“Rethinking School” Made Me Rethink My Approach
For the first few years of homeschooling I would read every book I could find on the topic, eager to soak up any information on my new endeavor. Now, after almost 10 years of homeschooling, it is becoming rare to feel freshly inspired by a book on the subject, which is why I was pleasantly surprised by how invigorated I felt after reading Rethinking School, the new book by Susan Wise Bauer.
This book challenged me to dig deeper into what the school experience is, what it could be, and what that means for our children. If you are familiar with Bauer, it is most likely from her best-selling book on classical education at home, The Well-Trained Mind. I assumed her new book would be in the same vein, but I was wrong. In fact, it turns out that it’s not even really a homeschooling book at all. This is a book about how to help your child get the most out of their school experience, whatever that may be.
One of the ideas discussed in the book that got my wheels turning was Bauer reminding us that school as the K-12 system as we know it, in the home or traditional setting, is just that, a system. It is a system that has been created over time to fill certain roles. She gives a little history of how it has become what we know today, then challenges the reader to think hard about the specific needs you want school to fulfill for your child. She asks you to try and come up with your ideal version of how each of those different needs could be met, and I found this exercise enlightening! It made me realize how much we expect out of school. It is not just learning, but responsibility, socialization and personal growth, to name a few.
It was good food for thought to try to make those delineations in order to make sense of what is and isn’t working within the system to serve those needs. Even in the home education community, we can become so accustomed to doing things a certain way that becomes hard to reshape the box when necessary. She then goes on to explain ways to work within the school system by coming alongside teachers in constructive ways to achieve results. I appreciate how Bauer remains adamantly clear on how important it is to respect teachers as professionals, giving specific examples of how to do this while still advocating for your child.
Throughout the book, Bauer gives parents permission to question things that they are not sure are best for their child, with standardized testing being a big one. Interestingly, her reference for this was the two teachers in Tulsa who refused to give the standardized tests to their students and lost their jobs. Bauer explains that participating in standardized testing is rarely actually required, and lays out the options for how to handle it best for your child. Reading this reminded me that parents really do have power, especially when armed with the right information, to stand together for change when it is needed.
I wanted to share this book with you because it comes from a place that can be tricky to navigate in the homeschool world. I may homeschool my children because I think is the best thing for my family, but I love school and think all of our children deserve the best we can give them. This book encouraged me that we can take steps to address the long-term problem of school reform, by engaging in what needs to be reformed in our own children’s schooling experience.
As they say, knowledge is power, and Rethinking School left me feeling powerful. Powerful in my choice to homeschool, and powerful that each of us can work towards better education as a whole, by rethinking what it is and what it could possibly be, starting with the children we know best.