We can talk a lot about what's broken in our current education system, but I think the biggest breakdown is that parents have taken a step back from their child's education. Sure, they may "help with homework" or go to parent-teacher conferences, but most parents of public or private school children rely entirely on "the system" to educate their children.
Education is not an institution. There is no one-size-fits all. Even homeschoolers can fall into this trap if they rely on the "curriculum" to educate their children. My husband challenged me in a discussion on our education system by asking if I really "individualize" everything for my child - mainly because my curriculum is "open and go" and I do very little planning and prep work.
The answer is, yes, I do individualize everything for my child(ren). I interpret vocabulary they may be confused about in our reading. I add on additional read-aloud material through a variety of resources. I anticipate whether my Kindergartner needs to get up and move for a little while and do a more active learning or if he needs to snuggle while practicing his handwriting rather than sitting at the table. If he already knows something well, I may skip over it, I may read ahead in our book and then go back and review something else. Not only that, I made several decisions before even purchasing the curriculum to ensure it was the appropriate solution for both him and me.
So, how do parents of public or private school children ensure that they are taking just as active a role in their child's education?
- Find the right school for your child and you. In most cities today there are literally dozens of educational options nearby. There are Montessori schools and year round schools, charter schools, immersion schools, STEM schools, and more. There are neighborhood schools and struggling schools and magnet schools galore. So, pick the right school for your child. Don't automatically discount a struggling or neighborhood school because of a "grade" or "test score" (I hope you don't think any less of your child if they happen to score lower on a test than you thought they would, we should be judging our children on much more than their "score"). Visit the school, visit the principal, discuss their curriculum and activities and determine if it's the right fit for your child and you.
- Spend time learning what they are learning. Don't just "help with homework". Instead, try to read the textbooks they are reading to determine what methods they are using. Don't just "make them read" for the weekly book logs, spend some time finding quality reading material that they enjoy and is at an appropriate level.
- Answer their questions and ask your own. Rather than asking "how was school" ask what their favorite activity was, or who they sat with at lunch, or whether they have any class pets or are growing any plants, or doing any science experiments. As you go down the road on the way to and from school, don't plug in a movie or give them an i-whatever. Answer their millions of why questions or discuss the weather or their friends or even just your weekly schedule of activities.
- Supplement as needed. If your child is struggling with a concept or subject in school, or really loves a particular subject, spend some time at home on it. Learning doesn't always have to be "work". Find fun activities to reinforce the concepts. let them jump ahead in their favorite subject, read good books aloud after dinner, and find new friends and activities occasionally to widen their social experience.
- Make adjustments. This is the hardest one for some parents to make. Disrupting a child's schedule in the middle of the school year is not a decision to make lightly, but if you have good reason, don't waste a whole year. If the teacher is mean, if the school is violent, if your child is bullied and nothing is being done about it, make the change you need to make. Children grow quickly, and they will recover quickly, but why waste more of their life than necessary? If you do everything listed above, you will find the decision is a lot easier to make.
I know my child is an excellent reader, if reluctant at times. I know my child loves math, but tends to skip through it a bit too easily sometimes. I know he could do science experiments all day long, and can be read to aloud for hours a day. I know he is very active and has excellent gross motor skills, but his fine motor skills are terrible, and art is not his thing, unless it involves finger paint. I know he can't smell, has sensory issues, and loves all his friends. I'm sure you know your child just as well, so why not use that knowledge to empower his learning process. We can lament the failure of "the system" all we want to, or we can take responsibility for our children's education.