Wednesday, September 11, 2013

How I Would Redesign Schools to Awaken Passion in All People

I had a dream last night, inspired by my reading of Deschooling Our Lives (ed Matt Hern) and my attending a Town Hall meeting last night at which education came up a lot, where I told someone (a school board member? middle school principle?) how I would redesign our schools.

Schools would meet for four hours a day (a flexible four hours? just mornings? afternoons?). Then instead of putting more money into schools, we invest in libraries, rec centers, museums, and professional partnerships like local attorneys, food pantries, hospitals, and municipal centers. Kids - say grades 4 through 12 - would choose what service projects or other interests they would pursue for the rest of the day. This could be anything from a sport to serving at a food pantry to studying Russian literature at a local library. It would be totally up to the student. Guidance counselors, teachers, and parents would help provide resources and direction based on the student's interests and goals.

This would require two things: community partnerships and trust in a young person's inner guidance. In our current society we do not trust young people at all, and barely trust adults. This is partly because people who know themselves are dangerous. They start questioning things like capitalism and consumerism. We would have to develop faith in human curiosity, innovation, and soul. As any grown unschooler will attest, when we trust in these traits, beauty and magic ensues.

There are schools like this, such as the Free Schools and the Sudbury schools. I think public education needs this. It would awaken young people's fires and passion and reawaken their natural love of learning. It would transform the way we think about young people. It would transform our society.

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

What Can My Kid Learn from Watching My LIttle Pony???

My eldest spends a whole lotta time on the computer. It's either Animal Jam, Netflix - the same few shows - or sometimes Poptropica (she's almost 8). I worry. I fear I'm letting her brain rot. I fear she doesn't know how to self motivate, that I let her watch shows too early (she loved her Caillou and Baby Einstein shows). And simultaneously, I'm a big believer in unschooling, or letting my kids choose their path of learning.

She likes My Little Pony, Powerpuff Girls, and Horseland. She used to be really really into Rugrats and All Grown Up. Occasionally, she'll check out something else recommended by the Netflix algorithms, like Ruby Gloom. Sometimes she'll watch some other fluff, like Maco Mermaids. When she's into a show, she watches it over and over, and I know there are important wheels turning as she watches these shows. But still I worry. Not about the content, as some parents might, just about the seeming inability to do anything else. Yes, she does hours of gymnastics, plays with friends, goes to her enrichment classes, draws, plays piano, plays with her brother, reads, is read to, plays board games and cards with her dad and me, and knows how to cook French Toast and whip egg whites - but sometimes there are a whole lot of extra hours in a homeschooling day.

So to make myself feel better, I did some digging about what other people thought on the subject. Here is what she is learning.

- Storytelling, characters, plot development, irony, and humor.
- Strong female role models - and comparing them to not so strong ones.Early feminism via MLP.
- Art. She draws a lot, and I know seeing these different styles of illustration and animation influence her (though she usually draws her own characters, still lifes, etc., I think it has to get in there).
- Music. She's also really drawn to music, and all those catchy jingles have a lot to teach a budding musician about structure, catchiness, and lyrics.
- Reflection on the ins and outs of friendship, respect, community, and culture.

And then there are the online games. She was so pleased to share with me her "den" in Animal Jam, and I could see how much creativity and efficacy went into her virtual creation. Sometimes she'll Skype with a friend and they play together (and yes, we play with that friend in real space, too). I have to say it's pretty cool to have a play date while staying home. Not for every day, but on occasion, it's lovely.

It's hard for us parents to know where this is all leading. I'm trusting her, trusting my gut (I do tell her sometimes to find something else to do, when there is this stagnant feeling in the house), and trusting that what we do as children often leads us right to our best place in the world.

But I still sit with this question: how can I encourage the things she is learning by watching her shows and playing her games to blossom into other areas of her life, like composing, writing, working out differences with her friends, and so on? Do I need to, or does it happen organically? When do shows become a crutch? An ongoing question to work out with her, I guess.

Monday, September 2, 2013

Teaching Children to Think

"When you want to teach children to think, you begin by treating them seriously when they are little, giving them responsibilities, talking to them candidly, providing privacy and solitude for them, and making them readers and thinkers of significant thoughts from the beginning. That's if you want to teach them to think. There is no evidence that this has been a state purpose since the start of compulsion schooling." - John Taylor Gatto, "The Public Schooling Nightmare" in Deschooling Our Lives ed. Matt Hern

Just have to say I highly recommend this book, a collection of essays blasting schooling and educating others, and celebrating how we learn and grow as a function of being human.