Blurring The Lines

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(www.facebook.com/thedadosaur)

Our society has a bizarre way of handling children.  Kids spend the bulk of their time preparing to enter this mysterious “Real World” which they are (more often than not) not allowed to participate in.  They are stuffed with facts in a vacuum, sorted by age, neat and still.

Even at home the “Adult World” and the “Children’s World” seldom meet.  Instead of learning how to cook, or learning how to fix, young children are given toys to play with.  They are told to “Go outside” or “Get out of my hair” or “Give me space.”  They are in the way.  They are an annoyance.  A hindrance.  A bother.

Humans are not meant to live this way.  They are meant to live in families that spend time together.  That work together.  That solve their problems and accomplish goals together.  Children learn from working side by side with an adult.  Someone they respect.  Someone they trust.

You want to change the world?  You want to make it a better place?  You want to solve our societies problems?  Blur the lines.  Our society will never change until we change the way we treat children.  Involve them in your work.  Involve them in your hobbies and passions.  Welcome them.  Understand that they are still growing and learning, and are going to screw things up occasionally.  That’s how they learn.  That’s how we all learn.  And don’t just bring them into your world.  Take an interest in their interests.  Learn about their passions.  Listen to them.  REALLY listen.  You might learn something.

~Dadosaurus Rex

(www.facebook.com/thedadosaur)

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Summerhill

I stumbled across this while perusing the vast caverns of the interwebs.  It is a chapter of a book called “Summerhill” written by an educator named A. S. Neill, and the message resonated with me so strongly, I couldn’t help but post it here.  Enjoy.

“I hold that the aim of life is to find happiness, which means to find interest. Education should be a preparation for life. Our culture has not been very successful. Our education, politics and economics lead to war. Our medicines have not done away with disease. Our religion has not abolished usury and robbery. The advances of the age are advances in mechanism – in communications and computers, in science and technology. New wars threaten, for the world’s social conscience is still primitive.

If we feel like questioning today, we can pose a few awkward questions. Why does man hate and kill in war when animals do not? Why does cancer increase? Why are there so many suicides? So many insane sex crimes? Why the hate that is racism? Why the need for drugs to enhance life? Why backbiting and spite? Why is sex obscene and a leering joke? Why degradation and torture? Why the continuance of religions that have long ago lost their love and hope and charity? Why, a thousand whys about our vaulted state of civilised eminence!

I ask these questions because I am by profession a teacher, one that deals with the young. I ask these questions because those so often asked by teachers are the unimportant ones, the ones about French or ancient history or what not when these subjects don’t matter a jot compared to the larger questions of life’s fulfilment – of man’s inner happiness.

How much of our education is real doing, real self-expression? Handwork is too often the making of a wooden box under the eye of an expert. Even the Montessori system, well known as a system of directed play, is an artificial way of making the child learn by doing. It has nothing creative about it. In the home the child is always being taught. In almost every home there is at least one ungrown-up grown-up who rushes to show Tommy how his new engine works. There is always someone to lift the baby up on a chair when the baby wants to examine something on the wall. Every time we show Tommy how his engine works we are stealing from that child the joy of life – the joy of discovery – the joy of overcoming an obstacle. Worse! We make that child come to believe that he is inferior, and must depend on help.

Parents are slow in realising how unimportant the learning side of school is. Children, like adults, learn what they want to learn. All the prize-giving and marks and exams side-track proper personality development. Only pedants claim that learning from books is education.

Books are the least important apparatus in a school. All that any child needs is the three R’s the rest should be tools and clay and sports and theatre and paint and freedom.

Most of the school work that adolescents do is simply a waste of time, of energy, of patience. It robs youth of its right to play and play and play: it puts old heads on young shoulders.

When I lecture to students at teacher training colleges and universities, I am often shocked at the ungrownupness of these lads and lasses stuffed with useless knowledge. They know a lot: they shine in dialectics: they can quote the classics – but in their outlook on life many of them are infants. For they have been taught to know, but have not been allowed to feel. These students are friendly, pleasant, eager, but something is lacking – the emotional factor, the power to subordinate thinking to feeling. I talk to these of a world they have missed and go on missing. Their textbooks do not deal with human character, or with love, or with freedom, or with self-determination. And so the system goes on, aiming only at standards of book learning – it goes on separating the head from the heart.

It is time that we were challenging the school’s notion of work. It is taken for granted that every child should learn mathematics, history, geography, science, a little art and certainly literature. It is time we realised that the average young child is not much interested in any of these subjects.

I prove this with every new pupil. When told that the school is free, every new pupil cries, “Hurrah! You won’t catch me going to lessons!”
I am not decrying learning. But learning should come after play. And learning should not deliberately seasoned with play to make it palatable. Learning is important – but not to everyone. Nijinsky could not pass his school exams in St. Petersburg, and he could not enter the State Ballet without passing those exams. He simply could not learn school subjects – his mind was elsewhere. They faked an exam for him, giving him the answers with the papers – so a biography says. What a loss to the world if Nijinsky had really to pass those exams!

Creators learn what they want to learn in order to have the tools that their originality and genius demand. We do not know how much creation is killed in the classroom with its emphasis on learning.

I have seen a girl weep nightly over her geometry. Her mother wanted her to go to university, but the girl’s whole soul was artistic.

The notion that unless a child is learning something the child is wasting his time is nothing less than a curse – a curse that blinds thousands of teachers and most schools inspectors.

Classroom walls and the National Curriculum narrow the teacher’s outlook, and prevent him from seeing the true essentials of education. His work deals with the part of the child that is above the neck and perforce, the emotional, vital part of the child is foreign territory to him.

Indifferent scholars who, under discipline, scrape through college or university and become unimaginative teachers, mediocre doctors and incompetent lawyers would possibly be good mechanics or excellent bricklayers or first rate policemen.

I would rather Summerhill produce a happy street sweeper than a neurotic prime minister.

In all countries, capitalist, socialist or communist, elaborate schools are built to educate the young. But all the wonderful labs and workshops do nothing to help Jane or Peter or Ivan surmount the emotional damage and the social evils bred by the pressure on him from his parents, his schoolteachers and the pressure of the coercive quality of our civilisation.

The function of the child is to live his own life, not the life that his anxious parents think he should live, nor a life according to the purpose of the educator who thinks he knows best. All this interference and guidance on the part of adults only produces a generation of robots.

We set out to make a school in which we should allow children freedom to be themselves. In order to do this we had to renounce all discipline, all direction, all suggestion, all moral training, all religious instruction. We have been called brave, but it did not require courage. All it required was what we had – a complete belief in the child as a good, not an evil, being. Since 1921 this belief in the goodness of the child has never wavered: it rather has become a final faith.

A. S. Neill MA, Hon MEd, Hon Dr. of Laws, Hon Doc.

My Kids Are Better Teachers Than I Could Ever Hope To Be

10257268_768654803153707_6684229888910505074_oChildren.  Kids.  The next generation.  Progeny.  Offspring.  The genetic mashup of you and your partner.  The little people who completely change your life, who completely change you.  Children.

I am in absolute awe of my children.  For as long as I have known them, they have been teaching me, and helping me grow as a person.  I owe them a debt that I can never repay, and I am deeply grateful to them.

As they were growing inside of their mother, locked away where I couldn’t see, they taught me that there are some things I cannot control.  When they decided to break free, and join us on the outside, they helped me to see what an amazing person my wife is; and what it is like to care for someone who offered you nothing in return.  As I changed diaper, after diaper, after diaper, after diaper, My intestinal fortitude increased dramatically, and as the urine splashed me, an unsuspecting new father, I learned to change those diapers with lighting ninja speed.  When I was waiting anxiously for the next milestone, they taught me to be patient, that life is not a contest, and that everyone learns at their own pace.

Soon they began walking, and talking.  they taught me to watch, and they taught me to listen.  I learned that an ounce of prevention was worth a pound of cure.  I learned the number for poison control.  I learned to follow my instincts, and ignore the critics, to do what is best for my family.

And as they grew older, they showed me how to play, sing, dance, and laugh without being ashamed.  They modeled creativity, and originality.  They taught me that its okay to make a mess, and that most things come out in the wash.  I learned to love what they loved, only because they loved it.  They taught me sacrifice, and over and over they taught me unconditional love.  They showed me that I have something to live for, that I matter, and that I am needed.

Every time I hear those little voices saying, “Will you play with me,” or “Can you get me a glass of water.”  When I find a sandwich in the couch.  When I am at my wits end, I try to remember how much they have taught me, and how much they have given me, and what my life would be without them.

Oh, and they taught me to play Minecraft.

Looking back at the person I used to be, I can’t believe I have made it this far.  There is no way I could have done it without them.  Thank you kids.  Thank you.  I love you.

What Unschooling Means For Our Family (Part 1)

I spend a lot of my “Social Media Time” in unschooling groups, and on unschooling pages, sharing unschooling memes, and reading unschooling articles.  Because of this, I forget that there are people out there who might not think unschooling is the best idea, and some who don’t even know what it is.  For a long time I have been putting off writing an article about what unschooling means to us and why we uncshool.  But I think it is time.  It is kind of overwhelming, so I am going to tackle it in smaller chunks, starting with a basic idea of what unschooling is, and how unschoolers learn without a curriculum.

What is Unschooling:

I used to tell people who asked that unschooling was “Homeschooling without the curriculum,” but calling Unschooling a lack of curriculum is like calling the ocean a lack of air.  Unschooling is journey, it is an intimate relationship with your children where all parties are treated with equal respect.  Unschooling fosters creativity, encourages curiosity, follows passions, and chases dreams.

So, what is unschooling?  It is learning from real life, in the real world.  There is no distinction made between life and learning.  Life is learning, and learning is life.

“When pressed, I define unschooling as allowing children as much freedom to learn in the world, as their parents can comfortably bear.”  ~John Holt

The World is Your Textbook

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Humans are always learning.  It’s what we do.  If you’re not learning, you’re dead.  So I chuckle a little inside when people ask how our children learn.  To give you an idea, here are a few of the “pages” from our “Unschooling Textbook”

  • Microscopes
  • Nature Centers
  • Bird Feeders
  • Cooking
  • Neighbors
  • Legos
  • Youtube (MinuteEarth and CrashCourse are two of my favorite channels)
  • Minecraft
  • Parks
  • Rocks
  • Ponds
  • Libraries
  • Books, Books, and more Books! (Fiction, Non-Fiction, Pictures, No Pictures)
  • Wandering
  • The woods
  • Caterpillars, ants, worms, slugs, snails
  • Grandparents
  • People at the grocery store
  • Archery
  • The University of Utah
  • Dancing
  • Museums
  • Google
  • Trees
  • Magnifying Glasses
  • Binoculars
  • Telescopes
  • Cleaning
  • Paper
  • Gardens
  • Taking things apart
  • Forts
  • Wikipedia
  • Reading Eggs

There is no shortage of knowledge out there, and it doesn’t have to be funneled through a teacher, a professor, a priest, or anyone else.  It is available to anyone who looks for it.  Any activity is an opportunity for discussion.  Something as simple as bird watching can lead to learning about animal behavior, biology, anatomy, the diversity of life, the history of aviation, light and color, the properties of air, or phases of matter.

But the most important part of unschool learning is the motivation.  Instead of being motivated by fear, coercion, or imaginary rewards (such as grades) they are driven by their passions, desires, dreams and goals.

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Harnessing Homeschool Fears

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As a dad* who has chosen not to send his kids to school, my children’s future is always on my mind.  Will they be successful?  Will they be happy?  Will they be ashamed?  Will they want to homeschool their kids?  Will they regret being homeschooled?  I know that homeschooling was the right choice for my family, and I believe that homeschooling is the best choice for most any family, but I still have plenty of room for doubt, and that is a good thing.

If my children turn out illiterate, ignorant, or worse, I cannot blame bad teachers.  I cannot blame stingy tax-payers who refuse to fund better schools.  I cannot blame politicians who care only for standardized test scores.  I cannot blame bullies, I cannot blame behavioral specialists, I cannot blame the lunch lady.  I cannot be irate that my child was not in the gifted program, or complain that they should have been in the remedial program.  I cannot be outraged that they cut band or art.  I cannot say that someone else has robbed my child of their education, their childhood, or their future.  If something goes wrong I cannot blame anyone.  Anyone, that is, except myself.

Because of this, I have a drive and motivation that I would not have if I was counting on someone else to educate my child.  I am always re-evaluating my approaches, reading articles, asking questions on forums, asking the kids for feedback, and trying any means possible to improve the educational experience my children receive.   I have a much more vested interest in my children than any teacher ever could.  Being directly involved in the lives of my children is one of the many reasons I choose to homeschool.

*I’m writing this from my perspective, but we mustn’t forget my lovely wife.  Just know that any time I say “I” I really mean “we.”

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Proposed Homeschooling Regulations for Michigan Families Could Create a Cascade Effect

Earlier this month, I was horrified to read of a woman in Detroit who murdered two of her children, and had been keeping their bodies in the freezer for well over a year.  It is tragic beyond words, and now, Michigan legislators hope to use the children’s deaths as an opportunity to tighten homeschooling regulations, as the children were said to be homeschooled.   Proponents of the new bill say it would simply require homeschool families to register with the state, and have an inspection by a social worker, police officer, or Physician two times per year.  The grandfather of the victims feels that legislation like this could have prevented the children’s deaths.  If children aren’t in school how can they know for sure that they haven’t been murdered?  (by the way, it was reported that some of the neighbors knew that she had murdered her children, yet remained silent)

But what about children who aren’t old enough to go to school?  should they be subject to twice yearly inspections?  What if there is a disabled adult in the home, or an elderly person who no longer works?  Without state inspections, how can we be assured of their safety?  What about people who have freezers big enough to store two bodies?  Or people who have kids and are taking Anti-psychotic medications (as this woman reportedly was).  It seems odd to limit the inspections to families who homeschool their children.

Michigan State Senator Pavlov, in his open letter to Michigan parents says that “this legislation would not have stopped Ms. Blair from killing her children. Blair was willing to break every law on the books, and routinely and effectively lied for years to hide her crimes.” He also says, “This tragic situation is not, and never was, however, a homeschooling problem.”

If this law is passed, this could quickly become a homeschooling problem.  At first glance it seems fairly innocuous, just register with your local school district, and have social worker pop in occasionally to make sure the kids are still alive.  However, this bill would bring to life policies that currently can’t be enforced, such as what material must be taught, how records should be kept, and the fact that anyone who wishes to teach their own children must have a teaching certificate or bachelors degree.  The many requirements (as well as the states ignorance of how homeschooling works) are outlined in a document from the Michigan Department of Education.  There is hope however.  Senator Pavlov says, “As the Chairman of the Senate Education Committee I wanted to write you today to assure you that this anti-parent legislation will not see the light of day in my Committee.”

I don’t have the words to describe my sorrow for the children, their family and friends, and especially their surviving siblings.  I just don’t want to see their death used as an opportunity for a power grab by politicians.

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Checkmate Dad! (Putting an end to my bias toward “Educational” activites)

Chess

There was a time when I had a clear distinction in my mind between “Educational” and “Mindless” activities.  I even had a mental scale, or rating system that I used to determined which activities would be more or less educational.

When my children would chose an educational activity (Studying the globe for example) I would be filled with joy and satisfaction, knowing that they would soon be silencing my critics with their display of awesome knowledge.  When they chose a less educational activity (watching Mickey Mouse Clubhouse for example)  I would be filled with anxiety, fear, and disappointment.

One place where this mental dichotomy would manifest itself is our local library.  We would walk into the children’s department, and the first thing my children would see:  The computers.  “Why?”  I would think, “Why can’t they look at books?  That is what we are here for, maybe they would actually LEARN something!  Must they spend the entire trip on the computer EVERY time we come here?”

On one of these trips my son (aged 5 at the time) stumbled upon a chess game on the library computer.  He fell in love.  For the next 3 weeks everything was chess.  He watched instructional videos to learn the names of the pieces and how they move, he played chess on the kindle and on the computer at home, and EVERY time we went to the library.  He was chess obsessed, and he was getting pretty good at it.

Had I insisted that he stay off of the Library computer, and go pick out books, he never would have had the joy of finding something that he loved.   By steering our kids toward activities we believe to be more “educational” we may just be robbing them of an opportunity to find something they are passionate about.

At any rate, our beliefs about what is “educational” are made up prejudices, and we should do everything in our power to make sure our children participate in any activity they desire, without regard to our biased opinion.

Hey!  Check out the new Dadosaurus Rex Facebook page! 

Are You Qualified to Teach Your Children?

Another re-post from my old blog:

When people find out that our children are home-schooled (Well, unschooled actually) They usually respond by shifting the conversation to a more comfortable topic, such as…well, anything but homeschooling.  However, when speaking to less timid folks, the conversation can quickly turn into an interrogation.

“Whats wrong with the schools in our community?”
“Didn’t you go to public school?”
“How will your children learn to socialize?”
“How will they learn to take instruction?”
“How will they learn discipline?”
“How will they get a job without a diploma?”

And then there is my personal favorite, “What makes you think you are qualified to teach your children?”

When I was first confronted with this question, I spent an inordinate amount of time trying to answer it.  I came up with all kinds of legitimate answers, as well as finding statistics comparing the performance of home-schoolers to children taught in public school.  But no matter what answer I came up with, it still didn’t feel right.

I then realized something that has completely changed the way I look at my children’s education.  I am NOT qualified to teach them.  My critics were right all along, I do not have what it takes to educate my own children.  But the good news is, they are qualified to learn.  Every child has within them the capacity to learn from their surroundings, without school, without a curriculum, and without a teacher.  So maybe you don’t have a teaching degree, but don’t let that stop you from allowing your curious, and resourceful children from learning naturally, and with joy, on a daily basis.

“Everything that is really great and inspiring is created by the individual who can labor in freedom.”   -Albert Einstein

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