Thursday, April 28, 2011


I have all kinds of thoughts swirling around in my brain.  I've seen and read several different articles in the past week or so about education, the state of education and other such things.  So, of course this has me thinking about Boo.  About what we want for him and how we can give him the education he deserves.
I've always thought public school was OK.  Not stellar mind you, but good enough.  I think a lot of this has to do with my own experiences.

When we lived in Kansas, I went to two different alternative (I guess you'd call them magnet schools now) schools in the district.  I don't know if Mom and Dad had to pay any more to send me and my brother there instead of the "regular" public school closest to us.  That doesn't matter.  What matters is that our parents didn't send us to the public school right around the corner, but halfway across the city to something they thought would be better for us.  And it was.  I'm not sure when I would have learned this, but I know eventually I would.
Our first school, Earhart Environmental Complex (I guess I've been doomed to be a liberal tree-hugging hippie from the start?) only went up through grade 6 and then we would have had to go to a normal junior high.  The second school I attended was Isley, and was only 4th through 6th grades.  In both cases, there was a strong push for independent study, even in kindergarten, and an inquiry based approach to learning.  Questions were both asked of and expected to be asked by the students.  We were encouraged to find out things on our own.  Every few months there was some independent or small group project that had to be done on a particular topic.  (I remember two vividly, one was space and Josi and I panted this awesome (and huge) mural with all the planets on it; the other one was Kansas and I made this tote bag with the word "Kansas" on it and a sunflower.)  But, we didn't stay in Kansas until I was in 7th grad and had to move to a different school.  Instead, we moved to Pennsylvania in the middle of my fourth grade year.  Then I was thrust into the above average, but still a traditional public school.  To say it was disorienting would be an understatement!

At both EEC and Isley we weren't issued grades as such.  Sure, we took tests, did projects and had homework (some, but not loads like so many kids get these days) that were collected and corrected.  At EEC we got a week off of school at the end of every quarter and it was spent in parent-teacher-student conferences.  We were given a piece of paper (NCR actually... 3 layers) blocked out into different subject areas and we had to draw a face that represented how we felt about each subject and how we thought we were doing and the like.  Then the teacher would add comments and finally we'd have a conference with our parents, the teacher and ourselves.  I think there was also a time when we would leave the room so the parents and teacher could talk together, but I don't really remember.  In reality, this is much more like most of the "annual reviews" I've ever had in my working life than any report card is, but I digress...  At Isley, I don't remember what the quarterly reports were like, but each week we had a "contract" that we had to draw up and sign between us and the teacher.  We were given minimum requirements, but we could always (and I often did in some areas) add more work that we would strive to get done that week.  Again, this seems more like the way the "real world" of work seems to work.  But... when I got to Valley Forge Elementary, suddenly I had grades.  Sure, I knew what they were, I'd read enough books to know the concept.  But, I just couldn't understand them, or the importance that was placed on them.  (I still don't really....)
Another big difference came to light the first few months that I was at Valley Forge.  I was much more self motivated and could work on things with little guidance from teachers than my counterparts.  This became very apparent in science class.  At the time, the were using a really cool program.  Basically, there were a bunch of different levels, each with a bunch of readings and experiments and tests.  When you tested into a level, you were given a sheet (kinda like a flow chart) of all the parts of the level and you had to do a certain amount before you could move on.  It was just like what I was used to at Isley and EEC.  Well, needless to say, I took to this like a fish to water.  I quickly caught up and then surpassed my classmates.  While most of them had to ask the teacher just about every class what they should be doing, I just looked at my sheet, decided on a task that interested me and dove right in.  I didn't need anyone holding my hand, I'd been taught how to be, and expected to be, independent in my learning.

Is this right for everyone?  Maybe, maybe not.  I know there are a lot of kids out there that need more hand-holding and assistance than others.  But, I can't fathom how teaching a kid how to learn, not just what to learn is a bad thing.  I actually think that a lot of special needs kids would actually benefit from programs like that.  Learning how to ask questions, how to methodically work through a problem no matter if it's English, science, math, history or anything else.  Those problem solving skills and knowing how to ask questions gets you so much further in life than just knowing that Oxygen is the 16th element on the periodic table and that in 1492 is when Columbus "discovered" America.

So, this brings me back to Boo.  I know he's quite bright.  I'm not just saying that because he's my son.  I'm saying that because I've seen the wheels turning in his head and watched him figure things out and grow.  He's got a bigger vocabulary than most 3-year-olds.  He uses much bigger and more complete sentences and can hold real conversations better than some teenagers I know.  He's constantly trying to figure out how things work, taking things apart and trying to put things together.  He's extremely curious.  I want to nurture that, keep it alive and growing in him.
Because for me, my drive to learn and be independent died somewhere around the beginning of high school.  I had learned how to work the system.  I'd learned how to be challenged enough not to be bored stiff, but not so pushed that I had to work all that hard.  My grades could have been much better than they were and I developed a lot of bad habits that I fight even to this day and hold me back and get me in trouble at work.  I do not want this for my son.  I want my son to enjoy learning, to push himself and challenge himself for his whole life, to be the best that he can be, not just "good enough" to get by.

I know I've got 2 years to worry about this and ponder it.  Or maybe one if we decide to do a pre-K kind of program.  But that doesn't mean I haven't been thinking about it... a lot.  I look around at our public schools and remember my experiences in public school and while we may live in a pretty good district, I'm just not sure it's going to be a good fit for Boo.  If he's anything like me or Gak, he's going to be too smart for his own good and push himself just enough to be "good enough".  Also, from some of the reading I've done recently and (I hate to say this...) watching my friends' kids go through their school careers... I worry about what the kids are actually learning.  Some of the things that my friends' kids do and don't know amaze me.  The writing quality of most of them sadden me.  Even the papers that are getting good marks and are almost high school level are full of errors that even I can find, and my spelling stink and don't get me started on the grammar.  And yet they don't get marked off for these things.  Sure, the intent of the writing is awesome and wonderful, but the execution I've seen in a lot of the writings is lacking.  (I'm sorry guys if you're reading this... just calling it how I see it...)
In the fall we went and looked at United Friends School here in town.  I fell in love with it almost immediately.  It reminded me so much of EEC in so many ways.  I still have a bunch of questions (that I've only recently started thinking about such as grading and reporting periods....), but over all it seems like such a great school.  Even if I can only give it to him for a few years, I want to give my boy-o the best foundation I can.  How many times and in how many places do you hear that the foundation is what counts?  Just about everything and everywhere.  So, I have my heart set on this.  Maybe unrealistically so.  It would be such a financial boon just to send Boo to the elementary school down the street.  But I have to ask myself, would we be cheating him out of a really solid foundation?  Would we be doing him a disservice in the long run?  (Not to mention that in Kindergarten at least, we'd still have to have half day daycare more than likely as our district only does half day Kindergarten... I never have understood that having gone full days myself...)

So, this is some of the goop that's been sloshing back and forth in my brain.  Like I said, Gak and I have time to think about this, talk about it and see where Boo seems to fit the best.  But, this is one of those things that I'm just not willing to "wing" at the last minute.  This is too important, because this is someone else's future I'm messing with, not just my own.
Again, I have more questions than answers.

I'm off to catch some sleep before one last work day this week.
So, I bid you peace and high expectations for education.

1 comment:

Chelsea said...

Good luck in your search. I was great at school, but haven't been so great at independence and personal initiative since then. Michael really likes the Sudbury School model, but there aren't very many of them around.