Recently I read the autobiography of someone whose learning curve was different from the norm and who may have had some ADD (attention deficit disorder). His final post in the series was at:
Many of the experiences he had, I had as well. My third and fourth grade teachers were trying to "mainstream" a developmentally challenged child by encouraging the rest of the class to not score better than the colonel's child on tests -- i.e. discouraging anything better than a C on any test. I entered third grade reading at 95%+ at a six grade level while a year younger than anyone else. I started fifth grade not having learned anything for two years.
I also have as a hobby a field that has a lot of self taught people in it. Since the field (ADR -- see my website http://adrr.com/ for some details) was pretty much created from scratch in a movement with accelerated evolution over the past 20-30 years* (I go back to 1986 or so with it) you can obviously create something from teaching it to yourself.
But many, many clueless people in the field think they have taught themselves things that they are disconnected from. Somewhat like pro se litigants. Some know their stuff. Some miss key concepts (like the guy I had in a suit who was just certain his lead case, which had reversed sua sponte en banc, was still good law).
Some times there are important concepts people miss from isolated learning.
In addition, my first exposure to private schools came from parents wanting to take money from public education to fund schools that were really sub-par. I still have a deep and abiding love for some of the public school teachers I met in Wichita Falls who went above and beyond.
There are several overlapping issues.
First, not every teacher in a public school is a Sarcione or a Bell. Great teachers combine covering the curriculum (so points are not left out) with a measure of self-directed learning (where students are able to learn in their own way). My government/history teacher my senior year at Mtn Home High School did that for me.
Second, there is a lot of pedagogical science that is just ignored. Teaching is work. Making students teach themselves while the professors amuse themselves (a/k/a bad socratic method); every teacher making up their own curriculum; etc. That is just abusing kids. Shamus (the author of the post and series I've linked to) was obviously abused.
Third, just letting kids run loose without supervision or direction can be a terrible mistake. So can overdirection. I'm in a school district that has many hyper-competitive parents. All of them want to have their child skipped a grade. My youngest got skipped. In fact, they would have done it again if we had not stopped them. My approach was "benign neglect." Allowing her tools and encouraging her, but letting her use them. Now, if left to her own devices, that would mean reading YA books and Schlock Mercenary 24/7. Howard Taylor is good, but I still think she needs to do her honors math homework rather than another recursion through Schlock (though that is what she is doing this morning).
Fourth home schooling can be as good or as bad as other approaches. I've seen it where parents just cut out huge areas of learning (as one mother put it to us, "girls don't need math, I didn't like it, so we just skip it" -- after all, who needs to be able to calculate percentages, fractions, unit costs for groceries or anything like that). I've known "unschoolers" who believed children should be wild and free (that is, let children educate themselves if they choose that, on the child's own time, without help or parental input. Otherwise, put kids to work herding goats, etc.).
Apparently there is another movement that uses the same term "unschool" to mean, let kids be more self-directed, learn by doing rather than by lecture/textbook -- but still have parental involvement, discipline and work. The semantic contamination with the term is obviously an issue.
Fifth, there are supports for home schooling that are not obvious (such as "charter schools" which are actually homeschooling cooperatives which redirect public funds to homeschoolers to use for resources).
Where I am
Now we have been blessed with some excellent schools locally and some wonderful teachers. The librarian who offered to just tutor my child every day if they did not have her skip a grade since she no longer fit into her class comes to mind. But I'm also aware of worse schools, and worse teachers (which tend to go together with worse parents so that the kids are not catching a break).
We have also considered homeschooling or partial homeschooling for our child, given her Tourette's Syndrome and the associated penumbra cause her some issues
I don't have many. I think the public school system is essential. I agree with Milton Friedman
that the schools should include elements of what has been called a liberal education (teaching the core cultural matters) -- the same as
Cultural Literacy: What Every American Needs to Know
by Hirsch -- strange how the left and the right wing can agree on some things.
I realize the current system fails some and needs alternatives -- but without gutting the current system.
But it is an area worthy of some thought and consideration. I'd welcome your comments on the subject.
* Yes, I know ADR goes back further, and I don't mean just the stuff from the 1950s (after all, the Saga of Burnt Njal is really the story of an ADR guy who gets burned alive by the traditional legal system and there are various traditional systems that go back thousands of years, or can claim to). But the modern system, with some very specific adaptations, is a modern creation.