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Tuesday, 28 August 2012

The Best School Year Ever

Next week million of children once again go to school.  For some it is an exciting time.  Time to see your friends, make new ones, learn new skills.  For others it is just the same old same old.  They are marking time until they can be free!  And for some it is a dreaded nightmare.  A place of bullying, judgement, and fear.  Sometimes we, as a society, just say it is all part of growing up.  That's what they used to say about getting drunk at a party and jamming kids into a car for a wild ride.  We don't call that part of growing up anymore.  An education which instills fear, dislike, or boredom should not be part of growing up either.  Education should give our children skills, knowledge, and above all, a love of learning.  If this isn't happening for your child, there are things that you can do.

The first question that all parents, and older students, need to ask themselves is : What is the purpose of education?  This is neither easy nor obvious and there are many different answers.  Some say that education is to prepare them for life.  What does that mean?  Teaching them accounting skills, how to get a job, time management, practical skills?  Or does it mean teaching them cooperation, teamwork, problem solving, people skills?  Or critical thinking, rational deduction, communication skills?  There are a lot of options.  Perhaps education is to show them how to follow their passion.  To develop that passion into a marketable skill.  Or perhaps the end goal is to learn how to learn so that education is a lifelong experience.  My point here is that there are many different purposes and they are all right.  You have to decide which one is right for your child.

After you have sorted out that, you need to figure out what the school's purpose is.  Do they have the same goal in mind that you do?  You need to know if you are both journeying to the same destination.  If you are not, then you need to supplement your child's education with the pieces that the local school does not offer.  One example which comes up all the time is in high school.  Parents have decided that they want their child to go to university.  They assume that somehow the school knows this.  They think that the school advisors will counsel their child into the best courses for going to university.  However the school counsellors actually have a different goal.  Their goal is to have all the students complete high school.  Therefore they may select courses which suit their goal and not yours.

First and foremost you must be an advocate for your child.  You must work with the school to achieve the end that you want.  Do not assume that they know what that is or, if they do, that they can accommodate you.  After all, they have thousands of students, each with their own goals.  It is essential that you work with the school, the administrators, and the teachers.  An antagonistic relationship will never work.  Your child will lose respect for the school and for education in general.  If you absolutely cannot work with a particular school or system then, for the sake of your child, you must change to another one.  How can you teach your child to respect teachers if you do not? 

This is one important step to helping your child have the best school year ever.  School should be a place of excitement and passion for learning.  And it can be.  If you are interested in more personal advice for your particular situation, send me a comment and I will respond privately.

Happy Schooling!

Education through Art!

Thursday, 16 August 2012

They all work...or not.

New math, unschooling, whole language, Waldorf, flipping school, Montessori... the list of educational methods is very long and constantly being amended.  And they all work - for some children  And none work for all children.  We want all children to have an equal opportunity to get a good education and that translates into each child receiving the same education.  This is a fallacy that we have been dealing with at least since the advent of women's liberation.  We confuse "equal" with "same".

We do not need educational experts to tell us what any parent of more than one child can tell us.  What works for one does not work for all.  We need to stop focusing on teaching the curriculum and start focusing on teaching the child.  The focus of public schooling is how to process the largest number of children in the most efficient way with the best use of resources.  Sounds like a valid business principle.  Except that children are not products that can be assembled on a line.  And we don't really want what that line would produce, unless we are Orwellian in our social principles.  We want children to become the best that they individually can become.  We want them to be passionate about what they do.  We want them to be successful.  We want them to be productive.  We want them to be happy.

All of which relies on nurturing them in their own unique ways.  To letting them flourish and grow within the context of their passions, abilities, and goals.  The "best" method for that is to educate the child.  Sounds simple and yet rarely happens, despite the best efforts of many good teachers.  The system keeps mandating "best practices", computer generated tests and assessments, criteria that have nothing to do with what is best for the child, or even for society.

Let teachers teach.  Give them the latest research and let them decide how best to apply it.  Use some common sense is assessing whether a child is flourishing.  Listen to parents and employers when they complain about the fact that today's students are completely unprepared for life.  Those in charge of administering the enormous education system need to start listening.  High school should not be something that you suffer through.  It should not just be a place to make friends and learn social skills.  It should be a place of learning and a place where they learn that learning is powerful, engaging, important, and wonderful.  A lesson for all times.