Archive for October, 2008

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
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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!

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I can only complain about standardized testing so many times before the steam runs out. Therefore, I feel no shame in straying a little from my predetermined subtopic. I am still following the same theme of “promoting intellectual curiosity” though, so fear not. The subject today: home schooling.

My inspiration comes from a high school-aged friend of mine who recently made the switch from public schooling to home schooling. Instead of attending a monopolizing seven hours of school a day, she simply collects her assignments from her teachers and completes them at her own rate. Without having to attend her classes, much of her time is freed up. How that time is spent is her own choice.

In my experience, the majority of people have a somewhat negative view of home schooling. It is a common belief that while home schooled children often excel in academics, their social skills are lacking. This assumption is understandable, considering home schooled children have less opportunity for socialization with peers. . . or do they? According to an article I found through Google News,

“Many families today are active in home school groups, such as the Britt Home School Group, where the children meet for several hours each week or every other weeks for a shared class, art, music or a special party or field trip.”

With these opportunities, students are probably allowed more time befriending others than is allotted at public schools, of which rigorous academic schedules leave little room for socializing.

The benefits of home schooling are practically boundless. As mentioned before, children who are home schooled often do not have to devote as much time to school. Aside from that, they are forced to learn how to prioritize their tasks, how to motivate themselves, and how to learn directly from a source, such as a book or computer. All of these are essential life skills, but they are often unlearned until after high school. It seems as though home schoolers have a leg up on the competition.

As of 1990, a study done showed that test scores from home schoolers easily met the 80th percentile, according to this website.

I hold home schooling in high esteem. I used to have a pretty distorted view of it, and I wish that I had been more informed about it when I was actually in school. If I had known the details, it probably would have been an option I would seriously have considered. It would have freed up more time for me to learn about what I want to learn about, rather than what information is imposed on me. If there is one thing about school that has left me most distraught, it is the idea that my teachers assigned me books enough to deprive me of any opportunity to read out of pleasure. If I had been home schooled, l also may have had the illusion that learning was a choice. Even if I had a set curriculum, I would have been able to expand upon the ideas that most interested me. And that, my friends, is what I mean by “Intellectual Curiosity”. I put a heavy emphasis on it because many people learn only what they must. Society would be a lot better off we could feed the fire of intellect, if we could teach people how to teach themselves simply by following up on what interests them. As corny as it is, even if that idea touches only a few people, it will be worth it, because in turn, those people will effect others and, indirectly, the whole world will change simply by a chain reaction. I truly believe in the idea that knowledge is power. When you think of it that way, a teacher becomes a sort of superhero, saving the world one homework assignment at a time.

Home Schooled Students Excel in Life, Academic
by Mary Loden
The Britt News Tribune
14 October, 2008
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