Thursday, July 03, 2014

Skellig: A book with an unschooled kid.

One of the favourite things I've always loved about being a parent is reading to my kids. Sadly as they grow older there are fewer opportunities to do so-and the kids prefer to go off and read their own books by then. Still, I am lucky to have the attention of my youngest kid yet and I just finished reading a most wonderful book called Skellig by David Almond.

How surprising it was and exciting to discover a girl (Mina) living the unschooled life; who moves in the world and learns following her natural curiosity so thoroughly and whose experience, contrasted against the schooled life really brings forth the 'rightness' of what authentic learning is about.

It is now school that is portrayed as un-natural, a curiosity to wonder about (rather than self-directed learning). When Michael (the protagonist) is working on his school work (after missing school due to the distress he is in because of his very sick baby sister), Mina looks at the worksheets; It is thought that Man is d-----------------from the apes. This is the Theory of E--------------This theory was developed by Charles D--------------. There was sentence after sentence like that. Mina read the sentences out loud. She said, "Blank blank blank," in a singsong voice when she came to the dashes. She stopped after the first three sentences and just looked at me.
"Is this really the kind of thing you do all day?" she said.

When she flicks through the book that Michael and his class are reading she asks about the red sticker.
"It's for confident readers," I said. "It's to do with reading age."
And what if other readers want to read it?"
"And where would William Blake fit in?" said Mina. "Tyger! Tyger! burning bright/In the forests of the night." Is that for the best reader of the worst readers? Does that need a good reading age?"..."and if it were for the worst readers would the best readers not bother with it because it would be too stupid for them?"she said.

If you're looking to get inspired about life, beauty, the extraordinariness of things get ye a copy of this book!

Tuesday, July 01, 2014

Exploring Canada Day with Canadian Kids

Happy Canada Day!!
Just listening to a radio show (Radio Free School) we did back in 2007. Listen to children's views on being Canadian.

interviews - Making Pancakes/Crepes. Opinions on Canada (Canada Day July 1). Karl Hess from the film Anarchism in America

music - Constitution Breakdown, and Anti-Confederation Song, from Classic Canadian Songs from Smithsonian Folkways

tech - beatrice and randy

listen - download here

The real non-resistants can believe in direct action only, never in political action. For the basis of all political action is coercion; even when the State does good things, it finally rests on a club, a gun, or a prison, for its power to carry them through. -Voltairine de Cleyre

Monday, June 30, 2014

We are all Unschoolers: A Personal Reflection.

"Next to the right to life itself, the most fundamental of all human rights is the right to control our own minds and thoughts. That means the right to decide for ourselves how we will explore the world around us, think about our own and other persons’ experiences, and find and make the meaning of our own lives.”
John Holt, American educator and author.

When I think about it, I’ve been directing my learning for most of my life. I was unschooling myself as a young person—and I didn’t even know it! I didn't have the name for it.
I recall as an 11 year old, teaching myself French because I wanted to attend the francophone school that my older sister was going to attend (We had just emigrated from England to West Africa). I was extremely motivated, I was intrinsically motivated, I was emotionally invested. I wanted to do this thing and I knew I could.
I worked very, very hard. Throughout the entire summer, I hung around les soeurs (Catholic sisters) of the secondary school, as they prepared my sister to enter in the fall. They gave me french books to read, comic books like the 'Adventures of Tin-Tin' and basically left me alone to figure things out, offering help when I needed it. I studied conjugation and vocabulary and sentence construction on my own.
As it happens, I didn’t end up going to that school but what I learned was that if I wanted to, I was able to be utterly focused without anyone forcing me or trying to get me to be so.

I bet everyone can think of a time, when their interest to learn something was burning and all consuming, and you learned because you really wanted to know, not because someone wanted you to.

In this way, we are all unschoolers.

As I got a little older, I learned to question what I read in books and what people were telling me. I remember disagreeing with a statement in a textbook and feeling thrilled and empowered that I could do this—me, little ol me, challenging ‘the voice of authority’ that was that textbook! This was an epiphany for me that I have never forgotten because it was the beginning of my being able to challenge and explore what I believed in, what was interesting to me, what was my reality and not some imposed authority outside of myself. I was 14.  Later in my life, my children would be much younger to arrive at this revelation—I attribute this attitude to the support they would receive from their father and me.

When I was asked not to return to high-school due to too many absences in chemistry, a subject I found confusing and overwhelming, I studied math and advanced math at home and when it got to the point when I needed some help, my mother was able to hire a tutor once a week to help me as I prepared for my A levels (British system). I guess, I also learned this sort of ‘do it yourself’ you can do this from my mother, a creative, inventive person, skilled as a tailor and pattern maker (self educated) who has a high-school level but who has never doubted that any of her 5 daughters could do what ever we set our minds to.
It's not really that surprising after all that when I had my own children, the idea of unschooling them was something that felt natural. Now I'm seeing my sisters, although they are not unschooling, they have the philosophy on their radar and it informs their decisions/thoughts when it comes to the schools their children attend.  They can think about how we are all unschoolers, whether in school or out, and we just need to nurture opportunities for kids to explore their interests more.

"Nobody can give you and education. Education must be taken by those who want one. The will and dogged persistence of the seeker are the only essential tools needed to become educated. Teachers, text, money play only minor roles and papers, pencils, tests play no role at all."(Gatto).

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

You say you want community?

We're all talking about community. How do you find it? How do you get more of it?

But what is community anyway? Is it companionship? Lots of friendships? Is it people who think the way you do? Support? All of these? Does it have to be face to face consistency in order to qualify? Or will online sharing of resources suffice? Getting a clear sense of what one means by 'community' is a first step to getting what you want from it. 'Community' can simply mean the physical presence of people you like being around.

Some people are willing to go to great distances to find  their community. For example, very dear people I know are heading out west to an eco-village so that they can find like-minded people and live and out their beliefs.  For me--currently, I should add, because things do change--I need less community than others. I struggle with being too busy and I am lucky to already have a built in community: family. Not only my offspring and partner, but also my sisters, their families, my mother. This is already quite a lot to manage--if you want to spend time with them all it takes a bit of planning and I already feel guilty that I need to do more with them!

Creating Community
My first thought is to look at what you can offer: What do YOU have to give towards building community? I've seen many people grow a community around what they can contribute personally, as opposed to hoping for it to happen. Here is a great idea for building community around the love of books:
Community is reciprocal after all and everybody has something they are good at and can share.

The second thing to do is to broaden your definition of community. I think it can be really helpful to stop looking for people who fit what is sometimes our narrow definition of community. You're bound to be surprised.
You are looking for a mother with children exactly your age? You will find that you like the mother but your kids don't get along. Or you don't approve of the mother but you like the kids. With unschooling, there is no need to caught up looking for other unschoolers to hang out with. You might find allies in the most unexpected of places. My kids best friends while unschooling were all school kids.

Communities of Common Interest
We can make community happen when we pursue our interests. Unschoolers know that you can make friends how share your interest but are not the same age as you are..and that's okay! Your kid can hang out with the local astronomers crowd even if she is 1/5th their age.
Volunteering is a key way to connect with others and nurture bonds and relationships so get your kids out there, helping out.

Parents can still help their kids find community even when they are teens. In fact, it is often at this age when they need the most help connecting with others.
Once the kids start getting older, the peer group takes on more meaning and importance to this age group. Art, theatre, music all create community for youth and there are many opportunities to get involved even if your teen doesn't like the limelight!

Unschooled teen will have had time to develop skills that are teachable to younger kids--skills like swimming, music etc and I find that here's where these kids can connect with kids doing similar things and forge new friendships. Online community becomes super important, where they seek connection for social reasons but also to explored common interests together.

A word on solitude:
Of course, sooner or later, everyone has to learn that solitude is okay; being alone can be a good thing. Unschoolers have that advantage because they will have spent hours of their day to day alone anyway.

Many kids who don't go to school have the opportunity to work and safe money for travel.
There are more an more opportunities for youth to meet other youth doing the same thing and here is a link that is specific to youth travel:

I hope this helps some of you and I'd love to hear from others about what they are doing to nurturing community for themselves!

“Cities have the capability of providing something for everybody, only because, and only when, they are created by everybody," says Jane Jacobs.
I find that when you replace the word 'cities' with 'communities,' you get the same message!

Still giving it away~!

What is the biggest challenge you face in unschooling?
Share it for a chance to win a copy of Natural Born Learners! (Name will be entered in a draw). You get two chances at winning if you also like my page! This challenge goes until Saturday 21st. Winners announced on Sunday 22nd June.

Friday, May 23, 2014

My Op Ed piece in the Hamilton Spectator

May 03, 2014 | Vote0   0

Focus on EQAO testing very 19th century

Emphasis on passing the grade pushes aside wonder and curiosity

It is as true now as it was then that no matter what tests show, very little of what is taught in school is learned, very little of what is learned is remembered, and very little of what is remembered is used. The things we learn, remember, and use are the things we seek out or meet in the daily, serious, nonschool parts of our lives.
— John Holt, How Children Fail
Although one can applaud the work "lower income" school communities like Adelaide Hoodless are doing to achieve steadily heightened EQAO test scores, one cannot help but wonder if these efforts would be better applied to independent learning and thinking.
Frankly, children, teachers and parents are focusing on the wrong thing: While the children of the elite are learning to debate, analyze and research, while they are working independently and pursuing project-based learning that enhances their learning (a recent example is the Cambridge, Mass., NuVu program, where there are no courses, no subjects, no classrooms, no one-hour schedules, no grades), less-privileged kids are spending invaluable time working hard to pass a high-pressure, redundant test.
Huffington Post recently showcased publicly funded U.S. schools that offer fresh approaches to educating — anything from more independence, experience, learning outdoors, to learning in a LGBTQ positive environment and much more.
But in Ontario, we keep throwing dollars away on testing and administration. We are stressing students, parents and teachers alike and detracting from what should be enjoyable learning environments by creating a false belief that learning has to be difficult, dull, tedious.
Thankfully, many are questioning the value of EQAO testing (established in 1996 to help determine the effectiveness of Ontario's education system).
Education is not about being an empty vessel to fill: rather, it's about exploration and experience. What's more, learning happens everywhere, all the time: it is not confined within four walls of an institution, between the hours of 9 and 3. Children need to be exposed to the life of the broader community. What does a librarian do? What sort of work is involved in lab research? Can we see how a plumber fixes a toilet? Why don't more people vote? Learning is hollow if not based on curiosity.
Kids require smaller groups for optimum learning, including many hands-on opportunities. Children (no matter their age) should be given the chance to contribute toward and collaborate on finding solutions to real-world problems (such as racism, oppression, health of the environment, disease, etc).
But rather than nurturing wonder and curiosity, we are stomping them out. Far from developing qualities of independent thinking, curiosity and creativity, the way we educate young people actually undermines these qualities; and halts the potential of young people to be their very best.
Play! Remember that word? We have forgotten that ingenuity is a result of imagination and playfulness, and for kids it is imperative that they have time to do so.
This is the age of technology and technology has changed everything, forever. John Seely Brown and Douglas Thomas speak of the world being "in flux," and what learning for a world of constant change requires:
"Although learning about and learning to be worked well in a relatively stable world, in a world of constant flux, we need to embrace a theory of learning to become. Where most theories of learning see becoming as a transitional state toward becoming something, we want to suggest that the 21{+s}t century requires us to think of learning as a practice of becoming over and over again."
We need to be nurturing, flexible, creative and open-minded because the jobs public schools prepare kids for today will have all but vanished by the time they grow up.
Yes, it's the 21{+s}t century, but Ontario is still educating young people based on the 19th century "factory-schooling" model; one size fits all. We barely even take into account mental health, sleep, play, creativity, healthy relationships — all factors in education that are undervalued in our emphasis on passing the grade.
Meanwhile, there is an openness to educational resources from elementary to university level (think Khan Academy, MIT open Courseware). Learning opportunities abound, be it online or right in the heart of our communities at the museum, the market, the college and university, the library, the neighbour.
Given this worldwide movement toward sharing and communities of collaboration, there is no good reason why Ontario remains sutured to a Dark Ages attitude toward educating.
We can do better than this.
Beatrice Ekwa Ekoko is a freelance writer and blogger at Natural Born Learners. She has recently published a book on autonomy in education. She lives in Hamilton with her husband and three children, who were all unschooled for a time.
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Sunday, May 18, 2014

Know your place.

I'm reading Game of Thrones (George R. R. Martin) on my 16-year-old's suggestion. What I notice time and time again is the idea of the 'Seat.' 'The House.' The Land. And this gets me thinking about 'place' and knowing a place—being connected to the landscape of a place so that you love that place.
Imagine if we loved a landscape so dearly, so deeply. If we made it our intention to know every nook and cranny of that land and be surprised by it, over and over again. 

We would know what grew wild, we would identify what was native, where the mushrooms clustered, the best coffee shop and bookstore in town, the freshest tomatoes to pick, where to buy wool socks. 

We would recognize the birds and insects and animals that inhabit the land all year round and those that are passing through on their way to other climes. The enchanting places to watch a sun rise, a sun set, to listen to the wind calling at night to gaze at rippling water and shimmering leaves or splash in the rain puddles would all be known to us. 

We would be aware of the history that made this place special to us.
We would care about the fate of that piece of the world, our piece of that world. Our home.
This place would give us strength and courage when we are weary. When we closed our eyes at night we could imagine that place and feel a sense of peace and ease. When our lives on this earth were over, we could draw upon the memory of our place, our seat to see us off on our new journey.

I think that children who are growing up without school have a unique opportunity to become attached to a place, their place in the way that I have described. In a sense they have the time in which to linger in that place, and to explore and to discover and to appreciate our interconnected to this land and the air and the water and the stars in a most profound way.
Children growing up without school can learn about the unity that is life on earth in a way that can bring about a deeper sense of not only respect for our planet, but too, individual self-awareness.

I believe  we could draw upon that love of 'our' physical land which would lead us to have the courage to act in defence of that land; and by extension our beautiful treasure, our life support, our planet. 

What about you? have you found your place? If so, where is it?

** Photo credits go to my very talented husband, Randy Kay!

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