Calvin and Starflower go back to public school tomorrow; he in third grade, she in first. She, being the most social being in our family (although in a family of hermits that isn't saying much!), is excited. He, being a Calvin, is a bit more reticent about it, although I think he's trying to act somewhat excited just because that's what he thinks he's "supposed" to do. I'm ambivalent and struggling with the whole idea.
I'm not going to kid myself and think it's great that they have an opportunity to "get an education" this way. The fact is, I don't think they'll learn anything useful, anything that they could not learn on their own, at their own pace, if given the opportunity. What they will learn is how to obey orders and conform. How to accept things and not ask questions. How to do endless, repetitive, rote-learning worksheets. How to prepare for and take standardized tests. How to cheer for "the team" no matter what. How to be shaped by artificial incentives and punishments.
I could go on and on, but by now you probably get the idea. I'm not a big fan of public schools in general. I'm a big fan of John Holt and John Taylor Gatto's ideas about learning and schools. I think unschooling, not just playing school at home complete with curriculum, but giving my children the freedom to learn what they want in the way that is best for them, is the best way for my children to learn.
I went to public school K-12. I was not aware of any other options. I was good at taking tests and getting good grades. I thought I enjoyed school. Now, twenty years later, I realize I was mostly wasting my time. I had a few good teachers: Dr. Hummel, who introduced me to the formal study of biology and who would jump up on the table waving his pointer sometimes during class. He was that excited about teaching. Mr Luebke taught a vague-sounding senior honors class called "Humanities Seminar" that sparked my interest and appreciation of the fine arts, literature, music, and architecture. And Mr. Thompson made band fun and encouraged excellence from everyone. I was voted Outstanding Senior Girl in Band, the one honor from my school career that I take some pride in. But I barely remember anything else. I didn't come out of any other classes eager to learn more about the subject. I had little interest in reading anything that wasn't assigned. And, most importantly, I did not know how to ask questions.
So why don't I just take my kids out of school altogether? There are a lot of reasons, besides the fact that my retired teacher grandma and the rest of my school-supporting family would think I'd gone totally nuts. I think most of it has to do with the fact that I'm not there yet mentally, not having confidence enough in myself that the idea might actually work. Society kind of does that to a person to make them stay in line. Plus the fact that I work full time, and I would like to be the one to be there to guide their adventures.
I also think that our small town consolidated school district isn't really all bad. There are some well-meaning teachers who genuinely care about the children and want them to do their best, who feel overwhelmed by the demands to prepare for standardized tests and cater to the students with learning difficulties. And I think my children are smart enough to see through the empty praise and false incentives; they are there to learn and they get bored quickly doing the same things over and over.
And, they only have to be in school seven hours a day, five days a week. The rest of the time is theirs to explore, to be kids, and to do what they've been doing all summer. So they are unschooling in a sense, when they're not in school. Maybe some day we'll be ready to take the next step.