For a long time I've been troubled by the way we educate children in this country - so much so that I pulled my own kid out of school for kindergarten and sixth grade. I've never regretted either of those decisions, even though my attempts at homeschooling were profoundly flawed at best. My kid never spent a single day in public middle school, and that, to me, is worth everything.
Our educational system -- and here, I mean to include both private and public schools as a whole -- has, for the most part, devolved into a means of warehousing children and training them to take tests inexpensively and with a minimum of fuss. Don't get me wrong -- I think teachers are grossly underpaid considering the importance of the work they do, and they need a whole lot more support from parents, school administrators, and, well, everybody. But most teachers, like most Americans, have bought into an outdated educational model that is better suited for training a productive, well-conditioned, compliant workforce than actually raising up an innovative, inspired citizenry that can solve this gargantuan mess we're so busy making for them to clean up.
Which is why I'm happy to recommend Susan Engel's wonderful editorial appearing in today's New York Times. Engel looks at a project that allowed high school kids to develop their own curriculum, with a minimum of guidance. The results are encouraging, to say the least.
Kids aren't fungible, one-size-fits-all workers-in-training. They're creative, inspiring, thoroughly exasperating little boogers that do their best when they're given boundaries instead of rules; guidance instead of instructions; discipline instead of punishment; and above all, unconditional love. Inconvenient? Yup. But who said this stuff was supposed to be easy?
Give children permission and support to fly, and fly they will; usually in quite the opposite direction of where we pointed them. But then, that's where the best new ideas are usually found.