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Monday, January 15

Think (Aretha Franklin)

The past two weeks have been extraordinarily frustrating as I have been forced to face the facts that I am computer-stupid.  A few years ago (let's take some liberties with the word "few"), when I was in college, I was at the top of the computer / informational science game.  Everything is different now, and I realized this week that I know nothing.  So, with many missteps, I am slowly discovering new computer's a painful process at times.
"No one here knows anything.  But, I know that I don't know anything.  Like the paradox?"   -the Mentalist
What does it mean to be well-educated?  Is it about job skills, test scores, memorizing facts?  If you ask Congress these days, they would tell you that it is about developing a common core of knowledge and preparing students for the workplace.  However, teaching this way puts the emphasis on retaining information, rather than learning how to think.

Right now, our nation's educational system is being shredded by the Common Core's supporters and dissenters.  Every decade, there is a new educational push, and while I give credit to the government for realizing that the system is broken, a federal mandate isn't going to fix it.
Congress declares that standardized testing will determine which students are 'well-educated' or not.  Teachers are forced to teach around the test, and students sacrifice true learning in favor of higher test scores.  Ultimately, students receive an inferior education because of this 'teaching to the test,' and the standards are actually lowered.

"Most teachers can instantly name students who are talented thinkers but who just don’t do well on these exams – as well as students whose scores seem to overestimate their intellectual gifts. Indeed, researchers have found a statistically significant correlation between high scores on a range of standardized tests and a shallow approach to learning."  (Alfie Kohn, 2003)

As for memorizing facts and figures, this information is only worth something if it can be put to use.  If students aren't taught to think creatively and apply their knowledge, then what good is it?  (Other than for passing those standardized tests, of course.)  Another favorite of mine is that a student must be present in his / her seat for a certain number of hours each year.  How many students are present in body only?  Without engagement, there is no learning.
 Only a few short years ago, school was about learning.  Today it is about testing.  This is one of the many reasons that my husband and I decided to homeschool.  While we do use traditional curriculum for some subjects, we have opted for a child-centered 'unschooling' approach, to encourage a love of learning.

Unschoolers learn through life experiences, including travel, reading, social interaction, and family.  We center units around our current travels, or the boys' love-of-the-week (whether it be skeletons, Ninjago, or Scandinavia), and allow them to take the lead. 

As parents, we know that children will dig much deeper into their own interests than an assignment.  My son abhors writing, but he wrote a twelve-page story about being a Viking when we studied Scandinavia...of his own volition.  And they retain so. much. more. when they're studying a personal interest.
This isn't to say that traditional curricula is bad, or uncalled for, but rather that knowledge should be sought for knowledge's sake - especially in elementary school.  If you can teach your children to love learning, then they will become lifelong learners. 

It isn't about credentials or degrees.  Having both the drive and the ability to be a lifelong learner are what makes one truly well-educated.  Teach your child to love the process....however painful it may be at times.
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