Sunday, March 27, 2011

Quality Schools Part 2

Don't forget to read my Part I on this topic!

I didn't realize that one of the books I already own has a whole chapter (a long! chapter) dedicated to quality schooling. So I started reading The Quality School (William Glasser) and the introduction referred back to that chapter in Choice Theory, so I went to the chapter and read it.

I'm so impressed with this concept, I want to make it a cornerstone of my homeschooling experiences.

"I want to know everything."

That's my son's response to the question "What would you like to learn in High School?" -- at 13 years old, in the 8th grade, occasionally getting so-so grades, unenthused about studying for exams or homework.

So you might not believe his passionate assertion if you saw him working at school, or working on his homework or assigned projects. However, he has basically all A's & B's with the exception of English -- he has a C in English because of his writing (it's a long story, so I'll post about my thoughts on "Remedial Writing" in another post). It's not a matter of how well he tests; he tests easily, he rushes through his work, he gets "good enough" on the tests, and he does "just enough" of his homework to get credit. He doesn't care much if his answers are right or wrong so he doesn't double-check his work. His occasional mistakes don't need to be caught: he usually gets at least B's on final grades even when he's sloppy.

Glasser talks about this type of phenomenon in schools. Kids have no incentive or expectation to give their best work to schools, except in the arts, sports, and extra-curricular activities. The only expectation kids have is to pass their classes and that usually means passing their exams. The book brilliantly quotes a Peanuts comic -- loosely paraphrased that the children who get A's are the ones who forget the work 5 minutes AFTER the test, the ones who get F's are the ones who forget 5 minutes before.

That's the failure of our test-based-school-system in a nutshell. We're not asking children for anything more than doing great work on tests. Most of the work is on isolated tests never to be seen again, with the exception of norm-referenced-exams (state or national) given annually to some grades. In other words, the SAT, ACT, CAT, and other alphabet-soup tests that the SCHOOLS are graded on in the spring (thanks to the No Child Left Behind standards from the Federal Government).

So what evidence do I have that makes me believe my son?

I was cooking or cleaning in my kitchen one day some months ago and watching TED talks. These are short inspirational videos on topics of Technology, Education, Design (hence "T.E.D."), environment, and so on. Basically new ideas, breakthrough ideas, on dozens and dozens of topics given by the most inspirational people on the planet. These talks are amazing. There was an 11 year old giving a talk about real food. This is a topic my family is, as a whole, very passionate about. My son caught the tail end of the presentation and asked to watch it again. When I started watching a new video, he watched it with me. It was a video about a new way to detect breast cancer, that successfully detects tumors much easier than our current technology without as much pain for the subject. He was hooked. Now he asks me if he can watch these "lightning talks" all the time. When I let him choose the subject, it's always about the environment, but he's watched talks about education, medicine, inspirational talks, etc. Notably, these speakers are engaged, passionate, and really the most brilliant minds of our time. They don't have long to speak, so they don't bore you with something dry and lecture-like. It's a real winner with kids.

Making breaking information about innovation THAT accessible to children is something that should be harnessed in ALL schools. When you watch these people you get excited about information. You get excited about possibility. You start dreaming that you can make a difference. You might dream about being an innovator or inventor. You start regaining HOPE that the world isn't going to just end before you reach 18. You start having something to live for, in fact a world to look forward TO.

In the Control Theory model of William Glasser, we each have a special place in our heart and mind for the world we really want to live in. He calls this our "quality world." In this quality world are all the ideas and dreams we cherish, the people we love and look forward to seeing, the places we want to visit, the experiences we want to have. Glasser asserts that young children have school in their quality world. They look forward to starting school, they want to meet new people, meet their teacher, etc. In the first 1-3 years of school, this usually works out. School is pretty fun, the teachers are pretty lenient, there's not too much emphasis on memorization, there's plenty of time for play and interacting with other students, and the teachers are pretty open-minded.

Enter the curriculum and test-preparation. Around Grade 2 the teachers start to assert control over the class, forcing children to sit still and spend more time listening to lectures and doing boring and rote repetitious work. It's the time to start really writing, really studying, really doing math calculations. A few kids get restless or even a bit rebellious. But the teachers in the 2nd grade aren't all that jaded and burned-out so they may just recommend that these restless children get checked to see if they need to be drugged to sit still in class.

But the boring, repetitious, demanding curriculum really piles up in the 3rd grade and by 4th grade the children must be ready for testing. Children generally still are OK with school, but they're starting to break a sweat. By 8th grade, you'll know which children are experiencing burnout. And which teachers, too. They're the ones who come down on the kids the hardest, and who have lost their joy in teaching.

In 9th grade those burned-out 8th graders go to High School and the pressure and coercion in school intensifies. Carry 8-20 lbs of books, sit still for 40 minutes, cram your head full of nonsense you'll probably never use again, then go home and do several hours of homework at night. I don't think ANY adults would stay in an abusive job requiring up to 8 hours of memorization & testing followed by 3 solid hours of work-from-home for 8 years without pay, but here are the kids forced into that environment. And Glasser asserts that making that 8-hour day pay is pretty easy: the formula changes the moment that you give the children freedom to pursue quality work in their environment. Because the only way you'd ever get an adult to put in 8 hours at work followed by 3 hours at home is if they really felt passionate about what they're doing. Steve Jobs gets paid $1 per year for his work with Apple Computer. What pays Steve Jobs is when they produce work of the highest quality. Mind-blowing quality. Because he feels passionate about it, it pays big dividends. It doesn't hurt that he has stocks too, but that's not the point: the point is that many of us work, volunteer, pursue hobbies and projects that don't pay and require us to learn new skills because they're for things we believe in, and when we believe in it we do it to the best of our ability.

Glasser goes over all the technical points -- how to change current schools and school systems to work with his theory, which is much more involved than what I'm spouting about here. After all there's about 6 books or more on this topic written by Glasser, and a whole certification process in application for these techniques. I just wanted to put on blog paper enough information to give you a glimpse into this idea and spark interest, as well as introduce the topic because I want it to be part of MY quality world with regard to my son's homeschooling.

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