Morning Thanks

Garrison Keillor once said we'd all be better off if we all started the day by giving thanks for just one thing. I'll try.

Monday, September 21, 2009

Youth Culture


Just opened a note from a woman in Pennsylvania, who wants to know if I'd be willing to share a few things about a story she and her home school consortium students will be reading soon, a story I wrote. I'll be happy to oblige her. A significant chunk of motivation for my own birth as a writer came by way of meeting someone who was.

I'll admit that I'm not a rabid home-schooling partisan. Just a week ago I read through 30 quick little essays in which students described memorable schoolmates, many of whom were rousters, trouble-makers, bullies--the kids other kids hate to love but suck up to anyway, the kids parents hate. Some people find those cocky jackasses reason enough to keep their children from the hazing that seems a component part of traditional classroom education.

What home-schooled kids don't learn, however, is that even the bullies can be human. I could cut and paste a half-dozen stories in here of kids who hated other kids, then learned to like them, even love them (for a year now, one young woman has dated a boy she once attacked with a pencil she'd sharpened expressly for the stabbing). Some of life's great lessons happen in the classroom, and they have only secondarily to do with the Peloponnsian wars or an isosceles triangle.

What home-schoolers often do learn, however, is immensely enriched study habits, including a mature sense of initiative. In my experience as a college teacher, home-schooled kids often have the kind of curiosity teachers will die for. Not always, but more often than not, home-schooled kids really want to learn. They're hungry.

And that's nothing to sneeze at.

An article titled "Revenge of the Nerds," in September's Wired, helps me understand why. In it, Daniel Roth quotes an educator named Alex Grodd, who, at a convention of techies talking about education, stood in front of the steamroller of excitement over innovation and technological change when he told the geeks that their newest innovations would likely meet with jeering because "The driving force in the life of a child, starting much earlier than it used to be, is to be cool, to fit in."

The article goes on to quote Larry Rosenstock, the founder of a consortium of charter schools in San Diego, whose schools are turning out students hungry to learn. The key to success in those schools is keeping the students surrounded by adults, not other students, Rosenstsock says.

"A big high school has a youth-owned culture," says Tom Vander Ark, who used to steer Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation's money into education. "You've got to break that."

Hmmmm. Is that another way of saying, "kill off the kid"? I never thought of school's problems quite in that way before, but I think there's something to it.

I remember a time in my first year when, stupidly, I accepted a challenge from the heavyweight in the school's new wrestling team, who said he wanted to arm-wrestle. I said okay because I figured I'd have nothing to lose. Amazingly, I beat him. I'm not sure that any poem I taught or story I read had quite as much influence on my eventual success than that moment because, shockingly, I bested the beast. Physically--which is how adolescents (for better or for worse) tend to view each other--I'd won. In their world, I was estimable, and that helped me out. They'd listen.

But I don't think Vander Ark is all wrong. The truth that home-schooling brings to the educational table is that kids can be hungry to learn and interested in achievement, not just for achievement's sake either. A classroom of home-schooled kids might be annoyingly narrow in the way in which they view the world, a by-product of their own educational isolation; but I'll bet any money most college teachers wouldn't mind teaching that class if for no other reason than the job would be a ball.

Education--like the health industry--has its immense horrors and its bountiful blessings. It would be nice if the San Diego solution--surround the kids with adults--would turn schools into learning laboratories. Tell you what--shut down all team sports too, while you're at it, breeding grounds for more "survival of the fittest" mentality, the attitude that breeds bullies by making physicality the litmus test for determining who will be, male and female, top dogs.

The answer to bad education may well be to make the kids adults, asap. Maybe.

Maybe.

3 comments:

PR Merkle said...

Jim,

Interesting stuff.

One issue--don't pigeonhole homeschooling as to necessarily being "...annoyingly narrow in the way in which they view the world, a by-product of their own educational isolation". It definitely can be that way--but so can alot of traditional educational settings. I've taught kids from some public and Christian schools with incredibly narrow visions. In short, homeschoolers are more varied than often thought (though the stereotype is definitely rooted in reality, I'll agree).

Especially in larger metropolitan areas (and, yes, I'll even use Sioux Falls as larger metro area) homeschoolers have a very large base for social and educational variety. Even in Sioux County, the homeschooling group is getting larger and larger to where field trips for Sioux Center area homeschoolers reach into the 100s of students.

The youth-centered culture is the key, methinks. Christian and public schools these days make it almost impossible for a love of learning to develop. Sometimes it is the teacher's issue--where teachers don't want to be learners any longer--just babysit and talk about current events with no effort required.

Anonymous said...

Dr. Raymond S. Moore, one of the early guiding lights of the home schooling movement, wrote several of the earliest popular books about home education—Home Grown Kids, Home- Spun Schools, Home Style Teaching and School Can Wait.

Anyone who is thinking about homeschooling needs to read them. I was 100% against the idea of homeschooling until I read these books.

I am a retired public school teacher of 30 years and the parent of 4 homeschooled, college-educated, and now successful adults.

We would not do it any other way had we the opportunity to do it again.

My wife and I were some of the front-runnners when homeschooling was unpopular. As a public school teacher I took plenty of flack for believing that 'parents were to raise their children in the nurture and admonition of the Lord" not the government.

Homeschooling worked for us and our kids.

Meredith Morgan said...

Oh, boy, is this ever a mine-field of hot buttons for me! I'll spare you the Tome and merely say that I think the idea of surrounding kids with adults (preferably life-long learners) fosters the kind of hunger for knowledge that teachers love so much. I am a product of that kind of environment. My thirst for knowledge has never gone away.

I'd like to think there's a way to make learning for the sake of learning "cool" even among the student culture. Maybe not.

I'm not a fan of home-schooling, either, but it certainly does seem to foster potential life-long learners better than regular classrooms.