Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Re-thinking education (yes, again)

I happened upon an #edchat on Twitter, and I'm so glad I did!

Not only was it encouraging to see so many people talking about education in a thoughtful way, but it really helped me see the forest through the trees. (But it didn't change my love of cliches, apparently.)

If you've been reading me lately, you've read a lot of whining and complaining about homework and budget cuts and blah blah blah.

Well, the edchat brought me back to what I really care about when it comes to education: preparing our children for adulthood.

It's not supposed to be about getting into a good college or becoming the next Steve Jobs. It is about developing and nurturing our children to become the next generation. It is about entrusting our world into their hands.

At some point, I tweeted that the most important thing I learned was that it's not what you know, but how you go about learning what you don't.

I came into the workforce with nothing. I was an actor, hadn't finished college, and just needed to be able to support myself. Most of my employment has been obtained through temp agencies. I could pass their basic skills tests with flying colors. I knew my alphabet, I taught myself to type when I was a kid (so I could write all my crazy stories), and knew how to get along with adults because of all the theatre I'd done since age 6.

It turned out that's all I needed.

I could communicate effectively, I could be pleasant to co-workers and the general public, and I could follow directions.

Everything else was on-the-job training. Once I learned the job, could perform it well, I'd get bored. I'd start suggesting ways to improve the company/department, and create projects for myself. And I'd get promoted.

This isn't meant to be bragging, by the way. This is meant to say that anyone with basic skills can support themselves.

My girls have already shown that they grasp some of these basic skills, and more. Riley, as I've boasted time and time again, is a natural problem-solver, intuitive, empathetic, creative and thoughtful. Sylvia is passionate, creative, always a teacher's pet, energetic and caring. They both can express themselves effectively. They both have a keen interest in the world at large.

I think I need to relax a little.

Now that's not to say that I won't complain about insipid homework assignments ever again (hey, I'm still me!) or stop paying attention to what goes on in their schools. I cared about education even before I had kids, and I still believe that education is the greatest factor, for better or worse, in determining our country's future.

Lately, I've just been feeling as if I'm banging my head against a wall; worrying that the hours we've been spending on long-winded homework have been a waste. While I'm not convinced that they haven't, I'm less concerned that they've been damaging, either. I can also better appreciate certain talents and skills they have that may not show up in any report card, but may be a far better barometer of how they'll do in the real world.

I think we're on the right track.


Florinda said...

I think you make an excellent point here. What worries me about education sometimes is that with all of the emphasis on "accountability" (leading to "teaching to the test" and, yes, all that homework) I'm not sure that our kids really ARE learning how to learn what they don't know. The lack of curiosity and critical-thinking skills I come across sometimes is alarming. But fortunately, some kids manage to develop those basic skills anyway - and many of them have parents like you :-).

Cat said...

I really wish we could get some kind of apprentice system in the US, because you're right that SO MUCH of work is what you learn while you work there. Every kid doesn't have to go to college or recite Shakespeare. A teen with a natural gift for cars will learn a lot more taking some business and accounting classes and apprenticing than they will in a traditional system.

Sorry, got on my soapbox- if I could change one thing about education, this focus on degrees and tests would be it. You're so right that it's learning to succeed as an adult.

Anonymous said...

I really really related to this post. I came into the workforce very similarly. No education, just people skills and common sense and a little bit of intuition.

And while I've never really put it into those words in my head, I think you're right on the money. Education is supposed to teach children how to succeed in that place called the Real World.

It's long been floating around in my head to get involved with advocating a high school class that teaches BASICS like balancing a check book, teaching children what credit is, and interest rates and how to budget.

I know Home Economics is offered in school, but at least here, it isn't a requirement. Our kids graduate high school, and those who aren't lucky enough to have mommy and daddy foot a college bill plus living expenses for a few more years, are thrown to the wolves. If they weren't lucky enough to taught these skills at home, what else do they have to fall back on?

Great post, and I love to hear that you've had a change of perspective.

jenn said...

I always think of my brother when I think of education. I do think education is important. But my brother had a hard time with tests starting at a very young age. He barely made it through high school and never even attempted college. But he's smart and he started out working as a labor in construction and now (at age 26) he's a superintendent making more than I'll ever make even when I graduate college. It's all about finding what you're good at.

Either way, I think you're doing a wonderful job helping your girls get an education AND teaching them life skills. I think they'll be just fine.

jenn said...

That should have been "laborer in construction". Sorry.

Anonymous said...

Teaching for the test and the focus on grades are the banes of this teacher's teaching world. It's a shame that we don't value the minds of kids enough to create classrooms that don't box them in, but which let them discover their own dimensions.

For the record, I try not to assign time-hogging HW.

Trooper Thorn said...

Good points. I saw we pull out all the computers (and save a ton on IT support) and have more music, art and gym.