Monday, February 18, 2013

You get what you pay for

A few weeks ago I went to Elli's classroom to help with their Scientist in the School program.  It seemed to me that the program itself was really good but the big thing that was beneficial was simply having more adults in the classroom.  When the teacher was trying to control all of the kids herself it was such a challenge - some kids listened reasonably but half of them were just sitting there twitching and bouncing while staring off into the distance.  Nearly all of those were boys, to no one's great surprise, and while I could get through to them when I was in charge of 4 kids at a time I can't imagine they could absorb much with one adult watching over 20 at once.

Recently I read an article about how our schools are failing boys and I feel like it had some good points but missed the essential lesson, which is that to educate everyone effectively costs a truckload of money.  It is all well and good to talk about how schools are set up to reward children who can sit still, focus, and be happy with desk work and note that girls are far better than boys at that.  Unfortunately it isn't as if we can just change our attitudes and magically fix things so that kids who have to be constantly running around and doing whatever they want can be taught effectively.  To manage that sort of chaos you need more people and resources, and given that our schools are facing substantial cutbacks as it is that is not going to happen.  We can do better than we currently do certainly but paradigm shifts only go so far.

There is a shift towards home schooling these days that goes along with a criticism of schools as just warehouses for kids.  While I think the warehousing metaphor is sometimes apt I don't think that universal homeschooling is actually the answer since what a lot of parents actually want is warehousing.  They love their kids but staying at home with them all day every day is a lifestyle many people do not enjoy.  Kids who have a safe place to go where they will learn some things and spend a lot of time playing and just doing their thing are doing fine.  They don't all need special enrichment or constant attention and parents don't need to be their everything.  This is coming from someone who has a pretty miserable time in school for a good decade - academics were easy, but actually dealing with the hellions who were my peers was mostly wretched.

We need child warehousing, which we have, but we certainly could do better at making sure that the kids being so warehoused learn and enjoy their experience more.  To accomplish that though takes resources and empowerment of teachers rather than the current government strategy around here which is to demonize the teachers, interfere excessively with their work, and make sure they don't have the tools they need to do their job.


  1. For what an "insider's" comment is worth: I think that you really nailed this one:) Smart and practical.

    I think that I want to make myself a "Kid Warehouse Foreman" hat. .... might not be taken how it was intended though.

  2. Interesting from someone who wanted to be home schooled. See, I just couldn't take it either. Now you 'get' it.

  3. I think in kindergarten being subjected to one's peers is the major learning opportunity itself. This gets less and less true for most people as grades go on. For some of us, I think that learning how to cope with being around other people was the only thing school really ever taught us.

  4. Definitely. My family was really fantastic and it took a lot of pain and suffering for me to learn to deal with the hate and violence that was an everyday part of school once I got there. I could have handily learned all of the stuff the teachers taught me in 1-2 hours per day if I was actually focused on it instead of focused on surviving my peers. I did need to learn those coping skills though... whether or not there was a better way for me to get tough and figure out how to handle people is a good question that is hard to answer.