July 29, 2009

Education and Freedom

Ben has been asking me for a while to write a post on education. I have been hesitant, mostly because I am not confident in my writing skills or in my ability to convey my thoughts, but since it has been a while since Ben has written a post I feel my attempt is better than nothing. As most of you know Ben has many "soapboxes" which he loves to write about. He enjoys the challenge of refining his thoughts and arguments against all of you. There is one thing that he has yet to write about, even though he has strong opinions on the matter--that is educating children. He has left this task to me for many reasons. I will give a little background for those of you who do not know us. Ben and I have been married for over 3 years. I teach fourth grade at a public elementary school close to our house. My mom and sister are both public school teachers. I am actually a 4th generation teacher. It is in my blood and something that I love, but times have been changing.
There was a comment on a previous post about how I work for the public school system and that it is not in-line with the principles that we profess. There is definitely a contradiction there that I would love to address outside of this forum, but I would like to take the time in this post to discuss what I believe to be the role of education and some of the problems that I have seen today.
Since marrying Ben I have had to rethink the purpose of education and the people who are responsible for it. I have come to realize that the most important factor in a child's education is the parents. This is contrary to what my professors in college taught and to what the policies of my school district have tried to drill into my head. The argument that I have heard against this thinking is that if we (teachers) are not the most important factor in education then we will not be able to succeed. I argue against this idea. The parents are the ones responsible for their children's education. They are the ones who hire me because they feel I can meet their child's needs. At least I feel this is the best way to focus on a child's education.
The family's role in education is recognized, studied and counterfeited. I was recently reading the want ads for teachers. There was a posting from a school in the east for a teacher/house parent. This combination intrigued me, so I looked into it further. This school was a type of boarding school--pre-K-12 grades. It was for low income students who would not be able to afford a normal private school. It had nice accommodations, great testimonials, and lots of resources. I was still puzzled about this house-parent thing, so I continued to research. I then found something that scared me. Instead of the normal dorms that you would find at a boarding school, there were houses. 10-13 children would live in a house with a teacher and the teacher's spouse. They would be in family units and taught family values, such as responsibility, kindness, and hard work. The parents could have contact with their children by phone, e-mail, and occasional visits. The family was replaced. Where would morals be taught? Who would guide in spiritual decisions? What about the emotional stability that comes from a loving parent?
This school did what a lot of educators and parents have been asking for: it took the most important variable out of the equation and replaced it with something that can be controlled. If it is true that education would be best if the teachers, the ones who are trained, were completely in-charge, then we should expect to see these types of schools having succes. I predict the opposite. I predict these schools will fail fundamentally, because they are not based on true principles.
One of these principles is responsibility. Responsibility is inherent in freedom. When you make a choice, you are accepting the consequences of that choice. If the choice is good, you are free to receive the benefits of your choice. If the choice is bad, you must also accept its consequences. A person cannot be free if he or she is unwilling to accept or prevented from receiving the consequences of a choice.
I see this in education. Many parents expect me to “fix” their children. They send their children to me, “a trained agent of the state” to be the specialist. If a child can’t memorize her math facts or can’t read fluently, it is my fault and my responsibility to fix it. At least, that is the mentality of many parents and educators in the public school system. This mentality is facilitated by the public school system as parents are given incentives to NOT be personally involved in their children's education. Parents do not know what their children are learning, how their children learn, the social interactions of their children from day to day, or the morals that are being taught their children by the state. They are instead encouraged to raise money for the PTA, cut out pictures, and make sure their child reads for 20 minutes everyday. These are the duties of an "involved" parent who, according to some, are truly watching out for the best interest of their children. We can thank the benevolent state for providing such important guidelines, or else parents wouldn't know how to raise their children. (that last sentence was Ben's thought)
I saw something else that appalled me this summer that will further illustrate my point. Our school provided free breakfast and lunch to any child under 18 that walked through the door. I saw many mothers drive to the school and walk in with their children to watch them eat the government-provided food. The parents gave up the responsibility to feed their children to the government. Whose children does that make those kids?