|Montreal, July 19, 2003 / No 126|
by Harry Valentine
Governments at all levels develop policies that are intended to meet short-term objectives, but accomplish the opposite in the long term. Such is the case with the growing discontent being shown toward state-run school systems in several nations. Almost every government on earth administers a school system. Some governments do allow elite and regulated private schools to operate, while most do not. The discontent with state-run public school systems may be traced to developments occurring in nations like the United Kingdom and the United States.
Under the Johnson administration in the early 60s, teenage drug use in
American schools exploded to epidemic proportions as a result of America
having instituted the draft during the Vietnam debacle. Johnson's welfare
policies resulted in an explosion of pregnancies amongst teenagers attending
American inner city high schools, which became havens for drug pushing
and gang related violence. From the Johnson era to the Clinton era, American
schools have been the scene of rising drop-out rates, increased incidents
of violent assaults, even the occasional shootings, trends which have even
spread to state-run high schools located in more affluent areas.
Zero tolerance nightmares
To combat the growth of serious misbehaviour in state schools, officials initiated a safe schools, zero tolerance policy. Under this regime, school teachers and administrators are required to "go by the book," suspending sensible thinking and rational judgement when dealing with problem student behaviour. Enforcing the zero tolerance policy has given rise to a virtual epidemic of zero tolerance nightmares (see http://ztnightmares.com), where even well behaved and honour students were suspended for such infractions as having a plastic butter knife in a lunchbox, or wearing an oversized keychain or locket. Under zero tolerance, bullying victims as well as their aggressors may be suspended. Studies on bullying have shown that most bullying incidents revolves around state schools, that is, bullying occurs on the way to and from school, on the school bus and on school premises. Victims of emotional bullying, the most common kind under zero tolerance, have little recourse but to suffer in silence. In one high profile case from British Columbia, the news media reported that a female victim of school related emotional bullying had committed suicide.
Peer emotional bullying is not the only cause behind school related teen suicides. State behaviour can also indirectly "bully" children and their parents through compulsory school attendance laws and school environments that may deprive children of the joy of learning. Japan's public school regime has put children into a high stress, high-pressure academic environment that not only demands excellence in achievement, but also conformity. As a consequence, Japan has witnessed numerous child suicides due to the overwhelming demands of their high-pressure, high-stress academic system that deprives large numbers of children of the joy of student-paced learning. Under such a regime, a state-controlled educational system such as Japan's can mentally and emotionally bully and abuse children. Japanese teachers actually believed that their school system upheld the world's highest academic standards. Only after some highly publicized school-child suicides did some of Japan's leading academics begin to express misgivings about their nation's state-run school system.
Many teachers whom I have known personally actually began their careers in a very idealistic frame of mind, eager to take on the world and believing that they could make a positive and worthwhile contribution to the academic development of children. Caring teachers actually spend a portion of their salaries buying school supplies for the benefit of their students. After a few years in the public system, many of these same teachers become disenchanted and disheartened by the political behaviour of the educational bureaucracy. Teaching in a state-run school system can take a toll on teachers who are responding by taking stress leave, suffering burn-out, taking early retirement, even leaving teaching altogether to pursue careers in other fields. Under compulsory school attendance laws, unmotivated students may react abruptly toward teachers who attempt to force them into learning something in which they have no interest. Both teacher and student in such a case are being abused by the behaviour of the state, which is the underlying root cause behind disgruntled students sometimes disrupting classrooms, even lashing out at their peers and teachers through verbal or even physical abuse. The state then tries to solve this very problem that it has itself indirectly created, by enforcing the ill-conceived zero-tolerance policy.
alternative to state schools
The advent of the VCR and the appearance of VCR instructional videos such as Hooked on Phonics and similiar programs have enabled concerned parents to teach their children reading skills and numerical skills at home. Homeschooling parents soon realised that children can actually enjoy learning and respond well to the learner-paced, individualized instruction provided in the emotional security of a warm, caring and supportive family environment. Caring parents who ensure and preserve the joy of learning for their children can actually help them thrive and excel emotionally and intellectually. Many VCR and cassette tape learning programs, such as the Lozanov tapes, actually make the parents' job of homeschooling easier. The Eastern European educational psychologist, Dr. Georgi Lozanov, produced taped "super-learning" programs where drilling of arithmetic tables were put to baroque music to match certain human brainwave patterns. These widely available tapes made instruction by drilling more effective, by removing the boredom and tedium associated with such learning. A series of studies done on young children attending private schools which used the Lozanov tapes, showed that the children had actually retained more information which they had acquired in less time than by traditional classroom drilling.
The advent of the era of the home computer and Internet access has made even more educational material available to homeschooling parents. Major bookstore and office supply chains do have computer software sections that carry a wide range of academic and educational programs on compact disc. Magazines such as Discover, Psychology Today and Scientific American regularly advertise such CD's and VCR's, which offer learning and instructional material in audio-visual documentary-style presentations. These presentations are on par, if not superior than classroom presentations being offered in state schools. Several families have reported that their homeschooled children learned more from the VCR documentaries than their counterparts who attended the state schools.
Free educational software is available online to homeschooling parents from the Webpage www.free-homeschool-software.com. Lessons on tape, VCR, CD-rom and DVD are like teachers with infinite patience, allowing students to stop a lesson, go back to review sections that may have been unclear, then continue in their self-directed, self-paced journey of academic growth. A landmark book entitled A Mind at a Time, based on the extensive research of pediatrics professor, Dr. Mel Levine, reveals that the "wiring" structures of children's brains and the ways in which they learn and process information, are as unique and distinctive as their fingerprints and their DNA. This research supports and validates the appropriateness of the individualized, student-paced (self-directed) joy-of-learning approach that is common to the homeschool environment.
Self-directed, self-paced learning
One homeschooling family's 8-year-old daughter quite enjoyed learning to type using the Mavis Beacon typing software program, one of a variety of educational and instructional CD-based programs on their home computer. Like many other homeschooling parents, this couple advised me that they wanted to preserve the joy of learning for their young daughter, encouraging her to become a self-directed learner. Two working single mothers living in my region were homeschooling one child each, with considerable success. One child was bored in school (a stressed teacher), while the other was a victim of school bullying and experiencing learning difficulty. Under the mother's tutoring, the bullied child (who had previously attended one of Ontario's "improved" schools) not only caught up to her classmates within an 8-week period, she had actually surpassed them in several subject areas. The bored child's mother connected with a homeschool network and soon had her 11-year old learning at his own pace in a self-directed learning environment. Of his own free choice, he selected to read challenging material, including an 800-page novel (his reading comprehension levels exceeded those of his former classmates, who were still his after-school playmates).
From my contact with homeschooling parents, it was not unusual for children who enjoyed their self-directed, self-paced learning in a pressure-free environment, to freely choose to struggle and learn extremely challenging, rigorous and even comprehensive academic material that was of interest to them. This was especially the case when the material was arranged to begin with the basics, then progress in a very logical sequence to higher levels of complexity. All one parent did was to provide encouragement, reassurance and emotional support as her child freely chose to struggle through such material, which came packaged in a series of CD-rom discs, VCR's and work books.
It seems that when the state and its regime of forcible compulsion is absent, children who enjoy their self-directed, self-paced learning in a nurturing and supportive family environment can actually make progress in learning the kind of challenging and comprehensive academic material that has driven highly stressed Japanese school-children to committing suicide in that nation's high-pressure state-run school system. Yet state education bureaucrats in several North American school districts remain adamantly hostile to the concept of homeschooling, harassing and victimizing homeschooling parents, even arresting and laying truancy charges against homeschooled teenagers.
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