The Rope Bridge of Homeschooling

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The beginning of the school year has come, and I’m rethinking how we are going to strategize next year’s schooling goals.

I’m pretty happy with the books and programs we’ve used this year, so I’m going to keep those. Horizon ROCKS, so we’re sticking with that for now for one of the kids, but I moved to PACE for the older child, and it is definitely more attuned to her mind. Story of the World is absolutely fascinating, but it’s pretty dry, so we’re doing History Pockets which is a lot of fun and very crafty. I’m still on the fence with that one. R.E.A.L. Science was good. The grammar from The Well-Trained Mind series was pretty phenomenal, so we’re keeping that.

The funny thing, at least for me, is that I have been reading “The Element” and “Out of Our Minds” by Sir Ken Robinson for a while now, and they are both just absolutely the most riveting books to read. The thing is, this is my element: learning. I love to learn and I love to pass on the learning through education and writing.

I remember exactly when I realized what I wanted to do this for the rest of my life when my family was camping one summer. Our dad was sitting on the back of his truck, and we had gotten distracted from unloading it and ended up listening to him tell us about WWI leading up to WWII. It was just absolutely fascinating stuff to me, and that is when I discovered that I wanted to know everything. Not in a “powerful Wizard of Oz” way, because I can assure you that I will never understand electricity the way Ben and Glenn do. But I just wanted to keep discovering until I could find nothing left to discover. That’s why I read so much, this is why we explore crazy places, this is why our trip to Beijing was the most incredible experience: there was SO much to discover and learn. My degree in Literature enabled me to learn about societies, from the point of view of the people, which barely reach the surface of understanding today. Okay, I’m going off on a tangent here…

So when Robinson was describing how this one dancer, Gillian, came into her element when she entered a dancing school and saw every other girl there who couldn’t keep still and had to keep moving in order to maintain themselves, I completely understood. This is how I feel every time I read about another learning system, or a new curriculum, or I discuss styles with other educators. I LOVE education. It is just the most fascinatingly amazing thing in the world to me. I could talk about the strategies of Aristotle, of Waldorf, of the theories of Classical vs. Traditional vs. Modern Thinking…I find them all just amazing.

Recently I have been up to my ears trying to fully understand The Blue School, which is rather difficult since it is in New York and I am out here in CA.

There are a number of obstacles with understanding The Blue School though: foremost, I think, is that the people running it are from Harvard and Ivy League universities. My degree is from a podunk state university. Now, while this isn’t the end of the world, I will say that the mentality of Harvard is quite different (yes, I realize this is kind of an understatement, but stay with me). The people who graduate from my university talk about going on to teaching, going into the Peace Corps., going into small businesses, etc. We’re thinking workers.

However, in higher universities, such as Harvard, it is typical to instill the thought of making the world a better place by giving. Give your money if you are rich (see: Bill Gates), give your gifts if you have gifts (see: FDR and his ability to instill hope during the Depression). You can see a list of Harvard graduates here and get an idea as to what these people hoped to get out of life: giving something to the world to make it a better place. This is seriously overgeneralizing the point I am trying to make, so just keep reading; I don’t want to go down a rabbit trail of what every graduate from Ivy League schools have or have not accomplished. I just wanted to point out that the mentality is “society” instead of “individuals.” They leave with a bigger picture of how the world is run, and how they can participate in running it; as opposed to my position, which is happily “individual.”

So with that said, The Blue School is the crux of Modern Education.

Just a quick perspective on why this is interesting: Classical Education (at least from an American point of view) ranges from Colonialism-1810. You learned Latin, Greek, Literature, Math…but specifically it has a system of Trivium where there is the level of Grammar, Dialectic and Rhetoric (basically, Elementary school, Jr. High and High school). Then there is Traditional Education, which is essentially the one-room schoolhouse idea; but the lessons start moving away from Classical education in Latin, and more towards applicable subjects. Finally, around 1910 came Modern Education, and this was much more pragmatic in structure. Kids needed a more pragmatic education in order to learn how to be functional citizens post-Industrial Revolution, and education helped this idea along. This makes sense to me. If a student is schooled in Latin and Literature, how will they be able to work in a factory when they graduate? Not very well. So Modern Education supplemented where Classical and Traditional Education left gaping holes.

The thing about today, though, is that there aren’t many factories to participate in anymore (unless you count public education, which is a valid argument, I think). So we’re back to educating for ideas. This is where The Blue School comes in. They want their students to really explore their minds through education, through art, through creativity, and come out the other side with a bigger idea of the world than any textbook could offer them. But it is thickly Modern Education: society over individual, creativity over Latin, self-expression over “the right answer.” Kind of. Big sweeping generalities here.

So, I just finished a 3 day event in a Classical Education forum, and it was pretty awesome but completely different from The Blue School. The direction they want to take the kids is fantastic, the bar is really high and the kids are collaborating in a group to achieve academic goals…while still homeschooling. It is FAN-TASTIC. I love it. But there is a lot of Kool-Aid to drink.

I am not a Kool-Aid drinker. Even when I lead Kool-Aid groups, or am a member of Kool-Aid communities, I just swirl it around in the glass the whole time. I just can’t jump in that far…because it’s ridiculous. I think Classical Education is great, no two ways about it. I am looking forward to teaching my kids both pragmatic and Classical education, so they have a good balance between thinking and doing. But do I think Dewey killed education, and we should go back 300 years in educational learning?

No. This is the dumbest thing I’ve heard….well, the second dumbest thing I’ve heard so far. The absolute dumbest thing was that our daughters don’t need higher education because they were designed to be helpers, and only our sons really needed the higher education because they would actually be working.

No, I didn’t laugh my way out of the auditorium. But I took a big huge note never to interact with that woman’s group ever again. wow.

Ok, so this whole “300 years ago was so much better!”idea is just absurd. 300 years ago, I wouldn’t be able to teach anything. Heck, even 100 years ago women weren’t allowed in University libraries unchaperoned. 300 years ago we were still trying to figure out how to start a nation and farm the land. 300 years ago we didn’t have the internet, we didn’t have cars, we didn’t have telephones, we didn’t have freaking pavement on the streets. So teaching our kids now in the same way kids were taught 300 years ago is a good idea? Really?

But what about the Blue School idea? Do I really buy into the extreme education of self-pacing/student-directed education? Ehh, not so much. A little, but not so much. On one hand, students really do get to pick what they learn, and the instructors help augment the lessons to hit every subject. I love this idea, and we’re doing this now actually. We had a huge unit on The Universe, and it included constellations, biographies, writing about what we’ve discovered, etc, etc. But it is applicable on a very, very small scale. Just for an example: the Khan Academy, which is also totally awesome, had a little experiment in Oakland. 6th graders were given self-directed math lessons for a few months, and the instructors checked the results afterward. The kids did SIGNIFICANTLY worse when they were self-taught…because they didn’t care. In the public school system, students are motivated to get through the tests. “Will this be on the test?” if not, then who cares. And that’s what Khan discovered: if kids didn’t need to be tested on something, their motivation to learn was gone. So they just breezed through the math and retained none of it.

Now, this is a systematic problem and not an academic problem. The problem is in the culture of the school, which is why The Blue School started with pre-school kids and moved up from there, as opposed to starting with Jr. High kids and tried to re-engineer learning then. It just wouldn’t work.

But for us homeschoolers, how about we realize that we are in the middle of a societal revolution, and start teaching accordingly. There needs to be a balance between technology and textbooks, between individualism and society, between Latin and learning German, between academics and pragmatism. We need to learn from the masters, and see what is and isn’t working in Modern and Classical forums, and pass on these lessons to our own kids.

Less Kool-Aid, more re-discovering hydration in general.

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