Saturday, September 14, 2013

Who Thinks Unschooling Can Really Work?

Living in Arizona, we are very familiar with the practice of homeschooling.  The state approves, the colleges welcome homeschooled kids and there hasn't been a problem with too many kids not knowing how to socialize with their mainstream peers.  But "Unschooling" is a different animal.  I have read articles and blogs touting the benefits of unschool, and it all sounds pretty darn good.

However, having had children and grandchildren of my own, plus the input from teachers, other parents, the media, and kids themselves, I am just not convinced that unschool can work on a large scale.  There are too many parents out there who can't even figure out how to feed their children a healthy diet, let alone be guides and mentors in a lifelong learning adventure.  

The purpose of school in the first place is to prepare children for life in the future.  We start them out, generally, at age three, and they continue on for 15 years, learning what people have been learning for the past 100 years.  How much has your world changed in the past 15 years?  Are you doing your job the same way it would have been done 50 years ago?  If we cannot predict what the world will look like when our children are adults, how can we possibly know what to teach them now?  In my opinion, the most valuable skill I learned in school is how to learn.  I have always been curious and interested in a multitude of subjects, and now, with the miracle of the internet, I can find out anything I need to know.  Learning how to learn is one of the primary goals of unschool.  Parents should make it a priority to teach their children whenever there is a "teaching" moment how to find out the answer to a question.  Here's an example:  my 4 year old granddaughter is like many other little girls and into "princesses."  One day I asked her if she wanted to see a picture of a real princess.  Her eyes lit up and she was in my lap.  We Googled Princess Kate and Prince William, and then went on to Queen Elizabeth and Prince Phillip.  She is learning how to learn.  

Kids learn how to find out what they need to know.  They are prepared for any future.  If in the future the things we know now are obsolete, then the person who knows how to learn will be ready to learn what is useful in his world.  Our school model was created to turn out good employees, particularly on assembly lines in an industrialized world.  School teaches kids how to follow instructions, stand in line, eat when you are allowed, play only when the clock says it's time, and most of all, school teaches that the kids don't know anything - the teacher has all the knowledge.

Did you ever wonder how Socrates learned?  How about Michaelangelo and Leonardo da Vinci?  Did Jane Austen get a Masters in Literature?  For most of human history learning has not taken place in a classroom.  And think of the progress humankind has made up til now.  Our system of education needs to adapt to the information age, and parents need to be the leaders in preparing our kids for their future, not our present.

Thursday, September 12, 2013

Colorado Recall Doesn't Change the Law


Hard Lessons of the Colorado Recall

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The Colorado Legislature showed good sense when it voted in March to require universal background checks in the sale of firearms and limits on magazine clips to 15 rounds.

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On Tuesday, two state senators who supported the gun control laws lost recall votes in two small districts in Colorado. Their ousters were a disgraceful low point in punitive single-issue politicking by the gun lobby.
The two lawmakers — the Senate president, John Morse, and Senator Angela Giron — are exemplary models of responsible public service. As members of a resolute Democratic statehouse majority, the two showed more political courage in facing up to the gun mayhem afflicting the nation than the Congress did in April in its shameful retreat from tightening gun laws that allow tens of thousands of deaths each year.
The recalled lawmakers knew the gun lobby would pounce on their votes, but they stood up for the badly needed laws that Congress ducked. Mr. Morse, a former police chief, helped lead the charge against the battlefield-styled weapons used in the school massacre in Newtown, Conn., and in Colorado’s own carnage last year at the Aurora movie theater.
The act of the Legislature and Gov. John Hickenlooper, a Democrat, represents an important transition in Colorado, long considered a bastion of rural gun rights. Urban interests and their politicians are more willing to push for sane gun controls; the background check law was supported by 80 percent of state residents polled. The task of the recall proponents, however, was made easier by a controversial ruling against mail balloting, normally heavily relied on by state voters.
The gun lobby is congratulating itself on this vote, aiming to use the recall as the ultimate warning against politicians who might abandon timorousness in the gun control debate. In truth, the recall fight showed that something sensible and stirring could emerge among politicians, at least in Colorado, even if two worthy incumbents were sacrificed. The state’s new laws survive, and Colorado residents are safer for them.

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

How Was School Today, Dear?

Ken Robinson, an "educationalist," gave a TED talk in May, 2013, called "How to Escape Education's Death Valley."  TED (Technology, Entertainment and Design) conferences bring together the world's most fascinating thinkers and doers, who are challenged to give the talk of their lives (in 18 minutes or less).  If you haven't watched them, you are in for such a treat!

In this talk, KR says there are three conditions under which human life flourishes and they are contradicted every day in every classroom.  The first is: human beings are naturally different and diverse.  Rather than teach to have each student passionately explore his or her special talents and interests, we teach for conformity.  All across the nation, if it's January we are learning facts about the American Revolution.  Never mind that your son has just discovered the wonders of astronomy and doesn't want to read, talk, or take a test about anything else.  He will have to wait . . .

Second, all humans are naturally curious and that makes us natural learners.  Have you ever spent a day with a 3-year old?  How many questions did you answer?  My granddaughter is four, and the phrase she uses most often is "How Come?" But our schools want to achieve compliance.  The present system was originally proposed by Horace Mann to educate workers for the industrial age.  It was beneficial to have hordes of compliant workers standing at assembly lines.  In the information age, we need innovators, creative thinkers.

The third principle is that human beings are inherently creative; we create our lives, and in spite of the culture of education that strives to turn out finished students who all know the same body of knowledge and have the same values, we are still all individuals.  The culture of standardization is opposed to basic human nature, which may be one reason it isn't working very well.

Tomorrow we will talk about "Unschooling."