Monday, January 07, 2013

How We Build Our World

Together we're a genius. ~Six Feet Under

If it were only about teaching famous three R's, then we wouldn't need schools, at least for most kids. There would be no need to come together every day if the purpose of education were strictly to learn academic skills, at least in the early years because, quite frankly, these are not particularly difficult things for humans to teach or to learn. We wouldn't need all those "instructional hours." In fact, if education were merely a matter of math and literacy, I can think of few teaching methods more inefficient than what we call school.

We need schools because education is much bigger than academics, something politicians of all stripes fail to comprehend. School is about learning to live in a community with other free and equal citizens. That's the reason we need schools. School is where we practice fairness, fitting in, standing out, forging partnerships, sharing, accommodating, tolerating, celebrating, and getting our own needs met, while helping meet the needs of others. School is where we learn what we need to know about building community, which is, after all, what human animals are all about.

I know a lot of homeschoolers read this blog. It was a choice we considered for our daughter, but rejected because I didn't think I was up to single-handedly cobbling together a big enough  "social life" for my child. I applaud those of you who manage it, but we chose school, not for the academics, but for the opportunity it offered to give our child practice in building things together.

And that's what we do all day in school, really, when all is said and done: build things together.

The first child arrives, drops to her knees and gets busy with her chosen work. This is perhaps no different than what she does at home. What makes it school is the arrival of others and the struggle and joy of figuring out how to make that work.

We build our school together each year, day-by-day and block-by-block. It's no accident that this is also how we build our world.

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Anonymous said...

Lovely post again today! As a teacher that promotes block play I loved your photos! As a teacher that now works with homeschoolers you should be aware that there are programs in which homeschoolers meet for community building experiences. The program I work in has a once per week day of enrichment classes. Sometimes the topics are academic such as conversational Spanish, geometry, or writing. Most of the classes are very hands on such as cooking, block building, sewing, rocketry, ceramics, choir, guitar, drama, storytelling. These classes are fun, and students enjoy coming. Some of the teachers are education professionals and others are parents. It's definitely cooperative and a highlight of my week and that of the students.
There are many different ways of homeschooling. The vast majority of homeschooling folks I know have their kids involved in some type of social/educational activity. It might be recreational soccer, swim lessons, 4H, or Scouting. Homeschooling unless you are living in a very remote area is not an isolating activity. It's an opportunity to allow your child to follow his/her learning passions in a way that can be nearly impossible in traditional school settings.
As an educational professional that has worked in early childhood and elementary education, I have felt frustrated that the wonderful play based, hands-on learning experiences which occur in preschool are almost completely unavailable once a child enters elementary school. In my own classes I have facilitated as much hands-on learning and support of personal passions as I could. Most teachers do not and are under huge pressures especially now to produce specific results as assessed by tests. Ironically, the kids would probably do better on tests if their elementary education was play based because kids would be making lots of connections between topics that are easily integrated when they are hands on! Isolating skills and fragmenting learning don't seem to be doing the trick in improving test scores. And perhaps this is why so many folks are homeschooling and tapping into a variety of community resources to augment what they do at home to provide those social interactions.

Holly said...

My son is too young for school right now but we are considering homeschooling. The going theory that I've been hearing is that schools focused on curriculum and testing do not allow for appropriate social development and that they limit the social development by grouping kids together by age, abilities, etc. I'm curious what you (and/ or your readers) think.

Teacher Tom said...

Homeschooling is great for the right people. It just wasn't for us.

ACsMama said...

I grew up as a home-schooled child through middle school (I went to a university model high school - classes 3 days a week, work from home 2 days), and maybe it was just the particular homeschool families I grew up around, but it seems most of them didn't need school as socialization and learning to work together because a) they had large families (most had at least 3 children, many had 5, 6, or I even knew a few in the double-digits), so there was always a need to get along and work things out together from sun-up to sun-down b) most were families with only one working parent (a few families it was Mom, but usually Dad) which left the other parent with lots of time to organize and attend play-dates, museum or zoo trips, library story times, etc. which all contributed to learning to live together with others. It seems to me, then, that the need for school, especially at the youngest end of the spectrum, comes largely from a shift in our culture away from larger families (many children today have one sibling if any) and toward 2-income families. Not saying it's good or bad, just musing here :)

Kate said...

Yeah... as an unschooler... *shrug*... the socialization aspect is probably a question we get as much tired of as you get comments like "I don't see how you do that all day!"

Faigie said...

I think if most homeschoolers would have the option of having their children in a classroom like yours, they may not homeschool (at least the early childhood years)

Clare said...

It's not really about homeschool socialisation vs 'school school' socialisation, rather that being in a community of other children feeds so much more than just academics. When we sent our daughter to school it was with the primary thought that she would be in a community of children each day. We've had to re-think as here in the UK there is a great pressure to read/write/count etc very early, so she goes to 'school school' as we call it, part-time and a Wood School part-time (outdoors in the wood all day - not the norm here and the school were very sceptical!), so it doesn't really matter where we choose this to take place (as long as it suits us) we know how important the different layers of school are (whatever it's manifestation), sadly it feels like the policy makers don't.