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Veteran Teacher: Here’s What’s Wrong With Traditional Schooling

Veteran Teacher: Here’s What’s Wrong With Traditional Schooling

For 19 years, I was a master of time. Down to the minute, I controlled time for others and used it to meet my and others’ ends, irrespective of the desires of those in front of me. In short, I was a public-school teacher, and controlling time was my talent. Although I and other adults often talked about helping students reach their potential and grow as learners, what we really did each day was control their time and force upon them ideas and subjects in which most of them had little to no interest.

What if there were a better way? A way to help each student learn the way he or she learns best, develop autonomy, explore passions, and take control of his or her own time? Thankfully, that way does exist in the form of alternative schools and learning programs that continue to increase in number each day.

For example, I remember Adam*, a bright and motivated senior with a passion for business. However, Adam felt pressured to attend college even though he felt no real drive to do so. He dutifully attended his classes and earned high grades, but he shared with me towards the end of the school year that he felt like college would be a waste of time and money. What he truly wanted was to enter the business world and gain experience, not sit in an intro to astronomy class to pad the college’s bottom line. What if Adam had known about Praxis, the college alternative that helps students develop professional skills and work alongside a mentor for a full year? Might such a program have been a better fit for someone like Adam than the one-size-fits-none college curriculum?

I also remember Bailey, a shy freshman who only sporadically turned in work but who often participated in our in-class discussions, especially those about contentious issues. One day after class, I asked her about her incomplete work, and she told me that everything she enjoyed was outside school and that she felt she wasn’t “good at school.” What if Bailey had known about North Star: Self-Directed Learning for Teens, an unschool that builds personalized curricula around students’ interests and strengths and eschews grades in favor of learning? Might she have felt differently about her days and about learning?

Finally, I remember Celine, an outspoken junior whose inquisitive mind often led to numerous questions each class period but also to a dissatisfaction with the perceived “mindlessness” and passivity of school. Celine’s parents had even considered homeschooling, but her father told me they were afraid to “mess things up.” What if Celine and her parents had known about Brooklyn Apple Academy, a “home for homeschoolers” that offers part-time classes, field trips, and camps, including a program called “The Works” in which students investigate the functioning of the city’s infrastructure? Might Celine have been more active in and excited about learning, and might her parents have felt more confident homeschooling knowing that they weren’t going at it alone?

The above examples are just three among hundreds I can recall from my work controlling students’ time, and I’m sure you are familiar with thousands more that all tell us the same thing: coercive schooling does not work and harms far more than it helps. However, what if children and their parents had alternatives to such a baneful system, and what if these alternatives were voluntary and focused on students’ actual needs and interests? Luckily for us, these alternatives are here, and more are opening each day. As a repentant master of others’ time, I implore you: seek out these alternatives and leave behind government schools’ coercion and disinterest. Children deserve nothing less.

*All names herein have been changed to respect privacy.

This article is reprinted from FEE.org under a Creative Commons (CC BY 4.0) license. It originally appeared in the LiberatED email newsletter.

Image credit: Unsplash


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  • Avatar
    Cadence McManimon
    April 15, 2024, 9:42 am


  • Avatar
    April 16, 2024, 8:45 am

    I disagree w/the author. I went to a highly regulated Catholic grammar school run by nuns.
    60-70 students in some classrooms . There was no talking out of order, no bullying that you see today, in or out on the playground. The education was excellent, as well as the self control one learned. I was from a big family that had many different abilities and we all agree the school was great.

    • Avatar
      S. G. Lemoine@Fancy
      May 17, 2024, 4:13 pm

      I agree with the comment regarding Catholic Schools. I attended Catholic Elementary, Middle School, High School and one year at a Catholic University.
      We were taught RESPECT for our Instructors and other Teachers or Adults on Campus. Good manners and proper etiquette was encouraged outside of School as well. NONE of the problems facing today's Educators existed because we were taught to respect and care for fellow students as well. On the rare occasion of misbehavior, a student faced the consequences at school as well as at our homes.
      Maybe if parents had to pay for their children's education they would teach their kids to behave appropriately. Our public school system is clearly broken. All the WOKE agendas have damaged our public school system and until the United States as well as State and Local Governments begin enforcing stricter rules regarding Traditional Education
      Curriculum and the American Library Association, our students will continue to fail. Look at Schools in Japan where they are over achieving. If they can manage then why can't we imitate their excellent results?
      Those of us who graduated from a Catholic Education always performed better than other students in their studies as well as their discipline to study hard and respect Instructors as well as other students.
      No violent protests were accepted.

  • Avatar
    robert true myers
    April 16, 2024, 9:10 am

    We are in a real period of transition for education. The Federal government provides money that has so many restrictions. We need to allow states and their local school districts determine the curriculum. The Feds require administrative positions to manage the grants and most of the money sent never reaches the classroom and kids.

    DEI/DIE is a travesty and is a"a check the box" position in school districts. Get rid of this and allow parents to make choices for their kids.

    There a multiple options as presented in the article. Do the research and if it is in your child's best interest…….

    "Kids are safer in school" may not be true any longer. RTM

  • Avatar
    April 26, 2024, 10:46 am

    To some degree I agree with the Karl in that we traditional teachers do a lot of time management and there is a need for educational practice to be meaningful to students. However, as a math-physics teacher with 38 years of experience, I found that learning math skills and physics skills requires an organized approach to build connective skills that build on each other and I think students benefit from a very organized approach to master these skills and most students could not efficiently learn these skill sets on their own. Once a sufficient skill set is established, then students need more freedom to branch out on their own.


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