Saturday, April 09, 2016

Grace Llewellyn: Guerrilla Learning

Grace Llewellyn
I would love to see us as a society not thinking so much in terms of “education,” but rather thinking more broadly in terms of “life.”

We tend to see things in boxes and categories, which doesn’t always serve us. When people say “education,” sometimes I like to say, “If you substitute the term ‘life’ for ‘education’—every time you say ‘education’ or ‘learning,’ try saying ‘life’ instead—that might invite you to look at things in a different way.” (I probably stole that idea too, most likely from John Holt I suppose, it all starts to bleed together in my mind at this point: what’s his, what’s mine, what’s some other guy’s).

In broader realms, too, I would love to see us think less in categories: over here we have health; over there we have learning; and over here we have work. What about a life or a neighbourhood that mixes all three together so the edges are rubbed out? I would love to see a less institutional society and a more integrated society.

I have also edited a book about the African-American dimension of homeschooling. Freedom Challenge (1993) hasn’t sold many copies, which I’m sad about. I wish that more homeschoolers in general—not just African-Americans—would read it, because it’s important for us all to be aware of ways that we can be more welcoming, and understand more of what is true for sub-groups of the homeschooling community. I’d love to see more African-Americans reading it too.

In the African-American community, traditionally, there is a high value placed on education and, perhaps by default and through not being aware of other choices, that translates largely to a high value placed on schooling. So, I’d just love to see more African-Americans considering the possibilities, and then including the option of homeschooling in their dialogue about education, even if most ultimately chose to stay within the system. For whatever reason, people are way less interested in that book than in my other work. Nonetheless, I think it’s important, and I very much enjoyed working with the writers; it was a fun project for me.

Excerpt from  Chapter 16  Guerrilla Learning with  Grace Llewellyn in Natural Born Learners: Unschooling and Autonomy in Education.

Monday, February 15, 2016

What does it mean to be educated? John Taylor Gatto chapter excerpt from the Natural Born Learners reader.

This is an excerpt. To read the entire chapter, buy the reader here.

How you choose to spend your time, I think, says a tremendous amount about yourself.
The admissions officer at Princeton, (a long time ago) told me the first thing he looks for is hobbies.
I said, “Why do you look at hobbies?”
He said, “It’s really the only way a young person has an opportunity to commit to something without being pushed into it. The choices they make, when they have choices, tell me all I need to know.”
I asked, “What would it tell you? What would you like to see?”
He said, “We would like to see someone with an intellectual hobby, a social hobby, and a physical hobby.”
“Wow,” I said, “like what?”
He said, “It could be chess playing, it could be ballroom dancing, and it could be swimming.”
“So what about sports?”
“It’s got to be there, but people do not understand that individual sports like bike riding and sky diving, and long distance walking and stuff like that,” he said, “are much more important than team sports.”
“Why so?”
He told me, “Team sports enable an individual to hide behind other people. You can slack off and let your teammates carry you. Whereas, when you are out there alone, if you make a fool of yourself, or if you are inadequate, there’s no place to hide. And people willing to do that,” he said, “are superior people, the ones we want at Princeton.”

So why aren’t these ancient, well-understood truths the stuff of schooling?

In a corporate economy, you have one boss, twenty sub-bosses, and fifty sub-sub-bosses. That arrangement is only possible if people don’t know how to escape their placements. You can lie, saying with Darwin that most of us are inferior and they couldn’t escape their placements, but my experience teaching for 30 years is that is not true. Harlem kids are capable of exactly the same quality of intellectual production as upper-middle-class white kids.

I don’t say that as a romantic, or as a humanitarian. I say that as somebody locked up with children, who decided to do a first-class curriculum with poor ghetto kids out of personal boredom. I got in a lot of trouble, at first, doing that, but the minute the kids caught on that you actually meant what you said when you told them you’d treat them with respect, after the adjustment period, the quality of the work was exactly as high as it was with so called gifted and talented kids. And these were street kids from the ghetto!

I can’t be the only one who’s discovered that. But what would you do if 70 million kids graduated every twelve years in the United States, and every one of them had, as Napoleon advised, a field marshal’s baton in his backpack? What if everyone was looking for an independent livelihood? What if everyone wasn’t just willing to pick up a pay cheque, but brought principles and moral standards and aesthetic preferences to the job and said, “No, I won’t do that!”

Let’s suppose that tens of millions of kids tomorrow grow into a modern America in which employment will be part-time for many, and not well paid. That’s cause for resourceful thinking, where you say, “How can I improve this situation?”
Don’t you think kids have a right to know these things? To spend a respectable amount of their school time reflecting and researching and debating and coming up with personal answers that will help them in their lives? To leave them completely in the dark about this, until they are laid off and remain out of work for four years, such is the fate of many of our people. Why would you do this if you had any real concern for them? Truth is, the mass population in America is no longer relevant, except to man armies to suppress the rest of the world.

Kids, from first grade on, are set against one another. It’s no surprise, then, when they become adults after twelve years of back-biting, competing, being placed in class/status relationships to one another, that they can’t build a community. It’s no surprise at all.

Community isn’t built, intellectually, by saying, now wouldn’t it be a good idea if we all worked together? Kids have had twelve years of never working together. These are truths so fundamental it almost embarrasses me to say them, except for the fact that people have been trained not to think of these things. They strike the virgin ear as some radical statement.
What can you do for the entire society? I think the answer is nothing, except doing your best for the principles you believe in. Struggle, argue, and don’t expect any substantial change but what you can change for yourself, and your friends, and your neighbour. It’s not easy, it remains a struggle but it’s just so much more correct a way to live.
I mean you don’t live that other, selfish way. You say, “I prefer not to act these other ways.” And sometimes, you submit; because not submitting would exact a price way out of balance with what you would win from acting on principle. I think you develop the mind of a saboteur.

You look and move like everybody else, you don’t draw attention to yourself, but from time to time you find where the gears are meshing and you put a nice handful of sand in them. The biggest handful of sand, though, will be your children. If they come to the age of majority with independent critical minds, with a good attitude towards things, without expecting change to come easily, enjoy the struggle of testing themselves, this gives them good lives.

In having good lives, they’ll be helping me and you and everyone else. It will happen after I’m dead, I think, but at some point a critical mass of people will emerge who just won’t accept bullshit any longer. Then things will change, as they did in 1776. Now, what I just described is very, very hard for a nation to do, but it’s not that hard for a family, a neighbourhood, or a community.

______________

John Taylor Gatto (born December 15, 1935) is an American retired school teacher of 29 years and 8 months experience in the classroom and author of several books on education including Dumbing us Down: The hidden Curriculum of Compulsory Schooling (2005), and Weapons of Mass Instruction: A Schoolteacher’s Journey Through The Dark World of Compulsory Schooling (2009). He is an activist critical of compulsory schooling and of what he characterizes as the hegemonic nature of discourse on education and the education professions.










Tuesday, January 12, 2016

More Time is More Freedom

Here is an excerpt from Brenna McBroom's chapter in Natural Born Learners: Unschooling and Autonomy in Education.

Brenna McBroom is a long-time unschooler from Asheville, North Carolina. She currently works as a potter making functional and decorative crystalline glazed ceramics.

I love the world I live in. Were I to change it, I think I would alter attitudes and beliefs rather than attempting to change governments or institutions, because, in the end, it is the things we believe and the values we hold highest that shape our world. I would change the belief that qualification and ability are inextricably linked.

For example, in the eyes of many, the twenty-four-year old Master of Fine Arts graduate possesses more ability to instruct ceramics students than the self-taught ceramicist who has been operating a functional studio for thirty years, merely because of qualifications. I’m not saying that qualification and ability never come hand-in-hand—merely that they don’t have to.

For those who are not sure if school, or higher education, is the right place at this time, I would say: trust yourself! If you have a nagging feeling that institutionalized schooling isn’t right for you at this point in your life, listen to it. College can be a great tool to get you where you want to go, but it’s just that: a tool. It’s important to keep it in its proper perspective, as a means to an end, rather than an end in itself.

If you’re struggling with the college question, a good litmus test is to ask yourself the following questions: I’m planning to go to college to what end? What am I trying to achieve? If your answer is something like, “Because I want to be a veterinarian,” or “Because it’s an efficient way for me to learn everything that I want to know about classical philosophy,” then you’re probably on the right track. If, on the other hand, your answers are something like, “Because otherwise I’ll end up working in a fast food joint,” or “Because I don’t know what I want to do with my life,” then I would suggest you do a bit more soul searching.

I learned, through personal experience, that there are much better places to find yourself than college: write a book, save the rainforest, teach English as a second language, revitalize your community, build a house, or live somewhere you don’t speak the language.

Furthermore, never believe those who tell you that not going to college resigns you to a lifetime of flipping burgers. Those who perpetuate this myth are usually none other than the school faculty and administrators, who are completely dependent upon your continued support of higher education for their continued employment. The vast majority of people I know who have chosen to forgo college are doing amazing things like writing grants, traveling the world, working on farms, or doing web design.

Finally, keep in mind that not going to college now is not the same as not going to college. I believe many people would benefit a great deal from taking a few years to experience, and experiment with, various occupations and lifestyles before they make the decision to attend (or not attend) a university.
Want more? Buy the book.

Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Kate Fridkis: Growing Up Weird

Kate Fridkis works as a lay clergy member at a synagogue and writes a blog called Eat the Damn Cake, which is syndicated on The Huffington Post and Psychology Today. She also writes a column for Home Education Magazine. Her work has appeared in Cosmopolitan, Slate, Salon, and others. Kate has published her first book, Growing Eden (2013)––a memoir about being pregnant in New York City and making the kind of choices that sometimes result in growing up, or at least growing.

 In Natural Born Learners: Unschooling and Autonomy in Education, Kate talks about her experience growing up unschooled. Here is an excerpt from her chapter:

I have a problem with the idea of a balanced curriculum. I’ve never liked the notion that well-rounded education is the ideal education, because I think that when people pursue that model of educational success they end up with a lot of people who maybe know a little about a lot of subjects, but who aren’t experts at anything, and who also haven’t learned how to pursue their interests.

The idea of balance, maybe in its ideal form is awesome, but when it’s applied broadly it prevents people from learning what they love to do. When you learn to love learning, and do things that interest you, whatever it is that interests you ends up connecting you to a whole huge network of other stuff, other subjects, in really surprising ways. Maybe you end up being more balanced than people expect, in exciting ways, but it’s never through pursuing well-roundedness.

The truth is that you learn something new in absolutely every environment. It’s not like there is an environment that you can go to where you get access to all the important information. You learn everywhere! The idea that I love, and always find true about unschooling, is that you are always learning, because you are living. Of course, when I went to college, I learned from interesting people who I wouldn’t have otherwise met, but to be perfectly honest I would have learned somewhere else, too.

As an unschooler, I felt like an adult. By being around adults, and being in the community rather than in school, I had a lot of contact with grownups who didn’t expect to end up being my friend because here I am, a kid. It is kind of expected that kids are going to be with other kids, and adults with other adults. Everyone is going to be slotted into their particular age bracket, and that is where they are going to stay—which is kind of a strange idea really, because it is so useful for children to learn from people who are older.

My experience as an unschooler consisted of being around adults who told me, “You seem so grown up!” It wasn’t that I was grown up, it was just that I was interacting with them as I would with a friend. Through these relationships, I was able to talk about things that were relevant to adults. I was able to have a lot of educational and relational experiences that other children didn’t have access to. There is a lack of fear of adults, in unschooled kids; they are not afraid of speaking with adults, and are not wary of adults. The schooled peers I met in college, who were still afraid of interacting with adults when they were twenty, surprised me.

Another thing about unschoolers being grown up is that they just have a lot of responsibility, which is something people don’t expect from kids in school. I have to qualify that, and add that kids in school have tons of responsibility. Not the same kind of responsibility, not the kind where you get to decide what you do with your time, and what you learn, and what you pursue. For them, it’s the kind that I shrink from, like having to do hours of homework, or getting straight-A’s in every subject. That sounds so stressful to me, I can’t imagine how anybody does it.

Buy the book and read more from grown unschoolers!

Wednesday, December 09, 2015

Pat Farenga: You don't have to go to grow: Growing without schooling

Here's an excerpt of Pat Farenga's chapter in Natural Born Learners: Unschooling and Autonomy in Education. The chapter is called You Don't Have to Go to Grow: Growing without Schooling.

One of the things that has been really interesting, and gratifying to me, has been understanding the work of Ivan Illich and understanding why John Holt was such a big fan of Ivan’s work. Illich wrote a book called Deschooling Society (1970/1983), which many people misinterpret, mainly because they don’t read it—they just read the title and assume he’s saying “let’s eradicate all the schools.”

Illich is not saying that. His whole thesis is that we need to eliminate compulsory schooling. Schools make sense for having central locations where communal resources can be distributed, but school is not a true communal resource. It’s become a private enterprise that is administered by professionals, almost as if it were medicine, and very expensive medicine at that. What Ivan pointed out is that learning is not a scarce commodity to be doled out like medicine. Human learning is abundant; institutional education is scarce.

Our economic system supports giving out rewards primarily to those who consume the most education credentials, but is that really learning? When Holt read and studied with Illich, he started exploring all sorts of ideas of how else can we help children and adults to learn?

In Instead of Education: Ways to Help People do Things Better (1976/2004), John outlines the reasons he thinks compulsory education is “the most destructive force on earth;” largely because it wastes so much of everyone’s time in busywork. This is borne out all the time when employers say, “college graduates don’t know how to do anything except pass courses, and high school graduates don’t know how to write their names.”

Ivan pointed out, in 1971, that all institutions seem to hit a point where they become counter-productive. Our institutions for transportation create traffic jams, our medical institutions create iatrogenic illnesses like the antibiotic failure we see now. We suddenly turn a corner when these things get too big and, in education as Holt and Illich claim, we have reached the point where schools create stupidity in students.
Read more when you buy the book.

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

The Everyday Lives of Black Canadians Homeschoolers: Monica Wells Kisura. In loving Memory.


Dr. Monica Wells Kisura (Trinity Washington University) recently passed away after battling cancer. She was a brilliant, vibrant beautiful woman and she will be deeply missed. I am so grateful that we have Monica's contribution in the Natural Born Learners: Unschooling and Autonomy in Education reader. Monica, your words live on! Here is an excerpt from her chapter:

Q: What are the conditions necessary to get more black families to even consider homeschooling to begin with, let alone move to an unschooling approach?

In the United States, you have a very different social context, the Civil Rights Movement, and the fact that many people fought so hard to integrate schools, and to have a place at the public school table. The older generation feels a sense of betrayal, which is a strong word, but there is a sense that to homeschool means one does not appreciate the struggles that people who came before them went through to give African Americans an opportunity to have a conventional, especially public school education. We must take into account these looming psychological barriers, which have cultural roots and may be preventing many from even considering home education.

The second piece when you talk specifically about unschooling as an approach, which is self-directed learning that allows the child’s interests to move the curriculum, you have the issue of black parents feeling like this approach would be disregarded. Grace Llewellyn’s (1996) book, Freedom Challenge, is written by black homeschoolers themselves. Llewellyn made the observation that black families are already battling the social issues of supposed racial and intellectual inferiority, so there is more of a tendency to lean toward a structured approach. Tracy Romm (1993) made a similar observation in his 1993 dissertation, Home Schooling and the Transmission of Civic Culture in which he examined the lives of four white and four black homeschooling families.

One of the challenges these families are facing is getting their children to a place where they feel society will accept and acknowledge that these children have a certain level of intellectual ability and capability. Thus far, it seems to be true that most black parents are leaning towards a structured approach. Ironically, they are less inclined to use standardized tests. In fact, most of the parents that I have spoken with, whether they were structured or eclectic, did not, nor do they plan to use standardized tests or exams to measure their child’s progress.

I think it is going to take another generation, frankly, for more people to become comfortable with the idea of homeschooling, first of all, and then possibly another generation beyond that before more families to move toward unschooling.
What I have discovered is that, when I ask the question, “If you could change anything about your experience as a home educator, what would that be?” Almost all of them say, “I would be more relaxed.” So I do believe that there will be, and that there are signs that families are moving toward, a more relaxed approach to learning. Given that mainstream homeschoolers came to light during the sixties, seventies, and eighties, but most black homeschooling families, even those so called “old-timers” really did not get on board until the nineties, there is a ten- to twenty-year lag, so this is why I am calculating that it may be another ten to twenty years before black families really feel comfortable with home education as an alternative, and then unschooling as a viable practice.

I want to conclude with something that may be a bit radical, a thought that occurred to me fairly early in my research. After interviewing a number of homeschooling families, and again thinking about this in the much broader context of political-economy, I began asking what political changes, what economic changes have occurred to open this opportunity for people to homeschool? It dawned on me that, since the decolonization movements in Africa and the Caribbean, and since the Civil Rights movements in the United States during the sixties, homeschooling is probably the most radical statement that black people have made regarding self-determination and resistance. I think that home education, particularly for this segment of the population, has the potential to be very radical, and move the community as a whole to a different level of consciousness.

Tuesday, November 03, 2015

Schooling: A Highly Questionable Practice.

On March 9, 2003, the admissions officer at Harvard, Marilyn McGrath, on the front page of the New York Times, told readers Harvard only accepts students who show evidence of distinction. Many people skipped that article because they assumed they already knew that high grades get you in. But McGrath said test scores and grades are not evidence of distinction—you can’t get into Harvard that way!
I thought that was a stunning revelation. Not that I didn’t know it, but to actually admit it on the front page of the New York Times. Wow!
I wrote her immediately and asked, “What would an evidence of distinction be?” although I already knew the answer. The Harvard lady quickly covered up: her reply was an exercise in dissimulation, backing off her New York Times statement.
By the time someone reaches eighteen, there are tens of thousands of such people—but not millions—tens of thousands who have records of distinction. They have sailed around the world alone; they have walked from the South Pole to the North Pole; they’ve started a charity; they’ve earned a million dollars—not because they are such superior geniuses, but because a number of families preserve traditions of effectiveness and ways to reach real goals. The methods aren’t difficult and they aren’t expensive.
If you read Ben Franklin’s autobiography, you’ll see they were used among many ordinary people in the 18th Century United States. Franklin was thrown out of two schools before he was 11-years-old. He started a business selling beer to printers, through which he amassed capital to buy into a printing company later on. He was 12-years-old.
Once I was on that trail I looked into intimate details of colonial life here in the Americas. The minute you do that, detailed evidence appears about the different ways young people were reared back then.
Take the American Revolution, for instance. Virtually everybody who made the American Revolution was a teenager! Washington was the Grand Old Man. I think he was 42. But Jefferson and Hamilton and really the whole pack of them were 17, 18, 19, 20, 21. The myth that keeps us small and in our place blows away with that discovery. The US young people, with free minds, were able to overthrow the most powerful military nation on earth, Great Britain.

Schooling: A Highly Questionable Practice. John Taylor Gatto.

This is an excerpt from Natural Born Learners: Unschooling and Autonomy in Education.



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