What test to teach to?

One can’t fault the teachers since they’re being evaluated in part on how well their students score on these tests. But could there be clearer evidence that the point of schooling is to take tests? That test preparation, more than anything else — creativity, social skills, general knowledge, critical thinking, ethics — is what drives lesson plans? This is from an article called “Michigan teachers scramble to create lesson plans, now that MEAP test is back on“:

After the Michigan Legislature decided in June to throw out the Smarter Balanced test for next school year, educators are now scrambling to prepare lesson plans geared toward the MEAP. The result: A lot of teacher uncertainty about what they should emphasize in the classroom.

Teachers do not know what to teach unless they know which test to teach to. And this is not even a secret; they say so outright.


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What to honor

Many devoted teachers love their students and daily make the best — and then some — of an otherwise bad situation. Let’s thank and honor those teachers, bless them, but please let’s do it without glorifying the bad situation.

(And what might a bad situation be? Any school where, for example, the students don’t want to be there, where students and teachers tend to get on each other’s nerves and they can’t wait to go home, where students are not receiving the supports they need, where teachers are not receiving the supports they need, where either students or teachers dread going and celebrate the days they don’t have to go, where teachers have to follow a plan [and make their students follow a plan] that they know is wrong for their students, where students who are anxious or worse in a school setting have to be there anyhow because there’s noplace else to put them for the day, no better school or daycare or home arrangement.)

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Homeschoolers’ fight against common core is misguided

Once in Home Education Magazine (Nov-Dec 2012), Mark Hegener asked, “What does homeschooling gain by critiquing schooling?” That thought helps me to focus my energy. And perhaps it is one of the ideas that led me from my initial interest in understanding and taking a stance about the Common Core State Standards — whether to fight or support them — to my current position, which is that it’s not my battle. Others may fight the good fight to improve public education for all, and I admire them for it. But as time goes on, I’m finding my self more and more in agreement with John Holt and others who concluded that an individual approach to changing education, family by family, is perhaps more helpful and effective than large-scale reform efforts.

My position now is that the fight against Common Core State Standards (CCSS), while arising from noble intentions, is misguided and does not get anywhere near the heart of what’s wrong with compulsory education.

Before there was CCSS, kids had to go to school whether they wanted to or not, whether their parents wanted them to or not, whether it was even good for them or not. Once the students were enrolled, schools and families had to do everything the schools told them to, daily, by force of law. The only out was to homeschool (and this was not even possible, legally, until around the 1980s or later).

After CCSS, kids have to go to school whether they want to or not, whether their parents want them to or not, whether it is even good for them or not. Once the students are enrolled, schools and families have to do everything the schools tell them to, daily, by force of law. The only out is to homeschool.

That’s what wrong with public education. The rest (which exact curriculum is presented, whether students are told about the electoral college in fourth grade or fifth, which books are read, and under which standards system) is just icing, and building coalitions and blogs and groups and boycotts over changing the color of the icing isn’t going to do a thing to change the nature of the cake.

Posted in Common Core, Education, Homework, Learning, Non-schooling, Public school, School, Unschooling | Tagged , , , , , , , | 6 Comments

School from infancy

The writer of this blog post, “Preschool Is the New School” (at the blog The No-School Kids: A Homeschool Retrospective), listens to her friend and another woman talk about their childcare arrangements and says:

School? He’s not quite three years old yet! I mean, he does go to Preschool, but is the shorthand for preschool just school now? I don’t mean to dwell in semantics, but it surprised me.


I’ve been surprised this year, spending time with this particular friend, just how immediately one has to figure out the school thing. The school thing starts right out the gate, really. It starts with Preschool. And if you opt out of it, you’ll be chatting with some mom at the tire-swing at the park, explaining that.

I felt that way, too, when DS was a tot. I learned that preschool was just a given — just as much as kindergarten — no matter what the parents’ working arrangements were. That surprised me, and I started to feel very odd for being surprised about that! Because nobody else was.

I also find it scary. Because many of us, when discussing classroom-less learning after age five, often start by saying things like, “You know how little kids learn how to walk and talk and name colors and eat and sing and count and play at home for their first five years, without teachers or school? And they do just fine?” Well, now, a lot of people don’t know any such thing. Maybe most people don’t know any such thing. They’ve never experienced that.

Posted in Early learning, Education, Freedom, Home, Homeschool, Learning, Non-schooling, Parenting, Preschool, School | Tagged , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Behavior training: Do people really need 13 years of practice in paying attention?

Is it really necessary to make kids spend six or more hours a day, five days a week, for 13 years, in a place they don’t want to be, listening to things they don’t want to listen to, and doing stuff they don’t want to do just because more powerful people are telling them to do it? Why? Why must we do school the way we do?

Two reasons people cite, which seem to go together, deal with honing attention and doing unpleasant things. Children need to learn how to focus and pay attention to the right things and not be distracted by the wrong things, and they need to learn how to make themselves do unpleasant or boring things, such as sit still and be quiet and do worksheets and memorize things and get up early and show up every day when they don’t want to. In short, it’s a form of behavioral and attention training. I think it is indeed valuable to be able to ignore distractions, do stuff you don’t want to do sometimes, and sit quietly and not disturb people while you are confused and/or bored out of your skull. But do people really need to practice these skills for six hours a day, five days a week, throughout their entire childhood? I have to say, that seems excessive.

After 13 or more years of such practice, are most adults really good at doing those things — sitting quietly while bored, paying attention to uninteresting things, following instruction without questioning, raising their hand to ask permission in front of their peers to use the bathroom or get a drink, and doing jobs day after day that they didn’t choose, didn’t willingly apply or interview for, and are not allowed to quit by force of law?

I don’t think most adults are actually very good at doing those things, really, so I question whether their 13 years of childhood practice helped them at all. Still, certainly at least some adults are good at doing things like that. So for them, was it their 13 years of practice in school that made them so good at doing them? Could they possibly have honed those same skills with a little less practice? Or (dare we ask) would people be even better able to focus on boring things as adults, and more willing to do unpleasant things, if they had not been forced to do it so much throughout their entire childhood?

– – –

Another reason people give for the 13 years of sitting in classrooms and following orders and so on that this is the best way to teach young people how to read and write and calculate and do science experiments and learn history and geography and other potentially fascinating subjects they never, ever could have encountered anywhere else. Those people, I submit, know very little about how people actually learn things. Also, they’re always complaining about how after 13 years of public schooling (plus college), they still don’t know how to help their own fourth-graders with their homework, so how helpful could all of that instruction have been? But academic learning is a slightly different topic from the behavioral/attention one, so I will leave it for now.

Posted in Attention, Behavior, Education, Homeschool, Learning, Non-schooling, Public school, School, Work | Tagged , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Unschooling principles

Here is a brief comment I made on a post somewhere. The post was about what actions might or might not be in keeping with unschooling principles:

Who decides what unschooling principles are? People do. People doing things and discussing them and naming them. People making reference to early ideas, such as those from John Holt and others; people making reference to popular articles that a lot of people have read and accepted as telling certain truths; people writing new articles that explain things maybe in a new or clearer light; people adding nuances; people clarifying boundaries (or erasing them, or moving them, or drawing them more firmly and in boldface).

I hope people carry on the discussion.

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“Weirdo homeschooler. EXECUTIVE homeschooler.”

Homeschooling sometimes reminds me of Eddie Izzard. This in particular:

Eddie Izzard: Weirdo or Executive Transvestite? (on YouTube)

Recently I read two books by “accidental homeschoolers” (by which I mean, they never intended to homeschool and in fact they are tremendous supporters of public education, but for one reason or another, they decided to try it) describing their homeschooling experience. Both of them began by going on at great length — chapters! — describing all the weirdest weirdo stereotypes they could, partly I think as a way of bulking up their books by poking fun at easy targets, but also I think as a way to make it extra clear that “we’re not like THEM! Oh no! Make no mistake! We may be homeschooling right now, but we are NORMAL! Not like THEM!”

Drove me nuts. I wanted to ask them: Are you homeschooling? Does your child refrain from sitting in a classroom? Then sister, in this culture, you’re as weird as any of them. The dress-wearing, God-fearing, spank-your-twelve-babies ones, the “radical, no-rules” unschoolers who have shocked you by breastfeeding multiple children before your eyes in public, all of them. I mean us. Your family and your kids may look plain old middle-class normal, but they aren’t in school, and that — to the vast majority — is STRANGE and even THREATENING. In one important way, many people consider your family strange and threatening. Accept that. Embrace your crazy extended non-schooling kinfolk. You don’t have to like or agree with them, and you can keep explaining your special situation and point of view and how unique and not-like-them you are till you’re blue in the face, but you must recognize that you are now standing with them outside the school walls. In the majority’s eyes, you are now on their side. So stop edging away from them. Don’t apologize for standing so close to them. Embrace them. Like it or not, in this one important way, you are now one of them.

That’s what I wanted to tell those authors. (It’s what I often remind myself.)

Posted in Homeschool, Non-schooling, School, Unschooling | Tagged , , , | 3 Comments