Are We Sending Our Kids to the Wrong Schools?

Are We Sending Our Kids to the Wrong Schools?
"No more classrooms, no more books, no more teacher’s dirty looks...” or so the song goes. Which reminds me of a certain Pink Floyd song and so on... Well, thus opens a topic dear to my little heart (and I'm taking some liberties on length with this one, so stay with me!).

Today, catching up on email, I clicked through a link from @Antunov (the He of Boba Family) which he sent me and the team at Boba about raising kids as entrepreneurs. He linked us to a TEDx talk by Cameron Harold that particularly talked about the children often regarded as unsuccessful, perhaps ADD, ADHD or other that don’t quite fit in the system. Coincidently, earlier in the day, I followed a Facebook link to one of my favorite voices in marketing, Seth Godin who had posted on the related topic of our antiquated U.S. school system and how it affects today’s workforce. Here’s a little more on those:

In the talk he gave at TEDxEdmonton last year titled Let's raise kids to be entrepreneurs, Cameron Harold gets us in the heart a little right off the bat with, “Kids, when we grow up, have dreams, and we have passions and we have visions and somehow we get those things crushed...”

He goes on to discuss how schools groom us to be part of the work force - to aim for established “good” jobs such as lawyers and doctors, the media putting their own twist on that by glorifying its own spokesperson models, actors, sports stars. But where do the children-turned-teens-turned-adults who don’t fit into these models fall? Many of them, if not all, Harold asserts, could be well-suited to entrepreneurial pursuits and would be well-served by some help in that direction from a young age vs. our culture's negative pro-medicating tendencies.

Seth Godin, in his post Back to (the wrong) School, writes, “Large-scale education was never about teaching kids or creating scholars. It was invented to churn out adults who worked well within the system.” He goes on to develop an argument that this (not simply crushes spirits and limits personal possibilities as discussed by Harold) strips us (the U.S. I presume) of our competitiveness and guarantees a population unable to take advantage of the opportunities presented by our post-industrial revolution cultures, opportunities that require an entrepreneurial spirit.

These reminded me of some of the conversations I’ve had with my Santiago, Chile-based friends Dulce and Frank about a project they launched this year called Latin American Way of Learning to study and find ways to make Latin American school systems more relevant to the children they are teaching (most of which were modeled after these same U.S.-learn-to-respond-to-a-bell-and-be-good models.). And every day where I live in Santiago I see dozens to hundreds of uniform-clad school children toting heavy backpacks, crowding rush hour buses after long days prepping for the soon-enough-to-come and all-too-emphasized single college entrance exam which will determine if they are good enough to get into a private college to become one of the prized doctors, lawyers or business people Harold talks of.

Of course, this is mirrored around the globe, and is no less common in my home state of Michigan or transplant state of Colorado (minus the uniforms). And the pain I’ve seen in the eyes of a friend’s seven-year-old daughter being sat at a table with multiplication study tables until she finishes in order to prep for tomorrow’s test (tables she doesn’t really understand and hold no interest to her firy, relationship-driven, shining self) just drives the points all home further for me. Maybe the pain, frustration and challenges facing us as we face “school” are just part of the reasons to consider that maybe, just maybe this system is flat out broken.

Personally, I found my own school experience disheartening and (with the exception of a few inspired teachers and extracurriculars) un-motivating. And, unlike Harold’s TED talk examples, I was one of the ones that excelled in the traditional school system, graduating near the top of my class, ranked among the top 1% of the nations standardized test-takers. So what? I left high school without an inkling of my range of skills and passions, and not knowing what I could possibly do in the world. Part of the listlessness I experienced after high school was, I think, that I didn’t quite knew what to do after spending so long reaching high only for the things that were dangled: grades and honors. I was never trained to recognize and follow my inner passions. So, without the grades and honors I’d been so trained to meet (and no more, mind you), I was directionless. These, it turns out, did me no real good in the long run, and I didn’t even feel motivated enough to reach for one of the fancy universities I got letters from.

Today, I am a successful freelancing entrepreneur with the usual history of solid full time jobs. I’ve learned to recognize my own worth and capacities, though it’s been a long road. Sometimes I have regretted not attending one of those fancy universities, but more often I feel lucky I got out of the trap of that system. And moreover, I wish my parents had been more available and inclined to support a more “alternative” education for us, such as unschooling.

There are some popular alternative schooling philosophies and methods that veer steeply away from the standardized bell-driven options most of us grew up in. Montessori and Waldorf are the most popular, and I have a special fondness for the Sudbury Model which in my opinion is the closest to unschooling that I've found.

From what I’ve seen in the children of friends who practice unschooling (which serves to embrace children as full individuals who not only have an unquenchable thirst for learning, but when given the freedom to succeed fully, do so and in ways that leave them more motivated), the “un”-model supports us to be more engaged in our own process and in the world around us. This isn’t home schooling. There are no set schedules or exams. No rigid requirements. There is freedom, life learning that applies to experience, and a big hardy sense of self!

Though I don’t have children myself, I plan on it. Learning what I have, traditional schools will certainly be my last choice for whoever I am blessed to mother in the future. I think the hearts and minds who look to us while becoming the future deserve more than being trained to sit in rows and respond to bells, so I’ll be giving my little ones more, time and financial resources willing. I think this recent Huffington Post article on unschooling is an easy starting place for those unfamiliar with the approach.

What was your school experience, and how do you support your children’s traditional, alternative or non-modeled educations? Do you think our current systems of education are good enough for our kids, for our world? Let’s get more conversation going on the topic and help us all to better understand the choices we have.


A few more links for extra reading on unschooling (post-publish) ~ HP, 10/3/11

Unschooling: A Natural Way to Learn by Carisa Brewster for Portland Family

Radical Unschooling, the official site of Sandra Dodd with lots of links and resources

The Natural Child Project for all things natural parenting and a look at The Unschooling Unmanual