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.

Tuesday, September 01, 2015

Unschooled violinist, Madeleine Kay plays Chelsea Hotel

Madeleine Kay (17) was unschooled up until grade 6. Listen to her rendition of Leonard Cohen's Chelsea Hotel, arranged and played by her.

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Unschooler and author Kate Cayley: How you were born

Years ago,  our Radio Free School program had the honour of not only interviewing author Kate Cayley for our show, but we also created a youtube video based on the interview where Kate describes growing up unschooled. Now she's got the Trillium Prize for her recent book How you were Born.
Read about it in Now Magazine. Check out Kate's video here:

Saturday, June 20, 2015

You want change? Change your questions.

If you have ever tried putting a duvet into its cover, you know how hard it can be if you don’t first set the thing up correctly. What you do is you turn the cover inside out, stick your hands through while holding onto two corners, and grab the duvet corners and pull it through so that the cover now sits the right side up, with the duvet neat inside, then you have to put its opposite corners into the corners of the cover, and finally give it a shake to even it all out (Phew! That was hard to explain).

The point is, it’s the same thing when it comes to approaching problems: if we don’t frame the problem correctly, if we don’t set it up right, we end up frustrated, much like we feel with the duvet all bunched up in one corner of the cover.

I was helping my kid with a research project. The assignment was to explore if teens that view violent media and play dehumanizing video games are more prone to violent behaviour and likely to become desensitized to violence in real life.
My daughter had to formulate five guiding questions. As she researched questions, it became obvious to us that there were no right answers to the questions she was asking.  The true lesson that she learned from this exercise is that maybe her questions weren’t good ones: she needed to ask better questions.

She needed to look at how the conversation is being framed, who is asking the questions, how the problem has been tackled historically, whose voice is missing from the discussion, who has the most stake in the answer, who benefits etc.

For questions to be of any use they have to challenge assumptions.

Of course there was very little time to delve into new questions—which is the problem with the way we do things. We don’t give ourselves enough time to get to the questions that might inspire real change.

Einstein said, “If I had an hour to solve a problem and my life depended on the solution, I would spend the first fifty-five minutes determining the proper question to ask, for once I know the proper question, I could solve the problem in less than five minutes.”

We want solutions but we keep asking the questions we already know the answers to.  And the answers bring no revelation; they cannot surprise us, they are predictable.
But what if we asked this question instead of that one?  For instance, instead of asking how many windowpanes were broken, or how many counters were upturned in the recent Baltimore upheaval, the right question to ask is “why are young black men in the US being systematically murdered by police?”

The trouble is, we learn to ask questions that reflect our personal convictions and believes. We believe what we see and our interpretation of it, taking this as reality. But there are many realities: we have exhausted nothing.

We want change? Then we need to take it outside of our comfort zone.
In her book, ‘The Art of the Question,’ Marilee Goldberg said: “A paradigm shift occurs when a question is asked inside the current paradigm that can only be answered from outside it.”

Small children and scientists are good and doing this.
“If you meet a scientist, don't ask her what she knows, ask her what she wants to know. It's a much better conversation for both of you.” That's the concluding sentence to Stuart Firestein's Forum piece, in Scientific American (April 2012).

In 'What Science Wants to Know,' Firestein agrees that you have to know a lot to be a scientist. But that's not enough. "Knowing a lot is not what makes a scientist. What makes a scientist is ignorance," he writes. For scientists, the facts are just a starting place.
Every new scientific discovery raise new questions, so ignorance will always grow faster than knowledge. Firestein observes that one crucial outcome of scientific knowledge is to generate new and better ways of being ignorant: "not the kind of ignorance that is associated with a lack of curiosity or education but rather a cultivated, high-quality ignorance."
It’s the questions we are asking that we need to talk about if we are hoping to make the changes we want; trite, lazy thinking produces quick shallow responses—and that’s not going to get us very far.

Published in the spec.com  (The art of asking).

Sunday, May 17, 2015

How talking to your child can improve development

A mother sits folding laundry, her baby in the high chair beside her. “Here are mummy’s striped pajamas. They're red and blue and warm and fuzzy,” she says in a singsong voice. The baby gurgles at his mother, responds enthusiastically by waving his arms and kicking his little legs. Look at me, the mother thinks. I'm so silly. She carries on anyway, describing the frilly pillowcase she’s about to fold next. But she need not feel silly.

Parents, What You Say Matters

What many of us need to appreciate is the extent to which words impact children’s learning – not only in developing their vocabulary but especially, the spatial world and their later ability to problem solve. University of Chicago psychologist Dr. Susan Levine and her colleagues found children’s spatial abilities are in large part driven by what their parents say. In her study published in the journal Developmental Science, she says that the amount of talking parents do with very young children that describe features and properties of objects (i.e. heavy, big, little, round) predicts children’s problem solving success as they near kindergarten age.

Oriane Landry, psychology professor at McMaster University in Hamilton, works with preschoolers and children with autism. He says “There’s a strong link between emergent language skills and how that leads into their abilities in other areas.”

Oriane expands on the work of the early 20th century Russian psychologist, Lev Vygotsky, known best in education circles for his theory on scaffolding children (younger children learning skills from slightly older children). Vygotsky’s work supports the idea that language fosters all of our other thinking skills, and that for the most part, when we are problem solving, we are doing so with language. “The language of thought is in fact language,” Oriane says. “We tend to draw heavily on our language skills in order to complete other thought processes (using inner dialogue) even well into adulthood.”

There is some controversy about how the relationship between thought and language emerges and what comes first – the language in order to have the concept versus the concept, then applying the language – but especially in the preschool period, as children are gaining more and more complex conceptual ideas, they are also gaining the language to go with it.

“If you've got a word then you can build a concept around it,” Oriane says. “If you don't have a word, a concept can be flighty – like a dream you can't hold onto – you can't describe it to someone. If you talk about that dream, you can hold onto it. If parents are encouraging language growth by being highly verbal themselves and describing the things around them, then the child is going to have a more complex vocabulary earlier on and also the tools to think with more sophistication and in greater complexity about the world around them.”

Sunday, April 12, 2015

The kids are all right:

Disengaged? Hardly. Today’s youth just might be the saviours of us all

Thank you for feeding us years of lies.
Thank you for the wars you left us to fight.
Thank you for the world you ruined overnight.
But we'll be fine; yeah we'll be fine.
MKTO Lyrics

Babies are brighter these days, am I right? Two month olds are staring intently into my face and cooing. Four month olds are rolling over and crawling.

Then there are these pint-sized three and four year olds on YouTube, being sassy and precocious and saying all kinds of startling things. Eight year olds are articulate and funny and teens are "calling us out," exposing our hypocrisy so that we squirm under the glaring scrutiny of fairness. By the time they are young adults … watch out. They are snappier, faster and cognizant of the issues — their issues.

I've heard quite a bit about the sense of entitlement that is used to describe young people today: Generation Y (people born after 1980) is "selfish" and perpetually dissatisfied. Generation Z (people born after 1995) is disengaged.

But this outlook is being challenged; it doesn't seem to be reflective of what is going on around the planet.

The world is vibrating with the voices of the young who will not tolerate its destruction, and who are confronting injustices and the indifference of the wealthy and privileged.

I was surprised at the sudden swell of emotion that overcame me, reading words in a 2014 Maclean's article from Toronto business executive Don Tapscott saying that Gen Z doesn't have a choice: "My generation is leaving them with a mess. These kids are going to have to save the world literally."

I think the young know this. Yes, there is the "live fast, die young" message that prevails in popular culture, but youth grow up hearing about the global issues and I imagine it is part of their consciousness.

And while the growing concern for extremism among certain disenfranchised youth populations is legitimate, I can't help feeling a sense of optimism: young people are shaking things up, seeking to create a more equitable, safer — just better society for everyone.

For example, everywhere, youth are saying "don't funk with my future" and getting down and dirty on the streets, calling on universities, colleges, faith communities, businesses and local governments to divest from fossil fuels (even the UN recently came out in support of divesting from fossil fuel companies).

In India, young people are relentlessly protesting rape culture. In Africa, LGBTQ rights are a major focus. All over North American youth of colour are demonstrating that black lives matter. Here in Canada, First Nations young adults are taking the lead and confronting neo-colonialism with the campaigns such as Idle no More.

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