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.
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.
Yoda: “Powerful you have become Dooku, the Dark Side I sense in you.”
Count Dooku: ”I have become more powerful than any Jedi. Even you.”
[Dooku shoots Sith lighting at Yoda who effortlessly deflects it away]
Yoda: “Much to learn, you still have.”
Star Wars II: Attack of the Clones
I wonder if Count Dooku relied a little too heavily on his Sith Lord’s praises while learning about the Dark Side of the Force, because in the end he got a little cocky. It’s a common enough danger, I suppose, when your entire feedback loop is a single person. You read the book, fill in the worksheets, write the paper, ace the exam. Ta-da! You’ve won a 4.0, an A+, a custom-made light-saber, or a smiley-faced sticker that says, “You’re a star.” If he never wandered off to find out more about the topic on his own, he’d never realize how much there was left to learn on the subject.
Teaching myself leaves me with a perpetual sense of wonder about how much I still have to learn about a topic. It’s one of the reasons that I love educating myself; I get to dive into something with both arms wide open to all the material I can find related to the subject matter (and then some). Books, videos, stories, textbooks, iTunesU audio/video/podcast materials, children’s books, newspapers, periodicals, music, cookbooks and foreign food wrappers. You name it and I’ve probably used it.
You wouldn’t believe my Dutch language bookshelf – it’s absolutely bursting at the seams. I’ve pulled so many things from the library in the Dutch language that my favorite librarian pulled me aside once to ask if I was planning to move to The Netherlands soon. I wish. Now that would really speed my process along!
Currently, I’m digging into adolescent development, American colonial history, astronomy, assorted memoirs, US geography, the ever present Dutch language, and spring cleaning. OK, I’m not exactly ‘learning’ about spring cleaning but I’m certainly digging into it. I’m considering having Padawan Learner teach me a little on the piano. I think he’d like doing that and I’d love to learn.
UPDATE: Doh! Dad Windu also wants to learn to play the piano and has beaten me to the piano and is now pecking out (in an increasingly quicker and more melodious manner) the song that Padawan Learner was just playing earlier. I guess I going to have to wait a bit longer.
“Don’t worry. The Force will guide us.” - Qui-Gon Jinn, Star Wars I: The Phantom Menace
Bookkeeping would probably have been a perfect fit for me. I like column A and column B to line up in neat little rows, with matching totals at the end. I enjoy doing our taxes. Planning our annual budget is relaxing for me. Here’s the total minimum income. Here’s the annualized, regular expenses. Here’s what we can reasonably expect to spend in the following categories, based on the past several years’ average. Here’s what we must put away in various savings categories. And the rest is gravy (sometimes a pretty watery gravy, but still gravy). Ta Da. I stand with arms upraised in victory and all around me cheer.
Then again, when I travel or have time to just relax on a weekend, I like to go into things only minimally planned. I hope we do these things this weekend. We should try to see that while we’re here. There’s so many interesting things in this town, I wonder what’s close to our hotel?
Unfortunately, I sometimes try to force a bookkeeping mentality too firmly onto our homeschooling journey. Give me an annual planning book and a dozen, sharp No. 2 pencils and I become a methodical, planning machine. The Schedule, developed in late spring, decends into a mathematical formula. There are 129 lessons and 31 quizzes; that’s 3.7 math lessons and 1 quiz a week to finish on time. One group of vocab words a week to finish on time. Forty-five pages a day in Robinson Crusoe to finish on time. One drawing lesson, three times a week, to finish on time.
On time, on time, on time. It is a haunting refrain that begins to lull me to sleep each fall. I become the White Rabbit who appears muttering, “Oh dear! Oh dear! I shall be too late!” The Schedule is in ever present danger of dominating our homeschool life. It’s written down on orderly blocks in My Planner. It’s The Schedule. Of course we must finish this lesson today, it’s on The Schedule!
Yes, I struggle with my natural planner personality and have to actively remember not to only have “output-focused” days. How many pages were written? How many problems worked out? How many minutes practiced? The Schedule gremlins whisper cloyingly.
Get this done.
Move onto those.
Finish before lunch.
Don’t bother with that, it’ll take too much time.
Put it away.
Fight, fight, fight.
I’m making myself let go, albeit slowly, of the “and onto the next thing” mentality. I am striving to maintain the real goal of a few things done well each day, rather than several things marginally. What’s that line about “the sins of the fathers”? I’m sure any theologian worth his salt would say that it applies to mothers too. What’s a secular equivalent? Monkey see, monkey do? That sure is what it seems like right now. Padawan Learner has developed a real clock focus since we started back up this fall, to the detriment of his enjoyment and (sometimes) his actual learning of the material he’s using. Thankfully, I’m getting better at catching myself and at noticing when he starts to put The Schedule ahead of actually learning anything too.
Maybe, instead of playing music, my alarm clock should say, “Your planner is a great tool, but it’s only a tool.” No public or private school teacher, nor any homeschooling mom or dad, has ever stayed perfectly on schedule. Kids get sick. Adults get sick. Mishaps happen. Relatives arrive. Stuff comes up. Learning is slower than you thought it would be. Learning is faster than you ever thought possible. The materials you spent so much time researching are wholly over their heads, despised or woefully inadequate. The project you just knew was going to be hit holds less enthusiasm than a teenage girl’s, “What.ev.er.” Life happens whether we plan for it or not.
Ultimately, I believe that simply by lovingly and consistantly doing whatever I can to help Padawan Learner learn and love to learn, he will still learn more than if he was one of 25 kids in a classroom dictated by everyone else’s pace, a few kids needs and high-stakes testing. I believe that would be the case even if I chucked it all and returned to complete and total child-led unschooling. Play. Build. Read aloud as long as he’ll let us. He would still learn a ton, but probably not sentence diagramming or Latin.