Find Joy. Seek Truth. Be Kind.

Saturday, June 27, 2009

The Last Lecture

It's a thin book, definitely a fast read. That is, until you finish it and realize, "I need to read that again". Here and here are links to video of/with Randy Pausch for those interested.

It's a story that you know the ending of. Most folks in this connected age have seen, or read, or heard about it. Randy Pausch is invited to give an annual lecture at Carnegie Mellon "The Last Lecture", a lecture series with the premise of "if you knew you were going to die, what is important enough that you need to share it now?" The kicker is, Randy Pausch has been diagnosed with pancreatic cancer and given 6 months to live. Randy knows he is going to die, and die very soon.

That he's leaving behind a wife and 3 very young children is enough to bring tears to your eyes, even if you don't read the book. But then, reading the book you come to realize what a vibrant spirit he was. I grieve that his children, and the world, will not have more time to learn from him.

More than the poignancy of this book, I will remember the lessons in it. The "head fake", the "Dutch uncle", "be a communitarian" and so many others, are lessons I can use as a parent, teacher, and coach. His philosophy of hard work, persistence, and optimism is one that makes any situation, even the worst situation, the best it can be.

He talks about the Tiggers and the Eeyores of the world. He's a Tigger, and I'm glad to have come to know him just a bit through this this book. He's not the only Tigger in the world, just one who got famous for a bit. To all the Tiggers I've been blessed to know, thanks for being you!

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Et tu?

Today, driving summer camp kids to and from a field trip, I had the privilege of having a 15 year old camp counselor share with me her experiences and interests. She was raised locally until age 10, moved away for 5 yrs and has recently returned. Adjusting to her new school has been a challenge. She's never made friends easily, would rather do art than sports, reads voraciously, and hasn't yet found a friendly peer group or BFF. I found her to be kind, well-spoken, and thoughtful. I don't have teens yet, and I'll never have a daughter, so it was a treat for me to have some time with this young lady.

When she learned that my kids are homeschooled, she told me that I should really send my kids to school by the time they reach high school. She felt strongly enough about this to bring it up more than once.

"I can tell the kids who are homeschooled" she told me. (Although she had been surprised to learn my kids were homeschooled.)

"How?" I asked.
"Well, I don't mean to be rude, but they are so attached to their parents." (In a tone that implied that this is a negative thing.)

I was intrigued by her concern for my children and asked her why she thought attending high school was so very important.

"You learn so much there that you just can't learn at home."

I asked her what she thought she'd learned in school that was most useful.

She answered "How to, you know, make friends."
"Not that I'm good at that" she admitted with a wistful voice.
"Go to class. You learn how to get to class."
"You have to deal with mean and bad people."
"How to get on the right side of a teacher. If you get on their good side you can wear clothes that don't meet the code."
"You learn how to dress."

She was talking about that elusive thing that seems to haunt the thoughts of so many when they think of homeschooling. The word I think she might have been reaching for was "socialization".

The school this teen attends is a well scoring classical school. Yet, according to this student the most important lessons she's learned are how to dress, brown nose, get to class, and deal with bullies.

Sigh.... I don't even know where to start. By trying to articulate what she saw as an important difference between school and homeschool this youth unintentionally highlighted some of the advantages that bring teens and their parents to homeschooling.

Thursday, June 4, 2009

The Case Against Homeschooling... really?

If you google (loving that new verb) "The Case Against Homeschooling" you will come up with a huge number of hits. I was naively surprised, since the first I'd heard about it was this post. I figured some random teacher had gotten a stick in an unfortunate place, but apparently there has been an on going discussion (campaign?) around this for a while.

I've summarized and then answered the concerns I've seen most frequently.

How can a parent be as qualified as a professional teacher?

Let's talk for a moment about what makes one qualified. Presumably a degree? In what? What does a degree signify? It shows a person was able to make it through so many college courses and achieve a certain minimum score on a series of tests, papers, and projects. It doesn't signify natural aptitude, or how much they learned and then retained. It doesn't signify their investment in and enthusiasm with their students. Nor, in my opinion, are all degrees created equal. I have my own biases, but really, is a BA in English, Music, or Education really as valuable as a BS in Engineering? I've got the later, but can write, teach, and am now a professional musician. Anyone with only the former able to design a dam or water treatment system?

How qualified is a "professional teacher?" After 13 years (and more than 13 teachers) in public school, I had 2 who were truly exceptional. A degree signifies little when it comes to the ability to connect with children.

How can any parent, even if somewhat qualified, cover all the necessary subjects to the degree necessary for both primary and secondary education?

Any parent who can read and write in their native language has the skills needed to facilitate their child's learning. We don't have to know it all. We're don't have to teach "subjects". We just need to support our children in their exploration of all the amazing resources available. Between the public library, the internet, and the many generous adults willing to share their expertise with others, there's no reason any subject is out of bounds of a willing learner.

We've become a society dependent upon "professionals", to the detriment of the individual's ability to function with independence. I'd rather belong to a society filled with enthusiastic amateurs who work together to accomplish their goals.

What about (all together now) SOCIALIZATION?
Won't homeschooled kids turn into geeks and social misfits?

School is no guarantee of social "coolness". Ask any of us who were "geeks" in high school. In fact most of us "geeks" have taken to embracing the term for someone who cares and is enthusiastic enough to share their delight in a subject.

"Geek. Geek. Geek." :-P Name calling isn't going to work to vilify homeschooling.

Besides, if the modern pop culture of highschool can make one a misfit, and fitting in is important, mightn't those kids be better off with other "geeks" where they will fit in?

What about the civic duty to mix with others and develop tolerance for diversity?

While schooled kids are locked in a classroom with the same age classmates they've known since grade school for 6 hours a day, 5 days a week, 40+ weeks a year, homeschooled kids are generally out in the real world on a near daily basis. They are not segregated by age and so are used to interacting with people from 2 to 82. Our kids know their postal carriers, librarians, and store clerks by name. Homeschooled are known to local civic and charitable groups by name themselves. They interact not only with other homeschooled kids at homeschool activities, but with schooled kids at church, in Scouts, on sports teams, and in music/art/theatre groups. Homeschooled kids are socialized to get along in the broader society.

As for civic duty, I don't recall active citizenship requiring giving up ones freedom to associate with whom one chooses.

We need homeschooled kids (who tend to come from upper middle class families and have higher IQ and/or ability, and certainly seem to have higher average test scores) to mix with less advanaged children in order to inspire them and help the schools achieve better.

Wait, aren't these the kids being "taught" by parents who supposedly aren't qualified to teach? So, why are they doing so well that we're depriving the schools by keeping them home?

Seriously, are you saying that we should sacrifice our kids on the alter of public school so that the other kids aren't quite as bad off as they would be otherwise? What does this say about the schools? This is a confused argument if you're arguing that homeschooled kids are better off in schools.

If you're saying the the schools need our kids, I might agree. But I would argue that in this case the choice of the individual is more important than that of the collective. Homeschooling is not a privilege. Homeschooling is a right.

And, by the way, there are plenty of homeschoolers who fall outisde the social strata of "upper-middle class". We're not all rich white folks, people.

Given that the burden of homeschooling falls most often on the mothers, isn't homeschooling is just another way to add to the unpaid labor of mothers? For women to be truly liberated, children must go to school, thus freeing their mother's time for actualization.
Last I checked, homeschooling was still optional. If you believe in a woman's right to choose her own path, then choosing to homeschool her kids is her right.

FYI: I like homeschooling my kids and don't feel unduly burdened. (Well, no more than any other parent. :-) ) Most of the homeschooling dads I know are very involved with their children's education, even though it means a "second shift" when they get home from work. I even know one stay-at-home homeschooling Dad. So, don't get too caught up in the stereo-types.

That said, if you really want to support women, look into supporting families, equal pay, fair access to health care, and other "social" issues. Maybe the "burden" of homeschooling wouldn't fall so much on the mothers if they earned as much as their husbands when they did work. Maybe fathers would be more involved if they they didn't have to work full time just to provide access to medical insurance.

Monday, June 1, 2009

The Blue Sweater

Since I posted about "The Life You Can Save" I feel like I need to post about "The Blue Sweater" by Jacqueline Novogratz. I actually found this to be an easier ('tho longer) read, much more positive, useful, and engaging. In telling her story; her work in Africa, the amazing people she met, what she saw working ,and (just as important), not working with regards to the issue of poverty, she imparts the lessons she learned. The story culminates with her retrospective about the Rwandon tragedy and her involvement with the Acumen Fund.

While those lessons pertain directly to reducing poverty and increasing the quality of life of the impoverished in Africa, I found much that applies to parenting, homeschooling and life in general.

Some highlights and ideas I'd like to share follow
(Of course I can't come close to the depth of the book. You'll just have to read it yourself.)

Ideas I found intriguing that apply to so much more than reducing poverty:

Empowering those who are already doing good work. (Remember the old saying "The Lord helps those who help themselves"? Well, there's a practical reason for that!)

The need for using BOTH compassion and intellect (and the damage done when using only one!)

The need for accountability, primarily with regards to use of charitable funds, 'tho I see a larger application of this idea. (Is what you're doing working? No? Then DO SOMETHING ELSE!)

The need for ownership and buy in from charitable recipients (and why loans are better than charity)

The importance of an individual moral compass, as well as governmental integrity, and institutions that are reliable, when creating a society with a good quality of life (I could probably get religious here!)

Sins of omission vs sins of commission

The need for and importance of "Patient Capital", that is, the willingness to make a long term investment that is not likely to "pay off" in the short term but will in the long term. Again, she is mostly referring to monetary investment, but don't you see how it applies to anything that we really care about? (I can see another post about what kind of investment we need to make in ourselves so that we have the resources to invest patient capital in our children and community.)

I would strongly recommend reading "The Blue Sweater" in conjunction with "The Life You Can Save". Peter Singer's book explains WHY you should care and donate to charity. Jacqueline Novogratz's book shows HOW one woman actually did it.

May's Books