Sunday, December 20, 2009


a note: this is more of a journal entry, rather than something that is well-organized or engaging. Mostly "this is where my head is right now" notes to myself.

Something interesting has happened.
The other day I visited Homeschooling Is Freedom, scrolled down a bit, and because Pam Sarooshian was in it, I decided to watch a minute of the video that was made of the 2009 Homeschool Association of California Conference.
The Very Interesting Thing happened at in the name of John Bennett. (If you only have time for this part, push play and then drag it to about 13:17, and he'll be on in just a second.)

Sometimes it just happens that way.
Sometimes no matter how much I think that I'm able to stop, and step outside of something (like a rigid idea that looks like "our days need to include straight-forward -obvious- math"), and evaluate something for itself, by myself (ie think for myself)..... sometimes it takes someone like John Bennett to clear the fog for me.
What I mean is... there aren't a lot of "just because" 's in my world. We don't do science projects "because we should have a firm grasp on Newton's third", we do them because they're fun and interesting. I don't have Trevelyn sit down and write "because (according to some) he should be able to write easily and neatly", but rather he does it in freedom and as he needs... or not. Sitting down to write spelling words seems silly - we've never once done a spelling quiz, and he spells with accuracy. I didn't teach the children to read... Trev did that on his own, and Maddie has begun her explorations, and looks to be processing and learning in the same ways.
I've said before that to me a great day is full of "Explore", "Create", and "Discover". That's pretty much all I could want.
And I'm pretty comfortable with our laid-back approach to mathematics.
I mean, we have Jedi Math for the leapster. Math 1-2. MathBlaster. JumpStart cd's. The Allowance Game. Trev counts money. He rounds numbers. We listen to Multiplication Vacation - and love it. We bake. He has a pretty firm grasp on fractions. We play games with the cuisenaire rods. So it's not something totally outside our realm... but... there's still been something there that feels like - not looks like, on the outside, you understand, but feels like (in my head)- "are we doing enough math?"
Never once have I asked myself "Why do we need to learn Math?"
Never once did I question it.
I guess that I've always just thought that it was so Big - like reading - that it was just a given.
Mathematics is the language of numbers, and it's something that floats in the air around our heads... therefore it's something that needs to be understood in order to make sense of the world.
But never did I consider that past a particular point - past division and multiplication and percentages and knowing how to add fractions that don't have a common denominator - that the point was to teach the mind how to process in an expansive way. And I would even say in a uniform way.
So. I whole-heartedly agree with Mr. John Bennett.

"We're still teaching it because in life we need the kind of reasoning that we develop through the teaching of mathematics. So mathematics is just a medium to develop the logical thinking - the analytical thinking, the inductive reasoning, the deductive reasoning...
So I've asked myself over the years, "Why am I teaching this?" For this thinking.
So... can we do it better?
Can we do it differently?"

[enters unschooling.]

I called to Eric, and had him come watch Mr. Bennett's bit with me.
Of course we had a big long discussion about homeschooling and unschooling.
It's kind of funny to me that Eric is still a tiny bit nervous at times about home education.
But, on the other hand, I can appreciate it, because it helps me to keep in mind where the common thought and opinion about it lies.
Thoughts like "I'll ruin her life!"
"What if I don't do it right?"
"What if we miss something important?"
My mind is so far past these thoughts or fears that I don't even consider them valid questions anymore. And as far as education goes (as in rote learning) - the only reason that children are taught to do things at particular points is because 1) most often that is initially where the natural inclination -developmentally- leans (such as beginning to write and draw at a particular age) so the system simply jumps on it and rolls with it, and 2) there is a schedule - a twelve year program- that must be adhered to. We have to get this "done" so that we can move on to the next.
And as far as I'm concerned... that's it. That's the reason for the arbitrariness.
Aside from that, as I've said before, it seems to me that school just is just an imitation of a life well lived.
I've watched my children enough, and flipped through enough workbooks and visited enough NEA curriculum pages to know what goes on in school.
Go into your local Teacher's shop. What will you find?
Well, you'll find stickers to attach to the top of worksheet pages, for one. "Good Job!"
You'll find lesson plans and worksheets about growing bean sprouts. Including black and white drawings of "this much dirt in the cup, then the seed, then this much dirt again.... how does it grow?" and you can draw a lovely garden on a piece of paper.
Or you can dig around in the backyard. And pick peppers off the vine.
In a math workbook you can draw a pizza with half pepperoni, 1/4 mushrooms, 1/2 olives, 3/4 cheese... or you can get out the flour and make your own dough and pie.
You can draw lines on a paper, grouping and sorting things together, or you can clean up toys and put them in the right boxes... and sort silverware into the drawer.
You can fill out worksheets or you can figure out time by listening to the world around you and asking Dad when he's coming home and figure out how many hours and minutes that means.
You can be taught to read by sitting down for "100 Easy Lessons" that may be quite painful for everyone, or you can learn to read by being read to and by wanting to know what dinosaur this is.
You can learn science by filling in the blank on a quiz, copied from a dry-as-dust textbook, or you can learn about microbes by digging in the compost and looking at things under the microscope.
You can create an owl out of uniform, pre-cut shapes (and be told where, exactly, they go, and be graded upon your precision - aka your ability to Follow Along and Do As You're Told)... or not.

"But this just fits our lives," says Eric. "This is who we are."
And my mind drifts to: If every mathematician were supported in his or her mind's processes... can you imagine? If every mechanic or engineer were recognized for operating as such... if every naturalist was given more books and time outside... if every Physicist encouraged instead of told she must be well-rounded... if every future Albert Einstein was smiled at in a knowing, accepting way instead of told "No! You must learn to tie your shoes, now... come away from that telescope!..."

We're not hoop jumpers. Never much cared for them. Or for the people doing the whistling and "c'mere boy, c'mere"-ing and bouncing of the hoops, for that matter.

So it's been particularly enlightening to process these thoughts after listening to Mr. Bennett.
Reminding - that is... the re-adjustment and re-evaluation of thoughts.

It's so nice to have one more of the foundation blocks firmly in place.


Sarah said...

Have you seen this? Interesting take on math as a life subject.

My husband is ok with the homeschooling thing - most days - but is still iffy on the 'un'schooling thing. Like you said, it kind of helps to have that in your sphere, to keep from getting complacent.

Julie said...

Thanks for sharing the link! I watched the whole video and agree wholeheartedly with all of it.

I liked the part with John Bennet. Another great part was with Pam Sooroshian at 44:43, talking about her experience with college students.

Stephanie said...

Julie - me too. :)

KMDuff said...

The word mathematics is the study of logic at its root "mathema" or something like that. Love Lockharts Lament.

Andrea said...

Thank you for the link, and for your thoughts. I stumbled upon this at just the right time. I don't tend to worry as much about math as I do about writing, but I think all the same concepts apply.

Nancherrow said...

I think there's a third reason for the arbitrariness (is that a word?) of traditional schooling methods...classifying children makes it easier on the institution. Very thought provoking post.