Sunday, October 3, 2010

Making Connections

I've been reading about education a lot lately. This week I read an article my sister sent me about a married couple of academic types who decided to homeschool their three children. This is happening more and more. Homeschooling used to be reserved for country bumpkins, religious fanatics, and all-around strange folk. Not any more. Academics and intellectuals are now pulling their children out of formal schooling and are educating them at home. They take their children to museums and parks, travel to new places, and only spent a minimal amount of time doing formal study. These new homeschooling families emphasize that learning takes place constantly, learning units of measure while cooking, learning about biodiversity at the farmers' market, learning Dewey Decimal inside the actual library, and learning color theory at the art museum. It's a wonderful new movement, I think, as more people realize that our formal education system crushes creativity and discourages real thinking. The most significant difference in this type of learning (learning by doing in everyday life) is that it is almost always relevant to daily life. Their learning take place within context, not within a classroom. Because they might actually be in the forest while learning about leaves and bugs, there is automatically an opportunity for them to discover something new on their own. "What kind of bug is that, mommy?" they might ask. And the parent may reply, "I'm not sure. Let's look it up." And then, through the entire process of figuring out what kind of bug it is, they may also have hidden "lessons" on how to take a photo of the bug, how to look things up, and how to determine what information about the bug is most important. And not only does homeschooling allow for more relevant and in-depth learning, it also creates incredibly strong and meaningful relationships within families. Older siblings teach younger siblings, parents and children really get to know each other, and the family becomes the foundation by which they all understand how to build outside relationships and community. Many educational reformists are convinced that this same kind of learning, experiential learning they call it, can take place in a school with teachers and classrooms. I agree with them, though I know it will be no easy task to try and make such sweeping changes in the way we all think about and do school. We do not currently teach our children how to think and connect ideas and how to learn new things on their own. We teach them how to do school, to stay in the lines, sit quietly, and do what they're told. We are teaching compliance. We are raising a generation of people who are not prepared to think for themselves, form opinions, create new systems. We are raising a new work force of people who know how to stay in the lines, sit quietly, and do what they're told. Don't ask questions, don't wonder why, don't make suggestions for a different way of doing things. This is very dangerous for us. Without thinkers, people who push the boundaries and search for new ideas, we'll have no new discoveries and we'll be unable to create new systems when our traditional systems fail us. So, no worksheets and no homework, I say.....and that's just a meager start. We need to totally overhaul the way we've always thought about education. And I understand that not everyone can or should homeschool. But everyone can get involved in educational reform. We have to.

As a sidenote, I think it's very interesting that at the same time that you have the local food movement with people growing their own stuff, composting and recycling, and people moving back to downtown and trying to rebuild communities, you also have the new homeschool movement. None of these "movements" is very new, actually, but all have newly found attention and interest. Are people really moving toward a slower-paced, relationship-emphasizing, home based life? Will people really stick to trying to make everyday life more meaningful rather than trying to achieve, succeed, and attain? I hope so. Time will tell, I suppose.

This is my three year old niece cutting up vegetables with a knife and cutting board, with supervision from my mother. She uses a small knife, of course, and needs to be supervised, but she can learn to do pretty much anything she wants. Children are so much more capable than we give them credit for, and it really upsets me. Part of the problem with our education may be that adults have so little faith in children. They can do it! Look at her go!