Penny Explains Her Philosophy On Education. Why Do Little Kids Spend 5 Days A Week In School Prisons Anyway?

Dear Rich,

I’m going to write a bit about my educational philosophy, but first I wanted to address a couple of things from your last post.

You talked a bit about how you can kind of understand why people strive for FIRE. And you set yourself apart from them because you like spending the money that you have, you like being a busy professional, etc. But here’s the thing I don’t understand: You are setting yourself up for Financial Independence and Retiring Early, you’re just doing it a little later than everyone else. Retiring at 55 (which you said you plan to do) is still retiring early.

And it seems to make more sense to me to Retire Earlier (if that’s what you’re planning on doing anyway) so you can watch your kids grow up, rather than later, when you’re using your (still) early retirement to have more time to drink mai tais on the beach. (Not that there’s anything wrong with that, to each their own, I’m just stating my opinion.) So, I’m with those FIRE people. They seem to have something figured out.

Now, let’s talk about education. You know I have strong feels about this, and I can understand why your boys are struggling, because schools are really no place for young children, especially young boys. They need to be outside moving their bodies, having adventures, exploring the world.

Here’s my primer into what I feel about the best form of education for certain age groups.

Birth – Age 9

I think that kids at this age should not be in school and should be allowed to explore and learn from the world as they are so inclined. I think they should spend a lot of time outdoors. A lot of time being physical. A lot of time finding and developing and pursuing their own interests. Some people call this Unschooling.

If you think about how babies learn and develop, how they learn to talk, and walk and do things without any formal instruction… you can carry this mentality for older kids too. Kids are always learning, even without formal instruction. My kids even learned to read pretty much on their own, in their own time, without any formal instruction.

This quote by John Taylor Gatto:

“It was never factually true that young people learn to read or do arithmetic primarily by being taught these things. These things are learned, but not really taught at all. Over-teaching interferes with learning, although the few who survive it may well come to imagine it was by an act of teaching.”

Age 9-14

At this age, with my kids, their minds were ready to learn more than I (and the world) were offering them. Fortunately for us, we found a 3 day a week Montessori Homeschool Academy. It was the perfect balance into a more formalized education with the kids going to a place that offered them the resources to learn more. Plus, Montessori doesn’t do homework or tests, so their philosophy matched up pretty well with how I wanted my kids to be educated anyway. Montessori is about teaching the child, not the curriculum. In addition, I like that it is only 3 days a week. That’s enough. Who says a 5 day school week is the ideal anyway? Why is that the norm? Family time should still be a bigger part of the child’s life than school.

I like what G.K. Chesterton has to say about schooling:

“There is a tendency to forget that the school is only a preparation for the home, and not the home a mere jumping off place for the school.”

This summer, my 11 year old was talking to his neighborhood friends, and they were asking him when his prison (by which they meant school) started. He said, “I don’t go to prison. I go to a nice little Montessori school.”

So, my kids like their school. They choose to go, I don’t force them. (I talked about this a bit already in my Paying for College Is Helicopter Parenting post, and I included a good discussion with my son about what he thinks about school and what he wants to get out of it.

Age 14-18

High school. We are still figuring this out. My oldest just started this year.

We picked a private high school that we thought was in line with our educational beliefs. At an open house, when asked about homework, the founder of the school, said, “We have your kids 7 hours a day. That’s enough.” And went on to say that they got around 30-45 minutes a night.

Well, cut to the parent orientation, and we see in our materials to expect 1-2 hours of homework a night. Not exactly what we signed up for.

Plus, it takes my daughter an hour to get to and from school on the city bus, so this full-time school thing is ending up taking a lot more of her time than we had planned for.

But maybe this is the next stage of development for a 14 year old. In his book Hold On to Your Kids: Why Parents Need to Matter More Than Peers, Gordon Neufeld talks about how during the teenage years, it is developmentally appropriate for kids to become more peer-oriented. (But until then, parents should be the primary influence, and it is often the other way around, especially with the way schools are structured.) So, I don’t know. She’s going to graduate in four years and maybe this is the beginning of her structuring her life differently. We’ll see how it goes. If it’s not working out for us, we’ll try something else.

Here are some books that I’ve read over the years. Most of them talk about the best way for kids to learn. Honestly, our public schools are not doing it.

(Pretty much anything else by John Taylor Gatto)

(Pretty much anything else by John Holt)

Also, online articles by Peter Gray, Freedom to Learn, Psychology Today

And, one more quote by John Taylor Gatto to end this with:

“I feel ashamed that so many of us cannot imagine a better way to do things than locking children up all day in cells instead of letting them grow up knowing their families, mingling with the world, assuming real obligations, striving to be independent and self-reliant and free.”

So, I don’t know, you say you’re boys are struggling in school, but, yeah, they’ll just have to adjust. Don’t you want something better than that? Don’t you want them to thrive? (Sorry, that came off kind of smarmy, and I don’t mean it that way. I certainly don’t know everything. But it is a real and genuine question nonetheless.)

Gotta go,

Cousin Penny

One Reply to “Penny Explains Her Philosophy On Education. Why Do Little Kids Spend 5 Days A Week In School Prisons Anyway?”

  1. Interesting perspective! I definitely think we lock kiddos up way too much at school. How can we expect a bunch of 7-year-olds to sit still and pay attention? They need to be learning in a tactile way. I still think there’s a lot of benefit to a public education because you interact with people very different from you, but we need to adjust how we do public school to make it actually effective.
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