I spent 24 years in various roles in public education. I believed in what I was doing. I learned about being a teacher by being a teacher, not going to “teacher school”. I learned it from mentors who saw in me a gift for working with children and a passion for nature-based education. I was lucky enough most of my years to work for administrators who hired good teachers and gave them the freedom to help children learn and explore the world in and outside the classroom – hands-on, minds-on, community-based education. My students consistently out-performed others on state and national assessments.
Then, along came standards-based education and NCLB – and everything changed. Teachers were put into boxes and kids into shackles. No one was allowed outside the classroom. “Time on task” became the mantra. No one taught science or social studies or integrated, thematic, community-based units, because only reading and math were being tested then.
Good teachers, no, GREAT teachers, became average teachers or became frustrated trying to conform or left the education field for other opportunities. I stuck with it for a few more years and tried to buck the system, do what I believed was right for kids. I saw kids getting bored, frustrated, overlooked – in the name of “getting through the curriculum” and “preparing for the test”. I watched 3rd graders throw up the morning of the state tests, terrified they would not do well enough to get promoted to 4th grade. I wondered why we did this to our children. And I decided maybe I’d make more of a difference by doing something else.
I took a break from teaching in a school and began, once again, to teach outdoors. Teaching in a non-formal setting where children can explore and ask questions, perform self-directed experiments, create poetry and essays and art about what they learn, and bring their parents back to explore some more (with the kids as the teachers) makes more sense to me. Don’t get me wrong – I don’t want to be a public school basher. I know there are some pockets of greatness out there, doing all kinds of good things with kids in and around the community. But I want ALL public schools to get out of the “one size fits all, every kid on the same page at the same time” mindset they are in right now. Because of that, I’ve recently been exploring this notion of unschooling.
And yesterday @LucasBessey sent me a link to this video he made about unschooling. I like it. It makes me sad for what public education has become in some places. But it makes a lot of sense in a lot of ways. Strong words from a lot of infamous folks through the ages…
Take a look. What do you think?