On my way to school that morning, I heard a public service announcement on the radio. It was the State Superintendent of Schools imploring parents and teachers to advocate for their students as they progress through their school years.
Back to my story…
If you remember, I entered the In-School Suspension classroom and told the kids I was about to tell them something no public school adult would dare say to a group of students, especially those who had just been suspended from school.
Here is what I told them:
When I was a kid, I never got ready for school thinking I was going there to cause trouble. Even back then I knew I was a pretty messed up kid. My home life wasn’t all that happy as I was being raised by people I didn’t know very well. I did have a few friends at school and I did like some of the teachers. It’s just that I always felt stupid in school and having severe ADHD didn’t help. So, I ended up causing trouble anyway. But, there was also something else…
I don’t know how I knew this, but somehow I had the sense it wasn’t just me being “bad”. Something was wrong with school, itself. At fifteen, I had no way of articulating what it was. Now I do know what it was and what was wrong with school is still wrong with school. I only wish an adult had told me what I am about to tell you because, had I known, that understanding might have changed my behavior and, consequently, how the adults responded to my ongoing frustration.
So, I asked the class, “Have you ever heard of the word ‘Premise’?”
They looked at one another as if someone in the room would know. No one did
I continued, “A ‘premise’ is something you, or a group of people, believe is true. If enough people believe something is true, they will make laws so that everyone has to do what the big group believes they should do. People used to believe that the sun and all the stars and planets revolved around the Earth. You could be punished if you resisted that. We don’t believe that, anymore; but lots of people believe things that aren’t true and you can be punished if you resist believing them.”
I told them the problem comes when what the group believes to be true is not true, yet only a few are willing to acknowledge it. If a person is young and, like I was, already frustrated—or his home-life has made him an angry kid—he may not be able to say what’s wrong. He just knows something is wrong and he can’t help resisting what he is being made to do. If he resists in ways that are not acceptable (his resistance may not be acceptable) he gets into trouble and is punished. He ends up in this room. In I.S.S.
I am going to tell you about three premises, or things schools believe, but which simply are not true. But, even though they aren’t true, these beliefs have become so important that you are required to do them or else the system will either force you or it will punish you. Right now, you are being punished.
So, here are the three things about school I think never have been true:
First: All kids should learn the same things. That is why you have to take two years of a foreign language, four years of science, four years of high school math…You get the picture. These subjects are not electives. Obviously, because adults are older and have some life experiences, they know some of the things kids should learn. What they don’t know is that many of the things they are forcing kids to learn just aren’t the right things for every kid. In other words, some required subjects should actually become electives instead of being required.
The entire class nodded.
Second: If a kid is a certain age, he should be in the same grade along with every other kid his age and they all should be learning what every other kid is learning in that grade. It’s just a fact that if you are younger than most of the other kids in a class, you are considered smart; if you are older than the other kids, you are considered dumb. And, you probably think of yourself as dumb, too. The very idea of putting kids of the same age in the same grade may be useful for schools; but, actually, it is harmful to human beings.
The entire class nodded.
Third: Certain subjects are more important than other subjects. You have to score well in the important ones. Math and Science are important. Music, art, and dance are not so much. It doesn’t matter to anyone if you are musical, are a dancer, or an artist—it doesn’t matter if you flourish in one of these and get all A’s—what matters is that you learn “how to graph the equation of a line written in slope-intercept form”. You have no say in this. The idea that everyone needs to learn to graph the equation of a line written in slope-intercept form is ridiculous. Most high school math teachers know this and some will even admit to it.
The entire class nodded.
At this point, one of the boys spoke up, “I was trying to help my sister who wasn’t understanding what the teacher was teaching and the teacher yelled at me. So, I yelled back at her and called her a name. I used the “f” word. She told me to get out and never come to her class again. So, I’ll be here in I.S.S. the rest of the year.”
The girl who had earlier told me her father is in prison asked, “Mr. C.D., what should we do?”
I wanted to do what the State Superintendent of Schools had asked that morning on the radio. I wanted to advocate for these students. Honestly, I didn’t know how to respond to the girl.
I told the girl that things are beginning to change at the highest levels of education. One day upper-level high school math will be an elective along with many of the other ‘required’ subjects. World-famous educators, and some regular teachers, are beginning to admit that students like yourselves are not being helped by many of the subjects you are being forced to learn. What encourages me is that we all know human beings are individuals and should not be treated as if everyone is the same or that everyone should be learning the same things everyone else is learning. Thinking grownups are beginning to wonder if, perhaps, every child is different and should be given an education that pertains to who they really are.
I reminded the class that we live in a small town and, for our community, changes in education may not come until many years in the future. It might happen for them if they could be homeschooled. But, for many homeschooled kids, no one could tell any difference in what, and how, the kids are learning. They are doing the same thing they would be doing in the public school but are just doing it at home. Only a small percentage of homeschooling parents understand that they should be looking at what the public school is doing and, then, be doing something else.
School is a “system”. Like so many other systems it holds all the cards and makes all the rules. They are only hurting themselves if they continue to struggle against a system that does not have the luxury, nor the inclination, to find out why some students hate school and then change the entire system to make it work for the trouble-makers and misfits.
I told them virtually everyone knows something is wrong with our schools and some are even willing to begin talking about it and demanding changes. But they, as students, don’t have much of a voice so they end up labeled as trouble-makers and misfits because they are frustrated and angry.
I also wanted them to know that teachers are not their enemies. Teachers have a difficult job and many teachers actually understand that what they are teaching isn’t helping young people. Teachers also have families of their own. They may be taking care of sick parents after they leave school. Teaching is a difficult and stressful job and they don’t need students calling them names.
Did any of what I said help these kids? Maybe not. Perhaps just knowing all this could help in some small way.
As I walk down the halls at the beginning of another school day, the kids greet me warmly and ask where I will be substitute teaching that day. I will probably not be in I.S.S.
The way children are educated must change. And, it will. Eventually.
To the homeschooling parents reading this post: You can be a large part of the change. I believe that is one reason God began this Movement in the first place.
In the next post: I will have some personal words for all homeschooling parents and I will also discuss The 2 Tyrannies.
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IMPORTANT NOTE: At 7:00 PM, Central Time, December 1, I will be hosting our 2nd online, interactive, homeschooling Q&A session. If you want more information on how to join us on the 1st, send me your email address now at email@example.com and I will let you know how. Don’t miss this time together!
You can purchase a copy of my newest book, Gifted: Raising Children Intentionally. Just click on the title and you will be taken to Amazon where you can purchase the book. If you would like a free copy of Chapter 1 of the book, go to the site where I have listed my favorite homeschooling materials and you may download the chapter for free. Go to: Chris Davis Recommends (also on Facebook).
For 14 years, I have taken homeschooling families to tour biblical Israel. Check out my travel site at Experiencing Israel (also on Facebook)