Which school is right for YOUR child? How do you know you are making the best choice?
Let me warn you! My ideas about school and education are anything but conventional...
How are your kids doing in school? Do they excel in their studies? Are they given attention for what they need to improve? Do they fit in? Are they HAPPY in school? Do they even like it?
These are just a few of the questions I would ask a parent who feels their child is “struggling” in some aspect of their education. What I have learned is that we decide how our child is doing based on a certain set of criteria that includes societal paradigms about how education should work and our personal expectations of our kids. We also (at times) throw in some shame around how our child reflects back on US as parents. I beg you to stop for a moment and ask, “What is education for anyway?”
Well, here in the United States of America, our public school system was created in a time of industrial revolution. The schools were charged with the duty of teaching and turning out “people” who would be prepared to stand in a factory line all day and piece together some kind of cog. In addition, we were taught that this was a good outcome to education, to get a J-O-B that we could stay in for 40-50 years so that someday we might receive some compensation for living out our “golden years” in style.
That model was useful for that generation. But NOT ANYMORE. Our world and way of living has changed exponentially! Yet our educational system’s goal is still to turn out factory workers, people who will follow directions given them, who can sit still all day and NOT think outside the box. In fact, when a child does not CONFORM to the way a standard classroom is run, he or she is labeled as learning disordered, a trouble maker or just ignored altogether.
If a boy has so much energy that he cannot sit still in class no matter how many times the teacher tells him, bribes him, and punishes him, he is said to have an attention deficit disorder and is sent to a doctor for medication. There is no protocol for recognizing a gift or genius in WHY that child acts the way he does. He doesn’t fit the model, so he is ostracized and made to feel “different”. He is given the message that he is “bad” or simply doesn’t fit in. Or worse, he isn’t acceptable unless he is medicated!
In a country that claims to favor diversity and individuality, our school system attempts to make everyone the same.
So, what is the answer? I have recommendations.
GET TO KNOW YOUR CHILD’S LEARNING STYLE.
When my daughter was in third grade, I made the decision to do a free homeschool charter program with her and my son who was a first grader. Let me just tell you that ever since my daughter was born (up until that point), I truly believed that she was a brilliant genius! Her verbal skills were off the charts and she seemed to learn quickly. She was also highly creative and loved any kind of art. I really had created the idea that ALL things in school would come easily to her.
That year, while doing a math lesson with her that “I” thought was rather simple in concept, she was completely stumped. I went over it and over it and it wasn’t getting in. I became frustrated, thinking that she wasn’t listening, wasn’t trying. It was so easy! It was HER fault that she wasn’t knowing this. Then her eyes got misty and her little face looked at me and said “I’m sorry, Mommy.”
It was at that moment when I stepped back and took another look at my daughter. She REALLY didn’t get this. My belief that she was a genius and “should” be brilliant at all things was clouding my reality of who my daughter IS. Yes, she is gifted. In so many ways. But NOT this one. It became my plight to teach her (and myself) that she does NOT have to be good at all things. We are each given a set of abilities that makes us who we are and aids us in doing our work on this planet. Sometimes, a certain math problem is not part of our life’s purpose. We need to learn to let it go.
One of my daughter’s abilities is to see things differently than the mathematicians who created these problems. Her mind (and dare I say, heart and soul) looks for the creative, colorful, non-linear, playful sides of things. Sometimes....math doesn’t allow for that ;)
Take some time and really watch your child do things. Participate in a learning activity with her. How does she approach a problem? Is she easily frustrated? Are there certain activities that she is drawn to naturally that aren’t taught or allowed in school? In what situations or subjects does your child seem to be “in her element”?
LEARN ABOUT YOUR CHILD’S STRENGTHS
Jenifer Fox penned a fabulous book called Your Child’s Strengths with a forward by Marcus Buckingham. In the book, Jenifer discusses how focusing on where children are lacking (or weak) in school is completely backwards. She then goes on to teach methods for drawing out the BEST in kids and discovering all they are capable of.
Your child may be drawn to specific activities or subjects that give insight to where their personal power lies. It takes some attention. There are exercises in the book that will help you know what to look for. And be prepared to learn things about your kids that you may not have expected.
TEACH YOUR CHILD THAT WHAT THE “SYSTEM” SAYS ABOUT THEM IS NOT WHO THEY ARE
This is a really BIG DEAL! Our children are conditioned in the way of the educational system from a very early age. In fact, with good intentions, we even begin to teach them about “grades” and academic achievement before they enter school. They may not be able to articulate it, but they KNOW how they are being judged and rated.
I was appalled a few years ago when I learned that high schools these days commonly set their students on “tracks” as freshmen. When the kids set foot into the their very first class in high school, they are already labeled and their educational course is laid out for them. The tracks are typically 1) kids who are headed to college and 2) kids who are headed to trade school or simply the work force. They are given different schedules and different classes that are deemed “appropriate” for where they are headed in life.
I see these more clearly as the “kids who have potential and will get more education” and the “kids who nobody thinks are capable of great things so why bother with them” tracks.
OMG, just thinking about it makes my skin crawl. It angers me. Do educators NOT THINK that these kids KNOW they are being labeled as losers before they’ve even had a chance to see what they can do? I can’t believe that they are allowed to do this in schools. It reminds me of the caste system of India where you are born into a family with a certain status and you can never escape that level of society. OK, maybe it’s not as bad as THAT. But, it definitely leans in that direction...
Imagine what COULD happen IF students were able to put themselves on their own track. What if they were given the freedom to become WHO they are meant to become, without the definitions given to them by school administrators. When I was in high school, no one told me IF I would or should go to college or what careers I should pursue (or not). I was actually allowed to choose whatever classes I wanted to take, alongside other students who “graded” higher than me and lower than me. We all took the same classes! What a crazy novel idea! Go figure. I was accountable for choosing college or not and for doing the necessary work to get myself there. Advisers were there to facilitate that.
PLEASE, PLEASE, PLEASE, take a good long look at your child. What is the most important thing that you want for them in life? Tell them about it. See that your child knows that they are CAPABLE, WORTHY and VALUABLE whether or not they fit the school’s criteria for success. This is such an important lesson for them that many of us never learned ourselves. But it is truth. I have taught my kids that a grade doesn’t define who they are. What teachers think and say about them doesn’t define who they are. What the educational system says that my kids should master does not define whether or not my kids are smart or if they will be successful in their lives. Period.
THINK OUTSIDE THE EDUCATIONAL BOX
We are meant to believe the idea that there is a specific way of educating children (and all people for that matter). The reality is that there are MANY ways of LEARNING that we don’t often observe or consider. Which translates into many ways of “guiding the learning”. If you aren’t sure or satisfied that the method being used to educate your children is right or working, look for other ways. They are out there. And if you don’t find one that truly fits your values and philosophy, then create your own. There are myriad ways of homeschooling kids these days. Unschooling is one way (look that one up-it’s cool). You can hire other people to teach your kids in your own home or theirs. You can create a co-op with other families and share responsibilities for schooling. I could go on and on. The important thing is that it works for you and works for your kids.
“But”, you say, “I will get in trouble if I don’t follow the rules.”
Yeah, I worried about that, too. But in the end, YOU are the parent and YOU are responsible for making sure your kids get the education they deserve. AND there are so many options out there now for alternative forms of education. It just takes some research and diligence. So, flex your mommy-muscles and go be the advocate for your own kids! Nobody else is gonna do that job for you.
ALLOW AND TRUST YOUR INTUITION TO GUIDE YOU (AND YOUR CHILDREN)
In your search to find the perfect education solution for your kids and family, remember to always always always TRUST YOUR GUT! This is an across-the-board piece of advice. But when advocating for our children, it is easy to get caught up in guilt, worries about what other people think, and confusion over opinions and advice. There is a lot of information out there. Your best bet for deciphering it all is good old fashioned intuition. (It’s old fashioned because unfortunately, we don’t use it much anymore.) Frankly, we can partially thank our educational system for that. The way schools teach actually trains our kids NOT to trust their intuition, but instead to do and believe what the teacher says is right and best for them. In the worst situations, there is a lot of shame involved in this practice.
You know better than anyone else what is best for your own children. Trust that. If something doesn’t feel right about the experience your child is having in school, it probably isn’t. Get involved and make the changes necessary to create a positive, effective education for your child. You’ll know when you’ve discovered it. It will just FEEL RIGHT. Go with that.