Homeschooling in a Virtual Age

A few days ago we were driving home from a short trip to Gatlinburg, Tennessee and we got behind a U.S. Mail truck. I started thinking: Will there even be such a thing as a mail truck in 10 years?

Things are changing so fast in our world today I can barely keep up. The U.S. Postal Service? Going fast. Print journalism? Almost dead. Network and cable television news? Following on the heels of newspapers and magazines. Brick and mortar libraries, schools, and banks? Unnecessary. Retail shopping? Changing so quickly our heads are spinning. (Ever heard of Apple’s beacon technology  or Amazon’s Prime Air?)

 The Information Age that astounded us yesterday is being superseded by the Virtual Age, a time and place where people can no longer observe the world from the sidelines. Knowing how to interact and move forward in such a rapidly changing virtual world takes a cool head and a keen mind. This doesn’t just hold true for business and political leaders, but for parents, students, and rank-and-file employees as well. Average citizens and good employees used to be able to get by just by following rules and obeying orders. Today, they must rewrite the rules, define the questions, and innovate the answers.

 Change is not an easy task for conventional schools to address. Institutions don’t switch gears easily. But home schools are different. They are small and flexible and unburdened by government regulation. They are run by people known to think for themselves and out-of-the-box. Homeschools are positioned to meet the demands of the new age our children will live in.

So, what are you doing different in your homeschool to prepare your children for this rapidly changing new world?

 A good place to start is to evaluate the kind of learning going on in your homeschool. We shouldn’t just be throwing information at our kids anymore and hoping it will stick. Our kids need to go much deeper. They need to learn how to think.

In education, we have a model for cognitive learning called Bloom’s Taxonomy of Educational Objectives. The goal of Bloom’s Taxonomy is to define the goals of education and present a hierarchy of learning that demonstrates how students should be progressing from low-level, basic cognitive tasks to higher, more complex forms of thinking. The original pyramid model (below) was introduced more than 50 years ago. Almost every trained educator has been using it in one form or another to evaluate curriculum and learning ever since. 

blooms_old

 As illustrated by the pyramid, the lowest level of learning is the knowledge level. Sometimes referred to simply as “remembering,” learning at this level happens something like this: 

Teacher: “See that tree? That is an elm tree. Now, what kind of tree is it?”

Student: “It is an elm tree.”

In other words, if students can memorize and regurgitate information then learning has occurred at the knowledge level. Ninety-five percent of what goes on in schools, even homeschools, happens at the knowledge level. The remainder happens at levels 2 and 3 (comprehension and application).

However, in our current world, people must learn to think and function at levels 4, 5, and 6 (analyzing, synthesizing, and evaluating). There is so much rapidly changing information coming at us so fast and in so many different ways, all of it critical to the well-functioning of our businesses and homes, that we must get very good at sorting and processing. It’s the only way we can find successful pathways through the world around us and make sound decisions about the future.

In response to the changing realities of the world around us, associates of Bloom have revised the original taxonomy. You can see in the new depictions below that the six levels of learning have been renamed, and the pyramid has been inverted to illustrate the need to commit increasing amounts of classroom time to learning at higher cognitive levels.

Revised_Bloom_Pyramids

In traditional schools, it’s difficult to build environments and teach lessons that inspire and promote advanced cognitive skills. But, in homeschools, it’s natural and easy. In my next blog, I’m going to share some practical ideas and simple solutions that have helped other homeschooling families build children who are creators and innovators, not just “rememberers.”  

Until next time…Be fearless.

 

“Old School” Homeschooling in a Modern World

I count myself lucky that I became part of the modern homeschooling movement in its early years.

I began homeschooling almost 20 years ago, just one year after homeschooling became legal in every state. The people who taught me how to homeschool at the time –the people who wrote the books and magazine articles and spoke at homeschool conventions –had cut their teeth and learned their craft in a difficult environment, often under threat of criminal prosecution. The result? Like pioneers in any movement, the people who taught me how to homeschool were people of strong conviction and purpose. They were bold and brave. They were well-organized and political. As a group, they were different from today’s homeschoolers.

I often refer to the style of homeschooling I learned 20 years ago as Old School Homeschooling. There are two strong characteristics of Old School Homeschoolers.

1. Old School Homeschoolers know WHY they homeschool.

If you are going to take risk and buck the system to do something, you are generally driven by a strong belief in what you are doing and why you are doing.it. Early homeschoolers didn’t just drift out of conventional schools because their children didn’t get placed in a certain class, or they wanted flexibility in scheduling, or there was a shooting in a far-away place. They didn’t see homeschooling as an “alternative” to traditional schooling or just one good choice out of a number of possible choices. They had a strong conviction that homeschooling was extremely right and good and that conviction is what kept them going in the face of hostile school officials and unsupportive friends and families.

When I started homeschooling, discussion among homeschoolers often focused on teaching approaches, styles, and philosophies. Instead of coveting the Rainbow Resources catalogue, with its thousands of pieces of homeschool curriculum, people subscribed to homeschool catalogues put together by homeschool parents sharing their favorite resources for their unique way of homeschooling their children.

One of the favorite homeschooling catalogues for my generation of homeschoolers was put out by The Elijah Company, run by Chris and Ellen Davis. This thin catalogue published on newsprint featured very little curriculum, but lots of words of wisdom about how to homeschool. Chris Davis wrote often about the many approaches to homeschooling – unit studies, principle education, classical education, etc.—and he always exhorted homeschooling parents to think about what they were doing and why they were doing it BEFORE they set out to do it.

I used to read Chris Davis’ homeschool catalogue from cover to cover, as did most of my homeschooling friends. All of us subscribed to other family-run homeschool catalogue companies as well. In fact, you could often tell what kind of homeschooling a family did by what catalogues they subscribed to.

Twenty years ago almost every homeschool mom could pinpoint and explain her educational philosophy. Today, most homeschoolers define themselves by what curriculum they use.

 2. Old School Homeschoolers care more about home, than school.

Old School Homeschoolers know and value their educational philosophies, but they care even more about the environment and atmosphere where education takes place.

The homeschool veterans who were teaching me how to homeschool were constantly saying things like this to me: “Don’t frustrate you children.” “Let love permeate your homeschool.” “Explore your children’s interests.” “Don’t bore your children or pressure your children.” “If you love your children and just give them a little guidance, everything else will fall into place.” “Relax.”

Once someone handed me a cassette tape (yes, I said “cassette”—it was a long time ago) and the speaker on the tape referred to homeschool moms who forced or pressured their children to learn as “bullies.” Yikes! Not everyone agreed with this statement, but people listened. They got the point.

When I first started homeschooling, the word “KONOS” was a flashpoint among homeschooling moms. Technically, KONOS was/is a unit study curriculum, but it’s really more than that. KONOS embraces an atmosphere for learning where children and parents explore and interact with the world around them.

KONOS published (and is still publishing) huge books of hands-on learning activities that families can engage in together. The activities are loosely connected by themes, hence its classification as a unit study.

In my first year of homeschooling I attended a “How to Homeschool” seminar led by a homeschooling mom who used the KONOS curriculum/approach. I sat there mesmerized as the woman clicked through slides of her family engaged in KONOS activities. There were pictures of her family making costumes, putting on shows, eating their favorite international foods, engaged in arts and crafts activities, etc. My mind kept shifting back and forth from the engaging and fun KONOS activities captured on the slides to my own, dull classroom experiences as a student and school teacher. I knew instinctively that this woman was on to something. THIS is what I wanted for my home and my children.

KONOS was a controversial topic among homeschool moms because, truth be told, every homeschooling mom, deep down, wanted to be a KONOS mom. The problem was it took a strong commitment of time and creativity to do it. So, while many wanted to be KONOS moms, there were only a few with the energy to carry it out.

I was one of the many moms who never really mastered the art of being a KONOS mom. Still, the tug was always there and it sparked an openness and understanding about learning that kept me on the right track.

Yesterday I participated in a huge homeschool book sale. There were hundreds of buyers and sellers. In the morning, I dropped off 225 items to be sold and, when I returned 10 hours later, I had sold most of them. But, lying there on the top of the stack of books that hadn’t sold, was my KONOS curriculum. Nobody wanted it. Perhaps most of the buyers had never even heard of KONOS.

What distressed me about this is not that homeschoolers don’t do KONOS anymore. Afterall, I never really did it either, at least not well. What saddens me is that KONOS, and everything that curriculum embodied, really isn’t part of the discussion anymore. Neither are the other educational styles and approaches that made homeschooling such a an excellent choice and perfect fit for almost every family.

Old School Homeschoolers believe homeschools should be bold and beautiful and as different as the philosophies and personalities of the parents who lead them. They do not want homeschools to simply be different shades of the same, nondescript color. If you agree, I have a cheap KONOS book I can sell you.

Until next time…be fearless.

Taking Care of Trouble in the Schoolyard

I was listening to the radio recently when I heard a commercial about schools that made me sit up and take notice. The commercial was dire and disturbing. Here’s what I heard:

“Today in school I learned a lot.  In chemistry I learned that no one likes me.

In English I learned that I’m disgusting. And in physics I learned that nobody loves me.

Today in school I learned that I’m ugly and useless. And in gym, I learned I’m pathetic and a joke. 

In history, I learned that I’m trash.

 Today in school I learned that I have no friends. In English I learned that I make people sick.

 And at lunch I learned that I sit on my own because I smell.

 In biology I learned that I’m fat and stupid.

 The only thing I didn’t learn in school today is why nobody helps.”

A few words at the end of the commercial revealed that this was a public service announcement about bullying in schools. It encouraged parents to teach their children how to stop it.

What? Really?

If your child is so bullied in school that he is learning he is “a piece of trash,” this is not the time to try to change the culture or the system. This is the time to extricate your child from it. It’s time for an emergency directive, a protective order, a drastic solution, whatever it takes to keep a child safe and sane. Parents shouldn’t fiddle around with a “tweak” or a “try” at such a time. An immediate solution is the only answer.

Bullying is a real problem with real consequences. It affects almost every child to some degree. I had a child who was bullied. I was bullied. My parents and grandparents and great grandparents were probably bullied.

Schools are breeding grounds for bullies because they are places where children are desperately seeking attention, love, and support. As parents, we need to handle bullying at school with critical care. In the beginning stages we can be cautious and creative in our response, allowing our children to carry most of the responsibility for dealing with the bully. But we need to be prepared to escalate our response and level of action to match the severity of the situation, even if we have to yank our children out of school to solve the problem.

Severe bullying is nothing less than an emotional beating. If someone were beating you with a stick, would you wait around to see what happened next? Would you look around to see if any onlookers cared enough to join you in the fight? Would you try to reform the bully? No. You would (and should) run like the wind. Emotional beatings are even more insidious and lasting than physical ones. Bruises fade away, but emotional scars take far longer to heal.

A couple I am close to has been walking with their daughter through a bullying situation at school for the past several years. When parental advice from home proved insufficient to turn the bullying situation around, the mother went to the school and tried to change the system. She even started a bullying club. Good for her. When that still didn’t improve the situation, she took her daughter out of school. Even better.

This is what good parents do. They get involved and they get active. They don’t wait for life to drop a heavy, irreversible blow on their kids. They stay ahead of the curve.

Another beautiful story about how to handle school bullies was recently told on Britain’s Got Talent. Thirteen-year-old Leondre Devries was bullied at school and he rapped about his experience on the show. Check out the first verse of the song he wrote:

“Please help me God, I feel so alone.

I’m just a kid, how can I take it on my own?

I’ve cried so many tears writing this song.

I’ve tried to fit in, where do I belong?

I wake up every day, don’t want to leave my home.

My momma’s asking me why I’m always alone.

Too scared to say, too scared to holler

I’m walking to school with sweat around my collar.

I’m just a kid. I don’t want no stress.

My nerves are bad. My life’s a mess.

The names they call me, they hurt real bad.

I want to tell my mom, She’s having trouble with my dad.

I feel so threat, there’s nowhere to turn.

Come to school, don’t want to fight, I want to learn.

So please Mr. Bully, tell me what I’ve done.

I have no dad. I’m living with my mom.”

Leondre endured four years of bullying, hiding it from his mother for most of that time. But, thankfully, his song didn’t end with the first verse. Because his mother found out about the bullying. That’s when things started to turn around. First, Leondre stood up to the bullies. Then he changed schools. There was no ignoring the situation. Things had gone too far. It was time for action.

At the new school, Leondre is not bullied and he is happy. That’s why his beautiful song with the anti-bulling message ends with this lovely chorus:

I’m hopeful, yes I am, hopeful for today.

Take this music and use it. Let it take you away.

And be hopeful, and He’ll make a way

I know it ain’t easy, but that’s OK.

Just be hopeful….

This performance on Britain’s Got Talent brought the judges to tears and inspired Simon Cowell to press the golden buzzer, an action reserved for just one artist each season who the judges feel deserves the right to be catapulted from a lower round directly to the live finale. That finale is this Saturday night and Leondre is a favorite to win. I’ll be rooting for him.

If you want to be inspired and “hopeful for today,” check out Leondre’s original performance here.  It’s heartfelt and moving and a testament to the great things that can happen when good parents get involved and are willing to do whatever it takes to help their children.

Until next time…be fearless.