Monthly Archives: March 2011

Where It Leads To

The other day I received an email from my eldest, now 22. She wrote, “Hi mom, I just finished up a neat little drawing last night…I was just doodling while watching ‘The Patriot’ (to get “primed” for my History final today) and it sort of fell out.”

Attached was a photo of her sketch…

For someone who feels challenged by stick figures, I am constantly amazed at Danielle’s talent. Watching her skills evolve over the years has been particularly interesting, and feeling at all a part of the process has been very rewarding.

When Danielle first showed an interest in art, I was instantly on board. Sketch books, instructional books on how to draw, watercolors, charcoals, oils – I would buy it all, whether she asked for it or not.

Some of my purchases fell flat. I remember her looking over the charcoals at first with an uncertain expression, unsure if I would understand if she didn’t use them. “Use them, don’t use them,” I shrugged, “I got them for you to experiment with. Do what you will with them.”

For as little as I understood of art, simply giving her the tools was enough. If they interested her, she would learn to use them. If they didn’t, then she wouldn’t. I wanted her exposed to everything, so that she could then make up her mind what to play with and what not to.

Trips to the Nelson-Atkins art museum were, for the most part, mind-numbingly boring for me. I enjoyed the historical exhibits (the Egyptian artifacts, Asian furniture and pet cricket collection, and medieval religious artifacts), but sadly, most art does absolutely nothing for me.

Not so for my artistic daughter. She drank up the artists, stared for long minutes at paintings, and practiced sketching. While I read a book or worked on a cross-stitch project, she would sketch away, slowly refining her abilities.

I arranged for her to attend a silkscreening class at Mattie Rhodes Art Center and stood by proudly when she had her first art exhibition at the Old Opera House in Belton – a collection of character reproductions of Neil Gaiman’s Sandman graphic novel. That earned her a spot in the local paper at the age of sixteen.

Danielle developed her talents the old-fashioned way, with plenty of patience and skill-building. Aside from arranging a class or two, providing art supplies and a handful of trips to the Nelson Atkins, my role was primarily a spectator sport.

And that is the way it should be. I gave Danielle the tools, and she chose to teach herself to fly. This is where child-led learning (also known as unschooling) leads to – an explosion of talent, drive and energy.

As I have said before – our job is to provide the basics, and then step out of the way.

What happens next is so beautiful, so simple and clean. All I can think of as I look at the following pictures is…this is where it leads to.

Circa 2003 - Anime character (Danielle's age - 15 years old)

Mermaid sketch - circa 2004 - (Danielle's age - 16 years)

Death from Neil Gaiman's Sandman series (Danielle's age - 16 years)

circa 2008 - a character from one of Danielle's stories (Danielle's age - 20 years old)

circa 2008 - Annie, a character from Danielle's stories (Danielle's age - 20 years old)

2011 - current "lipstick girl" project in progress (Danielle's age - 22 years)

 

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Books and the Budding Writer

“Never be without a good book on hand. If you will read and ponder, you will find that it stimulates your educational thought in many directions and keeps you from drifting into mere routine. Do not think this is a selfish thing to do, because the advance does not end with yourself.” – Charlotte Mason

Emily choosing a bedtime story...or two...or three

I have approximately 400 books in my home. I thought this was a lot until I read an article about a homeschooling family who has 4,000! Which got me to thinking about books, how much I have always enjoyed them, and how well they have served me over the years.

When asked what got her to finally learn to read, my eldest said to me, “You always had your nose in a book, Mom. I decided I was going to learn what the big deal about reading was.”

Having plenty of books around naturally encourages reading. And despite my husband’s efforts to convince me that a Kindle is the way to go (he says it looks like a library vomited all over our house!), I have remained determined to surround myself in books of all sizes.

The Benefits of a Large Book Collection

“The greatest university of all is the collection of books.” – Thomas Carlyle

Having books of your own, in your home, is something I would consider a necessary luxury. Not just the most recent on the market, but even the more antiquated tomes can be attractive. I remember reading a play centered on the Salem Witch trials out of a turn-of-the-century book in my mother’s antique book collection. It was fascinating, I read it over and over.

All 14 Oz books - plus a few spinoffs

In my own home we have the classics, as well as the full series of Oz books written by L. Frank Baum (14 in all), but we also have several shelves filled with antique books. As Emily grows, she will have plenty of variety to choose from. As it is, our little four-year-old has more books now than I did at the age of 25, so she is well on her way!

Some antique books - and me in 1974

An article in the November/December 2010 issue of Practical Homeschooler extols the virtues of a large book collection. Jeannette Webb wrote, “The secret to being able to follow the kids’ curiosity was to have a well-stocked library at home. If I had to wait for a trip to town to check out a book from the library, my little children would have already lost interest. By being able to follow up immediately, their interest was often piqued for weeks.”

Scheduling regular reading time

I try and make it a priority to read to our daughter at least twice a day. This doesn’t always happen, but it is the goal! Her favorite reading spots are cuddled up in our bed at night or snuggled on the sofa during the day. In both cases, her warm little body is tucked close against me, my arm around her.For us, reading time is a time of bonding, of cuddling and complete undivided attention.

Even if your children are already well-versed with reading, consider having a family reading hour, where members can switch off or take turns reading aloud from a book you have all agreed upon. This encourages established readers to become familiar with cadence and rhythm.

I learned to read at an early age and I remember my kindergarten teachers going into raptures over my ability to read with emphasis. It served me well at age six, and it still serves me well now. It gave me a feel for the natural rhythm of speech, which was an inestimable help when I began to teach community education classes.

Encouraging Writing

Even if the goal is not to help mold a future professional writer, encouraging writing in all forms is one of the greatest gifts you can give to your child.

My mother and father encouraged me to write whenever possible, and this included thank you cards, letters and more. I won’t claim to have been good at writing letters or thank you notes – at least not until I was well and thoroughly grown, but it was definitely an important theme in our house and one that I have tried to perpetuate.

One of the ways I have encouraged writing at an early age is to let my little one dictate to me. When she receives a present, I encourage her to tell the giver what she appreciated about it. This is especially important when given a gift card, so that the giver (usually my uncle) will know that his gift was appreciated and well-spent.

Little Emily has also dictated letters to be sent to her older sister, far away in California. And when I mentioned this to my dad he remembered his father writing down stories that my dad and his brother told him, putting them in little books and having the boys illustrate them. Note: KEEP these, they are marvelous keepsakes. When I asked my dad if they were still around he said, quite sadly, that they were not.

Keep in mind that excellent writing abilities actually come from lots of reading…not diagramming sentences. I consider myself incredibly lucky in that as a teen, in a private high school, I was given the gift of writing by my teachers. It came about by my endless whining and complaining of hating to have to diagram sentences.

I was in a unique high school, one that had all of the students study out of books, no teacher lectured at the front of the room, and our performance dictated our level of freedom. If you got all of your work done each week, your freedoms could increase progressively to the point where you could come and go from campus at will.

So when I dug my heels in and announced my everlasting hatred for the particular English textbook I was having to study, my teachers let me do an amazing thing…they let me write instead of fighting through the lessons in the book. I have no doubt that they were amused, that I would willingly spend two hours writing a poem or essay or the installment of a story rather than simply answering the 5-10 problems in the Warriner’s book.

But allowing me this freedom also had a remarkable side effect…I learned to write…effectively. I learned:

  • How paragraphs functioned – and when it was time to start a new one
  • How to use quotations for speech between characters
  • Rhythm and cadence in poetry
  • Plot and description

In short, I fell in love with writing. To this day, I cannot tell you what a gerund is, or how to properly diagram a sentence. And to this day, I can tell you that it makes no difference. Sure, there are grammatical mistakes. Most of them are caught by the computer’s editing capabilities and the rest by my re-reading what I have written and thinking, Huh, that doesn’t sound quite right, and then making the necessary changes.

So, like the Dress Me dolls, or the learning games, I have to say, there is no better education on how to write than one gets through the act of of the process itself, which in this case is actively reading and writing.

Best get to it!

Part of my self-sufficiency, DIY and gardening collection

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“Weapons of Mass Instruction” by John Taylor Gatto – Chapter Eight & Nine

Welcome back to another installment of my review of “Weapons of Mass Instruction” by John Taylor Gatto. If you have missed any of the earlier chapters, go to the Book Reviews page and simply click on any of the links to read those first. We will be returning to Mr. Gatto’s book each week for another chapter.

*Note: Typical book reviews are ONE post, but Mr. Gatto’s book was so chock full of information that I decided to take it one chapter at a time. Believe me, the wait each week is worth it, but if you grow tired of waiting, you can purchase this book through the link below.

 


Chapter 8: What is Education?

Gatto begins this question by introducing a great German philosopher, Immanuel Kant and Kath’s four questions that strike at the heart of any educational quest:

  • What can I know?
  • What may I hope?
  • What ought I to do?
  • What is Man?

I have to agree with Gatto that it is ironic that Germany, who revered Kant and his work, is the same country that created the basis for compulsory education that we use to this day – essentially turning its back on everything Kant held as important to an educated life.

Gatto’s list, too long to repeat here, described educated (instead of schooled) people and it was a list I sat down and copied out, to review and work through personally. Some of things he described I had down pat, others were worth careful consideration and possible change in order to achieve.

Gatto writes, “Without clear awareness of the short arc of a life, nothing means very much…We need to realize that the dying owe the oncoming generations a world at least as good as the one they experienced while fully alive; if possible a better one.”

p.151 “[School] leaches from the economy its ability to adapt to changing circumstances.”

p.152 “You should begin with the attitude that nothing is wrong in the natural variation which finds one child reading at five and another at twelve. By the time both are fifteen nobody can tell which one learned to read first.”

I was self-taught by age three and proficient by age five. My husband, however, struggled with reading for years. In the 3rd grade a teacher attempted to have him moved to the special needs class. When my mother-in-law insisted they test his IQ first, they discovered he tested out at an incredibly high level – genius material. He struggled with reading, and was eventually diagnosed with dyslexia, although he did not manifest any of the classic symptoms.

Today he believes that he does NOT have dyslexia, instead he simply learns differently, so differently that learning to read in a public school was not just difficult, it was excruciating. To this day, Dave prefers audiobooks over the act of physically reading. He probably ‘reads’ as many, if not more, books than I do on an annual basis and has an amazing memory.

Gatto continues to paint a beautiful picture of what his vision of a school could be, adding, “What makes achieving that…particularly difficult is that the opponents to change are all too frequently our relatives or ourselves.” Our closest friends and family, even ourselves, stand in the way of this ideal education.

For some reason, this chapter and the previous one, have brought back stark memories of the teachers’ lounge – where teachers ran and hid before and after school and during the lunch hour – a place no student was ever welcome. I remember the exclusion hurt my feelings. That, when given the choice, they chose to separate themselves from us, to hide away and meet any intrusion with sharp, barked commands to remove our teenage selves from the premises post-haste.

In this picture that Gatto paints so beautifully, all I can see is me, there in the teacher’s lounge, spending my lunch time laughing and talking with a teacher. Perhaps it is a silly vision, but how I wanted (and continue to dream of) a place of learning where teachers are our friends and mentors, not refugees or prison guards.

Gatto finishes that beautiful picture with the economic advantage, “Any type of change which will produce new value for our society through schooling will involve less school time, less school personnel, less store-bought materials, less interference in the natural processes of learning. Any school reform that will work, academically and behaviorally, will cost much less money than we are currently spending.”

A 2008 article in The Washington Post puts a number on the cost of public school, Andrew Coulson wrote, “We’re often told that public schools are underfunded. In the District [District of Columbia], the spending figure cited most commonly is $8,322 per child, but total spending is close to $25,000 per child — on par with tuition at Sidwell Friends, the private school Chelsea Clinton attended in the 1990s.”

Hell, with a 1/10 of that amount I can give my child an amazing education, far in advance of anything the schools could possibly offer.

Gatto points to the advent of personal computing and asks, “How then did we learn to use [a] computer? By struggle…by  whining to friends, by watching others, by networking…reading books, pushing ourselves. We learned to compute the same way we learned to drive – without much professional help.”

At high school in the early to mid 80s, computers were still DOS-based, slow, non-end-user-friendly monstrosities. I say this from personal experience. I HATED them with a passion most people reserve for liver and onions or brussel sprouts or pelvic exams.

My dad insisted I take a computer science course, something I’m sure he regretted a thousand times over as I whined, cried and yes, even stomped my feet over. In the late 80’s early 90’s came Windows, and with a workable platform that I could understand and interact with, I jumped in feet first. I’ve been attached at the hip to computers ever since.

At several points in the past 21 years I have taken a computer course seeking understanding on a particular program, only to find I knew most if not all of the secrets by the time the class began. Computers are such a perfect example that you don’t need an instructor to tell you what to do, you just learn by asking, “Gee, what will this do?” and clicking a button. Sometimes all hell breaks loose, but most times, it is a learning experience and soon after, a new skill.

Gatto ends this chapter by addressing yet another burning question I had after reading his thoughts on tests and grades. He writes, “Draw a parallel with driving. It’s a dangerous ballet of hand/eye/foot coordination…Notice that everyone who does this actually learns to do it on their own…we don’t demand drivers be schooled, only that they be competent.”

“And think of this: none of these drivers is graded, they pass or they fail the driving test; if they fail they take it a second or third or tenth time until they pass.”

My burning question had arisen out of his concept of school without grades. My mind had immediately fixated on medical students and thought with horror of them sailing through medical school without so much as a sort of “A” in their work. But Gatto points out that with pass or fail, there are still some system of checks and balances.

He asks tongue in cheek, “Shouldn’t motorists have to mount illuminated signs indicating the grade of driver they are?” And while this might be an attractive idea, he continues, writing, “We expect one another, whatever our grades or test scores, to use good judgment in driving and for the most part, we aren’t disappointed.”

Gatto says, “Grades and test scores are a terrible measure of quality” and I can’t help but agree. I’ve goofed off in class, barely done the work, and still gotten an A. I’ve been in classes were I can honestly say I learned absolutely nothing, while maintaining a 4.0 GPA. There is something wrong with a world in which that happens.

Chapter 9: A Letter to My Granddaughter About Dartmouth

This entire chapter is devoted to Gatto’s granddaughter, Kristina. He starts it off by reminiscing over a news photo of Kristina, grinning and holding up the citation she received after riding her bike on a city street in defiance of a city ban.

Gatto then turns his sights on his family’s history, and of course, Kristina’s, listing a long line of rule-breaking, defiant men and women, who fought against injustice, or just simply…fought. He writes, “You’re a chip off the old block alright, Kristina.”

He moves on to question whether Dartmouth is necessarily a good choice for her, or any college for that matter. He writes, “That’s not to say education doesn’t matter. It does. You need finely tuned critical judgment to defend yourself in the dangerous house of mirrors America has become. It’s just that college won’t give you education. Only you can do that.”

That paragraph struck me on a couple of different levels. The “house of mirrors” is reminiscent to me of a discussion I just posted today on my other blog, The Deadly Nightshade, in which my neighbor asked about Cuba, saying “I thought Cuba was…well…bad.” The mirrors in America are very much like funhouse mirrors, they distort, present only one viewpoint, and ignore all others.

I believe the key to our survival, and more importantly, our thriving, is to educate ourselves to see through these distortions to the real world – with all of its varying shades of gray. Only then can we make decisions on a personal, local and even global level that are intelligent and well thought out.

The second part “college won’t give you education. Only you can do that” he clarifies, adding, “You will learn how to game the system at Dartmouth…you’ll learn how to conceal your pain and confusion. You’ll learn to think how and what the boss wants you to think, how to dress as the boss wants you to dress, and how to value what the boss wants you to value. and you’ll learn to believe that all those things were your own idea. It’s very subtle…you won’t even realize it’s happening.”

If a corporate future is your true hope and aspiration, then college is the place to get it. At least, that’s the message I walk away with. However, if you want to learn how to think for yourself, maybe not so much.

Gatto then gives his granddaughter “Grandpa John’s Real Learning Index” – which comprises of eight areas:

  1. Self knowledge – “By now you should have introspected enough to know your own character: its proclivities, strengths, weaknesses, blessings, curses.”
  2. Observation – “Your powers of observation in any situation should be razor sharp: at will you should be able to function like an objective camera/tape recorder sucking in accurate data for later analysis.”
  3. Feedback – “If you rely on test scores and teacher evaluations as stars to steer by you are in for a shock when you discover discrepancies between what you’ve been taught to think and reality.”
  4. Analysis – “Can you take a new problem, break it into structural and procedural elements, gauge the relationships among those, reckon major outside influences, and do all this without expert help?”
  5. Mirroring – “Can you fit into every group, even a group of your enemies, opting in and out as you please, yet remaining yourself?”
  6. Expression – “Do you have a voice that’s your own?”
  7. Judgment – “The society you are entering is a house of mirrors; little of what you see and few of those you meet will be what they appear.”
  8. Adding Value – “Do you add value to every encounter, to every group of which you are a part?”

All of these points, or indexes, are extremely important. The last one struck me as particularly poignant, however, because it is one of the main reasons I write this blog and others – to bring value, if possible, to change lives or empower others to change their own lives.

Gatto goes on to point out that “College was transformed into a training ground for work right after WWII, work that is as corporations and government bureaus and university departments define work, not as real people do.”

Gatto also pointed to the rising number of incarcerated people, we have 25% of all incarcerated people on this earth in our jails, 90% of them for non-violent crimes. Yet we only have 5% of the global population. How is it that we are “five times more eager than average to lock up our fellow citizens, six times more likely than China is to do the same thing.”

Are we being trained towards incarceration through compulsory schooling? Gatto quotes one of the well-known education leaders, writing, “Horace Mann himself called school ‘the best jail’ to his financial backers, by which he meant that the jail you sentence your mind to when you go to school is harder to escape than any iron bars.”

Gatto goes into great detail on the history of American education at his website. You can find the book ‘in toto’ here, or purchase a copy by clicking on the image below.

 

 

 

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Homeschooler of the Week – Katie R.

Name: Katie R. (mom)
Family: Bailey 8, Kieran 6 1/2, Aiden 4 1/2, Keeley 17 months
Homeschool Group: L.E.A.R.N., KC Homeschool, and a couple of informal groups
Homeschool Type: Somewhere between unschooling and Waldorf-inspired

I met Katie at L.E.A.R.N. (Let Education Always Remain Natural) where she was teaching a Watercolor Art class for a preschool age group which includes my daughter, Emily.

We talked on the phone and then finished up this interview via email. With four young ones, Katie is busy, busy, busy!

When I asked Katie how she got started in homeschooling and what made her choose it in the first place she said, “I didn’t want my kids to go through the same experience I did of feeling lied to.” She pointed to the story of Thanksgiving and the Pilgrims and Indian
as a prime example of how history is often ‘tamed’ for young children, and in some cases, completely misrepresented.

She went on to say that because she lived in the Kansas City School District, it was also a concern. The KCMO school district has had a bad reputation for a while now.

Our discussion then switched to the topic of curriculum and what the kids are studying. Katie follows a style that is “somewhere between unschooling and Waldorf-inspired. She talked about the world as their school, and pointed to the library, nature centers, Wonderscope, Science City, and other destinations as great learning adventures.

She pointed out that education includes helping her children learn care of self, respect for others, and participating in volunteer activities.

Katie said they loosely follow a Waldorf-inspired curriculum that includes 1st grade fairy tales, 2nd grade heroes, singing, rhythm, movement and art, and “stories, stories and more stories.”

They try to have a rhythm of sorts to the week but Katie admits it is a bit hit or miss. There are baking days and cleaning days, and Wednesdays are usually days out (going to L.E.A.R.N. classes).

Katie recalled reading of a lecture given by Einstein where a parent approached the scientist and asked Einstein what he would recommend to engage a 9 year old in learning. Einstein answered, “Read him fairy tales.” When asked what to do next, the scientist responded, “Read him more fairy tales.” And when the parent asked what to do after that, Einstein answered, “Read him more and more.”

Einstein once said, “The greatest scientists are artists as well. Imagination is more important than knowledge. Knowledge is limited. Imagination circles the world.”

Katie pointed out, “Essentially, he was saying that fairy tales foster imagination in children. Reading the encyclopedia to them all day long might not yield the same results.”

Katie shared with me a particularly poignant account of her eldest son who, learning that a young homeschooled friend of his had leukemia and would be losing her hair during the course of treatment, offered to cut off his hair so that the little girl would have a wig to wear. She followed that by saying that she and her husband teach their children each day to go for their dreams, deal with failure, but not give up even when the going is difficult.

It isn’t always easy, “I can control my own self, my own words, my own actions.” Katie said, “I have to let them develop how they are or will be.” It isn’t always easy to step back and let go at times.

At this point, life interfered and we had to wrap up our phone interview. I asked Katie if she would mind answering a few more questions via email and she graciously agreed. Here is the remainder of the interview…

What resources do you suggest to someone who is just starting homeschooling?

Katie wrote…

Before searching outside information, it might be beneficial to sit & make a list of values you’d like to instill in your child(ren) or subject areas that you feel are very important. Maybe list out subjects you feel you’d need help teaching, maybe they’re not a strong point. You could list your strengths & weaknesses in certain subjects so you’re clear where you’ll need to supplement lessons.

It may be helpful to consider the energy with which or environment in which you’d like them to learn. Also, if you have little knowledge of child development, study up on that! And after you’ve read/discussed someone else’s ideas about child development, ask yourself if that seems right to you? There are many ideas out there about how children process information, how does yours? Only you know that!

Once you have a general vision, I’d recommend searching online for local home school groups. Even if they strike you as a group that believes in something you don’t, go to a meeting, meet some members, strike up conversations, ask for contact info, other group info, book lists, etc. Most homeschoolers are happy to share knowledge~ that’s our M.O., after all. You may find some online forums that match your ideals & values, access those. Once you find someone or some folks that have walked a path similar to one you’ve decided to strive toward –> pick his/her/their brain(s). Books are great, people are far better resources. There is just SO much information out there about homeschooling, you really have to pick a general direction and ask for guidance. Otherwise, you’re at risk of information overload (which can lead to negative little-white-flag feelings). {I can give you a list of books I’d recommend, but they’re heavily influenced by Waldorf Education methods & that doesn’t always resonate with everyone.}

Please share a “perfect” homeschooling moment or memory

Katie wrote…

We have several “perfect” homeschooling moments. I have my favorite moments for each child through each developmental stage. My all time favorite memory of my oldest child actually happened before we began “formal lessons.” He was 4, playing outside in the mud, on an unsuspectingly warm almost spring day (much like I hope today becomes).

Now, a wee bit of background info- we have struggled with having guns as toys, only to fall on the side of encouraging every one’s safety and creative hunting, survival-type uses. We spent some time forbidding them, which led to this forbidden fruit syndrome that made our boys crave them more. So, on this warm, almost spring day, my oldest two sons, wearing nothing but underwear, were squishing toes in mud (one of their mom’s favorite past times) and suddenly, the oldest belly flops in the mud, rolls around like a hippo, covering himself (and his long curly red hair) in mud. Wishing I’d had the video camera near, I grabbed our still camera and began to snap picture after picture to capture all this jubilation. After sufficiently covering himself, he jumped up, grabbed two clumps of mud, intentionally shoved his ammo into the waist of his drawers & ran off down the hill and up the sidewalk. His response to a giggly, “where are you going?!” was “I’m MUD MAN, off to save our neighbors from danger!!”

Moments like these are so strong in my memory because of what HE experienced. He made a choice, one of many choices and this choice was creative and fun! He used natural resources (both the mud & his imagination) to defend the good, honest people near our home. So in this I see eco-friendly community service. Many of his choices in the four years that have passed since that day have reflected those same qualities. Most notable & recent was his offering of his beautiful long curly red hair to make a wig for a dear little friend of ours that was just recently diagnosed with Acute Lymphatic Leukemia (ALL) and has lost a little of her hair as a result of her chemotherapy treatments.

Overall, it’s moments like these that I’ve striven to provide safe boundaries for his own self exploration & development. And that’s what I strive for with each of our children. Honestly, my favorite memories of our homeschooling triumphs are infused with my children’s joy of discovery and learning~ about themselves, their surroundings or even specific things, like money facts or reading.

What worries or concerns do you have when it comes to homeschooling?

Katie wrote…

Oh worries are the root of doubt. And doubt doesn’t serve us well- as individuals, partners, parents or educators. But the reality is that we all experience it from time to time. For our purposes, I strive to transform my worries or concerns into our litmus test. Many questions run through the mind when in doubt of our choices or the results thus far. This is a time to take inventory, chuck what doesn’t work or serve our vision, refine what should be kept and add what we find to be lacking.

The fact is, we parents may not know the result until we’ve hit the grave. We can get snippets of the result, when watching our children make choices, learn from those choices or reach out to others with kindness. Ultimately, they become who they are to become. In order to remain sane through that process as a parent educator, one must maintain a certain level of trust and acceptance. We give them the best of what we’ve got & it’s up to them to fill in their own gaps.

Honestly, I fear giving up, putting my kids in school and feeling like a failure. Although, given my priority that they gain relationship intelligence over academic intelligence (though not in lieu of), giving up is hard to do. Anyone know of a relationship centered curriculum or school?

Is there any other advice or thoughts you would like to share?

Katie wrote…

My methods center around the fact that we are not alone in this world. Our first lessons involve respecting and loving ourselves (taught through basic self care and healthy behaviors & rhythms in the home). As we refine these lessons through developmental stages, we add the lessons of respecting and loving our family, friends, others in our community and our home (neighborhood & environment). We often find opportunities to add subject specific lessons along our journey.

It is my constant striving to stay open to what my children have to teach me- for they are masters of living in the moment. One very helpful tool I learned while being trained in Reiki (an energy therapy). One piece of the mantra I chant to myself when giving a Reiki treatment is, “Hallow bone, out of my own way.” This function in Reiki is, like a hallow bone or a pipe with water flowing through, you get out of the way so the healing energy can flow unobstructed to the desired person or location. This principle repeatedly serves us well as I provide that safe space for exploration, guide when needed, but mostly, I stay out of my own way to let creativity flow & I stay out of my children’s way, so their creative self & world exploration can thrive.

Learn outside as much as possible. Garden, walk, hike, rock climb, play in mud, etc. Have FUN!!!

To me, this massive series of lessons, learning to interact with people & our land with respect, coupled with the joy of learning and unlimited imagination, these are pinnacle principles of great learning! With those tools at hand, what can’t our children do?

One quote I have posted, look at every day & meditate upon often is “Direction is more important than speed. Enjoy the journey!”

A huge thank you to Katie for taking the time to speak with me and also email me back with such thoughtful responses!

Know of a homeschooler who would like to be profiled? Click on the Contact page and send me an email!

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Debunking Those Pesky Homeschool Myths – Part 2 of 5

Welcome back to “Debunking Those Pesky Homeschool Myths.” If you missed the previous post, you can view it by clicking on the Homeschool Myths page for a full listing.

On a typical school day in the United States, 75 million children will spend a majority of their day exclusively in the company of their age-mates. However, nearly 3.2 million children will have a far different structure to their day. For these homeschooled children, their homes and families are the center of their life and learning.

Who are these homeschoolers and why do they homeschool? Are they religious zealots? Are their children anti-social or under-educated? Myths and misunderstanding about homeschooling still abound.

Parents who care enough to teach their children the lessons and formulas that the school is neglecting will also take the initiative to socialize their children.” – Dain Fitzgerald

Myth #2: Homeschooled Children Are Not Socialized

Ah, the great social question. Within moments of sharing that your child is homeschooled, you will often get the question, “Well, how do you know if she/he is properly socialized?”

I am amazed that this question has been asked, several times, by individuals as my friendly, outgoing daughter is currently running and playing with other children, or has just finished interacting (with ease) with the questioning adult.

At times, surprised there is even a concern, I simply point to her and ask in return, “Really? As you can see, socialization really isn’t a problem for her!”

Not everyone has such an outgoing child, so it follows that we should address this pesky homeschool myth head on today.

Spending Each Day with Age-Mates Provides a Skewed World View

What exactly is ‘socializing’ about being forced to spend an entire day with other children who are the exact same age? Parents and teachers are instead providing a skewed and unrealistic world view.

I would go so far as to suggest that parents and teachers are forcing children to endure a completely inaccurate experience that limits their abilities to make friends and learn from others who are even just a few years different in age from them. Why would we want to limit our children like that?

Where else besides school will children ever spend their days with their age mates in the real world? When was the last time an adult spent his entire day working side-by-side with his age-mates?

Homeschool Can Provide MORE Social Exposure Not LESS

Homeschoolers are often provided with more opportunity to socialize than traditional schoolchildren and they usually have a broad variety of age groups to engage with.

No longer limited to day in, day out contact with their specific age-mates, these children develop relationships and friendships with a range of different age levels and backgrounds. For those who wish for their children to have more exposure to other children, there are secular and non-secular homeschool groups that conduct regular events and meetings.

In the local L.E.A.R.N. meetings on Wednesdays, which I will write in detail about in a later post, there are children from birth to late teens running about and interacting. And while children will tend to seek out approximate age-mates, there is a teen hang-out room there for example, it is not as strictly observed as a typical school would be. You will never hear the chant, “Seniors rule!” at L.E.A.R.N. or the expected response of “Next year!” from a group of younger kids.

Hmmm…this may be partially because many of those teens are already attending local community college classes.

Homeschool Flexibility Gives Time for Volunteer Work and Community Activities

According to a study conducted for Home School Legal Defense Association (HSLDA) by Dr. Brian D. Ray in 2003, “Homeschool graduates are active and involved in their communities. Seventy-one percent participate in an ongoing community service activity…compared to 37% of U.S. adults of similar ages.”

With less time spent in school (where there are constant interruptions by other students, behavior problems, or even the teachers themselves) there is more time for activities outside of the home – martial arts classes, community service programs, and volunteer opportunities abound. These classes and activities encourage homeschool children to connect with the world around them and participate actively in it.

Yes, many high schools have begun to incorporate some level of volunteer work into their graduation requirements, but it is on a very limited scale, just a couple of hours in many cases, whereas a homeschooler is not limited to the teenage years or to just a couple of hours of volunteer work.

Through their activities they are also exposed to a vast array of ages, background and culture – this is central to their full development as individuals.

Homeschool Provides a Nurturing Environment Where Self-Esteem Flourishes

To date, every homeschool child I have met, talked to, or interviewed, have uniformly shown the same qualities: good self-esteem, talkative and friendly, and knowledgeable.

At a recent L.E.A.R.N. meeting, Emily came racing over to me. “Mama, that girl! See that girl? The one with the pretty hair!” I looked over and took in a girl with tight-braided blue,pink and purple hair, a backpack slung over her shoulder.

I nodded, “Yes Emily, I see her.”

“Mama, she has a pet! It’s in her backpack!”

We watched as someone approached and she dug out her pet hedgehog to be petted. On Emily’s request we walked over and Emily was able to pet the hedgehog as well. The girl smiled and talked with Emily, as an equal, not as a teen dealing with a preschooler.

This trait is common in the homeschool interactions I have witnessed to date. Age, it seems, is not as much of an issue as it can be among school children. One neighborhood playmate of my four year old’s, a seven year old boy who is in public school, pulls the ‘age card’ quite a bit. Apparently, for Emily, it has gotten rather old. She seeks out the children next door, ages ten and twelve, or goes to the house next door to us to play with the 2 1/2 year old instead.

Wikipedia defines socialization as a “term used by sociologists…politicians and educationalists to refer to the process of inheriting norms, customs and ideologies. It may provide the individual with the skills and habits necessary for participating within their own society; a society itself is formed through a plurality of shared norms, customs, values, traditions, social roles, symbols and languages. Socialization is thus ‘the means by which social and cultural continuity are attained’.”

Children who are homeschooled accomplish this with what appears to be a quiet ease, naturally, and not artificially.

Stay tuned for next week’s Homeschool Myth #3 – Homeschoolers Won’t Be Able to Attend College or Hold Down a Job

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Who Needs Toys?

Our bed was stripped of sheets on washing day, the blankets and pillows piled on the floor. I heard Emily quietly singing to herself near the window, as she pulled on the blankets and pillows.

“Whatcha doing, baby?” I asked.

“I’m building my house,” she answered, “Come and help me, Mama, I need a roof.”

“I have the perfect roof for you, Emily, and it will have skylights!” I pulled the curtains over her and the pile of blankets and pillows and warned her not to pull hard on the ‘roof’ lest she pull the entire assembly down from the wall.

Emily's "House"

“Perfect!” she chirped and requested clips to help hold her ‘door’ shut. Several minutes later she was all set.

I fell for the learning toys gambit twice – with both my girls. I bought the learning games and the Dress Me dolls that have the snaps and buttons and zippers, because if I didn’t, how would they possibly learn about doing these important tasks? The joke was on me…neither child ever liked their Dress Me doll and learned just the way every other child learns, by seeing it done, wanting to be more independent, and eventually trying and trying until there was success.

Right now, at four, Emily watches our hands intently whenever we tie her shoes. I dread her asking me to teach her, because somehow I just know, I don’t necessarily know how to teach it. Perhaps she will just start doing it, just as she has done with buttons and zippers and snaps.

It constantly surprises me just how little our children actually need to learn. In some ways, I wonder if it isn’t better that they have almost nothing. Their focus can then be on the living world around them, interpersonal relationships, and even crafting their own toys and activities.

When I was young, I loved to play “Store.” I would pull out a folding stool, stack cans on it, and set up shop. I remember too that my dad would let me ‘cook’ at the kitchen table while he was busy cooking in the kitchen.

Long walks through the high mountain forests of Flagstaff, Arizona, or the damp foggy streets of San Francisco filled my childhood and adolescence. Usually with a dog by my side, I explored nature, playing in streams, poking at fallen logs, and digging into rocky outcroppings. I [ahem] also stole and ate apples from my city neighbor’s backyards…but really, there is no need to revisit my lawbreaking youth now is there?!

So I guess my point is this. If you have your phone in hand to call and order that set of Baby Einstein videos, or the latest and greatest (100% satisfaction guaranteed) Pillow Pet, or whatever…stop.

Do they need it? Will it change their lives? Will it help them understand life, improve them in some immeasurable way, or is it just another piece of stuff to move aside when its time for bed?

I look at my daughter’s room – which is a wreck of toys strewn about as well as far too many that creep out into the rest of the house – and I think, “This is way too many toys.”

Especially when you consider her interests – time with us, playing board games or hide and seek, playing out of doors with her friends, and being read to at night. Most of the things in her room are simply overkill.

Really…who needs toys?

 

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A Morning at L.E.A.R.N.

Recently we enrolled our four-year-old in her first “official” homeschool class – Watercolor Art for ages 3-5. It was our first experience taking classes through L.E.A.R.N., a secular homeschool group in Kansas City. L.E.A.R.N. stands for Let Education Always Remain Natural, and their mission statement reads:

  • L.E.A.R.N. is an organization formed to provide secular support for homeschooling families.
  • L.E.A.R.N. supports families with a wide variety of ideologies regarding education, parenting, culture, and religion.
  • Membership in L.E.A.R.N. indicates a respect for other individuals, regardless of age.
  • Membership in L.E.A.R.N. indicates a willingness to be respectful of other member’s beliefs or lifestyles that may not reflect your own.

The first two weeks’ classes I missed due to scheduling conflicts. My husband Dave took Emily instead, and returned each visit talking excitedly about the parents he had met. He is far more outgoing in crowds than I am, but after my second visit to the weekly classes, currently housed in the Scottish Rite Temple in Kansas City, I too had to admit it was a fun place to be.

Watercolors and spiderwebs

Before each new watercoloring adventure, Emily’s teacher, Katie (see Homeschooler Profiles) brought all of the kids and parents together in a circle to share, learn more about each other, and remind us that we are part of something bigger than ourselves. She did this in the most gentle of ways, a ball of yarn, some introductions and a little bit about ourselves. As the ball of yarn would be thrown to various children and parents around the circle we would say our name and maybe something we liked. Afterwards we would hold onto a piece of the thread before tossing the ball of yarn to someone else. Before long we had an intricate web, tying each of us to the other, a reminder that life is connected, sometimes in weird and unpredictable ways.

The watercolors were made from natural plant dyes and no watercolor adventure seemed complete without the hands, face and chin becoming involved and stained blue, red or yellow. Very little direction was given, save the basics, “rinse your brush before using another color” and each child’s creation was different and unique.

Baby-wearing and Insubordiknit

In all of my life I had never found myself surrounded by more down-to-earth, babywearing, nursing moms. Everywhere I turned there were moms with little ones wrapped in slings, chatting and laughing.

We talked about everything, and I shared my purse, made during one of my Purse Magick classes I teach – where participants transform a wool sweater into a charming purse. One of the moms, Jacey, shared her website with me, and talked about the potential for a fun hobby to turn into something rather spectacular. Her new book, Spin Art: Mastering the Art of Spinning Textured Yarn is available for pre-order on her website.

Dalliances with tiny kittens

A trip to L.E.A.R.N. will often result in the intentional petting of tiny kittens (or puppies, which I missed at last week’s meeting). I look at this as a learning opportunity for the kids. These tiny helpless creatures are fostered after being abandoned or orphaned at a young age. The kittens we petted on one of the visits were only eleven days old and had barely opened their eyes.

There to answer any of our questions was a young man, I’d guess his age at about eleven or twelve. His mother works with Wayside Waifs as a foster mom to the kittens and pups. Because they need food and water every couple of hours, she brings them with her to the meetings.

Emily, alongside with several other young ones, learned how to hold them firmly but gently so that the kittens would feel secure and not be hurt.

Kids, of All Ages

Everywhere I looked there were kids, of all ages, from infants to teens, talking and laughing. One of the main socializing areas had a sign, “Peanut Free Zone” and another room adjacent to it was the Teen Room. Emily pointed out a girl who had purple, blue, and pink hair tightly braided against her head.

“Oh Mama, she has such pretty hair!”

I smiled, “Yes Emily, she sure does. Later we approached that pretty-haired teen and asked if we could pet the cute blond hedgehog she kept in her backpack. Emily marveled over the feel of the quills beneath her hand as she gently petted the small creature.

“Normal? Then you don’t want to talk to me”

I asked the kitten foster mom if she would be interested in interviewing for the homeschooler profile, saying “I’m just trying to show that homeschoolers are normal people.”

She laughed, “Normal? Then you don’t want to talk to me!”

It made me re-think my approach. After all, what is normal? And is normal that good after all? I’ve personally always liked being a bit…off.

I realized then and there that it wasn’t a matter of portraying normal. It was about portraying reality. My goal was to share with others an insight into homeschooler’s lives – normal or otherwise.

It’s Not Quite Home, But It’s Getting There

For most of my life I’ve felt a significant disconnect with others. I’ve felt alone on my path, and disagreed fundamentally with others on their wants, interests, and more. At L.E.A.R.N. I am finding a preponderance of people who are creating their own paths, living their lives without compromise, and being true to their own beliefs and interests.

It is a refreshing feeling. It’s not quite home, but it is getting there.

Interested in learning more about L.E.A.R.N.? Visit their website and consider attending an informational meeting.

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“Weapons of Mass Instruction” by John Taylor Gatto – Chapter Seven

Welcome back to the newest installment of my review of “Weapons of Mass Instruction” by John Taylor Gatto. If you have missed any of the previous chapters, simply click on the Book Review page link and find the link you missed. We will be returning to Mr. Gatto’s book each week for another chapter.

*Note: Typical book reviews are ONE post, but Mr. Gatto’s book was so chock full of information that I decided to take it one chapter at a time. Believe me, the wait each week is worth it, but if you grow tired of waiting, you can purchase this book through the link below.


 

Chapter Seven: Weapons of Mass Instruction

Gatto begins this massive chapter by introducing the reader to Jacques Lusseyran, a blind French teenager who was the head of an underground resistance group of about 600 people during World War II. Gatto quotes Lusseyran from his autobiography And Then There Was Light – “A group of human beings that stay in one room by compulsion begin to smell.”

I’ve made a note to look up this book and read more about Lusseyran and his accomplishments.

Gatto also takes this opportunity to write, “school is not a good place for your kids,” in case you had any doubts on his feelings or beliefs on that score. He continues, “From the first month of my teaching career of 30 years, I realized that intellectual power, creative insight, and good character was being diminished in my classroom and that indeed I had been hired for precisely that purpose.”

The idea of scientific management, which Gatto calls “the high level cult created by efficiency engineer Frederick Taylor” promotes the concept of hierarchy. He writes, “The concept of hierarchy is especially important in bureaucracies…there everything is secondary to subordination. Better the ship should be blown to pieces than allow a common sailor to give the orders because he knows more than the captain.”

That really resonated with me. I’ve seen a couple of corporate disasters run themselves off a cliff that I and others could clearly see, but they seemed oblivious to. And honestly, I just sat back and openly laughed at them, wondering how they could be so blind. It didn’t do my career within their world any good – but I was only a lowly office worker, incapable of making decisions like they were. (Yes, I’m being sarcastic here)

Gatto uses the example of a talking choo-choo to illustrate how a school’s curriculum has been dumbed down, he refers again to the Prussian system of education that our own school system is based upon, “That’s why I call it the German disease – the artificial extension of childhood. Make no mistake, it works. Once sufficiently infected with the virus the disease is progressive. Its victims become inadequate to the challenges of their existence without help, and that relative helplessness makes them manageable.”

I suddenly thought of the seemingly overwhelming cultural expectation that parents have of the impending teen years. “Oh,” my parents and countless others would say, “Just wait until she becomes a teenager, then you are really in for it.” There is this overwhelming expectation that the teenage years are difficult and a torment for parents and teens alike. And it made me question why.

Is it possible that deep inside, they realize they have been lied to (think of the grade school lies of Thanksgiving and the Pilgrims and Indians) and that their lives are completely under other’s control, and that they are angry and resentful as a result? Could it be, following Gatto’s points of logic, that it is the last gasp of the independent creature within desperately struggling to be free to think for himself?

If so, is it any wonder the teen years can be hell?

I say can be, not are, because I refused to buy into that crap, and my eldest and I had (for the most part) a far healthier relationship than many parents and teens do.

Gatto admonishes parents to expunge talking choo-choos, and sweet smarmy stories and head straight for Beatrix Potter and others (unedited copies of Brothers Grimm or Hans Christian Anderson perhaps?) who are willing to write about things such as the fox in The Tale of Jemima Puddle Duck “who asks Jemima to pick out the seasonings in which she is to be cooked.” He points out that children want to read about evil, cruelty, and malice; that they are cognizant that these things exist even before they can speak. To withhold this, Gatto seems to infer, will stunt your children and create for them a fake, saccharine-sweet world that simply does not exist.

Gatto points to compulsory schooling as a main culprit in this when he writes, “The genius lies in setting up a perverse hunger which defies eradication later on as the victim struggles to grow up. This implanted need for simplifications in everything makes self-discipline difficult, and for most of us, only indifferently possible.”

That quote right there, shook me. It made me take a good, hard look inside and wonder at my own implanted need for simplifications. How often have I stopped reading something (including this very book) because some of the concepts presented eluded me on their first reading, confused me, and I retreated to find something simpler to understand?

How broken am I? I shared this with my husband and could not help the tears that came to my eyes, as I wondered aloud, “Where would I be if someone had set me down with The Iliad in its full form and let me read it? Where would I be now?”

It is more than just reading one story, obviously. But I cannot help wondering where I would be today if I had believed enough in myself to start my own business twenty-five years ago, instead of working for two full decades for other people and despising every minute of it? With education and experience in dialectic thought, instead of schooling and conformity, a person’s self-esteem, belief in their own capabilities, and honest self-worth has got to be higher.

The absolute frosting on the cake was still to come. Gatto finally wrote his answer to the question that had been forefront in my thoughts since I began reading this book. Apparently I’m not the only one who wants to hear his suggestion for how to change the relationship between me and my children for the better…

Gatto wrote, “Don’t think of them as kids. Childhood exists, but it’s over long before we allow it to be. I’d start to worry if my kid were noticeably childish past the age of seven and if by twelve you aren’t dealing with young men and women anxious to take their turn, disgusted with training wheels on anything…and add enough value to the neighborhood that they have an independent income; if you don’t see this, you’re doing something seriously wrong.”

My placemarker in the book next to this quote says, “WOW.” As with most of Gatto’s writing, I can see a clear vision of such a child. It is a radical, outrageous thing he is recommending, at least according to the world in which we have been raised. It may seem far too outrageous for you to swallow right away. My husband stared at me in undisguised horror when I read it out loud, yet we both see a great deal of value in this vision. Value for our child and her future.

I can remember with my eldest, we could not get her a work permit until the age of fifteen, two years past the point when she would have liked to get one. At the time, I was still working in offices for other people. I didn’t think entrepreneurship or work-arounds…I only heard “no” and “wait” – and so that is what we did. But now I think of Aliyah F., a homeschooler I profiled a few weeks ago. She buys the feed for her chickens, cares for them, hires her brother to do part of the evening chores, and then is able to sell the excess eggs as part profit and also re-investment in more feed. Aliyah is eleven years old. She shouldn’t be the EXCEPTION to the rule, she should BE the rule.

I’m going to close this chapter review with one last thought…the cauldron of broken time. I was pleased to see one of my favorite authors (and personal heroines) Claire Wolfe mentioned by Mr. Gatto. He wrote, “We know that uninterrupted sleep time is essential for precision in thought, but as Claire Wolfe, a west coast writer once taught me, uninterrupted waking time is similarly essential. When you can’t concentrate, it’s hard to make sense of things. Rather than persist in trying, it’s easier to just quit.”

Gatto goes on to illustrate that the public school day, chunked up into bells, loudspeaker messages, toilet interruptions, and more, has the “psychological effect of being plunged into a cauldron of broken time.” With so many interruptions, with so little time to focus on a particular subject, we are incapable of giving it the attention it deserves for true and honest absorption. And perhaps this is why school has become a ‘swallow and regurgitate’ cycle for children. They are given the material to choke down and then a test is administered. After the test, what if anything will they actually remember?

Stay tuned for Chapters 8 & 9 next week.

Follow up from last week’s post:

Last week I asked you the reader how you can SHOW a child (or adult) something in the world that will pull them away from passive observation and into active participation in the world around them. I also promised that I would let you know how I managed it with my little one. Here are two activities that we did that got my little one engaged…

Studs and shoe shelves -I wrote about this a few weeks ago in this blog, but it should be revisited as a learning and interesting lesson about carpentry, engaging our daughter actively in an activity, and laying the foundation for teaching her a new skill.

A play in a day – Forget watching videos or going to see a play. On Saturday, March 12th, Emily was in her first play. She beat me by one year, my first performance was as the Littlest Star when I was just five years old. She spent a day rehearsing, running around with a group of kids she had never met before, and ended it by performing in a silly play full of costumes, screams and lots of laughs.

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Adventures in Music

I was working on the computer in my office the other day and Emily came in to play. She lined up a guitar, an upside down coffee can, two Altoids tins, a xylophone and a box full of markers…and then … Continue reading

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Debunking Those Pesky Homeschool Myths – Part 1 of 5

“I am beginning to suspect all elaborate and special systems of education. They seem to me to be built upon the supposition that every child is a kind of idiot who must be taught to think.” – Anne Sullivan Note … Continue reading

Posted in Homeschool - General | 4 Comments