Open thread

Published by Lori Pickert on November 11, 2011 at 02:15 PM

Education is an important determinant of income — one of the most important — but it is less important than most people think. If everyone had the same education, the inequality of income would be reduced by less than 10 percent. When you focus on education you neglect the myriad of other factors that determine income. The differences of income among people who have the same education are huge.Daniel Kahneman

We grow up believing that what counts most in our lives is that which will occur in the future. Parents teach children that if they learn good habits now, they will be better off as adults. Teachers assure pupils that the boring classes will benefit them later, when the students are going to be looking for jobs. The company vice president tells junior employees to have patience and work hard, because one of these days they will be promoted to the executive ranks. At the end of the long struggle for advancement, the golden years of retirement beckon. “We are always getting to live,” as Ralph Waldo Emerson used to say, “but never living.” Or as poor Frances learned in the children's story, it is always bread and jam tomorrow, never bread and jam today. — Mihály Csíkszentmihályi, FLOW: The Psychology of Optimal Experience

Questions? Comments? Suggestions? Thoughts? Problems? Dreams? Share them here in the open thread!



Comment by Arwen on November 11, 2011 at 03:03 PM

I was thinking just this morning about the lie that education correlates with how good a job you can get. I figured this lie out a few years ago during a discussion on a message board. Someone had found a statistic about average income. Someone else said, "Who makes that much? I don't. No one I know does." I think they all had your typical business-world desk job.

I don't remember what the number was, just that it was less than what my husbans makes. But my husband, as a salaried, degreed geologist makes less than many of the miners he works with. After their bonuses come in, a lot of these guys make six figures. I know builders, truck drivers and other "blue collar" workers often make quite a bit too. And they're probably in better shape and have better job satisfaction than someone sitting behind a desk, because they get to work with their hands.

Yet all through school we were made to believe we wanted to get "thinking" jobs. Those are the best kind of jobs.

A few weeks ago I met a homeschooler who had just graduated at 16. I asked him what his plan was. College? Apprenticeship? Nope. He's just going to bide his time ranching until he's old enough to work at the mines (there's safety laws about how old you have to be).

And I thought, "Why not?" If starts young, who knows how much he could be making by the time he's 30. And the benefits out here are great.

Comment by Lori Pickert on November 11, 2011 at 03:23 PM

that's really interesting. this seems topical to me because of all the talk about college degrees, are they worth it, you shouldn't major in things like liberal arts but choose engineering instead, and so on. when i was in college. the head of my dept. (i was a liberal arts major, of course!) told me that the computer science majors would be making more money right out of the gate, but the liberal arts majors end up ahead ten years down the road. interesting. i myself started a business and don't regret my choice of a major at *all*.

if education has a fairly minimal effect on future earnings/"success", then parents should be thinking about the other ways they can help their kids develop — figuring out their interests, getting real experience and real skills, learning how to work with people and communicate, and etc.

Comment by Queen of Carrots on November 11, 2011 at 03:50 PM

This is not particularly significant, but my inner editor can't help but point out that it was Alice in Wonderland, not Frances, who got jam tomorrow but not today. Frances got bread and jam every day until she got tired of it. :-)

Comment by Lori Pickert on November 11, 2011 at 03:54 PM

q. of c., so funny — i didn't catch that at all. :^)

Comment by amy on November 11, 2011 at 05:27 PM

I am really struggling with this lately, this prevalent idea of living for the future. The worksheets (worksheets! yuck!) my 7yo brings home look so stupefyingly boring. His school week is overwhelmingly focused on math, spelling, and reading. I often wonder how schools can get away with largely ignoring or simply "fitting in" science and social studies, and let's not even talk about art, of course. In the past decade since I've had kids, I've observed fellow parents hurry to toilet train their kids so they could go to preschool, where they would learn to sit still in preparation for kindergarten, where they would be prepared for school, where they will be prepared to be obedient cogs in someone else's machine. I am chafing myself at the ridiculous school stuff I have to deal with on the parental level, and I hate that I'm complicit in forcing my kids to toe the line when I think the line is poorly designed and in the wrong place anyway and has anyone thought of dots, some kids like dots instead of a line, or maybe dashes, or a purple line, but forget all of that, and here's another worksheet.

Sigh. And thank you for providing a place to vent through my fingertips...

Comment by Lori Pickert on November 11, 2011 at 06:00 PM

it's been a long time since i've read frances! ;^)

amy, that was some good vent.

the endless "prepare them for the next thing" reminds me of a story. someone asked a progressive educator if a play- and art-based preschool adequately prepared kids for the desk- and test-centered schooling they were destined to get in K and first. she replied (archly), "that would be like preparing them for starvation tomorrow by refusing to feed them today."

one of the biggest reasons we homeschool has nothing to do with education. we think children's lives should be given the same importance as adult lives. why shouldn't they have enjoyable, balanced, meaningful lives? it's hard to find a school that prioritizes the kids' lives *now*, *today*. they are, again, mostly thinking about the future — test scores, high school, college, career...

Comment by Anne T. on November 11, 2011 at 06:39 PM

I and some other members of our young homeschoolers support group were talking about this recently. One of the moms was saying he son was getting into trouble because he wouldn't sit in circle time at preschool. Every day he and she would talk about how he had to learn to sit there. And then she thought "why am I forcing my kid to do this?" Sitting in a circle at 3 has nothing to do with the kids, it has to do with the teacher and future teachers down the line who need all 35 of their students to sit still. Probably if whatever you were doing in circle time was intresting, he'd sit down for it.
I got tired of hearing the whole "you have to take this class, so you can take this class, so it will look good on your college application" So, I'm spending all this time being bored to impress some stranger? Some stranger I'll never meet who has all this supposed power over my future because a college degree is the defining aspect to your career and life?

Comment by Lori Pickert on November 11, 2011 at 06:49 PM

that's actually a great question for parents to ask preschool programs — "how do you respond if children don't want to sit down for circle time?"

it's the behavior ripple-down effect — preschool has become the old kindergarten, in order to prepare kids for kindergarten, which is now what first grade used to be. and so on, and so on.

it's not all teachers, either — parents sit their preschool-age children down with worksheets. but teachers should be the ones championing appropriate expectations for the age.

re: this class so that class so graduation so job .. and then you graduate and no one ever asks you about any of it again! college kids are ignoring their class content and a large percentage of them are cheating without remorse — no wonder. they've figured out it doesn't matter at all.

we all turn into our best selves when we're working on something we really care about. so shouldn't we ripple *that* down to the youngest kids?

Comment by Lori Pickert on November 11, 2011 at 07:20 PM

The prime purpose of being four is to enjoy being four — of secondary importance is to prepare for being five. — Jim Trelease, The Read-Aloud Handbook, 1985

Comment by shelli on November 11, 2011 at 09:06 PM

Found a few more minutes, Lori! This is a great thread. You know, I am homeschooling so that my children can find out what they love to do on their own without the rest of the world telling them what they should do. However, I realize sometimes I will get in the way of that. Because I'm going to at least make them learn the basics of reading, writing, and math, etc., and I'm going to make them realize that someday they'll have to pay their own way, so let's figure out what you'll like to do that will also pay the bills. But while they're small - please go play! I hope that they'll look back on their childhoods with fondness and not wish that their parents did more for them. (Like in this recent NYTimes article. Have you read this?

My husband has a PhD in history and teaches at a community college. I think he's well-suited for his job and he's trying to make it better by initiating some worthwhile projects, but he regrets never making it to a 4-year college, and he wishes he made enough money so we wouldn't have to worry about finances. Now he gets a little angry at colleges who are recruiting grad students to get their PhDs in history. (Similar in all the liberal arts majors.) They don't tell them that there are very few jobs in academia. Only the ivy league grads are getting the good positions these days. (It was not uncommon to have 300-400 fellow applicants when he was searching for job.)

However, what do you tell a passionate student who wants a PhD in history and wants to go into academia? I think that adults (and colleges) should be honest and open about the future possibilities. We can't squash someone's dream, but if they are clear about their future chances, then perhaps the student will be able to think about other options they could love doing too.

I want to help my children see many options that are open to them. I want to let them know that if they fail at one thing, they can try something else. I myself was always stuck on being a writer, and I'm still stuck on that. I used to carry around a lot of angst over not "making it" but now that I'm 40 I've finally reached a place where I can see other options for myself that make me very happy. I'll keep trying. It's the journey that counts, right? I will teach that to my boys too.

I guess what I'm trying to say is that the education most kids learn in school falls very short in teaching a child how to become a happy, fulfilled adult who can provide for themselves. School does not address the Whole Life or the Whole Person. There's a spiritual and practical side that is missing, though it should be hand in hand with our "school" learning. This is why I want to homeschool. I want to cover it all.

Comment by Lori Pickert on November 11, 2011 at 11:06 PM

shelli, your last paragraph is a great summation of why we homeschool, too.

with life changing as swiftly as it does, how can we even know what jobs will be available when our children are young adults? when i entered college i wanted to be a journalist; i changed that plan and started a publishing-related business when i graduated. i took my interest in writing and editing and reapplied it to something that was just coming into vogue — desktop publishing.

i'm confident that the real skills my sons are learning will be applicable no matter what happens with technology or the economy. they spend their time really developing their interests, acquiring skills, and doing real projects — all of which gives them tremendous confidence (which they've earned).

re: the NY times article — the mom is quoted as saying,

“Children’s lives are more than products that must be molded until they adapt well to society, or to another school, or to the work force. As it is now, a child’s life is very much bound up with schools and schooling, and that animating force that gives life to each child is ignored.”

that certainly fits in with what we're talking about. yet, she and her husband put their kids into public school when they were completely unprepared for it, and the kids suffered accordingly. it's almost a textbook case of what people mean when they say, "but what about *socialization*?!" these parents did *not* get their kids "socialized" and they suffered tremendously when they were suddenly dumped into public school. i wince thinking about it.

truthfully, there is so much variety in homeschooling that i don't feel an instant connection with another person just because they homeschool. the terms "homeschooling" and "unschooling" are almost meaningless — people do things completely differently from one another. i really have to break through and know more about how people live and learn to feel a sense of connection or community.

when people judge us in a knee-jerk reaction for being homeschoolers, i don't care. reeducating nonbelievers is pretty boring, and it's almost impossible to change people's minds. anyone who really cares about us and knows us knows my children, what they're like (their *whole* person), knows how intelligent and kind and great they are. anyone who *doesn't* know us .. well, it's usually not worth it to me to try to change their prejudices against hs'ing.

i'm sure a lot of people will read that article and shake their heads and think "oh, i KNEW it, i knew hs'ing was bad news!" but that's just one individual story. you can't know what hs'ers are like from that story (or any other one) any more than one public schooler's story tells you about all kids in public school.

and — this is annoying, too! — even when people think your kids are great and smart and hs'ing is great for *you*, once again, they'll say "well it's fine for *you* but most people..." or "it's fine for you, but we could never..." you really can't be an advocate for hs'ing even if you *wanted* to be — because people always write the successes off as atypical or unreproducible. *exactly* as they used to treat my tiny private school — as an anomaly, rather than an example of what is possible.

as for my kids and their future articles in the NY times ;^) we've been very transparent about our choices for their education and our life in general. our goal is to segue them into adulthood; that's part and parcel of why we emphasize project learning. they already take tremendous responsibility for their education, and they have choice and control about how they focus their time. we often say that no path is perfect, but you choose your best option and reevaluate when necessary. i think we've passed on to them our confidence about making a custom life and being in charge of your own learning. when they're adults, i think they'll know we did our best. :^)

thank you for the great conversation, shelli — i think we've written a novella here! ;^)

Comment by shelli on November 12, 2011 at 01:09 AM

Thank you, also, for this wonderful discussion. When I read that article in the Times, I thought that it was more of a comment on that family than homeschooling. You are right that all homeschooling families are very different. Unfortunately, we get clumped together, and that article will reinforce a negative stereotype in many people's minds.

It also got me thinking that if parents want to homeschool, they need to think about what they want/need to get their children ready for. I think that putting those kids into public school at that time was probably a much more difficult transition than if they had followed through their schooling until they were more independent. Similarly a neighbor who teaches junior high once told me about a home schooled girl who entered her school (and class) in the 8th grade and had a horrible time. Think about what a difficult age that is anyway --- homeschoolers will be different (not necessarily in a bad way), and if parents need/want to transition them, they need to think about what the child needs...the socialization (perhaps the awareness of how mean kids can be and what to do if something happens to you) as well as the academics. I'm afraid there are probably many homeschoolers who do it simply to "protect" their children, and this doesn't serve the whole child. (By protect I mean hide them from the negative side of society or perhaps other's belief systems. I want to protect my boys too, but I don't want to shield them from the world either.)

As my children grow, I'll discuss their schooling options with them and get their input. If they have a burning desire to go to public school at some point, I'll have to think about what I need to do to prepare them for that. I hope that I will be able to homeschool them until they graduate, though. I hope that I can do what you're doing!

You are very right when you say that it's impossible to change people's minds. I can only hope that homeschooling will remain a legal option (I think it will) and we'll be able to help our own kids in the way we see fit. I know people think we're crazy. Maybe we are a little, but in a good way!

Comment by Lori Pickert on November 12, 2011 at 01:26 AM

i agree with you re: "putting those kids into public school at that time was probably a much more difficult transition than if they had followed through their schooling until they were more independent". if kids are going to have to deal with bullying & etc., they should be prepared — you shouldn't just toss them in the deep end.

i often hear the accusation that i'm trying trying to protect their kids. and it's true in some sense — i'm certainly trying to steer their lives in a better direction. but i usually hear something along the lines of "kids who don't go to public school won't learn how to deal with bullies and jerks". and i usually respond that bullies and jerks are, unfortunately, everywhere. they're in scouts, 4H, sports .. good luck trying to avoid them. at the same time, i know that my kids are in situations where they have less chance of being systematically or seriously bullied, emotionally tormented, and so on. and that's a plus of hs'ing, obviously. and i'm *fine* with my kids not experiencing that; it's certainly nothing i'd put up with as an adult.

when my children were younger, i would get asked *all the time* "what will you do if they want to go to school?" it makes me laugh now — they would *never* want to go to school. lol. they relish their freedom! :^)

rather than waste energy trying to change people's minds about hs'ing, i prefer to channel my energy into helping people who want to learn more about it. i'm sadder about changing people's minds about project-based learning in public school — i would *really* like to change those minds, but great minds have been saying the same things over and over for decades and nothing seems to work.

i know people think *we're* crazy, too — and i'm fine with it! :^)

Comment by Anne T. on November 12, 2011 at 05:11 AM

If our intention had been to put our son in public school for kindergarten we probably would have done part-time preschool this year. I think it would have been too much of a shock to the system otherwise. I can only imagine it would be harder the older you get and the more learning freedom you've had.

Comment by Lori Pickert on November 12, 2011 at 01:43 PM

the kids in the article had no experience being with other kids. hs'ed kids today who spend a lot of time in clubs (4-H, scouts), classes (art, music, theatre, co-op), activities (kids' chorus, park days, sunday school), sports (soccer, swimming, tae kwon do, dance), and on and on would most likely have an easier time.

as you say, it's the *learning* aspect that i think would be hardest. that, and the loss of freedom in general — being allowed to move around when you want to move around, be in charge of yourself and your space and your tools, learning about things that matter to you.

Comment by Lori Pickert on November 12, 2011 at 01:45 PM

i wanted to share this comment from judy & my response, from "why i don't worry about my kids' screen time, part 2":

This makes me feel so much better about the hours of screen time my boys consume. It's all educational (hard to find a decent program for young kids that's not, these days!), but I have wondered where the line should be. Then they act out the stories. And extend/reinvent the stories. And draw endless pictures from the stories. And then I realized the reason they want to re-watch some of them is so they can fully absorb and memorize each detail. Then they spend time with their (ahem) 'socialized' peers and I realize all that screen time has not dumbed them down half as much as institutionalizing them for 6 hours a day would! (however, they do need more outside time...we all have something we need to work on, right? :). ) — Judy

it's always easier to achieve a positive goal ("let's get outside more!") than a negative goal ("you need to stop watching so much TV!") — even though they work toward the same goal!

along the same vein, you can start to feed the creative side by making (or maintaining, adding to, tidying) an art studio and/or writing space, making more room for dramatic play, making new tools available (typewriter, video camera), and on and on.

if we feed what we want to see, we'll see more of it! — Lori

Comment by Luisa on November 12, 2011 at 03:47 PM

Lori I have been really enjoying this thread. I think the comment that hits me the most is Shelli's last paragraph:

"I guess what I'm trying to say is that the education most kids learn in school falls very short in teaching a child how to become a happy, fulfilled adult who can provide for themselves. School does not address the Whole Life or the Whole Person. There's a spiritual and practical side that is missing, though it should be hand in hand with our "school" learning. This is why I want to homeschool. I want to cover it all. "

I think she best put it how schools don't treat children like individuals or a whole person. After my experience in a charter school and a public school I've came to realize that the school is just system trying to systmatically turn out children to take tests really well, strip down their little personalities and squash as many dreams as possible so that they can turn out robotic test taking kids who aren't allowed to think for themselves and then are told they can go on to college and get a job. I know there are those that would disagree with me but I have witnessed and heard these things myself. The path of destruction is overwhelming. For example my kids told me once their principal was asking kids what kind of job they would like when they get older? One kid responded "I don't know I'm 9." There are adults still trying to figure out what they want to be or figure it out after trying a few things. The intent was to encourage children to help their future but the methods were wrong.
Recently we drove past the school and saw the principal walking along all smug and sure of herself. Of course she thinks she thinks she is helping kids into college (they are only in elementary school), she has fine tuned her manipulation techniques to use on parents and kids (I have witnessed this disturbing piece) and best of all she thinks she has found a really good school method that is being used as model and is being replicated (like the flu) in 2 other schools. It's disturbing. She is as sure of herslf about her methods as we are sure of ourselves that homeschooling is the right decision for our family.

Comment by Luisa on November 12, 2011 at 03:54 PM

This is my second comment because like every homeschooling family I have the same gripe when people ask me what do my kids do for socialization?
Lately it's really getting on my nerves because it's the been the same 2 people asking. I answer politely but inside I really want to say we're homeschooling not hermits. We didn't leave school to crawl under a rock and not speak to each other ever again. In fact since our decision to homeschool my kids are out more and speak to anyone of any age and about different interests.
I refrain myself from saying what kind of socialization do you actually think they are getting in school? If bullying, being told what to do all day, told to be quiet in the hallway in the classroom., shortened recesses and so on is considered socalization? Then thanks we'll pass on that I like our version way more.

Comment by Lori Pickert on November 12, 2011 at 04:20 PM

"The intent was to encourage children to help their future but the methods were wrong."

this, i think, hits the nail on the head.

the traditional schooling method says, "listen to us and do what we say and when we extrude you out the other end of the system, you'll be prepared to go to college and then get a job."

a holistic learning approach says, "what do you want to learn? what do you care about? i'm here to help you discover what you can do and support you while you do it."

the second method builds a strong, confident person familiar with their own interests and capable of learning *anything* they need to know. who doesn't want to hire that person? who doesn't want to work with that person? not only do they have knowledge and skills, but they are interesting because they are interested in life. they are engaged, enthusiastic, and passionate.

the problem with the first method is the lack of self — self-motivation, self-direction, self-control. the child knows it has nothing to do with him — it has to do with the adults around him. so he subtracts himself from the equation, sometimes just mentally and emotionally ("i don't really care about this") and sometimes physically.

NOT all teachers/educators are pushing agenda #1. here's a great blog post by a teacher that shows that:

re: socialization, it's always fun to turn it around on the asker. :^) "i KNOW. we were SO concerned about socialization. i mean, in school, our kids were around the same small group of children their same age all day, and they were hardly ever given the opportunity to talk to one another, work collaboratively, or learn about teamwork. we are SO glad our kids could get out of school and get SOCIALIZED! now they're around people of all ages all day long, working in groups, learning to get along, contributing to projects and doing activities. WHEW. now — what are YOU going to do about socializing YOUR kids?" ;^)

Comment by Anne T. on November 13, 2011 at 09:38 PM

I just went through an exhibit documenting the work of groups of kids in Reggio Emilia preschools in Italy. It was at the National Steinbeck Center. There was so much food for thought there. I found some of the vocabulary the exhibit used to be hard to understand or process. The ideas were really interesting and relevant to my current musings abou the way my son is starting to interact with letters and numbers.

Comment by Lori Pickert on November 14, 2011 at 12:58 AM

i was blown away by the Reggio exhibit that I was able to see. do you remember some of the vocabulary? i’d love to talk about it more.

Comment by Anne T. on November 14, 2011 at 04:06 AM

I don't remember specifically. And I wish I could go back, so I could have a second impression. But we went as we were passing through on the way to somewhere else and the exhibit closes before we make our way back.
The vocabulary that felt really abstract and academic had to do with the way children approach the written word. Which my son is just starting to notice and play with, so I really wanted to understand what they were getting at. The descriptions of the more concrete work, such as exploring light, made much more sense to me. But then, I was a sculpture major in school, so maybe that's not surprising.

Comment by Lori Pickert on November 14, 2011 at 03:59 PM

the process of translating italian to english can sometimes make the text seem a little formal, i think. and sometimes the words or phrases they use are unfamiliar in an american context.

i wish they would put the whole exhibit up online, but i suppose if they did, they'd have a hard time convincing people to travel to see it in person, and the examples of the children's work are so impressive in person.

Comment by Anne T. on November 15, 2011 at 03:58 AM

I liked how they had a long wall for each project and you could really see the progression of the work over time. I'm not sure that you could get that across over the Internet.

Comment by Lori Pickert on November 15, 2011 at 02:41 PM

i don't know, reggio puts out some truly gorgeous books and they have a wonderful free downloadable magazine. i think they could do something impressive! :^)

here's a link to the free, downloadable magazine ReChild:

for those who are interested, here's a little online documentation from a project in reggio — it definitely doesn't have the impact of in-person artwork, but it may help some who are unfamiliar with the concept of documentation:

and here's another:

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