A little light reading…

Wow – still pumped from participating in Sun Earth Day 2011 via twitter and ustream yesterday, live from Smithsonian Air and Space and Goddard Space Center!  #sed2011 FTW!! 

Ok, Geeksquee moment over.  (Honest!)  What SED2011 means for you, gentle reader, is that I have been distracted enough to leave WAY more windows open than Vista really wants me to, and all of them are full of articles and posts that I thought would be of interest to YOU!  Plus, I have linky goodness to keep your kiddos entertained while you read them!  (The fact that the linky goodness is almost all NASA-related is *completely* incidental, I assure you! 😉

Ok, let’s get the kiddos settled first.  If you happen to have two internet-capable computers, you could hook junior up with this rocket building and launching game from Lego and NASA.  Both my two year old and I found this game engaging and wonderfully, scientific-methody, time-sucking.  If, after playing with it for a while, your kids are (quite reasonably) looking for *more* on rockets, including history (back to the Greeks!) and other experiments, check this Educator’s Guide to Rocketry from NASA, and let them look at the picture, or get the older ones to read to the younger.  They could also check my post from yesterday about building rockets powered by Alka-Seltzer, but you might want to tell them to do messy stuff outside first.  😉

And if THAT doesn’t keep your little geeklets happy long enough, (or if they happen to have issues with mouse control,) try this lovely from Legoland.  Oi.  Not space-related, but still:  motors + simple machines + little plasticy bits of geekiness = WIN, plus the video has a run time of over 13 minutes, which is enough for at least one article and a cup of coffee, no?

(For those of you *without* two internet-capable computers, I got nothing.  Sorry!  I *will*, however,  pay cold hard cash to find out how you manage to scrounge enough time online to read my blog.  Just… oof.  Kudos, and, well, I’m honored!)

Ok, whatever your kids are ensconced doing, I hope it is going to last a while, because I have some goodies for you.  First of all, The Non-Conformist Mom posts about how play is the work of childhood.  Yes, you’ve heard this before, but she gets right to the heart of it in this pithy piece.  I have long said that I think kids thrive in an environment of benign neglect, where there is a grown-up around if needed, but the KIDS will decide if they are needed, and go get the adult, not where some ever-hovering adult swoops in at the first sign of – gosh – real challenge!  She has been homeschooling for 15 years, folks – she knows her stuff. 

Next, Antonio Buehler writes a concise list of Who SHOULD Homeschool.  His inclusions and exclusions are particularly interesting to me.  He does NOT include “because you want your children to have a childhood,” but with preparing children for admissions to prestigious universities as one of his companies missions, I’m not surprised.  Can’t blame the guy though – he was the first in his family to graduate from high school, and he went on to West Point and an MBA from Stanford; he certainly knows what it takes to make that kind of uphill climb. 

Some of his inclusions were ones I hadn’t heard before, and I *dearly* wish he had given some references to back up his statistics.  He suggested that parents who had not graduated from high school, esp those from minority ethnic and racial backgrounds, would be particularly well-served to homeschool their children.  Living as I do in white-bread Vermont, I vividly recall an instance where I *tried* (unfortunately in vain) to explain to a local principal the cultural difference in how one shows respect in African-American-dominated Dorchester, MA, and what he was used to.  *I* got that this boy WAS showing respect (and in the face of a real jackass, no less), and TOLD his mother that I was impressed, but the principal suspended him anyway.  (Mom pulled her only-recently-transplanted son out of the school and homeschooled him, which I have always thought was probably the right call for them, even though I didn’t like how they felt forced into it.)  Buehler goes on to encourage parents in ‘good’ school districts to pull their children out as well, then appeals to the ready camp of religious and philosophically minded families, but with a very nice (and appreciated) nod to areligious and non-Christian religions and philosophies as well. 

Next, a two part series on the insanity inherent in holding teachers solely accountable for student learning, the first from May, 2010 and the second from just this week.  One thing I really like about homeschooling is that the Buck Stops Here, in this very house, with people who love each other enough to talk things out.  Putting all of the onus for learning on the student is as silly as putting all of the onus on the teacher for teaching: education involves a symbiotic relationship between learner and environment, and teachers are learners as much as are students.  I can’t expect my children to learn to read in a print-poor environment, or without modeling reading for them, both in practical lessons and in my personal habits.  Inspiring a love of learning means loving learning oneself, and respecting the learning process both in oneself and in others.

The latter report includes a comment with a link to an interview with the Finnish Minister of Education, about how the role and training of teachers in Finland.  Much of it talks about how learning and teaching are *respected* by Finnish culture, which is just *huge*.  It isn’t about salaries, people, although being able to live comfortably enough to have the time to devote to one’s profession is, obviously, a good thing.  It is about respect for the work itself; quality teaching is a valuable thing!  It involves WAY more than just knowing one’s material; it includes being mentally and even spiritually able to meet one’s students where they are, and to work WITH them to create an education.  ‘Educate’ is not something one does TO another, but WITH! 

This is where I think homeschoolers have an advantage; we already do so many things with our children, both because it works better that way, but also because we *want* to do so.  This is grossly oversimplified, but American teachers are taught how to teach, but not how to build relationships with students.  Parents obviously have relationships with their students already, and then (hopefully) graft good curricula (or quality strewing) onto their homelife to create an education with their students.  I DO think that ‘regular’ teachers and homeschooling families have a lot to learn from one another, and the educational reform movement in this country would do well to realize that.  (So there!)

The very last paragraph of that interview with the Finnish Minister of Education is something that I find very interesting:

“Our students spend less time in class than students in other OECD countries. We don’t think it helps students learn if they spend seven hours per day at school because they also need time for hobbies, and of course they also have homework.”

(The OECD is the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development.  You can see a list of the “first-world” countries included in this here.  I’d never heard of it, but apparently the US is a member country!)

Showing this kind of respect for students lives and desires as individuals is just awesome.  Students are FAR more likely to be willing to engage in what teacher’s present them with when they also know that their teachers and culture will give them the time to do what they have personally chosen to be doing.  (Wonderful chat on Twitter the other day with a teacher who *screened* March Madness, since her students were watching it on their phones anyway.  Productivity – and mood – in her classroom *soared.*)  This also values families, since they’ll have more time to do things together, and parents can participate in the cocreation of eduction by engaging with homework assignments, and teachers, since they aren’t stuck ‘supervising’ students in study halls that may or may not serve any more productive purpose than would outright warehousing of student’s bodies just to meet institutional scheduling and legal time-in-school mandates.  Such ‘supervision’ wastes time, denigrates the responsibility that high school students *should* have for their own lives, and undermines any personal relationships teachers and students *have* managed to build in such demeaning and disrespectful systems. 

One last article for you today, an interview with Kay S Hymowitz, author of Manning Up, by none other than former homeschooler and writer of the uber-blog Un-Schooled, Kate Fridkis, who also writes for the Huffington Post.  This book is about the state of the 20-something male in American culture; his loss of role and thus identity, and subsequent slacker/gamer/failure-to-launch self.  I haven’t read the book, but Kate’s insightful questions guided my 30-something husband and I into some really meaningful conversation last night, and if that isn’t good PR, I don’t know what is!  (Nice job, Kate!)

Well, I hope this provides enough fodder for a thoughtful Sunday afternoon for you all, and I hope your kids give you enough time to yourself to enjoy it.  Be well, and thanks for stopping by!

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