Read an Excerpt
Home: The Ideal School
Joanne sits in school each day, waiting. If only she could tell her teacher all the things she is thinking about, then her teacher would know how smart she is! Her mom and dad tell her all the time how smart she is and that she is a great artist; her grandmother says she is a genius. But if she's so smart, how come her teacher never tells her so? How come her teacher never calls on her to answer a question in class? If she is smart, why does she have a hard time learning things in class? Joanne loves art, and often daydreams about creating beautiful pictures, but she rarely gets to draw in class, and the last time she did, her teacher told her what to draw. She really wanted to draw a picture of those fluffy clouds she saw that morning on the way to school. Instead, she was told to find all the words that begin with a "B" on a worksheet and then color them blue. She was given only a blue crayon. She knew if she colored a cloud blue on the worksheet, her teacher would not be pleased. She is also distracted by all the interruptions while trying to read in class, and she really does not like the story her teacher gives her to read anyway. She likes stories about little girls like her, but ones who lived a long time ago like the Little House on the Prairie books her mom reads to her. Her mom is also teaching her how to cook. She gets to touch everything . . . and measure stuff ! At the end of the school day, she can't wait to get home and draw some pictures and do some more cooking with her mom. But she almost always has homework. After her homework is done, it is time for dinner and then it is bedtime. If only she could stay up a little later with her mom and dad, but tomorrow is another school day.
Joanne is six years old. She will spend the next eleven years in compulsory classrooms-eleven more years in classrooms that don't teach to her personal learning style. Classrooms that are distracting, crowded, and often boring. Classrooms that will do little to encourage her love of learning. Classrooms where her intelligence, interests, and talents will most likely never be recognized, much less nurtured.
What would happen if Joanne learned at home, where her love of learning has been encouraged since the day she was born? At home, she could have learned by touching and doing, where her paintings of fluffy clouds could cover her bedroom walls, and where she could have spent more time with the people who love her more than anyone else in the world.
"Government schooling is the most radical adventure in history. It kills the family by monopolizing the best times of childhood and by teaching disrespect for home and parents." John Taylor Gatto,
The Underground History of American Education
Homeschooling is not new. It is the way this country has educated its children for all but the last 150 years. Now, at the beginning of the twenty-first century, as many as two million children in the United States are learning at home. Why the resurgence of such an educational method? Because homeschooling is the ideal school for most children, and one that our current schools won't ever be able to compete with.
Our public schools were designed on a factory principal: assembly line education to create conformist citizens. The ultimate one-size-fits-all. In the industrial age, the United States needed millions of workers for the assembly lines. Our public schools were designed to create factory drones who would follow instructions, without asking too many questions. While these schools achieved their goal in the early industrial age, the standard of education they established is no longer socially or economically relevant. We live in an age that requires higher standards and increased creativity. The industrial revolution is over.
"The part of the brain that thrives on worksheets and teacher lectures probably takes up less than one percent of the total available for learning."
Thomas Armstrong, Ph.D., In Their Own Way
In his recent book, The Roaring 2000s, Harry S. Dent, Jr., one of the world's most prescient economic prognosticators, describes the ideal school of the future: "Teachers must... cultivate a relationship with each individual student. They must determine exactly where each child is in the development process and their specific strengths and weaknesses in learning. They must give each child the individual attention he or she needs to feel valued as a human being, which generates self-esteem and motivation. By establishing a personal relationship with each child, the teacher can determine which subjects and skills need emphasis at each stage of education. They can protect children from the often cruel criticism of others by not putting them into classes and learning experiences for which they are not ready."
Dent's vision of an ideal school in the future will be one in which a child's uniqueness is honored-an idea that runs counter to the principles of our schools. We do not honor the "crazy ideas" kids have. We simply can't honor the individual in a classroom of thirty kids. The teacher does not have time. She has to keep the class moving: They must be on lesson twelve before the third week of the second semester to keep up with the state's standards.
Some might think that honoring the individual sounds "new agey" and not really important in preparing children for success. But honoring each child's uniqueness is not only what all children deserve, it is critical to their future success.
The world our children will function in as adults is a world we have never seen before-from where they will live and how they will communicate to the new business model they will utilize. And in this new world, the most highly valued skills will be creativity and uniqueness-both entrepreneurial and interpersonal. What type of education has the power to create these skills in children? Customized education. According to Dent, this is the only education that will help our children develop the skills they will need for success in the information age. Can a school that serves up a one-size-fits-all curriculum deliver a customized education to children? Of course not. What Dent calls "our top-down, left-brain, mass educational system" cannot give children the individualized education they need. Harry Dent is not alone in his vision of a school of the future that honors the individual and provides an education customized to that uniqueness.
Howard Gardner, a Harvard University psychologist, identified in Frames of Mind seven different geniuses or intelligences in 1983. Gardner's theory of the existence of seven different intelligences (and his refined theory of an eighth intelligence in 1996) has become one of the most discussed and inspirational theories of the twentieth century. In his recent book, Intelligence Reframed, Gardner shares his vision of an education that honors a child's unique range of intelligences. Gardner labels it "individually configured education," and describes it as "education that takes individual differences seriously and, insofar as possible, crafts practices that serve different kinds of minds equally well." To provide this customized learning environment, teachers must learn about each student's background, interests, and goals. Gardner and Dent's vision of an ideal school are very similar to other well-known educators, experts, Ph.D.'s, and theorists. Many are using their books, programs, and public forums to reach parents, educators, and legislators. Their cumulative message is clear: We must reform our current onesize- fits-all educational system now.
In 1977, John Holt launched a magazine seen by many as "radical" for the seventies, especially considering the author's professional background. John Holt was a devoted teacher and bestselling author of two books about school reform published in the sixties (he was to write ten during his lifetime). He hoped his books would be a catalyst for school reform. For many years he tried to reform schools through his writing and talking as an educator. But his message of how children really learn and how schools must honor the individual in each child fell on deaf ears in the very system he worked in and wanted to help reform. It was very hard both personally and professionally for Holt to give up his mission of reforming schools, but after many years he came to the conclusion that the task was impossible and began to advocate homeschooling. He created Growing Without Schooling to bypass schools and talk directly to parents. Holt felt parents could create an education at home that honored how children really learn after he saw firsthand how many homeschooling families were doing just that. Is the task impossible for our school system? Many educators believe that teaching to each child's learning style, intelligence, and interests would be virtually impossible in our current school system.
Bureaucrats, textbooks publishers, and other education companies have large stakes in our current school system. The massive changes that would be required of schools to enable them to provide customized education to each and every child are enormous. The chances of it happening in our lifetime are small. Will it happen? Only time will tell.
Given the limited choices available for finding a customized education for your child in a public or private school, how can you create one at home? One that encourages a lifelong love of learning, where the subjects and materials to be covered are appropriate for their readiness and skill level, and where your child feels valued as a human being? Most likely you have already created it.
THE IDEAL SCHOOL
Can you imagine a school mission statement that promises the following?
* Each child's learning style will be identified and all material will be presented in a format that honors that style.
* Each child's "readiness" will be considered before he begins an area of learning.
* Each child will be encouraged to follow her interests.
* Each child will learn by doing.
* Each child will be honored as an individual.
* Each child will have downtime to play and just be a kid.
* Each child will be encouraged to pursue his passion in life.
* Each child's special genius will be discovered, nurtured, and preserved.
A school that can deliver these educational standards does exist. Families across the country have created this ideal school right in their homes. And you can too.
Since the day your child was born, you have been helping him learn. You knew his signals, he did not have to be able to speak, you just knew. You helped him learn how to walk, talk, feed himself and explore his world. You naturally knew when to challenge him a bit and when to let nature take its course. You've been answering his questions since he was old enough to ask them. You've helped him explore the world with a constant eye on building his self-confidence during his explorations. It is said that human beings learn more during their first five years of life than at any other time. Why, then, when our children reach the age of five, do we automatically assume we are no longer qualified to help them learn? Our society has done a very good job convincing parents that "experts" must take over after their child is of school age. This long-held belief goes back to a time in our history when most parents had no education and could not even help their children learn basic skills such as reading and writing. This is no longer the case. With parents' instinctive desire to help their children learn, the vast amounts of educational products available for home use, and resources for determining how children learn best, parents can provide an education for their child at home that far exceeds what is available in any private or public school.
The facts about homeschooling speak for themselves:
Homeschooled children are outperforming their conventionally schooled peers. According to a recent cover story in Time magazine, "...the average SAT score for home schoolers in 2000 was 1100, compared with 1019 for the general population. And a large study by University of Maryland education researcher Lawrence Rudner showed that the average home schooler scored in the 75th percentile on the Iowa Test of Basic Skills; the 50th percentile marked the national average...." Today Harvard admissions officers attend homeschooling conferences looking for applicants, and Rice and Stanford admit home schoolers at rates equal to or higher than those for public schoolers.
As you read this book, you will gain confidence in your abilities to homeschool your child. Remember, other parents (just like you) are homeschooling their children, and you are just as qualified as they are.
At first you may lack confidence in your abilities to teach and in your child's ability to learn. But remember that you were your child's first teacher and you are still their best. No one cares about your child as much as you or knows her as well as you do. Many homeschooling parents have discovered that making the choice to homeschool and succeeding at it has taught them to trust themselves and given them the confidence to try other endeavors. Homeschooling is not for everyone, but for two million families in the United States, homeschooling has become not just an education, it has become a lifestyle where individuality is respected and strong family bonds are created.
All parents share the universal belief that their child was born with special talents and gifts, their own special genius. Use that belief as your guiding principle as you create a superior education for your child in the ideal school-your home.
Copyright (c) 2002 by Rebecca Kochenderfer and Elizabeth Kanna
All rights reserved.