...and they all lived happily ever after...

...and they all lived happily ever after...

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

David and Goliath and kindergarten

I read a book the other day called "David and Goliath."  It was an intriguing and thought provoking read (it did get a bit redundant in spots, but who am I to judge).

The premise of this work is that David, the much smaller and seriously less skilled opponent militarily, was seen as the extreme underdog even though he possessed bright, neon-flashing skills like speed, agility, quick thought and faith (not to mention acute stone/sling ability).  These talents should have exposed him as a formidable threat, but people were too focused on the hulking mass of a man strutting his stuff to think beyond big muscles and impressive sword play (and how often do we do this in our lives -- hone in on whatever big plus is on the side of one option and therefore ignore or underrate the less flamboyant pluses of the other option entirely).

Additionally, because David was wise enough not to be hobbled by the pre-conceived concept of the one-on-one battle (namely, sidling up to the other bloke and whopping him with your sword whilst trying to avoid his whops in return) the odds in the fight were tipped and the balance of power fell at David's feet.  This book then applies these concepts to modern life in a very tantalizing display of out of the box thinking.  I rather enjoyed it.

The point of this post is not really so much about biblical heroes. Some of the concepts explored by the author of this book just accidentally fell in line with my own long-held opinions.  While I am not prone to extreme bouts of bucking the system (I actually like rules and structure), I am also not known to simply give in and play a certain way just because someone tells me I have to.

I particularly identify with this concept lately when it comes to views on education.

Yup, that's right, I just leaped from sword wielding tyrants straight down to kindergarten -- that's how I roll.

Education is incredibly important to me.  It always has been.  I was a very good student.  I did well in school and I LOVED it.  I love learning.  I love exploring.  School helped me to do that.  I hope for the same for my children.

But I don't see the job of bringing up intelligent youngsters the same way many people do.  In this battle, I don't fight in a conventional way.

You see, I am not one to worry very much about overall school test scores or student aptitude or number of academic geniuses who emerge from a particular institution of learning. I just don't care very much about those things.

Now, I didn't start out that way.  At first I dove into research and rankings and teacher accolades and national merit and the like.  I looked at public schools, charter schools and private schools trying to decide what would be best for my little learners.

But, the more I searched and probed, the closer I looked, the more I began to see that schools of all sorts turned out amazing, intelligent, talented students (and the other kind too, even the best schools had percentages of drop outs and failing grades).  I started paying closer attention to brilliant, successful people who I know and found that while some of them came from elite educational backgrounds, others came from your ma and pa, run of the mill public schools.

I mulled that over for a while and eventually (after much thought and more reading and research) came to the conclusion that I  was going to be the one to educate my children.

Now, you are likely wondering why my children attend our local public school if that is my view; let me explain that a bit so you don't misunderstand me.  I had no notions of becoming a home schooling parent. There were too many portions of attending school that I felt my children needed and I just couldn't provide here at home.  But here's the thing.  I took my children's education into my hands and laid that burden on my back and to this day I take full responsibility for it.  I don't expect the school system to educate my children. I see the schools and teachers as a tool in my arsenal when it comes to educating my kids.  They are arrows in MY quiver.  I refuse to give up the power of being the overseer of my children's education.

That said, I am not so blind as to think classrooms and teachers and principals don't matter at all.  I spend time in our school and get to know the teachers.  I do think there is something for my little ones to learn even by being a classroom with a teacher who is not the favorite ever (not a teacher who is mean or incompetent, mind you, but one who is fine just not the favorite -- after all, not every neighbor or co-worker or manager will be the favorite and you still have to work with them).

But I don't just leave my children to drift with the tide when it comes to teachers either.  I am not afraid to meet with principals over concerns and problems and have pushed for adjustments when necessary.  That is MY job as the Lord of Education for my children. I keep a thumb on the pulse of all things learning.

Here's the thing, I believe education is much more than simply gathering pieces of knowledge to sort neatly into a card catalog to access later.  I think, more important than learning all the bits of stuff available to shove into a brain, is learning HOW to think and that is where I especially refuse to surrender my control.

I send my children to school to be taught, but no matter what goes on in the classroom I do my best to actually educate them.

That means it is my duty to be sure they know how to learn, how to think, how to research, how to find answers, how to ask intelligent questions, how to wonder, how to see outside the lines.

And that means I have to take advantage of opportunities to prick their little brains and get them pondering in any way that I can.  Part of that means sending them to an organized house of learning each day, but another part of it must go beyond well that.

So, when my kids find a concept that interests them, I push it.  I ask them hard questions, questions they won't know the answers to, questions I don't know the answers to and then I expect them to figure it out.  I encourage them to write un-required reports or create unnecessary power point presentations (Gavin loves to do this and then take them to school so other students can learn the things he has learned...his teacher is great about indulging this habit).

We play spelling games while we are in the car together and we classify it as "fun."  Everyone loves to be given a word they've never heard before then exult when they manage to spell it correctly.  We also make up math story problems and try to stump each other.  When we are at the grocery store I ask the kids how much it would cost to buy 4 of something at a certain price or ask them to figure out how much tax will be on an item.  Super fun!

I insist that my children take piano lessons and then we talk about the construction of chords and how we can use a musical blueprint to create a melody or harmony.  We read poetry (the kids often whine about that unless the poet is Shel Silverstein, but we do it anyway).  We talk about the formula for sentences and I challenge my children to find grammar and spelling mistakes in the books they read (oh, the look of triumph on their faces when they come show me one).

And oh do we read.  I require my children to read any book turned movie before they are allowed to see the film.  I'm a jerk like that. (Not necessarily the entire series, but at least the first volume.)

I am one of those moms who invests in worksheets to do over the summer.  Sometimes the worksheets are word puzzles or logic problems because for me this is less about learning new concepts or staying fresh and more about teaching the idea that we don't take a break from using our brains.

I never answer the question "what does that word mean" because I love to watch little ones delve into a dictionary to find the answer (yes, an actual dictionary with paper pages).  If my children are learning about a theory or idea and they want to go deeper than their class I think that is great and I pull everyone in so we can explore it together (you would be surprised how much physics and math a six year old can understand if given the chance).  We classify rocks we find on hikes, we do strange experiments, we analyze dirt and insects, we indulge our interest in teeth or skin (or sex, as you have read about before).  I answer a lot of questions with, "I don't know, what do you think?" and I love to ask the kids why.

(As a side note, there will always be more learning opportunities than you can possibly take advantage of.  Don't bother trying to grab them all.  My kids have mastered the "Mom, that's enough" eye roll for just such occasions.  Also, sometimes I am lazy or just don't feel like it and I leave a learning moment hanging without yanking it down.  No one is perfect at this.  However, latch onto some of the chances to engage your child's brainwaves and be a force in their education in the ways that you can.  You will miss stuff, you will  make a fool of yourself sometimes.  But you will be there and that is what counts most.)

I WANT my kids to ask a million questions (yes, I'm honest enough to admit this drives me crazy sometimes so I'm not always as patient with it as I should be).

I WANT my kids to wonder how things work and why people do the things they do.

I WANT my kids to think for themselves no matter what anyone else says.

Am I trying to raise a brood of geniuses?  Absolutely not (although I'm fine if that's the outcome we stumble upon).

I don't care one whit whether they grow up to be mechanical engineers or very capable auto mechanics or creative gardeners.  I want them to be happy in their chosen field just like I am in mine (I never wanted to be anything more than I wanted to be a mom and am grateful for the chance I have to explore and grow in this venue).

I want them to see and question and grow and those are things it is difficult to glean from a classroom.

So, the point.

Early on, I came to the decision that for me and my family, I was going to pay less attention to the big, flashy honors of any one particular institute of learning and would instead take on the less glittery task of making sure my children knew how to think and research and explore so they could learn anything no matter the situation they were in.

I know my view is not the only one, or the most popular one, when it come to choosing a school.  I believe every family has to come to their own theme when it comes to education and if your family has chosen to pursue a different avenue (a charter school or a private school or has moved to get into a particular public school or if you choose to home school) good for you!  To me, there really isn't a wrong answer


by choosing a particularly amazing school you then feel free to ignore the importance of being deeply involved in your children's education.  This is not something you can put off onto someone else.

Kids may have incredible teachers (and every school has some incredible teachers), but let's be honest -- no matter how great that teacher is, no matter how much they adore their students and desire to engage and excite their pupils, they are still doing a job when they show up at school each day (this said by the wife of an amazingly dedicated teacher, mind you).  They are still relieved to go home at the end of the day.  They are still happy to take a break from work for the weekend.  They may be exceptional at their job, but they are not you (please, don't misunderstand, teachers are very important, they do help shape our children, but they aren't our children's parents and we can't expect them to be).

There is NO ONE who can replace YOU as the supreme educator of YOUR child.

Don't be blinded by the flashy muscles of a hefty, Goliath-like institute of learning so much that you ignore or fail to see the importance of your own David-like role.  When people talk about education it may be the facade of a school and not your face that comes to mind, but that doesn't make you any less powerful.

It is socially acceptable to pluck out the latest, greatest, most incredible educational starlet and plant your child into the middle of it -- and I am not saying that is the wrong thing to do. That is for you to decide. What I am saying is that if your perspective for educational excellence in your youngsters focuses entirely on a school -- if you are sitting back blithely expecting someone else to educate your little ones -- then you are missing a much more commanding piece of the view.

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