That’s Not School; That’s Home

About ten years ago, after my husband and I had been beaten down by the desperate “Socialization!” cries of relatives and friends, we enrolled our daughter in kindergarten. We brought her home one month later. One month. Yep. The whole family liked it that much. Not.

So, I read with bemusement Susan Engel’s February 2, 2010 piece in the New York Times, Playing to Learn. The Times lists Ms. Engel as “the director of the teaching program at Williams College.”  I love what her essay says about how classrooms should function, but if this “theoretical classroom” is what she’s preparing her teaching students to enter, they are in for a rude awakening.

Playing to Learn says wonderful things about how children under the age of twelve should spend their school days reading and telling stories and experimenting. Susan Engel talks about how children “construct knowledge” rather than swallowing it. She ends her article with the beautiful phrase “a curriculum designed to raise children.” But, sadly, her ideas do not have much real-life representation in most schools, and I don’t think they will anytime soon.

Remember, President Obama and his Education Secretary Arne Duncan have endorsed a Race to the Top program that reeks of competitive structure and an obsession with points. Part of this program is the High School Commencement Challenge, which encourages schools to vie for the honor of having the president speak at their graduation exercises. Such initiatives don’t seem compatible with Ms. Engel’s call for “extended time to play” and “lots of time . . . to learn to collaborate.” Who can collaborate when you’re busy racing and challenging?

What Playing to Learn describes is what keeping children out of school provides. When we took our daughter home, a friend told me she preferred to work within the system, to make the school better rather than abandon it. I replied that her method was noble, but that it required time I didn’t have. I couldn’t allow my child to suffer in a bad system while I tried to fix it. Better, I thought, to fix the child, in the good system that already existed in my home.

So read Ms. Engel’s suggestions and apply them where you can; I’ll bet that place will be under your own roof.


12 Responses so far »

  1. 1

    M + B said,

    Thanks for the link and the great synopsis. I couldn’t agree more.

  2. 3

    Rana said,

    I like the comment you made to your friend about not having the time. I agree why wait and watch my child deteriorate in school when they can thrive at home. Great post. I’m going to check out her article now.


  3. 5

    […] Gaissert presents That’s Not School; That’s Home posted at The Expanding […]

  4. 6

    Cherish said,

    My husband was never thrilled with school, but as our kids have gotten older, I think he’s become disgusted with it. I know I sure have! We enrolled our younger one in a Montessori program because we found out they changed kindergarten to a full day of desk work.

    Neither of us really wants to give up our careers to homeschool, but we certainly aren’t going to put our kids through the academic grinder. We’re watching kids be over programmed after a full day of mindless drivel being pounded into their heads. It’s frightening.

    And, truth be told, it’s amazing how much more they seem to learn when they’re allowed to make choices about their education.

    But I’m preaching to the choir. I should pick up this book when I have time. 🙂

    • 7

      sgaissert said,

      Cherish, thanks for writing. A great book is Dumbing Us Down by John Taylor Gatto. You’ll never look at school the same way again. Best wishes with your children. And feel free to preach here any time. Susan

  5. 8

    Karen said,

    Well said, Susan!
    Playing to learn is what I was taught works best, back in the mid-90s when I was getting my Master’s in Education just before the big wave of testing and point collecting became the New Way Forward.

    President Obama continues to disappoint me with his take on education reform. Glad my boys can play to learn as much as they please!

  6. 10

    Sara McGrath said,

    Reminds me of the Joseph Chilton Pearce quote:
    “Play is the most serious undertaking of a child’s life. It is the umbrella under which all learning takes place.”

  7. 12

    […] Gaissert presents That’s Not School; That’s Home posted at The Expanding […]

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