R.L. SAUNDERS

writer attempting real life in the middle of everybody else's vacation

If we must outsource childhood, let’s do it better.

Homeschooling (under which unschooling falls) is a luxury. I used to talk a lot about the sacrifices we make to be able to homeschool. And while that’s true, the bottom line is that we’re privileged to be able to do this. I don’t know what the future holds. I don’t know with perfect certainty that homeschooling is best. But at least I have the enormous luxury of choice, which is due in large part to factors that have nothing to do with anything I’m personally responsible for. Period.

Most kids go to school–even the ones whose parents would love to homeschool them. Got it. Really do.

Then why can’t we figure out how to give public school kids–all of them, in every neighborhood in the country–at least the same student-teacher ratios that exist in many expensive private schools? We’re always hearing how kids at expensive private schools do so well because of their excellent levels of parental involvement and yada, yada, barf. But, hi, they’re not with their parents for most of their waking hours. We sub out our kids’ days starting at age 4 or 5, or more realistically at age 6 weeks in the U.S. where not-as-well-resourced working parents are economically discouraged from spending a healthy amount of time with their infants. Your boss’s boss’s boss’s boss’s boss’s boss’s private Caribbean island isn’t going to buy itself, people. I said get back to work and make his money. Then work some overtime and maybe get yourself a less painful breast pump and a car payment on a nice used Kia Sedona for safe, comfortable transportation to your infant’s fifty-hour weeks at daycare.

Sorry, god. I told myself I’d stay focused.

Anyway, what’s so crazy about believing no publicly funded daycare, preschool, kindergarten, first, or second grade teacher should have more than eight kids to get to know and love? Third grade on up? No more than ten. And I don’t mean add administrators and specialized support staff to deal with after-the-fact issues. In expensive private schools with healthy, intimate class sizes, kids don’t have to be singled out with a label before they receive the individual attention they deserve.

It’s not nuts. It’s doable. We can afford it if we put our money where it matters. Consider this: It varies by state, but in the U.S. we spend between three and four times as much per year to incarcerate an adult than we do to educate a child. The incarceration rate is up something like 250 percent from 1980. We lead the world, by a long shot, in incarceration for non-violent offenses.

K now take a stab at where the majority of the adults incarcerated in The Land of the Free were educated? Not in Mexico, Donald Trump. You dick.

God, sorry again.

And sure, we could say, “Well yeah, but lots of those gross criminal types were school dropouts, though.” To which we could respond to ourselves, “Why so many dropouts if the system is working well?”

So hey, educrats and other smarter-than-us politicians in charge of the future of the country and whatnot, help a simple lady understand why we can’t spend less money later and more money up front. Can we do that soonish? This is not a new concept and seems increasingly popular with folk of all stripes, at least theoretically. The problem is that, for those in charge, the system as it stands works in their kids’ favor. Their kids don’t have to compete with as many smart poor kids later in life.

And I don’t mean we should spend more money on getting kids into a broken school system faster—that’s an ill-conceived Band-Aid. All the emphasis on Head Start and getting kids academically rigorous training earlier and earlier is maddening to me, especially given what we know now about the importance of vast amounts of free play in the brain development of children. But I’m trying to stay focused here. Trying hard. Trying so hard.

A school administrator once told me that there’s just not much evidence that class size affects academic performance. In the same position, with the same dinky budget, I’d probably be inclined to convince myself that was true, too. But I’m not. So even if there’s some truth to what that administrator said, I believe we’re using the wrong measurement tools and measuring the wrong things.

We love measuring. So let’s measure something that ought to matter more. Like, I don’t know, measure how happy and loved and safe kids feel while they’re away from their families all day, every day, starting as infants in many cases. Measure how satisfied they feel, later in life, with U.S. public education. But don’t forget to ask the one in 31 Americans who are under U.S. corrections custody through parole, probation, or incarceration, because they matter. They matter now and they mattered when they were children being raised in a system that failed them too often.

If you’re not a teacher, do this: Imagine spending all day with 25 (or more) kids who are all completely different–different needs, personalities, learning styles. Forget their wants and preferences–there’s no time for that with 25 (or 20, or 10, let’s be real), so those expectations in children get killed early on. Now imagine all your bosses are promising the parents (and children, which is saddest but least spoken of) that you will gleefully, lovingly meet all those needs in plenty of time to get your own baby from daycare before Jimmy Fallon starts. In your spare time, you will meticulously record the evidence of each individual’s growth in individual files, to be accessed by many layers of administrators. And don’t forget to make the 25 individual plans for the next day. We’re not even going to talk about testing here because that, at least, is finally getting some attention. So even if you want desperately to know and love each of them the way Every Single Child deserves to be known and loved, you can’t. Does. Not. Happen.

Theoretically admitting that children are individuals that deserve to be treated as such is a big step in public education. But pretending that we can even remotely begin to accomplish that by simply shifting the burden to teachers without drastically decreasing the number of students in their classes is abusive to teachers and to the children they’re set up to fail.

We know love is the answer. Let’s set up every child in the country to learn that for real.

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Could you use a little inspiration to keep at it today? Check out my guest post on the blog of Linda Epstein, literary agent to the stars and me: NORMAL THINGS THAT HAPPEN TO WRITERS

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