I have been thinking about traditional school and standards lately — it’s in the news a lot. I guess as it always is, but perhaps especially because it’s the beginning of another school year.
For example, there is this recent one from the NY Times lauding Massachusetts (LINK) But is it that actually so great?
The article notes:
1. This is just one test of 8th graders
2. There is still a substantial performance gap between rich and poor
3. Schools are improving, but a big part of that is due to “teaching to the test”. So does this even matter?
4. The 95% percentile in Mass is still substantially below Singapore in the chart they report shows. So we are not that great. Perhaps this is showing MA is substantially holding back a substantial group of kids.
My points would be (as a Sudbury Valley School parent and Sudbury School advocate)
1. There are clearly deeper problems causing the rich/poor performance problems
2. What are the graduation rates at these schools?
3. Parents should choose. This is not the way I choose to educate MY KIDS. But we each should choose.
4. I remember doing science projects in elementary school — hermit crabs, measuring rainfall, observing clouds, growing plants. It was vaguely interesting, but I am pretty sure that I was not grasping any greater point trying to be made. If anything, I remember it sorta sucking the interest out of me (being forced to measure rainfall, plant growth etc)
5. My wife happened upon a random science/biology textbook in her house when she was in elementary school (her brothers?) and DEVOURED IT. By herself. On her own terms.
6. Compulsory curriculum is not needed to produce inquisitive scientists, capable adults, upstanding citizens, good people. Sudbury Valley School has been doing it for more than 40 years. There is empirical evidence.
7. There is not a “critical window” for learning science.
8. Childhood is (in my opinion) for free play with direct experience with nature and their surroundings. Sounds like a good breeding ground for scientists. Kids at SVS are fishing, discovering crayfish, etc, etc in the creek. That is priceless vs sitting around in a classroom.
9. Most schools are generally not thinking about who the kids are now, but rather worrying about who they could/should/need to be in the future. Kids are people. Right now.
Is School Enough? (PBS, coming fall 2013)
- Tim Draper — “Why don’t schools teach more doing things?” “We don’t teach history, we teach future.”
- Seth Godin likes to say a resume is kinda useless and it is better to directly focus on projects/accomplishments. Fair enough, but a resume can do that. LINK
- I believe I have also commented here at least a few times about interesting (to me!) projects people could work if they had some spare time. Lots of things to learn and do with respect to solar air heating. And insulation. Both have very active communities on the web and some very good books to learn from as well. Another recent mention was compiling stats on education costs more clearly in each state to expand on the work the Cato Institute has done. google: “How Transparent Is Your State’s Department of Education?”
The problem with 180 days of school is that 180 days is 36 full weeks (180/5…. when subtracting school vacation weeks and holidays) so that means 16 weeks are left. And I don’t have 16 weeks of vacation time!
And family with 2 working parents (or single parents) are well aware of this. Heck, even families with a stay-at-home-parent are often aware of it.
Options for pre-teens:
- screens (tv, computer, video games) or other at-home fun.
- camps (of which there are many types… day, overnight, weekday overnight, general, special topic/interest or a 1/2-1/2 mix with general)
- unorganized neighborhood fun (rare these day)
- organized neighborhood fun/kid-watching coops
- sports leagues, bands, orchestras, lessons (dance, music, martial arts) etc etc etc
- neighborhood pool coop/pool club
Many of these still require a parent around for either transport (typical camps are 9-4 unless you do pre and/or after care for example) and you can’t drop a kid at most pools unless they are at least 12.
Just saying. It’s very tricky to work this out. Even for parents who are lucky enough to a) be married and b) have flexible work schedules
In some European countries it is a little better since they have less summer vacation. But they often make up for it with more time off during the school year. 2 weeks off at 3 different times plus random days off) = 7 weeks off vs our 5 weeks (in Massachusetts, USA)
1- columbus day
2- thanksgiving thu and fri
10- winter break – 2 weeks
1- mlk day
5- feb vaca week
5- april vaca week
1- memorial day
The post linked here talks about the types of fear we have in discussing change in schooling:
The problem I have with this is that it I think we can do quite well by simply living by example. Yes, there is even fear in this. But it doesn’t need to go the next level and be a movement like “Occupy”. We can just choose alternative options for our kids — homeschooling, Sudbury or other democratic schools, Montessori, Waldorf, etc. Others will see this and it will gradually build.
The problem with this is… parents need real choice for school for their kids without the burden of worrying about $$/tuition. I don’t think vouchers will work, because there will always be strings attached for assessment/testing and many parents don’t want that. Better to head in the direction of more local control.
Maybe ideally it would be more like college in the US. Where most people pay mostly out of pocket, but there is need-based aid available.
That way, property taxes could go way down (since in many areas, half goes to the public schools), and people would be free to use that extra money saved on school. So it would be close to “tax neutral”. And people without kids would not be penalized.
I am sure I am over-simplifying because there are lots and lots of people who work in education–teachers, administrators, textbook writers, and on and on–and many will resist because it will impact their livelihood directly. That’s understandable.
“Over four years of HSSSE survey administrations, student responses have been very consistent regarding boredom. In a pool of 275,925 students who responded to this question from 2006 to 2009, 65% reported being bored at least every day in class in high school; 49% are bored every day and 16% are bored every class. Only 2% reported never being bored.”
“More than one out of four students (27%) have been picked on or bullied either “Sometimes” or “Often”; approximately one in five students (20%) have picked on or bullied other students either “Sometimes” or “Often.””
“The most pervasive theme in the student responses to Question 35 is that there is no point to taking surveys like this. Students feel that their ideas don’t matter, nobody in school listens to students, no action will be taken based on the responses to the survey, and there are too many surveys administered to students.”
From the 2009 report
A great post from Maria West:
“Today I was at Sudbury Valley, and all around were flowers, a lilac bush so large and loaded with blossoms it seemed unreal, large vases of flowers in the kitchen and in another of the rooms, forsythia bushes loosing their blossoms and growing their leaves. I take back my comment about beautiful materials missing from that environment as opposed to a Reggio inspired space. Beauty is everywhere at Sudbury Valley. The bathroom curtains are handmade of gorgeous prints. The landscape and the buildings are beautifully maintained. The property backs up to acres and acres of wooded conservation land, which by rights the children can explore. Light pours into every room, the art room not least of the sunlit spaces, as well as the office and the kitchen and the sitting rooms. There is art by children as well as famous artists framed and hung all along the walls. The place reeks of beauty. I am not sure if that is highlighted in the many volumes of Sudbury Valley literature. It is clearly evident to any visitor, and must seep into the consciousness of any kid.”
LINK: Flowers on the table and delicious food, take 2
Math. As a society we worship it, hate it, and fear it. In our schools we force kids to study it (or pretend to study it) for thousands of hours and then we wail about how little they learn. Here, now, are reports from “unschoolers” that tell a different story. Math is fun; math is easily and naturally learned as a tool when needed; and kids who want to go to a competitive college can learn SAT (or ACT) math in 30 hours or less, even if they have never previously done any formal math study.
Read the article here
“[D]irect soliciting of fascinating adults is compatible with the unschooling (and, generally, homeschooling) philosophy of “learning from the world” and ignoring arbitrary age barriers. Why, then, do so few teens attempt it?” LINK
Basically, my sense is poking around in internships and such is never going to work out, but if you are really obsessed with something, you can probably just dive right in. That might mean some advanced schooling or mentorship. But it may not. Just depends.
- “The Loneliness of the Information-Age Learner: Students’ Ability to Pursue Knowledge as it Relates to a School’s Size” (from: Reflections on the Sudbury School concept (1999) page 219-228 (excerpt: “Nor was it realistic to assume, back in the late 1960′s and during the 70′s and 80′s, that there would be lots of opportunity in the outside community for our students to move in and out of learning situations… Use of outside resources was harder in reality than we had pictured in theory…” (p 220-1)
- John Taylor Gatto often talks about how he was able to line up internships/apprenticeships/mentorships/coops for many of his students — but I don’t see how this is widely possible. Maybe I am wrong.
- “Where then is the dividing line between childhood and adulthood? The question appears to be even more obscure…” (A New Look at Schools – Page 38)
When I arrive with A at Sudbury Valley School, I often have try to convince him to put on a jacket before we walk to the school from the parking lot. Depending on the day, it’s a tough sell. But see, the thing is… I can’t really blame him. Logically this happens primarily on those border-line days where I myself wouldn’t necessarily see a need to wear a coat, so why should he? But still… usually my thinking is… yes, but later maybe he’ll wish he had one! But 1) if that turns out to be the case, and he cares, then surely he won’t be so casual about passing on the jacket offer in the future! And 2) as we walk to the school building on days like this (usually in the late fall or late winter) one often sees about 1.2 million other kids who are wearing even LESS clothing than A, or, if it’s a rainy day… out in the rain completely soaked, but loving it. Obviously the kids aren’t exactly suffering from their (chosen) lack out outerwear.
In other words, Time to get over it… the jacket is MY issue, not his.
Kids People learn fast, so if he needs a jacket, he certainly knows how this works.
And it gets better… on days when it is REALLY REALLY cold, the school has a strict policy of the under-8 kids needing to check in with a staff member before going out and the kids know it because there is a huge sign on the front door… and anytime there is a sign on the front door A of course asks “what does that sign say?” These are the days when basically no one in their right mind goes outside anyway, but it’s a good policy, and of course, like all other school rules/laws/policies, it’s one the School Meeting (think… New England-style Town Meeting) came up with. (Consent of the governed!)
I mean, how awesome is THAT?! This place just makes sense.
“This Commission on Mental Health laid out a federal plan that could subject all children to mental health screening in school and during routine physical exams. The clear plan is to use the public schools to subject all children to mental examinations, forcing millions of kids to undergo psychiatric screening whether their parents consent or not.” — Phyllis Schlafly