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Vail Family Matters: Teaching kids to think

Jill Marchione Papangelis
Family Matters
Vail, CO Colorado

VAIL, Colorado –Years ago I had a friend who moved to the U.S. from Ireland. When she arrived, she was waiting at a bus stop when a young woman sat beside her and struck up a conversation. When the young woman learned my friend recently relocated from Ireland, she exclaimed, “Wow – but you speak the language so well for just getting here.”

Apparently, she was unaware they speak English in Ireland.

When a group of 1,000 U.S. college students were asked to name the first five presidents of the United States, none could name them. The same question was asked in China. The very first Chinese college student they polled answered the question correctly, promptly naming all five, in proper order (Washington, Adams, Jefferson, Madison, Monroe).



Although these events alone didn’t influence my decision to home-school my kids, several like this did. Forget about presidents and geography, my friends who were teachers shared with me that most school kids didn’t know how to write, couldn’t recite one poem from memory and had the attention spans of O.J. Simpson (“I don’t recall; “I don’t recall.”).

I began educating at home simply because, where I happened to live, the schools were some of the worst in the nation. It was the best idea in a sea of poorer alternatives and, while I loved it for years, it is not an endeavor for the faint at heart (or anyone who requires more than two hours of sleep).



I began with a legitimate fear of home-schooling, which had less to do with worrying I might not do a sufficient job, forever hurtling my kids into the land of the illiterate, and more to do with my own ego. I was sure people would think I was one of those weird, denim-jumper wearing mothers of 15 kids, all donned in matching, homemade clothes, who forgoes science for dawn prayers.

This fear heightened when I told a sibling what I was thinking of embarking on. Before I could say, “Ma Ingalls,” my adorable and always encouraging brother replied, “Good god, your kids will all be serial killers.” Rest assured, my kids are now lovely, well-adjusted teenagers recently all enrolled in “real” school.

The truth is, whether public, private, or home, learning is happening a lot differently than just a handful of years ago.



Kids don’t need to learn to spell because computer programs correct their errors for them; they aren’t required to have good penmanship because they can type; remembering historical facts isn’t necessary because they can Google the information. They don’t have to develop attention spans because everything they ever could or would want to know is available in an instant, round-the-clock on the Internet.

Students are effortlessly able to buy essays and term papers online; even if they don’t purchase them, these documents can be easily perused before kids tackle their own work. Students may indeed need not have a completely independent thought to get through school today. They can rely on the thoughts of others.

Just when I was thinking all would be bliss if children remained engaged in learning, like they did when they were only six, this weekend I attended a first-grader’s birthday party. While I was watching the kids jump on the trampoline, one of the boys called another child a “nincompop.” I assume he meant nincompoop, but the point is, the other child retorted, “You can’t call me that, you don’t even know what it means.” The precocious offender firmly replied, “Oh yes I do, I goggled it.”

I do realize the abundant benefits of technology, but perhaps too much machinery is a bit dangerous. Maybe not dangerous like, for instance, race-car driving, but similarly traveling at an out-of-control pace. While an unmatched tool, it shouldn’t replace the elephant in the room, which is thought.

I believe in real learning, I’m convinced it transforms self-esteem and elevates free thought. An open-minded environment for kids to express ideas at home, gives them confidence to participate in class, speak up, speak out, and ultimately think for themselves. After all, Galileo said, “The authority of a thousand is not worth the humble reasoning of a single individual. “

Jill Marchione Papangelis is a freelance writer and mother of four. She lives in Edwards with her family. Send column suggestions or comments to-jillscolumn@gmail.com.


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