An Extraordinary Life, Unschooled

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When you look at great, influential people of history, people who’ve made significant contributions to the world in which we now live, we have much to thank them for. I’m currently reading Walter Isaacson’s, Leonardo Da Vinci, An Autobiography. We cannot underestimate or deny his genius- wildly imaginative, passionately curious, visionary, painter, sculptor and architect. But what about poet, musician, paleontologist and unschooler?

Leonardo was born illegitimate, without privilege or affluence. He never received a formal education. He could barely read Latin or do long division. He did, however, become one of the most inspiring, clever and brilliant human beings to discover, through his curiosity, how to learn. Leonardo took his learning very seriously. He spent much of his youth outdoors, where he marveled at the natural world and explored ideas and concepts that were of interest to him. One thing Leonardo was curious to know more about was the tongue of a woodpecker. He studied this in great detail. There was no reason he needed to know this. It was simply a curiosity. We can all be a little more curious about life, and what were capable of.

We might all take a lesson from Da Vinci. His intense observation, wild imagination and experimentation are what fueled him. This is something we can indulge in ourselves and our children.

We should be so bold as to not just take “received knowledge”, but we should be willing to question it, to be imaginative and think differently. One brilliant passage, where Da Vinci’s free thinking attitude challenged the people who ridiculed him for his lack of formal education says,

“I am fully aware that my not being a man of letters may cause certain presumptuous people to think that they may with reason blame me, alleging that I am a man without learning. They strut about puffed up and pompous, decked out and adorned not with their own labors, but by those of others…

They will say that because I have no book learning I cannot properly express what I desire to describe- but they do not know that my subjects require experience rather than the words of others.”

For those that say unschooling does little to equip young people for life, I say,  Leonardo Da Vinci’s extraordinary life is proof that it works. When children are curious and interested, and feel they are learning something important to them, their creativity and their ability to apply imagination to intellect will soar. The greatest gift we have is our mind. The innovators of tomorrow start with the curiosity of children today. We must be willing to think outside the box in education.

Our efforts should be in indulging our childrens’ curiosity. We should be inspiring them to to think about what they find worthy, what they want to spend their time exploring and pursuing and let them do that. Let’s give them the time and the space to explore their world like Da Vinci once did.

In the words of Walter Isaacson, we must be relentlessly curious and creative, we must treasure knowledge for its own sake, retain a childlike wonder, observe, see things unseen, go down rabbit holes, get distracted, procrastinate, think visually. Let your reach exceed your grasp. Indulge fantasy. Create for yourself. Collaborate and be open to mystery.

 

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Time For Change

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Albert Einsteins handwritten advice, given as a tip to a bellboy back in 1922, recently sold at auction for $1.56 million dollars. The humble note, translated from German reads,

“A calm mind and modest life brings more happiness than the pursuit of success combined with constant restlessness.”

Albert Einstein’s “theory of happiness,” is a prescription to find joy in the simplicity of our lives. It asks us to pursue practices that bring us peace and to be wary of those practices that cause us great distress and perpetual tension.

We’ve been sold on the idea that happiness is in direct proportion to how much money we make, that our worth is in our status. Our culture’s “busyness” and “constant restlessness” is driving us farther away from true happiness. Just look at the basic needs we need to live modestly- a roof over our heads, food in our belly, people to share it with.

What if we decided to put more emphasis on the small things that make more of impact on our well-being? What if we showed more appreciation towards what we already have? What would happen if we practiced gratitude in every little thing we did? Not only do I think we would have a calmer mind and gain more freedom, but we’d also be happier people living in more harmony with nature.

I think it’s a worthy step in the right direction, do you?

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Building A Sturdy Bridge

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One can choose many paths to take in life. We have the unique ability to flex our power in making choices and decisions. As a young child, we grow and learn naturally. Our curiosity is a fantastic teacher. We may choose one toy over another or we may prefer to bang on the kitchen pots and pans over building mud houses in the sand box. Our power of choice is strong, and our parents allow us this freedom, until they don’t. Choice and freedom slowly start to erode somewhere in childhood, usually by the age of 5- when we enter compulsory education and the probationary life begins.

Our choices are now limited and narrow because now we are “expected” to participate in school. What we need now is to be taught. By an expert. Who knows more than we do. But didn’t we show our parents that we were and are capable of learning and growing on our own? What suddenly changed? Did we give any indication of short comings in our development? Why is school then the answer?

Life in school, is like being on probation. Probation is defined as “the process or period of testing the character or abilities of a person and subject to a period of good behavior under supervision.” We punish, guilt, shame and emotionally manipulate them when they don’t oblige us. We ask them to conform, follow directions, not ask questions, and perform to unreasonable standards and testing, year after year until they graduate. This way teaches children to doubt their own minds and their worth as a person when the grades don’t measure up and it creates adults who will then tolerate emotional manipulation and abusive relationships because that’s been their model.  If we are to raise free thinkers and confident individuals, we must create an environment that provides a healthy model that benefits the child’s well being, personal integrity and autonomy.

We have seen first hand what happens when a child is given freedom to learn on their own, follow their curiosity and study their interests at their own pace. They build the bridge of their choosing to cross. By doing this they take responsibility for themselves at a much younger age. Being personally invested in the process makes a huge difference!  Alfie Kohn, American author and lecturer in the areas of education, parenting, and human behavior said,

“The way a child learns how to make decisions is by making decisions, not by following directions.”

Let’s choose to get out of the child’s way and allow them the space and time to develop their talents and inclinations and encourage them to express who they are as individuals, in an environment that will not stunt their passions and curiosities and spirit.

 

Abundance In Learning

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“When a flower doesn’t bloom, you fix the environment in which it grows, not the flower.”

People would think me crazy for buying “The Teenage Liberation Handbook: How to quit school and get a real life and education” for my then ninth grader in high school. In fact, I was totally sane when I purchased it. It was the best book I could have got her. And I would do it again in a heartbeat.

A terrible, pit-in-my stomach feeling was the wake up call. School was changing her in a way that was of growing concern. Before attending school, she was very excited about her learning- my eldest daughter loves to read and stay up on current events. She enjoys thoughtful conversation, challenge, loves art and music and performing in theater. School took her away from these things. She had no time. The usually gregarious, happy-spirited kid with a positive outlook became sullen, uninterested, moody and anxious. The stress about the homework,

the grades and the pressure her teachers put on her was taking more than it was giving.

As I began to look at her “work” being done in school, I felt a huge let down. There was no real learning happening. It became cramming  for the test, then quickly forgetting the information. It didn’t spark any joy. It didn’t excite or engage her. The work was pointless, busy work designed to break the spirit into submission, and that sadly, is what it did.

She would dread having to get up and go every morning. There were many mornings when I would look at her tired eyes, her nearly in tears. She spent many, many nights up until 2:00 or 3:00 am, working to get homework done for the next day. So I had to ask myself, would it be that bad for her to quit school and start to have a life that had some purpose, where she could choose to learn the things she was curious about, where learning would “stick” because she would have the power in the decision making? She would take control back of her time and would be liberated from the institution of school. She would take charge of her own education. So…

What conditions are present when learning really “sticks”?

For starters, you need a safe and positive environment, a personal investment, real world application, fun, relevance to life, social interactions, the ability to question everything, a passion and drive, teachers and mentors available to help when needed, autonomy, and no time constraints. Look at that positive model…

Now, here’s what we do in classrooms…

We sit in rows, our time is constrained to block periods, a one-size fits all curriculum, same age grouped co-learners, no real world application, teacher controlled, someone else’s questions, not allowed to question anything, standardized assessments, emphasis on grades, no choices in what to study, lack of relevance.

Somewhere along the way we got disconnected from the true purpose of education. To learn. The disconnect happens between what we believe and what we actually do in our classrooms. Part is nostalgia. We went to school, we appear to have turned out fine, it’s like a rite of passage. But the truth is, we didn’t really learn anything too. The method’s haven’t changed. The sad thing is other people like policy makers are setting the standards and expectations for us. We’re just doing what were told. Time to change all that.

It’s time we align our practice to our beliefs.

Most of us weren’t productive in school because we weren’t engaged in the process. Most kids will forget what they learn in school. We know this because we have forgotten most of what we learned in school. We cannot ignore this any longer. We learn when the interest is something we are invested in. All of us carry the narrative that we have to go to school, take a set number of classes, learn the way its taught, get good grades, attend with same age kids. We own that narrative.

The narrative now is that traditional schooling in breaking down.

The disconnect in schools aren’t built for learning, learning on one’s own looks different from learning at school. We have to acknowledge this huge contrast. A recent Gallup pole asked students from elementary school to high school their level of engagement in school. In elementary it was 76%, by the time high school rolled around, it went down to 44%. So at this point,

56% of high school students are not engaged in school.

What does this mean to you, as a parent? Is this acceptable to you? Are you “OK” with this?

We live in a time of ABUNDANCE– sources for learning are everywhere, virtually at our fingertips. We need to talk honestly about education. We don’t discuss them because if we do, they put the entire experience of schooling into a conversation that many of us don’t want to have. This is going to be a hard conversation, and one I hope you are willing to have. Our kids’ future is at risk. Their world is changing everyday. Every child wants to be a part of this changing world. They want real experiences that have relevance to their life. They want passion and a personal investment beyond grades. They want autonomy. They want control.

If we can successfully give them that, they are only limited to their imagination!

Crafty: Japanese Decorative Fan

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Here is a great little craft we did at last years Japanese Arts & Crafts Summer Camp. I found this great tutorial on Japanese fan making on ehow that gives a step by step look at how to make one. The process itself was relatively easy, we just had to be sure to follow directions exactly to make sure they turned out right. I think the girls did a great job on their fans! There is still room to sign up for this years camp happening July 24-26 from 9-2pm. You can sign up here.

Asking Better Questions

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Image found via Pinterest

We have home-educated our children for the last eight years. Early on, I felt an overwhelming need to measure, test and push to make sure the kids were on the right path. I was teaching them everything I thought they could possibly need to know to “make it” in their life. Was slogging through years of Latin really going to make a big impact on their life? Probably not.

I have attempted to answer the same questions, over and over, year after year for my own children. Whose path is it? What do they want? What is their idea of a life well lived? Every revisit of these questions has brought me a little closer to having a better understanding of what is truly important; for me and for my kids.

Our oldest, just turned sixteen. She has explored her own definition of living a life of purpose and happiness (notice the removal of the word success). She continuously asks hard questions of herself, she’s spoken of and written down her wants, her wishes and her dreams- and these continually change, but she understands that her future is up to her. Her own influence and decisions are bringing her closer to the kind of life she imagines for herself.

For so many her age, they feel helpless about their future. We must allow kids to imagine and have experiences that help them to define their own meaning of purpose and happiness and engage in conversations around this idea. One of my favorite quotes, and one that I have up on a board at home is a quote by Hunter S. Thompson.

Beware of looking for goals: look for a way of life. Decide how you want to live and then see what you can do to make a living within that way of life.”

In our house we do thought experiments based around questions. We talk about these questions in an open way-Sometimes they chose to share their response, other times, its simply for them to explore. Better understanding of oneself leads to and influences motivations and beliefs and shows us that we are the creators of our life. Making it in the ever changing world means that we have to ask intelligent and more thoughtful questions. Now, my worries about the direction my kids take is nil. I don’t think there is such a thing as the “right path”, it’s the path that you make that is worthy.

If you’re curious to know, here are some of the questions we ask:

What does one think is living well?

How do we want to be in the world?

What do we want our world to look like?

Am I worthy of this or is it worthy of me?

What is the difference between living and existing?

Do you find yourself influencing your world, or it influencing you?

What is worse- failing or never trying?

Should one worry what others think of them?

If you had the opportunity to get a message across to a large group of people, what would your message be?

What does happiness mean to you?

What would you do differently if you knew no one would judge you?

What are the top five things you cherish in your life?

How should one handle anxiety?

What is the purpose of money?

What would you say is the one thing you’d like to change in the world?

What makes you smile?

Tomorrow is shaped by the type of conversations you have with yourself today.” Emily Maroutian

Be brave enough to start a conversation that matters…

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