Saturday, December 8, 2012

Little common-core robots

Stuff like this makes me so sad. This article is called "The Half-Day Kindergarten-Common Core Mismatch," and it's by Laura A. Bornfreund, published on Education Week. The writer laments all those kids who are only going to kindergarten for half a day, thereby missing out on hours of instruction and "deep learning." She says:

"Under the Common Core State Standards, kindergartners will be challenged by new and higher expectations." 

They're five years old! Some aren't ready for all-day kindergarten yet. Why do we keep expecting little kids to do more and more and more?

"Focusing on early reading and language development is important, but in half-day kindergarten—which rarely lasts longer than three hours a day—that reading block would leave only about 90 minutes each day for deep learning in mathematics, science, social studies, and the arts, not to mention time for physical activity and socializing, which are so important to kindergartners' development." 

Good grief. They're not programmable robots.

"How many American children are in half-day kindergarten? It's nearly impossible to know because states are not required to keep track, and decisions about kindergarten have been left to local districts in most places."

The horror. The horror!! And in some cases, maybe even individual parents will want the right to decide how much school their child is ready for. Can we trust them to make such a complex and crucial decision? (I realize that many people will say no. We can't trust the parents.)

"The common-core standards provide a clear, consistent, and challenging framework for what children should know and be able to do in math and reading."

Then the common-core standards are wrong for young children. Adults should meet the needs of children; we shouldn't be expecting them to meet our needs -- our expectations of academic prowess, our need to control their little brains, our need to accelerate their learning beyond their ability, our need to measure "teaching outcomes" to justify money spent, to feed our economic system, to allay our fears.

"To help children reach the high expectations and have a well-rounded kindergarten experience, states should fund a full day of kindergarten and require school districts to provide it."

No. To give children a solid foundation from which to grow, states should fund safe spaces for children to play and learn at their own natural rate, not at ever-accelerated rates dictated by unrealistic standards and expectations. If there's a mismatch between what some children need or what some communities decide to pay for -- such as half-day instead of full-day kindergarten -- and the common core standards, then change the standards. If it's a choice between stressing the child and relaxing the standards, then relax the standards.

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Children can be discerning


This article, by Lainie Liberti, comes in response to an article in the Huffington Post about how supposedly irresponsible radical unschooling is. Lainie's article is called "Good Parenting or UNparenting? A rebuttal to a recent HuffPo Article."

Here's an excerpt:

"Instead Wilke implies that the Martin children will make the worst possible choice for themselves simply because they have the freedom to choose. I understand this kind of thinking, especially if you are of the mind set that one should be told what to do. If a person lives their entire life unconsciously and without fully feeling the joys of empowerment, this may be the reasonable deduction. But clearly, this is not the case within the Martin family."

Many people don't get this. Today at the dentist, after the cleaning was over, the (wonderful, fabulous) hygienist gave my son a bucket full of little toys -- cheap yo-yos, sparkly bracelets, etc. -- and told him he could pick out two goodies. He looked with half interest at a plastic lizard and vampire teeth, but he didn't really want them, and he gave her back the bucket and said, "I have enough things to play with. I don't need any of this." She didn't really know what to make of that! She still seemed to want to give him *something*, so she asked if he wanted a pencil then -- and yes! he did! So he picked out a pencil.

This kind of thing happens pretty often; he'll refuse stickers at the doctor's office or goodies from a cashier, and they're always surprised. Is he some kind of saint kid or something? A little non-materialistic Zen child? Well, no. His Christmas wish list is long and includes product numbers, so there will be no mistake: he does want things, and what he wants is specific. Most of the material things he wants in life, he gets, if not immediately then eventually; some of it, he doesn't. But for whatever reason (I'm guessing because he's pretty satisfied, all told), he doesn't feel the need to grab something -- anything!!!! -- whenever it is offered, just because getting treats is such a rare and wondrous experience. He wants what he wants for a reason -- not just because it's free and somebody is handing it out. He is discerning.

Grownups simply do not expect to encounter that in a child. They don't believe children are capable of discernment. So they make all the decisions for the children, and this doesn't allow the children to hone their discernment skills. To make some mistakes and learn from them; to make some good decisions and learn from them too. And so their prediction comes true: the children don't learn how to be discerning; they learn only to grab whatever they can get -- candy!! crappy toys!! -- just because it's there.

Sunday, September 9, 2012

The best of brains, the worst of brains

Love this article from Brain Pickings, called The Science of “Chunking,” Working Memory, and How Pattern Recognition Fuels Creativity. The whole article is awesome, so go read it, but I especially like this:

"One problematic corollary of this passion for patterns is that we are the most advanced species in how elaborately and extensively we can get things wrong. We often jump to conclusions — for instance, with astrology or religion. We are so keen to search for patterns, and so satisfied when we’ve found them, that we do not typically perform sufficient checks on our apparent insights."
So, the same ability that makes us super-intelligent also makes us, very often, super-wrong.

Also, I have a feeling that my son's -- and my brother's -- love of patterns and ability to group seemingly wildly disparate facts together are what make them able to remember so gosh-darned many things.

Thursday, September 6, 2012

"Shut up, Smedley"

I remember this kid from 7th grade. He sat at my table in Social Studies. Smedley. He was good-natured and funny-looking (wide round face, freckles), and he talked a lot. The teacher said "shut up, Smedley" a lot. It was funny! It became like a class motto. I said it too, for a while, and then I considered that maybe Smedley might not like it. Except, he did always laugh along. And surely the teacher wouldn't have kept saying it, if he'd thought it was mean? Because teachers knew when to stop, right? They knew what was OK, and what was not OK. They knew better than us. And he wasn't any different from any other teacher, really; he was semi-nice, semi-strict, funny, looked kind of like Mr. Kotter from the TV show. "Shut up, Smedley." Ha ha! Our little sitcom. Smedley didn't mind. He always laughed.

- - -

How anybody can claim to be surprised by the findings in this article ("Bullying and Autism: Almost Half of Adolescents with an Autism Spectrum Disorder Have Been Victimized," in Huffington Post) is beyond me:
The statistics also reveal that the integration of teens with ASDs into general education classes (vs. special) is not always a solution to the bullying problem; in fact, it may exacerbate it. 
Duh.

The thing about "invisible diagnoses" is, kids don't say to themselves or each other, "Hey, I heard that kid has PDD-NOS. Let's go get him!" Labels and diagnoses don't enter the picture. What happens is, somebody says, "Hey, why are you just standing there? Why is he just standing there? Go down the slide already! Pick a seat and sit down already! Hello? Sheesh." They get annoyed at a kid standing there, not moving along as expected, and then it happens again the next day, and there you go. Weird kid. Or they ask to play, and the other kid doesn't answer right, and they decide the kid is mean. It's not about "being autistic." It's about ... that kid laughs funny. What a spaz. And he doesn't even have the sense to stop! And OMG, he actually ASKED me OUT! OMG, seriously? I mean, ew!!

Telling students (and teachers) not to pick on kids with autism misses the boat. Singling out autistic kids (or gay kids, or...) as the "not to be bullied" ones misses the boat. Because who knows which are which, and who even needs to know? And yet, a more general approach -- "Everybody be nice to everybody all the time, and everybody act 'normal' [sit still, pay attention, answer properly, dress right, don't freak out when the bell rings, eat quickly] unless you can't, but at the same time don't expect *other* people to act 'normal,' because you can't know if they're just being weird today or they have some kind of legitimate thing wrong -- that is, not that it's 'wrong' to be this or that, it's just ... well, just be nice to everybody, all right? No bullying!" -- well, that doesn't exactly cut it either. As this article demonstrates.

- - -

I don't think Smedley was autistic, by the way. But it doesn't matter whether he was or wasn't. That's not the point. Students and teachers should be respectful of Smedley no matter what. That's the point.

Monday, September 3, 2012

September talk


I caught somebody by surprise the other day. Older gentleman. He was asking Wunderkind if he was all ready to start the new school year, was he looking forward to it, was he going to have a new teacher? When people talk slowly enough, Wunderkind will say “we homeschool,” but he was sort of overwhelmed this time (too many questions all at once!) and trying to hide. So I said, “We homeschool, and yep, we’re ready!” Pool ol’ guy seemed flabbergasted (rather like my grandpa had been, really). “Oh! So, uh, so, uh, ... so what do you do? Just get new books?” I said yes. He still seemed perplexed, or maybe just derailed from his usual September line of questioning children and had no idea where to go from here, and I felt bad now for throwing him for such a loop (why feel bad? I don’t know, but I always do, when I have to answer a routine question with an unusual answer) (so sorry my existence lies a little outside your current worldview; I apologize if my personal choices somehow pull you a bit outside your comfort zone) (this is a notion worth investigating! note to self ...), so I felt the need to reassure him somehow by bringing up something he might find familiar, so I told him that Wunderkind also takes classes once a week with other kids. “Oh! Well then. So he’s all ready to start those, then?” Yes, sir, yes indeed. (Actually, I haven’t seen the class list yet; those classes won’t start till the end of the month. And we might just limit it to a single cross-fit class this season. But TMI; leave it.) Conversation back on track.

I find that I also want to be reassuring to teachers in particular: “Oh, but I do like teachers! Don’t get me wrong! This is just a personal decision, nothing to do with the awesomeness of teachers!” I wonder why that is: why I’m afraid that my decision to homeschool will maybe possibly be interpreted as a criticism of other people’s careers or family choices. Or that any decision about schooling for one family (or for one child; sometimes one kid does school at home while a sibling goes to public school) might be taken as a decision against whatever schooling decision somebody else made. People don’t do that with sports or band or whatever. My decision to enroll my child in karate is not taken as a slam on your decision to enroll your child in band, or somebody else’s decision not to enroll her child in anything, or to teach her sewing at home. But that’s how some folks seem to see decisions about schooling -- as some sort of commentary against the other person’s choice.

Or so I suspect. Actually, I’ve only ever encountered such negative ideas online. I haven’t encountered anybody yet in real life who’s unkind about the idea of homeschooling. Folks may have their private doubts, of course! I know Grandpa fretted always about when I’d finally “allow” Wunderkind to attend regular school. But that was what he knew, and he was just concerned, is all. This was a new idea. (It was new to me too, once. A downright crazy thought!) I’ve heard stories (online) about people encountering rudeness right and left when they bring up homeschooling -- people mention snide remarks they’ve gotten from cashiers and old friends and new friends and family and busybodies just all over the place! -- and I just haven’t encountered it at all. Folks are usually interested, and if they don’t know what to say or ask or how to say it or ask it, it’s just because it’s a new idea. It’s not rude to not know what to say. (It's possible that some of the online people who keep seeing rudeness everywhere haven't realized that.) And often I still don’t know how to answer the questions either, or what to say myself. (Which I supposed might make me seem rude to the nice people who are asking me questions!) So many school topics simply don’t apply to homeschooling, simply because they’re rooted in the very structure of “at-school” schooling (new teachers, new desks, supply lists, homework, behavior charts, sick days, summer vacation, alarm clocks, weekends) -- and vice versa (did you see that link to all those cool kitchen experiments? have you tried any? what kind of records do you keep? do you unschool or do unit studies? will Juniorette be taking her English lit or higher math classes at the community college? see you at park day?) -- that in many ways, they just don’t compare.

It’s like working at home versus working in an office; they’re both work, and they can both accomplish the same thing, but they look very different. So it’s hard to know what to ask, or tell.

And in either case, however it happens, magic occurs and the children learn to read and write and cipher; they learn about George Washington and the Native Americans and photosynthesis and cells and angles and algebra and spreadsheets and the Olympics and the Greeks and Disney and elections and anime and classic rock and climate change and wiki-everything and YouTube. Hard not to, living in America.

Saturday, August 18, 2012

Authority always wins

This photo is making the rounds. I find the sentiment sad. I know it's supposed to be funny. I know it's just a joke, and everybody knows it's not really as bad as all that ... except it kind of is, which is where the humor comes from. If it weren't at least a little true, then it wouldn't be funny. But what a message. The message is that students (and often teachers) want to "resist" the start of school, which will consume most of their waking time for the next nine months. But why would they want to do that? Maybe it's because the principal purpose of school is to teach submission. School is meant to teach students to dampen their own impulses, to sit still and pay attention, to apply themselves (but not to what they want to do, of course; only to what somebody else tells them to do), and to do exactly as they're told. Submit and perform. Resistance is futile.

Funny School Sign - Resistance Is Futile
photo credit: http://www.funnysigns.net/school-resistance-is-futile/

Or maybe I'm wrong. Maybe that is not what school is meant to teach. Maybe the lessons in submission and futility are just unfortunate side-effects of a truly decent and noble goal. Maybe school is meant to inspire and enlighten, to impart knowledge and hone skills; maybe school is meant to teach innovation and self-determination and creativity, not submission and conformity; maybe school is meant to teach persistence and optimism, not futility. I like to believe that all that is true! But if that's the case -- if the purpose of school is to inspire and not to squash -- then why do so many people perpetuate this "people hate it, but too bad, resistance is futile" image of school?

Here is a similar image, where both students and teacher are devastated at the thought of starting school:

teacher cartoons
photo credit:  http://www.teachhub.com/classroom-chuckles-teacher-toons 

Ha ha! Administrators cower, too, in a futile attempt at resistance:

"I know your teachers are very demanding and all the kids avoid you, but you have to go to school, Dear. You're the principal!" photo credit:  http://www.weac.org/multimedia/cartoons/2003-2004/73.aspx

Why are these kinds of images so popular? I can only conclude that, regardless of what the noble purpose of school is supposed to be, this is what people, deep down, actually think of it. School is something that students, teachers, and administrators naturally, automatically want to resist. Even after they have learned that their efforts to resist are futile.

This is how it is; I didn't make it up; I didn't draw these cartoons or make that highway sign. Do we want it to be different? Do we want to change the common perception of school, and people's experiences there? Do we want schools to be places of enlightenment instead of submission, of innovation instead of mindless repetition, of persistence and self-determination instead of learned futility, of joy instead of surrender, of inspiration instead of peer-influenced conformity? Well, then, let's change how they work. I mean, radically. Throw out the assigned seating, the lecture-based lessons, the strict age groupings, the mandatory assignments, the arbitrary standards, the relentless comparisons and measurements. Create community centers, interest-based courses, real-life projects, resource centers, self-determined goals that students will embrace and be eager to achieve instead of being forced to complete, places where both students and teachers will actually want to be -- will wake up every day and race to, happily.

But please, let's not just give up and say, "That'll never work. And anyway, most kids get by just fine, so, see?, it works well enough as it is. Maybe better standards could help, yeah. More of the same, but just ... better, that's what we need." No! Resist! And don't let that resistance be futile!

Thursday, August 9, 2012

Bonnie


When I was in kindergarten (and I was always-always-always getting in trouble for talking, every single ding-dong day; this was before I became shy), there was a little girl in my class named Bonnie. I was kind of small myself, but she seemed extra tiny and lost and big-eyed, and she wore the same couple outfits all the time, and at first kids tried to play with her but she wouldn't talk much, so everybody decided she was unfriendly or stuck-up or didn't like to play. But still, sometimes I'd go play by her for a while. Not with her, exactly, but by her. She didn't seem to like to talk, but she seemed OK with my being nearby, like if I played silently in the kitchen area or the blocks area while she was there.

One day -- one rare day when I was going somewhere alone in a hallway (where was the usual rush of kids? I don't know. Maybe I was going to the bathroom) -- I was walking one way down the hall, and Bonnie was walking the other way toward me. She stopped in front of me. I stopped. She said, "I like you." I said, "I like you too." I thought we'd both walk on now, but she kept standing still, so I stood still too. She said, "Most people, when they see me, they make faces, like this. [She stuck out her tongue and crossed her eyes and really looked kind of silly.] But when you see me, you smile, like this. [She smiled.] That's why I like you." I said, "I ... I'm happy to see you. So I smile." She said, "I'm glad you're my friend." I said, "I'm glad you're my friend." And then we walked on.

I was more than a little overwhelmed. It was a pretty heavy load, for a five-year-old. I was the only one who ever smiled at her? Just me? For sure, that was the most I had ever heard her speak, ever. She must have meant it; she didn't seem like the type to make up stories.

We didn't become BFFs or anything, but we played together during playtime sometimes. One day I noticed my gym shoes were missing. Soon after, I noticed Bonnie wearing new shoes that looked exactly like my blue Keds. She'd stolen my shoes! Without thinking, I told the teacher, "Remember how I lost my shoes? I think Bonnie is wearing them!" The teacher said, "I'll tell both your mothers." Suddenly the horror of what would happen hit me; the mothers would make this FAR too big a deal. My mother would paint Bonnie as some sort of sneaking little amoral thief; Bonnie's mother would probably spank her and make her feel so ashamed. But it was not that big a deal. I already had new gym shoes, so I didn't need the old ones back. I didn't mind Bonnie wearing mine. I suspected she just wanted a souvenir. Something from the only girl who ever smiled at her. IF she'd even taken them; maybe those weren't even my shoes! Maybe I was wrong. Mostly, I didn't want her to get in trouble. So I said, "Um, no. I think I was wrong. I don't think those are my shoes. Never mind."

I hope Bonnie is well.

It's a hard story to tell, because it seems to say, "Ain't I great! Wasn't I a little goody-goody pacifist prodigy!" But that's not the point. The point is ... I don't know. Smile at somebody. Especially somebody who doesn't smile back; especially somebody who is hard to smile at. You might be the only one. And also: Don't make it that big a deal if a little kid steals something. It's probably not that big a deal.

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Random drug testing (just in case!)

The Huffington Post reports:

About 80 percent of Maryville School District’s 700 middle and high school students will be subject to random drug testing this coming school year, the St. Joseph News-Press reports.
According to the Associated Press, the northwest Missouri school board approved a drug-testing policy in May that will randomly test students in grades 7-12 who either participate in extracurricular activities, or who park on school grounds.

Why? Why do this? The assistant superintendent said: “I think the primary motivation for having the program in place is to provide another opportunity to support our students’ ability to make positive choices.”

Except, giving a test (drug or otherwise) does not support anybody's ability to do anything. It teaches nothing; testing by itself offers no knowledge and improves no skills. And knowing you might get caught is almost never an effective deterrent for risky behavior, especially for young people. So that answer doesn't even make sense. So, why spend all that money -- $5,000 to $7,000 per year! -- testing students (or any U.S. citizens) randomly for drugs?

Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Second shift

From a Chicago Tribune article called "Chicago schools to add 477 teachers to allow longer day":

Chicago Public Schools has agreed to hire nearly 500 teachers so students can put in a longer school day without extending the workday for most teachers.

Nice for the teachers, but what about the students? In addition to hiring replacement teachers so the regular ones don't have to put in overtime, maybe they could also draft replacement students so the regular ones don't have to put in overtime?

Sunday, July 15, 2012

Sitcom-style awareness: the good and the bad


The good thing about shows like "The Big Bang Theory" is that they make a certain kind of geekiness seem like no big deal. The bad thing about shows like "The Big Bang Theory" is the same: that they make a certain kind of geekiness seem like no big deal. 

Some folks have those geeky traits -- social awkwardness, a fair number of obsessions or compulsive tendencies, a certain kind of endearing (or maddening) quirkiness -- and they're fine, really. They have nothing pathologically wrong with them, nothing worth "diagnosing." They're mostly aware of their oddities, they can surmount them to a certain degree and laugh at themselves, they can get by in life.

Some other folks have those geeky traits -- social awkwardness, a fair number of obsessions or compulsive tendencies, a certain kind of endearing (or maddening) quirkiness -- and they're not so fine. Maybe they have other, less obvious but more debilitating qualities as well. In any case, they do have something wrong that hinders them in life, something that might be helped by a formal diagnosis. Maybe they're aware of their oddities and maybe they're not, but they cannot surmount them easily, and they cannot get by in life without a good amount of help.

How can you tell the difference between the two -- between "no big deal" geekiness and "autism spectrum" geekiness? You can't. Not just by looking. Not unless you know them pretty well, and maybe not even then.

So what do you do? First, avoid the temptation to say, "See? Those geeky guys on that TV show aren't 'disabled'; they don't need some kind of 'label' or 'diagnosis' to help them 'understand themselves' or get along in life. (Or whatever a 'diagnosis' is supposed to do.) And all those geeky guys I knew in college weren't disabled either; they didn't need any kind of label or diagnosis to help them understand themselves or get along in life. Therefore, all those geeky guys nowadays who say they have some kind of 'Asperger's' or 'autism spectrum' diagnosis? They aren't disabled either! They don't need that label or diagnosis to help them understand themselves or get along in life, or whatever they think such a label does for them. They're all fine. I mean, just look at those fictional characters on the TV show! And all my old friends back in college!" Yeah, don't say that. Because how do you know? And maybe some of those geeky guys in college who seemed just fine actually weren't so "just fine" after all; maybe they just handled things passably well in that special college environment.

Second, simply be kind. If somebody says they need help, then just believe them and help. If somebody freezes when they walk into a new room, like the character Sheldon does in "The Big Bang Theory" -- and if, unlike Sheldon, who has some great scriptwriters, they cannot briefly and cleverly and endearingly explain the difficulty they have in choosing a seat in a new room -- don't think, "What a weirdo; why's he just standing there?" Just let them stand there, if that's all they can do for a while; let them take a while to choose a seat. Or whatever. And don't press them to explain; it's possible that, unlike Sheldon (who has great scriptwriters) (and is fictional), they don't even know why they freeze when they walk into a new room, so they couldn't explain it to you even if they had excellent communication skills.

And if you're interviewing them for a job, then (unless it's for a public relations opening, maybe) take a chance and hire them for the job. A job interview should focus on skills; it should not be a sort of hazing ritual, separating the verbally dexterous from all the rest. Socially awkward people, you know, can be excellent workers.

* * *

This article made me sad: "Family Wants Understanding of Asperger." Here is an excerpt:
Like others with Asperger syndrome who have above-average intelligence, Eric Kisly graduated with honors in 2011 from Michigan Technological University with a bachelor’s degree in civil engineering. 
But all the book smarts in the world couldn’t prepare Eric Kisly for a job market grueling enough for recent college grads who don’t have social impairments. 
Rudy Simone quite literally wrote the book on people with Asperger syndrome, or “Aspies,” in the work force. 
“We need [people] to understand Asperger’s, otherwise we’re fighting a constant uphill battle of people judging us through a neurotypical lens,” said Simone, who has written three other books on Asperger syndrome. “It’s like telling a dog he should act like a cat.” 
In her book, “Asperger’s On The Job,” Simone, an Aspie herself, writes that up to 85 percent of those with Asperger syndrome are under- or unemployed. Trouble reading facial expressions or understanding subjective phrases make interviewing a daunting task. 
“If only we lived in a society that prized honesty, integrity, strong work ethic, intelligence, focus and all these traits above the ability to make small talk, above confidence, above that sort of idea of being cool and being normal,” she said.

Thursday, July 5, 2012

Disagreement and being "better than" (and chores)

I completely agree with Jen, who writes the blog The Path Less Taken, who dislikes the idea of taking the toys and things the children haven't put away and holding them for ransom until the children do a chore to "earn" their stuff back. It's an idea that's making the online rounds lately, accompanied by picture of a chore bucket with a cutesy "I've got your stuff -- ha ha" poem on it. She talks about it in the post here: "I stole your stuff. Now I'm holding it for ransom."

She felt the need to mention on Facebook -- having received rude comments in response to her opinion on this and other matters -- that she doesn't think she's perfect or a better mom, and she isn't judging anyone, she's just sharing information. I observed:

It's sad when "I don't like this idea and here's why" is met with, "Oh, so you think you're so much better??" No. Just, I don't like that idea, is all. And here's why.

Anyway, one of the points Jen mentions is that this tactic "teaches kids that chores are punishments." This happens with schoolwork, too, when extra work is assigned as a sort of punishment. Jen points out:

"Things like washing the dishes, sweeping the floor, and doing laundry are a part of life and a part of keeping a nice home….   something that we can either learn to do joyfully, or learn to view as… well, a chore:  something unpleasant, and something to be dreaded."

Exactly. Washing dishes is just washing dishes. And doing homework is just doing homework. You can do it with somebody and chat while you're doing it, you can polish it off happily (or grumpily) by yourself, you can view it as a privilege, this means of honoring your home or growing your brain, or you can view it as a big bore, you can just do it and not think much about it at all, whatever. Some days you might find it fun, some days you might not; regardless, some things just have to get done, and that's all there is to it. But why teach your child on purpose that this -- tending your home, learning a new fact or skill, working on a project -- is something to be dreaded, feared, avoided? Surely we don't want to cause our children to want to avoid working or learning.

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Education standards

Reforming education by way of setting standards, or changing them or raising them, has never made sense to me. A standard is just a goal; it's like a line drawn high on a wall. We expect all our students to be able to jump to here. After much training and practice, some still can't jump that high. According to education reformers, the obvious solution is to set the standard higher. Now we'll really see some results! Or to move it over to the right a little. Or to publish lots of papers describing it in detail. What sense does that make? How does moving the line around or describing it in excruciating detail help students jump higher? How does it help them to decide if jumping is even a good thing for them to do?

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Adult autism diagnoses

Just a quickie, to post these three articles somewhere:

"Why (and how to) pursue an adult autism diagnosis," by Jean Winegardner, Washington Times Communities

"Aspie Like Me: A Diagnosis Story," by Jean W., Stimeyland

"The Hidden Autistics: Asperger's in Adults," by Cary Terra, Aspie Strategy

Friday, May 25, 2012

"Summer slide"

One answer to questions about "summer slide," or what to do about children who forget how to count or read or whatever during the unschooled summertime:

During the school year, children forget how to fill up their own day, their own brain. They forget what they love, what they would most want to do if they had all the time in the world, how to dream their own dreams, how to make friends that are not their exact same age, how to set and meet their own goals instead of other people's goals. This "learning slide" they endure during the school year is considered necessary so they may learn math and history. Summer is the only chance they get to relearn this important stuff, and sometimes even that isn't enough.

Sunday, May 13, 2012

No Regrets Education?

When I started musing on the following passages, I didn't know yet what direction my musing would take me. It was fun for me to watch my process. Here is some good advice from a book called No Regrets Parenting, by Harley A. Rotbart:

"Don't miss any opportunities to hear about what's going on in school, and especially what's going on with your kids in their classrooms. The more you know about school, the better able you are to share the learning experience with your kids. Early in the school year, back-to-school nights give you a chance to hear about changes in the curriculum, meet new teachers and staff, and tour the facilities. After some weeks or months, parent-teacher conferences put you and your kids' teachers face-to-face to discuss your kids' performance and progress in the classroom. . . . I don't have to convince you how important it is to keep your finger on the pulse of your kids' schoolwork. . . ."

and again later, urging parents to volunteer for carpool duty so they can listen to their kids chat with their friends:

"Driving car pool tunes you in to each upcoming day in your kids' lives. Do they have gym today or study hall? . . . Do they need a signed note for the field trip -- and where is the field trip going, anyway? . . . What's going on after school? Is that kid still being a nuisance at recess? What tests do they have today? . . . (I can't count how many times I learned about a project assigned last week -- and due tomorrow! -- from the conversation in the backseat on the way home from school.) . . ."

It goes on. It reminds me that there's a whole school world that we -- my small family -- do not participate in. Sometimes I read passages like this with relief: Thank heaven we don't have to deal with all that! Sometimes I read them with incredulity: You mean people actually make learning math and grammar and history so complicated? Amazing! And sometimes I read them with regret or worry: Other kids, from a very young age, have a whole other, outside life, separate from their parents, where they meet people and learn things and do things their parents don't even know about. I don't just mean something like a daydream life, or a secret hiding place, or deep-down hopes and dreams or a special game with a few friends. I mean a whole separate, several-hours-a-day, everyday world. Their parents have to make a significant effort to learn about this other world, and even then they only see part of it. They don't know that their child learned about George Washington yesterday, or where their child sits in the cafeteria. They have to eavesdrop to learn important things about assignments or social events. Some feel the need to spy -- to read their kids' journals or text messages, or rifle through their backpacks and bedrooms -- just to learn what their kids are doing every day.

This is considered normal and a good thing; this is how children are said to learn independence and initiative and problem-solving skills and self-confidence, along with the math and science and grammar. And my child doesn't do any of this. That is, he does do things out of my sight, and of course I don't (and shouldn't) know every last little thing that goes on in his head, or every last little thing that he does all day long. Still, it's not as though, from age five or younger, he has occupied a whole other realm, for several hours every day, completely separate from me. Am I inhibiting his independence or stunting his learning or self-confidence by keeping him out of the dominant childhood culture? In my heart of hearts, I don't think so, but then sometimes I do think so; I think I'm holding him back or making him miss something important; I read passages like this or hear everyday conversations that accept all this schoolish stuff -- not knowing what the kids are learning, the daily school bus rush and the nightly homework battles, teacher conflicts and boredom and confusion, teacher awesomeness and new friends, recess and gym and I need cupcakes tomorrow, cliques and fights and making up and cafeteria food, honor roll and pep rallies and school plays, gifted classes and glee club and marching band, going to dances with friends or dates or staying home sad -- as a given, unavoidable and necessary as air, and I wonder. We are living without this thing that most people need like they need air. Can that be good for us -- for my child?

Or maybe the question should be: Can it be good for them? Our country has this huge, fantastic public education system. Right? It's huge, it's fantastic, and it serves everybody. We also have the highest incarceration rate in the world, a large and growing economic divide between very rich and everybody else, high unemployment, a high rate of illiteracy (14 percent of U.S. adults, 19 percent of high school graduates, and 63 percent of prison inmates), a shamefully inadequate welfare system, something called a Tea Party and something called "intelligent design" that are taken seriously by a large portion of the population, no universal healthcare program, "public" schools that are not open to all the public and that do not offer equal services to the whole public but are severely differentiated by family income and location, and a political system in shambles, among other serious ills. What, exactly, are we teaching our children to do in these fantastic public schools of ours? What problems have we taught them to solve, and how have we taught them to solve them? The products of these schools (us, and our fellow citizens) are the leaders who have brought us to where we are now. The products of these schools deny global warming (or at the very least, cannot seem to address it effectively), cannot negotiate reasonably with each other or pass legislation, start stupid wars and cannot end them, embezzle money, spill oil, reduce aid to the poor to help subsidize the rich, perpetuate a barbaric prison system that incarcerates people for nonviolent crimes, and cannot for the life of us ensure basic health care for all U.S. citizens. This is what our educational system has produced; this is what our American-educated citizens have accomplished. Should more of the same really be our goal? Should more of the same but with more tests and less recess, more homework and fewer field trips, be our given, as ubiquitous and necessary as air?


Saturday, April 28, 2012

TED-Ed = TED-Borified


TED videos has launched TED-Ed, which turns the videos into school assignments with quizzes.

http://ed.ted.com/

My first response is: They made it boring. I'm looking at the TED-Ed "tour" page, where it shows how teachers can include a "Quick Quiz" (for multiple-choice questions), a section called "Think" (for short-answer questions; the name suggests to me that without being told to think, the students wouldn't bother), and a "Dig Deeper" section listing more resources about the topic.

What's neat about the traditional TED videos is that they're interesting to watch and think about and talk about. (Well, some are. Some aren't. Depends what you're into.) The topics and subsequent discussions people have about them can't be boxed in; they're free ranging. But TED-Ed boxes them in. It turns them into school-type lectures, with lists of quiz questions to answer and extra study sources, so instead of listening for fun and content, students will have to listen for what they think will be on the quiz, or for points that might make a good essay. This changes it from an interest-driven experience or a sharing experience into a "what's in it for me, what grade will I get, what does the teacher want me to say" school assignment.

They're using the term "flipped," which seems to mean only that somebody besides the teacher is giving the lecture, but it's still the same old "read-or-listen and then answer some questions" routine.

Maybe some teachers wouldn't know how to just watch a video and then talk about it, though? So this is good; it's bringing new resources into the schools. Or maybe they would know how, but they need this sort of framework to justify including it in school, where they're supposed to be doing "real" (documentable, standardized, gradable) work. Maybe if it's not specifically called "educational," then people assume it's not, and teachers aren't allowed to do it in school.

Friday, April 27, 2012

Creative punishment

Here are a few thoughts on the mom who put an embarrassing picture of her middle-school daughter on the kid’s Facebook page, which the daughter could not remove, as punishment for something-or-other. Even Whoopi Goldberg has weighed in, saying that "a little public humiliation for kids is sometimes what is needed." Yes, what the world needs now is more shame, more humiliation!

1) Why not just make the kid go to school in her underwear or something? If you're going to humiliate her publicly, do it up right.

2) Why is cyberbullying and humiliation not OK when kids do it to each other, but it is celebrated when adults do it to kids?

3) News outlets are quoting the girl's statements, which her mother made her say, that "I deserve this and I have learned my lesson," etc. And then the news people say, "See? Even the girl agrees that this was a good idea!" Because statements made under duress are always believable, right? Sheesh.

4) Here is what the girl has been taught. Lesson #1: It is good and right to use public humiliation to control people. Lesson #2: You should only do this if you know you can win.

5) Why are people so fascinated by "creative punishments" like this anyhow? Public humiliation in various forms, that dad who shot nine rounds into his daughter’s computer, parents who brag about making their kids eat hot sauce when they swear or sass their parents. What is it about "showing a kid who's boss" or "teaching that kid a lesson" that makes SO many people want to go, "YEAH! THAT'll show her! YEAH!" It’s such a deep-down, visceral reaction -- adults against children, strongly!, severely! show ’em who’s boss, yeah! -- in so many people. (Damn children. Who do they think they are?)

Friday, April 20, 2012

What to teach the kids?

This is one answer to the question, "If we don't follow a traditional curriculum, what should I teach the kids?"

1) How to do what you love to do. So do things you love to do, and offer to share the joy. If you like crossword puzzles or sudoku or gardening or cooking or knitting or selling things online or shopping or selling candles at home parties or playing video games or watching Jane Austen movies or listening to the Beatles or playing the piano or singing in a choir or dancing or drawing or painting or watching cartoons or doing yoga or collecting things or playing games or riding your bike or visiting museums or going to concerts or swimming, then do those things, and if your kids want to do them alongside, then share the joy. If they're not into it, that's OK, let it be.

2) Observe what things your kids like to do (or play, read, find, listen to, make, watch), and find more opportunities for them to do them. Also offer different but similar activities, in case they'll like those too. Be like those online marketers: "If you like ABC, then you might also like DEF and XYZ."

3) If you think your kids need to learn more about American history (or calculus, or music appreciation), then maybe that means that YOU have American history (or calculus, or music appreciation) on your mind. Maybe you're feeling inadequate in that area, or maybe you just find it interesting. Either way, take it as a prompt to start learning about it! And feel free to convey your enthusiasm about it. Maybe the kids will get into it, too, and maybe they won't. But at least maybe you'll quiet the "have to learn about history now!!" bug in your brain.

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

New articles page!

Check out my new Articles page (via the tab at the top of the blog)! This is just a start. It will grow. I like it a lot.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Antidote to "My Promise to My Children"

Ugh. That overly dramatic parental promise is making the Facebook rounds again. One variation is like this:

My promise to my children. I am not your friend. I am your mom. I will stalk you, flip out on you, lecture you, drive you insane, be your worst nightmare & hunt you down like a bloodhound when needed because I LOVE YOU! When you understand that, I will know you are a responsible adult. You will NEVER find someone who loves, prays, cares and worries about you more than I do! Re-post if you are a parent and agree.

It's sort of like a scary, evil twist on The Runaway Bunny. Parents want to keep their kids safe. We want to help them grow up safe and morally sound and responsible. Sometimes we get frustrated by what our kids say or do, and sometimes we fear for them now or for their future, and we don't know how to talk to them, how to reach them, how to convey important messages to them. I get that. But still. Rather than try to justify our irrational and frankly insane responses to our children being human -- I promise to stalk you and flip out on you and hunt you down because I love you!!! -- maybe we'd do better to promise to improve our perspectives, responses, and selves. Maybe vow to let something other than fear guide our actions and reactions. Maybe vow to shore up our connections more frequently during the easier times -- talk less, listen more; control less, observe more; have fun together -- so we won't be surprised suddenly one day, during a hard time, to find that the connections are irreparably broken, and our children just plain don't care to listen to us anymore.

Maybe vow to repeat this a lot:
"The moment when I am most repelled by a child's behavior, that is my sign to draw the very closest to that child." --Ann Voskamp

Also, we might promise to love ourselves better. That way, maybe we won't find ourselves resenting our loved ones for all that we're giving them that we're not even giving ourselves, and then using that resentment to justify our flipping-out and hunting-down nuttiness. ("Look what I do for you that I don't even do for myself! And you don't even appreciate me! You don't even hear me! Well, I'll make sure you hear me! Remember: this is for your own good!")

“If you aren't good at loving yourself, you will have a difficult time loving anyone, since you'll resent the time and energy you give another person that you aren't even giving to yourself.” --Barbara De Angelis

We don't flip out on our kids because they don't listen, or because they're bratty, or because they just have to learn, or because it's the only way to keep them from getting spoiled, or because we don't want them to grow up irresponsible and rude, or because we couldn't help it, or because we're afraid for them, or because who wouldn't in this situation?, or because we just love them soooo much. Those are rationalizations. We flip out on them because we haven't found a better way. We flip out on them because we've lost it -- lost our reason, lost our self-control, lost our sense of perspective. When we flip out (and we will), we should acknowledge that we've just flipped out, of course, but we should not try to justify it. We should not say, "But I had to, because my kid did this" or "But I had to, because my kid did that" or "But I had to, because my kid wasn't listening!" No. We did not have to. That's just the grown-up version of "But she started it!" Even preschool teachers don't accept that as an excuse. (At least, not among the children. They might justify their own occasional meanness by citing how horrible the kids were today, though.) Flipping out is not justifiable, and it is certainly not something we should write a whole manifesto about, promising our children we will do it. It's something we should apologize for doing after we've done it. Flipping out is not a sign of love. It does not mean we don't love our children either; we can flip out and still love them, of course. But it is neither a sign of love nor a result of it. Flipping out is a mistake, a misstep. Flipping out is a sign that we have failed to find a better way, and a sign that we should think about our responses, our equilibrium, our mental health, and what we should change now (in our lives, in our children's lives), and what we might do differently next time around.

When I flip out, I can't blame my child. Maybe he made a mess, maybe she hit somebody, maybe he skipped school, maybe she was sassy, maybe he refused to so something he was asked to do (again), maybe she did something that she was told not to do (again), maybe he whined (again), maybe she lied (again), maybe he stole. Fine; but he cannot make me flip out. I may well feel sad or frustrated or angry, I may be at a loss for what to do now, but whether or not I then flip out is my choice, and no one else's fault.

I can't force my child to hear me or act right; I can't shock him into it by yelling or breaking things or otherwise "flipping out." I cannot force my child to be grateful, respectful, responsible, smart, or kind. Not by flipping out or being dramatic, and not by smiling and being serene. I can talk to my child, hug my child, listen to my child, explain things to my child, and hear my child's explanations; I can flip out, yell, stalk, punish, threaten, hit, or worse; I can try to change the conditions around us that are giving rise to whatever behaviors are troubling me (and I can work with my child to do this); but I cannot "fix" or change my child. I can only fix myself.

But if I keep our connection and mutual respect intact, as best I can, even when we disagree, even when I'm saying no, you can't do that -- if I try to remain a trusted resource, rather than a threat -- I can hope to influence my child. And that's about the best I can hope for, I think.

About "the promise," I love this healthy response from The Path Less Taken (who concludes, "I'm not here to be the warden. I'm here to be the mom"), and this other lovely post I happened across, from a blog called Choose Love.

Here is the beginning of the promise from Choose Love. Please click through to her site to read the rest.

My Promise to My Children
I promise to always make sure that you know you matter.  And I will never stop making you aware of this fact.
I promise to love you even if you are unlovable in the moment. 
I promise to be there.  Not just physically, but emotionally as well.  Nothing is more important to me than being there for you.
I promise to keep an open mind when talking with you.  I know that you are not me and therefore I realize that you process and handle things differently then I do, and that’s alright. ...  

Thursday, February 9, 2012

"Ready" to learn?


When I heard PBS's "I'm ready to learn!" campaign some years ago, watching Sesame Street with my tot, I was nonplussed. All these four-year-olds were saying, "I'm ready to learn!" (as a result of watching PBS, was the implication). And I thought, "Ready? 'Ready' to learn? You ARE learning! You've learned how to walk, feed yourself, talk, make your way in your world -- children, you are not 'ready' to learn, you ARE learning every day!"

And here it is again. This fine post is by Wendy Priesnitz: http://www.wendypriesnitz.com/blog/adults_dont_teach_kids_how_to_learn.html

She says, quoting a news article about how play is good for kids:

“Education officials counter by saying that play should be a central part of preschoolers’ learning, but that kids also need to be ready to learn when they start school.” (Italics are mine.) That’s right under a banner that says, “The Early Years. Planting the Seeds For Learning.” What, on earth, do these so-called “experts” think children do from the time they’re born until schools get their hands on them? They learn, of course!

See? Exactly.

I think that, for many if not most people, learning only counts as "learning" if you do it because somebody told you to. Or if you do it in a school. Or if you don't want to, but you do it anyway because you have to. If you learn something just for fun, or just because you want to, or by accident, then it doesn't count; it's not "real" learning. "Real" learning only happens when somebody says to you, "Learn this," and then you learn it.

Why else would people dream up phrases like "ready to learn," referring to young people who thus far have learned an astounding amount at an incredible rate? Why else would people be SOOOOO doubtful about homeschooling, or any other way of learning outside of the sit-in-rows and learn-what-I-tell-you school model?

I think it works like this:

When you learn to walk and speak and climb out of your crib and dress yourself and ask for help and unlock the door and pet the cat nicely and say the alphabet and peel a banana and play Candyland and say "that's not fair, he got more," that's not learning, that's merely "getting ready to learn."

When you learn to read after watching the page as Mom or Dad or Grandma or your brother reads to you, or you learn to count by fives because that's how the kids do it when they play hide-and-seek, that's not what people call learning either, that's just "picking it up."

But when you repeat some things the teacher tells you to repeat, or copy some things the teacher tells you to copy, just because she told you to, now THAT's learning. That counts. THAT is what those PBS actor tykes mean when they say that they (finally, having mastered walking and dressing and speaking without any formal schooling) are "ready to learn." This is what they are "ready" to do: whatever they're told. Sit now, move now, speak now, repeat now, remember now, forget now. Because doing what you're told -- especially if it happens in a school -- THAT, friend, is what we call "learning."

Thursday, February 2, 2012

Is college worth it?

I’m sure the answer to whether college (generally meaning attendance at a four-year residential undergrad college) is worth the time and expense depends on the individual, the individual’s goals, and the college or university the person wants to attend. A number of people have addressed the question, and here are a few:


From a New York Times blog called “The Choice”:
http://thechoice.blogs.nytimes.com/2012/02/02/why-go-to-college-at-all/
Although college provides structure and resources for learning, “I don’t know that structure is a good thing,” he said. “When you go out into the world, there’s no structure like that. A job doesn’t give you a syllabus.” He added, “Learners should be able to access resources on their own terms.”  ...
“College is a sandbox that gives you a false sense of reality,” he said. “It’s much more beneficial to learn what it means to direct your own life.” Learners are better off spending early adulthood developing self-reliance, he said.


And here are a few posts by James Altucher, on his own blog, about college:
“Don’t Send Your Kid to College”: http://www.jamesaltucher.com/2010/02/dont-send-your-kids-to-college/
“10 More Reasons Why Parents Should Not Send Their Kids to College”: http://www.jamesaltucher.com/2011/01/10-more-reasons-why-parents-should-not-send-their-kids-to-college/
“8 Alternatives to College”: http://www.jamesaltucher.com/2011/01/8-alternatives-to-college/


Here is an article by Daniel B. Smith in New York magazine, called “The University Has No Clothes,” summing up the arguments: http://nymag.com/news/features/college-education-2011-5/


An article by Kevin Carey in the Chronicle of Higher Education (http://chronicle.com/article/Academically-Adrift-The/130743/) summarizes the book Academically Adrift, by Richard Arum and Josipa Roksa (which I have just loaded on my e-reader!). An excerpt from the article:

College leaders have long excused decades of relentlessly rising prices, exploding student-loan debt, and alarmingly high dropout rates with the assumption that students are learning. The prices are reasonable and the loans repayable, they say, because of the skills and knowledge that students acquire in exchange. And while dropouts are regrettable, we are told, that's an unavoidable—nay, admirable—consequence of maintaining high academic standards.
Academically Adrift exposed the bankruptcy of those assertions. But it didn't reveal anything that college leaders didn't know, in quiet rooms behind closed doors, all along. Academe was so slow to produce this research because it told the world things that those in academe would rather the world didn't know.



Here is a site called UnCollege (http://www.uncollege.org/), that says:
We are not against college. We do not want to end university, raze classrooms, burn books, or fire professors. We are not boycotting college.  We simply challenge the notion that college is the only path to success. ...
It’s false to say there are only three doors in life:
   1.  go to college and get an office job
   2.  become the next Mark Zuckerberg
   3.  drop out and do jello shots in your basement 
You can lead a happy, productive life and contribute to society without having a college degree.  You can create your own door.


And finally, an article by Andrew J. Rotherham in Time magazine that says, “Actually, College Is Very Much Worth It”: http://www.time.com/time/nation/article/0,8599,2072432,00.html

Monday, January 30, 2012

Magical mentors

Here is an article about "urban" homeschoolers first published in Newsweek: "Why Urban, Educated Parents Are Turning to DIY Education."

It's a more balanced assessment than many I've seen, although it voices the usual fears about children growing up warped and socially inept from too much family togetherness, and about parents (especially mothers) being somehow neurotic for enjoying the time they spend with their kids, and of course there's the "if urban, educated people can do it, then it must not be all THAT crazy" implication. And this part still made me roll my eyes:

"They worry that formal schooling might dim their children’s love of learning (yet there is a flip side: a reduced likelihood of being inspired along the way by the occasional magical teacher, full of passion and skill)."

Are such magical mentors only to be found in traditional schools? They are there, yes (for some lucky children; others never find them), but they can also be found in churches, in families, in neighborhoods, as tutors, in community classes, in scouting or drama or computer clubs. Perhaps people tend to focus on the teacher-student bond because teachers (and maybe coaches, for the athletes) are the only adults, besides parents, with whom children have any significant, near-daily contact. If children had the opportunity to spend a significant amount of time with non-teacher adults as well, then maybe their opportunities for finding those "occasional magical" mentors would increase; maybe the magical mentors would be less "occasional." And maybe the relationship would last, too, more than just a year or two, after which the child must move on to other teachers, and the teacher on to other students, and the daily closeness turns into nostalgia. Maybe spending less time at school and more time out in the world would increase, not decrease, the likelihood of finding those magical mentors. Also, woe be the child who has to spend a whole year -- or several -- with a teacher with whom the bond is decidedly not magical.

Saturday, December 3, 2011

Question it all

A worthwhile perspective. From a blog by Shannon Hayes; the post is called "Unschooling Drop Outs." Here's the crux, but do read the whole thing:

As a Radical Homemaker I know that my job is to challenge everything…and sometimes that means challenging our own radical ideas.

Sometimes I fear I'm not "unschooling" right because sometimes Wunderkind takes enrichment classes, and sometimes we progress methodically through a book or a course of study (usually of my choosing). Other times I fear I'm not "homeschooling" right because sometimes we don't finish a book, we quit what we started, and we can go for days without doing anything that looks like "school." Shouldn't I be more organized? Or -- no, shouldn't I be less organized? Oh dear.

I wonder if he's learning what he needs to know to grow up, be independent, go to college and/or get a job, have happy relationships... and then I remember that he is nine years old. And a super engaged and curious and happy kid, all told.

All right then.

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Connecting content to daily lives

Education Week posted this article today: "Experts Say Social Sciences Are 'Left Behind'." Here's an excerpt:

As the majority of states implement common-core content standards, some experts are arguing that the focus on mathematics and language arts leaves out the social and economic studies that can help students connect content to their daily lives.

On its Facebook page introducing the article, EW asks:

Can schools live up to the common standards without losing touch with social sciences? How?

All I can think is: Suggest that the kids do school at home and out in the real world. Everything is already integrated there. If the goal is to "help students connect content to their daily lives," then let them learn the content in the course of living their daily lives. 

The article also addresses how and why core-content standards are implemented inconsistently from state to state, or from district to district within a state. There's just too much to cover, the focus has been placed mainly on reading and math to the exclusion of other subjects, etc. This helps me to feel less insecure when people ask if we're following the standard school curriculum. Which standard school curriculum? There isn't one.

Monday, October 17, 2011

Trial by ice

Some Native American tribes used to have their kids sit in icy water or hold sharp things for a while, to toughen them up or teach them about endurance or stoicism or survival or something. Nowadays, our endurance trials are more psychological, I think: boredom, unfairness, bullying, peer pressure, time pressure, performance pressure. And they last longer, roughly daily for 13 years, minus summers.

Last night I thought of this as I began to reread the book Family Matters: Why Homeschooling Makes Sense, by David Guterson, which I first read several years ago; it remains one of my favorite book about homeschooling for providing what I think is a fair assessment of both traditional schooling (the author is a high school English teacher who seems to love his job) and homeschooling. Here's an excerpt from Chapter 1 (boldface mine):

"Proponents of the school-of-hard-knocks approach will reply that this process of reluctant adaptation [of children to traditional schooling] is a fine and necessary part of education and teaches young people the truth about adult life. Expect to be misunderstood; expect to be bored by much of what comes your way; expect to be ignored, to have your needs to unmet, to have to adjust to the world -- don't expect it to adjust to you. They are right, of course, that these lessons must be learned and that schools teach these lessons exceedingly well, with great power, perhaps indelibly. The sad part is that in the process schools have also been exceedingly good at snuffing out the desire of many young people to understand their world. Schools have taught them to associate learning with this painful form of misunderstanding and with a frustrated boredom that ought to be the exception in their educational experience, not the rule. To acclimate students to misery under the rubric that so doing prepares them for life is a cynical notion -- and a horrifying one. Rather, in shaping the academic experiences of our young we should recall that they are individuals who, with no help from our institutions -- but because life simply is what it is -- will learn by osmosis of the injustice of the adult world they will one day both define and inhabit."

And then this morning I was greeted with this insightful blog entry from Mama Be Good: What Does "Cold, Cruel World" Really Mean?. This, too, articulates my thoughts about how we justify introducing misery, or not relieving it, by saying we're only trying to get their kids used to dealing with it, rather than just letting the world introduce the misery all by itself, as it will, and then meeting it with our kids as it comes. For example, maybe we (meaning Westerners; our society at large) don't introduce the bullies (young or old, student or teacher), but we do introduce the conditions under which the bullies flourish, and we do refuse to change those conditions (and here I have to assert that a few "bullying is bad" seminars, or a new "bullies will be prosecuted harshly" law or two, do nothing to change the conditions): "I know you're being bullied and teased and cracking under the pressure of being compared hourly to your peers and suffering emotionally and don't know how to deal with it -- except maybe by hiding in the bathroom or skipping school or becoming a bully yourself or pretending you don't care that you're bad at math, so there -- but I'm going to make you go to school anyway and hope that you'll just figure it out, all by yourself there because you're not allowed to have a helper with you because it's school, and that's the rule."

An excerpt from Mama Be Good's blog post:

"Yes, life is full of disappointment, heartache, and rejection. Does this theory mean I should heap more disappointment on my child so he'll get used to it, as if more exposure means less disappointment? Or that a child gets used to disappointment just by experiencing it? Or that my child experiencing disappointment early will speed things up? Kinda like more, earlier, faster, easier?
"But that's not the way life works. It's the other way around. The more childhood loss and anxiety, the more risk for depression."

Make a kid sit in icy water once or twice, OK, maybe they'll learn something about coldness and enduring icy water. Make a kid sit in icy water near daily for 13 years, they're either going to learn that they hate water, and they hate everybody who made them sit in it, and they want nothing to do with any of it ever again, OR they're going to undergo a disturbing resolution of cognitive dissonance in which they convince themselves that they actually secretly loved that icy water, and they appreciate all the people who made them sit in it despite their howling protests, and that's why they're going to make their own kids sit in it too.

Friday, October 14, 2011

All things

For months now, DS has been mildly sad that the letter "x" is not used in any word at all in any dialog or song in "Seussical the Musical." He has pored over it (in his memory, and in the liner notes to the CDs of two different versions of the musical): no "x" in the whole production. Every other letter is represented, but "x" is not. Such are the things that matter, and not just a little. 

Well, today he was telling me about the Angry Birds series called "The Mighty Hoax," and how he knew what "hoax" meant when he saw the name of that series because of that one line in a song from "Seussical the Musical," where the Wickersham Brothers say, "It's an elephant hoax!" He hadn't known what the word meant when he first heard that, so he looked it up on his electronic speller/dictionary (see? he showed me how he did it, long long ago), and it gave him the definition (just like that, see?), so when he saw the Angry Birds series called "The Mighty Hoax" the other day, he already knew what that word meant. (pause a few seconds) Hey! (he said) There IS an "x" in "Seussical the Musical"!! Yay!!! I don't have to be sad about that anymore!!! And he leapt gloriously around the kitchen for a while. (Somehow, all things tie together. All. Things.)

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Something so right

Sometimes I wonder if I'm doing the right thing. (Seriously, no kidding, I do! I have doubts sometimes.) Today DS finished his French workbook. His homework (from his weekly homeschool enrichment class) is supposed to be two lessons per week from this book till the end of this fall term (end of November), but he got impatient and did it all today. Tonight before bed he asked if tomorrow we could read the whole story in the book again together, but this time one line in English, one line in French, etc., alternating all the way through. Y'ok, sure thing. (He also decided to put Post-Its all over the house: "la porte" on the door, "le frigo" on the fridge, etc. And we made up a game of Go Fish to play with the French/Mandarin/Spanish vocab flash cards, to make those more fun.)

But, you know, academics aren't everything, right? Right. He should be practicing discipline or waking up early every day (so he'll know how to do it later, when he's grown up) or sitting still or being bored often (and dealing with it) or being confused often (and dealing with it) or talking to kids and teachers more or ... I don't know. Navigating the world, asking people questions. There really are important challenges and things that kids learn in school (daily school, I mean; traditional school) that they can't learn at home, right? Remembering homework assignments and doing them -- there's one! Lining up and waiting. Eating in a cafeteria. Playing team games. Following verbal directions. Being quiet. There must be lots of others. Enduring the (shudder!) school bus.

Sometimes, honestly, I think homeschooling is just too easy. I'm afraid we should be struggling more. No pain, no gain. Isn't learning supposed to be really hard? But ... it mostly isn't, so I'm afraid maybe we're not doing it right. There should be more challenge or strife or something. I should be pushing him or something; challenging him more; making him do more stuff he doesn't want to do because ... because that's what you do to kids. You make them do stuff they don't want to do, because they have to learn, early and often, how to do it anyway. They have to learn that learning and life are hard, and we have an obligation to teach them that.

Wait, what?

Well, anyway, sometimes I like reassurance, so it's nice to see stuff like this article from the blog The Path Less Taken now and then. And it has a reminder about this great book. The author says this about the book, and I agree completely! The book is by a high-school English teacher: "Another great little book ... is 'Family Matters: Why Homeschooling Makes Sense' by David Guterson. It is one of the first books I ever read about homeschooling, and I still recommend it a decade later." (As it happens, me too!)

I'll close with the opening from the blog post from The Path Less Taken: "You don’t have to send your child to school. ... I think this simple truth is often overlooked by many people." It is. Overlooked, or dismissed out of hand, which is nearly the same thing. But once you stop overlooking or dismissing that truth and taking seriously the option of homeschooling, then other options begin to present themselves too. Not that you have to follow them up, but it is nice to know they're there. There are options.

Friday, September 30, 2011

Why make them go?

This is a terrible, awful thing. I keep reading stories like this one. Many, many stories. A child is bullied at school. The child expresses fear, suicidal thoughts, a strong desire to avoid the dangerous place with the dangerous people. The child wants protection; the child does not receive protection. The child continues to express extreme fear and suicidal wishes. So of course the parents and teachers say, "OK then, off you go."

Yes, prevent bullying as best you can. Improve that, absolutely. But also, protect the victims! If they say they're afraid to go back to the mall or the playground or a party or camping or around the block or church or school or off with Uncle Harry without protection, and you can't go with them and be their protection, then don't make them go!

I do not understand.

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Unschooling or "child-led"?

Pam Sorooshian articulates well in this article -- "Unschooling Is Not 'Child-Led Learning'" -- why I, too, am hesitant to use the term "child-led learning" (instead of maybe unschooling or life learning). (By the way, I found this article through the Homechooling Daily Paper.) Pam says:

The term, “child-led learning,” does emphasize something very important – that the child is the learner! I couldn’t agree more. However, it also disregards the significant role played by the parent in helping and supporting and, yes, quite often taking the lead, in the investigation and exploration of the world that is unschooling.

and:

Calling it “child-led learning” gives the wrong impression. It leads to people thinking unschooling means waiting for a child to tell the parent, “I want to do math.” That’s not at all how it works.

Yep. I remember on a message board somewhere, somebody said they would not "teach" their child to read, as in offering direct instruction, even when the child asked how it worked -- how the letters made words. They thought it was more organic or something for the child to figure it out for herself. How mean, and how frustrating for the child!

About parents sometimes taking the lead, I think one concept to overcome is that a parental suggestion, in an unschooling-style family, is not an order to be obeyed. It's just a suggestion. That is, in many families, if Mom says, "Here's a DVD about learning Spanish that I think you'll like. Let's watch it," it actually means, "We are going to watch this, like it or not." Well, people moving toward noncoercion or unschooling might want to avoid doing anything that sounds like giving orders (or anything that sounds typically "academic"), so they might not ever suggest doing anything academic-sounding like this, lest they be mistaken for a traditional order-giving authoritarian. Which could leave out a lot of interesting activities! Parents will have some knowledge of a great many things that the children couldn't know about all by themselves (how would the child have known that this Spanish-language DVD even existed, or that Spanish could be a fun thing to learn?), and it behooves them to introduce those things to their children. The key, I guess, is "introduce," not "force."

And, of course, when a child does express an interest in something they found all by themselves, then by all mean, follow it up! As much as the child wants you to. Maybe the child wants to learn how to play a guitar. Some children will want formal private lessons at this point; now it's time for the parents to find a teacher and maybe some interesting music or chord charts or something. Some children will prefer group lessons, so the parents can look for that. Other children won't want formal lessons at all; they'll prefer learning and playing by themselves. So maybe find some do-it-yourself instructional videos or books, or maybe not. Involvement, support -- not pushiness.