This is the first article in a multi-part series focused on homeschooling & other alternatives to government schools.
The world being as it is, many parents are looking for alternatives to the standard government school system. Based on everything I have seen and experienced, I encourage it.
Perhaps some parents are not yet convinced of the problems, their magnitude, or their pervasiveness. In this article I will present reasons why all government school systems are unhealthy for children – no matter how “good the school district is.”
Alternative media often over-reports sensational problems with government school while other problems are unaddressed by almost every source. The gender stuff is a real and increasing experience. Multiculturalism is in the mandatory materials with less and less teacher discretion as the years go by. In my home state of California, vaccinations are required for attendance.
Most adults with an interest in their child’s education know of these things. I will talk here about other, unaddressed problems.
I have multiple close relatives who have escaped the teaching profession. What I write here is based on their experiences as related to me.
School Environments Drive Out Good Teachers
Teacher burnout is becoming an increasing problem and schools are struggling to find enough teachers. The best way to survive as a teacher is to be a wild-eyed weirdo or to stop caring, withdraw, and do the minimum required work. Teachers who really care about their kids become overworked, overcommitted, and burdened with heartbreak as they see the light fade in the children’s eyes due to academic failure & widespread family dysfunction.
There are a lot of expectations placed on teachers. While parent volunteers can occasionally be valuable and well-funded schools can hire aides to offset some of the demands, many sources of teacher stress cannot be alleviated by funding. Some of these stressers are discussed below.
Suffice to say, schools are more likely to filter out good teachers than retain them, and the good teachers that are there tend to not have enough experience to make them really great.
Preferential Treatment of Special Needs and Dysfunctional Children
There are good administrators and there are bad administrators but all their decisions reflect two basic facts: 1) they can make commitments for teachers without having to bear the consequences, and 2) their performance is measured by data & initiatives surrounding special programs that do not emphasize the average child. Neither of these things work out particularly well for the children.
Two of the big problems related to me are the inappropriate integration of children with developmental disabilities into normal classes and the inappropriate toleration of physically violent students.
Special needs students come in all types. Some integrate well in a standard classroom, thriving in an environment where they are treated as peers. Some need specialized education in an environment designed for those specific needs. When district policies push broad incorporation of special-needs students into classrooms – whether because of funding cuts or the “super great ideas” from somewhere atop the bureaucracy – it is a negative for both the special needs students and the regular students; the regular students do not receive the full attention of their teachers, and the special-needs students receive only partial attention from a teacher not at all trained to address their specific needs. Both groups of students tend to fall behind and the increased teacher stress leads to burnout as addressed above.
The toleration of physically violent students may come as a surprise to those familiar with the many stories of children being punished under zero-tolerance policies, but that is for normal children only. Officially-designated “emotionally disturbed” children can assault teachers at will and spend hours destroying taxpayer-funded property without any meaningful consequence.
Even when normal students are not harmed by the violent ones, seeing horrific behavior go unpunished destroys teacher authority and classroom morale. Time and materials lost due to violence also impact education.
Wacko Parents Have Lots of Power
Wacko parents are obsessive and have children with real or imagined disabilities or advantages. Rather than put their children into appropriate educational environments, they research the “secret rules” of the school district and can acquire Advocates that, long story short, can make administrators quake with fear. Teachers are then required to change the academic environment to accommodate the demands of these parents, which invariably impacts the education of other students.
While these situations do not always directly affect students they do change the classroom environment and contribute to teacher burnout.
School Environments Suppress Positive Childhood Behavior
Managing two dozen or more kids with the help of perhaps one classroom aide requires cracking down on healthy behavior, especially that of boys. Stepping on leaves or finding a frog leads to unworkable chaos. A typical school environment requires pervasive regimentation that discourages exploration and free thought. This isn’t a conspiracy; its the only way to manage an environment that is unnatural to humans.
While being able to fit in when needed is an important skill for all people to learn, the ongoing conformity requirements of government schools leads to unacceptable internalization of that conformity. Students who can’t or won’t fit in have no place in school, leaving the world’s much-needed nonconformists discouraged and untaught.
Numbers are More Important Than Children
Districts are required to meet certain testing goals and those requirements are often tied to funding. The most obvious consequence is teaching to the test. Another is that children are often pushed to learn topics, such as math, before most of them are developmentally ready.
Because some funding is tied to test results, teachers and administrators often overemphasize the importance of testing and testing-related materials. Important but non-tested topics are brushed aside and student anxiety increases.
Because of the importance of numbers to district status and funding, teachers and administrators are often pressed to “favorably interpret” – or even misrepresent – student performance.
The worst story I heard is of a boy from a low-income immigrant family who was quietly advanced from grade to grade even though he couldn’t read or do math because admission to the program that would actually help him would bring the district’s score too low. He will be disadvantaged for life even though the help he needed was three doors down. At least the administrators got a raise.
As you can see, the bureaucratic reality of government schools make them a less than healthy place for children – even in so-called good school districts. Parents would be well-advised to see if they can give their children a different form of education.
Multiple AKC posters have experience with homeschooling. I invite you all to ask questions on the Homeschooling thread of the AKC forum.
In the next article I will discuss several alternatives to government schools with an emphasis on homeschooling.