Jenny, a fifteen-year-old high school student, walks from her family’s tiny and crowded apartment in Beijing, to her public school every day. She starts school Monday to Friday, from 8:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m., and then she’s off to homework class until her mother picks her up around 6:30 p.m. upon leaving the office. At home, Jenny still has a few more pages of unfinished homework, two or three lessons to review, and practice her daily piano for two hours before going to bed at midnight. At school, Jenny finds it difficult to concentrate, has trouble retaining lessons, and her grades, well below average, are slipping to the point where her parents abuse her physically.
Fifteen-year-old Max lives in a multimillion-dollar mansion and attends a posh private school in suburban San Francisco. His parents hope that he will make the cutoff for the National Merit Scholarship when he takes the PSAT next year, so he manages to fit in test prep between football practice, bi-weekly chess club meetings, volunteering for Big Brothers Big Sisters, and three to four hours of homework each night. He finds himself talking back to his parents and retorting at his classmates, and he complains of frequent migraines.
We all know to worry about Jenny. She has a tough road ahead. What we don’t know is we should worry about Max, too.
Jenny is battling chronic sleep deprivation, while Max is undergoing toxic stress every single day. Teenage years are important milestones in brain development, and both Jenny and Max are at risk of endangering their long-term mental and physical health.
Today, you’d be one successful parent to have raised a child who is without any psychological glitch.
I choose personalized education because I want children to be healthy and happy, to enjoy their childhood, to have less stress, to play with friends, to spend more time with their family; in other words, to live a normal life.
6. Setting-up Life
Learning institutions condition children to be graded on arbitrary numbers by arbitrary instructors. Their learning system is unauthentic because it relies on memorization and wrote learning.
Students are not measured by their understanding of the learning materials, but how they score on random selection of associated facts. They are not measured by how much effort they’ve put into practicing or how much they’ve improved, but by whether another kid in class happened to get a better test score last week.
Of course, these are good exercises if you happen to live in a “controlled” ecosystem: a world with a myriad of ifs and thens. Unfortunately, the “real world” is chaotic. Reality is volatile and constantly changes. One moment everything seems to fall in place, another moment everything crumbles into pieces. That is life—unfortunately!
Alas, spending nearly two decades in an augur setting, being confined in a building all day has no bearing whatsoever towards understanding life.
I choose personalized education because I want children to redefine their entire life as educational experiences instead of probing into irrelevant materials and competing in intellectual gymnastics via weekly quizzes and examinations.
Going out to play can be societal development and physical education.
Grocery shopping becomes consumer math and nutrition cultivation.
Cooking and baking together builds cooperative and hands-on learning.
Completing household chores develops responsibility and time management skills.
Library trips are research instruction and resource identification.
Weekend excursions and month-long vacations instill cultural immersion and diversity.
Remember: You cannot reap the individuality of your children if you duplicate their education.
7. No Authority: Your Life, Your Race, and Therefore, Your Pace
You have a healthy child. I get it. You’re lucky. But some people aren’t.
When I was in high school, I volunteered teaching children with physical disability. I wept whenever I saw them. I wished that I’d never have to bear one for the rest of my life. Are schools willing to accommodate these unfortunate children? Some do. Most won’t.
I’ve also worked with children suffering from mental illnesses. They were always anxious. They had trouble focusing. And sometimes, self-destructive. What are schools doing about it? Nothing!
In fact, society labels them, and would place them in “special” learning centers.
What if your child is neither of the above—it’s just that she learns at a slower pace? In schools, if you can’t keep up with the crowd, your grades will be poor, and you might end up repeating a whole year.
Or what if your child is smarter than the norm? A genius who challenges the teachers and the status quo? Well, most likely he’ll get sent to the principal’s office for insubordination and disorderly conduct.
There are others. More and more children are becoming ambassadors, athletes, entrepreneurs, public figures—whatever. Should parents take away their interests for the sake of conformity?
No matter the circumstances, I choose personalized education because it takes authority out of the picture. It gives learners the freedom to pace themselves according to each individual trait and condition. It gives students the ability to choose what tools and resources work for them.
You know, it’s perfectly normal to learn about dinosaurs when you are forty. You don’t need to know them when you’re five or six. It’s fine to start fractions when you are fifteen. You don’t have to study them when you’re seven. And if you’re lucky enough to raise naturally gifted children, it’s your privilege to take them to college classes at nine or ten, and to allow them graduate university before they turn eighteen.
Remember: Thomas Edison and Albert Einstein were both deranged pupils.
Perhaps, this dependance on an outside authority to tell us what to learn, when to learn, where to learn, who to learn from, and why should we learn is an effect of own schooling.
Once upon a time, a student said, “My school teacher always advises me to get better grades, so I can go to a good school and, later, get a good job.”
“That is your teacher’s self-projection,” I humbly replied.
“You don’t think that’s true?” she countered.
“Everything works,” I said. “You need to figure out what works for you. Don’t simply draw a conclusion based on someone else’s words.”
8. Learning Resources
Schools use textbooks.
But how do you tell whether the textbooks are any good?
Is this history book widely used in schools because of its excellence or its publisher’s marketing skills?
Is that three-year-old science book good, or is it out of date already?
What if your child is fascinated by the Renaissance? Or what if he’s interested in Einstein’s Theory of Relativity?—something that is not commonly taught in primary nor secondary schools.
What if your child learns better using multimedia and technology instead of books? What if she prefers learning through observation and experience? Or with cooperative and hands-on learning? What do you do?
I choose personalized education because children have access to vast learning resources. They become voracious with research. They become inquisitive about authenthicity. They become more involved within the community. They become self-reliant. And as a result, some even go the extra mile and manage to turn themselves inside out into public figures and prominent members of society.
Just to tantalize you, here’s a tiny sampling of what’s available besides the usual “textbook” material.
- Public and University Libraries - Check out a mountain of books. Scout for videos, magazines, and pamphlets. Volunteer. Sometimes I even took naps.
- Community Resources - Studios. Clubs. Local theaters. Symphony halls. And so on.
- Bookstores - New, used, trade, or even rare books, they’ve got them all.
- Museums and Cultural Sites - Work. Volunteer. Spend time in the galleries. Join a group. Take a tour. Etc.
- Medical Facilities - Do research for a staff. Volunteer. Shadow a doctor.
- Agriculture - Visit a farm. Learn the methods and techniques of urban farming.
- Manufacturing - Interested in automobiles? Email Elon Musk and ask for a tour of his Tesla factory. Apply for an internship. You may even land a job.
- Civics and Government - Attend a trial for a day. Take a ride with a police officer or fire fighter. Write to a government official. Volunteer in a political campaign.
- Sports and Outdoor Facilities - Youth sports league: baseball, soccer, basketball; you name it. Visit (or volunteer in) parks and nature centers.
- Nonprofit Organizations - Youth groups, food banks, Red Cross, Habitat for Humanity, Special Olympic; the list is endless.
- Travel - Follow the Oregon Trail. Visit the Silk Road. Or, you might just visit the back road and interesting locals: maple sugar making, candle factory, cheese making, beer brewing, and so on.
- Special Interest Groups - Do TED talks. Join local cultural and ethnic societies. Play chess in parks. Participate in drama clubs.
- The Internet - Everything you need is here; from the Smithsonian to the Library of Congress, from blogs to YouTube, from Google Scholars to free Harvard and MIT lectures.
And the list goes on...
Then there’s the issue of safety. Over the past several decades, gun violence in U.S. schools have been on the rise. Since 2013, there’s been 290 school shootings. Last year, in 2018, there were 20 documented incidents. That puts us at a rate of ONE shooting every fortnight.
Gun violence is not the only issue, however. There are millions of unreported bullying cases happening across schools.
To put things into perspective:
43.5% of accused school shooter were bullied. 70% of them are describes as loners. And more than 3.5 million people in the U.S. are diagnosed with schizophrenia.
From the above data, there seems to be a direct correlation between non-associative students being bullied and, as a result, were diagnosed with some form of destructive mental illness.
You will never know when someone might just snap...
There’s more. Drug abuse is also becoming more and more prevalent among teenagers. Amidst the reported cases, 15% were done by middle schoolers, 33% by sophomores, and 44% by high school seniors. The more reason to pull your kids out of school.
One last thing: sexual assault and physical abuse. Sexual misconduct to a minor is any parent’s worse nightmare. Many psychological effects of child sexual abuse are seen in children of any age, including behavioral, cognitive and psychological effects. Substance abuse, eating disorders and low self-esteem can also occur as a result of child sexual abuse.
I choose personalized education because children have the right to safety. They should be in a learning environment that is peaceful and non-violent, away from the guns, bullies, sexual and physical abuse, as well as drugs.
And last but not least... 👇🏼
Three more real accounts:
Alex lives in Shanghai with his mother and little sister. While his father, well, he lives and works in Hong Kong. Alex’s parents are still together, but because schools in Hong Kong are highly competitive, his parents had decided to enroll him in one of Shanghai’s prestigious and less stressful international schools. His father would fly back to visit the family during the holidays. Both Alex and his sister are growing up without a father.
Jim and Laura travel nine or more months of the year together for work. They spend from a few weeks to five or six months in each location, but they keep their permanent residence in New York. It is very difficult to take along everything they’d like. Their son, Daniel, have to start over making new friends often and leave his close friends behind. They have to follow state regulations in locations where they spend more than a few weeks and put Daniel in different schools. Even though travel opens up a whole world of possibilities for learning, it makes their daily lives much harder.
George and Kara and their three beautiful daughters have been relocated to a rural Sumatran village in Indonesia. George is an environmentalist and a professional nature photographer. Their lodging is surrounded by dirt and unpaved road, and is at least 20 miles away from the nearest town with a decent education facility. The daughters spend five hours each day, six days a week, walking from home then taking the bus to school, and back. One hundred and twenty-five hours a month. In one hundred twenty-five hours, kids can WRITE a book, LEARN a new skill, spend TIME with family, START a business. ONE month. Now imagine TWELVE.
Three different families, three different conditions, but with the same problem: geographic restriction.
I choose personalized education because your geographic location becomes irrelevant. Your children can focus on learning no matter where your family lives.
Want to take that three months vacation trekking the Appalachian Trail? Go for it! While you’re at it, take the kids with you. They’ll learn more about the natural world than any school could offer. Do your hikes in the morning and they’ll keep up with their tasks later in the day.
You’re a nomad and you move a lot. I feel envious of you. Personalize your children’s education and they can follow whenever you bounce from one place to another. They can’t go wrong by following their parents. Quite possibly, they will receive the most valuable life education ever learned.
Are you a military family stationed overseas? Is your family living a few miles out of the nearest town? Does your family live on a fifty-foot ketch and sails around the world? Don’t worry! Because online personalized education can be done even if you’re geographically isolated—as long as you are connected.
“Education need not be formal.
But then, how important is school?
I barely made passing grade while attending the University of Washington.”
— Bruce Lee
“It is well to remember from time to time that nothing worth knowing can be taught.”
— Oscar Wilde
Since we do not know what knowledge will be needed in the future, it is senseless to implant everything and prepare in advance. Instead, we should encourage children who love learning to instill whatever needs to be learned.
If adults continually force children to fulfill their prescriptions, they will become anxious and timid. They will use all their energy, not to explore the unknown, but to escape the pressure we put on them. It is far more fruitful to evaluate their intentions than it is to force our cravings, as forcing is always short-lived.
Our role as parents is not to force them to follow a “guide” that we’ve laid out for them—which by the way, a guide should be voluntary, not mandatory.
Instead, we should help them develop the necessary skills to determine the kind of life that is right for them. We should modify their education, not by which courses to enroll, but by what they need according to each individual trait. This is what I mean by personalizing their education.
We should help them discover the things they love and what motivates them. We should move away from a model that is dependent on parental pressure to the one that nurtures the child’s voraciousness. After all, they need to swim their own race and make their own independent decisions—but also correct their course, if necessary—for the rest of their lives.
What I am trying to say is: Trust Children. But in order to do that we must learn to trust ourselves. And since as children we were taught to be untrustworthy, this is the most difficult thing to accomplish.
Our greatest calamity is that we know too much. We “think” we know and that is our misfortune; so we never discover.