Tag Archives: school

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

11 TED talks for Parents listed on Christian Colleges and Universities Website

30 Sep

I was just directed to an interesting little site. It is a listing and resource for online higher education at a group of religious schools. The list is predominantly Christian, but I think they are trying to be as comprehensive as possible. So this is definitely a site that almost anyone could look into.

And their blog is fascinating. Articles of lists. What a neat concept. And that’s where I found the 11 TED talks for parents. Carl Honore and the “Slow Movement”; Gever Tulley and the Tinkering School; Ken Robinson and an educational revolution (I reviewed this video here on P&E); Laura Trice and the power of “Thank you”; Adora Svitak and what parents can learn from their kids; Kiran Bir Sethi and believing that “I can”; Cameron Herold and allowing entrepreneurship and experimenting in our kids’ lives; John Wooden and the true meaning of success; Stuart Brown and the importance of playing; Liz Coleman and exploring different interests and hobbies instead of focusing on one. It’s a jam-packed list!

The joy of learning you’re going to become a parent is usually followed by a panicked question: “Wait, how do I do this?” The parenting advice business is a big one, with thousands and thousands of available titles for parents to choose from; so many, in fact, that it can tough to know where to start. If you’re a young parent or an old hand looking for fresh advice, these talks from the TED conference might be able to help. They focus on parenting, relationships, and the best way to form and execute the kind of big-picture plans that are vital for parental success.

Read the rest of the article and watch the videos here…

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.

Back to school for the fall

18 Aug

A lot of kids are starting school this week. I’ve seen lots of pictures of kids with their brand new backpacks and hopeful smiles pasted all over Facebook. All of the neighborhood kids have been noticeably absent from our house only to reappear after 3 o’clock.

And my kids have been busy. Planning a puppet show (that should be interesting), playing Spanish games on the computer, practicing the guitar, and learning how to be self-sufficient. My kids forget that their friends are locked up in schools and frequently ask throughout the day if they can pop by their houses to invite them to events (like the puppet show – lol) or to show their friends something that they are making. They also miss the freedom of being outside to explore their world. We try to curb their outside activities while school is in session just to avoid any harassment from the community. I know that all I have to do is inform the inquiring authorities that we homeschool, I just don’t want to have to deal with truant officers and DCFS. That is the downside of being the only homeschooling family in the community.

What concerns me is why is our family the odd ball? Why? When every parent I talk to complains about the effectiveness of their schools, or the problems their children are having at school, or the infusion of materialistic and socialistic ideals in their school. Even parents who send their kids to “a good school” encounter some of these problems. So why does everybody keep sending their kids to school?

Every school has an agenda

And it’s not always the same agenda as the parents. Sure every school talks about it’s focus on academic subjects. And some schools even do a good job raising the grades of students in certain subjects. But every school (public, private, magnet, charter) has another agenda. Sometimes the teachers and administrators don’t even know what the agenda is, but it’s still there.

I just encountered an extreme example of schools’ hidden agendas this past month. A friend of mine (a fellow art teacher) had just accepted a job at a new charter school in St. Louis. Somewhere along the way she discovers that the school is owned and operated by Turkish patriots who infuse Turkish politics, religion, practices, and beliefs throughout their school system. She tossed out phrases that I had not heard of (i.e. “Gulen Movement” – read about it at: 123) and was afraid of remaining with the school. She wanted my advice on how to get out. Well, luckily it was well before school started so she had lots of options.

Now, I can hear a lot of you telling yourself that this is an exception. But it’s not. Sure, the public schools aren’t pushing Turkish patriotism, but they do have a hidden agenda.

What is the purpose of schools?

Mass schooling of a compulsory nature really got its teeth into the United States between 1905 and 1915, though it was conceived of much earlier and pushed for throughout most of the nineteenth century. The reason given for this enormous upheaval of family life and cultural traditions was, roughly speaking, threefold: 1) To make good people. 2) To make good citizens. 3) To make each person his or her personal best. These goals are still trotted out today on a regular basis, and most of us accept them in one form or another as a decent definition of public education’s mission, however short schools actually fall in achieving them. But we are dead wrong. (John Taylor Gatto, Against School)

The purpose of schools is to maintain a docile mass populace – easily managed and obedient workforce. Think I’m crazy? There are tons of documentation out there to show this is a fact. (I have a short list to get you started.) This is a far cry from the 3 Rs normally talked about (Reading, Writing, and Arithmetic – they don’t even all start with R. Did this bother anybody else?)

That erroneous assumption is to the effect that the aim of public education is to fill the young of the species with knowledge and awaken their intelligence, and so make them fit to discharge the duties of citizenship in an enlightened and independent manner. Nothing could be further from the truth. The aim of public education is not to spread enlightenment at all; it is simply to reduce as many individuals as possible to the same safe level, to breed and train a standardized citizenry, to put down dissent and originality. That is its aim in the United States, whatever the pretensions of politicians, pedagogues and other such mountebanks, and that is its aim everywhere else. (H.L. Menken, The American Mercury, 1924)

We sacrifice our family bond for the hope of a successful future for our children. How did we get to this point? It was by careful design.

(Alexander) Inglis breaks down the purpose – the actual purpose – of modern schooling into six basic functions, any one of which is enough to curl the hair of those innocent enough to believe the three traditional goals listed earlier:
1) The adjustive or adaptive function. Schools are to establish fixed habits of reaction to authority. This, of course, precludes critical judgment completely. It also pretty much destroys the idea that useful or interesting material should be taught, because you can’t test for reflexive obedience until you know whether you can make kids learn, and do, foolish and boring things.
2) The integrating function. This might well be called “the conformity function,” because its intention is to make children as alike as possible. People who conform are predictable, and this is of great use to those who wish to harness and manipulate a large labor force.
3) The diagnostic and directive function. School is meant to determine each student’s proper social role. This is done by logging evidence mathematically and anecdotally on cumulative records. As in “your permanent record.” Yes, you do have one.
4) The differentiating function. Once their social role has been “diagnosed,” children are to be sorted by role and trained only so far as their destination in the social machine merits – and not one step further. So much for making kids their personal best.
5) The selective function. This refers not to human choice at all but to Darwin’s theory of natural selection as applied to what he called “the favored races.” In short, the idea is to help things along by consciously attempting to improve the breeding stock. Schools are meant to tag the unfit – with poor grades, remedial placement, and other punishments – clearly enough that their peers will accept them as inferior and effectively bar them from the reproductive sweepstakes. That’s what all those little humiliations from first grade onward were intended to do: wash the dirt down the drain.
6) The propaedeutic function. The societal system implied by these rules will require an elite group of caretakers. To that end, a small fraction of the kids will quietly be taught how to manage this continuing project, how to watch over and control a population deliberately dumbed down and declawed in order that government might proceed unchallenged and corporations might never want for obedient labor.
That, unfortunately, is the purpose of mandatory public education in this country. And lest you take Inglis for an isolated crank with a rather too cynical take on the educational enterprise, you should know that he was hardly alone in championing these ideas. Conant himself, building on the ideas of Horace Mann and others, campaigned tirelessly for an American school system designed along the same lines. (John Taylor Gatto, Against School)

So, go ahead and send your kids off to school with a smile and a wave. But don’t be surprised at the results.

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References and suggested reading.

Primer for ed reformers (or, it’s the curriculum, stupid!)

22 Jul

Being a former public school educator and an advocate of homeschooling, this article really caught my eye. I’ve talked repeatedly about school reform and why it doesn’t (and will never) work. This article pinpoints the specifics of why. While many people, justifiably so, wish to continue efforts to reform schools, we must be practical and realistic. What he proposes is not just a band aid or a politically correct patch. Nor will it be easy. But it is simple. I am not sure that I agree with the idea of establishing another bureaucracy to rethink education. If you wish to maintain a government controlled system, clearly something drastic needs to be done.

Basically,

  • Education cannot be subdivided into neat little subjects. That is not how life works.
  • People, children and adults, do not learn in isolation of any kind (physical or intellectual).
  • We learn more by doing, asking questions, observing, practicing, and refining that we do by sitting still and listening.
  • Testing tells us nothing.

I’m not sure that it is worth the effort to radically change the school system. I don’t think the department of education and public schools need to be a part of the American landscape. But it is obvious that the majority of the people wish to have public schools and this type of reform is definitely worth talking about.

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My guest today is Marion Brady, veteran teacher, administrator, curriculum designer and author.

By Marion Brady
Just about everybody who’s ever been to school has a theory about what’s wrong with education. And a good many of them have a theory about what would make what’s wrong right.

The list of those reform theories is long and getting longer: Get back to the basics! Lengthen the school day! Separate the sexes! Require more math and science! Toughen the standards! Add end-of-course exams! Increase the number of Advanced Placement courses! Put mayors in charge! Replace superintendents with retired military officers! Pay kids for good grades! Abolish teacher unions! End tenure! Lengthen the school year! Tie teacher pay to test scores! Adopt vouchers! Open more charter schools! Close colleges of education! Require school uniforms! Force parental cooperation! Give every kid a laptop! Fire the worst 25% of teachers, rank the rest, and publish the ranking in the newspaper! Adopt national standards for every school subject! Partner schools and businesses! Transfer authority from local school boards to the feds! (Just to begin a list.)

Read the full article here:

http://voices.washingtonpost.com/answer-sheet/guest-bloggers/primer-for-ed-reformers-or-its.html#more

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.”

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.