Thursday, February 14, 2008

What Do We Want Our Children To Learn?

I'm contemplating a career change to teaching. In an effort to get a feel for what teachers do, how they think, how they prepare and so on, I'm reading a lot of books, blogs and articles.

Yes, I like to be prepared.

Lesson plans are particularly confusing to me. How do you make sure you're really teaching kids what they need to move on? Curriculum guidelines aren't as specific as you'd think - which makes me wonder if that's one reason why teachers end up teaching to standardized tests. I mean, love them or hate them, at least they offer a structured way of organizing all the material you could teach at a certain grade.

I started thinking about what I've needed to live and work in life. Then I realized that much of what I learned in high school I actually needed for college - and then haven't needed since, because if you're a liberal arts major, you specialize after college. If you're not a liberal arts major, you probably didn't need a whole bunch of the stuff you learned in high school.

This made me wonder if it'd be more efficient to work backwards from college. For instance, if you know a college calculus class or English class teaches at this level, what do you need to teach in high school to prepare students for doing that level of work?

I'm sure this varies by universities, but I also know universities are offering more and more remedial classes - so, clearly, students aren't showing up with the tools they need to do college level work. Remedial classes are a problem, because it extends the time you're in school and they cost way more than if you'd learned that stuff in high school - and I bet they play a role in the large student debt of which so many graduates complain these days.

This lead to me to think about raising my own daughter and I realized you could use this same approach in your day-to-day life with your child. I guess it's obvious, but it's easy to forget. We're raising children to be adults, so shouldn't we ask ourselves what kind of adults we hope they'll be? And then use that ideal as our "course outline" for what we're doing now?

I have to say, I'm not too pleased with what I'm doing as a parent when I think about what kind of adult would emerge from our day-to-day lives. It's not that she'd be a bad person, but here's a look at what we do many days, particularly in winter:
Too much technology, too little interaction. First, there's TV. True, she mostly watches educational programs - if you count Arthur as educational - but between her shows and our shows, the TV is on many, many hours. And when she's watching her shows, one or both of us are on the computer "quickly" checking email or looking something up or - ahem- blogging. Even when we put her to bed, we stay up to watch TV.

We do, at least, turn it off for a sit down dinner - but even sit down dinners are not something we do religiously. Not infrequently, we eat in shifts, with one person watching TV while another's eating. It's not deliberate - someone's not hungry or I need a nap because I was up too late. But it's not good.

Why do we do this? This is both how we were raised - the TV was on constantly at my house. If you didn't like what was on, you went in another room and did your own thing. So, safe bet that she'll have this same bad habit as an adult, since that's how I got it.

I hate this, but I'm not sure how to break out of this mold. I've played with getting rid of the TV, but what about movies? Lost? I know. Sad.

Not exercising. I hate to leave to exercise at night because that's family time and also because I seldom feel like it. But then again, wouldn't I rather teach her that nights are for exercising instead of TV? Wouldn't I rather teach her that an important part of adult life is taking care of yourself. I never saw my parents exercise. Never. Mom did a few sit ups and this weird pilates-esque circuit she'd learned somewhere once in a blue moon. When Dad was young, he did push ups and head stand push ups - which are a crazy sight to see, let me tell you. But otherwise, it wasn't an issue for them since they tended to get exercise through work. So, I never thought of it as something you made time for.

Eating bad food too quickly. On our best nights, we cook a healthy meal and sit down for a long meal and after dinner conversation. When I'm tired, someone's sick or other times when we're just not motivated, then we eat quick meals or my hubby brings in carry-out. Carry-out, I've decided, is not nutritionally better than fast food. Most of these meals look healthier, but have hidden salt and fat. We also will eat quickly and then migrate to our own corners of the world.

I did not learn this from my family. My mom cooked home meals and we seldom ate out. However, I didn't learn to cook, I don't like cooking, and so, it's a lazy habit.

No chores. This is another bad habit. We tend to clean in spurts, rather than using routines. I do teach my daughter about cleaning, but I'm not teaching her a discipline of teaching. I've tried routines. I hate them. So exactly what skills will my child have for handling things like laundry and house chores if I don't model them? None.

Overall, part of the problem is I don't have the energy I need to create the family I want. And it's not likely to improve in the next few years, since I'm thinking about returning to school for my teaching certificate. This will put us dangerously close to her pre-teen years. I'm open to ideas.

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