This may well be the year when the American people learn to appreciate street smarts over book smarts.
Because kids right now can learn important lessons about how badly the adult world has lost it right now.
We have Betsy DeVos in charge of the Department of Education, which is like putting a fox in charge of the henhouse. We have the "demon seed" lady replacing Dr. Fauci as our national pandemic expert. The US is heading into the worst peaks of COVID-19 infection while the rest of the world is recovering. We've had a whole eight months now to come up with a plan for back-to-school this year… and we just don't have one!
It might be too late for most of you already, but parents, please understand that the US public school system is not the police. They can't enforce doodly squat. You are the parent, and in the absence of any safety measures to protect your child, you are well within your right to demand the schools enact those measures or just pull your kid out and home-school.
Likely, this may not be an issue anyway, because it looks like teachers are going to strike if things come to that head. In the meantime, the Centers for Disease Control has the closest thing to a sane plan. The most likely scenario is some hybrid of in-class and remote learning.
Home-Schooling and Remote Learning
Here's the deal: Home-schooling is something you should be doing with your children anyway.
The American public school system is so broken, it's nearly worse than worthless. Not only are public schools a government ghetto that form an anti-learning environment, not only is there shocking chunks of basic education that schools do not teach, they completely leave out the functional life skills that younger generations have charmingly named "adulting."
What do American schools actually teach? Football.
No matter how much faith you have in your school, it is important to check in with your kid periodically about what's going on in there. Don't just let them get away with a "fine" answer. Ask probing questions:
What did you study today?
What classes did you attend?
What did you do?
That's the only way to find out what your kids aren't learning. For example:
From my own experience, history is a dead subject in US schools. You can prove that to yourself by collecting some coins from around the world (which I have) and having your kids' friends come over (which I did). Inevitably, my kids' friends would notice the shelf full of obscure coins and probe them with curiosity, but after a few questions and answers, I felt sick knowing what these high school age kids had never learned.
- They literally did not know what they were looking at. They'd ask "Is all this fake play money?"
- I'd show them a Reichspfennig from 1943 with a you-know-what stamped on it, and they did not know what it was! WWII was a complete blank to them.
- Ottoman empire? News to them!
- Former Yugoslavia? Never heard of the place!
- Bimetal Euros? They thought it was chocolate!
- Franklin half-dollars? "Um, didn't he invent kites?"
- John Kennedy half-dollar? Who was he?
- Eisenhower dollar commemorating the moon landing? On my mother's grave, they did not know about the moon landing!
Just about any collecting hobby is a fine way to teach a subject. Stamps, seashells, scrapbooks, even comics all have something to teach.
The difference in education between attending American public schools and not going at all is almost nil. Any parent who wants to raise functioning adults has to take their children's education into their own hands. You do this by keeping a home filled with bookshelves, collections, activity-directed toys, and just plain stuff, and sharing your hobbies and interests with them. Encourage an attitude of curiosity and exploration.
In a nutshell, homeschooling takes time. Compared to a classroom environment where your kid's lucky if they get five minutes interaction with a teacher all year, one-on-one time with you is more valuable by the minute. You can't just park the kid in front of a stack of paper assignments and expect that to work. Instruct the kids in each lesson, and if you come to something you don't know, admit it and go look it up together.
The Internet As A Remote Classroom
Of course, kids love the Internet already. But the trouble with this (and for a lot of adults too) is that they spend all day on social media. Social media websites limit your browsing to the inside of their little walled garden, hearing only what the Hivemind repeats. Social media, as vast as it is, is still less than 1/100th of the content available on the Internet!
Should I filter my kids' Internet?
Of course, most parents are a bit jittery about what you can find out there. Yes, it is true, your kids will find some disturbing content out there, it is inevitable.
Nevertheless, we never filtered or censored what our kids saw. Our logic was, if they're old enough to seek it out, they're old enough to handle it. Since it is inevitable that they will encounter the weird stuff, the only choice you have is:
- Filter and censor your kids' browsing and make them deal with that stuff after they're 18.
- Let your kids find it and come to you, where you can talk it over with them now.
Make sense when you put it that way? Regardless, you can still encourage tasteful, wholesome media consumption, as we did, without censoring. Our policy was also: Not only your body, but your mind is a temple as well. You can spend your time browsing content that will enrich you or you can fill your head with garbage. Two guesses as to which option your future self will thank you for.
Should I stop my kids from studying "above their level"?
Of course, use common sense: Do not force your kids into astrophysics when they're still learning the number line. Duh. Just be sure that your child is learning according to the Common Core schedule but after that?
If they seek out more? Don't you dare stop them!
Anything that a kid wants to know about today, they are "at the right level" to learn it today. Don't let anybody feed you the teacher's myth that "if you let them try something too advanced and they get frustrated, they'll never want to learn again." Just tell your kid, "It's OK to try that subject again when you're older."
Remember, we're also teaching the kid a healthy attitude about accepting the limits of their own capacity, which starts with you.
Adults who never admit when they are wrong or don't know something raise close-minded, ignorant kids. Life is full of challenges, be realistic about them. But after that, if they want to know more about something, don't stand in their way. Our concept of a child's "level" is shaped by the crippled and disabled standards of the US education system. Our kids are just learning long division when other countries' kids are proving their first theorem.
If schools hate Wikipedia, you should love it
School employees are adamantly against Wikipedia because they see it as a threat to their careers.
My goodness, if everybody can equally access the same knowledge, how do we justify our salaries and keep the lower classes pushed down? The excuse they use in front of you and your kids is that "Wikipedia isn't reliable because anyone can edit it." This is a completely false statement: Go on Wikipedia and edit something and see how fast the maintainers revert your edit and ban you.
Not to mention the cognitive bias in the statement "anyone can edit Wikipedia," which assumes that all other media is handed down by God on chiseled clay tablets. Guess what? "Anyone can edit" for a website, a magazine, a book, a newspaper, a school textbook, a TV newscast, even an encyclopedia, and every other kind of content you can name too!
Your Internet Home School (or remote learning kit)
- Project Gutenberg free books
- Wikisource free library
- WatchKnowLearn educational videos including Common Core
- Khan Academy online learning K-12+
- Common Core home site
- Open Culture complete K-12 resources
As for supplements, here's 50 educational websites to bookmark on your kids' web browser (in totally random order, sorry):
- Wikipedia - Searching topics and following links, especially via the 'random' button, is an activity in itself. (1)
- AllTop News - A fair and balanced feed of news websites to counteract the fake stories on the Internet. (2)
- Wikimedia Foundation - Portals to crowd-sourced educational resources in every topic. (3)
- QuackWatch - A skeptical resource to combat medical pseudoscience. (4)
- The Museum of Hoaxes - Skeptical and historical resource to combat general falsehoods. (5)
- James Randi Educational Foundation - Noted skeptic with anti-falsehood resource. (6)
- Historical Atlas of the Twentieth Century - A very basic and condensed way to teach world history using coded maps. (7)
- Atlas Obscura - A fun blog exploring wonders around the world. (8)
- The Living Internet - A full-spectrum history and exploration of the Internet itself, with all its associated technology. (9)
- Open Culture - A guide and blog to free culture and educational media on the web. (10)
- The Phrontistery - A fun, trivial dictionary of obscure and outdated English. (11)
- Math Open Reference - Basic grade math quick course. (12)
- Cornell University Papers - Open access archive of over 1.7 million academic articles of college-level subjects. (13)
- The Food Timeline - History as seen through the human diet, for agricultural and culinary education. (14)
- FTC Scam Alerts - Tracking Internet scams and tips on consumer protection. (15)
- The Criterion Collection - Noteworthy films for cultural studies. (16)
- UBUWeb - An archive of artworks encompassing film, music, literature, new media, poetry, etc., with a focus on avant-garde but really including anything with an arthouse flair. (17)
- This Day in Music - Cultural resource on music history. (18)
- Seventh Sanctum - A fun site with text generators (think MadLibs) for creative thinking. (19)
- 1001 Story Ideas - Templates for speculative fiction, useful creativity enhancer. (20)
- TVTropes - Everything in media culture and history, the stuff that's too trivial for Wikipedia to cover in-depth (noted as the most addicting browsing on the web). (21)
- Hemingway Editor - A flawed, but useful writing tutor, good enough for term papers. (22)
- Teach Yourself Computer Science - An introductory course in comp-sci. (23)
- Calculus Made Easy - An online calculus book. (24)
- Springer Link - Free college textbooks and journals online. (25)
- The Autodidact Course Catalog - "Autodidact" means "self-taught," for which this is an adult-level resource. (26)
- Futility Closet - The nerdiest trivia blog and podcast on the web, fun browsing. (27)
- XKCD What-If? - The STEM-loving guy behind the XKCD webcomic answers your science questions. (28)
- The Public Domain Review - Resource on media works in the public domain, for historic and cultural learning. (29)
- All That Is Interesting - History and science news blog. (30)
- Collector's Weekly - A blog for collectors of just about anything. (31)
- Dr James B. Calvert - Potpourri of educational subjects curated by a U of Denver professor. (32)
- Math Puzzle - Making math as fun and intriguing as possible. (33)
- Internet Archive Blog - The behind-the-scenes glimpse of modern library science. (34)
- The Chronicle of Higher Education - News about colleges and universities, when you're ready to go there. (35)
- Documentary Addict - Over 5K documentaries free online. (36)
- Crash Course - The award-winning YouTube channel that's an eye-opening pop education for young and old alike. (37)
- MythTV - Video lectures on math from Common Core to the university level. (38)
- The History Chicks - Female-focused history blog and podcast. (39)
- MIT Open Courseware - Free university classes online. (40)
- Open Learning Initiative - Carnegie Mellon classes online. (41)
- Code Academy - Just one of many places to learn programming online. (42)
- Quote Investigator - Who really said that, and is that the exact quote? (43)
- Quora - The web's biggest question-and-answer site for anything and everything. (44)
- Stack Exchange - An academic-focused Q-and-A site, originally focused on technology. (45)
- FunBrain - Kids K-12 educational activities. (46)
- Experiments With Google - Science experiments are done through video and interactions. (47)
- Grammar Bytes - A fun resource for teaching grammar. (48)
- USAFacts - Just data and statistics on the US. (49)
- The Straight Dope - Long-running Q-and-A newspaper column online. (50)
We are pointing out here that there is very little difference between remote learning and homeschooling.
It's an invitation for parents to take a more active role in education, an opportunity which you may be glad you took advantage of in the long run. Teaching is satisfying in its own way. Raising a smart, savvy kid is its own reward.
We're also pointing out that there is very little difference between teaching a child, and teaching them to teach themselves. Let's face it, some of you aren't going to have the time to do more than pitch a study plan at the kid on your own way to work. By all means, you should have your kid thoroughly versed in how to Google, how to verify facts, and how to help themselves. Given enough empowerment to look things up yourself, you can be turned loose to become an autodidact from there.
Noam Chomsky puts this even better:
One thing is for sure: Not only are we as a nation challenged to survive this, but we as a generation are challenged to educate our kids ourselves. It isn't enough to raise kids to government standards right now.
We have to do better than government standards so that we turn out a generation of kids who will be too smart to get themselves into the same jam we find ourselves in.