As the new school year recently started, a healthy serving of stormy controversy came with it. Foremost among matters of contention was in-school mask requirements for students. School board meetings were flooded with angry parents demanding that their children be protected from disease by a mask mandate. School board meetings were also flooded with angry parents demanding that their children not be subjected to several hours of continuous mask-wearing. Both sets of parents were driven by concern for the well being of their children. Both sets were also fearful of the consequences should their desired outcome not be met. The school year is almost two months in, in some cases, yet these battles continue to rage as officials make decisions affecting the lives of everyone involved with no possibility of satisfaction over the outcome.
While this particular issue takes prime place on the list of disagreements, it is by no means the only issue of debate. Critical Race Theory (CRT), Common Core Standards, and whether or not to open schools in-person at all are among the long list of topics about which large groups of parents attempt to sway the decisions of school boards. Although the intense emotion that accompanies these topics has made them a headline topic in recent news, it is something that has long lingered below the surface rising to the top: trying to devise a system that educates everyone, results in a system that effectively meets the needs of no one.
The topic of educational standards is a good example of this. When educating large groups of children in what are essentially batches, there has to be some sort of scheme to decide what is taught and when it is taught. It is a method of organization—no more, no less. Yet the concept of standards has morphed into an idea that achievement of these fairly arbitrary requirements is somehow tied to a child’s wellbeing.
This is simply not true. Is it really a failure for a child to learn long division in sixth grade instead of fourth grade? Does it make sense to spend hours trying to pound the names of all of the colors into the mind of a four-year-old when the same child could learn the material in fifteen minutes at age six? This educational myth has become so ingrained that even many homeschooling families wrap their child’s entire educational experience around standards-based curriculums while sacrificing the precious opportunity to provide a customized education geared towards a child’s unique needs, interests, and goals.
It’s Not Just About Education
Decades of acclimation to a government-run education system have promoted the delusion that the only way to solve the problems is to give more power to the very system that caused, and continues to perpetuate, the problems. Generally, this takes the form of throwing more funding at bad ideas and allowing the system more intrusion into the lives of children. For example, some argue for state-provided PreK programs and two years of state-funded community college rather than to examine why the current 13 years of schooling fails to properly equip kids for success.
When societal responsibilities are handed over to the government to fulfill, the resulting programs become entrenched with powerful interests that have ulterior motives. Education is no different. Bureaucrats, unions, private contractors, and businesses that thrive by selling products and services to the government all have a vested interest in seeing these institutions continue precisely as they are, and that interest often has nothing to do with the education of children.
Fallacies Perpetuate Government Schooling
It is time to think outside of the box. Private schools and homeschooling are an important part of the answer but are often met with apprehension. Perhaps this is because those ideas are thought of within very narrow terms.
“Private school tuition is too expensive for my family to afford.” But if the government is going to be funding education anyway, perhaps school choice initiatives are the answer? Each child receives funding for their education but how that money is spent is determined by the parents, whether it be government-run school, private school, charter schools, private tutors, or homeschooling. This is not necessarily the best solution–governments generally do not distribute money without a plethora of strings attached–but it is better than the current system. School choice would be a tremendous equalizer for underprivileged children currently stuck in underperforming school districts with no incentive to improve.
“I would love to home school but I don’t feel like I’m smart enough to do that.” The largest logical gap in this fear is that the government education that a parent has received is not sufficient to impart that same government education to their children. If the parent’s education is so lacking, why would they want that very same education for their children? Would a high school diploma not equip a parent to teach their third-grader about the solar system? This line of thought also presupposes that the parent would be 100% responsible for imparting all of the knowledge that their child receives. In reality, books, internet resources, free online educational academies, and private tutors and classes may help homeschooled children learn a multitude of specialized disciplines.
“We simply cannot homeschool. We need two incomes.” This is a fact of life for many and each family must determine what financial sacrifices they are willing and able to make. Sometimes, however, it is simply a matter of creative thinking. In one example, a nurse and a software designer homeschool their children. He takes weekend shifts at the hospital while she works 9 – 5 during the week. They have time together as a family every evening. In a second example, two college professors homeschool their children. One lectures at the university in the morning and supervises the children in the afternoon. The other supervises the children in the morning and lectures in the afternoon. Brainstorming creative schedules such as these might be helpful.
“What about socialization?” Do children actually receive meaningful social interaction at school? It is questionable as to whether isolating children among their peers while setting up an adversarial relationship with a handful of adults is in any way healthy social interaction. The majority of the school day is spent seated behind desks doing written assignments. Recess and free play have taken a backseat to busywork and many schools even require silence during the short lunch breaks that are offered. On the other hand, the idea that homeschooled children are isolated at home without seeing any other children is a myth. Many are involved with co-ops and groups that provide activities for children. It has been suggested that “world schooling” might be a better description of what actually happens, as children interact with any number of people of various ages in a variety of roles—museum director, veterinarian, grocery store cashier, neighbors, and extended family, for example.
Focusing on Solutions
The idea that parents, unless they are wealthy or well-connected, are trapped into government schooling can become a form of learned helplessness. Some may have no other options but for others, ready to rid themselves of government schools, there are infinite creative possibilities.
A number of parents can pool resources to hire a teacher to “homeschool” their children as a group. Piecing together private tutors, online resources, co-ops, group classes, and private lessons can round out parent-provided instruction to create a full curriculum. If there is no affordable private school in the area, then parents can come together to start a small, community school. There are self-directed learning methods that are far superior to the tightly restricted boxes into which children are shoved by the current powers-that-be.
Before steps can be taken to set children free from the constraining nature of the current system, the problems and shortcomings must first be recognized for what they are. After that, it is simply a matter of taking back the power and making children a priority.