About 15 years ago something dawned on me. This was long before I was married, had children, and began homeschooling my children.
I feel that Americans think of learning and schooling and entertainment in this way:
A child has to go to school, that is first and foremost. People don't say "a child must learn", they say "a child must go to school". School is considered a child's work. Sometimes the teachers will say the main goal of school is to learn, and sometimes the parents will agree. But much of what school is, is not actually learning. School is a process and a place and an experience in and of itself.
Many students don't like school. Some hate it. Some students are tortured by school, whether it is having problems learning, being bored by the school work, or whether they are victims of negative social issues from teachers or other students. The school bus ride also can be a huge source of problems, and some children are spared this experience, if the parent is able and willing to drive the child to and from school each day.
It soon becomes clear to children that school is work and non-school time is time to be entertained. From a young age then, school/work is thought of as hard or bad or unpleasant, and entertainment is good and fun. Some people make the leap, then, that learning is not fun and learning is not good. There also becomes a focus on having fun and being entertained. A child begins to want more and more fun and more and more play time. This then morphs to an entitlement, in childhood and continuing in the teens, then into adulthood. Children and teens (and adults) then feel they are entitled to this or that since they worked hard. For example, children want more toys of this kind or that, they want to go to movies (or nowadays, own the DVD for home viewing).
Children want all the things they can get their hands on and it never seems that they get enough. Here are some examples focused around outdoor play. They want a bike, the latest and greatest one, a skateboard, a scooter, all manner of outdoor sports equipment: the baseballs, the mitt, the pitchback, the bat, the soccer ball, etc. Sometimes a child feels they need these things. "I need to practice for Little League so I need this piece of equipment and that". It is not good enough to use the team equipment; they need to replicate the whole experience at home. Parents may think to do the best by their child they need to provide all this stuff. Whether the child actually uses it, and enjoys it, or learns from it (gets better at the sport because of it), is another step in the process that may never happen.
The mentality follows into the teenage years and adulthood. Some college students feel they work so hard at college that they shouldn't have to work part-time to make some money. They feel entitled to their free time. Their entertainment pursuits cost money, and they fell entitled to be handed money from their parents to pay for it.
As adults move into full-time employment, the entitlement continues. "I work hard, so I deserve X, Y, and Z." It is easy to get into debt this way. A young adult can quickly spend money on things like a gym membership, an expensive mountain bike, a new car, a collection of music CDs, DVDs, not to mention whatever home electronics are in fashion at the time (plasma screen television, X-Box, etc.).
The next big spending seems to be a big wedding. A bride feels she deserves to have her big day, even if the couple must put themselves into huge debt with credit cards to fund it.
When a person or a couple buys their first home, then the spending really begins. It is always a rude awakening for the first-time homeowner to realize what it takes to maintain a home, let alone improve it and furnish and decorate it. Watching home decorating shows on television fuels the fire and the belief that we all deserve to renovate our homes. No matter if a person doesn't cook much, they should have a top-of-the-line gourmet kitchen. A lot of money can be spent on home entertainment. Regular sound from a television doesn't seem good enough anymore, it must be surround sound, which can be quite expensive when one ponders the cost of the equipment and then paying for the wiring job.
I was thinking about house size and how often young people move and renovate. Many people in my parent's generation are still living in the first or second home they ever bought. But people my age have often moved several times, and simply to get into a larger house. Many people I know (myself included) are living in grander homes then our own parents. This all costs money. It is easy then, to see how easy it can be to get trapped into a dual-income family. When financial choices made before children are born include and require two incomes, it is hard to make a downshift to adjusting to life with one income, especially if a family does not want to change their lifestyle.
So the baby arrives and for more than 50% of families, the mother returns to work. The parents work hard and want to provide the best for their children. They work harder and harder and buy lots of stuff that they feel enriches the life of their child. The parents feel they are entitled to new clothes, a well-decorated home, and maybe even expensive vacations because they work so hard, they deserve it.
And for many adults, learning is not fun or is even painful, due to experiences they had at school. These adults may never read a book after they finish (or quit) school. They may or may not read magazines or newspapers. And if they are not reading those things, they are not reading to research things or to learn new things. Many people focus their lives on their careers, and work hard, and become wonderful consumers. They spend and spend and get into debt. And this debt locks them into working a certain type of job for a certain type of income, or working two jobs, or three. Working for money to pay the bills is an obligation, and it drives their life, affects their marriage and their children. Whether a father sees very much of their children is dictated by the work schedule. Work and career is the all important driver of their lives. Other times, a person wants and loves their career and makes their choices to fulfill their own desires, saying the income is a secondary issue for them. But they still want all the entitlements, all the stuff they can have fun with, because they deserve it, after all.
For many parents, enrolling their children in school is automatic. It is what is done, it is how children learn in America, they think. Others think, "I went to public school, and it was good enough for me so it is good enough for my children." It seems that some parents have forgotten the bad things that can go on in school. Or maybe they think that learning in that way is good and fine. One quick example if you don't know what I am talking about is being forced to memorize in short term memory, dry facts, just for the test, then forgetting them. Maybe they really do think that is what learning really is. I don't know what they think. I know back when I was in school I realized that was a silly exercise. I deemed it a "game" and I played the game because I was forced to.
These are some things I think about when I consider how I want to raise my children, how I want them to think about learning, and when I ponder if I want my children in an institutional school setting (whether it be public or private). I want other and different things for my children, and right now we are living out what we think is best for our children.
I had a fun and rewarding career before having children, one that was difficult to leave, at the time, but I consoled myself by knowing I could always return to work in the future sometime, whether that be when my children start college or earlier, if I wanted. I was not fulfilled when I was working at my career on half-time hours and mothering my baby--I felt torn and tired and unsatisfied by my performance in either arena. It was too much to handle and too much to juggle. I loved the idea of "having it all but not all at once". I also found mothering my baby much more personally rewarding, in a very different way, than my career. I missed a few things about my career which were real and which I mourned for a while. Sometimes now I yearn for things such as the special and different friendships and bonds with co-workers, or the satisfaction of completing projects and tasks and being appreciated for it, for short projects that actually were finished, on time and properly. Some of those things aren't seen when the work at hand is raising and home-educating a child. The fruit of the labor of an at-home, homeschooling mother can take much longer to ripen. This lifestyle can be hard, easy, fulfilling, aggravating, fun and frustrating. Throw a difficult situation such as no employment for the breadwinner of the family in, and the roller coaster ride intensifies. I take life one day at a time and try to live with gratitude rather than focus on the negative or live in a state of worry and anxiety. That is the best I can do!
I know that learning can happen outside of a classroom. Learning can be fun and interesting. Learning can also be frustrating or difficult. Going to school doesn't always mean that learning happens. Being with kids on a school bus or in the school building doesn't mean a child is well-socialized. Sometimes the experience of attending school or taking the bus can actually harm a child, and help form their personality in a negative way, ways that affect who the person is for their entire lifetime.
Life should not be divided into two categories: hard work (in a negative way) and play. Working at a job should not always be a bad experience. I wish more people loved their jobs and careers. But it is as if the mentality of being forced to attend school and hating it, for so long, paved the way for them to endure working at a job they hate. Learning can be fun and good. Entertainment is not an entitlement. We have hard work to do in our non-work or non-school time. A house needs to be cleaned, a house and yard needs maintenance. The non-work time is not just "entertain me" time. The cost of entertainment should not drive the person to work longer hours to fund it. It seems to me we are becoming a nation of people who work at work and play at home. This is very different experience than Americans lived even 50 years ago. Look at the hard work that families did just to be able to eat and have shelter, 100 years ago. The hard work was all day long, not just while "at work". I think that the way we are living now is a relatively new phenomenon, work at work and play at home and never the two may meet.