Monday, September 19, 2005
A Case for Unit Study
Study after depressing study confirms what has been painfully obvious to millions of parents, teachers, prospective employers and students. Every year our schools turn out more than a million young adults who cannot keep up with the intellectual demands of an increasingly technological economy or with their counterparts in Western Europe and Japan. In addition to the 700,000 who, despite twelve years of what passes for formal education, have such poor reading skills that they cannot digest a newspaper or fill out a job application, an identical number drop out, forfeiting whatever educational benefits might be osmotically obtained from simply showing up for class.
The article goes on to suggest as root causes: the lack of investment, the cost of maintaining the schools, the need for Head Start programs and others.
Whatever... It's a debate I'll let others simmer over. To me, we're talking about incremental changes and they don't do me much good. Nice to talk about if you are interested in institutions at large and have 5, 10 or 15 years to check out the results, but not if you are looking at a unique child in front of you today and want to make a difference that will follow him for the rest of his life. And, don't talk to me about all of the special programs that could or should be implemented to "narrow the achievement gap". I'm not particularly thrilled with the location of either side of the gap.
Here's another case for homeschooling, specifically unit study. My son, my little one (LO), from a young age has had an interest (to put it mildly) in dinosaurs. You can call it a child-led, but parent-encouraged unit study. He wasn't interested in puzzles until I found dinosaur puzzles. He was ALWAYS interested in reading if it involved dinosaurs and could stomach an incredible amount of dry detail (flying reptiles, dinosaurs, mammal-like reptiles, which dinosaurs lived in which period of the dinosaur age, where in the world are paleontologists finding fossils, even dinosaur anatomy.) It stretched his memory, and his ability to understand more complex ideas.
I'll give you a perfect example that happened today (that impressed me BIG time!) Although his interest in dinosaurs is nowhere close to what it was, it is still solid. We've been reading these introductory "I can read" books. It's the right fit I think, but still slow going and I'm not going to push. I spend every bit of effort I have to make the 'wig on the pup' exciting (and I'm entertaining.) But today, LO sounded out DIPLODOCUS -on his own, without encouragement! He opened a book and that was it. There was a picture of the dinosaur and he thought the name should say Mamenchisaurus, but it started with a "d" not an "m". What did the word say????
Di-plo-do-cus. OHHHH Diplodocus! We struggle through 'the wig' and 'tag the pup', but somehow diplodocus was what HE wanted to read.
HELLO - another $100 - $500 per student won't get you there and neither will an extra Head Start program. Don't get me wrong, keep them up and keep them going. I am just convinced that parents have to take control of their kid's education whether they do it full-time or part-time. That goes triple for African American, Latino children, and disadvantaged children. BTW, it works if the child is YOURS, it also works if you choose to MENTOR (which I'm going to try to do in my 'spare' time as my one hobby).
RESOURCE RECOMMENDATIONS: Per the request of Mz. Michaela in New Zealand. Here are a few dinosaur resources... Walking with Dinosaurs. The CD is a good introduction (Can't find it, but it includes "I see Sue" and "Dr. Digs", songs and other games. The DVD is a bit violent, but AWESOME. We all sat with our mouths open. It's that compelling. Also try Magic School Bus In the Time of the Dinosaurs There is also a book by Aliki. I can't say he had a favorite book.
So now in my ramblings, the problem is no longer contained within the education system of America, but is a fundamental issue within humanity on a worldwide scale. Maybe I should have just stuck to thoughts regarding institutionalized education. The smaller package is less daunting, and more hopeful in so far as a solution...
Thanks for letting me vent.
My little boy loved dinosaurs and we used to listen to this album in the car. One of the songs starts with the sound of dinosaurs roaring and he'd be a dinosaur for the next hour.
Though the inaccuracy of having cave-men run from dinosaurs in one song bothered the heck out of me, it didn't bother him. He knew better and corrected everyone who heard the song.
And thank you for all the suggestions. I spent a fortune on books today...Sadly Magic School Bus isn't to be found down here.