“One book that you must most definitely read is ‘The Well-Trained Mind by Susan Wise Bauer” was the recommendation I received over a decade ago on a playground as we started on our homeschooling journey. Susan Wise Bauer is regarded by many as the queen bee of homeschooling and ‘The Well-Trained Mind’ serves as a de facto bible for classically-minded home educators. Susan Wise Bauer, who was homeschooled herself, is an author and academic (she is a professor of American Literature at the College of William and Mary), managed to obtain two Masters degrees and a PhD without a high school diploma, and reaches her audience with her down-to earth, easy-to-understand, engaging style.
Rethinking School was published in 2018, but is growing in relevance as an increasing number of parents are more seriously questioning our current educational system. While there are countless books available critiquing the dismal state of the educational system, what makes Rethinking School worth your time is the specific, concrete solutions it offers to parents. It presents ideas for all families in how to ‘flex’ the school system, whether you have your child in public school, private school, or are a die-hard homeschooler. It addresses concerns that will ring familiar to most parents whose children may be: bored out of their minds, light years ahead of the curriculum, struggling to keep up, overwhelmed, or just simply miserable within the rigid confines of the school system.
The book is divided into five parts moving from understanding the system, recognizing mismatches, concrete steps for how to take control, to rethinking the system and advice for those who would like to opt out and homeschool. In this first part of the post, I will briefly highlight Part II of Rethinking School: Mismatches
What does the author mean by ‘Mismatches’?
Susan Wise Bauer’s balanced and honest assessment of our public-school system reflects many of John Taylor Gatto’s observations in ‘Weapons of Mass Instruction’. Artificial systems like school are not natural, yet they are powerful. We are very set in the idea that school is ‘normal’, the way that it is designed is ‘normal’, and that if our child struggles that our child is the one who is ‘not normal’.
“When children struggle with it, “school’ pushes us with overwhelming force toward fixing the child- figuring out what’s wrong with that little psyche that’s causing them to feel humiliation, fright, discouragement, boredom, disengagement- rather than questioning the system”(p.7).
So Bauer suggests that the first task is in making school fit your child,rather than the other way around by identifying possible mismatches such as maturity level, for example. “If your child is struggling, there may simply be an incompatibility with the child’s maturity level, and the grade/year of school in which they are placed”(p.21). What makes us think human beings mature at the exact same schedule as the rest of the tiny human beings born at the same time ? We find our grading level so normal that asking what grade a child is in is equated with the child’s age (even though they may read at a grade 5 level, do math at grade 7, and write at a grade 2 level). Some children can read the ingredients on a Cheerio box when they are 3, others only finish their first book when they are 10.
As we learned from Gatto, age-graded levels are not driven by educational research. Gasp.
Age-segregated school classes were a result of Prussian humiliation. It was an attempt to try and restore Prussian military might, after a humiliating defeat by Napoleon. They were struggling to rebuild their pride and might and thus modelled schools like military units, organized into platoons by age and assigned to a squadron leader. This system replaced the one-room schoolhouse where students could work together at varying grade levels in different subjects and move on to higher level work once ready.
This is just one example of how the system needs to be bent into shape, rather than your child struggle with grade / age mismatch. The ‘Mismatches’ chapter goes a long way in giving your child a sense of normalcy in the variety in her abilities and helps to begin defuse frustration.