Feb 19, 2013

Education - what is it good for?

I may not agree with much of Penelope Trunk's frequently prescriptive advice, but her thoughts the state of education in the Anglo-Saxon world (especially the description of schools as a "babysitting service") have forced me to think about how learning and education relate to "real" work - and the whole point of schooling to start with.

Looking back, I intensely remember how bored I was at school. Though I've had some truly inspirational teachers who fostered great class discussions (unfortunately not in the sciences or, after 9th grade, math), I ultimately don't feel like I got much out of going to school that I couldn't have gotten from books. I did the International Baccalaureate and since I went on a bit of an intellectual strike from 10th to 12th grade, the only reason I did decently in my exams was intense cramming - most of the time I spent in the classroom was pretty much wasted (though my own lack of engagement didn't help).

Ditto for university - a few exceptional lecturers and professors aside, I feel like reading the books on the curriculum and beyond taught me more than than the largely insipid discussions. I was especially disappointed in my degree at the LSE, in History of International Relations. Though I did well (thank you, A-level study guides), I feel like it didn't really foster independent thinking or lead to groundbreaking contributions to the field - just further discourse.

Overall, my education left me woefully unprepared for entering the workforce. My humanities-based subjects led to me fields where people with humanities degrees work - like publishing, which I intensely disliked (and the feeling was mutual - publishing hated me, too). Hence my STEM refocus.

Enrolling with the Open University showed me that long-distance independent study works well for me - though I need to force myself to be disciplined, it's all on my own terms. But though my views on homeschooling have come a long way from my initial "why would anyone want to do that?" reaction when I first heard of the concept, I'm not ready to homeschool T. First of all, T's current preschool is working out really well - the teachers are fantastic, she has friends, and her German is making huge strides. And the school we found for her for the fall has a great philosophy, focused on getting kids to think and manage knowledge rather than learn by rote - directly addressing my concerns about how T's generation is going to deal with the sheer about of information and knowledge they can access so easily. I'm genuinely convinced T can get a better educational foundation at this school than with me at home.

Also: if I don't go back to work and make homeschooling T my job, I don't know what do I'll do fifteen years down the line (or more, if we have another kid). I'm actually able to compartmentalize work and being a mom extremely well (to the point where the MD at my last job was surprised to find out I was married with a kid); as long as I know T's in good hands, I can work without worrying about her. But it would be very short-sighted of me to ignore the fundamental flaws in the educational system just because I may have found a way to circumvent, or at least alleviate, them for my daughter.

Till T starts school starts in the fall, I'm going to make the most of how she soaks up knowledge like a little sponge these days (without pushing her too much). Museum visits and plenty of books are part of our routine anyway, but I'll also explore some specific educational tools and methods - though they should primarily be play-based. At the same time, I want to learn more about why the educational system is so broken - and what can be done to fix it.

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