Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Some of my best friends...
Stereotype of Homeschoolers.
Some of my best friends are homeschoolers. 

Stop looking at me like that.

A product and practitioner of public schooling, I still have to admit that some of my favorite people to talk about classroom design and pedagogy with are homeschoolin' mommies.

By and large, my friends choosing this route have active boys with special needs due to either learning disabilities, super high IQs, autism spectrum issues, or all of the above. The moms are high-achieving college grads who are making up as they go along, but without all the isolation that used to come with homeschooling. Today's homeschoolers are using curriculum their moms researched and chose online.  The families are runnin' around town, playing soccer together, doing gross experiments, taking a month-long tour of the national parks, serving lemonade at the nursing home. The kids are responsible, contributing members of their communities. They see how their day to day life is part of their learning.

I like that.  I want that for "our" kids--the ones squirming in the plastic chairs at PS #5 or Abe Lincoln High. I want kids who are learning how to be good citizens, and who see their education as part of what's going on in their community and the world.  It'd be nice if they could read, too.

Thomas Jefferson was homeschooled. So was everybody, back in the day. Tutors taught children, and all they were responsible for was informing students:  "Here, learn this Latin conjugation so you can read this passage from Plutarch's Lives and be a better leader,"  "Here, learn to sew so you can make beautiful and useful things for your family," "Here, learn how to use this compass so you can go from one end of our property to another."

At that time, and really until the mid-20th Century, most kids helped their parents with chores, wandered their land or someone else's, and made their own toys by whittling, sewing, knitting, or manipulating the natural world.  Today, "our" kids expect to do all their learning at school and to come home and "play" by doing things that are entirely imaginary.  Watching tv, playing on apps, even reading and writing are all pasttimes without surprises: nothing will happen to the child that's out of their control. Nothing will be asked of the child that he or she can't say no to.

This is why I'm encouraged by project-based and problem-based learning models: THE WORLD IS ASTONISHING! The factory-style schools we've inherited continue to function as if anything happening outside of school will knock these kids' socks off.  It's our new job as 21st Century (dun dun dun!) educators to reveal the foreignness, the wildness, of the way physics and chemistry and biology and politics and sociology combine to make the world go 'round.

They can get the basics from modern tutors (the web), but we need to instruct them in how to apply that knowledge, how to know which of it is important for their futures, and which of it is valued in their communities.  And heck, we need to introduce them to their communities to begin my homeschoolin' mommies are doing. Kids will demand reading skills when they know why they're important - the way the children of the past begged for compasses, their own bridles, or their own knitting needles.  I hope that technology is part of us "flipping the classroom" in a way that puts information-getting back in its place and makes the whole world the classroom.

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