I could paper a room with lists and lists of the valuable insights into education and learning I have amassed over the past two decades. But it is these two that matter most:
- We do not need schools.
- We do need teachers.
Some quick background: I have four kids, all home educated, K through 12th. I didn’t start out planning to homeschool – not at all. It was something we decided to try for one year when our oldest was 6. It went swimmingly well, so we did it another year. The rest is history.
It has been great for our family. It worked. All of us – parents and students – have loved the lifestyle. World travel on scholarships, international science fairs, competitive athletics, national debate competitions and elite university admissions – we kept busy, busy, busy. It has been very exciting.
Crucially, the education of our four kids was not nearly as complicated as schools and policymakers had made us think it would be.
I am not a teacher by training. Yet I taught four kids to read, each before the age of 4, using the same book. It cost me $19.99. Ten to fifteen minutes a day, four to five days a week, over a few months – that is all it took.
Through elementary and middle school, we did not use any of the curriculum that our local school district used. We never even looked to see what our state required of us, and to this day, I have no idea what that is. My students had zero standardized testing before grade 7 or 8. Nothing. It did not matter one bit.
By the time they were 15-16, and they had taken the SAT, they had scores high enough to apply to the most competitive universities.
There was nothing magical in our approach to learning. It was merely consistent and straightforward. It bears repeating – I am not a teacher. Additionally, my four kids are not gifted geniuses. Our cardinal rules were few: Plenty of outdoor time to play, nourishing food, lots of sleep and blocks of distraction-free learning time in between.
Truth #1: School really isn’t necessary – certainly not for learning. It would have been convenient from time to time as childcare or just for some occasional relief from the duties of parenthood. But for learning? No…we were fine without schools.
Truth #2: We really need teachers. During the high school years, I found that I needed teachers for certain subjects. Sometimes we found a homeschool parent with an advance degree in Biology, Chemistry, Physics or Math. When necessary, I searched for and hired experienced tutors, often sharing the fee with one or two other families. I never regretted spending the money on a good teacher/tutor, whether in person or online. It was always worth it. We were also able to find outstanding online classes for some of the more challenging subjects.
The important thing is this: Students often need a person who has a knack for teaching and who also has fluid knowledge in his/her discipline or field. I discovered that this does not need to be a board-certified teacher. It does not need to be someone who is “in the system”. Often, it was better if they were not. Why? Because then these instructors were not bound to homogenized, time-wasting, box-checking, accreditation nonsense. When taught outside of the narrow corridors of “the system”, learning can be so much more dynamic, valuable, and directed toward mastery. It will not be driven by passing tests. This is something all teachers bemoan. Sadly, their passion and skill and creativity are curbed by testing and circumscribed methodologies. So, if you find an expert in his/her field who will teach and mentor your kids with an eye toward mastery, do it! We need teachers like this more than ever before in our history.
“What is the big hoopla with school?”, I have asked myself many times over the years. Why does it seem so imperative to so many that we march our kids off to school buildings? In short, I think most reasons given will fall under expedience, parental career goals and habit (or lack of imagination).
Expediency – We need to get on with our own lives; we love our kids but they are a nuisance. Teaching them from home was not the “deal” when we had kids. (Oh, but the world has changed). Careers – We need to make a living and we can’t do that with kids underfoot. We want to grow our careers and we can’t do that while managing students, too. (You won’t know until you try). Habit – We don’t take the time to try ideas that are not already in our comfort zones. We lack imagination. We are stuck in a bad habit. (The new world order demands more from us, now)
Although truly terrible in countless ways, COVID has offered every parent a chance to hit the educational reset button. At no other time in our history have parents been caused to question (so thoroughly!) the habit of public, mass, government-sponsored education. Twitter is on fire with school choice supporters demanding that education dollars be directed to micro-schools and families, so they can just hire the best for their kids and get on with the job of learning. Teacher’s unions want to shut down charter schools and all other school choice options in a last-ditch effort to rescue an idea that was never a very good one.
Recap. When we thought our jobs would not become remote, they did. When we thought our kids needed to spend 1 to 2 hours on a bus each day, getting up at 6 am and getting home at 4 pm, we discovered they did not. When we thought our kids needed all those tests that tortured them weekly or more, we found out they did not. And, when we thought they needed a particular state-approved curriculum in order for their educations to be legit, it became obvious they did not. Let the obliteration of these assumptions instruct you. Then, imagine what else might not be “necessary”.
Overnight, the entire world has utterly changed. Do we think that putting kids right back into the same buildings with the same systems in place — when everything else about life has changed — makes sense? If every single other aspect of our lives has undergone a complete metamorphosis, if everything is being tested and examined and viewed through global-pandemic-tinted lenses, then how can a return to the old and interminably flailing model of mass public schooling still make sense? Shouldn’t we be rethinking education, really rethinking education, before we seek to return to the past?
We must seize the day and bravely re-examine and redefine how we view the world of education, and, indeed, how we live our lives. It is a brave new world now. Your kids need you and your advocacy more than ever before. Reimagine and then redefine for a rebirth of education for your family. It is possible.