I had a bit of an epiphany yesterday while at work. How public schools are run is just plain weird. I know how that must sound. Here I am a product of the public school system. I was trained to be public school teacher and have been one for the past 18 years. Why this epiphany now?
It comes down to the fact that I have been home schooling for the past two years. The way it is set up in our house is that we combine home schooling and unschooling. Home schooling is defined as “the education of children at home by their parents”. Unschooling is defined as “an educational method and philosophy that advocates learner-chosen activities as a primary means for learning. While often considered a subset of homeschooling, unschoolers may be as philosophically separate from other homeschoolers as they are from advocates of conventional schooling”.
What this means for us is that I follow all the state mandated educational standards when I create the curriculum that I teach both my children, but the curriculum is geared toward their specific interests and needs using Universal Design for Learning Standards. This is true differentiated instruction.
“In EdSpeak: A Glossary of Education Terms, Phrases, Buzzwords, and Jargon, Diane Ravitch defines differentiating instruction as a form of instruction that seeks to “maximize each student’s growth by recognizing that students have different ways of learning, different interests, and different ways of responding to instruction.” – Differentiated Instruction
My son has told me that he feels he has learned more being in a home school setting than he would have if he had stayed in the public school setting. The environment that we have created at home allows my son’s and my daughter’s needs to be met. This allows them to maximize their growth, because they are not constantly bombarded by the constraints and expectations of a public school setting and all the sensory crap that comes with it.
So, what was this about an epiphany?
As I stated, public schools are weird. It is designed to push through large amounts of children, who have been grouped together based on birth year, using boxed up standardized curriculum with boxed up standardized expectations of outcomes and behavior.
Stand in a straight line! No talking! No fidgeting! Don’t touch the walls! Rush, rush, rush. Test, test, test. Must conform! Must Comply! Must meet standard as dictated by people who don’t know you or your situation. Must complete requirements for things you see no point in and have very little to no interest in. Must do all these things, but you really have no idea why, it is just how it has always been since entering Kindergarten. Also, be social, join a school club, and play sports!!
Then there are the teachers. One person responsible for 30-40 young people. If you are a secondary teacher, that number can be over a hundred or more. Teachers are told they must use differentiated instruction, they must use the canned curriculum, and they must use whatever strategy –de jour the administration or the state has said teachers must learn and use but with limited resources and extra unpaid time.
Um . . . . .
Do you see a problem here?
I understand the need for order. You cannot maintain 30-40 young people without some sort of expected procedure. I understand why a canned curriculum is convenient. A time table is set. Certain concepts have to be covered in a given time period. Everyone is getting access to the same education, right?
Unfortunately, that is not true. A one-sized model, or in this case, one-sized general education setting model actually ends up leaving a lot of kids behind with many falling through the cracks of this system of funneling kids through. It is impossible for one teacher to provide differentiated instruction to everyone when classes are so large, and those who actually get access to it, usually those with IEPs, well, it can be questionable. Is it really quality differentiated instruction? This infographic goes into what differentiation is and what it isn’t.
Get them to graduate! That’s the point! After that they are on their own. Just get them to graduate!
Ya . . . . .
Over the years I have taught Kindergarten through 12th grade and I have heard that many times in one form or another. Just get them to graduate. I for one feel as a teacher that getting a student to graduate is not the end all be all of our profession. What about actually educating these kids? What about actually instilling the love of wonder and the desire to learn instead of shoving standardization down their throats?
Schools are seen as factories and non-educators are mandating reforms that treat students like products, products that can take anywhere from 13 – 16 years to make. Yet, these non-educators in power are not seeing the return on these products as fast as they want and these products are not up to performance standards that they established without any teacher input. Here is the thing, CHILDREN ARE NOT PRODUCTS!!!!! THEY ARE ALSO NOT NUMBERS!!!
Children are living, breathing, emotional beings and each one of them is unique with unique interests and needs.
Sure, public schools get the job done, sort of. According to data gather by GOVERNING from the National Center for Education Statistics, Common Core of Data State Dropout and Graduation Rate Data, “U.S. public high schools recorded a four-year graduation rate of 80 percent for the 2011-12 school year, an all-time high. Graduation rates vary greatly by state and race. Nationwide, black students graduated at a rate of 69 percent; Hispanics graduated at 73 percent; whites graduated at a rate of 86 percent.”
That 80% is considered average and it is what they are calling an “all-time” high as of 2012. What about the other 20% of high school seniors who did not graduate? Again, this is an average. The number actually varies from state to state and varies by race.
My children are still in high school, but if it wasn’t for the option of home schooling, I fear they would have been part of that 20% failure rate by no fault of their own. We didn’t choose home schooling out of some thinking that public school was this horrid thing or for some sort of religious reason. We chose home schooling due to the intolerable environment of the public school setting becoming too much and my children becoming no longer able to cope with it.
SIDE NOTE: Before anyone suggests private school, no, we cannot afford a private school even if we wanted it and the only private school available near us is a private religious school. We are not religious.
My children made it through public school up until middle school. That is when everything began to fall apart. They struggled up until then, but they were making it with a lot of advocacy on my part. I taught in the same elementary school that they both first attended. We were lucky in that regard and it helped immensely. Unfortunately, we were in a small rural community who felt special education was just a babysitting service. Teachers just started trying their best to support students on IEPs, because the special education department pretty much failed at following IEPs and failed helping teachers to make specific accommodations that these students needed to be successful. We could have sued the district for failing to adhere to my son’s IEP and for refusing to put my daughter on an IEP when she was struggling more academically then her brother. We decided to move instead due to my job as a science teacher being cut to less than half-time due to budget cuts.
We tried another school district. My son made it through another year and a half before the special education teacher at the middle school told me that they didn’t know how to help my son. His Agoraphobia and Misophonia were debilitating him so badly that he could no longer attend classes. My son is an independent learner, so this allowed me to continue working. My daughter soon followed her brother in home schooling due to a family trauma. She could no longer handle a full day of school, but she is not an independent learner. This complicated me working. I went from working multiple part-time jobs, to only working one.
Last year she started high school. Things started out okay, attending half-days, but things went spiraling out of control second semester. She ended up in a psychiatric hospital for adolescents. After seven years of trying to get her on an IEP, she finally has one. It took for her to have what we think was a psychotic episode for the school system to finally wake up and see that my daughter had specific needs that they were failing to acknowledge and address simply because she was quiet and not considered a behavioral problem. This was what I was continually told as to why the school system never put her on an IEP. She was an easy person to push through the system. She was a quiet student who didn’t cause problems and who worked her butt off every night trying to meet standard. It was exhausting for her and she ultimately ended up failing and stopped going to classes.
How often does this happen to high school kids around the country? My daughter is autistic, has bipolar, and has multiple learning disabilities that the school failed to address. How often do kids just give up, because the system failed them?
Here we are, in another new school district, in our third year of home school/unschooling with both my children in high school attending a Home Link program two half-days a week with a dash of public school services thrown in every weekday morning to cover my daughter’s IEP requirements. This Home Link program requires 25 hours of educational time each week and my children have two additional teachers besides myself. We are three weeks in and so far so good.
Crossing my fingers and knocking on wood that my daughter will graduate high school in 2019 and my son will graduate high school in 2020. These next four years are going to be tough. With my family responsibilities, I am only able to work maybe a few times a month as a substitute teacher. Our income is limited. I have to do this for the mental and emotional well-being of my children, but not everyone can do this, though. Most people can’t.
Eighteen years ago I became a teacher. As an undergraduate, we were told then that the education system was archaic and broken. After all these years as a certified professional teacher, I can say that the system is still archaic and broken. The non-educators in charge have only tried to apply Band-Aids to a situation they know nothing about and have systematically stripped the power of teachers to do anything about it on their end.
Public school is weird and I have no answers.
I am going to end with a song by Hank Green called, “This isn’t Hogwarts! A Harry Potter Song”. It seems fitting.