Thursday, January 30, 2014

I'm developing a small puzzle obsession. If you shop for puzzles, which never occurred to me until very recently, there are super cool things to find. Lucky me, I had ordered one that arrived on our snow day. So we all set to. Its based on the plays of Shakespeare and will be the hardest one we've done. And we WILL get it done. Hear me.

Why puzzles? They are bit like coloring books, only you fill space with shape as well as color. Its fun to watch the artwork emerge. I find something humanizing in the process, and for some obscure reason I enjoy finding cool individual pieces. The small things in life? My son was talking about the feeling you get while you work, finding the zone, the stages of seeing and suddenly seeing, the gratification of searching for something known... That last one may have been my thought, actually. But we share puzzling theory. My daughter pretends to care less and said, "Great, I have to sit here and listen to the spiritual aspects of puzzles." But she's good at puzzling. And most of all, for me, is the happy feeling of a communal project. Its fun to share good. Even better with teenagers.

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Monday, January 27, 2014

Dear YoungmanofAwesomeness got his learners permit today! 
Know what this means? I have a chauffeur for a year!

Sunday, January 26, 2014

Hubs and I were invited out last night to hear live music in a new bar serving local brew. We had a lovely time. Its still occasionally startling to me, rediscovering adult life out in the world after being home with kids, basically to exhausted and/or broke to go out at night, for so many years. But there was an unexpected layer of happiness, as well. When the band started we realized all the musicians were homeschooled and three of them had grownup together in our little community. Looking around, I suddenly realized the bar was full of homeschoolers---parents, grown kids, grown siblings, partners, a community. This is what it feels like to live in a community where folks grow up, school, work, and live together. The best part was the incidental commonness. No one planned a homeschool gathering and it wasn't a homeschool gathering. It was just folks in a bar.

It was a glimpse of normal life in a normal world where most normal people school their kids in the same place. How weird is that?

Work with the 16 pregnant heifers who are learning to walk calmly through the milking parlor is going well. Which means I'm making mistakes and learning a lot. And the heifers are making progress. Training heifers is my favorite job. I love working cattle: the subtleties, the urgent necessity for calm and quiet, accessing the spiritual space of nonverbal understanding and respect for other. If I could study for a Phd in this work, I would.

Saturday, January 25, 2014

Another point about pedagogy that is obscured by institutionalization: children get smarter every year. Unless a child is living under some sort of frank abuse, that child is going to get smarter every year NO MATTER WHAT. That's just how humans roll, developmentally. And it has absolutely nothing to do with any specific kind of schooling.
Ya know the tragedy of forcing kids to read too early, how some obsessed competitive enthusiastic parents make this mistake? Forcing math on kids too early is equally stupid. Imagine trying to understand 1 plus 1 when you are 1. Now imagine trying to understand it when you are 15. Obviously, you can labor over the wrong information at the wrong time, or you can wait for the right time when the information is developmentally appropriate. We can work hard or we can work smart, its a choice. Its pretty dang tricky to judge developmental readiness for anyone else--enthusiasm or willingness would be the best bet, I think. 

Notice that the only time its socially acceptable to force extended challenge on someone else is in school. No where in the adult world, does this happen. With the exception of prison and illness, adults are always free to weigh their own reasons and the payoff before embarking on challenge. The argument that challenging young children, for 13 years in an institution, is good for them intellectually (or emotionally) has zero science to back it up. Life is insanely challenging, already. Adding to that willfully is akin to bullying. Coddling is equally absurd, don't get me wrong. But don't try to tell me institutionalized kids are made smarter through the process. That's bullshit unproven.

Anyhow, a bunch of teenagers ended up over here last night, hanging out. Eventually they drifted over to the puzzle we've got going on. They knocked out a bunch of the difficult pieces. Thanks y'all!

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Someone asked me to talk more about unschooling so I did. And I'm copying and pasting it here, in case the kids ever wonder what it was I was thinking when we chose to unschool them:

S., I think we're way off topic from the original question. But I like talking about unschooling, the how and the why. So I'm happy to ramble on a bit in the interest of sharing. Other unschooling mothers along the way, over the last 15 years, have been so helpful to me. I like to try and pass that helpful vibe along when I can.

The science underpinning pedagogy is flawed. The understandings we think we have about how children learn best are based on how children learn in classrooms. Its a simple flaw but profound and largely ignored. Pedagogy is based on studies of children in school. This tells us nothing much about human development in general, learning at its core, nor what is best for growing thoughtful people. It took me a good bit of mental wrangling to wrap my head around the idea that no one really knows how and why children learn. But no one really knows how and why children learn best. Which is why its not very meaningful or helpful to hear from a school teacher that an unschooled child felt shy in her class and wrote their 3s backwards. What happens inside institutional classrooms is only pertinent inside institutional classrooms. I'm telling you, its a real shocker to see the full truth of it. Or at least, it was for me. The idea that institutional pedagogy knows what its doing and why, is deeply ingrained in all of us. But the institution, at an elementary level, is only pertinent to itself. This is why children almost never transmute their rank, from kindergarten through 12th grade.

What if the formal study of math, for instance, has almost no bearing on the general intelligence or potential of any specific child? I'm all for rigorous study at a good liberal arts college for older kids. I'm not saying there is no place in society for good solid rigorous institutional academia. I'm saying there is nothing solid on which to hang the idea of force feeding children specific facts. Such a thing might help a specific child in certain circumstances. But in general, math is just another set of facts, another language. No better or worse than any other set of facts when it comes to stimulating neural development.

Which is why, if someone quizzed my children on their times tables, my new response would be to quiz them back on unschooling facts. Can your child multiply 5 times 7 with strange adults staring at them? (I can not, not even at age 47, not even after making As in math at UNC.) Do quizzing adults know how to milk goats or safely deliver kids? Equal factual knowledge, in my opinion. My son can tell you how goat hooves should look emerging from their mother's vagina. Is that more or less important that 5 times 7? For the record, my son can also tell you the answer to 5 times 7---now. But probably not a year ago. And surely not when he was 11. Does that matter at all, in any way? It has exactly no bearing on his general intelligence.

What about, for instance, a kid who wants to study chemistry but isn't up to speed on the math? This is a great example because it happened in my house to my child. What happens? If the kid really wants the chemistry, they begin with the math. Now we have a situation where, unlike small children being forced facts, a kid WANTS and/or NEEDS to learn. The learning that happens in that situation is rich. It matters. It sticks. Its for a reason, answering a need, is never arbitrary, and is immune to the ill affects of unworthy authority.

Here I want to reiterate that institutional curricula can work well for some children. We have all known kids who flourish in that system. I think almost all of us have been there and seen it, in full, ourselves. For a laugh:

I'm the kind of unschooler who believes in boundaries so I do make it my business to set limits for my kids and I insist on good manners. Beyond that basic structure, the educational relationship I have with my kids is without strife on any level. We have no academic conflict. We are fully cooperative and our life is based on respect, curiosity, fun, and love. This sets of tone of inquiry and freedom that turns on mental lights and makes learning a joyous situation. I can't say enough good about the sanity of the lifestyle or the depth of the learning. The human brain is hardwired to learn. That's about all we know for sure--and that language is paramount. I suspect love and play are equally important in the effort to grow smart humans. Is there a middle way? Well sure. There are infinite ways. But true unschooling is definitely one of them.

C., I'm so glad you've responded because you bring up an important point and illustrate it well. I did infer from your original comment, that you are a professional teacher. Sorry if I misunderstood. But this: "I maintain that a basic foundation of learning with direct input from the parent mentor is no different than teaching your child to brush their teeth, wipe their bottom or choose healthy foods at lunch." says a lot.

Learning beside your mom or dad, day after day, gently and consistently in an atmosphere of trust love and play is the most fundamental way humans set about teaching their children. A lot of unschooling happens in just that way. As humans, we all intuit the way that works. Right? It is equally true, I think, that a lot of learning happens when kids are playing together. I'm not sure everyone in our society has fully groked that idea, but science does seem to be catching up to it. I frequently see articles about the importance of play in the education of children.

Neither situation is analogous to a Girl Scout leader popping up in a game to ask for math facts. Nor a mentor leading a group of kids in comparative analysis of dragons. Not analogous in any way. I don't mean to be a bit cheeky. I'm not feeling defensive or combative. I think this is a very important point about learning and about teaching. So I want to be clear and as gentle as I can be. A lot of teaching, I might even say most, comes with unintended lessons. These unintended lessons are hugely important.

What good would it do to demand math facts from an unprepared child in the middle of a game of grocery store? And what are the unintended consequences of such a thing? There is no science to back up that kind of pedagogy. The science simply does not exist to tell us that a strange adult stepping into the middle of children's games in a random way (random from the point of view of the child--which is the point of view that matters here) has positive long term benefit. It could have some benefit in some way for some child. Because, again, many ways are valid and can work. But that kind of teaching would have absolutely horrified either one of my kids and shut them down when they were younger than 12. Fairly, I think. Shutting down a child is antithetical to good teaching and genuine learning, and its one of the unintended consequences I was referring to. In many classrooms over the years, I've seen it many times.

Ah but the children were prepared, or should have been, to show their math work to a mentor on a moments notice. One might say that. I disagree. I think that's just a more subtle form of insistence that traditional institutional school matters somehow. And we don't have any scientific evidence to say such a thing. All we can say is that institutional learning matters to institutions. See what I'm mean? Its really weird when you can catch a glimpse of it.

Great teachers who have the trust of their students in enthusiastic and happy classes are an absolute joy and the work they do is wonderful. In all my years of living, I'm met two such teachers, maybe three. We can find ways to enrich our kids and their pursuit of deeper intelligence in a million varied ways including brilliant teaching. You are correct, I think, that carefully watching the children's responses is the best way to assess what kind of pedagogy works.

Does it sound like I'm blaming you for the child with the backward 3s? I don't mean blame at all. I'm trying to make a point that is difficult to see. Teaching, in the way we were all taught to think of it, is often more harmful than helpful. Its a rare teacher who can rise above the intrinsic difficulties of forcing facts into children. (And, again, we have no scientific evidence that trying to do such a thing makes children grow smarter.) I am speaking from my own broken experience. I've made most of the mistakes there are to make. I'm not claiming to be above pedagogy and I'm not suggesting we should never try to teach anyone anything. But I am deeply passionate about trying to penetrate the fog of our collective assumptions with regard to pedagogy. Because I think children suffer our best intentions. And that makes me sad and it makes learning more difficult for the children.

Also, I think I was pretty clear in my response here to S's request for more talking about unschooling and alternative forms of learning that work. To that end, S, last week an unschooler in our group got an academic scholarship to his first choice college. Unschooling works. Its kind of scandalous, really, how well it works and how easy it is. How often does the easy fun way end up being a good way? What a happy surprise! Looking at the kid who did not learn his 3Rs at an elementary age, how does such a kid get into college and even offered money to be there? The truth is, nothing taught in elementary school is all THAT difficult to understand, and to understand quickly. We really don't need to drill that information for 13 years. Its kind of paltry to suggest, we do, I think. Humans are a lot smarter than school would have us believe.
We had a light dusting of snow last night and Dear Girl asked me to go sit in the barn with her. In the light from the house, we watched the men move through the dark front yard and the dogs dash around and the cats enjoying themselves. The goats were nibbling hay and watching with us. It was lovely. I only wish we would get a real and deep snow. Which is a thing I promised the kids would happen when we moved back here from Texas in 2007. Still waiting to make good on that.

Dear Boy went out driving with his instructor yesterday, for the first time. Its possible they could finish today. If not, then soon. And how strange is that? Wonderfully so. The instructor called at lunch yesterday and they were off with in the hour. No time to worry over performance. Up and out, he looked relieved and pleased when he got back home. I know he is a good driver, the very soul of good sense and reason. And dare I say it? I think he's taller than his Dad now.

We've been attending the local homeschooling park day, almost every week, for seven years. Its just occurred to me this week, we may outgrow it soon. I go and sit with the mommies with young children. The teenagers disappear. Well, I'm just not necessary to that process. So I've organized a teen gathering for lunch in a nearby little townlet. I don't know what else to call this place. Its a neighborhood with a wonderful small urban retail area. Much more thoughtful and larger than a mall, but equally surreal, almost like the town in Truman. Be that as it may, the kids will get to hangout together once a week. There are shops, foods, a large green space, a movie theater, and a park within walking distance. Its a perfect place for them to hangout. And I see this as a setup for their inevitable and rapidly approaching transition to a 100% self organized social life.

At work last week an old man stopped me to ask if I was Ms. F. "Oh heavens, no. You've mistaken me for someone in charge. I'm in charge of nothing here. Go speak to that woman over there." Saying these words delighted me. One of the things I LOVE about this new job is that I am not in charge. I go, do my job, and leave. What joyous simplicity. What a delight to be temporarily unburdened with the weight of things that matter much much more. My biggest concern at work is getting 16 pregnant heifers used to the milking parlor and willing to walk through easily before they start calving in Feb.

Thursday, January 16, 2014

 I am excited about this newest hobby. We have a chocolatier in the house.

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

"The Procedure and how its harming education."

But here’s a question: Does The Procedure have anything do with educating?

Learning—real LEARNING—starts when, for whatever reason, the learner wants it to start. It proceeds if the aim is clear and what’s being learned connects logically and solidly to existing knowledge. It’s strengthened when mistakes are made, clarifying the potential and limitations of the new knowledge. It’s reinforced when it’s put to frequent, immediate, meaningful, real-world use. It becomes permanent when it’s made part of the learner’s organized, consciously known “master” structure of knowledge.

Monday, January 13, 2014

A black bear walked through my neighbor's back yard last night, headed north to south. In other words, headed directly toward the dairy. But that's okay. CC, your advice was very comforting to me. And I realized that I can almost always see a cow or two in the dark as I drive up to the farm. If the cows are laying down chewing cud when I drive up, there is obviously no threat on the property. Still, I called that one fair and square. Intuition, thank you.

I've been worried about the kids and too much computer time. Yesterday I "guilt trapped" them, as Dear Girl calls it. I didn't tell them they had to get off their computers but I loomed, muttered, and implied things with my eyes. Then today on the way home from visiting with some friends, Dear Girl explained to her BFF what its like living with an older brother: "I'm learning how to figure areas right now and I told him that and he said I was catching up to him." She continued on but that's all I needed to hear. They are studying on their own and making progress.

I told Dear Boy that I worry about computer use and how they sometimes seem to spend most of their days online. He admitted, "I only spend a little bit of time on math. Most of my time online is spent, right now, reading about fitness." There he paused to make a small rather shamed face. But I was happy to hear what he's studying now. I said, "Reading about fitness is learning. It totally counts. If that's what you're doing online all day, have at it. I have no business interfering in y'all's studies."

I have no business interfering with their studies. What a presumptuous impulse. They have their own best interests in mind and they have the tools they need. They proceed while I worry. This has been a very consistent homeschooling pattern, from the beginning. I blog this over and over, can never seem to remember to worry less, and to communicate more.

Reading List 2014, Dear Girl

The Truth About Forever ~Sarah Dessen
Shadow Spell ~Jenna Black
Siren Song ~Jenna Black
So Not Happening ~Jenny B Jones
The Fault in our Stars ~John Green
A Potion To Die For ~Heather Blake
Paper Towns ~John Green
The Diary of Anne Frank
The Sixty-Eight Rooms ~Marianne Malone
and Allegiant ~Veronica Roth
Tides ~Betsy Cornwell
Looking For Alaska ~John Green
13 Curses ~Michelle Harrison
Spintered ~A.G. Howard
The Giver ~Lois Lowery
Four ~Veronica Roth
If I Stay ~Gayle Forman
Someone Like You ~Sarah Dessen
Unhinged ~A.G. Howard
Reading List 2014, Dear Boy

Different Seasons ~Stephen King
Whale Season  ~N.M. Kelby
Men At Arms ~Terry Pratchett
The New Encyclopedia of Modern Bodybuilding
                        ~Arnold Schwarznegger
The Fault In Our Stars ~John Green
Looking For Alaska ~John Green
Paper Towns ~John Green
Double Indemnity ~J. M. Cain
The Maltese Falcon ~Dashiell Hammett
Saint Jack ~Paul Theroux
Catch 22 ~Joseph Heller
Bad Monkey ~Carl Hiaasen
The Green Mile ~Stephen King
Lexicon ~Max Barry
Manhood ~Terry Crews
Dear Girl likes to sit in the barn and play guitar for the goats. She says, "They come in and while they listen, they eat a bunch of hay. Then they sit and chew their cud. When I stop, they turn to look at me." Now that I'm working in the mornings Dear Boy and Girl are going to have to milk the goats. (Assuming the goats are pregnant and will kid soon--?)

I never would have made the children help with milking because farming is my thing. I'm not into forcing my interests on them. But I'm glad they both know how. And I'm not a bit sad for the need. There really isn't very much meaningful work in and around the average home in this country. Both kids already split the dishes, fold the laundry, and vacuum. Paltry pickings for daily work, in terms of soul food. And daily work is soul food. What do they say? How you spend your day is how you spend your life.

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

My daughter said I've come a long way since I started working at the dairy. She said, "It used to be that when you got home from work you would flop down on your bed and lay like this. (She is lying flat on her back on my bed under the covers.) And you would stay there most of the rest of the day. And all you could say was low moaning." Its true. I HAD to nap every day after work, in those first weeks. And I was only working 3 days a week. Now I'm working 5 days a week and I don't have to nap anymore. Its true that I can hardly string 4 words together coherently. But I'm definitely getting stronger. It kind of freaks me out to realize how weak and out of shape I was. And I'm still weak and out of shape.

I'm deeply gratified and happy with my farming job. I'm becoming intimate with the ways of a pitch fork. I spend a fair amount of time every day pitching hay. And rolling out hay. And pushing up hay. I get to rope and lead calves. I'm developing a sixth sense about how cows think and move. I am constantly learning and making mistakes and being corrected. Very slowly now, the cows are becoming recognizable individuals to me. I have a favorite. Her name is Applebee.

My boss is followed around the farm by a geriatric white Basset Hound named Sally. There is a barn cat who wandered up to the farm and decided to stay about 6 months ago. Barncat visits with me in the dairy while I'm setting up, before I bring the cows down in the morning. Today, surely because of the extreme cold, she even made rounds while we milked. I've developed a bizarre (silly) paranoia about encountering a bear in the dark by myself at the farm probably because my shift is so early and I'm often the only one there. Barncat helps me be brave. My boss (who is allergic to cats) put a bed out for her last night---even though technically no cat lives there. There is a bag of food for her, as well. Funny, I've never met a PETA person who actually knows much about the life of animals.

If I had decided to study so I could find a job working in a dairy, smart people might have warned me off the idea, saying its a dying profession, jobs are few, the work is too difficult, etc. Which goes to show, if you want something, really really want it, go for it hard. If you try hard, if you are diligent, if you make yourself good at what you do, you can do almost anything in the world. If I can do this, anyone can do almost anything. Dream big, kids. And try hard. And read all the professional literature. Most people won't make such an effort. And, as Aunt Katherine used to say, "be sweet."
It was 7 degrees when I got to work at 5:00 yesterday morning and 11 degrees when we quit (an hour early) at 9:00. Babydoggies that is cold! After 4 hours working mainly outside, I wanted to cry when the wind hit me. The fuzzy heifers were bouncing around happy as could be. The calves were experimenting with sticking their noses to the hog wire over and over again, for fun. The hogs looked as content as could be all laying together in a puppy pile, completely burrowed into 3 feet of straw with their snouts sticking up.

Sunday, January 5, 2014

This blog is beginning its forth year. I don't quite know how that's happened. I'd kind of like to let blogging go, just because I'm busy with other stuff. But a big reason for the blog is to have a way to date and roughly track what the kids are doing. So, on we go.

The barn was finished just before New Years. Its a cozy happy place and the goats are thriving.
Now we have a fitting place to hang the hooks Dear Boy smithed for us all those years ago. I would think its a satisfying feeling to know how to build a barn and bang out the necessary hardware.
Speaking of competency points, Dear Girl and I replaced a lamp socket today. In the middle of the project, we discovered we needed to know how to tie an Underwriter's Knot. What did folks do before youtube? When I was 13, if my lamp switch broke I'd have thrown it away and bought a new one. Look what anyone can learn for free these days. The goats say, "Aw Yeah, Time for a Barn Jam!"

Thursday, January 2, 2014

Working every day on the farm puts a serious crimp in blog time. I've not-blogged too much to catch up with. But I'm still very much on about Gratitude. I didn't know gratitude is a movement but apparently so. You can see for yourself in this little video. Worth a look. I'm considering participating.