My good twitter friend (I hope I can call you that!) @paulbogush informed me that I, like many others, have romanticized my educational experiences that used traditional methods. I have never claimed that my academic career has been perfectly satisfying. In fact, my husband attended the same school during basically the same years and I would say that his experiences were dismal if the goal was to encourage and facilitate learning. I am not the girl to tell anyone that the public school system or even traditional educational methods are perfect (with grades and required courses and so on).

Yet I maintain that grades and required courses are still imperative. And this is because my experiences have taught me that sometimes hoop jumping can be futile, but often it provides necessary exposure. In elementary, I hated learning math. My dad said it was good for me and would help with problem solving. Whatever, I thought. Of course, I continued to do the work but I found no enjoyment or satisfaction. By junior high, I tested high enough that I “got to” be on a math team. It was forced and I still found not pleasure. But by Calculus – my senior year in high school- I truly began to love math!

If I had been allowed to discontinue the pursuit of (cumulative!) the mathematical component of my education, there are many things I never would have learned. In college, I only needed to take a statistic’s class (from which I learned a great deal about research which benefits me greatly in education) and I did not pursue it any farther because I did not need any more. For me, this was the point where I could personalize my education.

Before that, I feel like I benefitted from taking lots of classes. (I took 5 years of social studies, science, math, and well over 5 yrs of comm arts – shocking, I know.) I am glad that I had that foundation for my college experience. I’m not going to pretend like some classes were not a waste of my time (often the social studies because we were not able to take an advanced version so the classes were taught to the lowest common denominator).

Anyway, this quote ( and I’m sorry to single out one person – there are many who follow the same sentiment) really bothered me. “most people romanticize their education–don’t even know what doors were closed to them”.

Here’s what it reminds me of. Have you seen Mona Lisa Smile (Julia Roberts)? I really find this movie interesting in how it addresses gender issues from those days. The blonde girl (Julia Stiles) is brilliant and considering law school. Julia Roberts (the art history instructor) thinks this girl should go to law school, but the student gets married and chooses to be a traditional wife instead.

Roberts’ character is appaled but Stiles character seems to represent the idea that we can choose things for ourselves. When I stayed home with my children (which I would still be doing for another year or two if finances had allowed) people seemed to believe it was an archaic tradition and that I must be ignorant or have no choice in the matter.

Rather, it seems that if people don’t agree that they are being oppressed in some way, it must mean they simply do not see it. It could never be that people had thoughtfully considered the ideas and made an informed decision/value system/belief.

I think that being a woman who CHOOSES to stay home is a decision that commands respect just as I think that being an educator who stands behind some structures of traditional education (tweaking the system, not throwing it out) is an opinion that is worth  at least considering and respecting.

Is this logical? Am I truly just missing something?


15 responses to this post.

  1. Posted by Jennifer Ansbach on October 11, 2009 at 10:58 pm

    Well, having taken part in the above exchange, I have a more detailed idea of the conversation. While I agree with Paul that we need to give students choices, I also think that there are things you need to know that you don’t know you need to know. I’m not sure that allowing children to make all their own choices is the best way to go. I don’t believe that if you let children eat all the junk food they want, they will decide broccoli is better. I don’t believe all choices are a form of rebellion (I have tried to be a rebel, believe me, but I just couldn’t in many ways). I hated high school. Took honors classes. Went to a university that said, “Go ahead! Design a major! Design your own program! Create independent study projects!” It was part of the reason I chose that university. And yet, I didn’t do it. I stuck with a traditional program, and I learned things that are useful to me now, that without that exposure, I wouldn’t even know what I don’t know.

    Because that’s the thing about knowing. You don’t always know what you don’t know.

    I am an advocate for a lot of choice, but I also believe in embracing a curriculum that teaches reading.


  2. Posted by nicole on October 11, 2009 at 11:04 pm

    It is definitely possible for someone to choose an “unconventional” pathway and do so purposefully, fully aware of all their choices, knowing that “mainstream” members of society may disagree.

    At the same time, it’s very easy to not realize what doors have been closed because of our “schooling” or “upbringing.” I don’t see those positions as mutually exclusive.

    I think the point is to begin thinking about the experiences we’ve had realizing that our experiences aren’t “normal” or “universal.” Similarly, our experiences aren’t right or wrong; they are just our experiences. Reflecting on them and reconsidering them is important and necessary work for educators. Blogs like this are an excellent venue for growth. Thanks for sharing your process!


  3. Posted by mrsfollis2 on October 11, 2009 at 11:25 pm

    Thanks for your comments!

    What I really mean is that I don’t think Paul is wrong but I also don’t think I’m wrong. I think that if we are advocating for ALL students, we need to respect that we are, in fact, different and that we should consider that when calling for change.

    Some people are more rebellious than others. I go back and forth. 🙂

    Anyway, thanks for sharing!


  4. Most school districts are not going to throw away a traditional education. “Tweaking” a traditional education (I like the way you word this) provides sound footing for a student to make an informed choice about what area he or she would like to pursue, and the tweak hopefully adds the spark to make the mundane and not so interesting classes a little more engaging. Are they all necessary? Probably, because how would a student find a focus without exploring all of the core areas? I believe a balance of is always needed, but I also appreciate the radical views of unconventional educational ideas because that is how paradigms change and the “tweaking” occurs. We need those outside of the box thinkers to open eyes to the possibilities and imagination of change out side of a rigid system of non-change.


  5. I teach at a school where there truly is limited choice. Students either take an advanced curriculum or they take a regular curriculum with minimal choices of even electives. I find that my students find their balance within that bracket of support. While they say that they would prefer more choice, most students who venture off to other schools miss our supportive brackets. We are innovative in returning to the required roots. Rather than being stovepiped by their HS choices, our students are finding the world is a wild and wonderous place when they have a strong academic background to support their wildest desires.


  6. I believe that I have “debated” this topic on Twitter with you also in regards to worksheets vs. real world learning. I have also discussed it with Paul. I have become interested in the “:unschooling” idea because I have seen my own son grow bored at school and not like reading because of AR programs that push too hard.

    Before he started school he loved exploring and learning about everything in the real world. School seems to rob him of his joy of learning. I can not help but to be attracted to the more natural unschooling model.

    I do question how unschooling parents make sure there are not “gaps” in learning especially in regards to math. But I also think that unschooling does not have to be totally in the student’s control. The parents can still influence learning by choosing activities to expose their child to.

    Coming full circle as I teach math for the first time this year I am trying to make it as hands on and real world as possible to increase student motivation. I wonder if some of my students would not be more successful in an unschooling model. I do question whether middle school would be a good time to introduce the concept though.


  7. All of us come to places in our journey through life where we have to choose one path among the many that might be available (and we may not even know all that may be available). Once we decide on the path to take (or in the case of children, have the path decided for them), we cannot know what the results of choosing a different path might have been.

    I do not think that most people romanticize their school experiences, I think those who had generally good experiences remember the good parts more than the rest and the opposite is true for those who come away thinking they had a negative experience. Either way, most people did not have many alternatives available, a situation that is less prevalent now due to online schools and other very recent developments.

    I enjoyed my traditional elementary schooling and my accelerated middle school program. I did not enjoy, and spent as little time as possible attending, high school. As a young child I appreciated the structure of traditional classes and grades. In middle school I had amazing teachers who bent the traditional structure to accommodate the learning needs of their very intellectually precocious students. High school was so pedestrian by comparison that I decided i could learn more from the multitude of resources available in my hometown.

    The fact is, different students have different needs. Some need more structure, some need less. Some need to be taught, some need to be guided in their own explorations. Some need red brick schools, and others need wide open spaces. Each should be able to get what he or she needs.


  8. Posted by hrmason on October 12, 2009 at 1:02 am

    I think the title of your blog is perfect. Just as those who had a positive experience with school may romanticize it; so do those who think the opposite. I don’t believe that if students were given complete choices over everything they wanted to learn or do would they learn all the things they need to. Many students walk into the classroom with so many needs that aren’t being met in other ways, that the freedom would be an excuse to escape or nap. Some students need the stucture in order to succeed; without it they feel lost. The idea that all students will thrive in a choice-filled class without any of the traditional elements is as false as the idea that all students would succeed in the traditional model if they would only try hard enough.

    Choice is important. But so is direction. I teach eighth grade. My students, if you ask them, are going to be models, singers and football players. I have a few doctors mixed in and usally one or two police officers or teachers (but only elementary teachers, not one seems to want to teach the “crazy” kids in middle school). How can students at this age choose the direction of their education if they don’t have an idea of where they are going? I wanted to be an archeologist until 11 grade. Yet here I am a teacher and happy.

    What we need is to stop “romantacizing” school at all and find a blend that works for our students. Sometimes that may be self-guided and freeform. Sometimes it may be structured and teacher-directed. But always it should be with the student who is sitting in front of you in mind and not the student you once were in school.


  9. I love learning; I went to a traditional school to the point I was expected to not be good in science and math due to gender. When I went against the guidance counselor’s wishes and took my ACT during the fall semester of my junior year, she refused to help me the rest of my high school career, especially since I did score higher than most of my peers, even when they took it their senior year.

    I can sit through hours of a great lecture; I can hardly sit still even with high tech tempting me to watch if it is done poorly. I have 5 siblings who all learned differently and succeeded in various paths of life. I have seen my younger brother discriminated against by his teachers due to his choices in life; I have seen my older sister and brother revered because they did as teachers wanted.

    So I ended up going into teaching anyway and have found that if I had not had a broad, common core of traditional topics/classes, I would not have been able to differentiate transitional math through College Algebra/Trig and Integrated Physical Science through College Chemistry. I am not a traditional teacher even though I came from a traditional educational system. Thanks goodness! But I have learned there are those students who need structure and those who do not. Sometimes I am able to find out early enough in the year to make their learning more relevant and meaningful; sometimes I don’t. Somehow though I have been able to survive in a system that has not fostered creativity and provided support by being true to my students’ needs; standing up and fighting or sitting down and caring.

    I certainly did not have a wonderful high school career–constantly compared to older siblings, younger siblings and I even attempted to graduate early but back in Wyoming and the early 70’s that was not acceptable for someone who didn’t have their parents in fighting for you. So now as a teacher I encourage those who can hardly stand high school, give them opportunities to show me their knowledge–sometimes I am able to provide that learning environment, sometimes I can’t.

    Those who say “high school are the best years of your life” romanticize their schooling and are living in the past. Today is the best year of my life and will always be in the present tense. As I teacher I must remember and respect my students as individuals regardless of the administrator (-tion) that only sees order, rows and silence as evidence of learning!


  10. Posted by Hadass Eviatar on October 12, 2009 at 2:08 am

    My sister put her children in an “alternative” school that was all choices. The result was that her son avoided math, because it did not come easily to him. She ended up homeschooling him in math. He did eventually go to a conventional high school just to finish his exams, including math.

    Her daughter eventually chose to drop out of high school and finish in night school, because she said the purpose of HS was socialising rather than learning ;-). She preferred to learn with adults who were there with a purpose.

    Both kids have a pretty clear idea of who they are and where they are going – but there was strong parental support all along the way. I’m thinking that schools that give choices should require the parents to be strong involved – as they often are at such “alternative” schools. Sometimes school gives kids the only structure in their lives, and that should not be discounted.

    My own kids go to a small parochial school, so there is a lot of wiggle room within the structure (the school is required to teach the Manitoba curriculum in order to qualify for funding). I know that Candace is also at a private parochial school, and those are environments that lend themselves to tweaking. I can imagine there are fewer choices at a large public school with over a thousand students. Just the logistics would be a nightmare, although sometimes this is dealt with by breaking the school up into smaller components. There needs to be a will, and then a way is found.

    Not sure where I’m going with this rambling … think I agree with both sides ;-).


  11. Why can’t we disagree without making the argument personal? I often prefer to disagree for no other reason than it suits me to push someone else’s thinking. Yes, I am that guy! I don’t pretend to know what is better for other people, instead I limit myself to suggestions when asked. I have a reputation for being brutally honest with my opinion which often leads me out of our local soap opera loop 😉

    My wife has been a stay at home mother for 16 years now. We made the choice and have been completely happy with it. If anyone had the audacity to suggest I was “suppressing” her in some way would probably get a severe case of wind burn (and since I like to drink coffee it would probably be a very bad smelling wind….) The only problem is that you couldn’t afford to continue what you wanted to do for your family.

    To suggest we only follow a path because of shut doors refuse to understand free (and stubborn) will. While some do have greater opportunities than others, it is what you do with the opportunities that you have that defines you, not what could have been.


  12. Posted by Hadass Eviatar on October 14, 2009 at 3:00 am

    Ah, Bill, you are clearly blissfully unaware of the ongoing Mommy wars ;-). For some reason, women who make one choice or the other sometimes feel attacked by those who have made the opposite choice. Women do tend to use strong language: WOHMs (working outside the home mothers) don’t care about their children, SAHMs (stay at home mothers) are suppressed, etc. When I wanted to become a La Leche League leader, they rejected me because I worked outside the home – never mind that I breastfed each of my kids till the age of four and pumped for eighteen months for each one – don’t you think that might have been a useful role model for young mothers? (I guess I’m still bitter about it).

    These things are not purely intellectual choices – there are deep emotional connections here, and you tread on them at your peril ;-).


  13. […] giving them the opportunities to grow to the depths and heights they possibly can.  Some of us may romanticize our past education, but I agree with Candace (@iMrsF) that students need repeated exposure to some […]


  14. I feel like you and I consider the same conversations about education (along with Paul and many others in our PLNs). I too feel the pull of the traditional system of education. I had both very positive and very negative experiences within such a system.

    I hated math until calculus as well, but then when I got to calculus I was terrible at it even though it was much more fascinating to me than arithmetic. How could a teacher have better prepared me (or prompted me to prepare myself)? I’m not sure, but in this case I question the “just grin and bare it” philosophy of traditional education.

    Your question about choosing to be a parent is one that resonates. I think as our society moves into a (can I say this without sounding pompous?) post-feminist society, we are seeing the choice of being a mother take on greater meaning. Forty years ago, it would have been the opposite decision that would have gotten you looked at strangely.

    What a great thought provoking post! Thanks Candace!


  15. […] Candice Follis also talks about the idea of loving something after being forced to learn it: […]


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