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Friday, August 7, 2020

Is There Really Such A Thing As "Behind"?

Kids Running a Race

Because I’ve been home educating my kids going on seven years now, I’ve been getting lots of questions lately from parents who have chosen homeschooling as their best option in the face of unique circumstances this year. 

One of the most common questions I’m asked is something along the lines of, “what do I need to do to ensure my kid doesn’t fall behind?” 

My standard response, “Help me understand what you mean by ‘behind’…” usually receives a puzzled look. 

What these parents are asking for is of course, a curriculum recommendation or a checklist they can follow to keep their kid on track academically. “Well she’s in first grade and I’d like to know what she needs to be reading. Also, she doesn’t know her times tables yet…”


These parents, like so many of us, have accepted the idea that education is a race and as parents, our duty is to give our kids every advantage so that one day they might win. We quietly hope our child will gain an early lead. At the very least, we do everything possible to ensure they stay in line with the pack. To fall behind…well, we don’t like imagining the consequences. What would that say about our child? If we were truly honest, what would that say about us?  


It’s no wonder we operate from this paradigm. Education initiatives named “No Child Left Behind” and “Head Start” surround us. We use standardized testing each spring to crown academic winners and losers. We test, analyze, compare, and adjust classrooms each year in a desperate attempt to push the fast kids faster and figure out what’s gone wrong with the slower ones.  Each year we hand this message off to our kids alongside their backpacks and school lunches: education is a race you must run better than (or at least on pace with) everyone else…or else.


From Kindergarten on our kids are caught in a cycle of constantly comparing themselves to their peers to check where they rank. Anxietyand depression are at an all time high among today’s generation of students, and experts believe a high-stakes academic environment is one factor responsible for this epidemic. We have confused attending school with getting an education.  We have confused good test scores with true achievement. We haven’t stopped to consider whether winning the race equates to real success. We haven’t known another way of thinking about education.


Our standard-centric system was built to reward students who run the race according the rules the adults have created for them, but these same high achievers often struggle to succeed when they step off the school track and into the working world.  


COVID-19 has given us an opportunity to step back and observe the system. Is it still serving our children well? Teachers, administrators. and parents are all at a loss for how to proceed in this new normal. No one knows what the best course of action is right now. My hope for parents is that we'll use this time-out, this forced re-evaluation, to think critically about how we choose to educate our children. While the rules are being thrown out the window, let’s collectively take a minute to consider if we still want to play by them. 

Is your kids’ education really a race? What if it was something more?


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