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Around the World in 150 Days

6 Mar

Yes, after a year, I am finally getting back to writing on this page. A lot has happened in the year behind me. We relocated to Europe, my father became terminally ill, we rushed back to the states, my father died, and now I am here. Again. I would almost say I’m back where I started except that everything is so different now; even though the location is the same, the attitude and feelings are not.

So, I look forward to sharing lots of thoughts and ideas again, but with a different heart and a different way to look at the world.

Coming next will be my evaluation of a book, Stop Stealing Dreams by Seth Godin, which was recommended to me by a friend who knows of my obsessive passion for education. (and he still wants to be my friend! LOL)

So, into the future, I’m looking forward to it.

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Unschooling is hard and dangerous work

26 Feb

Sometimes the best thing to do is to do nothing.

I love unschooling. But it is very hard sometimes. So often I want to jump in and try to manipulate the learning process. And every time I do that, learning stalls. It is hard to be patient and let my kids learn what they need to learn when they are ready to learn it.

Just recently my husband was talking to me about Pumpkin and how she needed to start working on her multiplication tables. Sure, she is at the age when they start learning it at school. So we picked up some books at the library and proceeded to instruct her. What a Stonewall Jackson she can be.

“I don’t want to.”

“I already read that book.”

“Why can’t I do [insert any other activity] instead?”

Bah. Headache followed frustration.

And really. Was this all necessary? I just recently talked to her Sunday School teacher. She had nothing but glowing praise for Pumpkin. How much better she was at reading than the other kids. How Pumpkin was able to look up Bible verses without any help, unlike the other kids. And how she noticed that Pumpkin went almost instantly from not reading at all to being almost totally independent.

We had the same frustrations with reading a couple of years ago that we are having with math now. We kept trying to MAKE her read. Kept trying to force it because we were afraid that she was somehow BEHIND. But once we left her alone and backed off, suddenly she started asking about reading books in the older kids section of the library. Suddenly she started talking to us about different books that she had read (that we didn’t even know she was reading!) Suddenly she was asking to look up more information on little tidbits that she had read here and there. (Like “Are there any reptiles that don’t lay eggs?”) Suddenly she was an independent reader. All without any headache, any effort, and distress. She became a reader because she wanted to and because she was ready for it.

This, for me, is the hardest part of unschooling. I want to be involved. I want to do something. I’ve got years of pedagogical experience. Come on! I’m important. You can’t learn without a teacher!

… or can you?

Knowledge is fixed in time, whereas, knowing is continual. Knowledge comes from a sourse, from an accumulation, from a conclusion, while knowing is a movement.”

“The additive process is merely a cultivation of memory which becomes mechanical. Learning is never cumulative; it is a movement of knowing which has no beginning and no end.”

~Bruce Lee, The Tao of Jeet Kune Do

Milton Friedman’s Free to Choose on the Right Network

23 Sep

I just finished watching Free to Choose, Milton Friedman’s classic award-winning PBS television episode that was the first of what was supposed to be a 10 part series. Milton Friedman was a Nobel Prize winning economist and a staunch advocate of liberty, democracy, and truly free markets. The Right Network is airing Free to Choose and it is available on the inline. Yahoo for us crazy people without television.

The Right Network is a new television network that just started in September. They have a whole lineup of libertarian minded shows. I’m not sure which cable and satelite companies have picked them up as I don’t watch television. I do all my viewing right off the internet. But I’m pretty interested in seeing how this network plays out.

The fundamental idea behind Free to Choose is distinguishing between the difference between equality of OPPORTUNITY and equality of RESULTS. Understanding the vital difference between philosophies and direction is crucial.

Equality of results is a pipe dream.

If you are more concerned with equality of RESULTS, then you want to make sure that everybody ends up in the same place. You want and expect everyone to have the same kind of living standard, the same kind of grades on transcripts, the same kind of homes, the same kind of lives.

Did anyone see that episode of Fairly Odd Parents where Timmy wished that everyone was the same. This is how unrealistic the concept of “equality of results” is. It is just not possible to guarantee that everyone will have the same outcomes. Nor would it be practical or advisable.
The concept of “Success for all” is not new. In fact, Success for all was the classroom management program used at one of the schools where I taught. And don’t forget “Failure is Not an Option” that was the battle cry of the Hope Foundation. Or what about “No Child Left Behind”? These bizarre philosophies set impossible expectations and mandates for everyone without clearly defining or understanding that success is different for everyone, and failure is an excellent tool for learning.

Equality of Opportunity means everyone can have their own brand of success

On the other hand, if you see the importance of equality through OPPORTUNITY, you have a whole different world open up before your eyes. This is equality in a very real, practical, and possible sense. If you want to sell brownies, you don’t have to jump through ten-thousand hoops of bureaucratic red tape to get the necessary licenses, certificates, building permits and God knows what else, on top of paying out fees to every governmental agency that wants to get involved in your business. You can just start making brownies and sell them to people who want them.

And it’s not just brownies, almost anything that you could possibly imagine has some kind of regulation or restriction making it difficult for the average Joe to do anything. Sure, the rich bureaucrat or mega-corp owner can afford to have other people jump through those pesky hoops. But how is this equal? The socialistic method would be to take the resources away from the wealthy and give them to the poor. But this doesn’t work either. People just want to have a chance to do something that they love doing, without being hammered down by the system.

And the same in schools. Why do we expect cookie cutter children. They are wondrous in their differences. Each child growing up into a unique individual who can produce and contribute in their own way. But we use punishment, peer pressure, and pharmaceuticals to stamp out individuality in favor of conformity, obedience and easy management.

So what is the answer?

There is no one answer. Take a risk and go for a more individualized education for your children. Even if it means plunging into the unknown. Even if it means not knowing what to expect. Why cater to a broken and failing system just because you are familiar with it, just because you know what the typical outcome is.

Reform is no use any more!

8 Jun

There has been a lot of talk about reforming the education system for years. Holt talks about it in books 40 years ago! It’s an ongoing discussion. But it doesn’t work. You can’t patch up something that is broken beyond repair. Why do we expect radical improvements with such little effort or change? Why do we continue to accept such mediocre results from public schools?

Sir Ken Robinson, a visionary cultural leader, who led the British government’s 1998 advisory committee on creative and cultural education makes the case for a radical shift from standardized schools to personalized learning. Sir Ken Robinson talks about an educational REVOLUTION on this TED video. He compares the current public school system to fast food. Both are destructive to our health and welfare.

(Watch the video here if the above video doesn’t work)

I love how he talks about diversity of talent and how crucial this diversity of talent is to our world and our personal selves! Education that is tailored specifically to individual needs is the revolution we need!

I talked with a lady this weekend about her son. He just failed kindergarten and his teacher convinced them to put the poor boy on ritalin. The mom is so worried because he’s crying all the time for no reason. But she’s afraid he needs it so that he can do better in school! I’m not going to get into the dangers of these types of drugs. (I talk about it here.) Good grief! This teacher doesn’t care about the permanent harm these drugs will do to the child. Her main focus is classroom management – how to keep the classroom under her control.

These kinds of practices (one of many in the public schools) stifle creativity, destroy health and well being, and creates cookie cutter people instead of bright, shining, inspiring individuals.

Now, I know personally that unschooling works and fulfills this need. However many people can’t or won’t home school their kids. The philosophy and mandate of Pomegranate Gardens is centered on the individual student. But many people are not willing to take what they see as a gamble on their child’s future. They would rather stick with what they know, even though they know it doesn’t work.

“Everyday, everywhere, our children spread their dreams at our feet. And we should tread softly.”

My love/hate relationship with parenting forums

7 Apr

I’ve been spending a little bit of time at Circle of Moms lately. I don’t normally spend a lot of time on forums for several reasons, but it was linked to my Face Book account and several friends had sent me a link. So I checked it out.

Love Me

It’s got a cool layout, and is pretty easy to move around. This is important to me because I easily get lost in forums and that pisses me off and makes me not want to come back. Everything was relatively easy to set up.

Love Me Not

But hanging out in forums is such a time sucker! You can easily spend hours there chattering mindlessly or endlessly clicking on this and that. Then, before you know it, the day is gone and the “to do” list hasn’t even been touched.

Love Me

But hanging out with other people in similar situations is stimulating and encouraging. I get the chance to meet knew people with common goals and ideas and share thoughts with them. I was just telling my grandma the other day how great the computer was because I get to have friends on the other side of the planet and it’s easy to communicate with them!

Love Me Not

But sometimes the conversation turns to drivel. I’ve noticed this happens a lot on parenting forums. The endless nagging and complaining. It can take a lot of effort sometimes to wade through the muck to find one good friend. I enjoy conversation, but I really don’t think life is THAT complicated.

And I don’t enjoy hearing the same complaints (and suggestions) over and over and over again. Do some three year olds like to assert their independence. You betcha! Do they need to be medicated because they have ADHD. No way! (in fact, I don’t believe ADHD is as widespread as it appears. So we need to quit using that as an excuse.)

You really want to succeed as a parent – provide love and support when they ask for it; back off and let them live their own life when they can; teach them the tools they need when they need it; and RELAX and let life happen. Life is a blessing to us all.

Love Me

All in all though. I like the opportunity to meet new people. Especially since there are so few UNSCHOOLING, ALL NATURAL/ORGANIC/WHOLE FOOD EATING, ORGANIC CHURCH MEETING, BREASTFEEDING ADVOCATES and FREEDOM LOVING (all rolled into one) people out there.

Shucks, I think we’re the only home schooling family in my little bitty town. And nobody around here knows about raw milk and grassfed beef. Some days I feel like I’m constantly on my soap box. Finding a group of like-minded people online gives me the opportunity to learn from someone else’s experience instead of always being the teacher.

I want to work with children

6 Apr

This is the mantra of many teachers and would be teachers (and, I’m sure, a whole host of other well-meaning adults seeking a profession full of meaning and purpose). It was even what I said and thought when I began my teaching career.

But I soon came to learn that this idea seemed a bit backwards. I often wondered at my sudden change in views on my teaching career. And now I understand why.

I just got done reading a passage in Teach Your Own by John Holt and had to rush to my computer to write it down and share it with you. It totally sums up what I have been puzzling over since I quit professional teaching.

The other day a young person wrote me saying, “I want to work with children.” Such letters come often. They make me want to say, “What you really mean is, you want to work on children. You want to do things to them, or for them–wonderful things, no doubt–which you think will help them. What’s more, you want to do these things whether the children want them done or not. What makes you think they need you so much? If you really want to work with children, then why not find some work worth doing, work you believe in for its own sake, and then find a way to make it possible for children–if they want to–to do that work with you.

The difference is cruical. The reason my work with the leaves and worms [he tells this story in the preceeding paragraphs] was interesting and exciting to those boys was precisely that it was my work, something I was doing for my good, not theirs.  It was not some sort of “project” that I had cooked up because I thought they might be interested in it. I wasn’t out there raking up leaves in the hope that some children might see me and want to join in. I never asked them to help, never even hinted; they insisted on helping me. All I did for them–which may be more than many adults might have done–was to say that if they really wanted that much to help me, then they could. Which is exactly the choice I would like to see the adult world offer to all children.

I really can’t say it better than that. It is exactly why unschooling works so well. It is exactly why, once we let our children “help” us, we realize they are much more competent and capable than we had ever given them credit. This is exactly why we should just do what we need to do in our lives and let our children be as involved in our daily activities as they want to be.

John Holt – A man WAY before his time

31 Mar

Not so new views on children, childhood, schools, and education.

I’ve been reading a slew of books written by John Holt. What I found most interesting was the dates these books were published. Every book so far has been published before the 80’s. Yet everything he writes about has virtually remained unchanged. The system is still not working for most people. Children are still being forced to submit to the wiles and whims of a system that doesn’t understand them (or rather, doesn’t care to understand them because they know better.)

“At first I did not question the compulsory nature of schooling. But by 1968 or so I had come to feel strongly that the kinds of changes I wanted to see in schools, above all in the ways teachers related to students, could not happen as long as schools were compulsory.

From many such experiences I began to see, in the early ’70s, slowly and reluctantly, but ever more surely, that the movement for school reform was mostly a fad and an illusion. Very few people, inside the schools or out, were willing to support or even tolerate giving more freedom, choice, and self-direction to children. Of the very few who were, most were doing so not because they believed that children really wanted and could be trusted to find out about the world, but because they thought that giving children some of the appearances of freedom (allowing them to wear old clothes, run around, shout, write on the wall, etc.) was a clever way of getting them to do what the school had wanted all along–to learn those school subjects, get into a good college, etc. Freedom was not a serious way of living and working, but only a trick, a “motivational device.” When it did not quickly bring the wanted results, the educators gave it up without a thought and without regret.” ~John Holt, Teach Your Own

As I am reading these books, my first thought is amazement that I never heard of this man while I was going through my teacher training. Then I stop myself and almost laugh at the ridiculousness of this thought. Why in the world would any education certification program discuss the writings, experiences, and research of a man who spent a lifetime working in the education system to find out that it was all irreparably broken? If we had talked about these writings while I was in college studying to be a teacher I would have never gone on with the program. As it was, I experienced almost everything he discussed and left public school education without a backward glance.

The system is broken.

I’m in the middle of Teach Your Own right now. It is basically a primer and an encouragement for taking that first leap into unschooling/home schooling. Right there in the introduction he tells the story of a woman at the beginning stages of trying to plan an alternative school for her children and her community. I am not kidding… it was like reading my story in a book written 50 years before my time! The story was exactly the same.

“She and a friend had decided that they couldn’t stand what the local schools were doing to children, and that the only thing to do was start their own. For many months they had been looking for parents, for space, for money, and had made almost no progress at all.”

That’s the story of Pomegranate Gardens! UNBELIEVABLE! And he gave her the advice that, luckily, my husband and I figured out all on our own… don’t got through the mess of trying to meet regulations,  find willing parents and students, and money, and buildings. It’s just not going to happen. Just teach them at home.

In a way it is sad though. The world needs a school like Pomegranate Gardens. And you know what… when the world is ready for it, I’ll be here ready to welcome them. But most people are not willing to gamble their child’s future like this. Even though they know deep down that the school system is failing, that their children are suffering, that the whole thing is just so broken and wrong. It doesn’t matter. Maybe they think their children need to be ready for the harsh realities of life. Maybe they think children need to suck it up and learn to do pointless and menial work, because that’s what life is. Maybe, I don’t know. But it seems to me to be a vicious and never-ending cycle of despair.

A lack of meaningful work

No, I’m not talking about your job. But maybe I am. Maybe if you had had an opportunity as a child to find what was important to you, you would be living a totally different life. Who knows. How different would our world be if we were all doing work we loved and felt was important?

When we are talking about schooling though, we often hear about the troublemakers. Those kids (and they are growing in number) who cause problems and angst in the classrooms for teachers and students. But these are not stupid kids. These are kids who find school to be meaningless and irksome. In one of his books, Holt talks about a group of kids in an after school program. The lady running the programs talks about how these three boys are the hardest working, strongest, most diligent, most reliable children of the group as long as they are given work that they can view as important. If they feel they are being shunted out of the way with simple busy work, then they revert to the troublesome bothersome boys that everyone expects them to be.

Holt quotes Dean Paul Roberts of Denver at the first graduation of the Colorado Rocky Mountain School (I’ve heard this quote attributed to JFK too, who knows, maybe JFK was quoting Roberts).

“To a group of students that included some very unhappy, mixed-up, and self-hating young people, he said: (1) accept yourself, (2) forget yourself, (3) find something to do and to care about that is more important to you than you are…. In telling the students to accept and then forget themselves Dean Roberts was saying something that they, preoccupied, obsessed as they were by how they looked to others, and usualy how bad they looked, had to take seriously. For he was one of the homeliest people any of us had ever seen…. Of course, to accept and forget oneself is not easy to do even when one tries, which is why the other part of his advice is so vital–to find something to do, to care about, to throw yourself into, that is more important than you are.” ~Escape from Childhood

I wanted to make a change – not be changed by the system.

If only schools really prepared us for this. Prepared us for a life full of meaning and satisfaction. This is not too much to ask for. Holt gave up on reforming the education system in the 70s. I became a teacher at the turn of the century hoping to change the world. Mentor teachers smiled condescendingly on me saying “I used to be idealistic too”. I lasted three years.

I watched “A Law Abiding Citizen” not too long ago which talks about the same thing, only with the justice system instead of the education system. Jamie Fox’s character is a lawyer and near the end of the movie he is talking about his career and his choices and says that he became a lawyer to change the system. But then as time went on he made one compromise, then another deal, and then another compromise, and before he knew what happened, instead of changing the system, the system had changed him.

But it’s never too late to stop that train. Make a change right now. I am home schooling my kids right now. It’s great. I don’t have to perpetuate the cycle anymore.