Education Week, looking at learning alternatives, takes a peek at unschooling.
Now this is just embarrassing (again—they did it to the one on the rights of children, too):
I can’t decide whether I’m more peeved at yet another incident to persuade the great American public that all homeschoolers are imbeciles or that there are enough Senate Republicans buying this idiocy to kill the treaty.
Only upside is maybe it’ll help us get a Senate supermajority in 2014.
The Bitter Homeschooler definitely makes bitter work–go read for yourself:
It’s time to celebrate reading and the First Amendment and subversive ideas all at once: Banned Books Week (September 24−October 1, 2011) starts tomorrow.
You can find web badges and a lovely brochure listing this year’s banned or challenged titles (many of them mystifying) at the Downloads page of the ALA Banned Books Week site.
Some of my favorite books are perennials on those lists.
The unschoolers are infiltrating again.
Consider the school music program described today in a New York Times editorial piece by David Bornstein:
Little Kids Rock has had remarkable success getting students excited about music class by putting instruments (mostly guitars) into their hands on day one, showing them simple techniques to get started playing quickly, and allowing them to play music that they love to listen to.
The program is controversial, of course—critics say that schools should be teaching more serious music, that letting kids just play around with pop music they like isn’t serious education.
But the program’s supporters sound like unschoolers—they’ve discovered that letting the kids get excited about music that interests them triggers far more:
It’s important to note that the vast majority of the program’s teachers — and its biggest supporters — are themselves classically trained music instructors, who also frequently teach orchestra, chorus or jazz or marching bands. A few of them wrote in to share their experiences with Little Kids Rock. MamfeMan (20) wrote that the program had “shaped the culture of my school, the mind-set of these students, and has been — without a doubt — the most inspirational part of my life.” Another teacher, who is based in Philadelphia and teaches fifth graders, (56) added that when “students who want to learn a certain song … go ahead and learn the chords, and practice till they ‘get it’’’ the belief in learning-through-practice carries over to other areas of school.
Almost makes me think there’s hope for conventional education. If this style of learning catches on so well in music, maybe it’ll spread to other subjects, too.
I’ve neglected to mention that I was asked to serve as a resident “expert” on unschooling over at CafeMom for the month of August. It’s been a long time since I’ve done much homeschooling/unschooling related work, so it’s been kind of fun. Come on over if you want to add to the conversation—I’ll be there off and on every day for the rest of the month. (They’re even going to have a drawing at the end of the month for a copy of The Unschooling Handbook.)
Yet another study that appears to discover the obvious (though it’s interesting to me because there is depression in my family): “Tuned In Parents Cut Kids’ Depression.”
The gist is that kids do better when parents tailor their interactions to each kid’s personality instead of using the same approach with every kid. According to researcher Liliana Lengua:
It is parents’ instinct to help and support their children in some way, but it’s not always clear how to intervene in the best way. This research shows that parenting is a balance between stepping in and stepping out with guidance, support, and structure based on cues from kids.
Is there any aspect of life where assuming some standardized version of a person works better than addressing the specific needs of the individual in front of you?
To take an example of just one classroom convention that might be inhibiting today’s students: Teachers and professors regularly ask students to write papers. Semester after semester, year after year, “papers” are styled as the highest form of writing. And semester after semester, teachers and professors are freshly appalled when they turn up terrible.
Ms. Davidson herself was appalled not long ago when her students at Duke, who produced witty and incisive blogs for their peers, turned in disgraceful, unpublishable term papers. But instead of simply carping about students with colleagues in the great faculty-lounge tradition, Ms. Davidson questioned the whole form of the research paper. “What if bad writing is a product of the form of writing required in school — the term paper — and not necessarily intrinsic to a student’s natural writing style or thought process?” She adds: “What if ‘research paper’ is a category that invites, even requires, linguistic and syntactic gobbledygook?”
What if, indeed. After studying the matter, Ms. Davidson concluded, “Online blogs directed at peers exhibit fewer typographical and factual errors, less plagiarism, and generally better, more elegant and persuasive prose than classroom assignments by the same writers.”
Some of this sounds suspiciously similar to ideas unschoolers have been talking about for years. Ms. Heffernan’s persuaded me—I’ve already ordered Ms. Davidson’s book and am looking forward to its release next week.
If the New York Times writes an article about homeschooling graduations becoming commonplace without any “expert” quotes on the hazards of non-traditional education, does that mean that homeschooling is now officially mainstream?
(Originally posted on my Viral Learning blog 8/28/2009)
When my kids were little, they wanted to grow up to be LeVar Burton.
Actually, that’s not quite right. They didn’t want to BE LeVar Burton—they just wanted his job.
They weren’t alone, though. I wanted his job, too.
We all thought there couldn’t be any more fun or more interesting job in the world than to be the host of Reading Rainbow.
So it was a shock this morning when I woke to NPR telling me that today was the last broadcast of Reading Rainbow on PBS. The reporter said, “Even if you can’t remember a specific episode . . . “
Even if you can’t remember a specific episode?
I can’t count the specific episodes I remember. I mentioned the puppy episode (Book: Best Friends; related segment: Guide Dog puppy raiser), the cat episode (Book: can’t remember; related segments: tigers at the then-MarineWorld/AfricaUSA and actor getting made up for Cats role), the one where Juila Child read the story about the mixed up real and artificial cakes, and the comedy show (Book: Ludlow Laughs, read by Phyllis Diller; related segments on slapstick) in the lament I sent this morning to my daughters (now in their 20s).
My older daughter wrote back:
And the hat one, with Zelda Rubenstein reading the book? And the here-are-all-sorts-of-different-jobs one, with the pizza guy and the dog walker and the professional LEGO builder? And the fashion one? AND THE STAR TREK ONE?!?!?!?! AND WOULD WE EVEN HAVE GONE TO **ANY** RENAISSANCE FAIRS WITHOUT THE RENAISSANCE FAIR ONE?!?!?!??!?!?!
Which, of course, made me think of more: Dinosaur Bob and Dinosaur National Monument; The Ox-Cart Man, read by Lorne Greene, with LeVar visiting Old Sturbridge Village (and because of which Kate and I went to Old Sturbridge Village when we went back east to visit potential colleges for her); the devastatingly affecting Vietnam Memorial episode with Maya Lin; Humphrey the Wayward Whale, which was fun because it used news footage from one of our local TV stations; Abiyoyo, with Pete Seeger; the one with the woman who decorated those amazing Ukrainian eggs; . . . I won’t go on, even though I could easily list a dozen more.
And why are we losing Reading Rainbow after 26 years? (Among PBS children’s shows, only Sesame Street and Mr. Rogers have had longer runs.) We’re losing it because nobody will fund it, because the powers-that-be have decided that “phonics and reading fundamentals”–the how of reading–are now more important than the why of reading, the joy of reading.
Reading Rainbow was never about telling kids that reading was good for them. It was all about showing them the doors that reading opens, the worlds we can reach and explore, the way one adventure leads to another, and more beyond.
No matter how much phonics and decoding skills are dressed up to make them appealing and entertaining, they’re still mechanical skills that kids are told are good for them. Reading’s important, and these are the skills needed to become a successful, serious person—in other words, learning to read’s a chore, and we have to try to make it fun, because otherwise it’d be too boring to bear.
Reading Rainbow always took the approach Frank Smith recommends in Joining the Literacy Club. Learning, Smith says,
is primarily a social rather than an individual accomplishment. We learn from other people, not so much though conscious emulation as by “joining the club” of people we see ourselves as being like, and by being helped to engage in their activities. Usually we are not even aware that we are learning.
Literacy is more than the shunting of information between one person and another. It is the exploration of worlds of ideas and experience.
The NPR story says that Reading Rainbow operated on the idea that its kid viewers already had reading skills, but I’m not so sure about that. My kids were entranced by the show long before they learned to read, but they loved the storybooks on the show and they loved the related segments. We made countless library and book store trips in search of books we learned about from Reading Rainbow and looked into local versions of sites and activities we saw on the show.
Reading Rainbow never helped my kids learn to read, in this dreary modern phonics-and-reading-fundamentals sense. But it helped them in a more truly fundamental way–it helped them WANT to read, and without that, all the decoding skills in the world won’t create a reading child.