Tuesday, October 4, 2011

What Would You Do If Public Schools Closed?

If public schools were to suddenly shut down I know what I'd do.

First I'd do a happy dance! 
(after a meltdown wondering if I was up to the change!) 

My children are not excited about learning at all. They have no idea how many children in the world would thrive given half the chance at an education that they have. But that doesn't mean that they aren't capable of learning. They are wise and know that an education is NOT what they're getting. I don't believe that anyone is really to blame. It's just that the system I grew up in didn't work for me. Why would it be any different for them? 

So Step #1 would be: STOP 

Step #2  would be to pull out my 4 generation chart, a worksheet with 15 families of their ancestors. Maybe I'd have one of my kids close their eyes and point their finger on a spot. A family. We'd start there. Where they live. At that point and time in history.

I would love to know if anyone else sees the possibilities for an education based on family history? 

Do you get excited as I get when I find myself learning about a time or event in history that I'm certain I was exposed to in school, but now feels easier to understand because I can see one or more of my ancestors living during that time? Do you find yourself reading a farm census of one of your relatives from the 1800's and get a clearer picture of what it meant to eke out a living as a farmer? Or what the cost of living or the lifestyle was? Or wondering about tractors and plows and other inventions and the inventors of that era? I do.

When I want to write a story about an ancestor I have to immerse myself in their life, not just the facts from census, marriage, birth, death and other available documents. I always end up asking a whole host of questions that lead me to be more educated about the time they lived in than I ever would have been unless I had a certain penchant for studying the history of their day.

Let me show you what I mean!

 To make a very long story short here's a list of the topics I studied while putting together the story A Driven Man: Nature or Nurture :

  • The Great Potato Famine 1850's / Ireland
  • New York City 1850's
  • Ellis Island
  • Who were the steerage passengers of a ship. Why is it called "steerage"?
  • Transportation in the US in the 1850's-60's
  • Communication in the mid 1800's
  • Telegraph
  • Telephone / switchboards / operators
  • Logging in the Upper Midwest in the late 1800's
  • Early railroad systems in Colorado
  • Farming in Wisconsin 1860's
  • Manifest Destiny
  • Allopathic medicine
  • Steam ponies
  • Sol Duc Hot Springs
  • American Savings Bank. Seattle / Bank director/ Stockholder
  • Ferry service in Puget Sound

Believe me. The list goes on and on.

I have learned and retained more interesting things than I did in all 12 years of public school. The information was there. The teachers were qualified I think. But I was not engaged in learning. There was no time. 

My mother kept a 5th grade report card of mine where I wrote,"This was the best year. I wish I could always learn this way." I remember that year vividly. We studied Eskimos, Indians, and baboons all year. We built huge dioramas, watched movies, read books, and worked as teams and sometimes alone. 

There was time to let ideas simmer and percolate.

So why would I choose an education with family history as a foundation? Because it touches every part of life as we know it. 

  • The Arts
  • Languages
  • Science / Technology 
  • Inventions
  • History
  • Geography
  • Careers /Skills
  • Transportation
  • Math ( I ask, "What math skills did that trade require?" etc.)
  • Etc.

I don't want to spend my life gathering facts and skills. I want to find out what makes me insanely happy so that I wake up every day to bliss. Exposure to the real world through family history, albeit dead and gone, connects me to the world I live in . There are new questions to be answered, and new ideas and problems to address. I will have received a foundation of the history of real people. I will have watched them find their own answers and form their own ideas. It will be a strong foundation. One that I can build on.

By finding them I will find myself.

  • What type of education would you be drawn to if  public school wasn't available?


  1. Betsy, aloha. As usual, interesting topic. Though schools have changed quite a bit--at least I hope it has--since I went to school, I imagine some aspects remain essentially the same.

    What that would be is that most schools (we have to go with generalizations here) teach rote. The student is required to learn certain facts and regurgitate them on demand. Very few of the facts that we were required to learn are relevant to our later lives or are even applicable in the current life except for purposes of a test and passing grade.

    In the case of your children, they live in a fast paced world with constant visual & auditory stimulation. Unless the classroom teaching is very different, it is boring. It was when I was younger so I can only imagine how it must be for children these days.

    Also, I am not sure how many of today's students are avid readers. If reading is difficult, it's tough to keep up.

    While I can certainly understand what you are saying about illustrating subjects by life at such and such a time, your plan would not receive my vote. The reason?

    Your plan is focused in the past and I look to the future. You can say that you can understand the future if you understand the past, however, I can't relate coming over on the Mayflower, the first Thanksgiving dinner or the Civil War to what's happening today and, more importantly, what's coming RAPIDLY in the future.

    Also, where will be the commonality between the education your children receive based on their family history vs. a RELATIVELY standardized curriculum?

    Betsy, one thing I do know for sure. You would be one heck of a teacher because of your passion for what you do and your desire to explain and to INFECT others with your enthusiasm.

    Excellent, thought provoking post, Betsy. Until next time, aloha. Janet

  2. The same idea has occurred to me. I don't know whether I would base all subjects on family history, but regular history would definitely start there. I never became interested in history until I met my husband, who knew how to bring the subject alive. Then when I started family research I became absolutely obsessed with history.

  3. Janet and Greta,
    Thanks for disagreeing (in part) with me. It gave me the impetus to see where I stood!
    I homeschooled my children one year and it was a huge wake-up call. There is a lot of planning and organizing of materials. I'm pretty relaxed and open and I was very overwhelmed. I was thrilled to hit upon the family history method because it gave me structure (timelines, generations, family groups, etc.). But the one element that's key is the emotional connection to people the student is related to, like them, know them, or not, that makes him absorb, process and apply the information. The two worlds complement each other seamlessly.
    So I got an easy, ready-made curriculum. Add to that an opportunity to teach and use today's technology to share the info that connects living families to their ancestors and watch the incredible conversations that start! Family traits, passions, skills, talents all get brought out into the open and it's magical to see the light bulb go on when someone says, "I like fishing, and the ocean, too!" when they see photograph after photograph of ancestors with the ocean and fishing boats in the background, and the fish stories that support them.
    Yes, Janet, I'm passionate!

  4. I think the current way education is taught does not properly prepare the kids for life. If you were to use real life examples with your own family and what it took to 'make it' and the sacrifices made it might be much more helpful with their life skills.

    I asked my grandmother that was born in 1898 about the good ol' days and she assured me life might have been simpler but the work was long and hard all.the.time.

    Anytime I'm ready to complain about anything I remember what a tough ol' bird my Mimi was who lived to 102. She didn't complain about much, even physical ailments.

  5. Hey Bill,
    We called my grandmother Mimi, too.!
    Prepared for life? They sit and are spoon fed everything. And they know all the tricks to get a passing grade. They're hungry for freedom to find themselves and to learn where they matter.
    I'd even look into games of ancestors and then look at gaming online and see where that would go. Just comparing things is so much fun! There's a really funny video I came across on Stumbleupon this morning about "old people" and the internet. I wish I'd saved it. It was so funny!
    Thanks for coming by Bill! See you soon!

  6. Interesting post and definitely thought provoking, but I can't say I agree with you. Perhaps in days gone by, family history could be more easily traced and thus could be an interesting starting point for educational discovery. However, in today's age, with scattered families, divorce, single parent households, adopted children, etc., the lineage isn't always so clear. I do agree with you that making education more relevant enhances learning, I'm just not sure about starting with one's family tree. Thanks for sharing your thoughts.

  7. My kids go to private school because I haven't been fond of the public schools. I am not sure what I would do if the public schools closed, but I might consider home schooling,...maybe

  8. Hey Jack,
    There are some great public AND private schools out there. I went to a private school for a bit, too. When I homeschooled my children they said they learned more in a day than they had n a year at school. And that wasn't because I was a good teacher! They just needed a basic structure and freedom to explore something if it piqued their interest. I was a basket case because I knew they were going back to school the following year and I couldn't make heads nor tails out of what they needed to know to be on the same track as the other kids. That's when I saw how complicated (to me) the curriculum was to duplicate. And if I can't understand something I can't make it work. Sometimes just being around great teachers who are passionate about learning are all a kid needs!

  9. Susan aka Anonymous,
    My experience with people from all walks of life has taught me something profound: everyone wants to belong and to matter. Whether or not they know their biological heritage doesn't devalue the lines they were adopted into. Maybe what I yearn to express and to share is how important it is to try to connect the dots from the past to the present in order to know better who you are. And that, I have found, is most important to those of us who come from broken marriages, and adoptions. The technology is available and sealed records are being made more accessible.

  10. Hi Betsy,
    I adore your passion for family history! I wish I had the time to write down the stories from mine before they are lost. Some are fading already :-( We always loved to hear the stories when we were kids - of how our grandparents eloped and her uncle rode after them with shotgun and the story goes on!
    It's important to know were we come from because then we get to know, in part, who we are!

  11. The family tree is a great learning tool! I've always had a fascination with my history, and my daughter is following in my footsteps :) We homeschool.

  12. Congrats Kimberly! I can teach when I'm passionate about something! Homeschooling was challenging, but the payback was enormous. Thanks for the comment. You added some balance.

  13. Hi Betsy,

    The current educational system is really a nineteenth-century industrial model, right? We have a very narrow focus on certain types of academic work. Kind of a one size fits all model, which isn't the best way to learn.

    Kids learn differently and at different rates. They have completely different skills, and many curriculums don't foster creativity. It would be cool if we could work to make development more organic and dynamic. We also have standardized testing, which creates more rote learning. A curriculum which brings out individual talents would be ideal.

    A pipe dream? Probably.

    With all that being said we still live in a wealthy, industrialized country (for now) and my kids are receiving a good education in our school district.

    My mother and father went to a very strict Catholic school. If you got out of line, the nuns would give you a whack, really. :)

  14. Hey Craig,
    I'm pretty traditional with a lot of things. I'm loyal to what works. But I like to change things up a bit every once in a while. I change my furniture around constantly. Sitting in classes all day drove me crazy unless something caught my attention. I'm a bit of a rebel. I don't know why. I just don't like someone telling me what I'm going to learn and laying it all out for me. I have to want to learn. I'd love to give a one week workshop in family history just to mix things up and wake them up! Kids are brilliant. Most that I know are asleep!

  15. I asked my grandmother that was born in 1898 about the good ol' days and she assured me life might have been simpler but the work was long and hard all.the.time.


What do you think? I'd love to know.