Tag Archives: homeschool

Fantasizing about a school…

All this talk of grounding techniques reminds me of a trick I came up with a couple of years ago to get my worrying mind off the poisonous thoughts of “oh no!” and “what if?”  while I’m trying to get to sleep.  I simply turn my mind loose on the fantasy of a school.

Okay, you already knew I was weird.  No sense accusing me of it now.

A school for homeschoolers.

Essentially, a place to gather with others interested in the same subject or to work independently.  A place of resources, mentors and a culture of learning.  A place where the adults want to learn as well.  A place of no grades or tests.  A place where there is a program in place to graduate if that is the path you choose, if your dream is to become a doctor or some other career that requires going to a university.  But instead of being driven by governmental edicts, learning will be fueled by interest, curiosity, will, passion.  Instead of being treated like miserable little factory workers or, dare I say, untrustworthy prisoners, students will be respected as thinking individuals.  The culture of learning will inspire responsibility and serious application of brain &/or body power to chosen tasks, whether they be a study of calculus or drawing with crayons or planting tomatoes.

Hey, it’s a fantasy, what can I say.

There would be workshops of all sorts: art studios, music rooms, a stage with back rooms full of costumes, an organic garden and greenhouses, mechanic garage, computer lab, library, kitchen, sewing area, as well as a couple of academic classrooms for people who wanted to focus on headier subjects.  There would be a huge playground and lots of athletic equipment and fields/courts so that kids and adults could run out their wiggles.  

Don’t ask me how we’d pay the electric bill.  I’m not allowed to think about things like that.  Makes me too tense and leads me back to worrying.

I’m only allowed to imagine how the garden would be laid out, where the strawberry patch would go and how many people would be out enjoying green beans right off the vine.  I’m only allowed to envision how tall the shelves would go in the library, and which books we absolutely MUST have and how many window seats we should put in.  I can only wander the hall and see a group of kids giggling and running out to play before lunch while another older group sits on the edges of their seats arguing about which design of recumbent bike would be most efficient, occasionally glancing around in anxious anticipation of the arrival of the resident bike guru who will help them begin construction.

I can enjoy the thought of a meeting of the writing group, a gathering of adults and teens who trust each other enough to share words and ideas and help each other express themselves to the world. I can imagine the ‘zine they would put together and distribute to everyone they know.

And pretty soon I’m asleep.

I wonder if someday I will fall asleep thinking of these things, but instead of being fantasies they will be memories of a dream come true.

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Grades are evil

A “necessary” evil, some would say. But why necessary? Because, for economic reasons, we insist on having far more students per class than an instructor can possibly give adequate individual attention to. I think most people accept the traditional evaluation process as “just the way things are” and forget that this is a choice we continue to make with our budgetary priorities. “Things” could be different.

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A Passion for Words

Though my interest is often piqued by all kinds of subjects, my biggest passion is for words. I’ve always enjoyed writing in many genres, although I have come to hate the literarily analytical essay, in the same way as if I had forced myself for years to eat chocolate at times when I had no inspiration to do so, and was prevented from eating chocolate when I craved it, I would certainly have come to despise chocolate.

Here is where I come to the heart of what “unschooling” means to me: learning that becomes effortless because it is borne on a wave of curiosity and desire.

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Defining different approaches to learning

I would like to define some terms so that those who are not familiar with alternative educational movements can get an idea of the differentiation between the approaches, and those who are familiar with alternative education will know my particular take on it. I recognize advantages and disadvantages to each approach, which I will explore more fully in future essays. My objective now is simply to have a starting point and an overview.

Traditional School — studies are compulsory and involve a predetermined curriculum, though some subjects may be elective in nature; grades are almost always used; exams are a fundamental tool of evaluation; classes tend to have more than 10 students; the teacher is the expert and the authority to be obeyed, mimicked and accepted absolutely; the process of learning is tied to a building, location, establishment

Homeschool — purposeful education not tied directly to an establishment; can involve grades, worksheets, exams, an authoritarian facilitator; if there are classes (e.g. large families or homeschoolers getting together) they would be much smaller than in traditional school so that students get more individual attention; generally still involves the idea that a grownup has decided that there is a subject that needs studying and the child is convinced, by whatever method, to learn it; some type of evaluation is necessary to ensure that the target subject matter of the curriculum is successfully acquired

Unschool — what might be described as “accidental” education, meaning the learning is driven by student curiosity without bounds (other than safety and appropriateness of subject matter); subjects combine in an organic fashion so that a sudden interest in frogs might lead to biology, measurement, reading, and/or art; basic skills are learned not for their own sake but because they are vital tools to explore a chosen subject; the facilitating adult often learns just as much as the student; the idea of evaluation becomes irrelevant because there is no predetermined body of knowledge that must be acquired; the authority becomes the subject matter/reality which all participants are willingly exploring/analyzing/studying or whatever their approach happens to be, absorbing input without focussing on the act of learning itself

Free School —(sometimes even called “Free Skool”) A combination of all three approaches, wanting the advantages of a pooling of resources, community, and a set location provided by a traditional approach, the smaller classes and individual attention of a homeschooling approach, plus the open possibilities and student control of unschooling. From my experience with an alternative school as well as accounts I’ve read, such as A.S. Neill’s book “Summerhill,” I envision classes offered that students are free to choose or reject, with each class coming to their own understanding of grades, exams, etc., as well as free time and resources to explore, study and/or work on whatever the individual is inspired to put their energy into

I admit having had in the past, with vestiges probably visible presently, a strong aversion to traditional school, though personally I was highly successful in that environment. As my older children have entered public school I have seen firsthand the advantages of this setting for them and have tried to minimize the disadvantages. This on the heels of having my ideal of a free school come into serious question with my experience at an alternative school. I believe I am moving toward a somewhat detached objectivity, realizing that nothing is perfect, though we must always strive for perfection. I know that my love of this world has only grown, and my joy of learning and of being present for others’ discoveries about this world will always keep me interested in trying to work out the best process and environment for education. For those reading this who share similar interests, I hope we can exchange ideas, dreams and experiences to enrich each other’s understanding.

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The Adventure of Homeschooling

I homeschooled my oldest until she was 12, my second child until he was 10. My five year old I am keeping out of kindergarten this year to have at least one more year with her. I have always loved learning and the greatest joy of parenting for me is being there when my kids follow their curious natures and end up in a place of wonder. This can apply to something as seemingly insignificant as “discovering” a new bug they’ve never seen before to something as necessary as a fundamental understanding of addition. To me it is all important and wonderful. Even though two of my kids are in traditional schools this year, I am still involved as much as I can by helping them study and giving whatever support I can.

My background in education is pretty varied. I have tutored numerous times, done an internship with a middle school Spanish teacher, spent two years as a French instructor at a major university, for three years volunteered many hours every week at an alternative “unschool,” developed curriculum for language education, plus many hours dreaming of the ideal learning environment and process, which to me is an infinite task since we all approach the world differently and thus need a slightly different presentation.

My major problem with traditional education is how much it limits the students through evaluation, literary canon, impersonal standards, just a general attitude of authoritarian implementation of limited subjects. Ideally I think that learning should be fueled by the natural enthusiasm and curiosity that children are born with and will retain if this spirit is not crushed early on. However, I am old enough to realize that my ideals must be tempered with realistic expectations so that they can best serve real needs in the real world.

The major obstacle I have encountered in my experience with homeschooling is that, at a certain age, a child’s natural need and desire to separate from their parents makes every lesson a torture. The kids want to explore further, they want to interact with adults that might be more compatible with their temperaments, they want to differentiate themselves to be their own individual. Their parents still have a lot to offer them, of course, they always will, but at a certain age they need other (safe) people to interact with and learn from/with. They just get too much direction and controlling oversight from their parents all day long, and it becomes too much. (I recognize that a lot of this may just be a result of my personality!)

In addition to other topics I explore, I will be writing essays reflecting on my experience with education, exploring various philosophies and ideas about learning, and also just dreaming about the possibilities for the future. I welcome questions, comments, ideas, and feedback.

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