Run, Don’t Walk, Away from Public Schools

I’ve been accused of being negative about public school. It’s true, I’m guilty. When I was an inmate, er student, in the public schools, I thought it was a big waste of time. When I became a parent, I chose to homeschool my kids instead of putting them on the big yellow bus with the neighbor kids.

Public school was bad enough back then, but look at it now. Teachers complain that the students don’t listen to them because they’re allowed to be on their phones in class. Public school grads arrive at college unable to read at grade level or write a coherent paragraph. Meanwhile, political correctness and political bias run rampant.

Just recently, a Boston public school allowed a tombstone with the name of President Donald Trump at a school-sponsored Halloween event. On the other coast, a California school sponsored a scarecrow contest where one of the scarecrows was clearly meant to represent President Trump. This would never have been allowed in the schools I went to, as flawed as they were.

Of course, these specific behaviors, while condoned by the schools, are the fault of parents. But the schools allowed their behavior instead of forbidding it. While the institution of public schooling itself is one giant mistake, some of the families involved in the public schools are also problematic. How else can you explain parents who send their children to their local public library’s Drag Queen Story Time?

Run, don’t walk, away from the public schools (read John Taylor Gatto’s books for encouragement). If you’re not up for homeschooling, find a good private school. Don’t sentence your child to years in a failing system.


Learning From John Taylor Gatto

Children learn what they live.

Put kids in a class and they will live out their lives in an invisible cage, isolated from their chance at community;

interrupt kids with bells and horns all the time and they will learn that nothing is important;

force them to plead for the natural right to the toilet and they will become liars and toadies;

ridicule them and they will retreat from human association;

shame them and they will find a hundred ways to get even.

The habits taught in large-scale organizations are deadly.

That’s by John Taylor Gatto, and he cuts right to the chase, doesn’t he? Here’s a quote from a review of one of his books over at Amazon:

I wish I’d read this while I was in school; I’d have seen then that there was something wrong with the system, not me.

That’s heartbreaking. How many adults were wounded by school when they were children? Gatto knows. He taught in the public schools for thirty years. When he was given the New York State Teacher of the Year award, his acceptance speech (pdf) was not exactly what they were expecting! It was a criticism of the institution of school.

If you have any time in what’s left of summer, you might want to check out Gatto’s books. He gives all parents, not just homeschooling parents, much to think about:

Useful Learning for Teens

This week our local paper published an article about the increase in truancy rates among students of all ages in the local schools.

What interested me the most is that the rate of truancy increases as children get older, so that by the time they reach 12th grade, well over 40% of them miss at least ten days of school per 176-day school year, and a quarter of them miss 20 days or more per school year.

Some of this can be explained by the fact that 12th graders often have cars and can easily take the day off, drive around town, and no one will notice because they look like the young adults they are, not students. It’s a lot easier for them to play hooky than it is for your average first-grader.

But I wonder if there isn’t another reason so many teens skip school. My memory of the last two years of high school can be mostly summed up by the phrase “relentlessly boring.” Each semester, when I set up my schedule, I squeezed my class requirements into the tightest time period possible, skipping lunch and putting study hall at the end of the day, so I could be out of there as early as possible.

However, I didn’t spend that extra free time loafing. For most of my junior year, I had a job in a hardware store, working from 2:30 to 9 most days. So I needed to get out of school early. But I also had a life, one that extended beyond what was going on in my high school.

Most of my classes were dull, not very useful for the future, or both. There were some useful classes, like typing, home ec and industrial arts, but those of us who were college-bound knew better than to court the possibility of wrecking our GPAs by risking a B or C in those subjects. So I did my best to stay awake through classes that were not very interesting or not very useful: World History via lectures and textbooks, Literature via lectures and textbooks, Sociology via silly games and fake wedding ceremonies. Snore.

However, I took one class during my senior year that was excellent, and I loved it. It was designed and run by one of the school’s social studies teachers, and it was called Public Service Practicum.

The teacher, a highly regarded educator named Richard Chierico, designed the course to help students understand what goes on in local government. He worked out agreements with local government entities, including the village board, the public library board, public works, etc., to allow each of us to work within the system as volunteers, and to shadow various employees so that we would get a firsthand look at how local government operates.

I worked with the public library board, which meant I had the chance to work at all the stations in the library so that I understood just what went on. Then I attended library board meetings after being filled in on the issues by the head librarian. I even attended a gathering of head librarians from all over the region. Having long been a bookworm and regular visitor to the library, I found it all fascinating.

As much as I enjoyed the course, I think what made it extra special is that Mr. Chierico treated us as young adults. He trusted us to go out during the school day to our different posts in local government and to arrange future appointments with our supervisors. He didn’t treat us as other teachers did, as students in need of repetitive instructions and orders. He just expected that we would do what we needed to, and so we did.

I think that’s the problem with high schools, and why there’s such a high truancy rate among older students. What teens do in school is not relevant, it’s not interesting, and it’s too much of what they’ve been doing for all their lives: sit still, raise your hand, you need a pass to go to the bathroom, no you can’t leave campus for lunch. We all know the drill.

Teens are too old for that kind of school. They need to be challenged, trusted and freed. Will some of them bolt if given freedom? Sure, but you can’t imprison everyone because some will run.

Teens are smart enough to know when something’s useful or of value. They’re also smart enough to know when they’re being warehoused. Instead of trying to figure out how to reduce the truancy rate by imprisoning teens further, parents and teachers need to consider other alternatives.

I think this is why so many teens have done well in homeschooling. It gives them the time and the freedom to explore their interests and to consider what they need for their futures. Not to mention, they never need a pass to go to the bathroom.

(For ideas on what useful things teens can do, check out the video below.)

Public Education and President Obama

Elementary School Children with Heads Down on Desk During Rest Period in Classroom by Alfred Eisenstaedt
Elementary School Children with Heads Down on Desk During Rest Period in Classroom

I don’t get it. If something doesn’t work, why would you want more of it?

President Obama recently spoke about his goals for public schools*. He acknowledges that American students have fallen behind young people in much of the rest of the world, but his solutions include longer school days and a longer school year. He said this even though he also admitted that his mother had to augment his own education by making him get up to study at 4:30 a.m.

I’d go on about this but someone else has already done a fine job of it. Check out Judy Aron’s take  comparing President Obama’s speech to hearing a real expert speak about what’s wrong with public education: your friend and mine, former public school teacher and homeschool advocate John Taylor Gatto.

* where he chose not to send his own children