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The End.

This has been an unusally rapid semester; it’s hard to believe it’s already winding down. And when I say winding, I really mean spiraling down, considering all the work I have to stuff in such a short amount of time. I’m sure the vast majority of my classmates are feeling the same kind of pressure. That last minute-pressure is a beautiful thing though. It compresses our heads so that our ideas are squeezed out almost effortlessly, like toothpaste gliding out of a tube. I shall now share some toothpaste thoughts with you. I hope they rid you of the bad taste in your mouth caused by the looming finals week.

This blog has done quite a few good things for me:

1. It made me nostalgic for the days when I blogged regularly and had a sense of pride of my small fan base. Just knowing that a few people read my blog was enough to keep me writing. I’m ashamed to say I rarely write anything that’s not academic anymore.

2. I’ve learned how easy it would be to have students keep a blog. Even better than the ease it provides is the audience it opens up for students. Like I mentioned above, I used to write blog posts because I knew people were reading them. That could be the motivation some students need to write. For those who could care less, at least they’re learning to write for a different audience than what their previous writing experience allowed.

3. I learned about RSS feeds! Hallelujah! Talk about a lifesaver! I will be using RSS from now on. I’m really impressed with how convenient Google Reader is. It takes very little effort to compile a very large amount of information. I only wish someone had shown it to me sooner! (Thanks, Professor!)

4. I’ve also acquired a good amount of information about standardized test, homeschooling, unschooling, etcetera! I’ve developed my belief that teachers need to put more of an emphasis on inspiring students so that learning will be a choice or a hobby. I believe the more educated people are, but more capable we are of understanding each other and having compassion for one another. There are always exceptions, but for the most part, people can learn how to be open minded and just…well…LOVE. Yeah, yeah, what can I say? I sure made that sound cheesy, but really, the world could use a lot more love. And if we can just open the minds of students through education, we’ll be a lot better off. But we have to show them how FUN learning can be.

This class has been aligned completely with my belief in making learning enjoyable. Everything we do puts emphasis on showing students effective writing skills and truly engaging them in writing. It’s been a great semester. Congratulations, class, on finishing strong!

Elective Shock

Many schools in New York are bringing in a new wave of electives, focusing their efforts on classes that students will (GASP!) enjoy! But how could this be? Schools can’t afford to add electives with the economy like this, can they? And students shouldn’t look forward to going to school, should they? And electives couldn’t possibly benefit the school, could they? (I hope you’ve caught on to my being facetious.)

The answer is yes! Yes to all of those things! This is what I’m talking about, folks! This is one of many ways to PROMOTE INTELLECTUAL CURIOSITY among students! Electives help these New York students to look forward to going to school. It’s not such a chore for the student when he/she realizes that he/she can rely on at least one hour of the day to be fun. Listen to some of the elective opportunities they have: 3D Animation, History of Rock ‘n’ Roll, Woodworking, Global Economics, Jewelry Making, Military History, Advanced Java Programming, Mandarin Chinese, etc!

The article boasts that these classes give seniors the motivation they need to drag themselves out of bed to go to school. They also give students’ transcripts a more well-balanced feel. This way, students aren’t all about the AP classes and college-prep classes.

The only problem finances seems to present concerning electives is class size. Currently the elective classes must have 15 students in them in order to continue, but that number may be raised to 20 or 25 due to the financial status of the country. But hey, no sweat. The History of Rock ‘n’ Roll class drew in 33 pupils when it aimed for 15!

Among all of the benefits of the electives, the one that really stands out is the freedom the electives give students over what they will learn.

“It’s letting people learn about what they love rather than dictating what they should be learning,” said Morgan McDaniel, a senior who added the rock ’n’ roll class to her roster of Advanced Placement classes in calculus, biology, European history and studio art.

“High Schools Add Electives to Cultivate Interests”
by Winnie Hu
The New York Times
Education Section
26 October 2008
Full Article

My post about unschooling elicited a response from an unschooler. I was excited to have the chance to talk to her, so I asked her to answer some questions about what her life is like. She, Idzie, gave some very thorough answers:

1. How old are you currently?
Nearly 18.

2. As a high school-aged unschooler, what is a typical day like for you?
Well, there really is no typical day! Each day is truly unique, but I’ll try and do the best I can for a description of a nearly average day. Unless I have something particular I want to do that requires I get up early, I don’t. I find I’m more alert and feel better if I don’t get up before I’m actually rested, which means I sleep to 10:00 some days, 12:30 others. It really all depends on how late I decided to stay up the previous night! After breakfast/lunch (depends how early I decided to get up!) I usually go on the computer for a while, check email and other messages (responding when necessary), sometimes doing a bit of surfing, researching something that catches my interest, debating various subjects on discussion boards, or browsing art online. After I tire of that, I’ll either read for a while, spend time with family members, or run errands. If I choose to read, the book(s) I’m currently reading could be anything from teen novels to serious non-fiction (some favorite subjects recently include deforestation, anarchy, civilization, and education, unschooling and alternative learning specifically). If I spend time with family members I’ll quite likely end up enthusiastically discussing some of the issues I’m passionate about, which have lately been anarchy, human and animal rights, and writing/literature. If, instead, I go on errands, that could be anything from a trip to the library, to picking up my sister from somewhere or other, to buying food. I usually like to help with choosing food, since I’m an avid cook! The evenings are spent with friends (and spending time with friends often includes discussions on politics, human nature, and other fascinating things, as well as the usual immature banter!), or sometimes watching documentaries, science shows, and mysteries, reading more, or writing.

3. What kind of opportunities did you have that you wouldn’t have had as a regular high schooler?
The biggest opportunity I see myself as having is simply freedom. I would certainly not have been able to choose my own curriculum, if you can even call it that, had I been in high school! Having not had all of my time taken up with school and then homework, I’ve been able to follow interests that I’m truly passionate about, to develop creatively and as a true individual.

4. What was different about your curriculum compared to someone who is home schooled?
Lack thereof. Unschoolers have no set curriculum, and only use textbooks etc. on their own terms. Homeschoolers, on the other hand, virtually always have a curriculum set by the parents, with little or no input from the student, and that curriculum often very closely follows what you’d find in a regular school.

5. What is your favorite academic subject?
English. I love writing (both poetry, short stories, and non-fiction) and reading everything I can get my hands on!

6. Do you volunteer? If so, how regularly? Where at?
The three years before this one, I did an average of 70 hours a year of volunteer work. Some things I’ve done include: Serving lunch to seniors; running games for children on special days organized by local boroughs/suburbs/towns; running short lessons on the most basic principles of flight on an aerospace day organized for elementary school children from all over my area; helping out at a Free The Children toy drive; volunteer staffing at a summer camp; and collecting food for the Salvation Army. In part because of all the community service I’ve done, I’ve received both the bronze and silver levels of the Duke of Edinburgh’s award. Sadly, I left the organization that I did much of this community service through, so am currently looking around for new places to volunteer, since I really miss it…

7. What are your plans for the future?
I have too many plans to choose from! I love cooking so have considered becoming a vegetarian or vegan chef. I’m also very interested in natural healing, so have considered pursuing a career in that. For the near future, I plan on finding more volunteer opportunities, getting seriously involved in environmental activism, traveling, and getting a job so I have the money to travel! I also definitely plan on continuing to write. I already have a regular column published in a homeschooling magazine, so hope to continue having my work published there, and I’d also love to someday have my poetry and short stories published.

8. Have you ever attended a regular school (public or private)? If yes, what did you like less about the school compared to unschooling? What did you like more?
I attended kindergarten for half a year, which hardly counts. A couple of years ago I considered going to high school, but decided against it. I don’t regret the decision, as I really think I’ve been happier outside of the school system than I would have been in it!

9. If you plan on having children in the future, do you intend on having them be unschooled?
Most definitely. I would not even consider sending my children to a regular school unless they specifically wanted to be there.

10. Do you feel as though you’ve missed out on any opportunities you could have had if you had been in a regular school? (I hope the word “regular” doesn’t offend you. I just don’t know how else to word it.)
The word “regular” certainly doesn’t offend me. I’m well aware that my path in education is far from “normal”! I don’t really feel I’ve missed out on anything positive, although I do feel I’ve missed out on the negative aspects associated with the school system. Because of my involvement in the Canadian Cadet movement, I was even part of a marching band for a time, and competed in several sports tournaments!

11. How did your family learn about unschooling?
My mother learned about it at a homeschooling conference when I was very young, I believe.

12. What are some of your hobbies or interests?
Writing, great books, poetry, anarchy, social rights, environmentalism, ultimate Frisbee, natural medicine, sustainable living, Irish mythology, Native American legends, civilization, politics, photography, impressionist art, music, vegetarianism, cooking, nature, animals, paganism, spirituality, the beginnings of Christianity, trash hunting, fashion, radical unschooling…

13. How do you meet people/ make friends?
When I was young, my family was heavily involved with the homeschooling community so I met people through that. As I got older, we drifted away from that, since most homeschoolers go to high school when they reach that age. I’ve met tons of people through cadets, and I have friends from there, as well as those I’ve met simply because they live near me, or are friends of friends. Oh, and just this past year I attended Not Back To School Camp, which is a weeklong camp for more than a hundred unschoolers! So I met a bunch of unschooling people there.

14. Anything else you’d like to add?
Hmm… I can’t think of much else I’d like to add… I want to make it clear that I’m not your picture of an average unschooler, since there is no average unschooler! Because the whole thing with unschooling is that people live their lives the way they want to, not by a path set out by school, each person’s life is entirely different. I’m happy with a more relaxing life, and spending time mostly with close friends and/or family, yet I know unschoolers who are hardly ever home, and spend tons of their time in group activities! It really does depend a great deal on the individual.

I’ve never talked to an unschooler before, so the opportunity to hear about Idzie’s life was thrilling, and she was more than willing to answer my questions. From what I can tell, she is very much in love with learning. She’s like a normal high schooler in most senses; she plays sports, surfs the internet, sleeps in, and chatters with her friends. Contrarily though, she seems to spend a lot more time focused on the intellectual aspect of life than most high school-aged teens do. That’s not to say that there aren’t public school kids out there who regularly engage in conversations about politics, history, environmentalism, etcetera, but for the most part, high schoolers have a very limited frame of reference. Because Idzie doesn’t have a high school curriculum to stick to, she has this thirst for knowledge, which I’m sure many young people would crave were they in her position. Idzie learns because she wants to. She learns what she wants to. School for her isn’t a chore, but a choice. This is what I mean by intellectual curiosity. She has made her education personal. Unschooling provided this opportunity for her, but I believe there is a way to make students in schools thirst for knowledge in the same way. The difference is that schools have teachers who can lead students on their educational journeys. Teachers can inspire students to learn. And that is exactly what I intend to do.

This video is from this past June, but I saw it just the other day and I wanted to address the issue. The story is very interesting, so I encourage anyone reading this to watch the video I’ve included below. For those of you who would rather not, I’ll summarize: high school teacher Connie Hearman of Indiana was suspended from teaching for over a year for insubordination. She had tried teaching her students from The Freedom Writers Diary, a culmination of student works from a class taught by Erin Gruwell, a teacher who inspired her students, many of whom were involved in gangs, to rise above the hardships of their lives. The majority of those students went on to college, when before taking Erin Gruwell’s class, they kept their aspirations minimal, confined within the present, aware that the danger of the streets could take their lives any day. This inspirational book is often taught in schools, and Mrs. Hearman was sure it could change the lives of her students. However, the school board told Mrs. Hearman she was not allowed to teach the book due to vile language. Seeing her students engaged in the text, Mrs. Hearman didn’t have the heart to take the books away. She made a risky move and the consequence was a job suspension without pay.

I have to wonder, where does a teacher draw the line? This woman obviously cares for her students. Her goal is not only to teach them, but to change their lives. She seeks to inspire her students. But how far is too far? She had to know the risk she was taking by disobeying the school board.

Barbara Thompson, the school board president, stated,

“What troubles me is that Connie Hearman made a conscious choice to send our children a very poor message in that, if you’re told no, do it anyway. If it feels good do it.”

I believe Barbara Thompson’s statement debases the message that Connie Hearman sent her students. Connie Hearman did not allow her students to read The Freedom Writer’s Diary to spite the school board. Although her actions didn’t align with the school board’s desires, she was not rebelling for the sake of rebelling. She was not doing what “feels good”. She was doing what felt right. She believed the book could change her students’ lives! If anything, she was sending a positive message: when you know something is right, persist.

As trite as it is, I’d like to compare Connie Hearman to a national heroine: Rosa Parks was also a rule-breaker. She broke the “rules” by staying put in her bus seat when there was no where for a white person to sit. A small protest in order to fight for what she believed in. She was one of many who set the Civil Rights Movement in motion. Without people in this country who are willing to question right and wrong, we turn into a nation of bobble-heads, molded by our environments and always nodding our heads with a fake smile to boot.

I’d like to shake Connie Hearman’s hand. That is the kind of teacher I aspire to be, someone who cares for my students to the point where I am willing to risk my job in order to teach what I believe to be the most life-changing. Some people may think that getting suspended is counter-productive, considering a teacher is pretty useless when he or she is jobless, but I would venture to guess that this news story stirred up a lot of controversy in that Indiana town. Controversy sparks change, ladies and gentlemen. Sometimes you have to put everything on the line in order to stretch out the boundaries you’re confined to.

Here is an interesting concept: unschooling. It is similar to that of home schooling, except that it is less rigid. . . as if home schooling was rigid! Unschooling is basically education that the student decides to partake in; parents take advantage of “teachable moments”. If little Johnny asks a question, Mom and Dad run with it. It is, to say the least, intriguing.

To be honest, I am skeptical. It seems a little hypocritical for me admit that. Nothing else could better promote that intellectual curiosity, but unschooling just is not all that realistic. Let’s compare it to communism: in an ideal world, it could be great. But it is not an ideal world. Thus, if put into practice, it could be the downfall of humanity.

Academic requirements exist for a reason. They create a level playing ground for students. And as much as parents like to believe they know what is best for their children, when the little ones leave the nest, they could be ill-equipped for society.

Isn’t “unschooling” essentially an everyday process for children, and for people in general? If something interests a person enough, he or she is going to explore a certain depth of information concerning that topic. Unschooling seems to promote learning as a hobby. While I am attached to the idea of learning being fun, I think that is the role of the teacher to make it fun and not of the student. There is a bare minimum amount of knowledge that all students should have, and much of that knowledge is not seemingly “fun”. But teachers, at least those who are practiced, can manipulate information in a way that it becomes fun. Let me relate this to geometry. A square is a rectangle, but a rectangle is not always a square. In other words, learning cannot be fun, but fun is not always learning, and should not be a child’s only access to information. A method of learning based merely upon a student’s uninfluenced interest could produce a lopsided frame of reference within a child. Of course, this is an if-worse-comes-to-worst type situation.

Some parents strike a balance between home schooling and unschooling, such as the subjects on a recent New York Times article, the Rendell family.

With Benny, Mr. Lewis went on to say, “we embraced a hybrid between home-schooling and unschooling. It’s not structured, it’s Benny-centric, we follow his interests and desires, and yet we are helping him to learn to read and do math.” They read to him hours every day. “It’s about trying to find things we both enjoy doing,” Ms. Rendell said, “rather than making myself a martyr mom. The terror of home-schooling is you have to be super on all the time, finding crafty things to do.”

Perhaps this mother’s method is a way of cultivating the benefits of unschooling without risking her child’s academic competitiveness. I am interested to hear other people’s opinions on this. Argue with me, agree with me, whatever you would like. I welcome your ideas.

“The Anti-Schoolers” by Penelope Green
The New York Times
15 October 2008
Full Article

Shaking up Shakespeare

The Topic for Today: Cultural Mobility

I was introduced to this concept at a lecture I attended in September. The featured speaker was a scholar by the name of Stephen Greenblatt. Greenblatt coached us on the idea of “rewriting Shakespeare”. It makes perfect sense; Shakespeare himself molded some of his works based upon the works of others. Take, for example, Cardenio. This little-known Shakespeare play was the focus of Stephen Greenblatt’s lecture. Now, the point of this post is not to summarize the play, but rather to elaborate on the idea of cultural mobility, but I feel it necessary to give a little bit of the back story of the play. Basically, Cardenio’s character was first found within the pages of Don Quixote, a story within a story. Shakespeare based his play on this character. Now this is where it gets interesting: Stephen Greenblatt, in turn, based a play upon a story within that story, making minor characters the driving force in his play, along with his co-writer, Charles Mee. So here we have a story within a story within a story. It is an interesting concept.

If my understanding is correct, Stephen Greenblatt’s “cultural mobility”, as it pertains to written works, is the evolution of a text that is made possible by passing through the hands of several different authors, each elaborating upon the ideas of the preceding authors. To reinforce this concept, Stephen Greenblatt experimented by encouraging diverse writers from different countries to rewrite his version of Cardenio. The results were perhaps more diverse than the writers themselves. It is an interesting notion that from one work, thousands of distinct stories can evolve. It is, in a sense, the act of authors bouncing ideas off of one another. It is brilliant.

I love this idea. I fully intend on incorporating this concept into my classroom in the future. I find that expanding upon another person’s idea is a much easier task than developing an original idea. I am an aspiring writer, not in the sense that I hope to make it big via written works, but in the sense that I HOPE TO WRITE. As silly as it seems coming from an English major, I have never been one much for developing a plot. My focus is usually on developing the characters, so any writing I do ends up as sketches, rather than stories. I cannot be the only one with this fault. This idea of cultural mobility helps the writing impaired, like myself. And believe me, there are MANY writing impaired students in English classrooms across America. Even for those who have a knack for developing a plot, cultural mobility adds an interesting twist to writing, for the simple fact that one starting point can produce several ending points. It is beautiful. BEAUTIFUL!