Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Hitting a Slump

There are homeschoolers out there who take a week-long break every so many weeks. I think we are naturally one of those. This week is our 8th week back and the second day in, not a whole lot of school work is getting done. It's always one of those things of: Do I just suck it up and at least get something done? Or do we just go, "Hey! Let's take a break!" Problem with taking breaks with my 14-year old is that it's hard to get him back off of breaks... If the school year is like the Montessori 3-hour work cycle, then when you hit the slumps, you just have to kind of break through in a different way, correct?

Yes, I'm just mumbling here.

Monday, February 16, 2015

"If I can't have it, then neither can you"

There comes my way every now and then an article by somebody who really doesn't get homeschooling. This article http://www.wired.com/2015/02/homeschooling-deepens-silicon-valleys-rift-rest-us/ is one of those.

As the words in this article sink in, I actually find myself more and more flabbergasted. But why?

First of all, let's look at the title:

Homeschooling Only Deepens Silicon Valley's Rift
With the Rest of Us

How do I begin to articulate what I'm thinking?
  • The rift Wohlsen is speaking of at first is the gap in income--the difference between those who have and those who have not. But he's not suggesting that this income gap is going to get deeper by homeschooling, just the general differences between those in Silicon Valley and those not, in this case, the difference in education. Differences aren't necessarily bad things. It seems to me that it's a rather communist view of things--everybody should "be the same" doesn't allow for difference--but a "land of the free" should see that some rifts are just about people being different and that's not a bad thing. It's the reason why there are specialty programs in certain public schools, why there are all kinds of different private schools, why there are charter schools. We are different from each other, despite our common points, so a difference in educational style or options doesn't have to be a bad thing.
  • If Silicon Valley is already different to the point there's a rift between Silicon Valley and the rest of us, then does it really make a difference if that rift is deeper? Why does it matter to Wohlsen? Is there jealousy? Envy? What exactly is at the heart of his uneasiness about this "rift"? Is this rift actually poor relations? What harm is coming from this deepening? Other than being unhappy that public schooled kids don't have the same freedom and opportunities? Or is it holding to this idea that we should all be the same?
His main beef doesn't seem to be with homeschooling itself (although he does say "trend", which one might conclude means that he doesn't think very highly of homeschooling, and there's also his flippant comment about all kids not liking school, another point confirming he just doesn't get homeschooling), but with the idea that kids in Silicon Valley who are homeschooled are getting better educational opportunities--which is deepening the "rift". Wohlsen's solution is that parents, instead of homeschooling, should have their kids in school and be getting the public schools to change. I literally snorted as I wrote that. It's a very naive thought that this minority of parents is going to change the system for everybody, or even just one school, and by the time their child will be out of school so they can actually get that type of education. Public school curriculum is not determined by parents but by the government, first off. You would need to have an overwhelming number of parents on the same page for any kind of change like that to even be possible--and still not guaranteed to occur because parents haven't really been involved in the deciding of curriculum since the time that it was parents in communities who worked together to create a school, hire the teacher and be completely responsible for the school. While smaller scale things can be put in as clubs and such, that doesn't come anywhere near what homeschoolers are able to experience outside of the system.

But the naivety doesn't end there, or perhaps it's the lack of seeing what's what: each family has chosen their own way of doing things and modifies as they see fit as their child grows and changes. How is that going to translate to something for all school kids? How are families going to work together to create those changes, if they were even possible, when their approaches are vastly different? Not to mention that not every child is going to want or use the hackerspace Wohlsen so admires and thinks that, in a best-case scenario, the public schools, and therefore every child, would already have. My head just shook there. Literally. As I'm sitting here typing, my head just shook on its own. There are these different families from different places who have an interest in something, or perhaps just one of their kids has an interest in this type of thing, yet parents should be working so that every child has this, whether they want it or not? (Head is shaking again.)

Let's consider, too, there will undoubtedly be parents who will complain about such a space, wanting their kids to "get back to basics" and stop monkeying around, blocking any progress with the idea. What is the likelihood that public schools would ever have the hackerspace set up? And how long would it take? There is no guarantee that the public schools would ever set it up and who is going to pay the price in the meantime? The Silicon Valley homeschooling kids who now have it but apparently shouldn't because it creates a greater rift, so they should be back in school so that their parents can try to make the public school system change and probably won't see that change in their school lifetime--or their lifetime, period.

*sigh* (Yes, literally.)

I do wonder if he has such issues with Silicon Valley parents choosing charter and private schools, as well.

Then there's this:
The homeschooling trend plays into the suspicion that techies would rather live in a bubble than the world we all share.
In a nutshell, parents in the Silicon Valley shouldn't homeschool because of what the non-homeschoolers (or perhaps non-Silicon Valley non-homeschoolers?) think about them. Or perhaps it's just this author already thinks negatively of those in Silicon Valley and he thinks homeschooling confirms his suspicion? 

At one point, Wohlsen talks about "solutionist" fantasies, but he lives under a fantasy of his own:

Education, by contrast, isn’t supposed to have winners and losers.

Um... Whether it's "supposed to" or not, the whole system is set up so that there are winners and losers (you can especially ask those who are trying to get into colleges) and despite the government's best attempt at making sure nobody loses, some are winning and some are losing. Daily. Weekly. Yearly. At all grade levels. Kids are failing. Many are bored (yes, I consider that losing). Many need outside tutoring--if the school system were the way it's "supposed to be" without any winners or losers, no child would need outside tutoring. The whole paradigm behind what public schools are trying to do makes it so that the models of homeschooling that Wohlsen is somewhat admiring aren't possible in government-run schools. At least, however, he does seem to see that these homeschooled kids are "winning" the educational battle, if we might call it that, but he doesn't seem to see that he would be making them "losers" by having their parents put them back in school.

At one point, he says,

But without the hard, messy work of trying to integrate these models into the lives of all children, these efforts will remain symbolic gestures without much substance. 
I almost get the impression that he thinks these homeschooling families are lazy, they're taking the easy way out by taking on their children's education rather than doing the "hard, messy work" of changing the world. I think, though, it has more to do with the bubble he thinks Silicon Valley families want to live under, that they are going to live in their bubble and not think of others and just do their own thing. I've already touched on above how there are so many different models of homeschooling, families couldn't work together to get all these different approaches into the school system. Well, not unless the government is willing to throw curriculum out the window and make every school a democratic or free school along the lines of Sudbury Valley or Summerhill  (but, you know, even that is only one model of schooling that isn't in line with what a lot of homeschoolers choose to do). But with his comment of "these efforts remain symbolic gestures without much substance," I have to beg to differ: they are not symbolic gestures for those homeschooling kids and other homeschooling families who get inspired by that and decide to do the same. It is substance for those families. It is the substance of who these kids will be as adults.

Wohlsen ties this "messy, hard work" to the "not scaling well" aspect of what these families are doing, but either I've completely misunderstood his point or he doesn't seem to really grasp what the original article (his article is really a response to another article, http://www.wired.com/2015/02/silicon-valley-home-schooling/) was meaning when Jason Tanz wrote:

But, to put this in tech terms, it’s an approach that doesn’t scale very well. It seemed exhausting enough for Samantha to help her two sons write one-sentence business plans; it’s hard to imagine anyone offering the same kind of energy and attention to each student in a 20-person classroom. Indeed, that’s precisely why schools adopt a one-size-fits-all model.

The point being that it's not just "messy" and "hard" for these families to make the things they are doing at home happen at schools, but that they are changes that are just about downright impossible to make happen in schools. This has nothing to do with Zuckerberg and him failing at making changes so people think they can't make changes. Parents have been trying to make changes for decades. When you have an education system based on a packed, standard curriculum that all students are expected to learn at a certain pace and get a certain minimum percentage on in classes of 20-30 kids almost exactly the same age, there is very little room to incoporate models that are focused on individual needs and wants.

He writes as though the Silicon Valley homeschooling parents are the only people who can do anything about what's offered in schools, or maybe it's really about how he sees it as their responsibility to do something--especially since he thinks they are in a world apart and need to come back to "the rest of us." But they have done something: they've voiced their opinion by walking out. People do it all the time, like not giving a tip or boycotting companies. If enough parents walk out and walk out for the same reasons, then, maybe, the school system will start to be open to that kind of change. The thing is, if Wohlsen wants the hackerspace and other changes in the public school system, then what's to stop him from working on doing just that? If he wants it in his kid's school, why doesn't he get together with other parents and try to make changes at the school level, then the district level and so on? Why should it be the Silicon Valley homeschoolers' responsibility to make a change happen in all schools that he wants to see in his kid's school? (In his ignorance of homeschooling, he doesn't seem to realize that if those hackerspaces appeared now, the bulk of the families using them would continue to homeschool because, as many discover, homeschooling is so much more than just things like hackerspaces.) There is nothing prevent him from join a hackerspace guild, or get one started in his area, get his kid doing that kind of stuff now and use the information from the guild to bring to the schools to introduce the idea to them and other parents. Nothing but the idea he has in his head that it should be the Silicon Valley homeschooling parents who should be doing it.

When we get down to it, while the title suggests his issue is about the rift, Wohlsen's thesis statement is:

The issue is a Silicon Valley culture that can too often prize breaking away at the expense of chipping in.

This is his true main beef. It's not about the rift, really, and it getting larger, but what he perceives as Silicon Valley families living in a bubble, doing their own thing and not helping others out. The difficulties of helping change a school system where each family would want different changes aside, you know what they say on planes: You need to put your oxygen mask on before you can help your children. But it goes even further than that: You help your child with their mask before even beginning to think of helping others. The thing about homeschooling is that it's a loooooooooooooooooooong process of getting that mask on the child. These parents are chipping in, many have likely even overturned their lives to pull their kids out of school and start homeschooling them. They're just chipping in on the level they can right now, the smaller scale, family level. To be honest, his comment reminds me of a post I read years ago about unbelievable things people had said to homeschoolers, one of them being something like, "If you took more responsibility for your children's education, you wouldn't need to homeschool them." It's just that Wohlsen seems to be saying, "If you took more responsibility for other children's education, you wouldn't need to homeschool yours."

In his fixation on what he thinks is Silicon Valley families not making changes on a larger scale because they want to stay in a bubble, Wohlsen doesn't see that what he is truly proposing is another version of "Dumbing Us Down"--but this time, about general educational opportunities rather than the specific curriculum. He is stuck in the one-size-fits-all mentality, that everybody should have exactly the same educational options in public schools that these homeschoolers have, and the result of his position really is:
If public school kids can't have this now,
then neither should yours.
What a shame.

Sunday, February 15, 2015

Learning through Fun and Games

I read an interesting article today about a grade 3 teacher who is taking advantage of technology in his classroom. The improvement in his students is truly something:


He makes use of the internet, websites, Nintendo DS games... Getting the kids engaged by having fun (one of our human needs and I think the faster our society gets, the more demanding it gets, the higher this need is becoming) while having them practise various skills and knowledge with a variety of resources, meeting kids at their level and allowing them to progress as they are able... Sounds a lot like Montessori if I just leave it at that.

Now, if I could get some funny YouTuber to do videos where he (it's all males my son watches and finds so funny) somehow gets my son learning other things and practising sills, then we'd really be talking! ;) Hm, that does have me thinking: Take this observation that my son likes watching funny things, how can I translate this into things he works on?

*crickets chirping*

May the ideas will come later.

Saturday, February 14, 2015

Weekly Wrap-Up - February 14, 2015

It's been, um, 3 weeks since my last "weekly" wrap-up. lol. Ah well.

This week was a bit of a crazy week.

Lots of time out of the house this week, which makes book work and other at-home work difficult. An outing Monday half the day, Wednesday almost the whole day, Thursday was an out day for me and my daughter. And then yesterday, neither teen was doing well physically, so it became a day off.

What did we do?

*My daughter caught up quickly with her social studies, which is good, because it had been stressing her being behind a bit. She's also been working on her art course on and off and doing some other projects. She's waiting for some art supplies she ordered online--they weren't available at Michaels and rather than spend time running around the city seeing is a more specialized store has it, she researched things online, found a good price from one source and voilà!

*My son has continued with math. Still working on... I think it's booklet 4 of The Key to Algebra series. I found out from my husband that the factoring our son is working on is done next year in the schools here. Ah well. ;) He's also been reading from Tattoos on the Heart (I think I wrote "from the Heart" in previous posts; woops) and one of the Guardians of the Galaxy comic collections and some guitar practice and a lesson and a brief look at Louis Riel. Oh, yes, I also had him go to My Food Guide for health and to create his own guide and print it off (something I put on his list of things to do while I was gone on Thursday). Something went wonky, though, so it printed off his choices of foods for each category but didn't print how many servings he's supposed to have. And no, no science. I don't know how much he is enjoying or appreciating Tattoos on the Heart; he did make a request for the book Black Hawk Down, which we'll be picking up from the library this weekend. I'll give him a break from Tattoos on the Heart, I think, so he can focus on Black Hawk Down. I never finished reading Lone Survivor, so I don't know how gruesome or heart-breaking it is compared to Left to Tell. I figure there's a lot of social studies being covered if he's reading these books--although it would be better if I would read them, too, and be able to discuss certain things with him or encourage him to look up things (okay, note to self: read Black Hawk Down, too), but I also know how horrifying certain parts of Left to Tell are and not sure he's prepared for it. But perhaps that's just sensitive Mama getting in the way. ;)

This coming week is a 4-day school week: we have Family Day here in Alberta on Monday. I'll hopefully get some science and the government lapbook in there this week! And perhaps some French? lol

Saturday, February 7, 2015

Have You Observed Your Teen Lately?

I have to admit to not having read much lately in terms of Maria Montessori's approach to teenagers. But observation was definitely a key thing for the early years; surely it's just as important in the later years?

When was the last time you observed your teen? Have you ever--in the same way you might have observed your preschooler or elementary child? I'm not sure I have, or perhaps I do observe or notice things, but I don't sit and just observe the way I used to. And this thought came to mind today and has me thinking.

One thing I observed in my son (14) today, and my husband commented on it, is that he is just not in a rush to do anything or get anywhere. He was invited to his "brother from another mother's" house (lol--his cousin, the one who started in my dayhome at the age of 18 months and my son was 15 months; the two are strongly bonded) for a sleepover this evening. My husband and I were out when we got the invite; I assumed our son knew because he knows these things ahead of time. We got home and I asked if he knew; he didn't know it had been confirmed. He had started his laundry and just had to put it into the dryer. Okay. That done, I napped. I woke up from my nap and his laundry was still going and he was still in his pyjamas (at 4 in the afternoon). We had said we could drop him off around 5, and it's about a 25-minute drive from our place. At some point, while he was waiting for his clothes, he checked them, saw he had another 10 minutes and I told him he could get everything else ready: sleeping bag, pillows, toothbrush... He went to the basement and put the sleeping bag and sleep mat. His clothes were ready shortly before 4:30, at which point I texted his aunt that he was going to be late. He took his clothes into his room and shut the door. 10-15 minutes later, I knock, asking if I can come in. He said he's changing. I don't know if he was changing for 10-15 minutes or packing before changing or what, put it's one night. His sister would have been changed and back packed in that time easily. At the age of 10.

Finally, he was dressed and I go in and we chatted about what else he needed to get ready. He didn't have his toothbrush packed; that was the last thing he did. Didn't have his pillows downstairs (yes, he insists on having two, even though my observation is that when I peek in before he's up, his head isn't on a single one). But it honestly took him 5 minutes to do I'm not even sure what. He is always eager to go to his cousin's, but it doesn't somehow translate into speed. And this has honestly been something I've noticed since he was little. He was pretty much always the last one to get outside--even if he was the first one to start getting ready. To the point that sometimes, his cousins and sister had been outside for 10-15 minutes before he was ready to head out. His other aunt noticed the same thing that past winter when he was over there, everybody got ready to head out into the snow and there my son was, 5-10 minutes later, still not ready.

I wish I could observe the actual thought processes that are going on while he does all of this. Is this just his style? Is it something to leave alone or to work with him on? Is he lost in thought? Does he have trouble with executive planning? What is going on inside that brain of his?

It doesn't help that I'm probably the one who speeds through many things. We're heading to the store? Okay. 5 minutes later, I'm dressed, hair's brushed and make-up on. And then I'm trying to figure out what to do with myself as I wait for my husband, who's not so much slow as much as he can easily get caught up in other things, like looking out the window at the construction going on on the other side of the street. Typically, I'll start doing something else while I wait, but then he sees me doing something else and thinks I'm not ready, so he starts doing something while he waits for me, but because he has a tendency to do other things before really being ready--even if I'm at the door in my coat--I don't realize he's ready. lol. Ah, but that's a whole other issue.

So... I have this observation: My son is slow at getting ready (going to the bathroom, having a shower, eating snacks...). But I don't have enough information with my observation. I'm going to have to observe more or start questioning him more. Or observe more first and then ask him, "What were you thinking when...?"

I'm actually looking forward to observing my teens a bit and hope I'll remember to do so this week. Clearly, I can't observe my son this evening and my daughter is currently napping (although, that is not to say that you can't observe some things while someone sleeps, like position, twitching, how restless, breathing...), but perhaps I will pay a little more attention to what my daughter does this evening when she's in my presence. If even it's only to just love having her there. :)

So, have you observed your teen (or any other age of child) lately? What have you noticed? Any amazing conclusions you've come to?

Friday, February 6, 2015

Can I Go Back to Bed Now?

It's 10 am as I start writing this. I'd like to go back to bed, to be honest. I've been sick for the past two weeks, started getting more sleep and am finally starting to feel better and don't really feel sick, but I would like to go back to bed.

But I can't. I've got two teen girls (my daughter and her friend who slept over) who are counting on me to brave the snow and cold and get them to the mall so they can do some shopping before I pick them up again during lunch hour to then drop them off at a field trip.

Or I suppose I can't right now. Perhaps my plan should be to drop them off, come home and sleep. With an alarm set so I don't subconsciously fret that I'm sleeping too long and will sleep through when I'm supposed to pick them up. Even though my daytime naps tend to only be about 30 minutes or so.

The entire week has been one of me feeling like I'm not really getting anything done. And really, in a way, I haven't. I had started a blog challenge; haven't touched it since last weekend. I have my French academy to work on; haven't touched it since last weekend. That social studies lapbook that wasn't started last week still isn't started this week. The house, at least, is in decent shape. And some math and reading have been done.

It's hard to get things done when your thinking is muddled or just not focused. It didn't occur to me that it was tiredness getting in the way this morning when I had to restart the Apostles Creed 3 times when trying to have a morning rosary time. I would start and then suddenly realize I was thinking of something completely different. (To be fair to myself, I was laying down in bed before getting up. That doesn't help matters.) I don't even know if I actually accomplished it all the way through. lol. I decided I would try again later today when I could be more focused. But I think I need more sleep for that. (Should I be driving? lol. I think I'm fine in that regard. With the need to be focused, I'll be fine.)

Tuesday, February 3, 2015

I must not be communicating clearly...

My 17-year old is doing her course work through an online program. She's focusing just on her social studies course right now with a goal of doing a unit per week. She's gotten slightly behind, finishing up her unit 4 yesterday but not able to start unit 5 because she needs to do a midterm first. But the midterm has its own password. So, I emailed the teacher repeatedly yesterday (lesson learned: call the next time something is urgent). He finally replied back before 6:30 this morning--with the password for a different course.

Now, my first reaction was, "Did I not specify the course?" Nope, I did: right there in the subject line, as the teacher had asked for, it says the course name and number. He had the right subject, but not the right grade. I tried the password anyhow; it didn't work. I emailed him back, saying that we needed it for the grade 11 course. I got an immediate message back: he's out of the office.

So, the unit she was supposed to start yesterday she will have to wait until tomorrow after she does the midterm. She won't have time to work on the unit Thursday or Friday this week. Now, granted, had she kept up, she would have had Monday through tomorrow to work on it, but it's a certain frustration that I'm trying not to have in clearly explaining what we needed (or so I thought) and not getting it.

I then contacted one of the office staff, saying we needed the password for the midterm exam for that course; she replied back with the login information. I said, no, it's the password for the exam within that course. She's seeing what she can do.

They say everything happens for a reason, so, why is this happening? Add to this, the social studies teacher has different things written in different spots about what is due. I can't keep everything straight.

So, instead of the original plan, my daughter is working on her art course, which is perhaps, actually, a very good thing, so let's say this all happened so she could have an enjoyable time with something else instead of being focused only on social studies.

I still, however, wonder if I need to be clearer in how I ask for things...