Homeschooling is the smartest way to teach kids in the 21st century

 

 

Creative Open Space workshop at  espacio a .

Creative Open Space workshop at espacio a.

Chris Weller, Aug. 20, 2016, 10:05 AM

Alison Davis doesn't see homeschooling as some strange alternative to traditional school.

If anything, says the mom from Williamstown, New Jersey, when it comes to raising her two children, she's doing the sensible thing.

"You're not going to be put in a work environment where everybody came from the same school and everybody is the same age," she tells Business Insider. "In my opinion, the traditional school atmosphere is not the real world at all."

Homeschooling, she says, that's the real world.

Davis' satisfaction with keeping her kids out of local public and private schools is one shared by a growing pool of parents around the US. Recent data collected by the Department of Education reveals homeschooling has grown by 61.8% over the last 10 years to the point where two million kids — 4% of the total youth population — now learn from the comfort of their own home.

Contrary to the belief that homeschooling produces anti-social outcasts, the truth is that some of the most high-achieving, well-adjusted students are poring over math problems at their kitchen table, not a desk in a classroom. According to leading pedagogical research, at-home instruction may just be the most relevant, responsible, and effective way to educate children in the 21st century.

Personalization is key

In his 2015 book "Creative Schools: The Grassroots Revolution That's Transforming Education," veteran teacher and beloved TED speaker Ken Robinson emphasizes that students learn best at their preferred speeds and in their preferred manner. "All students are unique individuals with their own hopes, talents, anxieties, fears, passions, and aspirations," he writes. "Engaging them as individuals is the heart of raising achievement."

Robinson wasn't referring to homeschooling directly, but he might as well have been. No form of education is designed to foster more personalized tutelage.

While traditional schools try their best to tailor lesson plans to individual students, teachers often still end up teaching to the middle. There are simply too many kids learning at different speeds for teachers to give each of them exactly what they need. Homeschooling, meanwhile, is personal by design.

Davis says her son Luke struggled early on with reading. Even into the second grade, he didn't enjoy it and found it overwhelming. In any other school, teachers may not have been able to spend the necessary time helping Luke become a stronger reader because they had 20 other kids to worry about. That's not the case in the Davis household.

"I could take that extra time with him," Davis says. Plus, reading time became more than just a push toward literacy; it was Mommy-Luke bonding time — something no school could compete with. "Now he devours books in like a week's time or less," she says.

The long-term effects of personalization are equally massive. According to a 2009 study of standardized testing, homeschoolers scored in the 86th percentile. The results held true even when controlling for parents' income level, amount of education, teaching credentials, and level of state regulation. Research also suggests that homeschooled kids get into college more often and do better once they're enrolled.

No, homeschooling doesn't create recluses

The biggest stereotype surrounding homeschooling is that constant one-on-one teaching deprives kids of the socialization they need to thrive. Not so. Homeschooled kids are just as likely to play soccer and do group projects as any other students.

Davis' family is heavily involved in their local church, so Luke and his older sister Amanda both have friends in the choir. They both play an instrument, so they have friends in a homeschooler orchestra. They hang with kids on their block. Amanda has a pen pal who lives in Arizona. As far as childhood goes, theirs is pretty run-of-the-mill.

It's not just that homeschooled kids enjoy the upside of normal school, though; they also get to enjoy the absence of its many drawbacks — namely peer pressure and cliques. On several occasions, Alison says, other kids have expressed jealousy that Luke and Amanda get to learn at home, away from the social hierarchies of normal school.

"They're like, Aw man, I wish I got be homeschooled," she says. "I've been very surprised by it."

Of course, some parents do struggle to help their kids make friends.

Earlier this year, I interviewed an extremely bright 7-year-old named Akash who lives in San Angelo, Texas. He's homeschooled because a child psychologist who studied him when he was a toddler told his parents it was probably the smartest option.

Akash's best friend — maybe his only friend — is his big sister, Amrita. Most of the kids in his nearby homeschoolers' association are either too old or too dissimilar in personality for his parents to schedule regular playdates, even though Akash is silly and outgoing.

But even for kids who do struggle, trends suggest the Internet is making it easier. A Pew survey from last year revealed that 55% of all teens say they regularly spend time with friends online or through social media, and 45% say they meet through extracurriculars, sports, or hobbies, which suggests classrooms aren't the only way to make friends.

Schools are even more over-worked than students

As stressed-out as students may be, schools may be under even more pressure to perform. We expect schools to help kids become smart but not anti-social, physically fit but not dumb jocks, self-reliant yet cooperative, and creative while also college-ready.

Whether we accomplish that goal is debatable — a recent survey of 165,000 high school students, for instance, found fewer than half felt prepared for college and beyond.

Maybe that's because a lot of the responsibilities we heap onto schools are jobs better suited for parents. Perhaps Alison has found such success with Luke and Amanda because she can hack through the busy work and red tape and just focus on what her kids need.

"Schools have to bring in all these extra testing and courses and electives to try to make it resemble the real world," she says. "But that can never happen unless you're actually living in it."

Why We Should Teach Empathy to Preschoolers

--by Shuka Kalantari, syndicated from Greater Good, Jul 08, 2016

In the fall of 1979, Yalda Modabber had just moved from Iran back to her birthplace in Boston. Her timing was bad: Just weeks later later, a group of armed Iranians took more than 60 U.S. citizens hostage at the U.S. Embassy in Iran. As a result, her fellow students bullied her ruthlessly.

Golestan Education's Yalda Modabber

“It was nonstop for two years,” says Modabber, who has dark curly black hair and a warm smile. “That period in my life was so hard that I blocked it out. I don’t even remember my teachers’ names. The entire class turned on me.”

Modabber is now the principal and founder of Golestan Education, a Persian-language preschool and after-school program in Berkeley, California that collaborates with other local schools on cultural education, where my son will be going to preschool next year. In a quiet voice, she tells me that being bullied drove her to integrate empathy into every level at Golestan.

Various studies show that the more empathy a child displays, the less likely they are to engage in bullying, online and in real life. Empathic children and adolescents are more likely to engage in positive social behaviors, like sharing or helping others. They’re also less likely to be antisocial and exhibit uncontrolled aggressive behaviors. That’s a big reason why educators have been devoting more attention to empathy in recent years, integrating it more deeply into schools and curricula. And as Golestan illustrates, some of these efforts are focusing on early childhood education.

Indeed, research suggests the sooner we learn to empathize, the better off we are in the long run. People exposed to empathy earlier in life have greater and longer-lasting emotional benefits than those exposed to it later, or not at all. One recent study suggests that children who are taught social and emotional skills (as opposed to purely cognitive skills) in preschool and kindergarten have better social skills and fewer behavior problems in both kindergarten and first grade, compared with kids who don’t experience that holistic classroom setting.

Should we teach empathy to even the very youngest students? Can we? The answer to both questions seems to be yes—but it’s not easy.

Born for empathy

Our capacity for feeling empathy starts very early in life. Yes, my toddler pulls our cat’s tail and thinks it’s funny, but I also see his capacity to sense the emotions of others. If I’m having a bad day, he pulls me and his papa in for a group hug with his tiny little arms. And it’s not just toddlers: Infants as young as eight to 14 months old can show precursors to empathy, signs like displaying concern for a parent if they’re hurt or upset. The older we get, the more we can empathize. A recent study from the University of Munich in Germany found that children between the ages of five and seven increasingly anticipate feelings of concern for other people.

Teaching empathy doesn’t just make kids more emotionally and socially competent; it can also help them be more successful and functioning citizens in the future. A recent study from Duke and Penn State followed over 750 people for 20 years and found those who were able to share and help other children in kindergarten were more likely to graduate from high school and have full-time jobs. Students who weren’t as socially competent were more likely to drop out of school, go to juvenile hall, or need government assistance. Empathetic people are also more likely to help those they don’t even know—to pay it forward.

Autumn Williams works with Ashoka, an international network of social entrepreneurs that has recently devoted considerable attention to building empathy in education. As part of its work, it has identified more than 200 schools internationally that actively nurture empathy—including Golestan, the first preschool in the network. Williams says empathy plays a crucial role in creating positive change and solving deep-rooted systemic problems—a fact the organization recognized when it looked more closely at the social entrepreneurs whose work it had been supporting over the past 30 years.

“Most had an experience that made them desire to make a change before they were 20 years old,” says Williams. “We’ve recognized empathy as integral to their change-making. That’s why empathy must be as essential as math and literacy. We need a world full of individuals that have the ability to cultivate change where it’s needed, and to recognize they have the ability to do so.”

Tina Malti, a psychology professor at the University of Toronto and author of a 2016 report looking at school-based interventions to promote empathy in children, says it’s never too late to learn to empathize. Though our perspective-taking develops dramatically in the early stages of life—it helps mold who we are as adults—we’re always malleable.

“It’s not just children,” says Malti. “It’s a life issue. I think a holistic view emphasizes living a more balanced life. If you only focus on academic outcomes, or work outcomes, you are going to miss the whole being of a person. It needs to be balanced in a healthful and meaningful way. And the word ‘meaningful’ always entails the whole being.”

Malti says our education system is at a turning point: More and more experts understand and agree that our social and emotional health is important for our academic learning, our psychological well-being, and our overall success in life.

“If you keep them apart in the classroom, you are not going to reach psychological or mental functioning,” says Malti. “It goes hand in hand: a person can’t thrive academically if he or she is depressed, and in order to be a better learner, those depressive issues need to be addressed. I think any other approach—like focusing on particular groups of children, or prioritizing academics or health outcomes—is more likely to be exclusive.”

At Golestan Education, Yalda Modabber tries to foster empathy in her students by bringing her dog Nika to work. They feed her, groom her, and give her water.

Research suggests people who have an attachment to a pet are more empathetic. One recent study by the American Humane Association shows having an animal in the classroom, even a small fish, ups students’ feelings of compassion and empathy towards one another. The report also indicates empathy is linked to improved social interactions, class participation, and less behavioral issues in the classroom.

Malti says there’s no one right way to teach empathy, but there are some wrong ways.

Take Nika. “It’s not about bringing in a dog,” says Malti. “It’s about teaching a student how to care for another. You can have a good teacher or a horrible teacher. If a student just watches a teacher taking care of the animal, and doesn’t participate, she doesn’t learn as well. But research shows if you have the child care for the animal, or even an infant, herself, it’s different. How you learn how to care for something is important.”

Malti says another way to build empathy in the classroom is to focus on the individual. She says teachers shouldn’t have a rigid ‘empathy curriculum’ for each grade level, because students won’t thrive in that environment.

“Every single classroom is a microcosm,” Malti says. “And each child in that classroom has varying capacities of mental needs. If you don’t look at the varying needs, you miss the opportunity to promote empathy in the best way possible.”

In addition to bringing her dog to school, Golestan Education’s Modabber has the students do gardening as part of their daily routine. Every Monday, they pick flowers and put them in vases around their classrooms.

“They’re nurturing seeds to grow,” Modabber says. “They’re giving it water and sunlight, they take care of it every day. Then they plant it. They don’t just pick them. They are really appreciating these plants. They see them. They’re present. They’re aware of these plants and how they’re growing.

They also grow food. Every day before lunch, they sing a song and chant and thank the earth for the food they’re about to eat. And after lunch, they sing a song thanking the chef. Modabber says empathy and gratitude go hand and hand. Research backs her up: More gratitude is linked to higher empathy and less aggression.

Empathy is also about connecting with other cultures. Modabber says she’s still affected by those two years of intense bullying she received as an Iranian immigrant in the U.S. during the Iranian Hostage Crisis. She doesn’t want her students to act like this. So every Friday the children learn about a different country or culture, so they can better relate to people with context.

“Golestan makes a big emphasis that we are a small part of this very diverse world and we’re here to respect it,” Modabber says. “It’s threaded in everything we do. It’s our foundation. It’s our benchmark.”

 

This article is printed here with permission. It originally appeared on Greater Good, the online magazine of the Greater Good Science Center (GGSC). Based at UC Berkeley, the GGSC studies the psychology, sociology, and neuroscience of well-being, and teaches skills that foster a thriving, resilient, and compassionate society. 

 

Life Comes From It: Navajo justice

By Chief Justice Robert Yazzie, syndicated from context.org, Jun 30, 2016

A "vertical" system of justice is one that relies upon hierarchies and power. That is, judges sit at the top presiding over the lawyers, jurors, and all participants in court proceedings. The justice system uses rank, and the coercive power that goes with rank or status, to address conflicts.

Power is the active element in the process. A decision is dictated from on high by the judge, and that decision is an order or judgment which parties must obey or face a penalty. Parties to a dispute have limited power and control over the process.

The goal of adversarial law is to punish wrongdoers and teach them a lesson. Adversarial law and adjudication offer only a win-lose solution; it is a zero-sum game. Navajo justice prefers a win-win solution.

For centuries, the focus of English and American criminal law has been punishment by the "state," with little regard for the rights and needs of victims. They are ignored, and the result is that no real justice is done. There are many victims: family members, relatives, and the community; people who are affected by both the dispute and the decision. Often, the perpetrator is a victim as well, in a climate of lost hope and dependence upon alcohol or other means of escape.

When outsiders intervene in a dispute, they impose moral codes upon people who have moral codes of their own. The subjects of adjudication have no power, little or no say about the outcome of a case, and their feelings do not matter.

Within the horizontal justice model, no person is above the other. A graphic model often used by Indians to portray this thought is a circle. In a circle, there is no right or left, no beginning or end. Every point (or person) on the line on a circle looks to the same center as the focus. The circle is the symbol of Navajo justice because it is perfect, unbroken, and a simile of unity and oneness.

The Navajo word for "law" is beehaz-aanii. It means something fundamental and absolute, something that has existed from the beginning of time. Navajos believe that the Holy People "put it there for us." It’s the source of a healthy, meaningful life. Navajos say that "life comes from beehaz-aanii," because it is the essence of life. The precepts ofbeehaz-aanii are stated in prayers and ceremonies that tell us of hozhooji – "the perfect state."

Imagine a system of law that permits anyone to say anything they like during the course of a dispute, and no authority figure has to determine what is "true." Think of a system with an end goal of restorative justice, which uses equality and the full participation of disputants in a final decision. If we say of law that "life comes from it," then where there is hurt, there must be healing.

To the Navajo way of thinking, justice is related to healing because many of the concepts are the same. When a Navajo becomes ill, he or she will consult a medicine man. A Navajo healer examines a patient to determine what is wrong, what caused the illness, and what ceremony matches the illness to cure it. The cure must be related to the cause of the illness, because Navajo healing works through two processes: it drives away or removes the cause of illness and it restores the person to good relations in solidarity with his or her surroundings and self. Patients consult Navajo healers to summon outside healing forces and to marshal what they have inside themselves for healing.

The term "solidarity" is essential to an understanding of both Navajo healing and justice. The Navajo understanding of "solidarity" is difficult to translate into English, but it carries connotations that help the individual to reconcile self with family, community, nature, and the cosmos – all reality. That feeling of oneness with one’s surroundings, and the reconciliation of the individual with everyone and everything else, is what allows an alternative to vertical justice to work. It rejects the process of convicting a person and throwing the keys away in favor of methods that use solidarity to restore good relations among people. Most importantly, it restores good relations with self.

The process – which in English we call "peacemaking" – is a system of relationships where there is no need for force, coercion, or control. There are no plaintiffs or defendants; no "good guys" or "bad guys."

Navajos do not think of equality as treating people as equal before the law; they are equalin the law. Again, our Navajo language points this out in practical terms: When a Navajo is charged with a crime, in the vertical system of justice the judge asks (in English), "Are you guilty or not guilty?" A Navajo cannot respond because there is no precise term for "guilty" in the Navajo language. The word "guilt" implies a moral fault which demands punishment. It is a nonsense word in Navajo law because of the focus on healing, integration with the group, and the end goal of nourishing ongoing relationships with the immediate and extended family, relatives, neighbors, and community.

To better comprehend Navajo justice we must understand distributive justice. Navajo court decisions place more importance on helping a victim than finding fault. On the other hand, compensating a victim in accordance with the victim’s feelings and the perpetrator’s ability to pay is more important than using a precise measure of damages to compensate for actual losses.

Another unique aspect of Navajo justice is that the relatives of the one who causes injury are responsible to compensate the one hurt, and the relatives of the injured party are entitled to the benefit of the compensation. Distributive justice is concerned with the well-being of everyone in a community. If I see a hungry person, it does not matter whether I am responsible for the hunger. If someone is injured, it is irrelevant that I did not hurt that person. I have a responsibility, as a Navajo, to treat everyone as if that person was my relative. Everyone is part of a community, and the resources of the community must be shared with all.

Distributive justice abandons fault and adequate compensation (a fetish of personal injury lawyers) in favor of assuring well-being for everyone. Restoration is more important than punishment. These dynamics are applied in a modern legal institution – the Navajo Peacemaker Court.

Navajos have experienced the vertical system of justice for the past 100 years – first in the Navajo Court of Indian Offenses (1892-1959), then in the Courts of the Navajo Nation (1959-present). For over a century, Navajos either adapted the imposed system to their own ways or expressed their dissatisfaction with a system that made no sense to them.

In 1982, the Judicial Conference of the Navajo Nation created the Navajo Peacemaker Court. It is a modern legal institution that uses traditional community dispute resolution in a court based on the vertical justice model. It is a means of reconciling horizontal (or circular) justice to vertical justice by using traditional Navajo legal values. The Navajo Peacemaker Court makes it possible for judges to avoid adjudication and the discontent it causes by referring cases to local communities to be resolved by talking things out.

The Navajo Peacemaker Court takes advantage of the talents of a naat’aanii. That is a traditional Navajo civil leader who is chosen by the community to be the "peacemaker" for his or her demonstrated abilities – wisdom, integrity, good character, and respect by the community.

The civil authority of a naat’aanii is not coercive or commanding; it is a leadership role in the truest sense of the word. A peacemaker is a person who thinks well, speaks well, shows a strong reverence for the basic teachings of life, and has respect for himself or herself and others in personal conduct.

A naat’aanii functions as a guide, and views everyone – rich or poor, high or low, educated or not – as an equal. The peacemaker attempts to bring participants to a final decision that everyone agrees to for the benefit of all. A naat’aanii is chosen for knowledge, and knowledge is the power which creates the ability to persuade others. There is a form of distributive justice in the sharing of knowledge by a naat’aanii, because he or she offers it to the disputants so they can use it to achieve consensus.

Peacemaking is being revived with the goal of nourishing justice in Navajo Nation communities. The reason is obvious: life comes from it. Communities can resolve their own legal problems using resources they already have to make decisions the traditional Navajo way.



Article reprinted with permission. Originally published in Spring 1994 on page 29 of The Ecology Of Justice (IC#38)Copyright (c)1994, 1997 by Context Institute. Robert Yazzie grew up in a traditional area of the Navajo Nation, studied law, and started his career as a lawyer in Navajo Nation courts. After seven years as presiding judge of the district court in Window Rock, Arizona, he was appointed Chief Justice of the Navajo Nation in 1992. 

OK, So You’re Sort of Like — (Democratic Schools)

OK, So You’re Sort of Like — (Democratic Schools)

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

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 —

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The Art of Doing Nothing

The Art of Doing Nothing

"Where do you work?"
"At Sudbury Valley School."

What do you do?"
"Nothing."

Doing nothing at Sudbury Valley requires a great deal of energy and discipline, and many years of experience. I get better at it every year, and it amuses me to see how I and others struggle with the inner conflict that arises in us inevitably. The conflict is between wanting to do things for people, to impart your knowledge and to pass on your hard earned wisdom, and the realization that the children have to do their learning under their own steam and at their own pace. 

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El aburrimiento es un tiempo privilegiado para observar, reflexionar, imaginar, crear

El aburrimiento es un tiempo privilegiado para observar, reflexionar, imaginar, crear

¿Por qué no conceder a los niños el derecho de aburrirse? ¡Es una buena actividad! Para respirar, reflexionar, imaginar… Marie-Noëlle Tardy, psiquiatra infantil, advierte contra la tendencia actual a sobrecargar de actividades a los niños. Y a olvidar que también necesitan tranquilidad para soñar.

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