The biggest flaw within the public education system, if I had to narrow it down to one thing, would be the natural focus on performance over learning. In school, how much you learn doesn't really matter. What matters is that you succeed in class. And you succeed by doing what is expected of you, regurgitating on a test what you've been told, and participating in discussions and projects. Your grade, and therefore ultimately, graduation, depends on what you can reproduce, not what you have learned.
This actually makes sense.
- If I to tell you that it is important to look both ways before your cross the street, I would expect you be able to demonstrate that you do, indeed, check for vehicles before putting your life on the line in a crosswalk. If you had not known about street safety--as most children initially do not--you would have learned something. Should you fail to act on what I had told you, I would reprimand you and reiterate the lesson. Learning a lesson should carry with it some kind of result.
- To graduate, you must meet certain proficiencies. If you are not yet able to perform certain tasks, what difference does it make how much you have learned? By age two, kids have learned an incredible amount... but I still wouldn't let them drive my car.
- The amount of learning, then, is a rather useless metric... even if it were possible to get such a measurement. When it comes to classwork, you just need to get it done. The kids who do best in school are those who already know the material. Those who are still learning fall behind.
Despite the logical foundation for this Achilles's Heel to mass education, there is considerable danger to this kind of thinking. In fact, it can hold us back from discovering new things:
This makes so much sense. And it explains why some of the most brilliant people throughout history have been frustrated and bored in school.
A formal education is incredibly important, but it is best if it is built around learning. This means you have time to figure something out. It means you do things until you master them. It means the ultimate goal is understanding, not recall. And it means that a real education is not testable while it's happening. All you can do is sit back and see the results at the end. Indeed, testing while learning is a terrible idea because we don't know it yet.
With a classroom, if a student fails a test, that's it. The student has failed.
With homeschooling, if your student fails a test, that's just the beginning. The student has not yet learned. One of the amazing benefits of educating at home is that we are able to prioritize learning over performance.
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