-Do you think we should go back to the 1800s' style and learn whatever our parents do? Kind of a "learn on the job" scenario.
-Do you have an alternative solution for your own children? Do you plan on homeschooling?
-Does your solution provide realistic output that others around the world could mimic?
How do we help our children?
Let me start by saying this post is going to be riddled with my thoughts and theories from someone who probably doesn't have the typical qualifications to speak on the subject of our educational system. However, I've studied and listened to enough people who say we need a revolution in our educational system, that I've come to believe them (Ken Robinson being the foremost culprit).
It has struck a chord with me.
In his book, The Element: How Finding Your Passion Changes Everything, Ken Robinson points out that the world, society, education ask, "How intelligent are you?" Imagine being asked that standing in front of a board of educators. I would feel apprehensive, nervous, belittled, and inadequate. The real question we should be asking is, Robinson submits, "How are you intelligent?"
So much more inclusive and individualized.
So, back to some of the original questions, do I have any alternatives?
Let me just throw out a few ideas that I've had and though I don't know if they would work, I hope to try with my children someday. These aren't alternatives to public education, but are ideas for helping our children thrive in life.
1) Become a lifelong learner myself
I'm not going to be able to instill anything that I want my children to believe and do if I'm unwilling to believe and carry it out in my own life first. I should be using my time wisely, investing in myself through books, training, seminars, and experiencing life. I should limit the time that I use for TV and movies, and other entertainment that brings little to no value.
By doing this, I hope that I will be able to find a career path that will allow me freedom with my time. This is one of my highest aspirations, to be able to have the freedom to be a part of my family's world, so that I will be there for important life lessons. I also hope to find a career that I'm passionate about in order to build me up emotionally. With that, I will be able to be energized by my work and possibly even include my family in that work. By working on myself first, I provide a mentor for my children to follow.
2) Focus on experiences, not results
My least favorite part of the education system is the grading. Teachers are forced to focus on results because if they don't and students perform poorly, less money will be allocated for their school's funding. As a result, memorization, not true learning, is emphasized. While I won't be able to single-handedly revolutionize that, I can make it a point that in my family, grades aren't a source of struggle. Instead of a reward/punishment system, I hope to show my children the that honest effort, self exploration, trial and error, and new experiences are much more important than a paper with various letters of the alphabet from their teachers.
My emphasis on true learning will be shown in a number of ways. I won't hesitate to pull one of my children out of class for the day if I feel there is an opportunity for learning. If I think that spending a day at the museum will help enforce the curiosity that fuels learning, I'll do it. If my children need a trip to Cape Canaveral to understand better why it's important to learn about math and science, we'll be gone. If going to a seminar will help my teenagers understand how influential a single idea can be, we'll travel to the closest TED conference. I hope that as a parent, I can be part of my children's education in life and show them how they can live the life they want to live.
3) Convergent vs. Divergent learning
As an illustration, I've thought of this analogy recently.
Imagine you're an explorer in the early 1800s in America. The West represents a vast frontier of unexplored, unknown land. You're getting ready to head out on your journey when you are informed that your mission will only be financed if you find the geyser we now know as Old Faithful. You're told the general direction, but are largely left to figure it out on your own. You set out, frantic, to find a single monument in seemingly endless wilderness. Each day, you are filled with anxiety to find arrive at Old Faithful, so you may be financed and seen as a success. However, day after day, your head hits the pillow disappointed, frustrated, angry, and quickly losing hope. You spend years in your search, and years of your life trying to fulfill the expectations of someone else's dream to find Old Faithful.
In contrast, imagine after your first mission is presented, narrowed to finding Old Faithful, you're given a second mission, if you choose to accept it (forgive me, I couldn't resist). This journey will be financed just as long as you're willing to record all that you see, document where you've been, and any wonders you come across throughout your journey. You set out eager to see all that you can see. Each day, you see something that fascinates you. At times, you travel far in a day, while other times you spend weeks in a single place, exploring deeper the beauty and uniqueness of the land. You lay down each night, with wonder on what you found that day, and excited to see what the next day brings. You're filled with enthusiasm and end up discovering forests, waterfalls, grand canyons, breathtaking landscapes, geysers, oceans, mountains, wildlife. You spend years and years happy that life has given you this journey.
Mission #1 represents convergent learning, the type I feel is saturated in our schools today. The entire focus is on one ending goal (the pinnacle of which is college, according to Ken Robinson) but largely frustrates and dampens the spirit of learning so much that people continue their lives avoiding anything that is in any way like it.
Mission #2 represents what I believe Ken Robinson believes to be an ideal form of education, as he calls the agricultural model. This promotes individualized learning and wonder. But this can't only be the goal of our schools. I must do all that I can to live, and help my children live, a life full of divergent learning. This type of learning sees many possibilities and may start in one place for each child, but lead them on vastly different paths in order to discover their unique talents and passions.
By becoming a lifelong learner myself, focusing more on experiences over results, and promoting divergent learning, I fully believe that I can have success in raising children that will have, or will know how to find the tools necessary to have fulfillment in their lives.