R2 says that the chances of survival are 725 to 1. Actually R2 has been known to make mistakes… from time to time… Oh dear…” - C-3PO, Star Wars V: The Empire Strikes Back
“If I sit a test I might fail it – but I’m doing what I need to do in the real world. Why would tests devised for people in classrooms matter more than results in the real world?” – Benny the Irish Polyglot, from Fluent in Three Months
That’s a pretty good argument for unschooling, as well as focusing on conversation versus grammar in a language, if I ever heard one.
“Nevertheless, I’m taking Captain Solo and his friends. You can either profit by this or be destroyed. It’s your choice, but I warn you not to underestimate my power.” – Luke Skywalker, Star Wars VI: Return of the Jedi
When Padawan Learner was just a wee little guy, wrapped snugly in his blankets, sleeping calmly and silently through the night (yes, I understand that many of you will now be compelled to hate me for that statement), I assumed that he would be a traditional scholar. A multiple degree-holding academic of the first order. He would love learning for its own sake and almost compulsively read through the local library system. When he was a two year old chipping golf balls in the front yard and chasing down soccer balls in the back, I assumed he would be a traditional scholar who rode into college with both academic and athletic scholarships. When he was a five year old kindergartener, bored by reading lesson because he already knew how to read, I assumed he would be a traditional scholar, sought after athlete, who also was accelerated through multiple grades.
A decade later, my son is not a traditional scholastic academic, is not fighting off athletic recruiters, and is not advanced for his years. He struggles with math (sorry to have shared that with you, kiddo), doesn’t much care for science (although physics is considered interesting enough), and couldn’t really care less about the humanities. Oh, the humanities! He hates to write, which is proof positive that he is Dad Windu’s child. He’s a strong, if not regular reader, given to fits and starts of recreational reading. Oh, and he’s not a stellar athlete either. Definitely athletic, and given to strange and frightening leaps and twists on the trampoline – 9.8 last weekend, thank you very much – but probably not collegiate level. Sound grim to you? I’d be more upset about it, if I didn’t know that he’s a pretty normal kid.
He’s got a serious girlfriend (just shoot me now) who seems nice enough, with enough family baggage to cause an appropriate amount of maternal concern. He knows that teen romances rarely last, but he’s interested in giving it a try. He wants to, maybe, go to college for video game design, but mostly he just wants to play them. He has an absolute passion for parkour that makes my stomach lurch, his hands raw, and his pants ripped. He isn’t very good at keeping track of his schedule or his stuff yet, but is learning that if you don’t pack a lunch for school you get pretty hungry in the afternoon. He likes to roam around the downtown area with his best friend who is probably going to move back to Texas this summer, so he’s scraping to spend time with her because he has already learned that moving away means you probably won’t have much contact after that. He’s learning to enjoy the moment and accepting the “seasonality” of most friendships.
He’s learning that it doesn’t matter what you say you want, if you don’t do anything about it. He’s learning that there’s a limit to what your parents are willing to take when it comes to attitude and behavior. He’s learning that consequences for poor chooses are, by their very nature, often unpleasant and decidedly un-fun. He’s learning that laundry doesn’t care for itself, clear skin doesn’t just happen, showers don’t magically sparkle, and that it’s easier to take care of things than to catch up on things.
He’s learning from others, too. A boy his age has taught him that being in the 98th percentile on a high stakes standardized test isn’t nearly as impressive when you’re also a self-centered jerk 98% of the time. He’s learning that some people have an easier time understanding certain things, but all the “smarts” in the world don’t mean a thing if you can’t be bothered to do the work. Conversely, he’s noticed that fighting for a solid C is better than someone else throwing away an easy A because they couldn’t be bothered to show up for class. He’s learned that some mistakes, especially relationship mistakes, can last a lifetime. He’s seen how long $45,000 in student loans takes to pay off, especially if you never graduate and have to work two jobs just to support yourself and your not-so-sexy debt. He doesn’t enjoy math, but he understands compound interest.
Ultimately, he’s recognizing that “intelligence” goes hand in hand with effort, just like “luck” goes fastest to the best prepared. He’s learning that no one can do the work for you, make you want something enough to fight for it, or set your path before you. These things – he’s learning – must come from within himself. He’s a bright one, that son of mine, and I know he will go just as far as he chooses to go.
Anakin Skywalker: “She programmed Artoo to warn us if there’s an intruder.”
Obi-Wan Kenobi: “There are many other ways to kill a Senator.”
Anakin Skywalker: “I know, but we also want to catch this assassin. Don’t we, Master?” Star Wars II: Attack of the Clones
If you haven’t been yet, secular homeschoolers might want to go check out the Secular Homeschool website run by Topsy-Techie (sigh, how I do miss her blog). The forums are friendly and lively, but without the ever increasing flaming I got tired of seeing on another (very large) homeschooling website tied to a famous homeschooling method of the same name. Yeah, that one. An added bonus is a lack of “the argument for creationism” and “evolution is just a theory” threads that made me want to toss my computer across the room.
One that had me thinking today was about textbooks – and how they have gotten a real stink attached to their very being. Being lazy, but still thinking it was worth sharing, here’s my 2c on the topic – as copied from here.
There is no One Right Way
I wonder why there is often such strong feelings about textbooks versus non-textbooks.
They’re just books; some we find useful and some we find useless. Some books engage our imagination, some are strictly “just the facts, ma’am.” Some are luscious, some are dry. I don’t read the news – online or in print – because I’m looking to experience something. I read for a bit of information. When I want a more rounded, interesting look at something I read National Geographic or Smithsonian. If I want to immerse myself in the topic completely, I head to the library and immerse myself in minutia. I’m reading two books by John McWhorter right now – burying myself in the details of English grammar and the evolution of written language. I’ll probably recommend them to Padawan Learner, despite the fact that I know it’s not a real interest of his, because I find them so interesting. He just wants to know where to put a semicolon so he doesn’t have to rewrite any sentences in his online writing class. Furthermore, he’ll continue to recommend coding websites, because he finds them interesting, when all I want to know is how to keep my sidebars from going wonky.
Sometimes I get the impression that people don’t consider my son a real unschooler/self-directed learner/free-range learner (Topsy’s son’s term – and my personal favorite) because he uses textbooks as the base for the science and maths that he’s currently learning. Why? Isn’t the goal to learn the things that we both need and/or want to know? Of course it is. If learning about mummies, the goal really probably shouldn’t be to mummify a chicken. The goal should be to learn about mummification. Mummified chickens are cool or nasty or just plain weird – depending on who you ask. No right way to learn about mummies.
A friend doesn’t consider herself “a very good Charlotte Mason” homeschooler (despite her best efforts) because her kids want to cut to the chase and just grab an American History textbook instead of having so many different activities/books/tie-ins involved. Deep down, she admits, a few of her kids don’t really think history of any kindis all that interesting – no matter what she does – but she can’t bring herself to “give up” on her educational beliefs and buy a textbook to meet what she feels is a basic educational requirement for her American homeschoolers. Now, the goal is to know American History – and her kids ARE learning about it – but would their learning be any less if they learned it from the pages of a textbook? Does rendering lard make for better citizens or just better cornbread? No one right way to learn American History.
Textbooks are often accused of being dull, of crushing interest, of being needlessly rigid. And they can be, if you don’t like the textbook or the author’s methods of explaining things or are prejudiced against textbooks in general. But keep this little picture in your mind: my best friends’ husband (a bright and wonderful man) has kept all his college math textbooks because he likes to re-read them…for fun. She says that he once started chuckling to himself in bed one night while reading a geometry text and she (the math-hater) asked him why. His response was, “I just can’t believe the author went about making his proof this way. *chuckle, chuckle, chuckle* It would be much easier to do X, Y & Z instead.” Whatever floats your boat, I guess. No one right way to be entertained either.
Melissa in Oz, commented that CM isn’t the same as unit studies. Which is closer to what I described above, so I thought I should include my response, as well. Just to be accurate.
You’re right, Melissa. They’re not the same, and I’m sorry I didn’t make myself clearer.
I thought about that later – she calls what she does CM, but ties a lot of unit studies in as well (especially for her youngest ones). I thought of her though because she’s always talking about books like I remember CM writing about them. No twaddle, boring textbooks, only living books (a term, I admit, that I find condescending). She does focuses on spending time in nature, working on nature journals, and using “real books” in place of academic – aka, boring – books. I should have noted that she’s more eclectic in reality than she self-identifies.
I would like to note that I have a high regard for the multitudes of approaches to teaching children – I swear, I’ve probably tried them all over the years – and the various ways adults go about helping their children learn. I believe we do ourselves, our children, and the larger world of learning a disservice when we write off any sub-category of books as unnecessary or – worse, detrimental – to learning or achievement. My son learned to read, on his own and largely without my assistance, because of Calvin & Hobbes at the age of 4. He’s not a wunderkind, just a boy that wanted – desperately – to know what that spiky-haired boy and tiger were saying to each other. A series of cartoons, the horror. Complete and total twaddle, but it was the key to opening the doors to reading for my son and many other highly visual kids.
I learned the basics of physchology in highschool because I saw a used textbook at a book sale and thought, 25 cents? You bet. It’s wasn’t an involved read, but it was thorough discussion of the topic and gave me a desire to know more, fueling my decision to take a few courses in it during my undergrad years. Not a career in it, not a passion for it, but a definite interest.
Princess Leia: “Han!”
Han Solo: “Yes, Your Highnessness?”
Princess Leia: “I thought you decided to stay.”
Han Solo: “Well, the bounty hunter we ran into on Ord Mantell changed my mind.” Star Wars V: The Empire Strikes Back
With apologies to the people who have already seen this on Facebook…
I did it. I signed Padawan Learner up for classes at a local high school last week.
Despite the fact that he had – for years – said that he never wanted to set foot inside a school again, PL decided that classes on environmental sustainability and Italian sounded too good not to attend. Despite the fact that he’s a confirmed night owl, he chose to take a class that starts at 7:55 am. Choice makes all the difference in the end, doesn’t it?
On days that he has school, his day will end at 2:15 pm - those will be every other school day – with a 2 hr study/lunch period in between the two classes. He also wanted to take an intro art class, but it had a waiting list of 40 students so he couldn’t add it this time – maybe next year. So I guess we’re about to join the ranks of tied-to-the-school-year families now. (We’ve even bought a few school supplies to get him through his first few days: a 1″ binder for each class, an insulated lunch box, a water bottle, and mechanical pencils. We already have a ton of paper and pens.)
About two hours after I signed him up, I had to point out the inconsistency of taking a class in environmental sustainability and leaving the deck slider door open when it is about a billion degrees outside and the AC is running.
Jar-Jar Binks: “I spake!”
Qui-Gon Jinn: ”The ability to speak does not make you intelligent. Now get out of here.” Star Wars I: The Phantom Menace
OK, the homeschooling info session was good. The woman who spoke before me gave a good overview of homeschooling methods, so I ended up not needing to use the list I’d prepared last night. But I’m glad I made it anyway. It’s always good to reacquaint oneself with the pros and cons of different homeschooling methods. I rambled on beyond everyone’s interest probably, but there it is.
One very nice side effect of the session was meeting a woman who wants to host my local homeschooling website – thankyouthankyouthankyou. I’m glad to know that the last year’s energy and efforts aren’t going to be tossed to the winds just because we’re moving away.
Obi-Wan: “Interesting… I’m still not sure I understand.”
Jocasta Nu: “Well, I’m sure you didn’t call me over here for a history lesson. Are you having a problem, Master Kenobi?” Star Wars II: Attack of the Clones
One of my local librarians asked me to sit as part of a panel before a statewide group of librarians tomorrow. The goal is a better understanding of homeschoolers and better linking between the homeschooling community and the programs/services available in local libraries.
I know! How cool is that?
The overall consensus among the librarians appears to be that working with homeschoolers is akin to herding cats. As Yoda & Qui-Gon Jinn love to say, “Bless their hearts.” They’re trying to include us all, but we all seem to have our own direction, rate of speed, and degree of willingness to play along.
To make a little more sense of what “we homeschoolers” do on a day-to-day basis, I’m including an overview of the most common homeschooling methods. What do you think of my breakdown?
Butt in the Chair (Like what most grow up with – often thought of as the One Right Way to Learn)
School-at-Home: This mimics a traditional school day, for the most part. Subjects are defined, delineated, and ordered by subject or time during the traditional school days & hours. Often a single curriculum or two is the basis for all the core lessons. Lessons and tests often have the option of being checked and graded by either a parent, mailed to a program teacher, or taken online. (e.g., k12, Abeka, School in a Box)
Classical: This approach gained favor over the years with high-octane parents of college-bound students as school systems drop traditional classes such as Latin, Greek, Logic, and the Fine Arts. Think of a traditional high school curriculum, only much more intense. (The Well-Trained Mind is one of the more familiar programs.)
A Theme (Often thought of as an “interesting” or “cute” approach to the general public)
Charlotte Mason: This is a liberal education with a decided bent toward nature and classic literature. Emphasis is placed on narration, journaling, getting outside as much as possible, studying local flora and fauna, and eschewing all “twaddle.” (e.g., The Tales of Peter Rabbit rather than Captain Underpants, and Pride and Prejudice over Twilight)
Unit-Study: Especially common among families with young children, all aspects of the child’s education is wrapped around a unifying topic such as the Little House on the Prairie books, classic children’s literature (such as in the Five in a Row series), or just about anything else you can imagine. This is especially helpful when children of different ages, skill levels and interest are being taught at the same time as activities can be expanded or contracted to meet each child’s needs.
Bits and Pieces (often brings out the “But what if they have gaps in their education?” argument)
Eclectic: The direction and timing is the parent’s, but it’s based on the child’s needs alone. Kids might take a Homeschooler Only orchestra class and an after-school wood-working program if they fit a desire or need. These families are willing to skip parts of a “program” if it’s deemed unnecessary or accelerate/delay parts based on the child’s readiness. Different kids in the family will likely use different curricula. These families may use textbooks, or they may not. They may use worksheets for math but not for spelling, or vice versa. They may give tests, but they probably don’t do it very often.
Unschooling: This is full-on, child-led learning with a whole lot of “trust the child” thrown in. This is the practice of letting real life situations (such as shopping, cooking, gardening, volunteering, etc), any and all local resources available (museums, colleges/universities, state parks, historical markers/sites, stores and a parent’s/friend’s place of employment) and passions (dinosaurs, space, trains – and often a rotation of many passions over the years) lead children to meaningful knowledge.
These families believe that children have an innate need to learn, understand and be part of the world around them and, therefore, will want to learn about as many topics as they can and participate in life as much as they are able. They do not follow any pre-determined educational schedule whatsoever. (e.g., Reading Robin Hood leads to an interest in archery.) Unschooling families may use textbooks or not. They may take outside classes or join a task/topic specific club (pottery class, piano lessons, writer’s club, etc). They may simply borrow/buy the materials needed to learn the process/skill together or on their own. There is no “one way” to an unschooling family. Unschooling is presenting topics, ideas and opportunities to kids with enthusiasm, but also being able to accept “No thanks,” as an acceptable answer.
Waay Out There (These people scare the beegeezus out of me. Sorry, but it’s true.)
Radical Unschooling: They take educational unschooling one more level and apply it to every single aspect of life — brushing teeth (don’t feel like it? don’t do it), meals (candy for dinner? sure), safety (don’t want to wear a bike helmet? leave it in the garage), bedtime (who needs bedtimes?) and etc.
NOTE: Yes, I know there’s more to Radical Unschooling than that – but that’s what screams through my head when I even hear people talking about it. No flaming necessary. No need to send in the RU troops to set me straight.
“Everything that has transpired has done so according to my design. ” – The Emperor, Star Wars VI: Return of the Jedi
Because he enjoys music so much, I have for the past several years encouraged Padawan Learner to consider taking music lessons, but he was never interested in learning an instrument and only liked singing for recreation. So I backed off. I’m so glad I did, too, because he decided to take piano lessons last fall and is doing very well at it. Best of all, he really enjoys playing the piano and always looks forward to his lesson every Friday morning. There’s no nagging, no drudgery, and no avoidance.
Here’s his second piano recital, from yesterday afternoon. He was so calm and collected in front of everyone! He said he gets really relaxed when he’s nervous, how nice is that? He must have been terrified then, because he didn’t show it at all. (Sorry about the poor image, it was like a cave inside the building!)