I want to thank everyone for their comments on my post about homeschool. After reading them, I wanted to elaborate a little bit more on the subject. Well, not so much on why we’re leaning toward homeschool, but rather why we’re leaning away from public and private schools.
In my last post, I listed several reasons we don’t like regular school: homework (busywork), focus on grades over true learning, subject overload (too much at once), bad influences (from both material and people), and politics. In this post, I will go into more detail on the issue of the subject matter taught in schools. I’ll also try to define what a “good” education is and is not – whether I’m accurate or not is debatable. :)
Warning: This post becomes quite a rant about our current education system, so prepare for some negative and critical perspectives on my part.
Problems with schools
Both Jen and I went to public schools, and looking back, are very dissatisfied with the quality of our education. I don’t want to sound ungrateful, because we had some good experiences, especially socially, but we feel that much of school was a waste of our time, and a very inefficient way to learn. I’m not talking only about primary or secondary education, but even and especially up through college, where only one or two classes in our entire curriculum applied directly to what we intended to study!
I think it’s important to be well-rounded, and be able to converse intelligently on a number of subjects. But even with Bachelor’s degrees, Jen and I still feel completely inadequate in many areas, including subjects that we were taught in school, and passed tests on.
The problem is, we memorize facts, pass the test, and then forget what we learned. Very few things we “learn” in school really stick! What is the reason for this? It’s that the knowledge we’re gaining is at that time irrelevant for us. The adage “use it or lose it” applies well here.
How will I ever use this? And Cheating?
I think the question kids often ask in school really is valid and we should pay attention to it – “Why do I have to learn this?” or “How am I ever going to use this in my life?” Even if kids will use what they’re learning “some day”, if they don’t use it now, they’re going to forget and have to re-learn it again when they need it! At least that’s what happened to Jen and me. How about you? How much do you remember from what you learned in school about history, government and politics, math, science, and other subjects?
To further my rant and give an example from my own life, I want to ask – what’s the point of teaching kids algebra or calculus unless they’re going into a career where it’s used? How often do you use even basic algebra in your daily life? I’m a computer programmer, and I don’t even use it!!
Actually, I had to use it once (in over 7 years of programming), and had long forgotten how to solve that type of equation because I never have to. After trying to Google an answer to no avail, I e-mailed the smartest math whiz I know, my sister, who solved the problem for me in a matter of minutes. In school, that would be called “cheating”. That’s ridiculous! It’s utilizing your resources effectively – the very skill that is needed and often lacking to live successfully in the world. Isn’t it sad that schools discourage that? It’s not possible or practical to know it all ourselves. Maybe they teach it because it’s a good exercise for the brain?
In school, I had to take classes clear up past Calculus II, and learned differential equations (and passed my tests without cheating) and a whole bunch of things that I now have no idea what they even are now, even less how to solve a problem. Is that because I’m a poor learner? Maybe math isn’t my thing, or I wasn’t interested enough to keep the information in my brain. But I think the main reason is that I have never had use for such knowledge in my life. Sure, it would be “nice” (I guess) if I still remembered how to do that stuff, but I don’t have a photographic memory, and I’d rather spend my time re-learning things that are actually useful to me today.
How much of what you learned in school has been of use to you in your daily life? (Or even ever in your lifetime?) How much time have you spent learning things that you have forgotten?
I’m not necessarily saying that we shouldn’t learn anything unless it’s important and we’re going to use it right away. But I think too much effort is spent in school trying to get kids to learn specific things to pass specific tests, rather than learning simply for the love of it, or to better ourselves, or be able to contribute more to the world around us. The focus seems so much on facts and so little on application and relevance.
Is School Really That Important?
One of the main reasons people think school is important is so they can get a degree, so they can get a job, so that they can support their family. I have since learned that a job is not required to support a family (there are many ways to make money), and that many people who have been very successful in many areas of life actually dropped out of college, high school, or even elementary school!
Some famous examples of those who didn’t complete formal schooling, or dropped out somewhere, but were still successful include: Thomas Edison, Albert Einstein, Christopher Columbus, Theodore Roosevelt, John F. Kennedy, Winston Churchill, Benjamin Franklin, George Washington, Abraham Lincoln, Walt Disney, Henry Ford, Bill Gates (Microsoft), Steve Jobs (Apple), Michael Dell (Dell computers), Warren Buffet (Billionaire investor), Ray Kroc (McDonald’s), David Neeleman (Jet Blue), Colonel Harlan Sanders (KFC), Dave Thomas (Wendy’s), Joseph Smith (The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Mormon)), Jane Austen, William Shakespeare, Charles Dickens, Mark Twain, Hans Christian Andersen, Robert Frost, John Glenn, Peter Jennings, Frank Lloyd Wright, Orville & Wilbur Wright, Rush Limbaugh, Steven Spielberg, Julie Andrews, Sean Connery, George Gershwin, Louis Armstrong, Ella Fitzgerald, Frank Sinatra, and hundreds more. (See http://www.collegedropoutshalloffame.com).
Obviously, success isn’t all about money and career. But the list above shows that school and degrees aren’t required to get a good education, provide for your family, or to be successful in life, however you define that. And think of all the people who would make the list, but who just aren’t famous or rich! Obviously, there are people who drop out who become losers and don’t make anything of themselves. I think they also need something besides school to get them on the right track. They need the kind of education that our current school system can’t provide.
At the risk of offending people (if I haven’t already), I will say that I think that many of the keys to being truly successful in life really aren’t taught well in school – things such as faith and determination, leadership and working well with others (they give you practice but little instruction), financial literacy (including business, real estate, and investing), emotional intelligence or self-understanding, and they completely leave out God (just because a few people don’t believe in him), which is the foundation for everything and almost every society since the world began. How can that possibly be a complete education?
So, as bad as this sounds, I don’t really care if my kids graduate from high school, or go to college. To me, that doesn’t automatically equate a good education. I care more about them becoming good and kind people who live according to righteous principles and values, have a firm grasp of language and a thirst for knowledge, financial skills to survive in the world, the ability to humbly follow and lovingly lead others, who learn from their mistakes and have a passion for pressing forward to be the best they can be.
Everyone is different, and my children may want to go a totally different route, and may really thrive in school (I did, in certain subjects – I loved choir and English, for example!), but I plan on giving them the freedom to explore whatever avenues they desire, while giving them the basic knowledge and skills they need to get along well in the world and in the home.
Well-rounded and contributing citizens
I can appreciate the attempt of schools to try to make well-rounded citizens, but a standardized curriculum in which everyone learns exactly the same things, in my opinion just doesn’t tailor enough to the individual talents, passions, and innate abilities of each person to enable them to fully live up to their potential, in the end, limiting how well they can contribute.
Knowledge is power. And we each have a responsibility to be good citizens of the countries where we live, and contribute to society through our studies and efforts. The more we know, the more we can help. But because each individual is so different, why not focus our knowledge and learning on the areas of our greatest potential to contribute? Maybe we don’t know where we excel, or what we’re interested in. Maybe we’re lost and don’t know what will bring us happiness. Or maybe we don’t care, and would rather just go with what everyone else is doing and follow the established system because it’s the easy thing to do. Maybe the standard system really is the best thing for some people. I really don’t know.
But I believe that schools are doing the best they can. There are a lot of influences that have made school what it is and I really don’t know much about them. I also have no idea what a good solution would be for what I believe to be an increasingly flawed system. I just know I don’t want to put my kids in it. :)
Now, I got a lot of things off my chest in this post. Some were well thought through, and others weren’t. I probably sounded very sure of myself and justified in my pessimism. But I also admit that there is so much that I don’t understand. I really have little experience to base my opinions on, and am always interested in learning how others feel about this subject, whether the same or different. So please leave your comments below. Are there problems with my logic, or do you think I’m on the right track? Am I overdoing it in some ways, becoming too extreme? Am I too idealistic, or do you feel the same way? Leave me your thoughts.