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"Educating" Teens

Dear Friend,

My wife and I were talking today about our oldest child, who is almost eleven years old.

He is a very bright, compassionate, and mature young man, and he has been a great help to us with chores and in dealing with the younger kids. But he is getting quite bored, maybe even burned out, at school.

And we’ve been wondering what to do about his education after the sixth grade. You see, his Montessori school only goes up to the sixth grade.

In the philosophy of Dr. Maria Montessori, who founded the Montessori educational program, a young person should have learned all of the basic knowledge they need to begin their life in the world by the end of sixth grade. I know that this sounds strange to public school-trained ears such as mine, but she felt, and I have become convinced that she is correct, that a great deal of what is taught in traditional schools after that time is just filler, designed to keep kids busy until they are mature enough to attend college or to get a full-time job.

Her idea of a proper middle school was more of a social experience, where kids might work together to build a business, for example. They would build social skills at a time when social interaction was becoming a big deal in their lives. They would learn how to work with their peers on tangible projects toward meaningful ends, instead of cramming theoretical information into their brains in order to pass the next test.

They would also learn the practical skills that they would need to live on their own. How to make money, for example. Or how to balance finances. Or how to wash and fold their clothes. You know, real stuff.

They were expected to have already learned how to learn. Any additional information that they required in their lives was available when they needed it. They would just need to look it up.

The problem that my wife and I face as parents is that we live in a world where education is built around the test. Schools cram information into kids, and encourage them to learn good test taking skills. Essentially, schools seem designed to produce good students, not successful individuals who will live and work in a predominantly non-academic world.

There are practically no formal schools at the middle school level and above that follow Dr.
Montessori’s ideas, though many academics praise those ideas.

Our son can be homeschooled, of course. But that’s not the problem. What he needs are more complex social experiences. Yes, even at his age.

We would never push our son into doing anything that he is not comfortable with. And he certainly knows how to speak up for himself. But at some point, I think that he needs to journey out with other young people and discover the world. All kids do. And, hopefully, they’ll discover the better part of themselves in the process.

I know that some young people have the opportunity to do this sort of journeying through their church or other religious institutions, in the form of “mission trips.”

“Mission trips” are often group trips to poor, third world environments where the kids, with adult supervision, can live together and work for a period of time to make a difference in the lives of less fortunate people who really need it. This sort of experience exposes young people to a world they would probably never otherwise see, and it teaches them that their personal efforts really can make a difference. It is also a bonding and maturing experience for all involved.

I would be glad to be a part of such an effort. But I want my kids to also have such experiences when neither mom or dad are around. That is when real maturation occurs, in my opinion.

So, that’s what we talked about today. Once again, I am curious what you think.

If you have or had children of this age or older, what are/were your views on the best experiences that they can be exposed to? What really is education for a teen? Is sitting in a classroom listening to lectures the best way for teens to spend their day? Or is it just the easiest way to control them while we run around trying to make a buck or two every weekday?

I am really interested in what you think. I look forward to your comments. And thank you for your interest and contributions!

All the best,

Hugh

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