Should Teachers Forbid Students From Learning Outside of School? What Happens When They Do?

In my November 5th post, In Mixed Ability Classrooms, Who Is Really Doing the Teaching, I reiterated my contention that it’s very difficult for teachers to work effectively in a classroom where students come in with wildly different levels of preparedness.

This post triggered intense pushback on Facebook from teachers, who insisted they had been trained to do precisely that, which meant they all excelled at it.

Should we apply the same terms to their students? All have allegedly been trained to be at grade level in math and English Language arts… so why are over 60 percent of NYC kids not at grade level in math and English Language Arts?

What caught my attention most was the following quote from a dissenting teacher:

I would recommend that parents who are hearing their kids are bored at school be sure that at-home activities arent [sic] geared at creating the result of the child ahead of hte [sic] class. Kumon or tutoring to get ahead of the class is time wasted on topics that will be covered, when a child seeking enrightment could easily focus on one of the many, so many topics not covered in the general curricultum [sic] with that time. Fewer bored kids, and those looking for enrichment are gaining breadth rather than checking boxes and powering aheah [sic] to the predictable result of raceing [sic] through curriculums to run out of stuff to do in high school while not necessarily being mature enough to thrive in college. Hot house or supplement sideways from the curriculum if you are going to.

I confess, very few comments I get shock me.

This one shocked me.

Is a teacher actually telling parents not to let children learn on their own? To actively keep them from pursuing their passions if those passions overlap subjects that will eventually be covered in school?

I understand what she is saying about going to a tutoring center like Kumon in order to get ahead in basic subjects. In my experience, though, families who avail themselves of such resources are doing it because they believe those subjects aren’t being taught adequately. It’s why NYC schools attended by affluent students score so well on state tests. They can afford to learn the basic subjects outside their official classroom.

When my daughter was in 3rd grade, I was told by her teacher not to let her read books above her designated level. I assured my daughter she could read anything she wants. I was not about to keep her from reading any book which struck her fancy because one day it might be covered in a higher level classroom. That did happen with some of the titles. And, yes, she did report being bored as a result. But I still don’t regret my decision.

I have never paid for a tutor for one of my children. I don’t believe in it. (Though I don’t judge those who do: My definition of school choice includes allowing all families to make their own decisions; why in the world would I think I know what’s best for them?) When it was suggested that I might want to engage a foreign language tutor for my struggling daughter, I responded that if she needed a tutor, then she was in the wrong school. The administration promptly saw my point and got her extra help from her current teachers.

On the other hand, my middle child loves STEM so much – “She’s keeping the science from me,” he accused his 7th grade teacher when her answers to his questions proved inadequately in depth – that he independently seeks out resources for further study. (He listed some of his favorites here, and also made his own website to help others.) My critic is right; as a result he does complain of being bored in high school and wishes he could go straight  to college.

But was I supposed to forbid him from self-directed learning in the name of… what? Convention? Standardization? Making his future teachers’ jobs easier? (They’re trained to teach students of all levels in a single classroom, so this shouldn’t be a problem.)

There is a difference between forcing an indifferent kid to race ahead in the standard curriculum (for American parents who understand just how far behind our country, even the allegedly gifted and talented, is behind the rest of the world, the urge to do so can seem non-negotiable), and deliberately keeping a self-motivated child from exploring their own interests on their own terms, at their own pace.

Yes, there may be drawbacks in the future. But I am willing to deal with it (and, boy, am I dealing with it!) rather than risk squelching present-day enthusiasms, not merely for a given subject, but for learning itself.

If I understand correctly, the teacher above is advocating forbidding students from learning until they are officially permitted to do so: What they’re supposed to, how they’re supposed to, when they’re supposed to.

And that just doesn’t sit right with me.

How about you?


What do you think?

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