Brouhaha in CA

Janet Mertz mertz at oncology.wisc.edu
Fri Feb 13 12:48:43 EST 1998


> >I agree with this.  When I taught at Winston-Salem State U., the best days
> >were when the Head Start kids toured the lab.  One four-year-old wanted to
> >know where the colors in autumn leaves come from.  I explained that the
> >colors were always there but, the green covered them up so you couldn't see
> >them until the green disappeared.  (I know it's more complex, I'm a botanist
> >and he was 4). He thought about that for a minute, looked me in the eye, and
> >said, "Okay, where did the green go?".  What happens between pre-school and
> >college? (besides hormones).
> 
> the answer: compulsory education.  The older my children get and the more I read and see 
> about education, the more I understand that there is no "right" way to learn,and that 
> people only learn when they want to-children and adults included.  "Want to" takes a 
> beating when children are told that the proper time to learn about leaves is in science 
> class between 1 and 2pm on Tuesday afternoon, no matter if they had questions on it last 
> week at 9AM.  And the proper way to learn is to look the answer up in a book and memorize 
> it.  While this is a bit of a gross oversimplification, is it any wonder that after 12 
> years of "learning" this way, spontaneity is lost?  I realize that the total lack of 
> structure individualized learning requires would overwhelm the public schools (but it is 
> one ofthe reasons the number of homeschooled children continues to rise with no slowdown 
> in sight) and I also realize that some children THRIVE on the structured 
> atmosphere-especially if structure is lacking at home.  But there must be a better wayto 
> educate people than the present system (which is actually only 100 years old-it's not the 
> way many of the "great minds" of humanity were educated)

	There are alternatives. My children attend a 150-student, K-8th 
grade private school modeled on the "Progressive Education" 
philosophy that was popular in the 1920's and 1930's prior to the 
introduction of standardized testing. There are no textbooks, no 
exams, no grades. Rather, the curriculum is child-centered and 
integrated around themes of interest to them in an open classroom 
environment. They write their own original plays which they produce 
and perform; they do independent research projects on topics of 
their own chosing; they make their own original written and 
illustrated books; they shop for, prepare, and determine the pricing 
on the food they sell at bake sales, etc. The 3 Rs are taught within 
the context of things the kids want to learn about and do. There are 
no "correct" answers or facts to memorize to spew back on tests. 
These kids may not know many of the standard facts taught in the 
public schools (e.g., the capitals of all 50 states in the U.S.; the 
names of all the early explorers of the Americas), but they can give 
you several alternative methods to tackle almost any 
problem, know how to go about finding the answers to questions of 
interest to them, and continue to enjoy learning. The student:teacher 
ratio in their school is 12:1, with parents also helping out at 
times. There are some teachers in the public elementary schools here 
in Madison, WI who manage to teach this way at times with 
student:teacher ratios of 20-25:1. Unfortunately, childrens' 
curiosity and love for learning is lost in the public middle and high 
schools where it is mostly textbook-based learning. 

	Janet Mertz



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