Read on for more about education, tutoring, and learning.
Last night I paid our cable company to reinstate our access to the Oprah Winfrey Network just long enough to watch Our America with Lisa Ling, which was doing an episode about "Extreme Parenting." Ling interviewed four families: wealthy "tiger" parents who pay $40,000/year/child for a year-round high-pressure school, unschoolers who allow their four children to learn through self-motivated pursuits and field trips, a father focused on his high schooler's NFL prospects, and the pageant-minded mother of two toddlers.
It was frustrating to see the show try to generalize about multiple educational philosophies over the course of only one hour (minus the time spent on commercials), especially given the small sample size. It was hard for Ling to provide a balanced view of the four approaches in such a limited time.
Ultimately, all four parenting methods seemed to raise one question: What are you willing to have your children sacrifice to ensure their well-being?
- The tiger parents gave up their children's freedom and free time for the sake of their "success" in graduate school and beyond.
- The unschoolers gave up their adherence to mainstream educational expectations to allow their children immediate happiness and, they hoped, the ability to maintain their passion for learning long-term.
- The NFL father mandated a path for his son in the hopes that the discipline would allow his child to beat the odds and make it farther in life than he (the father) did.
- The pageant mother took liberties with her children's happiness (they resisted the pageant preparation) and health (she used candy as a drug to energize and control them) to prepare them for a world where beauty queens get ahead.
While I bristled at some of what the tiger parents did, I felt that their methods could still lead to children with basically sound values. But I found the pageant family's approach very troubling. It saddened me to see them putting a spray tan on a crying toddler and popping what looked like Sweet Tarts into their daughter's mouth to help her stay "wild" enough to attract the judges' attention. The parent of a slightly older (elementary school-age) pageant participant seemed to be pouring an energy drink between her painted lips. It was heartening to see a commercial that indicated there will be follow-up with the pageant family next week and that the mother may be giving up the entire endeavor.
I don't think there's just one right approach to parenting or to education, but I do think that every family can strive for the same outcome, which is to have children who approach their family's educational philosophy feeling enthusiastic, engaged, and appreciative--and who feel that it's leading them toward a desirable outcome, whatever that may be. Based on the show's brief exploration of these four families, my impression was that the unschoolers and the footballer were the children who best met these criteria. Again, that doesn't necessarily mean these families are following the ideal system for their own children or anyone else's--just that they must be somewhat in tune with their own children's needs, which is a valuable goal.
Thanks so much to St. Patrick's Episcopal Day School (K-8, DC) for the well-organized book event yesterday! A great group of parents packed into a classroom to hear my presentation about tutoring, and they asked smart questions. I'd like to adapt parts of the Q&A here, for everyone's benefit:
Q: How do I encourage a distractable student to stay on task when I'm out of the room?
A: Ask your child how long a particular task should take. Then set a timer and challenge your child to see whether he can finish by the time it goes off. You can set your own alarm and check back at intervals (and at the end of the time) to see if the time pressure has helped your child stay focused. This can also help your child develop time management skills and a more accurate sense of how long particular tasks take.
Q: My child works too quickly. How do I teach him/her to slow down and check his/her work?
A: If your child consistently rushes--for example, when working on math problems--ask him to talk you through the process of completing a problem. As you do it, model the pace that you think is appropriate. Then ask him to teach you how to check your work. Do so slowly and deliberately, doing the process while speaking the language that you want your child to be using in his head while reviewing. It can be hard to TELL a child how to slow down, but he may change his speed if you SHOW him how you'd do it.
Q: When my child reads a book that I haven't read, what's a productive way to engage him/her in conversation about it?
A: You can certainly try, "Tell me about your book," but if you want to get more specific with your questions, allowing your child to think about the reading in a new way, you can attempt these as well: "Would you recommend this book to me? To students of a certain age or interest? Why?" "Who's the main character and what does he/she want?" "Is there something that's standing in that character's way?" "Did you think this author has a particular way of writing?" OR "Do you think you could identify this author by his/her writing? Is there something unique about it?" Asking more directed questions will allow your child to create focused responses, which will be a useful skill to have when responding to writing prompts or just trying to make a concise point in conversation.
I ran out of time at the event, so I didn't get to recommend two other ideas for reading matter. One is the book I recently raved about, Guerrilla Learning. The other is The Teacher's Calendar, an annual publication that lists each day's historical, literary, and cultural anniversaries. It's a good resource for parents and children, providing fodder for interesting, timely, and educational conversations. Enjoy!
For the past several months, I've been posting links to education resources on my Facebook and Twitter pages. I'm categorizing all the links here, for easy access. I hope you find these useful. I'll plan to update and organize this list as I accumulate links. (Last updated 12/1/11)
My First Classical Music App ($4.99)
BLOG ARTICLES, OTHER PEOPLE'S
BLOG ARTICLES, THIS BLOG'S
Math for Grownups, by Laura Laing
"DC parents choosing to home-school their children" (includes names of support organizations)
It's rare for me to wholeheartedly endorse a book as being important enough that every parent should read it, but I've just finished one that's as close to that designation as I'm ever going to find. It's Guerrilla Learning: How to Give Your Kids a Real Education With Or Without School, by Grace Llewellyn and Amy Silver.
I don't even know where to start. I think I highlighted most of the book. I just tried to go back through my Kindle to figure out what parts of the book I should write about, and it seems I marked 265 passages, some of which are multiple pages long.
Basically, Llewellyn and Silver make the point that, even if your children are enrolled in school, you can go a long way toward improving their educational experience with your own positive influence and support. (Yes, I partly like their book because it reminds me so much of my own.) After laying out their thoughts on what doesn't work about the traditional school system and why you should stop stressing about "high-stakes" testing and other fabricated perils of mainstream "education," they go through each school subject area (science, math, history...) and provide suggestions for how to naturally and dynamically engage your child in that subject. Their resource lists provide an incredible collection of books that you might want to read next.
This book is applicable for anyone with children, no matter what types of school they do or don't attend.
Llewellyn is renowned for her pioneering work in the homeschooling and unschooling worlds. She's the mastermind behind the Not Back to School Camp, for unschooled teenagers, and the author of The Teenage Liberation Handbook: How to Quit School and Get a Real Life and Education and Real Lives: Eleven Teenagers Who Don't Go to School Tell Their Own Stories.
After investigating the difference between homeschooling and unschooling, I was curious about the definition of radical unschooling. To get one educator's take, I read Radical Unschooling: A Revolution Has Begun, by Dayna Martin. Here's Martin's definition:
Radical unschooling, which expands unschooling philosophy to parenting, means you extend that same trust to other areas of your child's life, like foods, media, television, video games--allowing them to eat, play, or watch whatever they want when they want.
This method requires the parent to trust that a child who is allowed to pursue his or her own passions (and, in many cases, his or her own schedule) will naturally focus on activities that have educational value. The educational value of an activity may not be immediately obvious, but the idea is that children innately know what they need, so bouts of television viewing or video game playing that might trouble a non-unschooler are instead looked on as beneficial and natural.
There were some parts of Martin's book that made me hesitate--she's a proponent of the Law of Attraction--but others appealed to me. Namely, Martin's description of a good unschooler was remarkably similar to my vision of a good parent-tutor:
My job is to expose them to as much of the world as possible from as many resources as possible, so they can realize and pursue their interests.
Martin then provides a list of resources, all of which would also be used by a creative parent-tutor: "internet, television, books, video games, day trips, vacations, community resources, and apprenticeships."
Does tutoring differ from unschooling? I suppose it does in that a parent-tutor may be providing support for a school subject that a child does not particularly want to study. But both the parent-tutor and unschooling parent are striving to help their children learn how to learn. More than that, they're helping their children how to LOVE learning how to learn.