Tuesday, February 2, 2010
Head of the German Teachers' Association Says Parents Can't Teach Their Children
In an article today about a German couple who have received, what equates to political asylum here in the US, because they've chosen to homeschool their children, an educator is quoted as saying, "No parental couple can offer a breadth of education and replace experienced teachers. Kids also lose contact with their peers."
Of course, being a homeschooler, I take umbrage with such a statement.
I won't go into the whole peer pressure, bullying, and cliqueish aspects of traditional schooling. I won't go into the whole controlling aspect of traditional schooling, whose stated goal is to "develop good citizens." I won't go into the sequestering aspect of traditional schooling in which children are forced into groups of same-aged peers with little or no opportunities during the school day to have contact with real-world situations. In short, this won't be an anti-schooling rant. We all know that our traditional school system and methods are deeply and irreparably flawed. We just don't know what to do about it (and putting more money into the system is NOT the answer).
Instead, I will stick with some facts about homeschooling.
He says no parental couple can offer a breadth of education and replace experienced teachers. I disagree. *I* was trained as and worked as a classroom teacher in a number of different settings from pre-school with developmentally delayed children to secondary public school to college-aged kids. I also worked as a peer advisor and tutor in college and I taught homeschool classes. I have literature, humanities, social studies, and history covered. Deus Ex Machina is an electrical engineer. He has the hard sciences and math. I think we can both pretty well tackle any biological studies, and we both have enough experience in French and German that we could teach our children to be, at least, tourist fluent, which is more than most high school language programs can do. As a parental couple, we can definitely offer a "breadth of education and replace experienced teachers."
That said, there are some subjects that I just don't have any experience in, and for those, I hire an expert, but most of those subjects are ones that are not taught as part of a school "curriculum", anyway, but are considered "extra curricular", like dance, music, and art.
Personally, I think all of the "stuff" they teach in school can be (and is in our house) learned better and more fully without a lot of teaching, and those things that we hire professionals to teach are the ones that should be "taught" in schools. Those subjects include not knowledge-based information, but rather skills, like playing an instrument or building something or cooking or fixing things. Those aren't taught in schools, but should be, and the other stuff ... knowing that William Faulkner is a 20th Century American author whose principle topic was the decline of the Southern aristocracy is not "knowledge." It's trivia.
Too much of what we consider education is just memorized trivial information - something that with today's technology is easily and quickly researched and doesn't need to be learned (and really, does most of it need to be learned ... ever?), but how to build a wigwam, or carve a spoon, or build a chicken coop, or play the fiddle, or darn socks, or knit a sweater, or spin yarn, or forage wild foods, or grow medicinal herbs, or preserve the harvest, or properly prepare guanciale - those are things that should be taught.
The worst part is that those skills are the ones that we have lost over time with our homogenized, compulsory education focusing on a trivia-based memorization rather than on skill-building. In the lower energy future into which we are heading (and faster than we might realize) we will definitely need skills rather than trivia, but our schools are ill-equipped to teach them.
The "teacher's" job is to introduce a concept and then allow the "student" the freedom to explore the idea or technique on his own. It's through experience that we learn, and not through rote exercises, which only require memorization. Memorization is NOT learning.
I tell my children that the mark of true intelligence is the ability to apply something previously learned to a seemingly unrelated, new situation.
How many of us can take the "lessons" we learned in school and apply them to our current lives?
Indeed, how many of the "lessons" we learned in school are even applicable?
My children are learning, because they are experiencing things. They learned to read, because they experienced books, and not because *I* taught them anything more than how our language looks on paper (i.e. the letter sounds, which are different in all languages). They're learning their multiplication tables, because there are times in their lives when they need to know what 3x3 equals, and not because they had to memorize their three-times table for a test. For reference, we keep a chart of the multiplication table up to twelve hanging on the bookshelf, but Big Little Sister doesn't need it, because while I memorized that 3x3=9, she knows that 3 and 3 and 3 are nine, and if she forgets, she knows that she can draw a grid and count dots. I never learned the concreteness of math, and therefore, had trouble with the concepts for many years. Memorizing those facts is faster - provided we remember -but knowing how to get the answer in every situation where you have a number times a number, that's forever ... like rollerskating or riding a bike ... or using a sewing machine. It's a learned skill, and not just a memorized fact.
As for the other argument against homeschooling in the above quote regarding losing contact with their peers, I can attest that the homeschoolers I know have very active social lives. My daughters spend eight hours a week at the dance school with about half of that time not in classes, and they're able to just hang out with their friends. We go to birthday parties (this past weekend, in fact, we were invited to a roller skating party ... and it's true that once you learn how, you never forget ;). We have regular monthly field trips and activities we attend with other homeschoolers. There are also opportunities for skiing, play dates at local parks, ice skating, swimming at the Y, cooking classes, art classes, homeschool bands and choirs, reading clubs, 4-H, hockey games ... and that's just what I can think of from posts to the homeschool e-groups in the past two days. When it comes to social opportunities, we have more to activities choose from than we have time.
I guess that's the thing that most people who speak against homeschooling don't understand, and it is the fact that, unlike a traditional school where they believe that all "learning" must take place within their four walls, we homeschoolers understand that real learning happens all of the time, and in the most unexpected places.
Some parents choose to send their children to school. Some parents choose to homeschool their children. I'm not going to argue in favor of one choice or the other. I've made my choice, and I'm happy with it, but to have others tell me that I am incapable of giving my children a comparable education, because I am just a parent is both insulting and untrue, and frankly, in my experience, even the parents who don't have my credentials do as good (most of the time better) a job of educating their children as the school system would have.