did not see alot of difference in the effect between one sex and the other. In any event, this student had been diagnosed with a learning disability and took prescribed medication (which I expect he may take for most of his life). By Christmas, my sense of how the students who shared classes with him felt about his prospects was that they expected that he would fail out before the end of the college year. He didn’t. A year and a half later he graduated in the upper half of his class. Of the graduates who shared the same diploma, he was the first to get a job in his field.

The first point I want to address is that from my experience learning disabilites are not what they are purported to be. In the case of this student, between sometime in January and the end of the college year, he had an average of an extra half hour of one on one instruction with me (other instructors may have done similar things). There were 2 fundamental things which occured in those half hour sessions. The first is something that would be unlikely to consistently occur in the classroom. There was no lesson plan for the sessions. I did not have any material that I was obligated to cover. I answered his questions. In other words, he directed the learning based on what he knew he didn’t know/understand. Based on various things he said along the way, I believe the most important lesson he learned was that he was as capable of learning as most of his classmates.

The second thing which occurred in those sessions was actually 2 things. By the time we had had a few sessions, I realized that the only significant learning disability he had was that his learning style was different from what might be considered the typical learning style. It took about the same amount of time for me to get a sense of how to answer his questions so that the answer satisfied what he wanted to know. Even though the instructor-student relationship was maintained and for the majority of those sessions the discussion involved material which was a byproduct of a course syllabus, we were unschooling. One of the reasons I advocate unschooling is that, in my opinion, unschooling eliminates learning disabilities. The learning is always approached from the perspective of how the learner can understand it best.

The second point that I want to address is what I feel are the real learning disabilities which are developed in any typical classroom setting. In doing this, I am going to refer to 3 of the 7 lessons John Taylor Gatto described in the The 7-Lesson Schoolteacher.

The 5th lesson Gatto identifies is Intellectual Dependency. Given that I taught primarily computer programming courses, my student’s current and future success depended a significant degree on him being broken of this lesson. There are many careers that can be followed which require mostly following prescribed formulae and involve little independent thinking. Computer programming is not one of those fields. What I found was that the pursuit of marks invariably lead a student to subvert his intellect to the intellect of the person who will be marking the work. The most common experience I had which illustrates this is that a student had arrived at a solution to a programming problem I had given him and before implementing it he would ask if it were an acceptable solution. (i.e. not would this solve the problem but was it the solution I was looking for.) In other words, learning was secondary to getting a good mark. In the long run, if he pursued the field of study which he was currently involved in, it was not important that he know the solution to this or that problem. But, that he be able to look at a problem he has not seen before and devise his own solution.

The 3rd lesson Gatto identifies is Indifference. Because my students had chosen to be there, this was less predominant. Also, the majority of my students were not fresh out of high school. From my perspective, there were still a surprising number of students who would have made no effort to learn the subject of my courses at all if it were not that I gave them assignments and tests. While Gatto uses the term indifferent, I would describe it as passive. It was as though, learning is not something that one did. I feel that some students enroll in college expecting to be taught. In other words, expecting to be the object of a learning process rather than the active agent in it.

Gatto introduces the essay with the lesson of Confusion. The way I often saw this lesson play out in my classes was when a student did the assignments solely for the sake of the marks. From that frame of mind, a student didn’t design his own solution. Instead he relied on others to design it for him. Whether or not he was able to implement the solution on his own, eventually the problems became complex enough that knowledge of the mechanics of programming could not enable him to implement complex solutions. If a student approaches a learning exercise like it were a tax return, what Gatto describes as confusion is bound to occur. For a person in this position “learning” ceases to be the development of knowledge or skills. Instead, it is a hurdle to be passed. And, in a course like the ones I taught, a series of hurdles which are only loosely connected. Each successive hurdle becomes more difficult to get over and even though the previous hurdle was intended to make this one easier, it makes this one more difficult because what got him past the last hurdle will not help him get past this one.

Ok, I’ll be honest. I don’t expect the establishment to change it’s view of learning disabilities any time soon. In a sense, this was a bit of a rant. People defending the public school system often say that many student thrive or do well in that system. I’m not sure that I agree with that, but I’ll skip arguing about it. What is the issue for me is that I question whether thriving in that environment is good thing.

Unschooling Question

Donna, who I mentioned here, left another comment where she asked another multi-point question. The first part of that question is

Can you answer this question for me, because I think this is where I’m having the most trouble: What is the history behind the term “unschooling”?

John Holt is generally credited with coining the term unschooling. I’ve read 5 of his books in the following order: How Children Fail, How Children Learn, The Underachieving School, Teach Your Own, and Escape from Childhood. If you were interested in learning the history of the public school system, I’d recommend The Underground History Of American Education by John Taylor Gatto. Chris has done an excellent synopsis of The Underground History.

From my perspective, it sounds like a term rooted in a belief that schools are inferrior and perhaps should be done away with. Why not utilize a more positive term, such as “interests-based learning” or “exploratory education” or “self-realization education”

I cannot speak for all unschoolers, but I honestly expect that most unschoolers would prefer to use any or all of those terms to describe their children’s education. If I may borrow a term from the field of Adult Education, my children are Self-Directed Learners. In Teach Your Own, I read a paragraph that has stuck with me:

I have used the words “home schooling” to describe the process by which children grow and learn in a world without going, or going very much, to schools because those words are familiar and quickly understood. But in one very important sense they are misleading. What is most important and valuable about the home as a base for children’s growth into the world is not that it is a better school, but that it isn’t a school at all. It is not an artifical place, set up to make “learning” happen, and in which nothing except “learning” ever happens.

It took us less than 2 months of homeschooling to learn not to tell people that our children (at the time just the oldest) did not go to school. The reactions of many over the years, even when saying we homeschooled, are memorable. We quickly adapted to saying homeschool to save giving the endless and repetitive reassurances that CFS was not going to come take our kids, it was legal for them to not go to school, that we were still giving them an education, we did not need to be certified teachers, that we were capable of doing this, etc.

In a way, I’m still amazed when someone says what amounts to, “Do you have a room in your house that is a classroom (i.e. desks, chairs, blackboards)?” or “I don’t want to interrupt school.” While school teachers may equate school with education, I’ve found that society equates school with desks, chairs, blackboards, bells, lectures, assignments, tests, and classrooms. And, the unshakeable belief that education is a byproduct of socialization.

The term “unschooling” suggests to me that perhaps unschoolers perceive the public education system as unsalvagable.

In you comments last week, I linked to a post wrote last year. While I hope that it addresses the statement above, I’ll say FTR that unless compulsary attendance laws are repealed, public schools are unsalvageable.

>From my perspective, there are already many people of power who create laws that are crippling our public education system. Why declare yourselves loyal to a school-of-thought (pun intended) that includes a negative prefix?

To add to my previous statement, what I believe is crippling the public education system is that it is obligated, through legislation, to deal with “clients” who do not want to be there. At a workshop I gave last year, I used a portion of Tennessee’s homeschool law to illustrate a point about society’s perception of school. I pointed out that a homeschooler in TN is expected to maintain attendance records (I interjected the question, “And where else are they going to be?”) and instruct a kindergartener for 4 1/2 hours a day for the length of the school year. Everyone laughed because they are ridiculous requirements. We taught our older children to read, write and do simple arithematic in what would average out to about 1/2 hour a day, 4 days a week.

I expect it unlikely that I will be able to affect a universal change to mandatory attendance laws. The best I can offer children (other than my own) is to set out to make as many parents as possible aware that there are alternative methods of education. Secondly, for those parents who have already chosen to homeschool, many still approach their children’s education as school-at-home. I use the term unschool to suggest them what is captured in the John Holt quote above (i.e. that it doesn’t need to be school at all).

College Illiteracy

In world Net Daily News, the author of the article College illiteracy stuns educators concluded,

“The need for educational freedom is now greater than ever. A free society cannot survive without it. “

I’ll make no additional comment as I’m not sure that any further comment is necessary. You may infer your own conclusions from the fact that I taught college for 2 1/2 years and that I’m referring you to this article.

HT: Home Educator’s Family Times News of Interest …