Friday, February 25, 2011

Teaching Everyone Some Terrible Stuff (TESTS), Part I

If you are required to take one test or quiz every week of your school life, you could end up taking roughly 400 of them in twelve years. And you will be required to complete all 400 of these school tests all by yourself. You have to know or correctly guess sixty-five percent of the answers at the time of the test to be considered passing. What will these kinds of tests teach you? Something Terrible: that it is really important to know all the answers. That you are a failure if you don't remember or don't understand or never learned something. How will this prepare you for life after school?

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

I'm A Quitter.

Being labeled a quitter is not usually a good thing. Quitting anything apparently means you have a character flaw. It means you give up too easily. It means your parents probably let you quit things when you were a kid. You don't have any sense of commitment. As a parent, you are not supposed to want your child to be a quitter. You can make sure that this will not happen if you don't let your children quit things. Teach them that the commitment is more important than their happiness. Teach them that they might even end up liking something if they stick with it even when they don't want to.

I have known people who played the same sport almost every day for over a decade, from childhood through college, and still struggled with the idea of "quitting" the sport even when it was not bringing her any happiness anymore. So it's not ok to quit something if you have only just started, and then it's also not ok to quit something if you have been at it for a while. When IS it ok to quit something? How long are you supposed to give it before you can appropriately decide you have had enough?

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Unschooling: It's Like Riding a Bicycle

If being in school is like riding a train, then traditional homeschooling is like riding in a car. Your parents are driving and you get to sit with your brothers and sisters if you have any. But other than these two common elements, the details of the car ride can vary greatly, depending on your parents' views on education.

You might have parents who buy a curriculum, which resembles the timetable similar to the one used by the school train. Your mother might take on the role of "conductor," and insist that her car keep up with the train. She might not let you have much say as far as how fast to go or what the stops will look like. You might spend as much time in the car as schooled kids do on the train.

Or you might have parents who make up their own curriculum, accepting some level of input from you. They will take your interests into account when planning activities. They will adjust the pace if they think it is necessary. They might even stop the car sometimes when you point out something interesting you see out the window. You might spend a lot less time in the car than schooled kids do on the train.

But either way, you are still sitting in the backseat, having at least somewhat of a passive role in your educational journey and your life overall. The car, like the train, separates "learning time" from the real world, which you are still looking at through a window. The car follows streets, like the train follows tracks. There may be more than one path between two stops now, but you are still confined to the streets.

Now imagine you are in a family who gets around on bicycles instead of trains or cars...

Sunday, February 6, 2011

Reforming Reform

A train has advantages over other types of vehicles. It is a highly efficient, consistent, and relatively cheap way to get a lot of people to the same place at the same time. If schooling is like riding a train, as I described in my last post, then schooling is an efficient way to make sure that all students will "get to the same place," educationally, riding on the same tracks at the same pace, right?

Most top-down education reform plans take for granted that the "train model' of schooling is inherently all right. They assume that tweaking the current system will be enough to fix it. The plans usually include at least one form of each of the following points:

Friday, February 4, 2011

All A-bored

It's like someone hands you a train schedule when you are five years old, and it shows the plan for every day of the next thirteen to seventeen years of your life. The stops are laid out, the timetable is set.

There is only one set of tracks for your school train. The same for everyone. They tell you this is the only way to get between stops, where you are tested to make sure the train is on schedule. Sometimes you might see a shortcut to the next stop, or a nice sidewalk or winding wooded path running along the tracks. You say "Look, that path goes to the same place we are going anyway. Can I use it instead for a bit?" They say that's not the right way. You have to get there the same way as everyone else, at the same time.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

A Parenting Lesson From the Egyptian Government

"If you don't stop that Right Now, I will take away your internet access!" said President of Egypt, Hosni Mubarak, to his people. That should teach them to respect me and stop all this protesting, he thought as he pulled the plug on the internet for the whole country, just wait until they see how powerful I am.

Here's the problem: when you put on big, ugly displays of power over other people, it doesn't make you look good. This whole thing just made Mubarak look like even more of a jerk than the people already knew he was. The people of Egypt were rightly pissed about the whole thing, but fortunately, being cut off from the internet did not slow down the protests. How naive of Mubarak to think that it would! People were organizing protests long before blogging, Facebook, and Twitter. As this blog post points out, the social media activists of Egypt figured out other incredibly effective ways to connect with others. In fact, one protest had 250,000 people gathered together a few days after the internet went out. So it would seem that Mubarak's plan has backfired.