Saturday, January 19, 2008

I'll Learn It Then

Recently, ds1 and I were filling in his progress report, per a state requirement. I explained the three possible "grades." Each topic (decimals, research skills, oral reading, etc.) could receive one of the following marks: S for satisfactory, P for progress noted, N for needs improvement. I explained that N did not mean that he was lacking in any way. It simply meant that he has not been exposed to that topic. He was not appeased by this explanation, and the following dialogue ensued:

ds1: Why do I have to learn what I need to learn? Why can't I just learn what I want to learn?

me: What happens when you grow up and find out you need to know something you didn't learn?

ds1: I'll learn it then.


This is how I know this life without school is working for him. He really gets it. He learns what he wants to learn when he wants to learn it, either because he is interested in the information, or he needs that knowledge at the moment. Most importantly, he is aware that when he needs to know something he is fully capable of learning what needs to be learned.

Saturday, January 12, 2008

What Does It Mean To Be Well Educated?

This is the question proposed by Alfie Kohn in his 2004 collection of essays. He states that before we can educate someone we must know what the goal is - the desired outcome. Even if we haven't consciously decided on an outcome, we are working towards one. Then we are faced with the question of whether or not we are working towards a desired outcome. He goes on to say, "The trick, however, when deciding what we really want, is to look beyond the surface and think past the short term." Only then can we evaluate whether our short term goals are supporting our long term outcome.

This being said, when educating a child, one must look ahead to the adult that child will become. If your goal is for your child to graduate at the top of his class and go to an Ivy League school, then that grade on Friday's math test suddenly becomes monumentally important. If, however, your goal is for your child "to have the desire as well as the means to make sure that learning never ends" (Kohn, 10), then that test suddenly becomes inconsequential or possibly even damaging. Indeed, if your goal is to create a lifelong learner, then graduation itself becomes superfluous because graduation symbolizes the end of an education which, in actuality, should never end.

This brings me to my next point: achievement vs. learning. Most people do not realize that these two concepts are not the same, especially when concerned with children. Learning is "the modification of behavior through practice, training, or experience" or the acquisition of new knowledge or skills. Achievement is the "act of achieving; attainment or accomplishment." Take, for example, the laundry. When I get all of the laundry generated by five people through the washing and drying process, I have truly achieved something. However, I have not learned anything because the learning associated with this task was accomplished years ago. Now for a converse example: I love Designed To Sell. I have watched untold hours of this show, all while achieving absolutely nothing. It seemed as if I was merely entertaining myself... until it came time to sell my house. Only then was my learning visible - not on a test, but in real life application - when I received two offers during the first month the house was listed.

I would very much like for my children to grow up to be self-assured, caring, compassionate individuals who know who they are and what they want to do with their lives. I want them to be able to make competent decisions. I want them to be comfortable with their learning processes to the point that they continue to enjoy learning throughout their lives. That being said, our short term goals should be limited to maintaining their safety and well being, giving them plenty of safe opportunities to make real choices, providing opportunities for them to be exposed to new experiences, and most importantly, allowing them plenty of time to be kids - time to explore who they are and what they like and don't like. With an education plan like that, who has time for school?