Thursday, January 23, 2014

A Review: A Thomas Jefferson Education: Teaching a Generation of Leaders for the Twenty-first Century

A Thomas Jefferson Education: Teaching a Generation of Leaders for the Twenty-first CenturyA Thomas Jefferson Education: Teaching a Generation of Leaders for the Twenty-first Century by Oliver DeMille
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I put off reading this book too long, long enough to form my own educational philosophy that was paradoxically a mix of two major styles: unschooling and classical education. I thought I was pretty weird for feeling this way, but the child-led, delight-led nature of unschooling just rang true... and so did the conviction that understanding the classics could create a new generation of renaissance men and women. I had believed these two philosophies to be in opposition to each other, despite both of them ringing true in my heart. Imagine my delight when I realized what Oliver DeMille was proposing: a marriage of unschooling (what he calls freedom education) and classical (an obsession with learning from the greats in every field through history). A common wealth school is being created for homeschoolers in my area and I'm very excited for my four boys and the strong mentors they will have available to them.

View all my reviews

Friday, May 31, 2013

Common Core's Love Affair with Textbooks

Philosophically, I'm against textbooks.

Textbooks take primary documents out of context, which is where propaganda gets inserted. "Living books," historical fiction, biography, and primary sources are infinitely more effective (and enjoyable) teaching tools. The rampant use of textbooks in colleges is not proof of a superior education philosophy. Rather, this rampant use is proof of a prevailing factory philosophy in public schools all the way through college. 

In my opinion, students using textbooks are spoon feeding, not feasting on knowledge.

Biography for math and science would also put current theories into historical context and help students understand how these consensus subjects have evolved into our present systems of math/science. To me, this is the difference between memorizing facts and truly understanding a subject. 

True, any type of narrative is subject to bias, but bias is clearer in a historical fiction format, where critical thinking becomes the natural response to reading it. Contrast that with the blind obedience children are taught in response to textbook reading. 

If it's in the book, it's on the test, sometimes with exactly the same wording. 

While this may be optimal for teaching to a test, it is catastrophic to independent thought and real learning.

Our family homeschools with a curriculum that is very literature focused. I can tell you my six-year-old gets more out of the historical fiction than he does from the few textbook "spines" we also use. He learns still more from hands-on activity surrounding a subject. 

He groans when we open a textbook. 

Maybe we should model public schools with input from the children themselves. Common Core will only do this by using market research from the kids' computers to adapt the software. 

It won't actually engage in conversation between parents, children, and educators. While there's nothing inherently evil about market research to improve an educational technology, the evil is in the monopoly and the removal of parents from the process

Remember that market research on kids also brought us Frosted Flakes and sugar crystals on cereal marketed to kids. 

The corporate powers behind tablets in the classroom do not have all our kids' best interests at heart. The "informational texts" children read for Common Core will be riddled with corporate and political manipulations. I said "will be" but it's already here.

It's now even more important to avoid textbooks aligned with the new gospels of present power.

Education is not the same as learning. Nowhere is that clearer than in the current federal-corporate takeover of common standards, and through those standards, all "aligned" curricula.

Monday, December 31, 2012

Another No-Duh Headline About How Kids Learn

"Pediatricians say kids need recess during school"

Whoa! No way! Stop the presses! This is big news!


Seriously, this is common sense and shouldn't need to be said out loud.

Children need time for free play. 

Lots of it. And adults would be surprised how much of that time would be spent in educational pursuits, given the freedom and resources.

If kids don't learn that learning is living, that it's exciting to follow their own curiosity, we are going to have more depressed children and bullies.

If I could say something to the administrators in charge of our current education system, it would be this: 

Schedule LESS. 

Test LESS. 

Spend your money on toys for the classrooms through high school. Then let the kids loose to share and collaborate with a little guidance here and there from the adult in the room. 

That's it. 

We'd have more learning, more invention, and less wasted time trying to control the uncontrollable.

Quote from the article:

"The cognitive literature indicates that children are exactly as we are as adults. Whenever they're performing a complicated or complex task, they need time to process the information," said Murray, a professor at Ohio State University in Columbus.

"Kids have to have that time scheduled. They're not given the opportunity to just get up and walk around for a few minutes," he added.

They're not given the opportunity to just get up and walk around... so kids have to have that time scheduled. 

Think about that.

One more reason to homeschool.

Monday, December 24, 2012

The Responsibility of All Parents

Homeschooling vs. Schooling

The duty of parents


"As a teacher, I would say that ALL parents have the responsibility to home school their children. Parents should be home schooling their children in the art of reading, basic number skills, colors, rules of polite society, the habits needed to study and learn something new on your own, problem solving skills, their native language (if they have one), skills like carpentry or art (if the parents have such skills), to name just a few. These are things that I, as a teacher, have limited ability to support in my classroom. Many are things that should happen before the child enters the school system, and continue afterward, so that the students have foundations on which to build their further learning. Learning that should continue, I hope, their whole life."

I agree with this teacher on this point: all parents have a responsibility to home school their children in the basics. 

Teachers cannot and should not be expected to teach children to read. That should be happening at home all the time. One of the things we don't talk about as much pertaining to the failure of the public schools is how parental attitudes have contributed to that failure.

I'll liken it to a doctor who tells parents not to try home remedies to resolve illnesses, to bring a child in immediately if there is a fever above 100 degrees. So they do. Then the same doctor complains that the parents are bringing in a child with just a fever and not taking care of it at home.

Likewise, certain educators have made a point of telling parents they can't resolve reading problems at home, can't possibly teach their own children to read. So they don't even try. Some parents have been told they could do damage to their children by trying to teach them to read before school age.


And then you get common-sense teachers like this one in the article who want you to teach your child to read before school.

So the wrong parental attitude of 'Let the school do it' is not only the fault of parents, but of educators who want to monopolize education regardless of the practical realities that make this impossible. 

Thankfully, the solution is already a nationwide movement. More people are homeschooling or "afterschooling" or "beforeschooling." More parents understand that the public schools will fail their children if they are not equal partners with their children's teachers. That's a wonderful thing!

In the next generation, we can look forward to more intelligent teens who know how to research, ask questions, and collaborate for greater innovation -- not teens who were taught to pass tests and expect spoon-fed knowledge.

Homeschooled teens become informed voters. Schooled teens become low-information voters, SNL-watchers who actually believe it's the "news."

So this trend toward homeschooling could save our nation, too.

Do you homeschool? Afterschool? Beforeschool? Or do you trust the schools to do it all?

Monday, November 26, 2012

Delayed Math and Reading: Not as radical/scary as it sounds

From Trivium Pursuit: Delayed Formal Math Approach:

Depending upon the child, upon the method, and upon the subject matter covered, there exists the potential for developmental harm from the formal teaching of arithmetic before age ten. Small children cannot understand many arithmetic concepts at an early age. We can teach them to perform the process, but we cannot make them understand the concepts. The child “learns” to hate “learning.” The child’s understanding develops along the wrong lines. He may actually develop mental “blocks” to arithmetic – actual physiological blocks in the brain.

I find this idea of delaying formal math interesting, especially since it is based on a historical perspective and education research. My own take is that math is a language and therefore its vocabulary should be taught every single day, just like we use letters and simple words every single day with our very young children. Further, I think math should be a game, always. When it is considered a game, it's less likely to cause the physiological brain blocks referenced in the quote above.

With math-as-games, I think it's okay to challenge children before age ten.

We are using Singapore math 1A/1B this year, but more often Gilgamesh's math learning is coming from his own independent play with manipulatives, refrigerator magnets, and technology (flash card app on my phone, exercises).

He's getting a much broader base in math than I ever had, especially for his age, because we aren't obsessing over a "spiral method" or a "linear method." To label it, I guess it would be a Pyramid Method: broad foundation leading up to finer math later on. He's played with:

  • cardinal and ordinal numbers
  • sets
  • addition
  • subtraction 
  • multiplication
  • division
  • charting
  • graphing 
  • tallying 
  • skip counting 
  • time-telling
  • money-counting 
  • scales
  • measurement
  • estimation
  • geometric building 
  • fitting shapes into each other (tangrams, pattern blocks)
  • spotting and creating patterns
  • symmetry
  • sorting
  • three-dimensional and two-dimensional shapes
  • geometry terms
  • story problems
  • dot-to-dot 
...and probably some things I'm not even aware of, as he's sponging up anything he sees, hears, or reads even when I'm not around to make sure he does.

I've read many opinions about delayed math and delayed reading, and even delayed potty training. I see the wisdom in it with a child who is struggling. But I think the terminology is wrong. It isn't really delayed -- just channeled differently.

Instead of forcing a young child through a traditional reading program, we take a step back and read copiously to the child, help him notice traffic signs, cereal boxes, help him memorize sight words through word games: give the reading context and fun.

Not delaying math, you're really just giving them room to learn some of the intuitive principles on their own, making them come to you when they want to know how to carry the one, how to multiply big numbers, etc.

Through extensive read-aloud time with my oldest child, he began asking about apostrophes at the age of 4 and understood the basics of the contraction at that age. Now, at age 5, he's learning that it can also mean possession and that that's different for plural possessive. I didn't miss an opportunity by waiting to explain the intricacies of apostrophe usage. Rather, I introduced it as he became interested, and he understood it because he wanted to understand it. At 4 1/2, he was reading at a first grade level. Now, at 5 3/4, he's reading on the cusp of a fourth grade level. We didn't delay reading training. But we didn't force it on an arbitrary schedule either.

Through math play, he's come to addition of double-digit numbers because of his own interest. Story problems are more of a natural thing as he looks to math to solve questions in his own play: how many blocks can I stack up, how many should make the base of the pyramid so I can end with one on top and use all of them, etc.

So, to ease the troubled minds of parents who read "delayed" and think "problem" and "stunted," think of it in these terms: You're not delaying crucial life skills. You're only delaying the formal, rigid structure of the way you were taught reading or math. What you're really doing is channeling your child's focus into the basic vocabulary, letting her play with the basic tools to see how the pieces fit together and what it means to her personally.

If a child knows enough Latin words, it will be a piece of cake for him to learn the language when he is developmentally ready. That's the principle here, as well.

Give a child a fish and you've fed him for one meal. Teach a child to fish and you've fed him for a lifetime. Hand a child the tool, the fishing rod and the fishy lake, and give him a few hours to himself... and he'll teach himself.

Photo source: Great Lakes Echo

As parents and teachers, sometimes all we need to do is provide the tools, be accessible for questions, and then get out of the way.

p.s. This fits into classical education's trivium stages of grammar, logic, rhetoric, believe it or not. This research only claims that a child's logical faculties aren't ready to absorb complex math principles until 8-10 years of age. That doesn't mean we should delay memorization of math (and reading) facts. Just as students memorize the states and capitals without necessarily understanding that Phoenix is hot and Juneau is cold, they can memorize that 8 x 6 = 48 without understanding that it means six hours of work at $8 an hour earns them $48. The understanding and depth can come later, during the logic stage. But those building blocks can and should be put into place now.

Friday, November 23, 2012

Purpose and Priorities in Education

I just read this teen's open letter about standardized testing. He's making a documentary about education and how standardized testing has affected the education of many young people. 

I think this is important. 

Students absolutely should be engaging in the global and national conversations about education. Of course, this would have been a lot easier had education been returned to local control (under a President Mitt Romney). Unforunately, that's not in the cards. Our current POTUS, President Barack Obama, is only a reformer insofar as it means making America like all the other nations of the world and increasing globalization. He doesn't care about the quality of education; he's more interested in its quantity -- that is, making sure all students fit under the umbrella of government schooling

While I agree all children should have access to learning tools, I disagree that all students deserve and need the same education. The difference? 

Learning tools tend to be universal: letters, numbers, blocks, books, videos, internet access. They are tools which can be used to present information in a beautiful variety of ways. 

It's not the same thing as providing "education" which to the government generally means a standard curriculum which all children are taught and must be proved to have accepted by means of standardized testing. 

But how is this resolved? How do we ensure we are providing top-notch tools and making sure those tools are used wisely for continued learning? How do we ensure students are prepared to become productive citizens who are also independent thinkers?

It's so tricky, really. I mean, there's a reason we haven't gotten it all sorted. 

The way I see it, there are two legitimate purposes for education, and a third more cynical purpose: 

1) To expand the mind and allow continued learning, 
2) To provide preparation, life skills, and job training, 
3) To manipulate the culture to fit a government ideal.

For that first purpose, you really don't need any kind of testing at all. Teachers can tell if a child is learning or not, and with such a broad goal as "continued learning" there's ample room for creative encouragement. In the past, before this round of standardized testing, American schools embraced the fuzzy math, creative spelling, e-for-effort ideal. The result of ignoring life preparedness and job training has been pretty glaring: America has fallen behind.

For that second purpose alone, you get China. No wiggle room for different types of learners. The sole purpose of education is to produce educated, useful citizens. You test into your caste system, as it were. Even before NCLB, we had this obsession with standardized testing. The results are no more desirable than previously. You get squashed spirits, kids who do fall behind a standardized norm, and tremendous burnout so that by the time kids get to college, they just want a break.

The third purpose needs no help. Those wheels have been in motion a long time, stretching into higher education and ensuring all teachers value the same government-sanctioned cultural ideals.

Going forward, we really need to figure out what our priorities are as a society. Personally, I value both 1 and 2, and am wary of 3. I'd rather see parents take care of cultural training. Nobody is an island, and we couldn't keep our kids from popular culture if we tried, but that doesn't mean we have to give up our traditions to favor a whitewashed, government model of culture. I know many immigrants have lamented that their children are abandoning their language and heritage because of this cultural immersion in government schools.

But where is the balance between 1 and 2? Is education for learning or job training? 

And who gets to decide?

My own view is that the decision should be left to individuals. Some schools (college prep, etc.) could specialize in life preparation and job training while others (charter schools with a fine arts focus) could specialize in the virtue of learning, separate from its job applications. 

The only way this works, though, is for school choice to become the norm. And that rubs the wrong way anybody who believes all kids should be learning exactly the same things (standardized education proponents). 

So the battle continues.

Thursday, September 27, 2012

The First Five Weeks of School

First day of school was August 20th

One of Gilgamesh's new subjects is PIANO

Sir Petrus hatched a personality. He's still a very serious baby, and quiet, but he loves to smile at his family.

Right off the bat we took a vacation and went to a festival! At the festival, our little knights built things at a Home Depot station. Alastor is here with Dad, showing him the goalpost he made.

Gilgamesh's first grade curriculum from Sonlight includes Usborne book, Peoples of the World. Crafts and activity ideas pepper every other page. It's been fun trying some of them out. Like the sarong, turban, Bedouin tents, and coil pots shown here. 

Gilgamesh is getting better and better at riding his bike!

When auntie came to visit, we showed her the Angry Birds game. Lots of fun!

A fun project I'd been meaning to do coincided with a poem in the Sonlight core: The House that Jack Built. We cut out pictures from the poem, like malt and a rat and put them in the finished house.

Nature walks and hikes by the local duck pond are always fun for our family.

Superdad shows Gilgamesh the ropes.

First grader


Here's Petrus, already 3 months old and getting more active.

Superhero costumes ahead of October's Halloween

The spider building an epic spiderweb outside our place just as we finished the year's first readaloud book, Charlotte's Web!

Alastor's three-dimensional rainbow

Gilgamesh's three-dimensional rainbow

Gilgamesh's book of dreams. Can you tell who we support for the presidential race in November?

D is for dirt, part of the Letter of the Week program we're doing for Alastor's preschool. Gilgamesh participates and has a blast doing the more arsty, basic stuff.

D is for dog

Gilgamesh's masterpiece from his first official art class. They're candy apples from a lesson on circles.

We discovered one way to get through those busy Usborne books is to copy the pages and cut and paste the individual pictures and text blocks into staple books. He gets to make a book and focus on one subject at a time. It's great! Only downer is how much ink we use up. But really, who decided children's nonfiction should be so BUSY!? Gilgamesh doesn't know where to look, so he often looks away. In the future I might try the window method I've read about: cut a square in a white piece of paper and show just one part of the page at a time.

A construction paper robot Gilgamesh constructed all by himself after seeing a similar one on Sesame Street. Take inspiration from everywhere and run with it!

To keep hands busy during readaloud time one day, I printed out some templates for tissue paper collages. It was a lot of fun for the boys but nobody heard a word I read, so we'll stick with quiet time and bedtime for readalouds for now.

We have this great Disney Pixar drawing book that shows you step by step how to draw several popular characters. This is Gilgamesh's Wall-e and Eve. I was impressed!

Gilgamesh's planet Earth. Not an assignment, just a self-directed art project. We found a website that showed how to make rectangles for proportions before drawing the basic shapes of the continents, so the U.S. is still pretty boxy. 

Tribal masks for scaring evil spirits, another Usborne-inspired craft.

Alastor loves the dry erase board. It only keeps him busy for twenty minutes without adult guidance, though.

And guess who recently turned three! 

So we've been keeping very busy! Feels like we're always a week behind, but I guess that doesn't matter as long as we're constantly learning something new. So far I love Sonlight's Core B for first grade. The science and social studies are probably the most taxing part because there's so much reading of nonfiction. But when we couple it with youtube or other online resources, we have a blast learning about blue-footed boobies and nocturnal animals and habitats. The other day we spent an hour just looking up different cultural, traditional dances and instruments on youtube. Later, Gilgamesh thrilled to recognized flamenco dancing on Sesame Street because he'd seen it before and knew its name already! It's fun to see my five-year-old beginning to remember things he's learning. Thus begins the Grammar stage of the trivium - memorization and mass learning. It's going to be an adventure.

For Alastor, we need to kick up the preschool a notch, not because he's not learning enough for a three-year-old but because he wants to be more engaged in the school process. Art, math manipulatives on the floor, and anything on youtube are his favorites to be involved with. On days when those things are scarce, he sits around playing idly by himself and then asks for a TV show or something to eat. In short, he's getting bored. So my mission next week and beyond is to keep all my boys engaged as much as possible, while allowing that down time and independent, unstructured play are also healthy, even if they don't always like it. 

This is still a very new adventure for us. How long have you been homeschooling? 

Any tips for newbies?