ranty

I’m here to disrupt your school

Published by Lori Pickert on February 7, 2015 at 08:47 AM

Dear Principal Jones, teachers, school board members, and parents,

My name is Carrie Smith. I'm here to disrupt your school.

People have been telling me for years that I shouldn’t be homeschooling — I should be improving the lives of all kids, not just my own! This year, it finally sank in.

We’ve been homeschooling for 10 years and hoo boy, I think we’ve tried it all! Montessori, classical, unschooling — you name it, we tried it. That’s what you do when you love your kids, I guess — you just keep fiddling with the recipe till you find what works. And now you’ll all benefit!

Our oldest, Margaret, was six when we pulled her out of school, and she still struggles with needing a bit of structure. Even after all these years of homeschooling she has a hard time taking advantage of the freedom she has to do it her own way. Her self-motivation still isn’t back 100%. But that’s okay — fewer changes for you to make! Ha ha!

Unfortunately, Margaret is a real crank bear if she has to get up before 9. But it turns out there’s abundant research showing that teenagers need more sleep and would benefit from a later start time. Circadian rhythms or something. I’m not sure how you’ll work it out with working parents and your bus schedule and so forth, but I’ll leave you to figure that out.

Carl is our oldest boy; he’s 12. Now, self-motivation is not a problem there. He’s never seen the inside of a classroom and he won’t stand for anyone telling him what to do or how to do it! Self-directed learner all the way. He really thrives in maker situations. You’ve probably read about maker spaces online — they’re all the rage. So much good stuff there, you’re sure to love it. You’ll have to mark out some really big blocks of time because the only way kids can think up their own ideas and then make them happen is if you clear the decks and throw your schedule out the window. I’ll let you work out what you want to drop from your current schedule to accommodate that.

Now Carl is like a lot of 12-year-olds — I don’t think the seat of his pants sees a chair all day. But no worries — talk about abundant research! Kids need to be up and moving around, not sitting down all day. And now they will be!

My younger daughter Luna is 9. She was born in France while we were living there for a year for my husband’s job and even though she was only 3 months old when we left, she must have picked up something from the air. The girl doesn’t walk when she can dance; she doesn’t talk when she can sing. She paints all day long.

Of course an artistic soul like our Luna would be miserable in school with all of the cutbacks in art education over the last several years — but not anymore! Ha ha! We’ll be reinstituting those art and music classes tout suite.

Our youngest, Joe, is 5. He’s a special case, but all our kids are, am I right? Strangely, what’s worked best for Joe is Waldorf, which didn’t work at all with the other kids. Waldorf is a little bit picky about … well … everything! You’ll see! I’ve prepared some handouts to send home about diet, special toys, no TV, and so forth. We’ll be switching to a Waldorf curriculum in all of the Kindergarten classes immediately.

Finally, in closing, I would like to sincerely apologize for taking so long to wake up and see that I should be taking my educational improvements to the school and putting them in action there. I honestly didn’t realize I had that power.

I mean, that’s why we homeschooled in the first place — because we didn’t think school could (or should have to, honestly!) accommodate the various needs of our four kids … not to mention the fact that we were figuring it all out as we went along! It certainly was a learning process.

Who knew that I could have stayed and improved things not just for Margaret, Carl, Luna, and Joe but for ALL kids. My husband and I had quite a laugh about it, I can tell you. I mean, we haven’t been able to afford a family vacation in ten years! We would give each other a rueful look every year writing out our property tax bill, looking at all that education money we couldn’t use — and now we can!

Best,

Carrie

P.S. See you on Monday!

 

No one’s going to DIY that for you, sweetheart

Published by Lori Pickert on February 6, 2015 at 01:15 PM

It’s called DIY for a reason.

Wired published a story Homeschooling Only Deepens Silicon Valley’s Rift with the Rest of Us and I responded with the following rant on Twitter:

 

I love kids and I love great educators and I want great schools for ALL kids. But anyone who thinks it’s easy — or even doable — for one family or even a group of families to waltz in and disrupt their local school is … incorrect.

If I had the power to walk into my local school and change how they are doing things to how *I* think things should be done … gosh, just think of it. I bet they’d welcome me with open arms. They’d get out the red pen and start changing their schedule right then and there to accommodate my ideas.

But of course it doesn’t work that way.

To say that homeschooling parents are terribly selfish for just leaving and doing what they think is best for their own kids (a song homeschooling parents have been hearing from the very beginning) is to overlook the fact that schooling parents are just as selfish every time they

- sign their kids up for an extracurricular activity,

- move to a better neighborhood,

- hire a tutor,

- buy an educational app or book or film,

- help their kids with their homework,

and on and on and on. Not EVERY child has those benefits. Should you do for your child what you aren’t willing to do for society?

Please do not assume that just because people homeschool, they don’t contribute to the public schools or to all kids. You have no idea whether they volunteer, tutor, help out a teacher friend, buy school supplies, or offer to do free trainings and workshops. You know nothing about what they’re doing for all kids.

What you do know is what YOU are doing. Are you advocating for change? Are you in there demanding whatever it is you want? Are you rallying other parents to the cause?

Or, how about this: Are you asking your local school what they need? Do you know the average teacher spends at least $500.00 every school year buying materials out of his or her own pocket? Do you know they don’t just buy art supplies but soap and paper towels?

Whatever it is you’re doing, start there. DIY it. Be a self-directed learner. Educate yourself. Then decide what you want to do with what you learned.

If you believe with all your heart that I have the power to change your child’s education, that means you have the power, too. Use it.

How to save a child’s love of learning in one easy step

Published by Lori Pickert on February 19, 2014 at 07:51 AM

This is the way that it works — and I ran a school, after-school, and summer learning program for seven years plus I’ve taught numerous homeschool and adult workshops and I have two homeschooled children who have learned this way since they were in preschool and are now in their teens, so this is from life experience, not pie-in-the-sky idealism.

If you give children complete control over SOME PART of their learning, they will not only rise to the occasion and attack their interests with gusto, but they will turn around and approach all of their required learning with a newfound sense of self-confidence and self-determination. They will look for a way to learn that fits their new sense of themselves as people with interests, abilities, and important ideas.

Do you want your children or students to love learning? Don’t say “Here, we know what’s best for you — sit down, be quiet, and listen.” But also don’t just say “Go, do whatever you want.” Do better than that. Support their interests and their self-chosen work fully — with your attention, your time, your space, and your cold hard cash. Invest in their interests. Invest in their talents. Instead of letting them ride in the back seat while you take them on a wonderful adventure, show them how to drive the car. Mentor them to be self-directed learners.

If you do that, they will figure out that learning is how they can do the things they care about — the things they want to do. Once that switch is flipped, they may still be disappointed, frustrated, or disconnected when they’re forced to do dull, meaningless, irrelevant tasks, but at least they won’t call that “learning.”

They may be more demanding, more inquisitive, and they may interrupt more because they have more confidence in their own ideas. But on the whole, wouldn’t you rather have a child whose insistence on being in charge of his own learning disrupts your plan rather than a quiet, bored child who can’t wait to do what’s necessary so he can escape?

Teach children to direct and manage their own learning and they will love learning because they own it, they control it, and they can connect it with everything else they love.

Prioritize this one step and all the others will fall away because they just don’t work anymore.

 

See also: Ten steps to getting started with project-based homeschooling (whether you homeschool or not)

and

“We’re not just making learning less fun, less meaningful, less useful, and less relevant, we’re actually making it less educational.” — Self-directed learning: the neglected subject?

How to destroy a child’s love of learning in 15 easy steps

Published by Lori Pickert on February 17, 2014 at 04:49 PM

Photo credit: Richard Phillip Rücker, Flicker Creative Commons

 

1. Make sure he knows learning isn’t about what he wants to do but what he HAS to do. Even if you’re doing “project-based learning,” it’s your ideas that matter. Inspire kids to design, invent, and make an impact by giving them specific tasks YOU thought up and YOU care about!

 

2. Whenever possible, be patronizing. It’s inspiring to kids. They can dream of the day when they’re in charge and looking down on their own minions. Whatever you do, keep them away from grown-up books, resources, and tools — don’t let them stray from their assigned reading level!

 

3. If your child has a strong interest, use it as seasoning on required work.

Don’t have kids count regular pencil erasers in the math center — have them count dinosaur erasers! Kids love dinosaurs! Nothing brightens rote work like a reminder of something they would much rather be learning about.

 

4. Share his excitement to the point where you flood him with your ideas and take over. After all, your ideas are wayyyy better than his — he’s only seven!

A MacGyver project?! We know everything about MacGyver!

 

5. As early as possible, begin differentiating between “fun” and “work” and make sure he knows learning is “work” — we don’t call it schoolFUN, do we? “Work” isn’t supposed to be fun — if it’s fun, engaging, and/or enjoyable, that means it’s too easy.

 

6. Do the fun stuff yourself — you deserve it! Choosing books and materials, planning field trips, planning parties — when something fun is involved, that’s a treat for YOU!

 

7. When something requires decision, choice, weighing options, and/or allocating funds, do that yourself. That’s grown-up stuff.

 

8. Whenever possible, eliminate choice. The whole process will be much more streamlined if it’s a “tab A” into “slot A” situation. You can’t usher 15 kids through a craft quickly and efficiently if you don’t get that conveyor-belt vibe going.

Bonus: When displaying children’s artwork, scatter them all over the bulletin board turning them this way and that. That really reveals your respect for the effort they put into your cookie-cutter craft.

 

9. Creativity should be limited to which sticker you want to use to decorate the planned craft. Letting kids have input into the design process will take forever. We don’t have time for that.

 

10. Chew their meat for them. Prepare things ahead of time. Lay out the materials. Choose the books. Mark the passages. Find great movies to watch. Look up craft ideas on Pinterest. Cut the construction paper into squares and rectangles. Find the expert. Arrange the field trip. Tell them exactly what they need to know.

 

11. When they do their little bit at the end, shout “BIIIIIIG FINISH!” and give them a gold medal. They’ll treasure it. Nothing says “I honor and appreciate your work” like a certificate printed off the Internet.

Nothing confuses a child like giving them a reward for something they wanted to do — keep them on their toes!

 

12. Remember to rank everyone who participates and make sure everyone knows who did the assignment “right” and “best.” The most important thing you can learn is how to follow directions — and the second most important is where you rank amongst your competitors. Whether you’re a bluebird or a sparrow, it’s better to find out early!

For optimal comparison, have everyone do the exact same “art” project and hang them up in a grid. Nothing inspires kids to work harder than having the worst construction-paper Abe Lincoln.

 

13. Praise kids for being docile followers. Punish kids whenever they take initiative or make suggestions. They’re just trying to gum up the works!

Make sure kids learn early what a “good student” is. That way everyone will want to learn, learn, learn.

 

14. Use stereotypes to show kids what their interests now will get them later in life. Make sure they know that once you choose, that’s it. 

If you like science, you too can wear horn-rimmed glasses and work in a nice white lab that’s even more windowless and sterile than your classroom!

 

15. Stamp out autonomy. Drop the leash and kids will go in directions you cannot predict and plan for. You won’t be able to prepare it all ahead of time if you don’t know what’s going to happen! This is why preplanning is essential. Remember: it’s not about what they want. It’s about how well they do what we want.

 

BONUS IDEAS

Make sure they know that if they don’t understand the material, that’s THEIR fault.

The point of rigor isn’t to help kids work hard at things they want to do, it’s to force them to buckle down at things they find boring and irrelevant.

 

PLEASE CONTRIBUTE!

Do you have some ideas of your own? Share them in the comments!

 

THE ANTIDOTE

Feeling ouchy? This is for you: How to save a child’s love of learning in one easy step

And you might like this as well: Self-directed learning: the neglected subject?

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