Tuesday, August 23, 2011

How We're Asking the Wrong Questions about Public Education

I'm the weirdo homeschooler in my neighbourhood.

Except that I'm not homeschooling my children;  we're unschooling.

And even though I'm that weirdo, I'm also a former elementary school teacher (and still an employee, though not currently on the payroll), so a lot of my friends and neighbours seek me out to ask questions about the local school (although I've never worked there), their children's teachers, school board policies, rules and homework, and other public-education-related issues.

Here are some of the recent questions I've been asked and comments I've heard:

  • My child's teacher assigns the same homework every day for the whole school year.  Isn't that a bit redundant?  What can I do about it?
  • Should I be worried that my child went from B+ in math D- in one term?  What should I do about it?
  • I'm so offended that my child's teacher asked me to volunteer in the classroom!  Doesn't she know I have a baby at home?
  • The teacher gave my child a C+ in reading.  Now she'll be 'labelled' for the rest of her school life.  Should I complain to the principal?
  • The new principal is a total jerk!  She yelled at me because my child has been late 60 times.  She needs to get over it.
  • Can I tell the principal that I don't want D_____ in my child's class again this year?  Two years of the entire class being subjected to his tantrums is enough.  I mean, I get it that he's Special Needs, but doesn't my child deserve some attention?
  • Am I allowed to tell the school that I won't be making my child do homework?
  • Am I allowed to send my child to school every other day?
I genuinely have sadness in my heart when I hear about these problems and complaints.  I listen.  I empathize.  I explain school board policies or the laws under The Education Act of Ontario.  Often I defend the teacher, who is simply a servant of the system and doesn't really call the shots at all.  Rarely, I offer advice.  Never, can I solve the problem.

Friends, the problem with the public education system isn't The Problem.  The System is the The Problem.

Every scenario described above can be reduced to this:
  • I'm not happy with the status quo.  How do I change the status quo?
Friends, you cannot change the status quo.  You can only reject it.

There is no other solution.  The status quo is not a lot of small problems that all need individual solutions.  No.  The status quo is an institution that is destroying the joy of children and robbing them of their freedom.  An institution is what it is;  it is unchangeable.

We cannot seek to change the institution--the status quo--by asking how to get the teacher to give less homework or more homework or by having more bake sales or fewer bake sales.  Those are the wrong questions.

The question to ask is this:
If I don't like the public education system, do I have to use it?
No, friends, you do not.

You are a consumer.  Public education is a product.  If you don't like the product, stop using it.

If you (and enough other people) reject the status quo, it will cease to exist.  But what will replace it? you ask.  You don't need to know the answer to that question because nothing can replace it until it is gone.  It cannot be tweaked into improvement;  it can only be rejected and replaced.

You do not have to choose to accept the status quo.
I reject it.  And I have no regrets.

Tomorrow:  School will not solve your child's problems


  1. Great post, Patti. I agree with you that the public education system fundamentally flawed and needs to be entirely replaced. Hopefully, the growing number of homeschoolers and unschoolers will provide some insights into how a new system of schooling might work. -Kerry

  2. Agreed. I used to be a school psychologist and really liked my work, because I got to fight the system a bit and make it work for kids instead of against them, but it was still The System. I think public education is good for kids whose parents don't want them at home anyway, but if parents are willing to teach at home, it's a better way to go.

  3. Good post, as usual. I have battled with this concept internally. I recently got my Masters in Public Administration/Local Government Management with the hopes of one day working to improve the public school system in the U.S., or at least in Illinois. However, I struggle with this because I do plan to not send my children to school, at least for the elementary years. I agree with you, my choice is to reject the option. However, I do think another choice is to work on fixing the current option. The problem is, I don't want my children in the schools until they are fixed, because as a former teacher, I know that I can offer my kids a much more effective education than a school could at this point. But, I'm still on the fence regarding whether or not I want to put forth effort in fixing the system for all the rest of those kiddos whose parents choose not to or cannot keep them home.

  4. @Kerry, Cat and Adrienne
    Thankyou for your comments.

    Yes, the question of how we (in general) can work towards improving The System is a big one. And is it really one that we should feel responsible for? I wonder about this a lot. Should I be doing more to advocate for other people's children who do go to school?

    For me, right now, the answer is NO. I feel a strong pull to advocate for children who are already not enrolled in schools, and to advocate for the choices their parents are making. I want to make homeschooling/unschooling REALLY, REALLY normal so that the mainstream culture will have to start asking WHY ARE PARENTS EN MASSE rejecting public school?

    More on that in future posts this fall....