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Baby Steps Towards Unschooling/Hackschooling

A Russian woman walks into a bar...wait...wrong story.  A Russian woman comes to America, she makes intentional sacrifices in order to give her children a better life.  In time she finds it is a life that comes with a cost, inner discipline.  She struggles daily with how her children and grandchildren have lost a valuable gift from their Russian heritage that is too late for her to give to them.

When 2+2=4 is the right answer given by our American children...do they really know why 2+2=4?  Yes, I am keeping it simple, but it could be any problem and I would still be asking if they know why.  I always wanted to know why...my teacher would always say “It just is.”  I hear my own children asking and the adults around them (myself included) give the same result--no one explained it to us, therefore we don’t have the words to give our children.  

Our Russian woman gave up a career when she came to America that was non-transferable.  She did what was reasonable, she went back to college here to study Computer Science.  She failed the English portion of the placement test since she had and still has limited understanding of the English language.  She earned a top score in the Math portion of the exam.  She went on to ace all of her classes.  Her teacher’s were confused by her ability to pass these classes when she did not understand their words, but she brought a gift from Russia.  Inner Discipline.  The children of Russia know struggle and grow into adults that may have skills to solve problems and honor challenges.  I am hearing from my professor friends that many of their current students do not have the skill to persevere--when the going gets tough, these students fall apart.   

I am not saying go live in Russia, but this woman’s story reminds me of my early concerns as a parent and as an educator about our school system.  It did not take me long to find alternatives to public education and when those options did not work for my child I turned to homeschooling.  And yes, I schooled at home.  We had a classroom, a strict schedule and record keeping.  I thought this was the right thing to do...but my child taught me that it wasn’t working.  I could send her back to school and let her not learn there or I could just stop.  STOP. Stop is what I did.

I began this transition from the comfortable education method that I knew into the unknown.  Yes, I was concerned that I was damaging my child and in the end would be accused of using her as a guinea pig.  But this method felt right for our family.  As I stopped talking I observed that she talked more--it seemed that her IQ was increasing with every word I kept to myself.   I had used this method when I was teaching others and was accused by some to be “too hands off” for these parents.  But this was the method that my family found to be the answer and I was beyond thrilled when the day came that it all paid off for us.  The years of less intrusive education gave my child an inner discipline that she was not born with nor was she receiving from teachers trying to fill an empty vessel.  

Our children are not empty vessels to fill, but have their own ability to strengthen their natural interest in the world with the aid of a facilitator.  As a facilitator, my role is to provide materials and questions that will aid in the child’s growth.  Many call it the Socratic Method, but it is easily applied to the education of young children and can be quite valuable in the education of teens and young adults.  

Take a leap of faith...don’t do what the school system is doing--this is your chance.  You have already taken the first steps by homeschooling, you might as well “deschool” yourself and create an educational opportunity that fits your children and gives them skills that they could not get in public education.   

Tips for Using Socratic Method in your Learning Environment

Example #1:  Babyhood  

A baby is left alone to play on a blanket with his rattle.  He shakes it a bit too vigorously and it flies from his hand and lands off the blanket.  He cries as he struggles to reach the rattle as his caretaker struggles to stay back and let the child find his own solution for retrieving the toy.  His struggle is what brings him to scootch, later crawl, and finally walk.  If we continue to interfere and retrieve his toy for him each time he will not feel the agony of something out of reach and he will not be given the opportunity to challenge himself.  Fortunately, most caretakers naturally come to this understanding through observation and fatigue.  

Example #2:  For Early Childhood

A group of children ranging from five years to ten years are given various supplies and a question.  At first they struggle to understand the question and get distracted by the fun to be had with new materials.  The facilitator then reminds them of the challenge at hand by asking the children an additional question.  A question that may give the children the belief that the adult does not know what to do with the supplies.  This gave the children an opportunity to discuss amongst themselves and share ideas and solutions in order to assist this poor adult.  We have all seen this method on Sesame Street if nowhere else.   

Example #3:  For Teens and Young Adults

A teen daughter shares with her mother, “I am not ever going to buy anything made in a sweatshop.”  The mother continues to ask questions and creates a dialogue that could lead to a solution.  The mother does not add her judgement to the discussion, but offers opportunities for continued questions.  Sometimes there is no solution that will satisfy all parties and that is not always the goal.   While answers shut off the brain questions keep the mind active and paves the road for deeper thinking.  It is hard to cut off our emotions when our teens ask heated questions, but it will be harder to have a young adult that takes everything for face value.

Tip #1  The one I find the hardest and think is the most important.  The “ten second wait” after a question has been asked by you or other participants.  Embrace the silence, give them a chance to process the question and prepare their own answer.  Keep your interjections short without judgement and lectures.

Tip #2  Use follow up questions if it appears that the student seems distracted from the activity or challenge.  “I wonder what happens if we use the hammer instead of the screw driver?”  

Tip #3  Don’t be afraid to say “I don’t know, what do you think?”

Tip #4  Let them try odd alternatives to what your experience tells you--they may find a fantastic new way to do something or they will figure out that it was non-productive.  Sometimes we learn more from mistakes than we do from “right” answers.  

Tip  #5  Give them encouragement to know that questioning you is not cause for discipline and that questioning experts (parents and teachers) in a constructive manner is important to their adult future.  

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