Sunday, September 03, 2006

unschooling

(Some days, I have to declare! uploading pictures or making a comment on blogger is very, very frustrating. I appreciate that it is a free service. Maybe it's popularity makes it unweildy?)

Chris Corrigan here and here, talks a bit about a huge problem I see many parents, at least in my area of Ontario, facing every night. Homework with the kids.

In my experience, I had homework from my very first days in grade one, but it was very much expected that I complete it by myself and it wasn't overwhelming (this is going way back, I admit, to my first years in school in Finland). The work concentrated mainly onlearning the alphabet, penmanship and a few math problems. We did, however, always have a pretty good idea of what was expected and what the topic was all about because it had been covered in school that day (what I seem to remember being more like half-days when compared with the school day of our Ontario kids today). I was able to get it done quite easily and then spend the rest of the afternoon skating on a nearby open-air ice-rink maintained by the city of Helsinki. I'm not waxing nostalgic here, because I know my memory is famous for being faulty!!

Coming to Canada, there were weird idiosynchracies in my education that caused some difficulty at first. While I had the language and could read better than most a whole grade ahead of me, my shyness and other personality traits caused problems. In the basic math skills, in penmanship I was way ahead. I had also learned a little about knitting, crocheting, embroidery and sewing that suddenly I no longer required. Spelling was a breeze for me, but suddenly I encountered this new senseless subject called phonics. Me, who always loved reading, hated phonics. Much later, in university when studying French, I grew to love knowing how words were put together.

Another novelty I encountered upon arriving in Canada was a two-grade classroom. I mention this because in my mind, it is linked to "History & Geography", which were taught in alternate years in that classroom. As my luck would have it, I ran smack into History, that first year. It was taught from a thick textbook of endless words and a few black and white photographs. There were all these dates to memorize -- when I had just learned to remember the date of my own birthday, it seemed. Those dusty dates were impossible for me to remember, having no relevance to my experiences. It was a disaster. I remember nothing. Geography the next year was a bit better, because I had a better grasp by then of "how things worked" in this classroom, and I was keenly interested in learning about this new country I was living in.

All this long explanation is my attempt to show that learning is very individual. I truly believe that all kids learn like thirsty sponges if they have even half an opportunity.

I hold my granddaughter up as an example. Of course, at my most fond and most un-objective (ie, subjective) level, I, like all her family, think she is a bloody genius! But as an educator, I realize that she is surrounded by people who love her and talk constantly with her about the world around her. She is absorbing it all, full of curiosity, trying to order it in her mind, making her own sense of it, sometimes to a frightening extent. (she particularly likes phrases and words that are "naughty" and elicit that horrified reaction from Mom & Dad!) And truly, I am already alarmed at the Junior Kindergarten level, how much homework she had, and how invested her parents had to be in some of those assignments, to the point that, as hurried as her parents are, they sometimes knew they had provided answers/solutions that she should have provided herself. And it is only going to get worse. In other words, what I was responsible for way back then and mostly did by myself, parents are taking on these days.

There was an exception or two to my independence with homework back in grade 1 & 2. Because of my parents' religious beliefs, I did not attend school on Saturday. Saturday was the day the teacher spent more time on the arts as well as the skills such as crocheting. As a result of regularly missing Saturdays, my mother, not the most patient teacher, struggled to teach me the basics of those skills. There was a knitted potholder that I believe she put the whole crocheted edging on, in her impatience! I remember even now the feeling that that left in me. And it is not a good feeling that I would want these young students today to be experiencing on the regular basis that it already, so very sadly, is.

So, what to do? As merely the grandparent, I have to sit on my hands and bite my tongue when it comes to being too opinionated about my own granddaughter, obviously! It's all very good, at the moment, while my granddaughter is delighting in school and mostly thriving. That is to say, I can mostly relax and I feel less impelled to interfere.(thankgoodness)

However, I know from experience what it is like to be the parent of a child that does not fit the mold, cannot meet the expectations at the exact time and in the exact way educators at a certain time and in a certain place require. This is to teach that a child with unique talents and wisdom is a failure. And that is so wrong.

The world is deprived of that child if the parents and child give up and don't realize that that child has so much to contribute, in a different point of view, in creativity, in skill sets, that a narrow approach shuts off, if we allow it. What the world needs, what industry and business need, (what they say they need but behave in opposition to, far too often in actuality) is a person with a fresh perspective, creative insight, skill in independent problem solving! The child whose spark is not extinguished in most school experiences, will go on to do great things in this world -- and maybe not in the way we expect.

So, public education being a grand concept, surely it is not the instrument that continues to create people who "passed", the majority who slide along the sanctioned path into obscurity, dull cogs in a sluggish machine, an army of unhappy people in an unhappy workplace.

How can parents, who are all suffering so, continue to take it? Do they not trust enough in their own common sense to collectively do something? Surely experience has taught us that "the experts" have often wandered too far into extremes of application of pedagogical theories in the past!

I encourage everybody to get involved. Discuss this issue with parents, teachers, politicians, business people, everybody! There are solutions. Individual decisions must be made that will suit you, and maybe, the time of a public education system's usefulness is over. How about a public university-level education system instead?

More on this topic from Alexander Kjerulf
The Myth About Homework, an article by Claudia Wallis in Time Magazine, Aug. 29, 2006.
More on the homework myth by Brian Alger.
Robert Patersons's Weblog, has here a plea for the end of homework. Read the discussion in the comments as well!!

Please read up on this. Think about it. Don't allow a generation of school kids to suffer through a hateful school career when it is so counterproductive!

7 Comments:

Blogger Chris said...

This is just beautiful Kati. Thank you.

7:28 p.m.  
Blogger Kati said...

it's not a problem when it's a passion of mine...

7:41 p.m.  
Blogger Chris said...

...and in the spirit of your Gore Vidal quote...

I had a media request this morning fro man Ontario station that would like to talk about homework. I directed here here, but I have no email address for you. Want to drop me a line and I'll forward that on?

Enjoy the rest of your weekend.

1:42 p.m.  
Anonymous Jessie Lorraine said...

Kati, Jessie Lorraine from 570 news, Kitchener.
Would like to get your opinion on this homework topic. Drop me a line.

Jessie Lorraine, Executive Producer, the Jeff Allan Show, 570 News, Kitchener.
519 743 2611 ex 316
cell: 519 404 4344
jessie.lorraine@570news.rogers.com

2:32 p.m.  
Blogger Annie in Austin said...

Kati, you deserve a larger audience for this essay - maybe you will now have one!

In Texas, some people say that the homework has gone out of control because too much classtime is spent on "teaching to the test" - those assessment tests so beloved by our current administration. My son was long past elementary school when we moved here, so this isn't experience, just what I've heard.

Annie

9:25 p.m.  
Blogger Kati said...

Annie, I'm sorry to hear it is more widespread than just in Canada. There seems to be this fear that kids don't want to learn...and that just isnt' true. We all know how much "work" we put into learning about things that interest us. And then the learning curve can be soar! We are afraid to let kids learn when they are ready, because too many of us have only experienced "school" as many years of slogging, slow progress through dull irrelevant lectures...as if any learning takes place when it is forced.

11:22 a.m.  
Blogger Louisa said...

Kati,
A year later how is your granddaughter doing? Have her parents read your essay? I have just decided to hold my son home from grade one for all the reasons you describe, but worry he won't be better off.....
Louisa

11:02 p.m.  

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