I am opting out. Not out of my career, but out of the educational system. I have a seven year old who started second-grade this year. A few weeks into second-grade, we decided to finally act on a decision that’s been a long time coming. We decided we’re going to home-school her – at least for this year.
We live in a rural community, where, besides our public school and one very expensive private school, we don’t have any other options. And although homeschooling seems more common than I had realized, most of the homeschooling families we had heard about in our town are religious families with different motivations than ours (although I would think that there are some important overlapping concerns between religious and secular families when it comes to homeschooling).
I guess it shouldn’t be very surprising that two academics (my husband is also a Sociologist), people who are in the profession of education and the pursuit of knowledge, should come to the decision that our educational system is not serving our children well. For us, our decision to home-school stems in large part from our profession and also from our specific field of inquiry. In our own classrooms, we both emphasize independent thinking, writing and analyzing instead of checking off boxes for the correct answer, and probably most importantly, we emphasize the importance of questioning, of wondering “why?” or “why not?” and trying to figure things out instead of being given answers.
Sadly, very little of this is happening in our public schools. Sure, there are exceptions, but by and large, our public schools are geared towards passing standardized testing, of meeting certain “requirements”, and identifying those kids who do not meet these standards. The kids who already meet the standards or are far beyond them, are the “easy” kids—the kids teachers don’t have to worry about. It is not the teachers’ fault, of course. They are under pressure to perform and to have students pass the state tests, or whatever standardized testing their schools use. But what happens to these kids who are beyond the standards for their grades? Who fosters their curiosity and their love of learning? Who lets them know that it is not only OK to be smart, it is, in fact wonderful? Instead, these kids sit in the classroom day in and day out, for hours on end, going through the motions, not being challenged, not being encouraged, and feeling like misfits for being “smart”.
By the time our daughter started kindergarten, she had already read many books in their entirety, on her own: Charlie and the Chocolate Factory (and other Roald Dahl books), The Magic Tree House series, and many others. By the time she started second grade this year, she was just finishing up reading the last of the Harry Potter books on her own. When she started kindergarten we were told that she was ahead of the curriculum, but that she’ll eventually “level-out” and the curriculum will catch up to her. We were told the same thing at the start of first grade, and then again at the start of second grade. To us, these statements were disturbing: why should any school expect or want a bright kid to “level-out”? Shouldn’t schools try to sustain students’ curiosity and love of learning? We think so. Yet, we kept our daughter in school, not fully realizing how slowly the curriculum would grow compared to her curiosity. Now we know that the only way the curriculum will “catch up” is if social pressure to “dumb herself down” catches up to her and she figures out that being smart doesn’t really have any benefits in school.
I have read that currently homeschooling is the fastest growing trend in schooling in the United States. I wouldn’t be surprised at all, if academics made up a growing percentage of homeschooling families in the future. After all, we are in a position to see what the outcome of the deficiencies in our educational system is. And if there are those among us, who resist standardization, rote learning, and quick and fast answers in our own classrooms and for our own students, how then, can we stand by and watch our own children be put through this kind of education in our schools?
New London, Connecticut in the US.
Afshan Jafar is a member of the editorial collective at University of Venus and an Assistant Professor of Sociology at Connecticut College. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.