Changing Education, One Link at a Time

There have been too many interesting articles floating around the web lately for me to just post one at a time, so here are a bunch of them! Unschooling has been getting a lot of interest, lately, so you’ll see plenty of opinions relating to this growing form of education. Let me know your thoughts about anything and everything!

Unschooling: The Case for Setting Your Kids Into the Wild

This Teen Wants to Abolish School as We Know It

Children Need Free Play, But Are “Unschoolers” Giving Them Too Much?

Open Letter to Adults From a Highly Creative Child

Have American Parents Got It All Backwards?

The Truth About Preschool

An Open Letter to My Students In Music School

Ten Things Every New Homeschooler Needs to Know

Self-Regulation: American Schools Are Failing Non-Conformist Kids

Nurturing Children: Why Early Learning Doesn’t Help

Ten Things I’d Change If I Could Have a Homeschool Do-Over

A Homeschool Curriculum for Preschool and Kindergarten

What to Do When Kids Find Their Passion

 

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The Stories of Josh and Sarah: To Quit or Not to Quit

Sarah* has been a student with me since she was seven. Her musicality is incredible, and she has blossomed into a marvelous young musician who loves to sing and write her own songs, as well as play classical guitar. She spent several years in my ensemble, too, leading the group as one of the best players. I always looked forward to teaching her each week, knowing that she would absorb everything and practice diligently.

This week, out of the blue, she quit lessons.

I should have seen it coming. Her priorities over the past year have been with sports, even though she never neglected playing guitar, and she is getting to the point where she would need to dedicate more time to music in order to continue advancing. Her reason for quitting was that she will be entering high school this fall and didn’t want to spread herself too thin. I respect that kind of decision (she’s always been a straight-A student), but at the same time am still a little disappointed that she chose an all-or-nothing approach.

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Josh* has been an up and down student ever since he began lessons with me almost six years ago. Sometimes making great leaps in musical advancement, sometimes dragging his feet (literally) to his lessons, I never know if we will have a good week or a bad week. He has just enough moments of brilliance to keep me hoping for the breakthrough of potential that I and other teachers saw in him. However, for the past year or two, we had bad weeks more often than not. As a seventeen year old who is heavily involved in sports and an academically-rigorous school, his priorities were obviously not with music, yet he still continued to play guitar, even when I wondered why he bothered to show up to lessons unprepared again and again.

Several weeks ago, right before a vacation break in our lesson schedule, I delivered the ultimatum: Josh had to decide whether he truly wanted to continue lessons, which meant that he would have to dedicate time to practicing and progressing, or decide that he wanted to discontinue lessons. I told him that I cannot teach someone who does not want to be taught or put any kind of effort into their playing. Honestly, I believed that he would quit. I met him at the studio tonight for what I thought was going to be his final lesson.

He surprised me.

His solo that we had been working on for several weeks was memorized and sounding better. He admitted that he had been reviewing old repertoire, sight-reading pieces, and playing pop tunes for fun. Even his demeanor was different; he sat up straighter, looking at me with determination in every muscle. After discussing several options, we made a detailed plan to prepare for a senior recital in the springtime, with solos and a duet or two, possibly in conjunction with any other graduating senior students as well.

By the end of the lesson, I was shaking my head in amazement. What happened to him was something that I could not have predicted.

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Josh and Sarah taught me a lesson that I keep learning over and over: you can never tell which students will connect with music and stick with it, and which will leave it before the teacher thinks they should. The student themselves is the one ultimately in control of what they choose to learn; the parents can push, and the teacher can urge, but each child chooses his or her own path in the end. Yet, thankfully, each student is affected in some kind of way by their interactions with their teachers and their experience with music, which can influence them in positive ways for the rest of their lives.

*Students names have been changed.

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For All Former Home-schoolers Out There!

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Please let me know in the comments why you chose your particular answer! I would love to hear from you.

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No, I Don’t Hate Public School

Lately I’ve had a few people delicately hint that they think I hate public schools.

If you haven’t already read this post I wrote several years ago, please do! And here are some more thoughts that I’ve had since writing it.

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There are very few things that would make you a “bad” parent.

Abusing your child makes you a bad parent.

Neglecting your child makes you a bad parent.

Allowing someone else to cause harm to your child without intervention makes you a bad parent.

Thankfully, I’ve only met one or two “bad” parents. The vast majority of parents I’ve known all fall on the good side!

But, the good side isn’t just black and white. There’s plenty of grey.

So… why are we still judging each other as if we think we’ve somehow got this “good” parenting thing figured out?

There are so many grey areas of raising children.

Whether your child watches a television show (or two, or three) and your neighbor doesn’t even own a t.v. set….

Whether your kid is allowed to stay up late when his friend has to be in bed by seven o’clock…

Whether your family chooses to go to a specific denomination of church while another friend goes to a different church…

Whether you don’t force your daughter to eat more than one bite of a food she doesn’t like, yet her friend is required to clean her plate at every meal….

Whether little Jimmy down the street delicately munches on organic carrots and raw milk cheese while your own kids snack on animal crackers…

… none of those things make you a bad parent.

Adding to that list:

Just because you enroll your children in a public school…

… that doesn’t make you a bad parent. Or a better parent than someone else.

Just because you believe that your child will be learn best in a private academy…

… that doesn’t make you a bad parent. Or a better parent than someone else.

Just because you want to home-school your children…

… that doesn’t make you a bad parent. Or a better parent than someone else.

As long as you are making all these decisions for the good of your entire family and the good of your individual child, then you aren’t a bad parent or a better parent than anyone else: you are a conscientious, loving parent. And if that’s what we’re all striving to be, then shouldn’t we be uplifting each other rather than judging? Especially when we are in the same community together!

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That being said, you WILL see my posts here focus on two things:

~ Arguing against educational practices that I personally believe are detrimental or questionable for a child’s learning/growing.

~ Presenting evidence and articles that strongly support alternative education and home-schooling.

Why?

Because this kind of attitude in schools frustrates me.

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And I believe this instead.

Personal Qualities Not Measured By Tests

I believe that many schools focus far too much on academic skills. Succeeding in school is becoming an achievement that rewards children who take tests well and learn the way the school wants them to learn. But, as any teacher or parent will tell you, that is not the way every child is designed.

I also believe that many schools do not provide the instruction, environment, teachers, mentors, or free time that children need for their own individual, personal development as capable human beings with specialized gifts, interests, and abilities. Intelligence is not measured only with exams, computers, books, and numbers!

Some children function well in a classroom, thriving on the structured assignments, smoothly mastering new concepts in math, history, social sciences, and writing, and bring home report cards with top grades.

Many do not.

If a child is struggling in whatever educational situation they are in currently, then a good parent will do whatever they can to help their son or daughter succeed. That might mean talking with the teacher, or hiring a tutor, or assessing a learning disability, or cutting back on extra-curricular activities, or addressing bullying, or encouraging your child to build friendships, or giving extra help with home-work, or setting up a counseling session, or even placing their child in a new school or bringing them home to home-school. As a teacher, I’ve known families who have done each of these things as they seek to help their child succeed!

Because the majority of children are in public schools or academically-focused private schools, much of what I write here has to do with exploring alternatives for those who do not fit into those categories.

But I know that alternative education is not all sunshine and roses either.

Every single educational option has its pros and cons.

In upcoming posts, I’ll be going over some sticky issues, like the dark side of home-schooling, Common Core, and what religion has to do with education. These posts are not going to be easy to write, but I want to address and explore what they mean, both for my own benefit and to urge others to think about these hard topics as well.

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To go back to the original topic, no, I don’t think that if you send your child to the local school down the road that you’re a bad parent. Just like I hope you won’t think I’m a bad parent for NOT sending my child to the local school. We’re doing what we believe is best for our children. And we can still be friends : )

I want to encourage everyone, no matter what parental or educational choices your family is making, to treat each other (and speak about each other!) with grace. What works for your own family may not work for another family. What works for one of your children may not work for one of your other children. What worked for you as a child may not work for your own child. Everyone is different, and we need to look at each other with grace.

As a final note, here is a book that portrays children who are in public school and children who are home-schooled getting along together and being great friends. Totally looking forward to reading this together when my daughter is older!

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Kids These Days….

… are probably not any better or worse than kids in the past. Even thousands of years past.What do you think HAS changed, then?Do you think “kids” are this bad?

 

“Our youth have an insatiable desire for wealth; they have bad manners and atrocious customs regarding dressing and their hair and what garments or shoes they wear.”
~Plato”The world is passing through troublesome times. The young people of today think of nothing but themselves. They have no reverence for parents or old age. They are impatient of all restraint; they talk as if they alone know everything….”
~ Matthew Paris (13th Century A.D.)”Our young men have grown slothful. There is not a single honourable occupation for which they will toil night and day. They sing and dance and grow effeminate and curl their hair and learn womanish tricks of speech; They are as languid as women and deck themselves out with unbecoming ornaments. With out strength, without energy, they add nothing during life to the gifts with which they were born – then they complain of their lot.”
~Seneca

“The young people of today think of nothing but themselves. They have no reverence [respect] for their parents or old age. They are impatient of all restraint; They talk as if they alone know everything and what passes for wisdom in us foolishness in them. As for the girls, they are foolish and immodest and unwomanly in speech, behaviour and dress.”
~Peter the Hermit, 1083

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Asking questions, looking for answers, all the time!

 

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The Two Students Who Made Me Cry

Brendan has been my student for almost five years. Recently he had been working on a very challenging piece of music, one that pushed his limits of physical and musical development. For almost two months he had been on the brink of really “getting” it, only to come to his next lesson frustrated at lack of time to practice, an error in reading a measure of unfamiliar notes, an incorrect rhythm, a too-difficult section that needed spotwork, etc. But he truly wanted to learn it, so we didn’t give up. And finally, FINALLY, he came into his lesson and played the music brilliantly, with the deep passion and accuracy that he’d been working towards for so long.

I cried with joy.

He smiled from ear to ear, sitting up straight and proud with his guitar as tears dripped down my face.

I had never cried in a student’s lesson before, and I hadn’t planned on it that day, but knowing how much Brendan was invested in proving to himself that he COULD play this music, and hearing his wonderful success after so much struggle, was amazing. The tears came without me trying.

This week another student, Chase, came to his lesson. Chase has been taking lessons with me since he was seven years old. As he has entered the teen years, his interest in classical guitar, or any other kind of guitar, has waned drastically. Long story short… we decided to work on a pop tune that he liked, because he thought that learning to strum and sing would be a fun side-project.

At this lesson, Chase had finally reached the point where he could strum smoothly through the entire song correctly, navigating through some tricky chord changes. Satisfied with the progress, I told him that we would now begin singing and strumming, so that we could proceed to the next stage of learning the song. He flatly refused.

I was baffled. I tried questioning, reasoning, then expressing my confusion. There was really no reason except that he was terrified of singing in front of anyone, and had major performance anxiety that prevented him from singing. I remembered that anxiety had struck him before public performances, but it had never affected his lessons with me. So I honestly but gently told him that I could only help him with the song so far as he would let me, and if he would not sing, then we really couldn’t go any further with the music. He quietly agreed, his body wilting over his guitar.

I cried.

No tears trickled down my cheeks this time, but my eyes welled up and I had to turn away to compose myself. I could see the embarrassment, discouragement, and disappointment in his eyes.

If I wasn’t so invested in both of these students, I would not have cried.

Brendan’s success was due to his overcoming his obstacles. I was overjoyed to see his progress, because it proved that he had taught himself the most valuable lesson, that he CAN do what he sets his mind to do, and the look of triumph he gave was worth all the previous lessons of struggle.

Chase’s failure was due to him being plagued by one of his biggest obstacles: fear. As he looked at his music in defeat, I knew that this wasn’t really about me. It was about him being affected by a deep-seated, personal issue that went beyond music.

My unexpected tears came both times not because I was proud of what I had taught Brendan or disappointed at what I had not taught Chase. They came because I was reminded that the most important, powerful lessons a student learns come not from what the instructor teaches them, but from what they teach themselves.

*Both students’ names have been changed.

 

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A Different Kind of Easter Lesson, or What I Don’t Want to Teach My Child

On Saturday Harmony and I went to a local park after hearing that there would be an Easter egg hunt. She’d had a little practice already picking up a few Easter eggs, so I figured that with her cute basket that grandma decorated she’d have fun getting a few more. The Smarties candy she found in one of the eggs before had been a big hit!

Once there, it was evident that this was a big event. Hundreds of people crowded the cordoned off areas of a large soccer field. We found the designated area for one and two year olds (Harmony is twenty-two months) which had eggs neatly lined up in a straight row down the middle of a dining room-sized square surrounded by tape. Seemed simple enough! The bell would go off and the little ones would toddle into the area to get a few eggs, right?

I talked with Harmony about what would happen. She was excited to get the eggs, pointing out several yellow ones near the edge that she wanted (her favorite color). She held her basket and sat on my lap watching the other toddlers around her in various states of patience and impatience. As the bell was preparing to ring for the children to gather the eggs, the parents got their kids in ready position. I held Harmony’s hand next to the line.

The ringing bell startled the children. They all, including Harmony, looked momentarily surprised at the loud noise, many of them reaching for their parents for comfort. Then, to my shock, rather than reassuring their children that everything was okay, the parents instead began dragging the little ones into the ring, snatching up eggs to shove into their baskets, shouting “get them, get them! Pick up the eggs, quick! Grab that one before he gets it!” and causing utter mayhem.

Harmony dove for my arms, completely overwhelmed by the confusion. As I held her close, sitting on the sidelines, I saw only one child actively picking up eggs on her own. I was the only parent not hovering over the eggs. Several toddlers were crying as their mothers or fathers added eggs to their baskets. Within half a minute they were gone. Harmony and I sat bewildered. One woman came back and dropped two dented eggs into Harmony’s basket, saying that she saw my child hadn’t picked any up. I managed to thank her half-heartedly.

Fortunately, Harmony didn’t seem to care at all that she hadn’t participated. She was ambivalent to the two eggs given to her. I was feeling upset still, but once the crowd dispersed, Harmony calmed down quickly. We played on the playground nearby, talked with some new friends we met there, smelled the spring flowers, and enjoyed the swings. For my daughter, this was more exciting than an egg hunt, and it was a good reminder for me to see what really mattered to her.

Afterwards, I found out that several of the eggs had tiny X’s marked on them which meant that the child could exchange the special egg for a prize, such as a stuffed animal, bunny ears, or small toy. This explained a little more the mad dash for eggs that the parents had exhibited. But were their actions justified? Not in my mind. What exactly had been the point of the egg hunt?

As we prepared to leave, another volunteer offered Harmony a lollipop. Despite never eating a lollipop before (my child is super picky, even about candy), Harmony accepted it this time, and was soon happily licking away. She smiled at me as we left the park.

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