Friday, November 07, 2014

The child's need for complexity.

My mum gave my 4-year-old nephew a stuffed toy snake—cute for his baby sister but certainly not for a sophisticated “builder” like he considers himself to be. Without a backward glance, he tossed it over his shoulder and asked me, “Where is that other snake? The one with moving parts?”

Complexity. Something with a bit of a challenge; something that will stretch the mind, get you into the zone, require a change in perspective even.
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I recall when my teens were little. With the oldest, I was reading the Lord of the Rings when she was..7. And she loved it. It became the defining book of her life for years. She memorized entire passages out of that book!
Gosh, even before that, she was 6 and her sisters 3 and 4 and they were all reciting from a beautiful children's Shakespeare film series, Macbeth (“Is this a dagger which I see before me?.....I have thee not...Or art thou but a dagger of the mind, a false creation!” I recall my then 3 year old lisping away).

It was fun and exciting for them, and I am pretty sure they understood very little of it. But they felt the grandeur, the rhythm, the depth therein, and this was enough; this was what they needed to suck on and grow a little more.

Literature was never basic. Winnie the Pooh was the original material, with all the nuances, reflections, humour and unadulterated language intact. Nothing predictable and trite--material we parents could enjoy as well.
This is what they could grasp--that there was something bigger than they, something to aspire to, some knowledge that they would get to by and by, and eventually understand.

The world was delivered to them in its entirety; there were no bit-sized pieces offered up. They bit of what they could chew—how ever they could manage it, no pressure, just their own personal interest and curiosity. They could ruminate over what they took in, they could find meaning and apply it within the context of their lives.

To my delight, I read in the Telegraph about research conducted by the University of Liverpool (Centre for Research into Reading, Information and Linguistic Systems) that shows how brain activity is increased by exposure to poetry or language such as Shakespeare’s.
For example volunteers read a line from King Lear: “A father and a gracious aged man: him have you madded”. They then read a simpler version: “A father and a gracious aged man: him you have enraged.”
The researchers report that Shakespeare’s use of the adjective “mad” as a verb sparked a higher level of brain activity than the straightforward prose. The study tested how long the effect lasted. It found that the “peak” triggered by the unfamiliar word was sustained onto the following phrases, suggesting the striking word had hooked the reader, with their mind “primed for more attention.”
Philip Davis, an English professor and research on the study explains, "The research shows the power of literature to shift mental pathways, to create new thoughts, shapes and connections in the young and the staid alike.”
The study also mentions that self-reflection is enhanced  and what is education without self-knowledge?
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And now when I hear about parents fretting that their 4 year old doesn’t know her letters, I cringe!
“She doesn’t know the basics!” the parent wails. “Everyone else her age does! She will be left behind,” wahhhh!
There is a reason why the basics are called basic—because they are just that. They are quickly learnable.
I try to reassure parents with young children that they are exactly where they should be--playing, being read to, been taken out into nature to observe first hand the complexity of their natural world, every leaf, every rock, every cloud, a miracle unto itself.

Challenge children with ideas to mull over; have discussions with them.  Many well known people have been raised this way; young Leonardo da Vinci hung out with his uncle, who spent hours with him, examining nature and discussing their findings.  Louisa Alcott's childhood home life was filled with evenings of Concord's most stimulating minds, and walks and talks with Henry David Thoreau.  Einstein's parents encouraged his questions (once he finally decided to start talking).

Seeking out and embracing complexity with children can be a powerful experience for the both of you.



Sunday, October 05, 2014

Technology, Education and Poverty

In Ontario, there's a plan to provide every kid from grade 4 to 12 with access to technology (iPad, tablet etc). There's this idea that with technology in the classroom, school is going to be the "great equalizer" at last.
We are not so naive as to believe that access to technology in education will level the playing field and poor kids will miraculously have the same opportunities their wealthier peers have.

But while handing out ipads will not overcome poverty, access to technology will empower poor students in learning. Access to technology via ipads will offer opportunities for children to work together, research, and collaborate in areas that interest them.



Take for example Sugata Mitra’s experiment in Indian villages. Mitra installed a computer in a wall and documented illiterate slum children figuring out how to use it, and then actually using it to learn and share knowledge.
Mitra has since designed ‘School in the Cloud,’ a learning lab in India, where children can explore and learn from each other —no teachers present—using resources and mentoring from the cloud. Mitra proposes Self Organized Learning Environments (SOLE), which he defines as “broadband, collaboration and encouragement put together.”

Fact is, school, as we know it is history. School is obsolete (especially relevant for poor kids). Done. Terminated.  Can I say it any more succinctly?
Today, students are called on to be the drivers of their own learning.

The internet offers an unprecedented opportunity to do so. We can find out what we want to know in seconds. We can connect in groups and across the world, with others who share similar interests and concerns.

Open Source Learning

Another way to understand where education is heading, what’s stirring in the Zeitgeist and taking hold of the imagination can be understood as ‘open-source learning.’
We have heard of the concept 'open-source' in internet circles; anything can be learned over the internet. There is a new openness to educational resources. Institutions of higher learning are offering free online course materials. MIT (Open CourseWare) has over 2000 gratuitous course materials, their motto being "Unlocking knowledge, empowering minds."
Open source learning is based on extending this idea to all learning, to everyone. It's a term that I believe was coined by none other than John Taylor Gatto.
Technology is lowering the costs of education: expensive textbooks will no longer be a barrier to education.

Joint Collective Agencies and Communities of Practice

It is happening everywhere; learning in communities, work groups and collaborations. ‘Communities of practice’—a term coined by John Seely Brown—is the new learning spaces and places representative of this new culture of learning.
Kids getting together and pursuing their passions in joint collective agency, is the revolutionary wave in education. Learning in community, engaging one another, practicing 'deep tinkering' 'marinating in the experience' are some of the ideas for a new culture of learning that Seely-Brown is popularizing.

My teen has been participating in virtual communities for years now, first following her interests in the arts and now focusing on anti-oppression, social justice activism. Exchanging conversation, picking up ideas, reciprocating with her fellow bloggers, the amount of learning she is doing through social media like tumblr is astounding.

Here’s where she goes to dialogue, critic, share, challenge and be challenged. Her virtual community supports the work she does and she in turn supports the work of its members. I never realized how powerful this tool for learning is until I saw the comments and feedback she gets from fellow ‘social justice warriors’—spurring her on to further work.
Online communities can provide the support that a kid might not otherwise be able to access (for example, children questioning gender). Shared experiences all factor into building the self-esteem that is critical in order to overcome abuse and injustices and yes, the trauma of poverty itself.

Not what you know but who you know.

Do you have a linkedin account? I do. We all know that developing personal networks is invaluable for professional growth. Who knows? We might get discovered or at least, land a job.
There’s the concept of personal learning network’ (PLN) to describe the cultivating of personal networks for learning opportunities. PLNs are those connections individual learners make to suit their specific learning needs.

Connections are being made on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, Blogs, Google Hangouts and more. Ahead of the adults, young people connect online in a social context as well as a more strategic, intentional way in order to share, grow opportunities and stay involved and connected

For younger children, it is important to have the guidance and support of caring, knowledgeable, and trusted adults.

To wrap this up, I’d like to offer a quote from Mitra who says, “we need to look at learning as the product of educational self-organization. If you allow the educational process to self-organize, then learning emerges. It's not about making learning happen. It's about letting it happen. The teacher sets the process in motion and then she stands back in awe and watches as learning happens.”

Hand kids the technology, guide and counsel them, support their interests, facilitate their networking opportunities, and poverty will become less of a barrier to being educated.
Education is something that you have to want to pursue; no one can do it for you. But educators can pave the way.





Thursday, September 04, 2014

Book Talk about Unschooling and Autonomy in Education: September 4th.

Book talk on Unschooling and Autonomy in Education today, September 4th at 6.30pm, Westdale library.
Listen to a first hand experience of unschooling then hear excerpts from the book.

Humans are natural learners. This collection of essays challenges much of mainstream beliefs about how people learn, encouraging the reader to consider deeply the need for learners to be trusted and listened to. Many of the authors in the book begin from a learner-centered, democratic perspective. Divided into three sections, the first part of the book deals with what constitutes a learner-centered approach to education. The second section addresses how some have implemented this approach. In the last section, learners who have lived learner-centred learning share narratives about their experiences.

To read more about the book, follow this link:

http://radiofreeschool.blogspot.ca/p/natural-born-learners-unschooling-and.html

https://www.facebook.com/events/257692654428523/

Saturday, August 30, 2014

The internet is the new battleground for fighting oppression.

Have you checked your privilege today?

It's getting a whole lot harder to avoid the inevitable 'calling out' of privilege.

In response to the rise of internet culture, social justice analysis and action has migrated to the internet, where it counteracts the culture of misogyny, racism, homophobia, trans*phobia, ableism, and general bigotry.

This internet culture is examining and challenging privilege starting of course with white skin privilege to the intersectionality of all forms of oppression.

The results of all this is that social justice internet culture is helping to shape contemporary discourse and influencing popular culture.


“The internet is the new battleground for fighting oppression,” my daughter insists.

Many young people utilize the social medium of Tumblr as a platform to promote and explore social justice issues. My 18 year old daughter is a huge tumblr blogger and from her experience it seems to be young women who are predominantly what they are calling 'Tumblr Social Justice Warriors' (TSJW—a derogatory label that people who blog about these issues are called by their critics, but who are reclaiming the name).

At last, non-privileged perspectives are beginning to present in mainstream culture—I think because of the speed at which everything happens faster via the internet; and examining one’s privilege is a starting point on the road to overcoming oppression in our societies.

My daughter’s community discusses, analyses, critiques popular culture in the context of oppression. It is a community that pushes her to stretch her thinking. It's an online space that for some participants is the only place where they can openly discuss their views, their very lives—away from the omnipresent lens of white culture.

They blog, reblog, quotes, images, essays and generally get and offer others an ongoing education on oppression and getting beyond it.

John Seely Brown writes about 'communities of practice' and 'joint collective agencies' based on passions and interests and how this is the future of education. Tumblr social justice is one such example where engaging one another, the participants practice what Seely Brown describes as  'deep tinkering' and 'marinating in the experience.'
What an education they are creating for themselves!

Tuesday, August 05, 2014

Book discussion and reading: Natural Born Learners. Learn about Unschooling!

Book reading/discussion
Natural Born Learners: Unschooling and Autonomy in Education
Thursday, August 7th, at 2:00 pm.
Hamilton Public Library
Locke St. Branch.
All welcome!

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

New Book Promotion

***BOOK PROMOTION of Natural Born Learners***
Kindle count down deal starts AUGUST 01 at 0.99 cents (48 hours in duration).
3 increments takes us to August 7th at the original price of 3.99.
Stay tuned!!

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Self-Determined Education, Unschooling and Activism

I sometimes think about self-directed learning, unschooling and autonomy in education in terms of ‘quiet’ activism. It’s about advocating for our children's freedom to learn as they want to and helping them to take responsibility for being in the world, right from the beginning of their life and on. Unschoolers and practitioners of autonomous education are actively demonstrating another way to attain education. We are redefining the way education is understood, what it means to be educated, what learning in an atmosphere of freedom looks like; that it can be done.
This can feel uncomfortable; especially when we ourselves are still deschooling our minds, trying got rid ourselves of doubts, mistrust in our children's ability to learn, uncertainty about if we are doing it right, if it will work....
Not surprisingly, many unschoolers are living lives under the radar, by no means attempting to influence others or trying to prove ourselves. But there are also a significant number of us who continuously seek to 'up' the noise level; writing about, documenting and advocating for unschooling lifestyles and philosophies. The results of these activities are seeping into the mainstream conscience, both indirectly and directly.
It might be a little ambitious to say that it is a movement as yet, but there is certainly an enormous interest in the concepts and ideas of unschooling (I had over 10,000 downloads of my book in the 5 day free book promotion).
Parents are catching on that there is this thing happening, and it sounds pretty intriguing and it makes sense and how do I get some for my kid? Educators are frustrated at the exploratory and creative limitations set for their students by the powers on high, and crave more freedom in learning within the classroom--and outside of it. They know that their charges are getting shortchanged.
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When it comes to the traditional understanding of activism (being engaged and about engaging in social and environmental issues), unschoolers have a fantastic opportunity to be get involved and participate in creating change. It is fitting because unschooling is the epitome of justice and respect towards some of the most vulnerable in our society, children. Why not extend that concern to include other vulnerable and oppressed groups? Unschoolers can become strong, world citizens at any age. It is never too late to discuss justice issues, local politics, environmental concerns, and to bring your children along to events, meetings and activities.
I am very interested in hearing from readers about their experiences with social justice, environmentalism, and anti-oppression work/awareness in their unschooling practices. Do you think that you are stronger citizens because of your unschooling lifestyle and believes? Do you think unschooling has opened areas of inquiry into justice issues? Tell me!

On TV!

I think both unschooling and deschooling are about creating and reclaiming places and events for adults and children of all ages to live and learn together.
- Susannah Sheffer and Pat Farenga,“Reflecting on Growing Without Schooling” Vimukt Shiksha 2002


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