I worked for a while at Sylvan Learning Center, and one of the things that drove me nuts was the textbooks the kids brought in from school. I taught mostly upper level math and reading, and that meant helping kids with their homework and such on top of doing the Sylvan curriculum with them.
First of all, the Sylvan stuff was awesome. The program really worked. The idea was to find the gaps in the child's foundation of skills and fill them in before trying to build on top of them. Teach them phonics before reading comprehension. Teach them addition before learning how to work equations. In other words--teaching the old-fashioned way. The way it was done when *I* was in school.
What I saw, though, while working at Sylvan, were kids coming in, feeling like failures because in school they were being pushed to do things they were not prepared for.
NOTE--I did NOT say they were not smart enough. I did NOT say they were not skilled enough. I did NOT say they weren't old enough. I said they weren't prepared.
And that, my friends, is not the students' fault.
What happens is that kids are being forced to understand abstract concepts about topics which they have not been given the basic building blocks. For example, I had two students who were taking the same geometry class, and they were both failing. I asked to see their textbook. These kids were being asked for the derivation of certain theorems and such without being taught the component pieces first. They were being taught concepts, without being taught the equations and basic steps of solving them first.
I told those two to put away their school textbooks. I pulled out an old 1980's textbook--pretty much like the one I used in high school--and taught them from that one. They both made B's on their next exam.
Kids need to be taught the basics first. They need to be shown, step by step, how to go through a process. They need to see it in action, and then they can take it beyond the borders.
My husband and I were discussing this the other day. I said it's like handing a kid a screw and a screwdriver when the kid has never seen one before and expecting them to know instinctivey how to use it. Doesn't the end of the screwdriver obviously go in the slot on the screw? Don't those threads make it obvious that the screw needs to turn?
Oh, and not only are they expected to know how to turn the screw, they are being asked to come up with novel uses for it! Or new, inventive ways to turn the screw!
No, sorry--they need old-fashioned practice. Probably with a hammer and nail first, to be honest. Show them what a nail does, show them what a screw does, show them why one is used in one instance and one in another. Show them how to use both first. Show them the traditional way. SHOW THEM THE BOX. And then take that first step outside the box WITH them so they have a hand to hold while they traverse that unfamiliar territory before setting them off on their own.
Ironically, you will likely find that the child takes off on their own much more quickly. When someone feels equipped, they aren't as afraid of failure. But our kids aren't growing up feeling equipped.
Now, before you jump all over me and say, "Little Miss Homeschooler is blaming the teachers," let me say this:
TEACHERS are probably the most aware of this problem. Teachers in the public school system and being forced into corners all over the place. Their students have to pass tests in order for the schools to be funded. They have no say in what textbooks they have to teach from. This is not generally their fault either. So don't shake that finger at me. I have the utmost respect for public school teachers.
My beef is with the system itself, with the textbook writers--probably the same people who design Barbie clothes--you know, the ones who make skinny little sleeves and expect kids to get those sleeves over splayed plastic fingers....
Anyway, not sure where this rant came from. But I will make one last statement--that it applies to many things other than school. I can't tell you how many times people I know have complained that they took a new job and got no training. Or they were handed a training manual that read like stereo instructions.
And writing. I believe in rule-breaking with writing. But ya know what--you need to learn the rules FIRST and then you can find the right way to break them. Learn the box. Measure its dimensions. Memorize all its angles and such, and then step out of it.