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Grassroots Solutions

June 11, 2016

Is the average American more qualified than a government official to solve local problems?

That’s the focus of this blog-within-a-blog.  For the next several Saturdays, material permitting, Musings From Street Level will present stories to stimulate your thinking on tackling the issues of today.

This week we’ll focus on the question of educating our children.

Improving educational results – Home schooling

It’s no secret that more and more parents are choosing alternatives to traditional schools. The reasons range from presenting children with learning or physical disabilities with a more stress-free learning experience to dissatisfaction with Common Core to overcoming the simple logistics of getting kids to school every day to relieving the congestion in crowded classrooms due to teacher shortages.

One of the solutions is home schooling. It isn’t for everyone, but parents who have adopted it are convinced that their children are more well rounded emotionally and intellectually, and just as well educated  as their public-schooled peers. Testing seems to bear that out.

Home schooling doesn’t require that the parent have a teaching certificate, but it does present challenges. For instance, these children will one day have to compete in the real world, so the home education models suggest that teaching needs to follow some sort of structured learning process.

The question is, what structure works best? Parents aren’t trained curriculum writers, so they spend a lot of time agonizing on which curriculum to incorporate.

One way to overcome those challenges is through peer support groups, and that’s where today’s  discussion originated.

Building on home-school curriculums

Most canned curriculums cover the basics necessary for a child to pass the myriad testing stages, including the college-entrance exams.  The problem for home-schoolers is that often the curriculum is basically the same old stuff taught in the public schools.

At a semi-annual get-together last July for home-schooling parents, one of the break-out sessions covered grading the quality of the curriculums.

The parents identified the areas dealing with civics and U.S. government as one of a handful of particular weak spots. The complaints ranged from out-of-date material to politically motivated teaching materials to just a general lack of innovation in teaching the subject.

The group decided to test whether children were actually developing critical thinking skills relative to how our country is governed, and if not, what supplemental material should they use to correct that problem.

The measurement  tool they chose was a simple assignment to measure how much children actually knew and understood about how government works today at the Federal level. It was designed as an essay question, for children ranging in age from 10 to 17.  A total of 83 children participated. This was the assignment:

Assuming that the tax money now paid by your parents to the Federal government were to be retained in your state please complete the following assignment:

“Name  up to 10 things, but not less than 5, that the Federal government has control of now that couldn’t be done just as well by your state. Pick your top three and explain why your state, assuming it had the money available that now goes to Washington, couldn’t do as good or better than the Federal government”

The children had two weeks to complete the assignment and were expected to perform their own research, although parents could suggest sources.

The only item that was common on all the lists was national defense/military.  All the answers assumed that only a national military could defend the whole country.

Education, transportation and healthcare were on 75% of the lists, national parks on 60%, and energy on 25%. Other answers were statistically insignificant on their own.

In the essay part of the assignment, students revealed that many of them thought there would be no schools “because all the money comes from Washington to build schools, pay teachers and pay for school lunches.”

Others said all the roads and bridges would be unusable “because the government owns all the roads.”

Still others thought that so much of healthcare is supported by Federal money that “all the old people and sick babies would die because there wouldn’t be any hospitals and doctors.”

The main takeaway was that in a very real sense the kids, even the oldest ones, thought of  the Federal government as a sort of paternalistic presence in their lives. They clearly couldn’t comprehend what would happen to all these programs if the government didn’t have access to the income from taxes and more importantly, the younger children didn’t connect their parents to the Federal budget very well. To them, the money came from “‘rich people.” (Who says kids don’t listen to the news?!)

That’s actually pretty disturbing.

Incidentally, prior to the essay question shown, the kids had spent approximately two weeks learning about the various departments like the Defense Department, Dept of Education, Transportation Dept, etc.

If your kids don’t know anything about the structure of government this assignment would probably not be suitable for them. The project revealed that the youngest students just didn’t quite grasp the concept of an organizational chart, indicating a need to simplify the concept for them.

The takeaway for the parents was that under the age of 13 or so, the lessons needed to focus on structure, i.e. teaching how the various departments fit into the big picture.  The youngest kids seemed to equate “government” with “President,” instead of as a group of departments that reported to the President.

Over 13, they felt that they needed to connect cause and effect better, i.e. help the children understand how the money becomes textbooks or teachers, and who provides the funds.

What local issue is your community working to solve outside of the government system? Drop me a line and share!

From → op-ed

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