There is a reason homeschooling works so well so much of the time — and I think the reason is the same as why the system in Finland works.
Children, as they grow and develop, need things that our current public schooling system generally does not provide. I know some spectacular teachers who are doing their best to facilitate learning, but their hands are often bound by systems that work against that very process in the name of progress.
Children need to interact with adults who treat them like human beings and not like potential discipline issues and probable statistical nightmares. When you are managing a crowded classroom within a social context that devalues teachers and in which lawsuits have replaced a note from home, it’s not easy to have the margin or courage to do much more than keep some semblance of the peace.
Children need to PLAY. And by play I mean more time and space and less stuff. Children don’t need toys that are only one thing that is a facsimile of one thing (plastic food in the plastic kitchen with plastic plates and pots and pans, for example). Children need blocks and sticks and boxes. Children need old stuff from which new stuff can be created, feeling their re-imagining skills. Children need other children who are “other” in all sorts of ways so they both benefit from the diversity of ideas and also learn how to navigate those differences before they have to enroll in a class to learn how to do so.
Children need time to learn without the stress of performance. Being in a constant frenzied preparation for the next test that will mark you forever as smart or stupid is not learning. It is torture. Give me an hour with a kid and I’ll tell you whether they are doing well. I’ll listen to their stories and look into their eyes and see courage or fear, confidence or fear, joy or fear. I’ll watch them interact with other kids and see how they treat people who are all kinds of “other.” It is rather ridiculous that, knowing children develop at different paces and in different ways than others, we insist on testing them at every turn to see how they are developing in comparison to others by having them fill in the oval with a number two pencil.
And then there is the added pressure of sitting under judgement and criticism. Now, don’t get me wrong on this one — I am not one who supports the notion that everyone wins all the time and should get a trophy for getting off the sofa. I’m for NOT making everything a competition. When did we start normalizing overt, even mean criticism at every turn that threatens getting voted off the island or sent home a loser? Reality television is NOT reality.
Finland may be cold and dark in the winter, but it might be more than a fair trade off to get a great education. Or maybe we should learn from Finland and great homeschooling families, and our past and find a way to do better in ways that impact hearts and minds and souls and not just standardized test scores.