A Hornet’s Nest

I have been a vehement supporter of alternative schooling options for a long, long time. The US system of public schooling is fabulous for creating a semi-efficient and semi-literate workforce, but fails in creating great thinkers. This idea was only propagated by the responses when I put what I thought was simply a clever illustration on my Facebook page. So, now I’m awake at 4 in the morning, pondering public education, its design and implementation and how and if I’m accomplishing my personal educational goals with my kids at home.

I stirred up a hornets’ nest by suggesting that the hornets were, in fact, hornets.

I overheard a conversation between my son and another boy at the park one day that really underlined this point for me:

Other little boy: “Where do you go to school?”
Aiden: “I’m homeschooled.”
Other little boy: “You will have a hard time getting into college and getting a job then.”

First- why does being homeschooled make it harder to get into college? Well, actually, between the GED and other standardized testing, it doesn’t, particularly if you are doing these things before the usual ages. Most colleges welcome kids who were homeschooled. It also doesn’t even come close to preclude him getting a job, since most jobs only care about the degree.

Second- Who says he needs to worry about a job at all? Why can’t he be an entrepreneur? Why can’t he be an independent contractor? Why can’t he do freelance work? Why couldn’t he be a politician? Why couldn’t he join the military? Why couldn’t he be a performer or an artist? Answer- no reason, but this little boy has already decided before he has even gone to high school that he himself must work for someone else at a “regular job” and so everyone else must also. That poor kid has limited himself and his parents probably don’t even realize it.

Does this kid have this idea in his head because of things only his teachers or administrators have said? No, probably not. The problem isn’t any one teacher, administrator, school or parent. This kid believes that he will have to work a normal job because that is the paradigm our society has created. No matter where the idea comes from, it is nearly impossible to uproot once it takes hold. Our school system is designed to do just that. If a kid is fortunate enough to go to a high school that hasn’t cut arts programs out and talented enough to receive some praise, he may stand a chance at breaking the mold, but almost no one exceeds expectations.

The key isn’t pointing out the number of self-made men and women who were traditionally schooled. There are a few in just American history, and you can probably come up with 50 examples with a few hours worth of research. That’s excellent, but it’s only 50 examples. The reason these men and women are inspiring is that they broke the mold and went on to do great things in spite of the crappy tools they were given. They either understood or figured out along the way that a positive attitude and drive to succeed could make even the impossible come true. These same people, as children, believed that the rules didn’t apply to them. Many of them had perpetual trouble with authority and exasperated teachers constantly. There are only a few of them.

Then there is everyone else. There are hundreds of millions of people who have been forced through the sieve and they came out on the other side with enough common sense to make good real world choices. Even sadder are those who believe that because they don’t fit that criteria, they can’t do anything and so they exist on a meager living until they die. These two groups are the bulk of the people churned out of the traditional schooling machine: hornet drones who fulfill their worker-duty to a larger cause until they die.

My goal in homeschooling my kids is both to ensure that they have a better education than the one I got and to fill them with a sense of possibility rather than squish them into a pigeonhole. While I recognize that some kids come out of a traditional school no worse for the wear, I want to do all I can to keep my kids ideas and dreams afloat so they stand the best chance at greatness. I believe that their best chance at remaining unique and exceptional comes from recognition for their interesting and exceptional ideas and that they won’t get very much of that at school. Their best chance at breaking the mold comes from waiting to try to force the mold on them until their ideas about life are solidified enough not to bend to the pressure.

If you want to be offended, don’t be offended that I believe traditional schooling methods turn out hornet drones. Be offended that large corporations view your children as the chattel and beasts of burden who will someday do their bidding. Be offended that schools mold the malleable minds and they crush the ones that refuse to mold. Be offended that kids who dare to have their own thoughts and opinions get labeled troublemakers. Be offended that using the same information to come to a different conclusion, even when it is well reasoned, gets labeled failure. Be offended that everyone treats Don Quixote as though he is crazy instead of someone who just views the world differently. Be offended that you have been programmed to try to reprogram me because I’m “malfunctioning.” See how you want to be angry and defensive and you want to prove me wrong?

Now am I achieving these ends? I don’t know. I know I have vibrant and wonderfully creative children. They have dreams that stretch to the sky. They’re still young and they are only limited by their own ambition. I tell them that every day. When they say they can’t do something, I tell them it’s only because they say so. I hope I am doing enough to counteract the messages they hear everywhere else about “reality.” At least I know I can’t do any worse.

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