The Taboo Of Teaching

Not so long ago I attended a group gathering made of mostly natural learners and eclectic learners. It was a semi-structured activity for that day which was engaging and enjoyable for the majority. Being me and all about observation rather than smaller engagement, I noticed one child who, rather than leaving the circle because he wasn’t interested, insisted on staying and destroying others enjoyment in the activity. His mother commented ‘he doesn’t like to be taught’. Why then was this child compelled to stay? I got to thinking about this child and wondered if there was some extra motive that no one had noticed. Was he craving the knowledge in a different format perhaps? Was he subject to peer pressure or was it the fear of missing something which held him there? Was he really against teaching or was it just the label mother had placed on this child to excuse away his reaction in an easy to blame something else fashion? All of these questions came to me. Then I started thinking, well what is teaching, really? From this experience, these ideas came, I’m going to attempt to share a revelation I’ve had recently. It’s to do with the word teaching and what it implies to most unschoolers vs what it actually means.

Before delving into this topic after my experience, my understanding of unschooling was very much tainted by bias in the community away from teaching. This always rubbed me the wrong way because I have always loved listening to lectures (for those who don’t know, there is not much interaction in a lecture between pupils and teacher so they really are like a human book even more so when you watch them online and are not in the theatre) To me, good teaching has always been that. It’s like reading without all the effort lol. (Man! Do I dislike all that effort!) It took until this experience to realize that I have a different definition of teaching than the majority of the unschooling populace.

If you talk to most unschoolers and even delve further, to radical unschoolers you’ll notice a trend, they all cringe at the idea of teaching. That, on the surface, is no real surprise since the basis of this form of education is child led and intrinsically that means the child is doing learning and teaching appears to be mutually exclusive from that. (Please note, this is not to say they can’t occur at the same time, but that you can only be teaching something you already know and learning something you don’t know.)

I came across this quote from the father of unschooling, Mr John Holt. It reads,

“I doubt very much it is possible to teach anyone to understand anything, that is to say, to see how all the various parts relate to other parts, to have a model of the structure in ones mind”

It seems that even the great minds have it confused from my perspective, or at least the interpretation of these comments has been skewed out in the wider community.

To teach, by definition, means to impart knowledge… That’s it… Nothing more, like the human book I described earlier, a good teacher, (meaning one who is not corrupted in their teachings by either the schooling system’s true purpose or by forcing bias towards faith without observation) simply shares information. Learning however, is connecting the dots and is a very different thing. Learning appears to be what Holt is describing. His use of the words “to teach” in this context just don’t fit with the definition.

Teaching is not this big evil thing that all unschoolers seem to think it is, it has a purpose, the same purpose as a book, or a documentary, or a physical example of fact, to impart information and build on knowledge. The difference is a good teacher will not tell you how to connect the dots and more importantly, will not judge your abilities to connect dots in the same way as others anymore than an artist will tell you how to interpret their painting.

There’s also one more thing a good teacher will do… They will allow you to quit. Forced indoctrination of irrelevent subject matter is the big topic in unschooling that just begs for attention here because I believe this is what most unschoolers perceive as teaching, perhaps from their own experiences etc. You can put the book down, turn off the documentary or choose not to experience physical influence but (while your there at least,) society tells you it’s the end of the world if you quit school and for a short time (a child’s critical developing years) it’s even illegal and that falls under human rights violations. But one thing frequently gets overlooked here, and that’s the difference between teaching and this global system of education. They are not the same thing. One is a method of knowledge passing on and the other is an industry, church and government invented system to indoctrinate you with a set of beliefs about what they think you need or they could make money from.

Herein lies the problem for many unschoolers, they have been indoctrinated to believe they are one in the same. Ancient societies taught, they shared knowledge verbally, they imparted skill using physical experiences and examples, they role modeled. This is true to the principals of teaching. The consequences of not learning these imparted skills were real too. Not imagined up by the state like today, for example, the world leaving you behind if you don’t pass an exam. For them it was very real. Don’t learn how to be a good hunter or gather and you don’t eat. Don’t learn to get along with others and you won’t have their help. Did you know that ancient nomadic societies rarely had bullying or taunting? It didn’t work because people en mass would remove themselves from anyone who was toxic to their life without a second thought. The consequences of that were too great to risk so it just didn’t happen.

I’m a firm believer that there is no sense in reinventing the wheel, feel free of course to question how and why it works and you may end up on a tangent no one has discovered yet, but I do believe a happy medium exists when you take what is already known from others and apply it further in areas of curiosity specific to the individual. That would include being ‘taught’ in the traditional sense on occasion.

What are your thoughts on this taboo word in the unschoolers world or even its interpretation in the mainstream education system?

PROJECTS, PROJECTS and more PROJECTS…

Taking on a couple of big things at the moment.

One is the sunshine coast homeschool collective science day. Not hard to organize, a little bit of work collating info the stations but lots of funding needed. (hoping I win the $250 gift voucher from Australian Geograph shop hehe) We plan on selling some science gear back to the participants to help with the funding. Hopefully it will be the base of something greater for primary science in the homeschool community here.

And the other is the Kenilworth celebrates artisan market organizer. No real cost as such but a ton of work to do for that one. I had originally taken on part of the street performers section but having not seen the performers last year it was better left to someone who was more in the know and focus on something I’m more familiar with.

Then of course there’s stuff for our very own market stall, just found out that my insurance can be covered through the arts council seen as how I’m an active member YAY! will spend the time between the science day in late July and the arts festival building up stock and focusing on some promotions and proper business stuff before the big one (holding a stall at the Kenilworth celebrates event.)

Kids unschooly activities have also been expanding lately with the wee miss Katelyn really getting into busy bags and daddy is playing a bigger part in helping direct the kids with English studies. He is far more structured than I am but it’s good to see him getting more involved, the combination of both styles is working well for the kids and they adapt to whatever is happening at the time with relative ease.

Have a few graphic design projects in the works too. A couple of posters and digital flyers going out this week including one for a homeschool market (second hand resources, kids stuff etc) and one for the sale of our tradies trailer. Converted for camping use (was such a great rig on the back of our little Mazda2 for the 11,000km trip Perth to Cairns and back down to Brisbane) but itsa-goin’. Also working on a DL flyer for the car rally coming through town in July, that won’t be printed in house so gotta get it out soon. :/

Seniors week free digital photography basics is in the mix in there. We want to have another drumming day here this month, Kiall is performing fire twirling at the next unplugged evening, oh and apparently the arts council wants me to do the cert 4 in volunteering? Not sure where that fits in lol. On the extra groovy side we have my mum and dad coming over after all that to chill out and explore the coast some more. Hopefully we will get to Australia Zoo. 🙂

Anyway, thats the next few months for this unemployed mama. Hope your all well and the Aussie winter setting in isn’t freezing you all as much as it is us in this little valley lol.

From Becca xxx

Katelyn – A Walk on the Wild Side ;)

Crazy and kind rolled into one. Katelyn is very particular, things just have to be exactly how she likes them and for goodness sake, don’t mess with it! Out of my three children she was the slowest to verbalized her requests by a very long shot but the fastest to make her point heard with unbelievable volume and very clear gestures.

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Her birth was a natural one right up until the last five minutes, doctors were bored and wanted to go home I guess so they inflicted that suction cup on us. My adrenalin was so high (from the pain of that stupid thing coming off with force enough to shake the bed before it went on for a second time and yanked my child from my body) that I was in shock and shaking for what felt like forever. (Still a bit pissy at them for not following what I said when I came in and leave me the crap alone.) Anyway after that all settled, I cuddled and fed her for a bit (OMG! Yes I fed her), jumped up and into the shower, then cleaned the bathroom… My mama would be proud lol. I had to stay in the hospital for twenty four hrs which for us ment two days because of when she was born, I really hate hospitals, its a space issue, even with a room on my own I am very claustrophobic. Unfortunately (during pregnancy at least) I can’t avoid them, DH’s skull bones fused before birth and it’s genetic so bubs simply can’t be vaginally born if they have that. I was pretty naughty though and missed half of the appointments, why the crap do they need to check pee every firkin visit and freak out on me when I have to tell the current staff the same story over and over! Which incidentally is actually written in my file right there on the desk… “yes there is blood in my urine… It’s there because my kidneys are stupid and can’t tell the difference between blood and everything they are supposed to get rid of… No I don’t need more tests, it is that, I’ve had it forever… What do you mean I have to go pee again!… I need a coffee, I’m going now…” etc etc… Can see the marks on her wee lil head from that stupid thing twice over 😦

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Interlude: 2:03am OMG there’s dingos outside! They sound like a squabbling pack of hyenas and the cows are freaking out. Love it that Pete (the beef farmer who owns the place) doesn’t shoot or bait for the dingos etc. He’s had one calf taken but mostly they just pass through and take fox and rabbit which are both pests. Don’t know if he’s actually listed as organic but not much happens here with the cows apart from eating grass and running up and down hills.

Katelyn still had a pram for the times during the day when I wanted to rest too but was worn a lot around the house when I was busy. We received a lovely ring sling from a very dear friend and the wee miss K was quite happy to snuggle in for as long as she could (we called it a bubba pocket hehe) which made life a fair bit easier.

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I didn’t instantaneously give up on feeding her either. She was fed for four days solid (until she was getting more blood than milk) on the breast but received a combo of pumped and on breast time for four months till I stuffed up the pumping times etc and stupidly lost my supply in a matter of hrs. Grrrr!

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Katelyn, like her sister before her, room shared for a while, then tent shared for a while, then room shared again, then slept in the next room over (kept waking daddy and he was grumpy) then coslept in a sidecar cot with the wall off and now she is in with her big siblings… No wonder she can sleep anywhere lol. Oh and for those who don’t know, we don’t have bed times either, Katelyn took well to a more go with the flow approach to sleeping and it made for much more relaxed going to sleep parts of the day. She is also very proficient at stealing other peoples beds.

20130601-203844.jpgInterlude: 2:35am oh they are howling, now they sound cool… Not like squabbling hyenas lol. On the flip side, not so lol, they woke the wee miss up… :/ 2:45am am now holding iPad on shins and typing with left hand only due to small person taking over right side.

This crazy toddler is the most hyper-active learner I know. Yells incoherently a lot at random things and finds out exactly what things are by licking them… Though not highly verbal (with English words at least) it’s obvious she likes to play games when it comes to what she knows… Quite likes to pretend she knows less than what she actually does and argues (well more like just ignores what is said and repeats the wrong answer for questions over and over) with a big grin on her face just to get grown ups frazzled until they catch on its a game ;).

On the other end of the scale, she has grown into an extremely empathic and nurturing sort. She feeds the pets (and sometimes herself) every day without prompting and is always by the side of her siblings when they are upset, giving them cuddles and pinching their nose to try for the humor factor or bringing people plush kittens to cuddle cause the real ones scratch apparently.

Katelyn has also done BLW for most of her food and is a reasonably free range eater. (Very hard concept for us to reconcile with such a limited budget, but we try) She was also the only one of the kids to be mostly cloth diapered, though not right now as I’m too lazy to do that without having a washing machine (getting one tomorrow). It’s interesting that we ended up ticking most of the natural parent boxes after coming from such a vastly different background.

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Basically we went from being parents who knew nothing and were mostly mainstream sorts, to parents who have adopted a more natural approach through learning what worked and what didn’t (NOT by reading some strangers book!) to child rearing over the course of ten years. I think we have learnt a lot. More than either one of us will admit in public at least but we also know our journey isn’t done. There is still soooo much more to learn and we do that everyday, together with our children. We watch and we listen, they guide us in this parenting thing, not the other way around. We can offer some forethought from our path but that doesn’t define theirs. We can show them where the sun sets, but there are many ways to the horizon. It’s an interesting thing to watch a child grow both in age and self. I Remember when they were so tiny like it was yesterday. Now even the youngest is leaving my side to explore her path. Funny though, that I’m not bothered by that. I’m really excited for her, and the bigger kids. As always, curious as to what lies ahead. 🙂

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So what is this thing called education?

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That’s the point of it all really, humans are brilliant at collecting data and gathering knowledge. We have measures for everything, from the decay of atoms to measure time through to the activity of molecules to measure temperature. (I’m Australian and I’m talking Celsius/Kelvin) We have so much data that we actually have problems keeping it all accessible to study. (data from the accelerator at CERN is a good example) we file it, store it, compare and correlate it in an attempt to understand everything… Why? We could just as easily live without all that and be blissfully ignorant. Why then do we search for answers beyond even what the human senses can perceive? Why do we create vast machines who’s only purpose is to collect data and help us gain knowledge?

…Because its exciting, knowledge is like a drug to our brains, we crave it and function at joyful highs when we learn new things. The more we do it the better we get at it. We are capable of devoting our lives to this relentless pursuit that seems never ending, yet we are always hopeful we will eventually know it all.

I love those stories where you see 80 something seniors going to university just cause. They get it. Learning just for the joy of learning.

I love watching TED education animations with my kids and listening to the conversations that happen when they think I’m not there. They get it. Imagining, beyond what is immediately presented into some extended cavity of their brain that adults have lost to paying bills and working stressful jobs.

Craving knowledge is a life long thing, don’t be fooled by tests, peers and those delivering education that it ends when you leave school. That institution can occasionally show you some basics but it is, by no means, the full story.

Living outside that system (in part, whole or whatever format) gives young people the scope to experience education without walls and lets them incorporate that vivid imagination into their learning experiences without limit before they are faced with adult problems. Hell, maybe they can live a life without a few of those issues because of that imaginative ingenuity.

One can only hope…

To Market to Market

Just sharing some photos from the market and my arts council hat parade from the cheese wine and food fest here in Kenilworth.

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My half of the stall I share with Joy the jeweler 🙂

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The Kenilworth Kritta helping me sell some bunnies 🙂

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Joy in her Easter hat hanging with local VIP Kritta

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Winner Kate (needle felted mice chasing some cheese) and Kathy (crochet de pineapple)

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Some more stall bits!

My piece on the whole hat parade thing also got published in the local rag (Mary Valley Voice) which was kinda coolies for someone who flunked English hehe. Looking to Pomona or Imbil markets once my stock is built up again. (barely got enough for a card table left lol)

Hope you all are well
From Becca

Ps: Wishing my Oma a very big happy birthday for tomorrow, she makes lots of the crazy owl stock, three cheers! Happy Birthday Oma love from all of us. 🙂 xxxooo

Logan – The perpetual big brother and the reason we home educate.

Mummy- “so, tell me what you think of your big brother…”
Rhiannon- “he’s awesome and he makes sure I’m interested in Pokemon, and I feel happy for him cause he is happy”

Doesn’t sound very profound I know. Look past the obvious. She looks up to him, (making him worthy of being admired) he shares his interests and inspires her to learn what he knows, and he inspires happiness… that’s all pretty cool for a ten year old big brother.

He’s gentle and kind hearted, even at ten years of age, still loves mama cuddles and soft toys. He is never embarrassed to show his excitement and is the most caring big brother anyone could hope for. As I write this he is sitting with his youngest sister reading to her (albeit the science encyclopedia but hey, that still counts) he loves to sit and brush the little one’s hair and has a best friend in Rhiannon for life as he will always play on her level.

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There are lots of things though that I have done in the past with regards to this child that… Well… I wouldn’t say they are regretful choices, (I did the best I could with my circumstances and information I had at the time) , just things that I learnt from and have gotten better at over the years and with subsequent children.

It started with his birth, at 21 I was young and ill informed, I was given all manner of drugs during labour and had ten or so students in the room while I was under bright lights and on my back in stirrups giving birth, a doctor with a face shield who was barely my age caught my baby, Kiall was asked to cut the cord immediately and the doctor whisked him to the other side of the room to be checked and studied by the students before I could even say hello. I had horrid back pain for two years and a baby that I didn’t understand. I don’t remember much more of his birth, perhaps my brain has blocked it, I dunno. Anyway that immediate bonding that everyone talks about never happened with Logan. His birth was traumatic and scaring. I battled anxiety attacks for two years. (seven months of which I struggled with breast feeding mastitis, crying during feeding because of the pain was pretty common when I was at home particularly at night, I stupidly kept the feeds short when I was out to limit the pain which made it worse) we did what we were told and never gave in to our totally misunderstood child inc long hours of controlled crying and the occasional hit. Until I just said stop and finally gave myself permission to heal and make a solid effort to understand this child. I observed how kind he was and that all the frustrations up until that point were my own doing. It was scary to admit that to myself but at the same time I knew what was going on now so could address it.

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He was a gorgeous toddler, so cheerful and clever too, I remember he used to do fraction math with his lunch adding them, working out the numerator and denominator from the different cuts I made in a piece of cheese, food and crayon in hand (usually mushed together) and yelling out the answers with glee, then the fun part, subtracting into his mouth lol. His skills in mathematics and just getting the number patterns were always amazing to me. It wasn’t his only skill though, he had memorized all the major bones in the body by the time he was three and was a very lateral thinker with problem solving. I remember his granny (Kiall’s mum) taking him to a movie and telling me about something funny he did, (bare in mind he was three at the time). He had some food on his chin that a stranger in the theatre pointed out to him. His exclamation was “it’s my mandible” and that was that. We were also very poor at the time. (This is something we are no strangers to, currently have only $8 in our bank accounts and bills out the wazoo! But we survive) Kiall was volunteering four days a week at Oxfam. Our car got stolen and as I recall it took three fortnights to pay off our first pram, it cost $30. We made some of his toys out of rubbish save a few dinky cars and he used all my baby toys that my mum had saved for me for 21 years. 🙂

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When he was four we had Rhiannon, the easy baby but mostly because we learnt from Logan’s utterly confusing babyhood what didn’t work for us. Breast feeding was one major thing we avoided like the plague that time round and we switched from always using a pram and bub sleeping away to room sharing for almost two years and baby wearing more often. We took up our own version of baby massage from research on the net too which was lovely close contact considering we were not feeding via breast and we never hit or used controlled crying again.

Logan was so gentle with Rhiannon, admittedly he grew up overnight and was prepared for how to handle a baby from his gentleness with his soft toys (Oopi the cat is still with us today and a favorite of the wee miss Katelyn now days). He played with her all the time and always tried to console her if she was sad, helping her wherever he could. Rhiannon, even now really looks up to Logan and tries her very hardest to be just like him.

The time came for kindy and we decided to homeschool Logan on the basis that our recently moved in neighbours had amazing kids (the youngest eight out of ten were still at home so we knew them quite well and became good friends) and they were homeschooled. I know it’s a bit flimsy but if you knew these kids and their parents you would do the same. So we started off down the path of homeschooling kindy (in the traditional sense of school at home) We were just going to take one year at a time, see how we go. Logan thrived so well that year, he had so much fun and learnt at the same pace he did during his toddler years which was pretty fast, (I know the metaphor is common but it truly was like a little sponge in his brain).

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Then something happened, I don’t know what switched in my head but people were talking. About school, about having more friends, about further education, about registration. At the same time I ended up with a higher demand job (I had started as a volunteer then casual the year before) as an assistant manager working for OxfamShop. All these things came together and I couldn’t hold onto my first baby at home any longer. It felt pressured and too fast a decision for my liking. In amongst the confusion, my boy ended up at school.

He did ok there and made a couple of lovely friends (one of whom, even states apart he still talks of so fondly.) He was always described as caring and genuine by teachers and a few other parents. The kids however were a different story. Aside from the few delightful ones he made friends with, they were rude and just plain ol nasty to my daily tree hugging, talking to bugs gentle child. We heard stories of the local gangs as my husband was a shopping centre security guard by this time and even had death threats placed on our, now a toddler, Rhiannon because of his line of work.

We struggled as a family for a while, with both my husband and myself then working part time and only seeing each other in passing before the other had to go to work… I was determined not to put Rhiannon into daycare and Logan into before/after school care so consequently we lost touch with each other even living under the same roof and had some serious issues of resentment and family balance to sort out. The kids really suffered during that time, I missed things at school because I had to work and Rhiannon (although being cared for really well, largely by Kiall’s mum and my parents on weekends) was being dragged around like a rag doll from one place to another, protesting quite loudly in Rhiannon type fashion that she wanted to stay home with Daddy AND Mummy on numerous occasions.

Logan stayed quiet but you could see he wasn’t doing so well. He only cared about books and his close friends, arguing with his beloved little sister from being tired and over it all was much more common and the teachers switched from saying he was caring to always complaining he never did enough work, too distracted by, (from what I could tell) caring and listening to other people rather than completing written tasks (I actually think these are equally valid pursuits, why a teacher wouldn’t get that is beyond me, I would have thought connecting with other humans would rank pretty high as a valuable skills??). We actually bought into their crap for a while and split the kids from previously sharing a room to help him ‘concentrate on homework’ (and on not being with his sister?? I know, I don’t get it either, how does that even make sense?) This just wasn’t the little boy I knew, I felt powerless to help him all over again, others knew better… Telling me he will cope and get used to it and all manner of things that prevented him from being his genuine self. I never wanted those things for my children, I don’t want them to grow up hardened to the atrocities of the world, I want them to feel for others, cry for others, feel joy for others on a real level and then DO SOMETHING! Be inspired to change things not just perpetuate this decayed system. Gah! I’m ranting… Back to the story.

We eventually had his hearing tested and found out he was low tone deaf. Meaning he has trouble hearing when there is lots of background noise regardless of how loud it is. Sounds to me like a classroom would fall into that. Logan stayed in school until his third year when we finally got up the guts and pulled him out again.

By that stage he had another little sister to dote on and my goodness did he do just that. Logan though, had lost his love of learning. Outside of reading books he would not touch his previously beloved mathematics and writing was like a disease to him. It took a very very long time for him to just recover from public schooling but he was happy to be in the quiet of home. (how it was quiet with us borrowing kids from almost everywhere I will never get but he was slowly going back to his placid and fun self.)

Since then we have moved across the country away from the violence, city and sky rocketing rents. He has gone back to re-sharing a room with his sisters. (I know it won’t last forever but for now they are all happy) He has made some very cool friends again who just get him and his random quiet to hyper excitedness ways. He has rediscovered his love of sciences, still working on the math but he is still a little ahead and after ditching that stupid cursive font he is slowly coming back to writing again.

We have spent the last two years repairing our child and his faith in learning new things. Public school did not fit for him and probably never will fit for him and that is totally ok. I know better than a stranger in a class what is best for my child and I will ALWAYS have his best interests at heart more than any other human on the planet. Well aside from daddy. He’s kinda up there too, unless your taking about fire or chemicals that make a bang. There really is no telling with that man when dangerous fun in the name of science is involved. :/ I probably should have saved the chemistry for later lol. 🙂

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