The Biggest Killer of Loving to Learn: School

Written by Tabby Biddle

President Obama is sending his education blueprint to Congress today. But I have to say I am not too impressed. While the proposal calls for more vigorous intervention in  “failing” schools, it is still holding onto some key features of the Bush-era No Child Left Behind Law, including the focus on test scores.

As I wrote in my recent post, The Case Against Homework: Race to Nowhere, using test scores to measure a student’s academic success has caused teachers to focus their teaching on test preparation (aka memorization) rather than engaging their students in meaningful learning.

So I wonder, what is the function of school today?

Once upon a time I thought it was a place to where people could learn about a lot of things, be exposed to different ideas, learn how to solve problems, think critically, collaborate, work as a team and have fun. As a former teacher, I also used to think it was a place to foster children’s innate love for learning.  However, now with the way things have been going, I wonder if school is school just a place to get accreditation for the job market?

I keep hearing story after story from friends and acquaintances about how their child used to love school, but now with so much homework and the pressure of performing on the tests, they really dread going. Some kids are going so far as to drop out (with the GED looking like a better option).

Is this what we want for the future? Do we really want school be the killer of our kids’ love for learning?

Many of us (myself included) keep expecting change from the government, but I think that could mean a long time in the waiting room and we really don’t have that time to waste. Our kids and our future are too valuable. And of course, our time is too. Instead, I am going to heed some advice from Vicki Abeles, director of the documentary Race to Nowhere, and take my own actions now.

If you also want to do something now, the following are some suggestions.

Things You Can Do Now:

Attend PTA and board meetings to work in partnership to create a vision for change in your community. Parents and educators can achieve real change in education policies and practices through dialogue.

Challenge homework practices at your child’s school. In elementary school, there is no evidence that homework improves academic performance. Too much time spent on homework contributes to anxiety, depression, weight gain, anorexia, and lack of engagement with learning.

Stop grading homework and find ways to assess students aside from tests and homework. When students have an extrinsic reason for performing, their internal motivation to learn diminishes.

Avoid over-scheduling. Unstructured play and downtime enhances brain development and learning. Play helps children how to deal with adversity and how to overcome problems.

Make sure your kids get adequate sleep. Studies show that 80 percent of adolescents don’t get the recommended amount of sleep. According to the Mayo Clinic, most teens need about nine hours of sleep and sometimes more. Sleep deprivation impacts cognitive functioning and increases the risk of depression, obesity and suicide.

Eat dinner regularly as a family. Many teens rate not having enough time with their parents as a top concern (surprising). Teens who eat dinner with their families at least five times a week have few substance abuse problems and do better in school.

Consider Homeschooling. As one friend who has homeschooled her children for 14 years said: “I often say that “homeschooling” is a misnomer – it should be called “community schooling” because everyone is involved, not just the parents.” Read the comment from Cathy Calderon in the Comments section to learn more about homeschooling and the great results she has experienced by homeschooling her kids.

Final Note: Every little step we take does count and will make a difference. No kidding.

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Tabby Biddle, M.S. Ed. is a former early childhood classroom teacher at the City and Country School in New York City. She studied at the graduate school of Bank Street College of Education. She currently lives in Santa Monica, CA and is a writer and editor dedicated to breaking the silence on a range of women’s issues and amplifying the voices of changemaking women.

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5 thoughts on “The Biggest Killer of Loving to Learn: School

  1. Love it love it love it ! My kids attend a local Charter School and they don’t have homework. They looove school and are not happy if we miss a day to go ski !!

    My oldest is in 3rd grade and looking forward to every single day. She reads 300 pages books and write her own stories.

  2. LOVE IT TOO! My our school is run by a principal who is very right brain thinking…and encourages creativity and the arts, for every child. My kids are 8, in second grade, and love their teachers (I get both every year), have different homework, with the same material, and share their perspectives with each other every day. Having twins with different strengths and interest, can be challenging, but I am pleased with the nurturing they are getting, and the knowledge they retain in this environment.

  3. Yay!!! This is so encouraging. It is so refreshing to hear about both your kids’ schools. The no homework is fabulous! Creativity and the arts is truly the way kids stay tapped into their love of learning and passion for always creating and innovating!

    I taught at a school in NYC, pre-school through 8th grade, that didn’t give grades or tests. It … See Morewas project-based, and very creatively and art-oriented. The kids were so passionate about learning. I dream of this for many of the schools stuck in the muck of all that I wrote about above. The more we dialogue about how successful the learning is at schools like the ones your kids go to, the more other parents can realize that this is an option for their children too. It takes action steps, but it is all possible.

    Thanks Christine and Melissa!

  4. Hi Tabby, so great to read your blogs and keep up with you from afar! One alternative that you didn’t mention is homeschooling. Paul and I have homeschooled both of our boys all the way up to high school (our oldest is now a freshman in a traditional high school, and so far so good…) Homeschooling is a powerfully subversive, really radical response to the oppressiveness of the educational system in our society. It’s been a beautiful, beautiful experience for our family – not without MANY challenges, of course, and days when we felt like we couldn’t continue for another MINUTE! Our boys never did more than about an hour of schoolwork a day (sometimes far less when other more interesting things were calling us…) and they both kept apace of their grade level quite nicely (makes you wonder what they’re doing all those hours in school!) Many, many hours spent just daydreaming, puttering around, tinkering with ideas, and lots of physical play with all of their other homeschool friends.

    Our area has a thriving homeschooling community, and there are tons of activities, field trips, workshops, and clubs to join (we’ve all been part of a homeschool ski club for five years now). Mostly these are organized and taught by parents themselves – we all pitch in and offer what we feel best suited to give. It’s a rich, exhilarating experience for everyone, kids and adults. The sense of deep rooted community amongst homeschooling families is one of the great benefits as well – we spend so much time together that we know each others’ kids really well, and it is truly an embodiment of the much quoted “it takes a village to raise a child.” In fact I often say that “homeschooling” is a misnomer – it should be called “community schooling” because everyone is involved, not just the parents.

    Just wanted to put in my two cents, so that people are aware of this viable and very nourishing alternative to typical schooling.

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