Thought For Today

I am so glad that you have found this site and I hope you will find encouragement and joy as you read through my thoughts on God, family and life.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Educating Our Children

Window into the forest.  Taken this week by our home.
This evening I played with Abby and Will in a game called “Monopoly.”  Abby and I played on one side and Will on the other.  We played until bedtime with the intention of continuing the game the next morning.  When Anne and I play with the children, we stress not in winning, but just enjoying the game itself. Winning is ok, but the fun in seeing the joy of our children learning new ideas and ideals, brings Anne and I so much joy to see our children learn through discovery.  Our children want to interact with us as their parents, and playing games is one avenue that we all can have fun together. 

Having fun at "Lark Toys" near Kellogg, Mn.
Psychologists watch children play with each other and they write many papers on this topic.  When children are having fun, they are, at moments pretending to be adults.  The main difference between adults and children many times, is that children are having fun in what they do. 

Finding joy in discovery needs to be investigated more by professionals.  I remember reading longitudinal studies (that is research done on specific subjects over a lengthy period of time) of children as they grow and how their interactions change over the course of time.  When students reach their teen years, professionals have observed that they learn very differently than when they were young children.  Now as teens, when interacting with their peers, professionals today have often observed the lack of joy in the students’ learning process.  Projects are many times seen by teens as something that must be accomplished, and so it is understood by their peers, that the responsibility of each of the group is to pull their own weight.  The real problem is, what is it that has changed over the years for our children in the way they look at learning? 

Our small children enjoy playing the adult roles, but over time I have observed within our school systems that a passiveness, a reluctance to take risks, a lack of responsiveness to see the joy in discovery, is in fact not there.  Coupled with these things, I have observed that young teens in many cases, want only to do the amount of work that meets the standard for the grade required.  So again, what has changed that has taken the joy of discovery out of children’s lives?  Is it a natural process that all children go through, or is it something else?

I have noticed in working with children over the years that these vast changes that have taken place, are indeed areas of concern that must be addressed.  Is there something that has changed at home, perhaps at school, or is it in our society as a whole?  Might there be a common thread between all of the above.  Our society has gone through many transformations over the last 75 years.  After World War II, America was the leader in the world in most areas of education, research, technology, and the military as well.   Soon changes began to occur that would shatter that belief. 

Fun time with miniture golf at Lark Toys.
After World War II, the Soviet Union was steadily advancing across Europe, taking over many eastern block countries.  Not only did they expand militarily, they advanced scientifically with having the first man in space.  We as a nation panicked.  Math and science was now seen as lacking in our curriculum in educating our future space scientists.  We saw a great need to educate and train our children for the race to catch up with the Soviets in the space program.  Panic overcame us as a nation here in the U.S. at that time. Fear gripped our nation and we could not afford to see ourselves as one step behind everyone else.  If the Soviet Union could put an astronaut into space, they could just as easily drop a bomb on our soil from outerspace as well.  A rush was in progress and our education community was not seen as schooling our children as well as the “Russians in science and math.”

If the truth were known, after World War II, the Soviets managed to get most of the rocket scientists from the vanquished Germans.  We received far less of the German scientists because we had not seen the need to capture vital key rocket facilities and space laboratories at the time, thus ensuring that we did not get the best German rocket scientists.  Germany had been working on the V1 and V2 rockets and were many years advanced over the U.S. and the Soviet Union before and during World War II.  Unfortunately for Nazi Germany, it was looking at rocket science as a new means of better and more effective killing technology, rather than space advancement. 

There was much excitement later when a
 frog jumped out of the blue water.
So, what does that have to do with our children?  One must ask was it our education system that was at fault, because we did not produce the needed rocket scientists?  I believe that was a wrong assumption on the part of our experts at the time.  Our research science was traveling in other areas, and for the most part, was far more advanced than any country at the time.  

As far as the military and bombs go, the U.S. developed the first atomic bomb, which required the highest levels of science and technology.  Science and technology advancements in auto manufacturing were second to none.  Our advances in construction technology could not be matched, anywhere!  The truth be known, we were investing in peacetime technologies and not in wartime science before World War II.  Panic changed our education system in wanting to catch up to what was seen at the time, as the “Soviet Threat."  Cosequently, pressure was put on our education system to improve the teaching of our children by those individuals who were not educators. 
What appeared to be a weed all summer, had transformed this
fall into a beautiful flowering bush in my sister in law's
(Kaylee) flower garden.  Nurturing, insight, patience,
and belief of something beautiful to come.
Each character is hand carved wood and made at Lark Toys.
Except of course for our daughter Abby!

Seeing now how education has evolved since the post war era, and the worry of having to be first in science and education in order to ensure safety for our nation, schools now are now teaching to outside influences that demand that the curriculum be done a certain way.  Penalties are introduced as incentives to improve, for both teachers and students alike. Instructors today are evaluated in terms that force them to align their teaching practices to that of a canned curriculum. 

Are children seen as having fun in learning as they once did, or are they being pressured to excel in order to pass on to the next level?  Are teachers allowed to use different approaches in concert with their individual teaching styles, or are they now forced to conform to state and federal education standards?  One has to ask, where is the joy in teaching, and in learning today for our instructors and our children?  Are we so focused on the end product that we have forgotten the joys of discovery in learning?  If one were to ask any scientist about their job, they would say that thinking outside the box, using creativity in thought, and in practice, makes for the best environment for discovery and learning.  Perhaps we as professionals need to sit in the sandbox more with our children, and learn from them. 

When I began to homeschool my son Will, I used the approach that I was trained to do as a professional educator.  In a short time, I began to see my son wilt in the face of introducing new ideas and subjects to him.  I became confused as to what to do.  I sat down and spoke with my wife Anne, and her parents about the dilemma before me. Anne’s father John, like myself was a schoolteacher and an administrator at one time.  He also teaches education classes now at the university level since attaining his doctorate.  Marji, my mother in law has several master’s degrees in counseling, ministry,  and sociology.  Anne is presently working on her doctorate in education leadership and has a degree in history and a master's in English along with several minors.  She now teaches at several major colleges. 
God's beauty is all around us.

Together we talked extensively over the next several years about the approaches that were used in educating Anne and her siblings.  When Anne and her brother and sisters were home schooled, as it turned out, the practices used were not at all like that of public education.  Anne’s parents sought areas of interest that each of their children desired to pursue.  They then linked the different subjects into the curriculum that was in each of their children’s field of interest.  John and Marji discovered that for a child to want to learn, the child had to be interested in the subject first, much like that of what children do in adult role playing.  Alfie Kohn, a professional educator who desires to see education transformed, purports that education needs to be overhauled and made relevant to our children.  He believes that education needs to be seen as a pathway to discovery and not a system where everyone is fit into a prescribed mold to fit societies present needs.  

Autumn Breezes
Has things changed for Will today?  Needless to say, he is thriving.  For myself, I have changed considerably in my approach to instructing our children.  I have discovered that teaching can be a lot of fun.  Will and Abby are flourishing today in their individual learning, and they are not the only ones who are learning, I am as well.  I had never realized how much joy there is in education until I saw learning in this new light.