I've been reading a lot lately. A potentially dangerous enterprise if your mind is closed and unwilling to embrace new ideas. Thankfully I rarely shrink from having my views challenged. I don't profess to have all the answers and I am eternally optimistic -- I think better ideas and answers exist, and I'm not threatened by the idea that I might be wrong.
Two of the books currently at my bedside include, Deschooling Our Lives edited by Matt Hern (1996) and The Teenage Liberation Handbook by Grace Llewellyn (1991). The former is a collection of essays by some of the great thinkers and writers in the unschooling, or really deschooling movement, including free-thinking giants John Taylor Gatto and Leo Tolstoy. Did you know Leo Tolstoy ran a school out of his own home that was essentially a democratic free school? He did not believe children should be coerced to learn a particular curriclum, instead they should be free to pursue what interested them.
The authors of this compilation of essays are diverse in their opinions, but they agree on many things, too. Mainly, that children are curious, innate learners, and that the current model of education is counterproductive, even harmful. I didn't have to agree with every essay in this book to be moved and changed by some of the ideas it presented. I dare you to read it and not question what you think you know about how children should learn.
I've just started The Teenage Liberation Handbook -- I'm only on Chapter 2, but Grace Llewellyn isn't messing around. She thinks school is a crummy idea, and she sets out methodically and deliberately to give you all the reasons why you should consider dropping out ASAP.
Llewellyn writes with an easy conversational style; she is writing directly to teenagers, after all. A former middle school teacher who taught at both private and public schools, and much like John Taylor Gatto, she couldn't bear to be part of the problem any longer. Feeling that she could not "work within the system" as it existed, she got off the merry-go-round of forced learning and wrote a book, encouraging young people to be masters of their own education destinies.
The book opens with "A Nice Little Story" -- a haunting analogy of the modern schooling system. If you only read this first part, you have a good idea of where Llewellyn is headed, and if you still want to keep showing up for school -- God help you.
Chapter 2 includes some great quotes. You may recognize them (or at least the people being quoted):
"My schooling not only failed to teach me what it professed to be teaching, but prevented me from being educated to an extent which infuriates me when I think of all I might have learned at home by myself." -- George Bernard Shaw
"It is, in fact, nothing short of a miracle that the modern methods of instruction have not yet entirely strangled the holy curiosity of inquiry; for this delicate little plant, aside from stimulation, stands mainly in need of freedom; without this it goes to wrack and ruin without fail. It is a very grave mistake to think that the enjoyment of seeing and searching can be promoted by means of coercion and a sense of duty." -- Albert Einstein
Isn't it revealing that a nineteenth century Irish playwright and a German born theoretical physicist should have the same level of antipathy toward "schooling" and "modern methods of instruction"? Please bear in mind that this was the approximate time period when institutionalized learning was being introduced as we now know it. (Read the Underground History of American Education by John Taylor Gatto -- the book is available for free on his web-site). Actually, why is it that some of the most creative and accomplished people never even finish college? I think it has to do with being bored by the endless years of repetitive, meaningless tasks and busy work. Some folks just want to get on with the business of living.
In fact, Llewellyn makes it clear that she is not sure anyone exists that actually enjoys school, and if there is, she doesn't understand you.
This got me to thinking about my own schooling experience. My memory is that I liked it. Gulp. I'm one of those passive, docile, can't-think-for-yourself people, I guess. Well, I liked it at some point. I don't remember liking Kindergarten all that much. In fact, I remember being mostly terrified, and confused over basic arithmetic. No matter how hard anyone tried (and they did) the numbers would stare mockingly back at me -- only figures that meant nothing and could not be manipulated to make sense. Two toothpicks plus two toothpicks equals HOW MANY TOOTHPICKS? Angry, stubborn tears prevented me from seeing the answer.
I don't remember first grade being much better. I was still terrified. I do remember bits of second grade. I remember craning my neck to see the answers of the math paper next to me -- the one the smart boy had. I was far too quiet to let anyone know I didn't understand basic math yet. The humiliation would not have been worth it, so I peeked at my neighbor's paper as long as I could. My memory is that the gallant lad did not seem to mind.
At some point the math-fog must have lifted, because I certainly did not continue to cheat my way through elementary math. I cruised along with straight A's in math until seventh grade when all hell broke loose and I got a D one quarter in Algebra. I never really recovered my math-legs and spent a good portion of my adult life cowering in fear of anything remotely resembling a calculation.
It wasn't until I started working on a trading desk in San Francisco in my mid-twenties that I started to use math on a daily basis. Something really curious happened. I started to get it. (Eureka! you mean when you start to apply something, you "get it"? What a concept!)
Other than my math "issues" I generally did well in school. Many subjects I liked and I liked to get good grades, because good grades meant approval and praise. I don't remember most of what I learned, but who knows, maybe some of it stuck. The best thing about being "schooled" were the teachers who really knew how to make learning exciting -- there were only a couple of those in high school and a couple in college. Otherwise, socializing was really fun. I'm very well-socialized.
We all take different paths on the road to enlightenment. My journey as a homeschooling parent has helped me become the person I never even knew I wanted to be.
For more on approaching math from a conceptual basis, see Stop the Math-Ness!
In this 19-minute TED Talk delivered by the ever-brilliant Sir Ken Robinson, he argues that we have a culture of compliance, not curiosity.
And further, he states, "I just don't believe it's (ADHD) an epidemic...if you sit kids down hour after hour doing low-grade clerical work, don't be surprised if they start to fidget..."
This and many more things he will say to get you thinking...and make you laugh all the while...
An interesting infographic put together by KnowledgeWorks forecasts, in part, that "Learning will no longer be defined by time and place..." and that "...radical personalization will become the norm." The time frame? The next few years...
In the fall of 2012, I piloted a math circle curriculum for young children developed by the founders of the Art of Inquiry. You can read my review HERE. (Here is more information on what a math circle is and why they provide a better basis for understanding mathematics over a traditional computational textbook approach).
Starting December 2, you can engage with the organizers in a two week open on-line course for parents and teachers via the Open Minds Course.
The second week of the course will give you the opportunity to lead your own math circle with your kids and friends. The curriculum is best suited to children ages 8-9, but it can work for other ages, as well.
About the course (taken directly from the course web-site):
The course is technically "free" but even small contributions ($1++) are most welcome. Contributions help to crowd-fund Julia Brodsky's book on problem solving. Pay $1 or more to receive the electronic book, and your name will be on the list of supporters in the book. Pay $25 or more to receive the paper book.
I found our experience last year with the Art of Inquiry to be incredibly valuable. I received no compensation to pilot or review the materials, or to write this post.
If you have any questions, please contact the organizers directly via the course web-site.
For my personal view of how to approach math at home see: Stop the Math-ness!
The Homeschool Conference - Homeschooling, Unschooling, and Free/Democratic/Alternative Learning begins in just a bit, and there are some exciting key noters and topics listed for today and tomorrow.
Here's the link to participate, and below is today's schedule of speakers. I know Jerry Mintz from AERO and I piloted a math circle curriculum last fall co-written by Maria Droujkova. If you're a homeschooler looking for some great advice or alternative approaches...take a look at the schedule and join the movement for change in education today!
Pat Farenga on "The Legacy of John Holt"
Clark Aldrich on "Unschooling Rules"
Jerry Mintz on "The Global Movement for Learner-Centered Alternatives"
Cindy Gaddis on "Learning Disabled or Learns Differently?"
Elliot Washor on "How to Increase Student Engagement Focusing on Student Expectations"
David Albert on "The Average Giraffe Sleeps 4.6 Hours a Day"
Yale Wishnick on "The Home Schooling Movement as a Political, Economic, and Social Force for Change"
Peter Gray on "Free to Learn"
Slow Learning / P. Aravinda
Home Education in England and Wales / Leslie Safran Barson
Using Online Resources to Teach Math vs. Training Kids in Math / John Bovey
What is Your Creation/Consumption Quotient? The Power of Learning By Doing / Bernard Bull
Writing Homeschooling Goals / Heddi Craft
Flipping the Homeschool Cooperative / John Cummins
Utilizing Your Local Library to Bridge Homeschooling Curriculums / Dorcas Davis
Helping Boys Learn: 6 Secrets for Homeschool Success / Edmond Dixon
Baby algebra, toddler calculus: Adventurous math for the playground crowd / Maria Droujkova
Inquiry Through Citizen Science / Jennifer Fee
Observing for Learning / Kathleen Forsythe
Benefits and Challenges in Homeschool Education / Ann Gaudino
Creating significant learning environments to inspire, foster and facilitate deeper learning / Dwayne Harapnuik
Educate-Me Egypt: Dream-driven learning! / Yasmin Helal
Learning in Minecraft - the Massively @ jokaydia Guild / Jo Kay
Social, student-centered online study environment uniting homeschoolers and schools / Marko Koskinen
The Fully Untapped Potential of Open Educational Resources to Individualize Instruction / Sri Lekha
Travel as an alternative form of Education – Life Learning on the Road / Lainie Liberti
Flatten Your Learning: Use Technology to Connect with the World and Go Global / Julie Lindsay
The Beauty of Homeschooling / Olivia C. Loria
Alternative Education in South Korea; Stigmatized Schooling or Cultural Resistance / Kara Mac Donald
The Myth of Ability: Nurturing Mathematical Talent in Every child / John Mighton
Creating Your Own Interactive E-learning with Adobe Captivate / Tammy Moore
ABC's of Learning Beyond School: T is for Trust / Lisa Nalbone
Unschooling, distance schools and how to use teaching materials / Sorina Oprean
The What and Why of Standardized Testing in the Christian Homeschool Context / Althea Penn
The Christian Education Mandate: Equipping Kingdom Kids to Impact the World for Christ / Althea Penn
Aligning Curriculum with the Bible and Common Core Standards / Althea Penn
Dynamic Learning for 21st Century Learners / Kathy Ray
Transforming learners into global citizens through Wikipedia / Natalie Rector
The Willed Curriculum: A Learner Centered Democratic Worldview / Carlo Ricci
UClass, the world at your fingertips! / Zak Ringelstein
Enterprising Students in Institutional Contexts / Eric Rosenberg
Engaging Math Students in an Online Community / Joey Sabol
Healing Relationships, Healing Mother Earth / Urmila Samson
Motivation for the Uphill Climb: Praise and Success / Cindy Sheets
Short Term Online Language Review Courses / Edwige Simon
Princeton Learning Cooperative: Helping teens live and learn without school / Alison Snieckus
Integrating Unschooling with Traditional Teaching / Revathi Viswanathan
Worldschooling / Jessie Voigts
The Feminist Homeschooler / Suki Wessling
From School to Homeschool / Suki Wessling
Learning Styles or Learning Disabilities? / Mariaemma Willis
Class Dismissed - The World's 1st Feature Length Documentary about Homeschooling / Dustin Woodard
Visit The Future of Education at: http://www.futureofeducation.com/?xg_source=msg_mes_network
If you're like me and I'm guessing lots of other homeschool parents, the idea of unschooling (not following a formalized approach to learning) may fill you with both intrigue and panic -- it sounds great, but do I really trust the process, and if it's my responsibility to educate this kid, am I letting him or her down? Will friends or family think I'm lazy, or worse, will they think my kid is lazy, or just not smart?
After many years of pondering these questions, and in some cases agonizing over whether or not unschooling is even a good idea, I have come to a couple of conclusions which I will share with you here in the hopes that it may help someone else think through the potential pros and cons.
It depends on the child. For me, this became the key to evaluating unschooling for my children. Years of watching at very close range how my two boys live and learn was critical to my understanding of how human beings learn in general, and how different one person can be from another.
The older one is a very visual, linear thinker. He likes order and he doesn't mind structure, in fact he prefers it. If he doesn't have structure, he'll create it for himself. He learns by charts and graphs and reading...he loves to read.
The younger one is a kinesthetic learner -- he likes to move around a lot. Sitting still for more than thirty-minutes becomes painful. If he were in school that might be called ADHD. He doesn't have ADHD because he can concentrate on tasks for hours -- as long as it's something that interests him. I wonder how many children, in particular boys, have been branded and drugged for this very same "problem."
It depends on how you think about learning. Do you believe learning is life-long and on-going and that most things of value that you have learned actually occurred outside of a classroom or at a later time in your life? If so, why not apply this to children? Why should they have to wait until they are 30 or 40 years old to figure out what their dreams are? Maturity is often delayed in our society because we have a tendency to infantilize our children, believing that they "shouldn't grow up too fast."
Even universities are realizing that students don't retain information well, or really even learn anything, by sitting in lectures. A trend toward "active learning" is threatening to topple a 600 year style of teaching, as profiled in Harvard Magazine's Twilight of the Lecture (March-April 2012). The article goes on to state that an Arizona professor had devised a test which checked students' understanding of one of the most fundamental concepts (of physics) and astonishingly the results revealed that their introductory courses had taught them "next to nothing." Why? Because the information was never applied to anything concrete -- it was only fact memorization.
It's ok to re-evaluate your decisions about homeschooling any time you think it may be having a negative effect on your child. Let me talk about my youngest again to give you an idea of what I mean by this. I could tell early on that he was a candidate for unschooling. He was not interested in sitting down and doing formal lessons at age four -- something my oldest only occasionally resisted at the same age. I was really bummed that first year of pre-k when he would rather be playing than going through our pre-school curriculum (yes, pre-school curriculum, the term makes me shudder now).
Thankfully, I let my instincts be my guide, and we rarely "did" formal pre-school that first year. Kindergarten was a little different, he seemed willing to go through some of the workbooks, but phonics frustrated him and he didn't read fluently until he was six. But when he began to read, he never looked back. I didn't freak out and worry that he didn't read at four and I decided that if we only worked on reading for 10 minutes a day for a year that it was just fine by me. Formal math lessons have also elicited frustration and tears, and that is something that we continue to work on...changing approach and backing off when I hear things like, "I can't do this, I'm stupid."
This summer, he started drawing, just out of the blue, drawing and drawing pretty well for a 10 year old. For a couple of weeks he drew every day, sometimes not looking up from his sketch pad for hours (see Lessons From the Library).
Within a few weeks of the drawing he became interested in making stop-motion videos using Legos and Lego mini-figs and a light went off in my brain that made everything I've been witnessing the last six years make ever so much more sense. Something he has always done is imaginary play with figures...he will act out elaborate scenes in his head and can do this quietly and uninterrupted for hours. At some point, maybe within the last year or so, I decided that as long as he was creatively engaged in an activity of this type, that I would never force him to "do school." Eventually, he would tire of the movie-making in his mind and wander over and start his math. I just wasn't going to insist that he break his concentration and start to do something else that I deemed more valuable. To me, the video making just became a natural extension of the imaginary play, and through the play he is learning.
His latest video prompted math ("If a frame is so many seconds and I want my video to be so many minutes long, how many frames do I need?"), script-writing and document creation (he normally detests writing, but happily sat down on a Saturday to write a one-page script for his 1:36 minute video), and use of movie-making software, including inserting voice overs and sound effects. I wonder if I had made him stop his free-play to "come do school" if he would have arrived at this same place? It's a question that's probably impossible to answer with any degree of certainty.
The important lesson for me has been to honor the unschooling tendencies of my youngest child. I don't need to feel good about myself by forcing an agenda on him that doesn't work.
Will we continue to re-evaluate as he grows older? I'm sure we will. I know I'm looking forward to watching the next big thing un-fold.
Infographics by www.onlinecollege.org and can be found in its entirety at Homeschool World.
Because most of us have been traditionally educated in the modern school system, we bite our nails down to the quick wondering if we are giving proper treatment to all the facts and information our children will need to know to get into college, or just generally lead well-informed, successful lives.
Yesterday, I posted at The Homeschool Post about how to take a cross-curricular approach to homeschooling. Check it out!