Friday, October 30, 2009

Pumpkin Carving Fun

Must have been a fun party, as we forgot to take very many photos! But here are some of the jack-o-lanterns that were created.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Blue-Collar Brilliance

Just read this interesting article in Utne -- it originally appeared in The American Scholar.

Blue-Collar Brilliance

Posted using ShareThis

Made me think about what kinds of knowledge is valued in our society, and how that impacts our perceptions of people's worth.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Great post from a list I'm on

Apparently I've become a once or twice a month blogger...really, I hope to start posting more frequently, but we've just been doing other stuff!

I did want to share this post from the Unschooling Basics Yahoo Group. A parent was asking about how unschooled kids learn anything...but especially subjects like math. The response is from from Joyce Fetteroll whose webpage has a wealth of information on unschooling. (If you're reading, thanks for giving me permission to post this, Joyce!)


To add to Meredith's great post, I think when nonunschoolers read
about what unschoolers do it sounds like we're trying to impose some
airy fairy theory on kids, denying them the hard but good-for-them
medicine of disciplined learning and replacing it with something
gentle and nice, but that, from the outside, looks totally
ineffective. Unschooling seems to be a way of avoiding being mean to
the kids but will ultimately leave them unlearned.

[emphasis mine] But the truth is that what kids learn in school is *made* hard to learn. Not because educators are mean ;-) but because they need to demonstrate that specific learning is taking place. In order to prove learning, they are limited in the methods that yield something testable. Unfortunately the natural way we -- and all animals -- learn is scatter shot. We pick up bits and pieces here and there as we need them. We naturally learn to grow our understanding. It's very very hard to test for understanding (especially since we don't approach understanding linearly). (And very very hard to grade!) That's why most tests test for what's been memorized.

Learning is sort of like assembling a jigsaw puzzle. We naturally
work on the areas that interest us that expand and grow to meet up
with other areas of interest. And we jump around. At first the puzzle
often just looks like bigger pieces of chaos. ;-)

In school, the kids are told what they're going to make and told to
find the corner piece and place it in the corner. Then the next piece
that attaches to it. Then the next piece that attaches to it.

If the two puzzles were tested against school standards: how many of
the upper left is done, the schooled puzzle worker might have a
several dozen pieces in the corner. The natural puzzle worker might
have two. But what would be missed by a standardized test is all the
*other* pieces the natural puzzle worker had assembled. And, while
the schooled puzzle assembler might test well, they aren't learning
ways to tackle a jigsaw puzzle. They *look* like they're
accomplishing something, but what they're learning is that doing
puzzles is hard and boring and pointless and left on their own it's
unlikely they'll finish it. The natural puzzle worker doesn't look
like they're accomplishing anything (judging by their progress in the
corner since that's *all* a standardized test can test) but they're
having fun and the real accomplishment is happening far from the
testing area. And if they enjoy it, they're likely to do many puzzles
in their life.

School is to natural learning as Spanish class is to picking up
language as a child. One is hard and pretty much ineffective after
class is done. The other is effortless and effective. The second is
so effortless that we don't even take it seriously. We just know it's
something mysterious that happens and has no relationship to anything

But it does! That's how we are designed to learn! It's messy. Chaotic
natural learning is very frustrating for someone who wants feedback
that specific learning is taking place. If there had been a
standardized test of language acquisition in 18 month olds, a typical
question would be pronouncing their name. My daughter would have
failed. A standardized test would *not* have asked how many dinosaur
names she knew ;-) (She had a shirt with 9 dinosaurs on it which she
could rattle off. She could say pachycephalosaurus before she could
say Kathryn ;-)

I'm betting that unless you're a history buff, that you've forgotten
way more history than you remember! The political doings of dead
white guys is really dull for most people. What most people find
interesting is bits of history of whatever interests them, social
history, how people lived in the past (movies and books are good for
that). As the build up that jigsaw puzzle, it eventually connects to
bits and pieces of political history.

My daughter probably knows more about early 1900s America than I do
because she's been fascinated by early baseball and has read several
books about it. One of her favorite guitarists was dressed as a
gangster in a video and that sparked an interest in gangsters. We're
reading a book about gangsters in film and it's starting way back
with the beginning of real gangsters and prohibition and the politics
surrounding it.

Is that the same as slogging through a history course? Absolutely
not. In some ways it's inferior since it doesn't cover the
"important" stuff. But how much of the "important" stuff do most
people remember? In many ways it's superior. My daughter really knows
the information she's read about early baseball. She hasn't just
memorized it. She knows the whys and wherefores. She knows some of
the social and political history that influenced what happened.
That's a foundation she'll build on throughout life.

The thing is educators get to say "We did our job. We put the
information in there. Not our fault if they don't remember it 10
years later." But *shouldn't* part of their job to be to make those
12 years time well spent? The "Are You Smarter Than a Fifth Grader"
is pretty telling. But it doesn't tell what it supposedly does: that
5th graders are smarter than adults. It says that great huge chunks
of that stuff you put up with learning for 12 years is going to be
gone by the time you're an adult.

Yet how many adults can still recite the theme song to Gilligan's
Island? ;-) Some think it means we're naturally drawn to trivial
entertainment and must be made to learn the hard stuff. No, what it
really means is that if it's fun and *personally meaningful* we'll

> I mean, how will the kids learn math? You know, adding,
> subtracting, multiplication?? What about language? How will they
> know what to capitalize or the correct punctuation?

I know, it's hard to imagine. But they do. We are natural puzzle
solvers. We want to understand how things work. We want to master
what we enjoy. We don't necessarily want to know how things work on
someone else's schedule, though!

Just because an unschooled kid might not be using standard
punctuation and capitalization when schooled kids are doesn't mean
they don't care. It means it's not important to them. Yet. Mostly
kids are writing for themselves. *At that age* they don't need to
communicate to someone else so all that's important to them is
getting the thoughts down onto paper or screen. (It might be a story.
It might be a label.) Translating thoughts to words is important part
of writing. (And the part that's hard to test! Testing grammar and
punctuation is easy and why its made more important in school than it
really is.) Later, when they're communicating with others (and trying
to read others' communications) on message boards and email and so
on, they'll feel the difference between standard grammar and
creative. Reading a novel in chat speak might be interesting once but
it would be pretty obvious how limiting it is for meatier
communication! ;-) (But writing out thoughts formally on a text
screen is equally limiting! Each has their uses.)

It's really really really hard to imagine how kids can learn math
merely by using it. As an engineer I was certain you couldn't learn
math without hours and hours of practice. I was wrong. I didn't learn
math so much as practice applying formulas. I didn't really
understand what lay beneath the formulas because it was obscured by
the tedium of getting the precise answer to the 3rd decimal point. My
daughter, though, understands *how* numbers work. She understands
their fluid nature and how they're manipulated. The notation just
formalizes what she intuitively understands.

I've written a fair amount about math and reading and grammar (and
lots on chores!) at:

Also two articles that might help you understand why school makes so
much sense and why it's so hard to grasp why unschooling is better are:

Products of Education

Why You Can't Let Go