Thursday, April 26, 2012

We went out last night to hear my daughter's bff perform at an open mike jam in a bar. A family friendly local bar, but a real bar populated mostly with middle aged grownups drinking beer or getting ready to perform on stage. Which is to say, this was no kiddie operation. This was not parent's night at the end of the semester. This was a real open mike event in a real bar with real grownups. Which is to say, it was real, y'all. Unschoolers work mostly in the real world in order to study the real world.

Dear Bff is a real singer with real ambition and was really excited about her first real performance. For which she had been preparing a long time. A local dad volunteered to accompany her on the guitar. She carefully and thoughtfully chose a deep, difficult, and wonderful song from Neko Case,
"Star Witness." (If you are unfamiliar, pause to listen, if only in wonderment that a child would pick such a vocally difficult song!) And she arrived on time last night well prepared.

Unfortunately, the dad who offered to accompany her was a no show, a deadbeat no call no show. Her first real performance in the real world and she's hit with a dose of reality--its important to carefully pick the people with whom you plan to work. Otherwise, you may find yourself blown off, a real and important lesson.

Us mothers were *a bit* displeased. Everyone was disappointed. We watched Dear Bff out of the corner of our eyes. Surely she must have been displeased, disappointed, worried, and angry. Tears were expected.  Surrender and tears would have been reasonable. But Dear Bff hung out with her friends looking nervously relaxed, as any great performer generally does before a show. (Yeah, I've spent time in plenty of green rooms, I've seen bigger stronger more famous folks look a lot more nervous.) She never cried. She never pouted. She basically never wavered. She waited until waiting was no longer reasonable. Then she put her name on the list to sing anyway.

And when her name was called, that child stepped up on stage all by her self and nailed that song acapella. Her performance was confident and strong, silenced gagglers at the bar, and dropped our jaws. I can't imagine how proud her parents must feel. Gosh, I was so proud of her!

Witness, another star is rising in the world, for real.

Sunday, April 22, 2012

This is open window weather and I've noted the time, each morning, the first bird has sung. It averages about 5:30. Often a wren begins the daily arboreal concert. This morning was raining that delicious steady thrumming kind of drowsy wonderful spring rain. So the birds slept in a bit. The first to sing was a wood thrush, at about 6:10. Ever heard a wood thrush sing?

Last night I got to hear the fiddle of an old local legend sing again briefly. I sat in an auditorium and the music hit me emotionally, almost hard enough to bruise. I listened with tears pouring down my cheeks, recalling sweeter days--as spring days will often seem.

Friday, April 20, 2012

Folks tend to get their panties in a wad over the comparison of homeschooled to not-homeschooled children. We see this in the blogsphere and we feel it in conversation with friends. Folks within the institutional system are welcome to criticize school all day long--criticism even seeps into mainstream media. Folks who've withdrawn from the system find a need to be more circumspect.

We should stop this nonsense of social comparison for one good reason. All children are homeschooled, and this is what matters most. Some children are also sent to not-homeschool. But who they are, their depth of character, the range of life they experience, their confidence in and understanding of the world, are all forged mostly at home. Who they are, who they will be, and what they are driven to learn and retain will be most influenced by their parents.

My point is underscored by the phenomenon of tracking in the school system. You know, where administrators separate the smart kids from the stupid kids in first grade (without ever telling the parents or the children) and no child transmutes their rank--ever. The kids most likely to succeed arrive at school most likely to succeed. Kids with strong smart sane loving parents tend to do well. Institutional elementary school tries hard but influences nothing too much for the better.

The belief that important things happen in not-homeschool is a fallacy. There is not much very important happening there. Except, perhaps, damage. Its very hard to get institutionalized, if you don't show up for daily institutionalization. Outside of that, the most important things (for better or worse) happen at home. If someone recognizes your sent-to-school child as excellent enough to be mistaken for a homeschooler, that's probably because your life at home is rich and lovely. Your kids are probably well fed and content. And it probably shows. Congratulations, you're a good parent, your kids are likely to succeed. Don't give any credit for that to the school system.

The timeline of institutional education is arbitrary, as is the curriculum. What matters most is what happens at home. In this way, all children are homeschooled.

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Still reading my way through 10 Mindful Minutes, and while I'm not finished I can recommend it as valuable for anyone interested in raising children, education, neuroscience, or meditation. It could be rewritten with half the words, but never mind that.

The amygdala sits low and center in our brains near the spinal cord. It controls our fight/flight/freeze response and is associated with our primal emotions, good and bad. If it senses danger it shuts down flow to the prefrontal cortex, which is our center of higher thought and creativity. Some children have found it helpful to think of the amygdala as a guard dog. Sometimes its laying restfully in its dog house. Sometimes its up barking it head off running up and down the path.

Normally, when we are happy, relaxed, creative, and receptive to learning we are mostly thinking through our prefrontal cortex. If there is an emergency, we are transitioned via the amygdala, out of our prefrontal cortex. Which can be great, if a tiger is chasing you and you need to respond without thinking. However the amygdala, like our old shepherd Daisy, occasionally has trouble discerning trouble from not trouble. A tree about to fall on your head is super trouble. Reading about a tree about to fall on your head is not trouble. But your body can experience the same feelings of fear and then be ushered right out of the prefrontal cortex into a more primal, less thinking, state.

"The practical applications of having such knowledge are infinite, and are best demonstrated in how children manage their reactions to events and other people, especially when they are feeling anger, fear, and stress. Knowing that the amygdala not only detects fear but generates [those feelings] can make all the difference."

We can all be trained to recognize the moment the amygdala begins to hijack our emotions for less than true emergencies. Most of us get a handle on it naturally as we grow up. Mindfulness exercises teach how to become more peaceful feeling, happier, and how to think more clearly. In other words, how to stay centered in your thoughtful creative prefrontal cortex rather that reacting constantly through the amygdala.

Right? We see this in children all the time. This is exactly what happens when an adult looks down at a child and asks a question that puts them on the spot--or, in other words, triggers the freeze response and a feeling of fear: "What do you think? What do you want for your birthday? What is 7 times 6? What is (for heavens sake!) Santa going to bring you? Please come to the front of the class..." And the child stares blankly.

Adults also get triggered unnecessarily, but less often. I suspect too much stress too often can turn the amygdala/prefrontal cortex pathway into a highway, and by the time we're grown can become the neurological foundation of Dissociative Disorders. There is a solution for children and stuck adults and 10 Mindful Minutes is a good guide.

Saturday, April 14, 2012

Haven says there is nothing of value happening on the planet that isn't ultimately spiritual. The more I look into that idea the more I agree. Each glimpse offers peace.

Apparently a group of atheists are meeting in Australia for a convention. The idea fascinates me. How much is there to say about the absence of religion? I'm not against the idea nor atheists. But if you remove spirit from motivation, if for instance, you suggest goodness is innate have you not made a circle? Isn't all religion based on the idea that goodness is and should be nurtured with reverence?

 We made pasta for dinner. Yum.
 Before pasta rolling, Dear Boy and I sat in the sun watching bees work the comfrey blossoms. Comfrey is my favorite new garden edition. Its medicinal, bees LOVE it, goats eat it. And its a funky lovely plant. The bees dipped their tiny faces all the way inside the flowers and backed out with yellow hats. Edible berets.

Friday, April 13, 2012

Yesterday in our car traveling lecture hall, on the way to the homeschool community weekly park day, my daughter pipes up: "Dear Kid's father is an organic gardener. And Dear Kid has never heard of Monsanto. What's up with that?" I reply with "Well yeah...." and we trail off into silence. Dear Kid goes to school-in-a-building. I guess they aren't teaching children about Monsanto there.  But since Monsanto owns the government and the government owns the schools, we can't be surprised. And anyway they are probably too busy teaching "civics" or "gov 101" or some such.

After a moment Dear Daughter asks, "So, if a bee takes some genetically modified DNA into an organic field and then Monsanto can sue the organic farmer for stealing their DNA. Then why don't organic farmers sue Monsanto if their DNA gets into the organic crops." 10 points for Gryffindor, an excellent question! Organic farmers wondered the same thing and took Monsanto to court. Where judges have consistently ruled in Monsanto's favor.  "How can that be," asks the child? If this is so obvious to a child, we must consider the specter of corruption.

This begins a long discussion about life in a democratic republic, why the founding fathers (Jefferson and Adams were mentioned specifically) set up our government based on a system of checks and balances, the three arms of our government: executive, legislative, and judicial, the importance of a well educated population who votes, and the fact that power tends to corrupt. Ending with emphasis on the success of this governmental model leading to amazing prosperity, which has led to heretofore unimaginable amounts of our national wealth being held by private corporations. Who now have enough money to lobby buy the government--secretly. The founding fathers didn't think to allow for that possibility. And someone, eventually, is going to have to beat that flaw back into submission, if our government is to function well.

Notice please, this conversation is an example of child led or interest driven learning. Waiting for relevance is a powerful tool. I left out the economic lesson: corporation owned government suppresses economic growth in the population base. We'll get to laws about monopolies another day--thank you Ronald Reagan, may you rot in peace.
In the park, later, I found myself happily seated next to a married couple, both historians. I wondered to them about the best time to offer certain brutal truths to the children, the Holocaust, for instance. Historian Dad said he has information from original documents, letters home from American soldiers, he would hesitate to offer college students.

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Goldie Hawn has written an education curriculum and a book to go with it: 10 Mindful Minutes. The program is intended to teach educators and parents how to teach children to manage stress, understand how our brains work, and cultivate compassion and happiness.  I was skeptical of the premise and the name behind it, and nearly walked away from the New Books shelf in the library. But I was trapped there with two hours to kill and my curiosity got the best of me.

I think her intention is genuine. I think her research is solid. And this may be one of the most hopeful movements in industrial education I've seen in a long time. I'll report back after I've actually read the book.

Saturday, April 7, 2012

Francisco Ferrer, I'd never heard of him, an anarchist and education radical described here by Murray Bookchin:

"Although Spain [in the late 1890s] had a universal education law, the majority of schools were run by clerics who used brutal teaching methods and emphasized rote instruction in Catholic dogma. These clerics openly inveighed against any political group, scientific theory, or cultural tendency which displeased the church. Coeducation, tolerated in the countryside only for want of school space, was rigorously prohibited in the cities.

To this bleak establishment Ferrer opposed a program and method of instruction that the clerics could regard only as "diabolical." He planned to establish a curriculum based on the natural sciences and moral rationalism, freed of all religious dogma and political bias. Although students were to receive systematic instruction, there were to be no prizes for scholarship, no marks or examinations, indeed no atmosphere of competition, coercion, or humiliation. The classes, in Ferrer's words, were to be guided by the "principle of solidarity and equality." During a period when "wayward" students in clerical schools were required to drop to their knees in a penitent fashion and then be beaten, the teachers in the Escuela Moderna were forewarned that they must "refrain from any moral or material punishment under penalty of being disqualified permanently." Instruction was to rely exclusively on the spontaneous desire of students to acquire knowledge and permit them to learn at their own pace. The purpose of the school was to promote in the students "a stern hostility to prejudice," to create "solid minds, capable of forming their own rational convictions on every subject."

To Ferrer, however, "the education of a man does not consist merely in the training of his intelligence, without having regard to the heart and will. Man is a complete and unified whole, despite the variety of his functions. He presents various facets, but is at the bottom a single energy, which sees, loves, and applies a will to the prosecution of what he has conceived." One of the most important tasks of the Escuela Moderna, Ferrer insisted, was to maintain this unity of the individual, to see to it that there was no "duality of character in any individual -- one which sees and appreciates truth and goodness, and one which follows evil." The school itself must be a microcosm of the real world, embodying many different sides and human personalities. Hence, Ferrer insisted not only on coeducation of the sexes but on a representative variety of pupils from all social classes. Every effort must be made to bring the children of workers together with those of middle-class parents in order to create a milieu for the young that is fully liberatory, a "school of emancipation that will be concerned with banning from the mind whatever divides men, the false concepts of property, country, and family." Much of this is pure Anarchism and reveals the influence of Lorenzo and Kropotkin on Ferrer's mind.

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Of all my friends, 90% have a college education. Of those, perhaps 50% have Masters degrees. Of those, several have Doctorates. And of all my friends, four have what I would call truly academic minds. These are people who are so sharp. The depth of their training is broad and full, their acuity, open mindedness, interdisciplinary scope, and ability to express themselves is genuinely outstanding. Spending time with any one of them always makes me wish I was smarter. Four. Of these four, one never finished any kind of higher education at all.

Which should give one pause. Of all my friends who dutifully trudged through the system four emerged so well trained? Perhaps that sort of intelligence doesn't have all THAT much to do with training? Yes, surely everyone who goes to college is enriched somehow. I absolutely believe in college for everyone who wants to go. But only four? Can anyone still believe elementary school is necessary when the results are so non?

I was thinking about education while cleaning house this morning. And reminded again driving the children home from a programming class. Born To Be Wild came on the radio. "Like a true nature's child, we were born, born to be wild." Y'all know how it goes. Wildness is becoming more and more rare. I hope my children are born to be as wild, which is to say as well trained in the world, as any cub of the forest. Can you imagine if educators set curricula upon wild things to help them be wilder better or faster?

And what of the counter culture, that kind of wild? "Smokin' lighnin" is not so much what I want for my kids. And yet, it was my openness to  counter culture that led me to almost every important smart thing in my adult life: midwifery, farming, unschooling, craft. Funny what's counter culture these days, the places institutional education can't take you.

Monday, April 2, 2012

Sitting in the library today with Dear Boy I read the word ogee in a biography about E. B. White.  Neither of us had heard it before so I looked it up and then looked up apogee for good measure. Ogee: an S curve, connected convex and concave curves. Apogee: the highest or most further point away on a curve.

Lovely words, I was sitting there feeling so pleased with the sound of them when an old lady suddenly sat in front of us. I asked if she had heard of ogee and she had. Which launched her off on a long discussion of ogee in antique furniture and architectural detail. In the middle of which, she noticed my painted feet. A grimace crossed her face and as I slipped my feet from my shoes to show them to her I said, "Do you like them? Its called henna."  She replied, "Heavens, No." I was charmed completely and smiled.

She continued on about a local antique dealer who recently moved here from NYC. "Folks don't know, we live in a special place quite close to so many wonderful unique things here."  I've been here my whole life and I agree. But maybe she's been here longer. Since we were obviously at the point of intimacy in such an honest relationship, I asked, "What's your favorite secret?" She laughed, claimed my question was unfair, and hesitated. At exactly that moment her husband arrived to say it was time to leave.
I'm trying to keep an eye on what's good, what's working, how and why its working. And I'm mostly writing to my future children, future admissions officers, and my future self. So....

MY KIDS ARE PERFECT AND BEST! There, now we're all clear. I used to tell the children: All mommies think their babies are the cutest best babies. But MY babies are actually the cutest and the best.

Oooh, this offends my daughter so much. "MOM!!" she says, very stern and fierce. :D