Is There a Right Way to Educate?

One of things I learned during my years of working towards my B.A. in Psychology – if you look hard enough, there’s something wrong with everyone.

Psych evaluations are based on what we consider to be “normal” behavior. If a person exhibits enough behavior that is out of this normal range, then they are potentially diagnosed with a disorder.

But a lot of the descriptions of what constitutes abnormal behavior are vague. And it’s purposefully vague, using words like “excessive” and “unusual” and “many”, so that the psychiatrist, patient and other doctors can work together to decide whether the symptoms truly represent a disorder, or if they are par for the course in human existence.

This is not a post intended to talk about mental illness, per se. But I’d like to point out that the majority of psychological illness diagnosis is based on subjective views, and ultimately based on expectations: expectations of how people should behave, and how people should function in life. These expectations are based on culture, experience and handed-down values of what human existence is.

The same thing can be said of education – if you look hard enough at any way of schooling and educating, you can find something wrong with it. And the viewpoint of whether an educational approach is “good”, is largely dependent on subjective perspectives, and more precisely, expectations on what education is for in the first place.

Our expectations change our view of the value of certain kinds of educational experience. And if we drop expectations altogether, it changes our perception of the value in a different way.

I’ve noticed that the vast majority of arguments for or against a certain kind of educational system are based on the expectations of the speaker. Depending on what expectation they have for what education is for, and what it should produce, certain educational choices will appear more appealing than others.

But, does that mean that one particular method is inherently better than any other? Or is it all a matter of perspective? If we have no expectations whatsoever, and take away all cultural, personal and political viewpoints, what happens to the value we place on what education is for?

Public and private classroom centered education is based on an endless string of expectations. The more intense the program, the more expectations there are of the students. And the more expectations placed on the students, the less flexibility and opportunity they have in finding success. If expectations are very high, success is a small, difficult to obtain goal. But for those that do reach that goal, and manage to fulfill the expectations put upon them by the people who make the educational policies and decisions, they can find a certain kind of success that is created by fulfilling certain expectations.

Those who criticize homeschooling, and other flexible alternative educational models that do not stress intense expectations use their own subjective ruler to decide whether the model is “good”. If one has a certain expectations, any educational solution that does not also have those same expectations will not be “right”.

The opposite is true as well. Parents who have a different set of expectations, or none at all, will find a different set of educational options to be “right” for them.

Which educational program is the “right” way for all? I doubt that there ever can exist one program or one solution that is right for everyone. There is no one universally flexible program that can accommodate the wide variety of parental expectations, and student expectations.

The only solution is choice. The more choice we have to educate, and the more freedom we have as citizens to either create a new model or pick a educational model that fits our family, the better results we’ll see universally through education.

The numbers on the “objective” standardized tests may not show it. But that is only one kind of expectation. In order for our society to reach a point where our educational system “excells”, the first, and most important, step to success is to focus on meeting the expectations of the parents and the kids; to provide a place for them to get what they need educationally. And since everyone has a different set of expectations, one nationwide test won’t capture the success that we have as a society, and on an individual level, because it won’t capture the diversity in what we even expect from an educational experience to begin with.

Anyone who adheres to the idea that there is one right way to educate people, is basing their view on their own idea of what education *is*. To see the whole picture, we have to drop our own expectations, or at least recognize that our personal expectations are not those of everyone else, and to accept that different people have different needs in their learning experience.

No, there is no one right way to educate kids. But I do think there is a “right” way to educate our society: give as much choice as possible and make many different kinds of learning opportunities available to everyone.

3 Responses to “Is There a Right Way to Educate?”

  1. Tara Says:

    Oh, how true! Great post. I will remember this next time someone starts with the homeschool inquisition!

  2. Joanne Says:

    As a former teacher sympathetic to homeschooling, I often wonder, who guarantees that the parents actually have the appropriate knowledge to teach? My (older) friend and I were talking about a family we know who home schools; my friend said, “God forbid if I were teaching my own kids math.” In other words, she wouldn’t be qualified…so how do homeschoolers provide the resources for all that kids need to learn? In school, of course, there are different teachers who specialize in various subjects. In my own case, I specialized in English/reading/writing, but not social studies, so we had a different teacher for that. And just a curious question: do states require any sort of testing of homeschoolers? And how do colleges handle admissions of homeschoolers?

  3. Anna B Says:

    I don’t think there is one right way for my family. My children are very different. I think there are only many many ways to educate each person. What works for one child one day may not work the next and may never work for someone else.

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