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Everyone I’ve been speaking to in the last few weeks about home education has such a different mentality about education and learning that it’s beginning to be as if we are talking a different language. Everyone looks at me as if we are doing some kind of weird experiment which is bound to end in failure. They look at me incredulously and then with pity and then with something bordering on contempt, as if I’m doing something really irresponsible to my kids. Funnily enough, none of these people have asked what my husband thinks about what we’re doing, whether he supports it or not. Some husbands don’t but, extremely fortunately, mine absolutely 110% does. I am so fortunate.
I read a great post today on the Coop Catalyst blog: http://coopcatalyst.wordpress.com/2012/04/12/what-is-the-most-important-quality-of-education-guest-post-by-vidushi-sharma/
The post is written by a very bright young lady attending a high school in the US called Vidushi. She sounds like a typical homeschooled kid in her passion for learning and her ability to self-direct that learning, something that’s NOT usual amongst schooled kids and is a big driving factor behind many families’ decision to homeschool! Yet, I bemoaned to myself, her views on education and learning will be given more credence than mine, by the kind of people I’ve been talking about, just because she is in school, because she is in ‘the System’, whereas I and my children are not any longer. These people i.e. most people, consider us weird, whilst they would consider, quite rightly, Vidushi something special. But our views, our approach is also special, and is also better than the status quo that Vidushi is challenging. But once you leave ‘the System’ you’re on the fringes and are considered odd rather than special-in-a-good way.
So why is Vidushi special? I’ll let her words speak for themselves…
““What are we supposed to get out of school?” I asked one of my closest friends earlier this week. “What’s the point?”
She looked at me for a moment, and then replied, “To produce a person who can form intelligent opinions on world issues, listen to other people’s ideas, and work together with them.”
“If everyone just finds one thing they love learning about, and pursues it…,” I added, “…then it doesn’t matter how ‘smart’ they are,” she finished, “Their interest will take them where they need to go.””
Wow! That’s like a homeschoolers’ mantra! Why I wanted to post about Vidushi today is because although the sorts of issues she discusses are crucially important for home educators, those reading this post who aren’t home educators will hopefully be inspired to re-evaluate the approach their kids (or you, if you’re one of the kids reading this ;)) could take to school based on what she says. Vidushi’s thoughts, which chime so much with my own, are as follows:
- She emphasizes a love of learning as being an educational goal (THE educational goal I think, if you read her piece in its entirety)
- She ponders the kinds of humans that emerge after school days are over, “What do students emerge as?”
- She feels that most of the learning happens outside a classroom. With her mother’s agreement she skips some afternoon classes, “Most of the instances in which I really learn are out of the classroom anyway, I thought, crossing the street on my way home. I didn’t think the benefits of attending class would outweigh getting home early and relaxing or working independently.”
- She finds school boring and frustrating because it’s so geared to grading and testing, “For someone who loves learning, watching teachers restrict the flow of information to what is covered on tests and standardized assessments is unbearable.” And later Vidushi says, “I am all too familiar with the feeling that classes are restricting my potential to learn and “obscuring the life of my mind.” My only escape is to pursue learning in other ways outside of class.” A BIG reason why we took Edward out of school a few months ago, to home educate him, is because we wanted to nurture ‘the life of his mind’ which we felt was unusual and very rich. It was being repressed at school and since he’s left it’s started to flourish.
Having such a rich interior life, such incredible imagination, at such a young age, seems unusual and it’s something we wanted to preserve for him. Usually this kind of mind development, if it happens at all, happens when kids are older, when it’s less of a challenge to nurture it because they have more autonomy than a 7 year old, although as you can see from Vidushi, it’s still far from easy. A 7 year old doesn’t have the option of skipping classes to pursue more valuable independent study or to seek teachers out for more enriching learning than they could get in the classroom, although I think my son would have loved to do this! Home education will give us the chance to discuss things in much more depth and much more sincerely (i.e. without some arbitrary test in mind) than Edward would have got at school.
- Vidushi’s frustration with her classes is not knocking teachers though and homeschoolers are famous for not blaming teachers either. Instead Vidushi says, and I’d agree, that, “I’d attribute this to the general structure of education rather than the teachers themselves. I greatly respect all of my teachers and often visit them outside of class just to talk about independent study material, or school life in general. Frustratingly, only a few of them seem to be the same people in class as outside of it. Because of the emphasis on numbers, their delivery of “classroom” information sometimes becomes a one-way stream. Somehow the focus becomes “checking the box” by getting high scores and grades, instead of real learning.”
- Self-motivated learning is the best way to learn. As Vidushi says, “The few assignments in school that really motivate me end up being mainly self-driven.” She beautifully articulates a moment that is like the ‘holy grail’ to home educators but should be to any open-minded kid at school too, “It is impossible to describe how it feels to read and research things with an open mind, and then suddenly see something “click,” and realize the nature of connections between areas of my life and subjects in school that seemed disparate before.”
- Vidushi’s repeated emphasis on a love of learning is worth quoting again, “Furthering a love of learning in students is the most important quality for education at any level. It’s universal — applicable to both an elementary school student studying fractions and a college graduate involved with higher level research. People need to find a passion for something to make their education worthwhile and applicable to areas beyond school walls.” I am really striving for this at home. That’s why I bought the ‘Life of Fred’ Maths books for example. I have no idea how much Maths it’s really going to teach Edward, maybe it will need supplementing, but it sure is an unusual and innovative approach to teaching Maths; to help kids see it’s point in their everyday life and to really enjoy learning it too. At the least the ‘Life of Fred’ books make Maths very entertaining! What a feat!
- Although so much of what Vidushi says is like a homeschooling mantra, she obviously has benefitted enormously from school. I have no idea whether she would have preferred being educated at home or not. But her experience of the following, whilst at first sight seemingly a huge benefit of school, can be recreated by homeschoolers who turn to their community for mentors, such as retired teachers, “Students who don’t seek teachers out on their own miss out on experiences that aren’t yet part of the classroom setting.”And of course schooled children could seek out mentors from the community too if they don’t find any at school.
- Vidushi quotes Gerald Graff in ‘Clueless in Academe’ who says that people “…fail to see that talk about books and subjects is as important educationally as are the books and subjects themselves.” In order for kids to love learning their teachers have to push them to start thinking and talking about material instead of memorizing it for the short-term.” My kids may be only 7 and 3 but sometimes it’s hard to get a storybook finished because of all the insightful questions and comments! We LOVE discussing absolutely everything. My 3 year old daughter is presently mad about a BBC Dinosaur documentary DVD that I bought with my 7 year old son in mind (but he’s too squeamish for it!) Now that leads to some interesting discussions! We don’t do much memorizing though; times tables aren’t something I’m willing to bang on and on about yet, not until I’m sure the love of Maths and History and other subjects that benefit from a bit memorization is more secure than it is now, after only a couple of months of home learning.
- Somewhere Vidushi and I differ is in her acceptance of students who like to have their learning spoon-fed. She calls this a different learning style and suggests that it has as much validity as her own “self-driven and pliable learning experience”. I don’t think you can find a love of learning if you need a “numbered and structured” learning experience but she is more accommodating, “As someone who has felt restricted rather than pushed by most classroom learning during my lifetime, I can only speak from my own experience. Others who have had different backgrounds may function best in ordered environments with predictable work assignments and study schedules. But whether a student prefers a more self-driven and pliable learning experience or a numbered and structured one, finding a love and happiness of learning should be the foremost goal.”
I really found Vidushi to be inspirational, not only for homeschoolers, but for any student, anywhere. Despite the fact that her experiences take place in the environment of an expensive, highly academic private school in the US, I think her opinions are universally applicable.
What do you think? Is she too utopian? Am I? With this approach to her education, is she going to get the grades she needs, to do what she wants in life? Does this matter, after all? Is getting good grades the only point of a ‘good education’? Please do comment or email me and vote in the poll!
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