Preparing Our Kids for a Challenging Future, Part 1

Our economy is in shambles, with millions of people out of work and even more overcome by debt they can’t repay. But don’t worry; over at the White House, the president and his cabinet are working hard to find a way out of this economic mess by creating jobs somehow. However, they’re having trouble, maybe because only 20% of them ever had a job in the private sector. All they’ve got to work with is the theories they’ve learned from books and professors.

I don’t mean to pick on one group of politicians. Both political parties in this country are filled with elected officials who have made careers out of being politicians. They’ve got resumes packed with degrees and political positions. But real life work? Not so much.

The great leaders of our past had backgrounds of real-life challenges and experiences to draw from. George Washington was a self-employed surveyor who later fought in wars. Theodore Roosevelt was also a soldier, as well as a police officer, hunter and author. Abraham Lincoln grew up in poverty but became a self-taught and self-employed lawyer. Harry Truman worked as a farmer, a bank clerk, and ran a men’s store: not as exciting as being a war hero, but he understood real-life economics because he lived it.

No wonder things are getting worse instead of better. Our leaders today are armed only with book knowledge and political experience, they’ve had little education in real life. So who’s going to get us out of this mess? Looks like it’s going to be the next generation: our kids.

And how are they being prepared for this challenge? On weekends, they’re scattered on soccer fields, some kids chasing the ball while the rest chase them, or in the case of the three-year-olds, stand and stare at the sky while their parents yell from the sidelines, “Run, Riley, run! Don’t just stand there: go after the ball!” Do you ever wonder how that’s preparing them for the future?

During the week, they’re herded into buses so they can spend each day trapped in classrooms, where they’ll get a good dose of indoctrination along with watered-down math courses and remedial reading for all but the smartest. John Taylor Gatto’s studies reveal that the American school model that’s been used for over 100 years was originally devised to create a docile workforce for the nation’s factories and large businesses (you know, the ones that are now moving overseas). Do you ever ask yourself why we’re still using such an outdated model of education?

When you see kids sitting in restaurants and at family gatherings, not speaking to or even looking at anyone because they’re texting their friends or surfing the Internet, do you ever wonder how they’re going to cope with the challenges of the future if they can’t even take their eyes off those little screens?

And when you see the pressure they’re all under to go to college (whether or not they’re college material), and the debt they’ll have to accumulate to attend, and the decreasing likelihood that the degree they may earn (only 50% graduate within six years) will help them get more than a median-wage job, do you wonder how they’re going to be able to solve the problems we’ve saddled them with when they’re stuck in the debt-slave lifestyle?

This is scary stuff. It’s bad enough we’re handing our kids’ generation a legacy of debt and economic troubles, but we’re not even equipping them to deal with the fallout. Instead, we’re sending them out into the world unprepared and financially strapped with their own personal student loan debt before they’re 25.

So what can we do?

The good news is that homeschooling is the ideal way to prepare our kids for the future. The mere act of taking them out of school (or not sending them in the first place) frees them to learn what they need to know in a way that’s efficient and personalized. It lets us provide our kids with the specific skills they’ll need to thrive in a world that’s much different from the one we grew up in. But if homeschooling parents don’t give their children the opportunity to learn those skills, their children will be no better off than the kids now in the public school system.

Simply choosing to homeschool is not enough. How we homeschool our children will make the difference between kids who are prepared to take on the challenges of the 21st century, and kids who aren’t.

Now, I don’t want to say there’s a right way and a wrong way to homeschool our children. There’s so much variety among children (and parents) that successful homeschooling always involves a unique mix of what the child needs and what the parent wants him or her to learn. But there are specific things we can do (or avoid) that will help us raise children who are prepared to tackle the problems we face in the future.

For one thing, we don’t have to replicate school in our homes. School was designed for the old reality, the one where we were preparing kids to willingly sit at a desk or on an assembly line for one company for 40 years. That’s not reality anymore, so why prepare our children for it?

Perhaps I’m preaching to the choir here, but think about it: are you replicating school at home? Do your kids sit in desks for long stretches? Do you make them raise their hands to answer a question? Don’t laugh; many parents do this, especially when they first begin homeschooling. I did it myself the first year we homeschooled; my kids sat at the kitchen table while we did bookwork for specific time periods. They were four and five then. Silly, I know, but “school” was all I knew at the time, thanks to my childhood experience. I soon figured out that there was a better way.

Maybe you don’t do school at home: good for you! But do you send your children to co-ops and other organized classes? That’s school, too, you know. In co-ops and classes, your kids are treated as a group: a herd, really. When you’re part of a herd, it’s hard to have your individual needs met and your individual questions answered. We can’t expect our kids to grow up as individuals who actively seek learning if we put them in situations where they learn to identify themselves as part of a herd, passively waiting for the teacher to tell them what to do next.

This is especially true for small children. I wince when I hear about homeschool groups setting up preschool classes. A homeschool preschool class is an oxymoron! During the first few years of life, children are learning who they are. If they’re part of a herd, they’re going to think they’re sheep. Is that what you want? If you want sheep, you might as well send your children to school.

Once homeschooled kids are older (14+) and accustomed to self-motivated learning, a class here and there won’t hurt most of them. In fact, some will enjoy the classroom experience; if they’re college-bound, a few community college or co-op classes will be good preparation. But using classes and co-ops as a homeschooling method is not going to produce kids who think for themselves.

Some parents unknowingly replicate school at home by using a curriculum that requires kids to learn only from books and workbooks, with the occasional topic-related, hands-on activity for variety. This, too, is school. I realize that some kids are workbook kids who love this kind of thing. But the majority of kids don’t. Why would you use the same method for all your children unless they’re all alike? Using one method for all children is what schools do for convenience because it’s the most logistically sensible way to handle large quantities of children, but it rarely produces kids who pursue learning.

This is important because in the new economy, people who are curious and who willingly pursue learning will be the most employable, the most successful at self-employment and the most likely to help solve the formidable problems we face. Futurists tell us that our kids will likely have multiple careers because of rapid technological change. They’ll have to willingly learn new skills in order to remain in demand. And they’ll be more likely to pursue additional learning if their desire to learn has been fed, not snuffed out by school or school-like homeschooling.

Next: Part 2, Raising Eager Learners