My son got in to a choice school in the Lake Washington district this past year, and we ended up turning it down for mainly three reasons, one being that he did not want to change schools AT ALL, his brother did not get in which would have been extremely difficult transportation-wise and the third reason was that we liked their regular school, I just liked the choice school's format better.
So, this experience has really made me think about schools in general and what exactly my kids do for six and a half hours per day. It just so happens my friend suggested I read a book by Susan Cain called Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World that Can't Stop Talking which hit home with me because one of my sons is a true introvert, while the other is an extreme extrovert.
The book talks about how American schools now emphasize talking, working together on projects, group effort, participation grades and the like which is all well and good for the kids who think that way, but for the quieter kids who need space, quiet, and time to actually (shock!) think at school, this is really a detriment.
When I look at my kids' classrooms set up in little social quadrants I cringe. I know, most people think rows are equivalent to medieval torture chambers, but when I look at those little tables of fours set up I see nothing but trouble. My extroverted son sees this set-up as an ideal way to talk all day and in fact has been moved countless times already this year. What his teacher must not realize is that he loves everyone, will talk to anyone, and really does not care which classmate he happens to be sitting next to, they will become his new best social buddy.
My younger introverted one is exhausted by all the talking. I want to be clear, he is not a shy kid. Since he first started preschool at age three I've been told he's the most popular kid in the class, in every class he's ever been in. He is not shy, but he is an introvert which means he is quiet, and needs quiet to think. He complains daily about "all the talking" and even said he wished every kid had their own door to their own private staircase that went directly to their own private desk and everyone was quiet. Now that's pretty extreme and I think it says volumes more than I could ever say on the subject. Furthermore, he's a bright kid whose teachers have always said he's forever on-task and when asked a question he's always got the right answer, brings home very good grades on his schoolwork and yet every teacher admonishes, "He needs to raise his hand and talk more."
I want to say, I think the other kids should stop talking and think more. We are doing a disservice to our kids by making the social aspect of school the dominant aspect. Yes, collaboration is a needed tool, so is working on ones own, developing ones own ideas, and being able to work quietly and capably. This was emphasized in a documentary I just watched on schools in Finland, which boasts the number one educational system in the world. (US can be found ranked anywhere from 9-24, depending on source and criteria.) One of the biggest factors that make Finnish schools different is the emphasis on individual work, on individual projects. Students are given a lot of responsibility to do thoughtful, multi-faceted projects, where creativity and individual interests are encouraged. Real work, on one's own.
There is more to it than that of course, but I do worry that my youngest son wastes 6.5 hours every day, just being a smiley, on-task, never-get-in-trouble student who is exhausted at the end of the day and honestly hasn't learned all that much because every time he is proudly showing off some bit of knowledge I ask, "Did you learn that at school?" And he inevitably says, "No. You taught me." It's a family joke at this point. If I home-schooled him though he'd never get social interaction because if he's home he doesn't want to leave. I guess we'll just keep up this little act for a while, saying he's going to school to learn and then actually coming home to learn. As long as he is learning, I guess, though really what I want to see is schools that truly work for all. Finland does it, so I know it can be done.