Tag Archives: socializing

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.

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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.

Are schools making us stupid?

11 Mar

There are a lot of good teachers in the world. And most of them, like I did, got into teaching to help change the world, make lives better, and work with children.

The reality is so much different though. While some teachers are able to make some meaningful impact on the lives of their students, the scope is narrow and limited. Many teachers are restricted and restrained in what they can do in their classroom and for their students.

I’ve been reading Charlotte Iserbyt for a long time. I have seen what she talks about in her books and speeches first hand. She is part of the reason (other than first hand experience) I got out of public school teaching and started home schooling my children.

What she says is scary. If you choose to keep your children in public school you MUST be aware of the underlying and hidden agenda of the public school system.

Her book The Deliberate Dumbing Down of America is available for free online.

Charlotte Iserbyt served as Senior Policy Advisor in the Office of Educational Research and Improvement (OERI), U.S. Department of Education, during the first Reagan Administration. At that time, she blew the whistle on a major technology initiative which would control curriculum in America’s classrooms.

The Pig of Happiness

2 Mar

My kids love this video. If you can stand watching it repeatedly throughout the day, share it with them. It’s a great example of how just being happy can affect those around you and help create a better world. Now how’s that for character development?

The very best home school curriculum available.

24 Feb

You Don’t Need This Book
…or any other book for that matter!

As an educating expert I get a lot of families asking me curriculum. What kind do I recommend, which ones do I use, how to find the best one. At the risk of losing out on many opportunities I am going to be extremely blunt. You don’t need them. I have seen too many people spend loads of money on special curriculum for each child (hundreds to thousands of dollars) only to find that school work becomes tedious, home schooling becomes a drag, and tensions between parent and child escalate as the child passive-aggressively battles the system that the parent has unwittingly brought into the home.

Curriculum is a billion dollar industry

Don’t get me wrong. I love curriculum. I am also very skilled at writing curriculum. A copy of my curriculum, written during my senior year of college (A+), is sitting in the art ed resource room at SIUE to be used as a reference and example for other aspiring art teachers. But the fact remains that you don’t need them. This point really hit home for me when I was browsing a bookstore one day. And there on the shelf in prime location was a preschool workbook on learning how to use scissors. Yes, some big wig curriculum publisher was selling this book. Incredulous, I picked it up and looked through it. It was full of thick black lines, straight lines, curved lines, dotted lines, some shapes. And the child would take a pair of scissors and cut along the lines. That was it. $15 dollars for a workbook that would be cut to pieces. It was mindboggling. And to think of the damage I was inflicting on my children by giving them a stack of scrap paper and bills to “shred” with their tiny scissors. Right then and there “You don’t need this book!” screamed through my brain. I even got the brilliant idea to write a book talking about this. I never finished it because it seemed too ridiculous to write a book you really don’t need talking about all the educational books you really don’t need.

Home schooling should be something different

Many of you started home schooling because of the failings of public school. So why bring that failing system into your home? All you have done is transplanted the same problems and frustrations from the classroom to the living room.

I was talking to a parent a couple of months ago. He is trying to home school his teenage daughter. He invested almost $500 on some nifty computer interactive curriculum set. But she never used it. Half the time she stayed at her mother’s house to avoid the school work. “What is she interested in?” I asked him. The simple question that most of us so often forget to ask. “Well, she likes cosmotology.” I then proceeded to launch into an explanation of how cosmotology could be the basis of all her learning from the history of makeup and hair and how it affected the world to the science of shampoo and hair dye. Every relevant “subject” could be covered using her main interest of cosmotology. I am afraid I might have scared him away, because I haven’t heard from him since then. But my point is, you don’t need fancy textbooks, computer programs, curriculums, or gizmos. You are better off using that money to invest in information or tools that are geared specifically to your child’s interest.

Home school groups are another tricky subject. (Especially since I am the founder of Pomegranate Gardens School). There are dozens of home school groups and schools out there. Sure, join up. I would love people to join me at Pomegranate Gardens. But think about what you want and need. If you are looking for a play group, do you need to pay membership fees for that? If you are wanting social connections there are numerous avenues for both parent and child. Please, think about how you are investing your time and money. If you want and need some real advise and support, get it. I offer most of my advise freely and generously, much to the detriment of PG’s educational consulting program. If you want serious guidance and support be willing to pay for it, but make sure you are paying for something that is worth the investment.