Our modern school system leaves much to be desired in terms of tangible results. I know teachers work very hard to instill the necessary lessons in our children today, and I appreciate the work they do. But whether it’s public, private or parochial school, somehow the children come away little improved and at times even worse for the wear. It is my belief that not only is the system flawed, but parents need to be more involved in the education of their children.
Being fortunate enough to be homeschooled for the majority of my school years, I had the unique opportunity to learn in ways that I enjoyed, and whether I liked it or not, my parents were directly involved in my education. My mother taught me that learning is not a frightening experience, but rather an enjoyable and empowering one. Reading is an ability to be honed and treasured. Each new polysyllabic word was a challenge to face confidently, not an undefeatable foe to hide from. Consequently, my face was in a book almost constantly, satisfying my voracious appetite for the written word. By age eight, I could read at a level surpassing that of a twelfth grade graduate. I do not mention this as a boast of my nascent reading ability; I mention it as a testament to what can be achieved with a hungry young mind when it is shaped and guided by prudent care, taking into consideration the strengths and weaknesses of the individual child.
Conversely, I struggled with math. Not the basic arithmetic, but algebra and other higher branches of mathematics. Contumaciously, I argued that I would never need this knowledge, so why waste time learning it? That did not faze my mother, who simply stated that I would learn it or I would not graduate.
My opportunity to learn in this manner came to me through misfortune. My health was so delicate during my early years in public school that I spent two months of first grade in the hospital. Were it not for my mother bringing my schoolwork to me from my teacher and my fledgling commitment to finishing all of it, I would not have been passed to the next grade. But I had already acquired a love of learning from my mother, even before my homeschooling began.
My mother read to me from infancy and taught me to read and write by age four. My experience proves the truth of Emilie Buchwald’s words: “Children are made readers on the laps of their parents.” From a very early age, I had learned that books were a portal to wonderful new worlds, and that learning was an experience to be sought after.
After my hospital stay, I made the casual suggestion that “if I was going to be doing my schoolwork at home, why didn’t I just always do it at home?” That got my mother thinking. She did her research, wrote to the Board of Education, and got to work on a curriculum. That autumn, school was in session – at home.
My mother found hands-on methods to teach mathematics, reading lists that kept me several levels ahead, challenging spelling tests, and the like. My father, a history buff, made historical documentaries and movies required viewing, a move that cultivated in me a love for history and classic cinema as I grew older. Music appreciation also fell within my father’s scope of interests – an eclectic music lover and a fan of classical composers, he exposed my sister and I to the works of Mozart, Beethoven, Bach, Wagner, and more.
With my experience of these agreeable lessons, I found it difficult to understand when my friends would complain about school, required reading, and homework. As children, we did not discuss the disparity of the methods used to teach us. We were too busy being children to ponder it deeply. But as an adult, conversing with my husband – he attended public school- about our respective experiences in learning, I find that my experience is a rare one. Others confirm this. Those that enjoy reading as adults seem to have found pleasure in reading not because of their schooling, but despite it. To many, learning is something to be feared and dreaded, a tedious, unrewarding process. What’s wrong with this picture?
It is my belief that a great part of the blame is connected with a system that uses punishment as a motivator. Rather than correlating learning with a rewards, learning is forced in an “or else” manner by the school systems and parents. Because schools follow a homogenous lesson plan, those that do not conform often fall through the cracks, at best earning disappointing grades, at worst failing; either way not enjoying the learning experience. Each human child is an individual, with strengths and weaknesses unique to that person. In the eyes of a school board, it would take too much time, effort and funding to tailor a lesson plan to each individual child. Therefore we end up with a culture where people are termed “educated” if they have a diploma, yet they cannot spell simple words or comfortably read and comprehend a piece of classic literature. Instead of fostering a love of learning that benefits the child and society, we push the child through the system to make room for next year’s class. This short-sighted approach to education has produced a generation of educated simpletons, many of whom can’t fill out a form properly if their life depended on it, and who read tabloids and Cliffs Notes in place of literature, dependent on calculators and spell-checker.
But the blame cannot be left solely at the feet of the Board of Education. Parents also must be involved, taking into account their child’s unique personality and helping them make the most of the education they receive at school, realizing that their support or lack thereof can make or break the academic future of the child. A particularly bright child may actually be bored at school, needing more intense intellectual stimulation, and acting out as a result of this frustration.
It’s never too late to learn. Embrace learning and teach your children to do the same. You will discover new worlds, filled with wonders beyond your imagination.