Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Public anti-learning

I had one of those public experiences tonight that always catches me off guard, perhaps because I spend more time with people who share my perspective about learning than those who don't.

I was at the bookstore, looking for some field guides for the boys, when a mother and her two daughters came up behind me.

"Mommy, can I have this clock?" said the younger girl, who was around age 6. She was holding a children's book with a built in analog clock for learning to tell time.

"No, that's too old for you," answered her mother.

I don't know if the woman noticed my jaw drop and my brow furrow in confusion as I glanced at the little girl, but she may have.

"You don't learn time-telling until the end of first grade," the older girl informed her sister.

"But I'll be in first grade!"

"No, you're getting a workbook," said the mother.

"Do I have to have a workbook?" asked the little girl.

"Yes!" answered her sister, obviously well-indoctrinated in school learning theory. "Otherwise you'll forget everything over the summer."

Oh. Dear.

I wish that I were not always so dumbfounded in these situations. I wish I were better able to grasp the opportunity to speak up and provide a different perspective. I'm sure the mother was simply thinking about her budget, and about how she just wanted to get home quickly and put the kids to bed.

She probably was not fully conscious of the message she was sending her daughter: that she was incapable of learning what it was she wanted to learn. That what the school said she should learn was more important than what she was interested in.

It's easy to forget, sometimes, that my perspective on learning as a homeschooler is not the norm. That school is normal in our culture. Most -- not all -- parents do rely on the school to tell them what their child needs when it comes to education.

And so, I'm rarely prepared to say anything helpful. I wish that I'd been able to say something like, "I've found that children learn very efficiently when they're interested in a subject, whatever the level." Or, "My son learned to tell time quite early, and it was so helpful!" Or maybe, "Summer's a great time to learn things that aren't taught in the classroom!"

But instead, I slink away, aghast and dismayed that a parent would not want to help her child learn what she's interested in learning. And I don't help either.

23 comments:

Heather said...

It is so shocking isn't it. I seldom say anything when that occurs just because I hate it when others criticize our learning lifestyle, so unless they ask I stay out of it, though I do pray. :) This is a great post and shows the difference in thinking beautifully--would you mind sharing it on the CU site?

Sherry said...

Excellent post! I have certainly been in this kind of situation many times,as well--it is so sad. It is so obvious to us. We want to scream, "Your squashing your child! Let her learn!"...but we stand by in silence because we know they just don't get it and unfortunately nothing we could say in passing would change that.

Penny said...

I'm not sure that you saying anything would have done any good but I would have felt the same way. :(

Maureen said...

We did both public and home-school with our kids and I will never forget the day I was helping out in my sons 2nd grade classroom. One of the teachers (team-teaching) was criticizing him because he was COLORING the calender they were making as part of an art project/mothers day gift the WRONG WAY!!! Art....wrong???

I almost cried....but didn't say anything, and I regret it to this day.

Amy said...

ooooo, that is such a hard situation to know what to do. It truely is!
I am always at a loss also....
It makes me really sad for the children... it really does!

Lisa said...

Wow!

Tammy said...

That is very hard to hear, and knowing what to say, and how to say it is always difficult too.

We just have to be thankful that we are able to school in the ways that we do, and fortunate enough to know better.

Lift Up Your Hearts said...

Oh! That makes me so sad! :*(

SmallWorld at Home said...

Wow. Indoctrinated is right! I like your last reply the best. If only we could think quickly enough to say such things!

Leanne said...

Hi! I read your blog faithfully and love your perspective on so many things. I love your photos too! I just have to put in a small comment in defense of school. Our children go to the local public school and we've been so blessed to have teachers that are perceptive about what the children are interested in, going so far as to have my children "teach" the class a lesson on something they're into. Yes, they follow the "standards" but in our experience, standards as more like a scaffolding to hold up other things they're learning. They do plenty of exploring diverse topics according to student interest. And we pay attention at home to what "bent" our children have and try to nurture that along as well. I'd say that your sad story was more about poor parenting than school choice. What kind of mother in her right mind would respond to a child like that?

princessmama said...

I'm always lost for words too. I think mostly I'm not into telling people what they should do. Once in a while though I really wish I had the right words to help someone see differently.

Heck, I can't even explain our schooling choices to my own family in a way that they catch what I'm trying to do, whether they agree with me or not...

Wendy said...

I wouldn't have said anything, either - mostly, because of what you say about "school" being "normal" and all of the "advice" I've received from people who believe my homeschooled (and worse - UNschooled) children aren't learning everything they'll need to know :).

I just think it's too bad that some parents are so fixated on "goals" and "milestones" that they forget the important stuff takes place during the journey - not at the end, but even more than that, the fact that learning never really stops, even when we get too old for workbooks :).

mandi said...

that is a difficult situation to be in. i do like you- try to think about the kind of day that mom is having. how sometimes i am shorter with my children than i'd like to be- how on days like that, that i'd be appalled if someone said something to me. but with all that, it's still hard NOT to speak up when things seem so...wrong. i have to be honest though- i think it's best when i am slow to speak. otherwise you'd see me on the 9:00 news!

Bona Fide Mama said...

What a perfect example of how there is such a huge difference between what we believe and what the rest of the country believes. Don't beat yourself up for not speaking up. What you can do is pray for those people!

Martha said...

How true is that! All children grow at different rates and they all learn differently, my sister home schools her children and she creates a curriculum based on their individual needs. My son is more interested in math and shapes, so I take advantage of that ;) he's only three!

TheOrganicSister said...

::gasp:: i just want to shout no, no, no!! it's so frustrating to watch those things go down and feel you have no place or no words to step in.

how many little babes out there are getting their hearts crushed? and how in the world do we help?

you're belated responses were great. maybe a few pat answers in your arsenal will help? i know i had to get some for the endless questions on why we do what we do. it helped a lot to have the words ahead of time.

~tara

mimi said...

I'm so glad that you shared this....I'm really enjoying your blog!

Mrs. White said...

This is an incredible post. I am so glad to have stumbled across your blog. Something similar happened to me. I am sure you realize this, but I was shocked to find out that some children will not go to the library to read any book they want. They will only read the books their school teachers tell them is age appropriate. How boring!!!
Blessings
Mrs. White

ChristyACB said...

Your post is spot on from what I've observed too. It is just so sad to see it, but if you do say what you'd like to say, being offended is the most likely response. Unfortunate, but true.

Lori said...

this is such a great post -- and a great observation.

the french have a phrase, 'esprit d'escalier' -- it means 'wit of the staircase' (or something like that) and refers to the perfect thing you think of to say when it's a bit too late. :^P

that always happens to me!

Jenni said...

This post affected me greatly. I was a "workbook" summer mom, too. That has been ingrained in mommies brains for so long, I think! I'd go to the library, and push the "1" reading books on Logan, ignoring what he wanted. Now when we go to the library, I let them pick out whatever they want (even if I don't really want to read that thick Star Wars manifesto, lol). He picked out books on space, Star Wars, etc.. Thanks for opening my eyes.....

Alissa said...

Hi there,
I discovered your blog this evening and I'm loving it! It seems we have many similar interests. My oldest is turning 5 next month, and I've really struggled with the idea of putting her in public school. My husband is adamant though, and there are few things that he argues with me about - I decided to let him win this one. In any case, might I ask if you have any suggestions as to how I could complement her public schooling with some homeschooling/unschooling on the side? She will be finished school at 2 pm each day, so I figure that leaves us plenty of time to do other things once she gets home. :)
Thanks for your refreshing perspective on learning,
Alissa

Alissa said...

Hello again!
I don't know if you've been back to my blog or not, but I wanted to let you know that my husband and I have agreed to homeschool! I am delighted and excited and terrified all at the same time. :) And very much looking forward to our journey. I wanted to thank you for the words of encouragement you left for me; I will be looking to your blog for inspiration!
Bye for now,
Alissa

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