Homeschooling can move at the speed of the individual student. What exactly do I mean by that? More than Montessory style learning, that’s for sure.
A while back, Montessori style education really came into vogue. The Montessori educational approach is freedom within boundaries to move at the speed of the student, allowing them to advance when they are ready or linger if they need to. Montessori style education really works for a lot of kids. However, there are limitations. Most Montessori schools use a set of curriculum, and to advance, a child would have to do all the repetitious work along the path to advance. In other words, if you want to get ahead in math, instead of doing one worksheet a day, you’d have to do two or three.
If you live with a gifted child, you already know the term asynchronous. For the laymen, this can mean a whole lot of things. For example, your kid may be capable of reading chapter books and know more about science than most high schoolers at age five, while he still can’t tie his shoes. His spatial reasoning may be five or six years ahead, while his psychomotor development is three years behind. Within a single subject, it can also mean your kid can inexplicably do algebra before he can do long division. I can remember days and days when my son would claim his math was too hard, and there I was, completely confused because it was simple addition, and I already knew he was capable of multiplication. At the risk of using a math joke, it didn’t add up.
The truth is he didn’t WANT to do the addition. He could do it. He understood it just fine. It wasn’t hard, it was boring. A gifted kid often needs to move ahead to relieve the tedium. Normal schoolwork provides a lot of repetition, particularly when we’re talking about math, but that isn’t the only subject with lots of repetition. They do this to provide a good foundation and faster skills that come from seeing the equations over and over. A lot of gifted kids can’t stand this. They may even dig in their heals and flat out refuse.
At the same time, a gifted kid can be missing skills. As stated, it’s not uncommon for a child to understand something far beyond the sum of it’s parts: to be able to read at 7th grade level without knowledge of 4th grade phonics rules, to be able to write an essay even though they’re still printing and can’t tell you what a preposition is, or know everything there is about ancient history of the world without knowing when the airplane was invented. Conventional wisdom says there is an order to education. Gifted asynchrony says that all rules are subject to revision (or sometimes being tossed out the window along with the droll curriculum).
If you are actually planning school around the child, you will inevitably move at that child’s speed, however slow or outrageously fast that is. Bottom line is that no public school can actually do this and most private schools can’t either. But picking on public school — it has hundreds of kids to deal with, and one child can actually get lost for the good of the whole. Homeschool requires planning for a handful of kids at most. If you’re truly following what your children need, then grade standards don’t matter. In fact standards would never have been developed if we’d all been homeschooled. That was the brainchild of public education that was desperate for a way to handle the growing numbers of kids. Think of the difference between making one pie versus having a pie factory. For efficiency’s sake the pies end up being all the same size and same type. And the people working would end up having different roles: one making the crust, another adding the filling. There wouldn’t be time to fix a pie that didn’t come out exactly right, you’d just toss that one and keep that conveyor moving. At the end of the day, your home baking business could maybe turn out a dozen pies, while the pie factory was able to put together hundreds. Your home pie efforts might have made a couple of apple and a few cherry. Maybe you even got creative and did chocolate creme. The pie factor could do a type a day, but it isn’t practical to change fillings when it means a different crust. So they make a hundred pies but they are all the same. And it all sounds great until you put it back into terms of children and realize that some of them got tossed in the garbage, and all of these individuals that made it through the conveyor have been forced into the same shape and type.
Some children can work within the system. Those kids can conform to rules and still have confidence to be slightly different. And the ones who don’t — do they just get tossed aside? As parents, I think we all hope that never, ever happens.
Society has had the concept of standards pounded into the collective brain. We’ve come to expect certain things of a child around eight or nine. We expect they will read and be capable of basic math. We expect that they will have a rudimentary understanding of history and even science. We expect they can write a little, and we expect it may look a bit like Dick and Jane. But none of that is actually necessary. The world won’t fall apart because they don’t AND this doesn’t mean the child can’t still grow up to be nearly anything. It’s all a societal expectation based off of conveyor style education and it goes both ways. We expect a child will learn to read by kindergarten, and when we see a child reading at two, we build a new expectation. Suddenly, that kid better become something very special. And if he doesn’t, well the parents must have let him down.
All of this seriously unfair to the child. Realistically, it really isn’t that imperative that children learn everything in elementary, middle school and high school. As an adult, ask yourself if you stopped learning when you left organized education. If the answer is no, then we’re doing our kids a disservice by sticking them on the conveyor and making them fit the mold. Maybe our children should just be who the are and we should encourage standards that are child-based, rather than expectation-based.
Homeschool can move at the speed of the student, skip stuff for now and come back to it later. Building a love of learning has to trump fundamental steps. Too many of our kids learn one lesson loud and clear — “School sucks” and of all the things we teach in school, was that the lesson we wanted most of them to absorb?
My mother took piano lessons when I was kid while I was taking them. She’d tried as a child and stopped because her childhood teacher had beat time on her hand with a metal baton in order to keep her on rhythm. She’d literally been frightened away from it. Trying again as an adult had taken more than forty years. Crazy thing is, our very nice teacher, Donna, managed to chase her from it again, without ever intending it. My mom had been working on a song called “Donkey Serenade” for two months. Donna kept right on assigning it, even though my mother had hit a wall. She probably should have told Donna that she couldn’t take anymore of that song, but she was afraid to speak up. Instead, she quit lessons again. As a music teacher, I learned a lot from that moment. Sometimes there is more value in moving a student on than there is in repetition. Why demand perfection anyway? Very little of the really valuable paintings are perfect. Picasso was definitely not perfect. Some would say it is the imperfections that make it so intriguing — million-dollar intriguing. And isn’t music an art?
All parts of life can imitate art. Sometimes, having the freedom to move on can produce results that blow us all away. Children learn much more than we think we are teaching them, including whether or not they can speak up, and whether or not there is such a thing as good enough. For most jobs out there, people have to learn to balance quality with deadline. Some things must be done exactly, but not ALL things. If Donna had remembered that a student can find another way around a wall if they are allowed to move on to perfecting other skills, my mother might not have quit piano. Likewise, allowing a student to skip the boring to develop interests, can teach them how to prioritize in the rest of their lives. Jumping on math again, it isn’t really that important that Pumpkin knows all his interval sums by heart — truth is he will likely use a calculator as an adult anyway. Developing the love of discovery and teaching him to find a way to solve a problem from a non-traditional method — those are really the skills I consider most important. Also, I would prefer that he accepts himself and others as they come. Repetition can undermine that message, while teaching priorities can model acceptance. Did our schools think about that when they developed standards and then put so much emphasis on them?