Monthly Archives: June 2016

Homeschooling Research: Fish Climbing Trees

Homeschooling Research

There’s a quote often attributed to Albert Einstein (although there is apparently no evidence connecting it with him): “Everybody is a genius. But if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will spend its whole life believing that it is stupid.” I thought of it as I read a tiny homeschooling research study comparing schooled kids to homeschooled and unschooled kids.

Thirty-seven homeschooled kids and an equal number of schooled kids between ages five and ten were volunteered by their parents to undergo standardized testing. The kids taught at home performed better on standardized tests than kids taught at school. That’s not news, although the researchers did correct some flaws in past research methodologies. They also recognized that there are different philosophies among the homeschool population – but only two: structured and unstructured, rather than the continuum along which most families move.

The twelve “unstructured homeschoolers” in this homeschooling research study did poorly on those standardized tests. Of course they did! Those fish in a tree-climbing competition were bound to lose the race.

The question for me is: Why were they involved in the first place? The whole premise of unschooling/life learning is that learning happens as a result of the learner’s interest, rather than somebody else’s agenda or timeline, and doesn’t rely on a standard curriculum, testing, or accountability to anyone but the learner. The researchers do give a nod to that, wondering if “the children receiving unstructured homeschooling” might eventually “catch up or surpass their peers given ample time.” But they don’t say if they want to study that. (Nor do they say if the unschooled kids were coached in testing writing techniques, which is important, since testing measures test-taking skill as much as anything.)

Such studies happen because academics believe that academic achievement – that is, the best performance on standardized tests – is desirable. These particular researchers define the goal of both schooling and homeschooling as “accelerating a child’s learning process,” whatever that means. Babies learn pretty quickly, after all…. Although they make much of the fact that “very few independent (i.e. nonpartisan) studies have focused on the academic achievements associated with home education” and that their study “was conducted by an independent research body that has no ties to homeschooling organisations,” they don’t understand that they, themselves, are not “nonpartisan.” Like most others who conduct homeschooling research, they work at academic institutions that are obviously biased toward, well, academic institutions. Like school.

Although I’m not big on measuring children at all, I understand that it’s part of ensuring that taxpayers money is spent well on schools (whether it does that well or not is another question!). So I will be happy when someone designs a study using unschooled kids as the norm and figures out how to measure schooled kids against that. I’m not holding my breath; there’s too much money at risk in the school industry to have someone prove schools don’t need to exist.

Learning and the Power of Storytelling

Learning and the Power of Storytelling

Long before the beginning of formal education, the printing press, and telecommunications, storytelling was the means for passing information and wisdom from generation to generation. Whether they described real events or utilized parables (or both), stories were the main tool for teaching and learning. Whether told around the campfire at family gatherings, on the battlefield, or in a sacred place, stories introduced listeners to the world of fantasy as well as to the realities of life, helped people understand their world, and provided the means for creating a public memory of history.

Stories remain a mainstay of informal, family- and community-based life and learning. Everyone’s life is made up of many stories. Sharing them is a way to connect with others on a more-than-superficial level, to pass on our experiences, and to build community. As Schenectady, New York storyteller Marni Gillard says, when people are encouraged to honor their own uniqueness, they are more apt to honor each other. Storytelling is a great way to share our uniqueness while at the same time discover our similarities.

Storytelling and Life Learning

In an article for Life Learning Magazine called Run Bus Car Broken, writing professor Gina Cassidy describes how storytelling is also an important step along the path toward joining what author Frank Smith calls “the literacy club.” Gina tells the story of her 21-month-old daughter.

“Coming out of the library, we had discovered that our car’s engine would not start. Seeing the bus go by, we made a dash for it: pregnant mom toting toddler, books, and diaper bag. My daughter thought this was great fun – the running and the bus ride. She blurted it out to her Dad when he came home. It made a great story: ‘run bus car broken.’ ”

As anyone who has listened to a small child breathlessly tell his or her own “run bus car broken” story knows, small moments in time can make great stories. And really, most moments are small ones. In his Life Learning Magazine article World History, Cricket, and the Eye of the Beholder, writer and ed tech designer Nathanael Schildbach reminds us that the stories of history are about everyday life and are being created by us all, on an ongoing basis. He writes,

“Marrying the notion that history is created and that it is created by all of us is the belief that everything is history. Since everything is created and not just spontaneously happening, everything is relevant to understanding history, and I mean everything. Anthropologists learn much about ancient civilizations by looking at their garbage, but have you ever had a history teacher who said that your grandparents’ trash was history?”

Learning is About Understanding

Storytelling is something we all do all day, whether it’s to explain why grandma can no longer walk as quickly as she used to, to share an amusing incident from our day over the dinner table, to gossip around the water cooler at work, to sit down at the computer and write an entry in our blog or social media account, or to play a video game. Stories are one of the main ways we human beings turn isolated experiences and facts into an understanding of how the world works. After all, real learning is not about knowing something, it’s about understanding it. And that’s what was happening all those evenings around those prehistoric campfires!