Archive for the ‘Educational Philosophies’ Category

Just found this as I was folding laundry and watching TED talks (a very good afternoon multi-tasking activity). I know I am a little behind, as this is from two years ago…but I thought I’d share it anyway because it is still relevant.  In this TED talk, Sir Ken Robinson speaks about radically shifting our ideas of education and learning from standardization to personalization (from an industrial model to an agricultural model). He briefly mentions children choosing to be educated at home with their families (16:10). He finishes up with the touching (yes, I shed a tiny tear) idea, with imagery derived from a Yates poem, that every day our children who have nothing else to offer of their very own, spread their dreams under our feet and he leaves us with the admonition to tread softly. Okay, not doing it justice…watch the video.

“Its about passion. Often people are good at things they don’t really care for. Its about passion and what excites our spirit and our energy. And if you’re doing the thing that you love to do, that you’re good at, time takes a different course entirely… If you’re doing something you love an hour feels like five minutes. If you are doing something that doesn’t resonate with your spirit, five minutes feels like an hour. And the reason so many people are opting out of education is because it doesn’t feed their spirit. It doesn’t feed their energy or their passion. So I think we have to change metaphors. We have to go from what is essentially an industrial model of education, a manufacturing model, which is based on linearity and conformity and batching people. We have to move to a model that is based more on principles of agriculture. We have to recognize that human flourishing is not a mechanical process it’s an organic process. And you cannot predict the outcome of human development. All you can do, is like a farmer, is create the conditions under which they will begin to flourish.”

Watch the video:

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Our oldest just turned 5 years old. This brings to the surface a whole lot of thoughts and feelings that have been inching their way up over the last several years. Since we are unschooling, it doesn’t change our lives in the way it would if she was heading off to kindergarten at the end of the summer. But, I do feel some pressure that I didn’t feel when my kids were all pre-school aged.

This fall, I will need to file with the state. I don’t think this will be much of a problem. Although the official nature of filling out and filing forms adds a tiny bit to the pressure.

Now, whenever someone asks how old my children are, I will either have to figure out another way of answering this question or we’re bound to have the kindergarten related questions rain down. I saw a little bit of this after our oldest turned four. Its just like all the other questions and comments that strangers make in front of your children that you wish they’d keep to themselves. How many times can a child hear that their parents must have their hands full before thinking they must be a burden? How many times does a child need to hear how excited they must be that they are going to be in kindergarten soon before they start believing that that’s where they belong? Just wondering out loud, online.

A lot of the pressure is self-inflicted. I can feel my neck crane to see what it is that everyone else is doing.

What are those 5-year-olds learning? Are they reading? Is my 5-year-old at their level? “Do you want to read another Bob book, honey?” How much of the alphabet does my 3-year-old really know? Are those 18-month-olds as advanced as mine?

It always makes me sick when I find myself doing this. So, I shut myself up and steal myself against my own wandering mind. I get out a book on something I am interested in and I try really hard to lose myself in it, usually failing. Because what I really want to know is will they all aprove?

And, then, I remind myself that they will never all aprove and that’s when I go back to feeling relief that we are doing exactly what we believe (based on the facts set before us and those that we have spent years seeking out and will continue researching) is best for each of our children as individuals.

Then, I feel calm for a moment. And I practice my labor breathing (which is as much for other stages of parenting as it is for the very beginning) as I listen to the kids happily lost in what is most interesting to them in this very moment.

I think all of this “pressure” will end up for good in that it will shift my focus for a while. I’m sure over the next few months and maybe the rest of the year, my “currently reading” list will be comprised of more education and parenting related books again. Its always nice to go back to topics after a little break, the subject having had time for rumination. I have a few on my shelf that I plan on getting to when my interest shifts.

Any reading suggestions?

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I don’t know, I guess when people have asked if our oldest is in preschool yet I’ve figured that my, “well, we are planning on homeschooling” would be enough of an answer.  Apparently its not though. People often still want to know why that would have anything to do with us not sending our kids to preschool.

According to the statistics, children who attend preschool are more likely to learn to read, they tend to read better, they are more likely to graduate from high school and attend college.  They are also less likely to need public assistance and be incarcerated as adults.

I can see how people who have heard these statistics and think that these particular achievements are the definition of success (or at least see them as important milestones for a successful life) can think, why in the world would you not send your child to preschool. (I can’t keep myself from pointing out that most of these folks aren’t having babies in January, changing their surnames to names that start with the letter ‘A,’ or only having first-born children. All of which would also give their children a leg-up academically and fiscally.) But, I can see how they would think that even if you are planning on homeschooling, it might be a good idea to send your children to an institutionalized preschool if you want them to succeed in life at least in these areas.

If you are planning to teach your children that learning takes place in the classroom with a teacher and a textbook or occasionally in a library with a book or on a special occasion in a museum with an instructor, well, I guess that it makes sense that preschool would condition those that take part to be better equipped to handle their time in school (whether its the dining room table or the more popular classroom). I can totally see why you would want to give them a head start, a leg up, and a preview of the next 13 years of their life and how that might be beneficial. But, what if you are not planning on ever teaching your children that the classroom (or dining room table) is the place for learning?

Why would I want to condition my children to believe these things?

To be fair. I’m not telling everyone who asks this question that we are planning on unschooling.  I don’t feel that it is necessary for strangers at the playground to know this about us. It is easier to say we are homeschooling or that we are going to be homeschooling and that we do pre-school-y things all the time at home. We are reading to them, getting them excited about learning, taking them places they are interested in and introducing them to all sorts of things that they might find fascinating and want to explore more in the coming years. Our (rather shy) 4yo’s current favorite thing to do when we go new places is to meet and make new friends. We let them (and encourage our kids to) develop relationships with all the people in their lives and not just the 2 and 4 year olds we know. We are carefully helping them develop the social skills that their personalities and ages need to navigate several social situations and environments.

We love our un(pre)school life and look forward to learning so many things in the years to come in a natural, organic sort of way. I love the fact that our kids won’t have to de-school themselves as much as I have had to do. I love that they can keep learning everywhere and that they don’t have to spend these precious preschool years learning how to learn in a classroom. I guess not sending my kids to preschool is a form of censorship.  I’m not teaching them that anyone else is in charge of their education. I’m not teaching them that raising your hand, standing in line, coloring on the “correct” side of the worksheet are all necessary skills to learning new things. Although not sending my kids to preschool is a form of censorship, its really all about freedom. Its censoring out people and systems that want to give these little people lifetimes of educational censorship.

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Last week we were visiting Disneyland with some family friends. They have a 4yo son who is in preschool. Our oldest daughter is 3 months younger. They are both the oldest children in their families and they are both Myers-Briggs J’s. Typically, J’s like to live an ordered life and they like it when decisions have been made. Our kids are good friends and we enjoy hanging out as families. As our lives continue to take different paths we’ve remained friends and mutually find the different results interesting.

At lunch, their pre-schooled 4yo began making a game out of “raise your hand if…” It turned out to be a very one-sided game as his directives were almost wholly ignored on the part of our 4yo.

Later that day at dinner, our 4yo turned her restaurant activity sheet over and began coloring butterflies and flowers on the back. Her 4yo friend began to tell her that she was “doing it wrong. You’re not suppose to color on that side!  You color on this side!” Again he was ignored by our 4yo. Well, she did give him a brief incredulous stare before going back to her drawing.

His propensity to need order was causing him to want everyone to follow some rule that a teacher taught him. He has successfully learned which side of the paper is the correct side on which to color. Our 4yo’s propensity to need order showed itself too. If you look at her drawing from that evening, without any prompting or suggestion, she decided to color neatly inside each of the boxed off areas that the folds in the paper created. Two J’s whose personalities desire order. One is being taught the “right” way to find this structure and one found a way to satisfy this personal need on her own.

Its difficult for me to write about this subject because it is a comparing of our kids and theirs. I don’t generally like to do this sort of thing out loud or in writing, but really, this is how we figure out what we want and what we don’t want in life. We compare. We contrast. We figure out what we think is best and hopefully we have the courage to go with that best.

Our friends’ decision to send their kids to school (and preschool) is what they think is best. They will be happy, I hope, that their son knows how to politely raise his hand before asking or answering a question posed by a teacher. They will be happy, I hope, that their son knows which side of the paper is the “correct” side on which to color. And, I hope, they will be happy with the results.  I really do.

But, I really don’t want our kids to think or ever learn that this is the “correct” way to learn (in a classroom, on worksheets, with a designated teacher, etc.). I want them to love to learn. I don’t want them to think that this is something that needs or should take place in any specific setting or at any particular age or time of day. I want them to enjoy being human. They already enjoy life and love to learn new things to no end. They’ve hardly ever let on that they notice the painful stretching that comes with growth and learning and living. When they do, and when it becomes too tough, they take a break and move on to something else. They always come back though on their own and they are always excited about picking up something that they’d set aside for a while.

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She’s drawing a picture of “dogs in a cage, on top of a house and outside in the shining sun.”  She tells us the dogs’ stories as she draws.  She writes the name of her Grandma’s goldfish on the top of the page.  She explains that she’s going to give the drawing to the fish.  She tells us what some of the things on the page symbolize (hearts are for love and the sun is for “feeling happy”). She signs her own name at the bottom of the page and then she makes up and sings what she calls “The Poodle Song.”

How do we categorize this time? Drawing, artistic symbolism, music composition and performance, reading and writing, story and generosity?  It is abundance. With everything in rich context. Yet some would feel more comfortable if I would say, “its time to practice your letters. Now let’s sit down and quietly focus on writing the alphabet.”

If everything she learns has a clear context, will she feel the need to search for meaning?

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Before our first daughter was born, people were already asking if we were planning to homeschool.  I’m not sure if the plan for a child’s education is a common baby shower topic, but for me it was.  Its probably primarily because I was homeschooled as a child and people wondered if I’d follow in my parents’ footsteps.

My answer back then to the “are you going to homeschool” inquiries was usually a simple and upbeat “probably.”  If the conversation went further, I might have explained that I was still trying to figure out my educational philosophy.

So, I spent the last few years reading and thinking and asking and finding some of the answers to a whole bunch of questions. Like: What does it mean to get an education? Why is an education important? How do kids learn? How did I learn best? Why did my husband excel at school? What does he want our kids to know? What do I want them to know? What styles and philosophies of education mesh with our parenting styles and philosophies? How important is it to treat each child as an individual? Oh, and so many more questions.  There might have been a thousand other questions.  Each question could be a full post or multiple posts in some cases and maybe they eventually will be.  Although, there are already a lot of books, articles and blog posts out there that eloquently attempt to answer some of those questions.

I’ll skip ahead to say that at this stage, with that first baby now a 4yo, and a 2yo and a 7mo here too, we are still planning on homeschooling.  But more specifically we are planning on unschooling. This blog is intended to chronicle all that pertains on this particular journey.

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