Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Factory Education

Once upon a time, there was a chicken. This chicken like to scratch around in the dirt down on the farm. His momma-hen was very proud of the little guy, and taught him the ways of the farmyard. He learned where the food and water were, which hens pecked hard, where to scratch for bugs and worms, and when to come in at night to roost under mommas wing. It was a simple life, but Jr learned all there was to know about self-preservation, discipline, respectfulness, resourcefulness, thinking on your feet, and not getting eaten by hawks or opossums.

On the farm down the road was another chick. This little guys momma was a heat lamp. He wasn't lonely though, there were thousands and thousands of other little chicks just like him to share the experience with. They all got treated the same in that great big shed. The farmer, or more accurately, the industrial behemoth that rented the farmers time and elbow grease, had figured out that the most efficient way to convert cute little chickies into rotund balls of white meat, was to pack them into a confined space, limit their access to sunlight, provide them with a high energy diet, and wait. Now some of those little chicks did fine, but many did not. The corporation, not satisfied with the quality of chickens coming out of the shed, came up with new criteria to gauge the progress of each batch. With the efficient sounding goal of being able to compare the production of all of its chicken sheds, very little interest was taken in the actual skills acquired by the hens, or the health and welfare of the farmers. Not surprisingly, with the momma-hen and dadda-rooster excised from any responsibilities, and the farmer judged by averages instead of the capacity of the chickens to survive when released to the local farmyard, some very strange things happened. In some sheds, the standards of the chickens went up! Very impressive! But all was not as it seemed. Some farmers, nervous that their livelihood depended not on their chickens ability to avoid being eaten by predators, but by a corporate bureaucrat at headquarters, had been enhancing the data coming from their shed. Their supervisors, delighted that the larger numbers in their spreadsheets gave them the appearance of competence, knew better than to question the farmers too closely. That of course would scuttle the game before they could leave for a higher paid job in a city with more chicken sheds. And so the charade continued, until:

America's biggest teacher and principal cheating scandal unfolds in Atlanta (link)

The mindset of "Factory Education" makes me want to sigh.
Don't get me wrong, this is a rant at the consequences of bureaucratic foolishness, not at the relative merits of different schooling systems. We homeschool our kids for many reasons, one of which is to be able to trace actual progress in preparing them for life as an adult, as opposed to tracking their numbers against arbitrary standards. As parents we are engaged in their development, and we would be equally engaged if they were in a public or private school setting. One of the consequences of conventional schooling is that it can send a message to parents that the "system" is sufficient for their child's education. It's not, not by a long way. Parents need to be told that they have a huge responsibility in their child's education, and have a massive influence over the outcome. What are some simple paths you can follow to support the healthy maturation of your children into educated adults?

  • Read to your children, and teach them to read before they even get to school. It's not hard, it just takes patience and love.
  • Teach them to think. Seriously. Challenge them daily and make them compute rather than regurgitate across a range of topics. 
  • Get involved and stay involved through all their school years. Do not check out, thinking that well minded teachers will take care of it. They can't, there are just too many kids.
  • Give them a range of education experiences outside of "normal". Introduce other cultures, different languages, different sports.
  • Enforce a regular sleep pattern suitable for a child (no, not your sleep pattern).
  • Push them to through larger education "projects", then celebrate when they finish.
  • Allow them to learn the hard way occasionally. We can't all win, all the time, and learning how to cope with adversity is a crucial life skill.
  • Recognize that children are individuals, with different attributes and tailor your involvement accordingly.
  • Exercise their memory muscles, they will get bigger. 

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