Monthly Archives: February 2017

Attacking Teachers, Not the System: When Schools are the Problem, Not the Solution

Attacking Teachers, Not the System: When Schools are the Problem, Not the Solution

Kids attacking teachers is a symptom of a system that does not serve those kids. We need to move beyond bandage solutions and ask what’s wrong. It’s not a shortage of money.

When a teacher complains about being” routinely attacked and abused” by her students, “going home with bruises, scratch marks and bite marks,” and being “slapped and punched in the face and hit multiple times” by her four- and five-year-old students, there is a problem that’s way bigger than lack of classroom resources.

The situation referenced above involves a years’ long fight between a teachers’ union and a government, culminating now in a forced contract. The contract will leave a bad taste all round. And it will not solve the problems that plague public education.

In all the media coverage of this situation, I’m not seeing any discussion about why four- and five-year-olds are attacking teachers. Nor am I seeing discussion about why “teachers are seeing more and more students with a variety of learning challenges who require individual program plans because of autism and other physical or mental challenges.”

You can throw all the money in the world at providing more teachers, more psychologists, and tweaking the system in other ways. But those are just bandages. Parents, teachers, and governments must start examining the root causes of the problem with schools. Why do little kids attack their teachers? Do they not want to be in school? If so, why not? What are the social and human rights issues lurking behind that? Are children respected and trusted in our schools? Why are there increasing numbers of children with “learning challenges” like autism and other “mental challenges”? Why are more children being diagnosed? Are those real diagnoses or symptoms of underlying environmental, health, or economic issues? Are our society’s (and economy’s) priorities for parents and families skewed? Are they evidence that schools as currently configured are bad places for kids to learn? Does anyone care about whether or not children want to be confined to classrooms for many hours each day, for many years of their lives? Has anyone cared to ask the children?

Much of my writing over the past thirty years has addressed those issues. Other people are also asking those questions, of course. But real change will take more than just a few renegades talking among ourselves. If there is public money to be spent (and there is, if our children are considered to be a priority), let’s use it to ask the deep questions, and to challenge the current model of education. Let’s be honest with our questions and our answers. Let’s free all those well-meaning people who want to be teachers so they can actually help kids rather than be attacked by them.

It is no longer subversive to ask about the elephant in the room. Are schools the problem rather than the solution?

Save

Save

Save

Compulsory Self-Directed Learning?

Compulsory Self-Directed Learning?

What do you call it when students are allowed to self-direct their learning when their attendance at school is compulsory? I call it cognitive dissonance. You might call it baby steps in the right direction!

There’s a new school opening later this year in California. It’s called, for now, the UnSchool (the students will be able to choose their own name later). There are also a number of other schools, specialized programs, and organizations that use the term “unschooling” or ally themselves with it.

What they’re really about – and share with life learning/unschooling – is the principle of self-directed learning. And it’s great that so many people are recognizing how much learning happens when one controls, and therefore engages with, their subject matter. As much as that is obvious to life learners (like my family, who practiced self-directed learning before the author John Holt coined the term “unschooling” in the 1970s), it is a huge step for most educators. They, after all, have mostly experienced kids caught in classroom tedium and the rebellious behavior that often results. So the fact that kids can be self-directed learners can come as a surprise to – or even be denied by – most teachers, school administrators, and parents.

My problem is that the schools that do get it – like the UnSchool and the Sudbury Valley Schools, for instance – are still schools with compulsory attendance. And our thinking about learning and learners can be stretched so much further – to include, among other things, children’s rights. Self-direction can be seen as a basic life principle. In the introduction to my 2000 book Challenging Assumptions in Education, I wrote that trusting one thing leads to trust in others, and questioning the assumptions embedded in one aspect of life leads us to question others. (Some refer to this as “radical unschooling,” but I think it’s a natural and inevitable progression in trust and respect.)

If we agree that learning arises not from compulsion, memorization, and repetition of material dictated by someone else but through self-direction, investigation, and discovery, then where is the justification for coercive, compulsory participation?

In that light, I look forward to the day when those who offer self-directed educational opportunities further extend their trust in and respect for children and young people…and stop enforcing compulsory school attendance. That way, they can truly pursue a self-directed education!

Mindful Learning and What You Can Miss if You’re Not Present

Mindful Learning and What Parents Can Miss

Mindful learning involves being present in our children’s lives, trusting them to learn, and enjoying the process.

Maybe it’s because I spent some time on the vendor section of a virtual homeschooling conference website. Or maybe it’s because I read an article in the business press referring to homeschooling as “an industry.” Whatever the reason, I’ve been thinking about what we miss because we’re too busy planning the next “educational” outing for our life learning children. Or watching out for the next “teachable moment.” Or chasing what we think is the correct unschooling definition or the ideal life learning lifestyle.

And, yes, we life learners are prone to getting in our own way as much as the parents who are the target market for the conference vendors that make up the industry. Our concern that we’re not doing enough for our kids can result in busyness that we mistake for facilitation. Our momentary lack of confidence in the process can lead us to seek out products and advice that will supposedly help us do it “better.”

But what if success lies with doing less rather than more, with being rather than doing? Think “mindful learning.”

I’ve long been focused on mindfulness and mindful learning. And I’m pretty sure I enjoyed my life learning daughters as much as I could when they were children. But I’m also sure I was often overly-involved with writing, magazine production work, and community activism – or, as one of them reminded me recently, advising new life learners over the phone while the rest of the family ate dinner. And sometimes, I was just too tired or burnt out to be present for, let alone appreciate, each precious moment of our family’s life.

I know I trusted my daughters to develop into the adults they now are, and I respected them as individuals from the time they were born. But the years went by quickly. And I wish I had even more of those wonderful moments to marvel at now. On many days, I forgot to record about the good times in my journal; don’t you do that.

Here are some more keys to mindful learning and living that I suggest you consider:

  • Stay in the present with your children. Enjoy them where they are right now. Share their wonder at a snail making its slow way across the sidewalk. Celebrate with them their video game victory. Notice the feel of their hand in yours as you walk to the park. Play; be silly with them and laugh.
  • Keep in mind that childhood is a real stage of life, not a rehearsal for adulthood.
  • Trust your kids. Remember that the hour of playing with their pet bunny holds lots of learning.
  • Trust yourself to do what’s right for your kids. (Remember that most of us went to school and need to deschool ourselves before we can fully trust ourselves and our kids to learn without school.)
  • Stop trying to control or measure your children’s learning. If they take your lead and remain engaged with the present moment, they will learn. Remember that you don’t really have much control over their learning anyway – it’s mostly in their hands.
  • Pay attention to the difference between manipulation and facilitation. Your kids are watching you, so model learning behavior. Your role is to introduce them to the wonders of the world but not to try and force their interest in any one of them.
  • Remember that learning happens best when it’s not the goal but the byproduct of living.
  • Don’t overcommit, either your kids or yourself. Do they really need all those play dates, classes, and clubs? Examine the real purpose behind them all: Are you signing them up because they really want the activity or because you worry they won’t get enough socialization or stimulation?
  • And lastly, look after yourself. While taking care of everyone else and their learning, make time for you. When you’re not burnt out, you’ll be more apt to stay in the present and not miss all those wonderful moments with your kids. You will have to trust me on that one.

Mindful learning involves being present in our lives. Those learning moments (as opposed to teachable moments!) that we all pursue will happen on their own without your fretting or planning. Pay attention to them – and all the other moments of your family’s life – and you will not regret missing anything.

Save

Save