Jacksonville

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.

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Parent Perspective: By the numbers…or not.

Around the world, millions of people waking up today and focusing on new numbers for their new year. Lose 10 lbs before the summer.   scaleOr work out 3x per week. Read 100 books by the end of the year. Spend 15 minutes per day meditating. Regardless of the merits of the goal, using numbers can be tremendously motivating. For many, numbers keep us moving forward when we might otherwise give up.  Even small goals can seem more achievable with numbers. “I will have one cookie, not 12.”  And many would say that without measurement, there is no way to define success. Measurement via numbers is how the world evaluates job performance, company health and the efficacy of processes.  Sales people have goals which roll up to company revenue. Athletes and teams set times to beat, averages to improve, and wins (and loses) to record. Politicians need votes to win elections and polls to see if their work is well-received by the constituents they serve. Numbers hold us accountable to the roles we play and goals we seek to achieve as individuals and as members of a group. Numbers can also help an outsider make a judgment about a system, activity or pursuit that they are not actively engaged in. They offer hard data for the person who is not doing the work themselves. They show progress. They are “proof.”

However, using numbers to evaluate a system is not always straight forward.  We don’t judge the success of a gym by the weight-loss stats of its membership, although one could surmise that if everyone is dropping LBS like crazy, it is a very effective gym. However, that would imply that the gym can control who walks in the door, with what abilities and how much effort they put forth while they are there. We don’t determine the success of a library by the number of people who have read the books they checked out. That would assume that the library can control the quality of the writing or the schedules and intent of the readers.

Never the less, there is really one visible example of using numbers to make judgments about individuals that aim to prove a point about a larger system. Education. In traditional schooling, the numbers are mandatory. They are compulsory. You can’t NOT get scored because without the numbers, outsiders have a harder time determining what is working or what isn’t.

But the kids in the system may not be better for the score, even if the system is.

walnutcove-grades Kate Atkinson wrote a blog post on the Huffington post earlier this year about how grades and numbers have an unintended consequence, beyond the proof of merit of the system.

If you are in high school, there is a good chance that you have felt defined by your GPA, ACT scores, numerical averages, test grades or the number of AP courses you take. You may have felt inferior to a peer whose class rank is above yours. You may have been looked down upon because you take “regular” math instead of Accelerated Calculus. You may have felt less intelligent because everyone you know is taking more AP courses than you. For the majority of my high school career, I have been just like you. I didn’t share my unimpressive class rank with anyone. I lied about the B I received in math class because I knew my peers would think lesser of me. I constantly allowed low test grades to make me feel inferior.

Kate is made to feel “less than” because she is compared to the mean in order to achieve a holistic view of the system, but it does not serve her as an individual. As an advocate for a Sudbury school, I am not anti-grades, anti-testing, or anti-accountability. Instead, I am FOR giving humans the choice of how, when and on what they elect to be evaluated. The person who chooses to dance with hopes of professional dancing knows evaluation is part of the gig. For the student who elects to go to college, aspiring to be an engineer, accountant, or doctor, etc., course grades are an essential part of determining progress and preparedness for the tasks is expected. The difference is that the person makes the choice to be evaluated. If a student like Kate subjects themselves to a score or grade, they have a choice about how to react, just like a person who sets a goal to lose weight can use the number to motivate themselves. And if the number is not what they had hoped, they can see it as a success or failure. That is up to the student.

One of the most asked questions I hear about Sudbury is about how students who are rarely tested are able to perform in the “real world.” Again, I go back to choice. If I choose to work for someone or do something that requires testing, training, metrics, etc., then I also understand the role that those numbers play in my ability to be successful. If I don’t like the score, I change my methods. I work harder. I ask for help. Or I try something else. The fact is that traditional schooling is the only place were humans are involuntarily evaluated with little to no consideration to how it impacts their sense of worth or personal path.  No evaluation of a diet, exercise regimen, new year’s resolution, exam from an institution of higher learning or job evaluation forced upon humans because, in every case, the person makes the choice to be evaluated. But kids don’t have that choice…that is, unless parents give them a place where numbers are treated very differently. Enter Sudbury.

Step one.

Tonight, December 29, the Sudbury School of Jacksonville held its first informational meeting.  With 8 people in the room, we discussed the Sudbury model, watched a short video about another Sudbury School and shared the story about how my husband Josh and I came to pursue this path, for not only our family, but our community.

In attendance were educators with grown children, as well as parents with small children.  We had folks with kids in “A” rated schools who believe their kids should enjoy school more and parents looking for alternatives to schools that they don’t believe are a great fit for their kid(s) now.  There were lots of questions and we took lots of notes.  The biggest surprise of the night was a woman in town who had researched starting a Sudbury school a few years ago!

It. Was. Awesome.

Thank you to all of the folks who came out.  It was so more exciting than I anticipated and I think it was a wonderful beginning.

If you missed it, not to worry. We are planning our next meeting for on Sunday, January 11th from 3 to 4.  (Kids are welcome, if the weather is nice.  They can play outside and we’ll have a sitter here to help out.)  I hope you’ll join us.

In the meantime, feel free to join our Facebook group or like the school’s brand new Facebook page.

Finally, here are a few links to articles and videos I came across in the last few days:

Is it like…?

Love this perspective on the Sudbury model from Romey Pittman, co-founder of the Fairhaven School in Maryland.  He compares Sudbury to other, more well known styles of education.

OK, SO YOU’RE SORT OF LIKE —

By Romey Pittman, parent, co-founder and former staff member of Fairhaven School.

After hearing a short explanation of our school’s philosophy, many people understandably try to link it with something already familiar to them. The most frequently mentioned “so-you’re-sort of-likes” are listed below. We have tried to be fair but clear in distinguishing ourselves from other philosophies. However, all the subtleties of these educational models are not laid out and comparisons are not made from every angle. We hope that the explanations below serve to clarify what the Sudbury model is and is not really about.

OK, So You’re Sort of Like —

— A Montessori School?
— A Waldorf School?
— A Progressive School?
— Homeschooling?
— Student Governments in Traditional Schools?

Click here to read the whole essay.