Freedom

Youth is not wasted on the young. Adults are taking it away from them.

At least once per week, my sons each mumble the same phrase to me.  It might be on the way to school, still sleepy and wishing they could go back to bed.  It might be after a long day of sitting, practicing, repeating and testing, with very little play or physical activity.  It might be in the evening when I ask them to sit down and work on their book logs or worksheets.  It might be when they realize at bed time on Sunday nights that they have to get up in the morning and do it all over again in the weekdays ahead.

Mom, I don’t want to go to school anymore.

It is not that they hate to learn.  They embrace it at home – experimenting, building, talking, creating, researching, and exploring.   More than once I have seen a nugget of enthusiasm about a science lesson at school that involved an experiment or they come home bubbling to tell me a story about a notable person in history who made a difference in the world.  And then there are the moments of pride when they bring home good grades.  They know how important good grades are in the system they are in.

But the bulk of their days is spent doing work they don’t enjoy in a compulsory environment that they dislike.

Day in. Day out.  More of the same. Read. Calculate. Compute. Recite. Test. Repeat.

And I, like the supportive parent I am and want to continue to be, just smile and say that I understand, but it is important to go to school and learn.  I am telling the truth.  It is important to learn, but it feels hypocritical.  I now believe that there is a better way to teach my kids and I have not been able to bring it to bear for them yet.

This is their childhood.  It is the one time in time in their lives that they are supposed to be free.  They are supposed to play.  Yes, they are supposed to learn, but in this day and age, when we do not depend on seasonal harvests, when most families can relieve their children of hard labor, they should be allowed to be kids first.  They should be exploring, testing the limits of their abilities, following crazy, fun, silly and outlandish lines of thinking, randomly asking questions when they are curious and vegging out when they need it.

We need to change how we treat them as children, especially the ones who are miserable.  (If a kid is thriving in the current system, that is terrific, but I would submit that many kids who are doing “well” are not going to be prepared to do well as adults.)

Youth is not wasted on the young.  We are stealing it from them.  We need to give it back to them and let them use it to become the adults they are meant to be.

Advertisements

Around the web: Perspectives from a parent, Peter Gray and Dr. King, Jr.

Here are a few items I found interesting about free, democratic and Sudbury education from around the web.

Enjoy!

Parent Perspective: “Have you lost your mind?”

Truth.  I am a little surprised that the reaction from friends and family to the idea of starting a Sudbury school has been wholly positive.  And for those whose reaction is a little doubtful, they are helping me to improve my pitch about starting the school.

Most of the people I have shared the concept with have asked questions and smiled. Some nodded and moved onto to other topics or wished me the best of luck.  And then there were the ones whose eyes lit up, who see this as the school they have been looking for their son, daughter, grandson or granddaughter.  They want to know more.  When will it open?  Where will it be?  How much will it cost?  What happens when you finish with your Sudbury education?

I was expecting something different.  In talking with other founders who have launched a Sudbury School, each has shared with me the stories of adults who have had an overtly negative reaction to the idea that kids can be in charge of their own education.  Some got downright angry.  A few even tossed out threats.

For those of you who are considering Sudbury for your child, or are planning to support the decision of a family member or friend to embark on this journey, be prepared for the negative nancy to come along and blurt out, “Have you lost your mind?”

It is for you that I share this essay borrowed from Johanna Schmidt, a longtime Fairhaven School parent and author.  I have copied the text from the Fairhaven School blog.

Are You Thinking Sudbury Parents Must be Insane?

Back when both of my children went to a highly rated public Montessori School, I occasionally ran into acquaintances whose children attended Fairhaven School.  I smiled and nodded politely as they described the model of this “free school” where the kids decided to do whatever they wanted all day, while thinking “Are you CRAZY?”  I couldn’t believe that any intelligent and loving parent would take such a risk with their child’s education.  Didn’t we all agree that solid education was the only way a person could accomplish anything in this mad world?  Were their children sad misfits who simply couldn’t survive other more conventional models of schooling or were they (the parents) impossible idealists completely cut off from reality as we all know it?

Understand, I am a career educator, started teaching right out of college and never fully stopped.  I have taught in public schools, private schools, taught adults, children, and currently teach and administer a program at University of Maryland, partially because I want to be able to afford to send my children there someday.  So I have a lot invested in the world of education as we know it.  If it’s all a big mess than what on earth have I been doing all these years?  If kids don’t actually need teachers, then surely college-age students don’t need me.  How threatening is that?

So.  Here’s what happened.  My eldest son B, got up to 7th grade, where the high-performing public Montessori school took especial pride in preparing a high percentage of their students to successfully test their way into the math and science public magnet school in our area that has the reputation (there’s just no other way to say it) of being the ONLY option for people who can’t afford private school.  We were told that all the 7th graders would be doing between 30 and 100 math problems a night, in homework, in order to increase their prowess and take their rightful places as rulers of the planet.  And I broke.  I snapped.  I couldn’t see it, couldn’t do it, couldn’t subject my child or my family life to it, suddenly thought “Good grief, K-12 is all institutionalized academic rigor and stress and tests, then University is more institutional academic rigor and stress and tests….what kind of education is that, really?” and I compared my own paltry schooling but extremely happy childhood with the one I was providing for my son, shook my head in disgust, and began looking for alternatives.

One thing led to another and I found myself on the back porch at a neighborhood party while two enthusiastic parents related how their son, who had been miserable at a neighborhood public school, actually enjoyed going to Fairhaven, was happy and acting more responsibly at home, and was occasionally cooking them eggs for breakfast without even being asked!  Will you think less of me if I admit it was the promise of my progeny becoming some sort of unpaid cook/housekeeper that made me start to listen?  And once I started listening and entertaining dangerous thoughts, I couldn’t stop.  Then I visited the campus and I was sold.  I wondered “How could a place that feels so good be bad for my sons?” In retrospect, I wish I had had the emotional courage to ask myself years before, how could a place that felt as bad as their former school felt, possibly be good for them.

My husband and I took a deep breath, clutched each other’s hands, and in the face of more raised eyebrows than you can shake a power point presentation at, we jumped off the educational cliff.  That’s what it felt like to me, enrolling at Fairhaven.

The first thing I noticed was different about B. after he started at Fairhaven was that all of his health problems evaporated.  Asthma, allergies, digestion problems, all of which he had suffered for his entire K-6th grade years.  All gone. He didn’t take many classes that first year, and that really freaked me out.  But he was happy and healthy, and my husband and I decided maybe we were just giving him a well-needed break.   He was doing such interesting things and had great friendships so I knew it wasn’t an entirely bad move, but we weren’t complete believers yet;  I kept worrying about my son’s pathway to college.  I couldn’t see it. If I list for you here my son’s involvements and accomplishments, and why I now believe my son will be able to create a future for himself, it will sound an awful lot like bragging, and B. will not allow me to publish this blog.  He’s a thoughtful, modest fellow and would prefer to impress you in person. If he chooses to go to college, he’ll go.  I can see that now. He’s fourteen.  Why, I ask myself, why, why, why did I think I should be able to see it any sooner?

Parent Perspectives: A life of learning

This is my typical day.  I awaken, shower, get dressed, eat something and brush my hair and teeth and help my little guys do the same (although my husband shoulders more of the morning work than I do, by far – thanks, honey!)  I drive to work, after dropping off my son at school.  I sit at a computer, send messages, prepare memos and reports and answer questions.  I plan events, figure out how to solve problems and communicate with colleagues, clients and fellow professionals.  After the day, I move through a well-choreographed dance of kids’ activities and assignments, all the while running a direct selling business and this blog.   Occasionally, I even find time to read books for pleasure, do projects, watch TV or play games.

When I read this list, I am struck by how so many of the skills needed to do these things were learned outside of my traditional schooling.  My mom taught me the basics of personal hygiene and domestic duties.  My dad taught me to drive. I am self-taught with the skills needed to send an email or design a visual presentation.   I sought out the training needed to learn to plan an event or advocate for my company.  I took advantage of training offered in my community or workplace, and if could not find what I wanted there, then I went further to look on-line or to gather information from others who I admire.

I am not done learning.  I am hungry to learn more.  I am finishing up a class on-line for a new crafting skill.  I listen to audio books in my car.  I watch videos or news shows to get caught up on current events or dig deeper into something I have come across during the day that interests me. I sign up for lectures, attend luncheons and read blogs.

The core skills of reading and writing were learned in school and for that I am grateful, but my learning did not start in preschool, nor did it finish at the end of my schooling days. It began the day I was born and continues even now, as I learn how to prepare this post. It is a journey and every day brings new information to digest and choices to make.

That is lifelong learning.

Destination-unknown

As humans, we are wired to want to learn.  In fact, some might say that it is essential that we do.  Gerald Fischer, of the Center of LifeLong Learning and Design at the University of Colorado, states,

Lifelong learning is an essential challenge for inventing the future of our societies; it is a necessity rather than a possibility or a luxury to be considered. Lifelong learning is more than adult education and/or training — it is a mindset and a habit for people to acquire.

But who is instilling that in our kids?

Nowadays, kids sit passively in school, receiving information that is usually not relevant to the real world.  For the record, I do not believe that is because the system is out of touch, but because the system is too massive and bureaucratic to keep up. It takes months or years to affect change and in the mean time, kids are growing up and aging out, unprepared for what is expected of them or needed from the modern work place.

Fischer uses a great analogy that really hit home for me.  Right now, choice in traditional education is the equivalent of a television with 100+ channels.  A passive watcher can pick one of the many channels, but the information provided is static and someone else decides what content to use.  Yes, we can switch the station, but we are still a passive recipient of the information, no matter what channel we pick. Worse yet, we are couch potatoes, staring at a screen, just watching and watching.

In the real world, we want people to get up off the couch and engage.  We want them to actively learn and challenge the way things are done to see if we can do them better. And with new information being poured out into the world with each passing second, we want people to be adaptable, to make proactive choices, to fail fast, to grow and prosper.

If we expect that of them at age 18 or 22 or 30, then we need to teach them how to do that when they are children. We need to give them the freedom to learn what they want so that they can determine where they’ll find their place in the world.

That is what “free schools” offer.

The Philly Free School shared these thoughts,

The students decide what to learn and when to learn it, every day.  The school IS its students, situating it forever in the now and the yet to be. I can think of no other way that a school can hope to keep up with the rapid pace of change in the 21st century. They are poised for whatever comes next, because they ARE what comes next.

If you are thinking that your kids should be more in control of what and how they learn, Sudbury might be a fit for your family.  Join us this Sunday, January 11, at 3:00 pm to learn more about the efforts to open a Sudbury model school in North Florida.  Click here for details.

Around the Web: Village Free School article and more

A Portland school is changing lives for kids ages 5-18 and The Oregonian has picked up the story.

I love this bit from one of the three founders at the school.

At the Village Free School, there are three foundational rules: take care of yourself and others, take care of our space and things and respect the freedom of others. Otherwise, students have active authority in what they learn and how they chose to spend their school day.

While not a Sudbury School, there a a number of similarities like student-led classes and age mixing, albeit within age groups.

Here are a few other items I have uncovered from around the web.

Minecraft, Candy Crush and mix tapes.

My kid loves Minecraft.

Every morning, I come down the stairs to find him building, battling, surviving in this weird pixelated world. I have tried to understand his obsession.  Heck, I even bought a book about how to play, but I admit, I don’t get it.

As the mom, when it comes to Minecraft, I thought it was my job was to:

  1. Strictly monitor and restrict them amount of time he spent playing.
  2. Watch out for cyber-predators and/or ultra-violent content.

Turns out that I may have only needed to worry about the latter of the two.

This past August, Forbes reported on the topic in an article entitled, “A Surprising New Study On How Video Games Impact Children.”  They share the findings of Author Andrew K. Przybylski, Phd., who conducted a study of “2436 male and 2463 female young people, ranging in age from 10 to 15 years.” The study is entitled “Electronic Gaming and Psychosocial Adjustment,”

…The findings do indicate “that electronic play has salutary functions similar to traditional forms of play; they present opportunities for identity development as well as cognitive and social challenges.” In other words, video games are comparable to other kinds of imaginative play.

Huh?  You mean all this time, there is a really good chance that I have been telling my kid not to PLAY at his favorite EDUCATIONAL activity in the world?

I know that play is critical, but I had just assumed that he needed to be outside with a ball or a bike, using Legos or creating with paints, paper and glue.

The Sudbury Valley School encourages kids to spend their time doing what they please.  That includes packs of kids playing video games in a social setting.  This is tough for some parents who are considering the Sudbury model.

If you are like me, you are asking yourself, “How will they learn anything?” and  “What if that is all they do?”  Their blog has a FAQ section that covers this popular topic.

[Some kids] spend tremendous amounts of time playing video games and [outsiders] see it as mind- numbing. We know – because we see the kids and we know the kids – that it’s the opposite of mind-numbing, that they only play a particular video game until they’ve mastered it and then they go on to something else. They also play in an extremely social situation with other kids, talking all the time, and they develop very deep social relationships. And we know that the kind of concentration they put into each video game is mind-building and not mind-numbing…

Video games like Minecraft foster creativity, ingenuity and social behavior.  Heck, even games like Candy Crush are beneficial to a point.  Adults who play have a chance to take a mental break and generate a small “win”, maybe a badly needed one on a tough day…so I have heard. (I might be on level 416.)

http://kretas95.deviantart.com/art/Minecraft-Wallpaper-426843152

Wallpaper from kretas95

In fact, Minecraft itself is getting notoriety for being an education tool.  In a recent online article, 2machines.com shares:

Through experimenting and working together, kids begin to develop skills in creative thinking, math and geometry, and even a bit of geology. And to complete large tasks, they need to plan a strategy, define goals and work together to execute and see the mission through — sort of like having a real job.

In fact, the Journal of Adolescent Research published a study comparing children that played video games to those that didn’t. “Video game players, regardless of gender, reported higher levels of family closeness, activity involvement, attachment to school and positive mental health,” Paul Adachi and Teena Willoughby, the authors of the study, concluded. “Video game players also had less risky friendship networks and a more favorable self-concept.”

What society deems is a waste of time has changed over the years and I am guessing we all have done something to fill the time that was not super-productive on the surface.  (Again, Candy Crush.)

Listening to music and making mix tapes was my “time-waster”, but it didn’t feel that way to me.  In retrospect, I can even find value in my hours and hours of hunching over the tape-recorder.  I learned patience (because I had to wait for the right song to come on the radio), organization (because I had to decide which songs I wanted, in what order and for what length of time on the cassette) and generosity (because we all know that it was the ultimate gift.)  Maybe it was not algebra or The Iliad, but I was having fun, I felt good about myself when I was making them, and I probably learned a thing or two.

I know that I have to re-frame how I see the role of video games like Minecraft in my house.

Lesson learned.

Child’s play

I asked my friends on Facebook about their favorite childhood memories and here are a few of the replies.

Steven said, “Playing outside until the streetlights came on…Riding my bike to the mini mart because it was two miles away, not on every street corner.”

From Holly, “Getting lost in the dense woods behind my house–climbing rocks, walking barefoot in the brook. And the slight fear of never really knowing if we (friends or siblings) would find our way out before dark.”

Erin shared, “Playing outside after school, building forts in the woods, playing kickball after dinner – flashlight tag etc. No worries.”

Tonia – “We swung on a rope from the tree, canoed and splashed in the lake, ate junk food, and played Milles Bournes and Nerds all night. When we biked home, it was all downhill, so we coasted, no hands, all cocky, but we sometimes braked because we were really whipping along the country highway.

And from Kimberly, “My mom would pick up a KFC bucket for dinner on the beach.”

Ask your friends.  Here is what I bet you’ll get.

Jumping into puddles and climbing trees. Building forts and acting out skits. Digging your toes in the sand or getting dirty in the mud. Board games and getting dressed up for no reason.

They remembered the joy of play…Activities with no “purpose” other than to have fun.

And therein lies the problem.  I look at my kids’ schedules and there is little room for real play.  They have school. Homework. After-school sports. Scouts. Academic computer assignments. Music lessons. Tutoring. I have signed them up for these things and, even though I have limited them to one sport and one other activity each week, they are slammed with stuff.

Play, and the freedom to do it how and when you want, is relatively non-existent for the modern kid – my kids are no exception.

, a child and adolescent psychotherapist and parenting expert, talks about play in a Huffington Post piece earlier this year.

“Many children lack sufficient time to engage in child-directed unstructured play. Children are so busy with academics and so overloaded with adult directed activities that they don’t have time to simply be children.

And she goes on to say that playing HELPS kids become better adults.

Through play, children learn to master their fears, assert their needs, process and cope with their emotions, and learn to get along with others. Play helps children resolve conflict and relieve stress.”

Yup.

The belief that play is critical and that kids should have more time to do it are two of the many reasons I was drawn to the Sudbury model of schooling.  I want my kids to learn, to be happy and to be productive members of society.  AND I want them to enjoy the process along the way.  I want their young lives to be joyful and interesting. And it turns out that allowing them encouraging them to play is a great way to do all of that.

Now I realize that the world of “Mayberry” is gone for most Americans.  No longer can you let your kid run around the neighborhood until the dinner bell is rung or the sun goes down.  But, we can create a space to allow kids to be kids.  There is plenty of time to knuckle down and be serious later in life, but childhood is fleeting.  Even if you have no interest in choosing a school like Sudbury, you can make an effort to create room for real play time in your kids’ week.

While we may not be able the replicate the literal freedom of the past, we can give our kids the time and space to make their own best childhood memories.