April 15, 2011

Public Education = Working Together

I have been bumping into kids and their parents lately, at the grocery store, in my neighborhood. These kids haven't been in school; where did they go? Homeschool.

We don't have a lot of resources in our district. But one thing we have a lot of is KIDS! In this economy many parents don't have the resource of money to send their kids to private schools but they do have their most valuable resource, time. To this end, I've noticed a big trend going towards homeschooling. I think this is amazing to take on this huge responsibility of being a teacher as well as a parent. Ummm, I'm about to do it a week when I return to work from maternity leave!

Good parents and teachers want the what's best for their children. I work hard to give students the best education and was wondering why parents were moving towards homeschooling. So I asked. The parents and kids I talk to said homeschooling was way to "solve" problems their child is having at school. Some of the problems were "kids not being friends with their child", "teachers not understanding their child", and of course "not enough individual attention." Homeschooling will solve all of these problems . . . TEMPORARILY. But, the majority of the jobs in this world have one thing in common, these problems. So, I'm a fan of public education. And I see two sides to the story, more students can equal more headaches, more problems to solve, more personalities to clash, less individualized instruction BUT sometimes it can also equal more hands to help, more ideas, more discussion and more students teaching students. There are many situations where homeschooling is the only choice besides moving. . . but I don't see those problems in the school I teach at.

There's another side to homeschooling that I didn't mention yet. Many homeschooler's work together and educate their children as a group. A great solution. I have worked with homeschooling moms as their "art specialist" and taught groups of home schooled kids in their home. After experiencing both there is something in public education that is really hard to replicate. It is the schedule, the movement, the personalities, the demands that prepares children for a world which is unfortunately in my experience very demanding.

Don't you think the most important thing we teach is "how to work together?" I do. "Working together" sounds pretty simple but it's the foundation of what we teach in the art room. I do a lot of group projects with the kids. That may mean students bring home less individual projects but hopefully they will bring home a better attitude and problem solving skills.

Mini Matisse's post today is a great example of groups working and solving problems together. As a parent I would be so happy to see Stella doing work like this. Isn't that the true litmus test of a teacher and a project, what would you want for your child?

Here is a similar project we did. I broke students into smaller groups to work together and make a large grid drawing. This is a way to do group work with really independent groups. Let them work in their own clusters. The room can get loud and buzzing with creativity, you won't have time to solve each groups problems for them, so make sure you do it with a group that has already had some problem solving education and proved themselves.

This grid mural was done by a small group of 5 fifth graders.

I LOVE COMMENTS/ OPINIONS/ CRITICISMS (that's why I write on a blog not in a journal;)
Do you have an opinion on homeschooling, public or private education?

Feel free to include a link to a good group/problem solving project that you've done. I will definitely read and comment.


ArtfulArtsyAmy said...

Oh. I SO agree with you!

I've taught in both public and private schools. And, in a private school situation I have students who show up every year -usually midyear- who were previously home schooled. And, oh, the many, many, many issues they have with adjusting and settling into the school environment is so heartbreaking to witness.

I think it would be east to dismiss their ability to adjust as some "other issue" they have. Instead, I think it is that most of them are used to being at home and having one adult mostly (maybe shared betweens siblings) to themselves. They really have a hard time grasping how to cooperatively work as a group and establishing boundaries. I have one former homeschool kiddo, who TWO YEARS later is finally grasping the concept of cooperative learning.

And, I, too, have heard the comment from parents that their child's needs can be better addressed at home. You know, I'm not a psychologist, so I can't say authoritatively or across-the-board that this isn't wise. . .But, I will say, I've seen kids with aspbergers, autism, and kids who are just plain-out sensitive be pulled out of school so they can learn one-on-one with a parent. Mostly, I think that while their parents have their best interests at heart (who wants their kid to not feel great while at school?!) they are doing them a disservice. If these kiddos are in the classroom, they are high-functioning. They are going to have to live with the rest of us at some point in their lives. It is hard, but it is better to learn these lessons YOUNG rather than OLD.

Finally, I read a statistic somewhere (dern it, can't find it now) that over 50% of homeschool children are behind grade level. I know that I agree with that statistic based on the previously homeschooled kids I've seen in my classes.

I have another one right now who is in 2nd grade who enrolled in school for the first time about 2 months ago. His work is on level -and sometimes below- that of my kindergarten students. He isn't used to actually having to stop what he is doing and listen. He really struggles to understand how to function. And it is tragic, because he wants to adjust SO BAD.

Kids spend 8 hours a day at school. And, I know that time isn't the same as it would be if you were teaching one student one-on-one. But, even if you cut that time down, it still is a HUGE amount of time for the average parent to spend actively engaged in educating their child on a daily basis. I think some parents kid themselves when they think about how much learning is getting done.

Now, that I've had so much negative to say, let me leave my long rant on a positive note. My cousin, a certified teacher, has very strict religious beliefs. Due to her beliefs she wanted to homeschool her children. She has six children total (2 are adopted from Russia) and she educated them herself up through the elementary level (her certification is for early childhood). Then, she researched into homeschool options and help found a homeschool academy in her area where parents go in together to create more diversified learning experiences for homeschool students. AND, they founded sports teams that compete with local private schools for their kids too. Her children are some of the brightest, most articulate, well-rounded kids I've met. . .And, my cousin has practically devoted her life these past sixteen years (the age of her oldest) to their education. So, good homeschooling can exist, but I think it takes a devotion and sacrifice for which most are not prepared.

Phyl said...

We have a few kinds of home-schooled kids in our area. Some are the 'granola' families, and they generally tend to do a really good intense job with their kids, giving them very rich experiences, especially with the natural environment. But then there's the ones who pull their kids in and out, whenever they are not happy with something at school. It's tough on the kids I think. I have a few young kids who have been in and out several times, often changing their minds mid-year. These kids seem to have a harder time adjusting to working together cooperatively. Then, the strangest one of all to me, is the TEACHER who is working in the school but her husband is homeschooling her kids. They seem to ski a lot. What does this say to the kids? It's a sad judgment on the school district where they work.

Re: the cooperative project - strange how we all follow similar directions. I got a email the other day from a gal who read something I had written on another blog, a few months back. It was about... ta-da... graphing an image into a mural by cutting it into smaller portions. And I'm planning on doing a graphing project this spring. And then you and Mrs. Matisse both post graphing projects as well! Parallel brains??

HipWaldorf said...

There are a lot of home schoolers in my area (New England) and they have various reasons for doing it.

1. No teacher or school is perfect enough for my child.

2. Religion.

3. Un-schooling (no set schedule).

4. My child is too bright and is not challenged enough in public school.

I worked in alternative education for a long time (Waldorf, but now in public) and I saw a lot of this there, as well. Many parents look to the alternative choices before homeschooling, but realize they can't afford it.

I really do believe that all 4 reasons I listed above are basically the same, "I opt out because I do not see the value in public education."

We are so lucky to be art teachers, because there is way too much mandatory assessement testing in public schools. In art the children can just "be and enjoy" school. But I have to agree with Erica, these homeschoolers would love to have the best of art lessons we provide in our classrooms if they could pick and choose - which they often do!


Mary said...

I love this discussion Erica! I have seen a huge increase in homeschooling as well.Some of my students are homeschooled. And I have to say I am always impressed with their manners and their ability to interact appropriately with the group.Their parents make sure they are very involved in after school activities: Cub Scouts, Little League, ect.But I have seen the type Phyl speaks of too, pulling in and out of public school. I have a tremendous amount of respect for those parents who do homeschooling well. There is no way I could take on that supreme responsibility. (How would I grapple with math after 5th grade ha!)

Unknown said...

Amy, there's a lot there, and I agree whole heartedly, but I guess it's like preaching to the choir! We're both public educators (smile:)

Phyl, oh wouldn't it be heaven to be a "granola" type homeschooler. It would make me the happiest person on earth to spend every day exploring and going on field trips with my girl. . . but I will never take school away from her!

I agree a lot of "successful" people learn in this granola sort of way. Like the founders of google, amazon, P.Diddy, Julia Child etc etc all went to Montessori Schools which I consider ultimate granola BUT there are lots of kids in a Montessori classroom sometimes 40 plus. When I "googled" the same thing but for home schoolers I got people like Venus Williams and Dakota Fanning etc. (sports and movie stars) it seems like a way for them to do their craft without the confines of "school."

HipWaldorf, aren't we lucky to teach art! I've seen teachers who don't focus on the test and I think it can be done if you are fearless enough. There is so much teaching to the test because of fear for jobs, reputation, funding. The best teachers I've met are pretty fearless and it pays off their kids always do okay on the test and great in every other way.

Mary, I think we were in the same boat! I did smaller art workshops in my own art studio while teaching at a Montessori School before I got my teaching certification and went to this public school. I found the home schooled kids to be EXTREMELY polite and their ideas highly sophisticated. I also found they had a hard time integrating with the group in a natural way, pretty much as a whole. Not because of they weren't amazing kids, just they didn't have as much social experiences as the other kids (which was why there parents were bringing them to me.) I hope I was able to help and bridge some friendships so they could see other kids outside of school.

HipWaldorf said...

Timely news...I received an email from my principal that a 2nd grade homeschooler will be joining one of my art classes next week. "Just art?" I asked him...so the only impression of our public school system will be through my class, 40 minutes, once a week...is that pressure???

I have worked with homeschooled children at home, for private art lessons, but this is a first and I thought it was so ironic that you posted this discussion just last week. I am sure she will fit right in - or atleast I hope...

There is a family that keeps taking their 3 daughters in and out to homeschool. The older ones do not appear to have many (any?) friends. The girls are very smart, self motivated and artistic, which is what I saw in the homeschooled Waldorf kids...that level of confidence, but outside the circle socially. It will be interesting to see how this new girls fits in socially, might be easier for 2nd graders.


Julia said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Julia said...

I have seen a thorough spectrum of homeschoolers, too.I think that you see it in school as well, Really, it boils down to the involvement of parents. I could always tell which children came from highly involved and caring relationships with their parents or guardians when I taught.

Now, I teach our four kids at home....for various reasons. I have one son with very severe asthma that has required a lot of hospitalization. I just didn't feel comfortable sending him away for 8 hours and having someone else responsible for his health. We also love just being together. I will never regret the time I have had with my children.

You are right, though, that it is important to get them working with groups of people. We work really hard to provide lots of opportunities for that: classes with a co-op, art classes at the local gallery, music camps, church groups, visiting the elderly, working for others. I feel like we have had the best of both worlds and that my kids really socialize well. They are at or above grade level for most subjects and have a great group of friends.

Homeschooling isn't for everyone, and nothing is ever perfect, but I feel like it has worked beautifully for us! It is what you make of it and definitely takes commitment.


Anonymous said...

I'm quite surprised so many of you have bad thoughts about homeschooling!
Perhaps it's because all the children I see have parents who are very involved in their education.

I also do not see them going into a public school. From what I've seen, however, they have no problem adjusting to being in a classroom setting.
They work well with others and are more respectful of others. They are for sure more polite.
I've never seen problems with them unless there was a true mental difficulty. In those kids no matter where they were the problem would be there.

Perhaps it's my area?
Our public schools are really bad. It's not weird to be homeschooled in my area. Just about everyone knows of at least one person who is homeschooled.

I'm all in favor of homeschooling. I plan to homeschool if I ever have children.
The kids I see are just so... amazing. I certainly find it hard to believe that 50% of homeschooled kids are BELOW grade level!