Many of the entries I write are made up of topics which are the result of reading articles or books on educational methods and beliefs, and then contrasting it to what I see around me in the homeschool/unschool community. This entry is no different, except this one is about how one such article caused a brief ‘school brain’ (as I like to call it) relapse and moments of panic. The new second in command of the DOE of New York City is a man born in South Africa and educated in the most liberal schools in the U.S. – both as a high school student in Michigan and then in college. He is all for testing, but not the kind of testing used now. The details given in the article are not that important except to say that they were very detailed and persuasive and made me feel slightly inadequate; one example of a possible test question had something to do with measuring the circumference of a drinking straw and the hole of the juice box into which it is supposed to fit, then writing to the juice box manufacturer to suggest improvements, etc. “Holy Cow”, I thought, “my kids can’t do that! ” Then public school brain kicks in and I begin to question everything we do, or don’t do. Am I handicapping my kids for life because they don’t know how to tell a juice box manufacturer that their straws don’t match the holes and how to improve that? Math equations begin flying around in my brain, accusing me of neglecting them, telling me what a bad parent I am for not making my kids sit down and learn them RIGHT NOW!!
So I calmly put the paper aside, took a deep breath and told my kids I was going out to Starbucks for a coffee. They nodded at me absently, caught up in their Gamestar Mechanic quest. 20 minutes of sub-freezing air and some caffeine later, sanity had returned. Mostly. I came back to the apartment and picked up my knitting. Maya put aside the computer and said, “I can’t wait till Friday.” To which I responded, “Because of the Big Apple Circus?” (we’re going to see it Friday with friends) “Well, that too, but really because the Coins for Change campaign starts on Club Penguin!” In case you don’t know, Club Penguin is a kids website and apparently they do a thing every year where kids can donate some of the coins they collect playing games and such on the website (which are not real but only virtual money – not paid for or anything). Then the people behind Club Penguin donate real money to real charities based on how many coins the kids gave. Last year kids donated over 3.5 billion on line coins, which translated into a LOT of real money (I don’t know the exact ratio of coins/dollar) going to everything from providing education and health care to underpriveleged kids to helping restore fragile ecosystems in various parts of the world. “I’ve got over 16,000 coins saved up!” Maya said, excitedly showing me the tally in her account. “I can’t wait!” (Ben was chiming in the entire time – “I have a lot too. Not as much as Maya. Maybe I’ll go on now and win some more!”)
That was all it took to dissolve the last of my anxiety. Something is going right when Maya and Ben get more excited about donating their ‘coins’ to charity than they do about going to the circus. Once I was able to turn off the school brain shouting, other things became apparent throughout the day. We are hiring new night dispatchers for our locksmith, and Maya has been going through the applications with me, asking me questions about what I’m looking for, what kind of people are good and why, etc. Today I interviewed seven people, and as soon as I walked in the door she wanted to know who I like and who I didn’t and why. She will announce that she isn’t ‘good at Math’, when I tell her just to tip the delivery guy three dollars over the total, but then when Ben asks a question about how much money he’ll have leftover if he spends ‘x’ amount from his $20, she doesn’t even hesitate before giving him the answer.
So when I go into school brain panic brought on by too much information – or sometimes propaganda – about the relative merits of a certain teaching/testing methodology, I have to remind myself to step back and look around. We don’t learn at school pace. We learn at life pace. Measuring circumference and diameter hasn’t come up yet. Being kind and generous to others, especially those less fortunate, has. As has how a business works and who works in it, and where they come from. In some things we are far ahead – in others we are probably average.
And again I refer to John Holt, from his great book How Children Fail,
“It is as true now as it was then that no matter what tests show, very little of what is taught in school is learned, very little of what is learned is remembered, and very little of what is remembered is used. The things we learn, remember, and use are the things we seek out or meet in the daily, serious, nonschool parts of our lives.”