Friday, September 17, 2010

Buccaneer Scholar

**Update on Kenny in the previous post. Please forgive me, this is a super long and likely boring post for 90% of you, but maybe it will resonate with someone. What the heck, I am here with tons of time to kill and find myself rattling on in this post and in a class retreat paper that I had to write as well. So close the window if you are already rolling your eyes...after all, I can't even be offended as I don't know you are doing it! Hahaha!**

I have read a couple of fantastic books on this trip, and I am not about to turn this into a Book Blog, but I am reading one as I even work on this post that is smashing my own previously held notions about education. It is helping me firm up the direction I have been headed in this past year as we have embraced homeschooling as a new way of educating our children and as a lifestyle.

In all seriousness, any parent ought to read this, homeschooler or not, as it will provide you with a surprising new definition for “education”…one that has slowly, ever so gradually, disappeared from the American conscience. Please do not take this as a “knock” on institutional education, as it is not. It is more an eye opener about the fact that education can (and used to) look much different than it does today, and sadly we are limiting our entire society by being diploma worshippers.

“Secrets of a Buccaneer-Scholar” is written by the man who coined the phrase, James Marcus Bach…and yes, his father is bestselling author Richard Bach of “Johnathan Livingston Seagull” fame. James was a high school dropout who went on to find success in the computer programming and software testing field, first at Apple Computer then as an independent consultant. He accomplished this without a high school or college diploma, something most told him would be impossible. Is he advocating being a high school drop out? Certainly not, instead he is saying that the standard idea of education today is merely one way in which one can become an educated person.

He is 100% right, and this book outlines my own currently developing philosophy with far more eloquence and logic than I could ever provide.

Our decision to try homeschooling last year was NOT merely to help Kenny and the girls catch up, nor was it to sequester them from the world and the “sinful” things they might be subjected to. For all the kids we had a desire to help them gain an education in a way that we were not seeing available to them in the public school system. Matthew was the first one for whom it was becoming evident that school was hindering him rather than helping him in his educational pursuits.

As I come off a surprising couple of weeks with Kenny, it is more than obvious that for he too needs to be allowed to direct his time and attention towards his passions and areas of giftedness, for make no bones about it, despite Kenny’s struggles he is an incredibly bright young man. Quite frankly, it would surprise no one who knows him in person if does not turn out to be our most successful child in terms of the world’s typical understanding of success. I also have had affirmed for me this summer that we made the right decision, and his reading skills are improving automatically when provided hours of time to practice that skill, which in school he was not allowed due to the typical classroom schedule.

“School is temporary. Education is not.”

We are missing out on the bigger picture with our way of educating our young people. We have become so test oriented and skills based that we have forgotten to lead them gently toward the awe and wonder, the magic that exists in learning something new. Our poor teachers today basically are forced to teach by script, their own imaginations and creativity are stifled to a degree no one would have ever conceived of 25 years ago. Text books quite literally have scripted questions and responses to illicit from their students, scope and sequence are so tightly controlled that teachable moments are verboten because they can not adequately be followed up on in class, and honestly, the behavior of children in the classroom is so challenging that often teachers find themselves in the role of therapist, social worker and surrogate mother/father…all in the first 20 minutes of the day. My respect for those who continue to toil away in the hardscrabble fields of our public schools is immense, and those who try to point fingers in the direction of our public educator with claims of “tenure-itis” or “liberalism” have not spent much time in the company of the kinds of teachers I have interacted with for years and whom I count upon some of my nearest and dearest friends. Most often, they are as demoralized and frustrated as the parents are, yet they are in the unenviable position of having to walk a thin line between “company line” and child education advocate.

Sadly, many of us think it is up to the teachers to change policy, but instead fail to point the finger of blame directly where it should be pointed, back at us as citizens who have watched the decline of public education for decades and have done nothing but vote in more politicians whose ideas of education “reform” is to force entire semesters of work to be focused solely on state assessment tests. That is NOT reform, my friends, that is the Road to Mediocrity that we all have walked for a very long time and now are complaining that OTHERS are not fixing. It is OUR FAULT.

But I seem to have digressed here, sitting quietly in a hospital room with hours to contemplate and write can do that to you.

“Education is not a heap of facts. It’s not the hours we spend in the classrooms, or the way we answer test questions. It’s not indoctrination, nor worshipping the ancients, nor obedience to authority, not taking anyone’s word for what is true, false, vital, banal.

Education is the ‘you’ that emerges from the learning you do.”

The above is the truth as I see it, and as Mr. Bach has so wonderfully stated it. I particularly loved the “nor worshipping the ancients” part, as even within the homeschooling arena there tends to be an overemphasis on material covered and memorized rather than teaching our kids to love learning with a passion, evaluate anything critically, and develop the kind of intellectual curiosity that will lead them to new heights of discovery. Sounds too highbrow? Too bad, that saddens me deeply for that is really what ought to be the end result of the first 13 years of school.

Don’t get me wrong…sound, solid core skills need to be in place as well, but we often replace facts with understanding. For example, we often put great emphasis on learning grammar, but we forget what learning grammar is really for…to help develop good writers. The end result is not to have master grammarians who can diagram sentences with ease and can quickly point out the object of a prepositional phrase. We forget that our reason for teaching grammar is to create writers who engage and enlighten us, whose prose is pleasing to the ear and whose ideas are expressed with thoughtful language that is used well. In essence, the learning of grammar is to create solid writers. Focusing too much time on the inane keeps us from moving forward toward the true desired result, which so often gets lost in the process.

Mr. Bach’s entire 193 pages is an easy read, and it outlines the various ways in which we can educate ourselves once we have broken free of the confines of “the box” of 21st century education. He teaches us how to become buccaneers, attacking our self-education with a variety of methods and strategies. He provides a list of traits that are common to so-called “buccaneers”:

1) A buccaneer’s education is not limited by boundaries of traditional disciplines.
2) They rethink labels, forms, and rituals of life, them remix them and make them our own.
3) Buccaneers develop an original point of view that shows us unique solutions to difficult problems, and that often puts us at odds with more conventional minded friends.
4) Buccaneers feel at home in their own minds. (WOW!!! Love this one!)
5) Buccaneers excel at rapid research, especially in our “hyper-linked, media saturated world”.
6) Others trust buccaneers more as they are not the ones who parrot what “authorities” tell us to be true…they are thinking mavericks.
7) Buccaneers choose to place more reliance on first-hand knowledge, and are self-directed learners…buccaneers are NOT dogmatic.
8) They “construct” themselves and don’t take to indoctrination.
9) They earn their reputation, and don’t rely on a string of certificates and documents to speak for their education (although these may at times come in handy).

Can you tell I have a great deal of enthusiasm for this perspective? It aligns perfectly with my own currently maturing ideas on education. Our decision to homeschool required many things of me as a mother. It dictated that I become an educator in a more structured sense. I felt, and continue to feel, that it is imperative that I develop a strong sense of what education means for our family, what I want our children to experience and learn, how I hope to help them learn, and to create a philosophy regarding education that can be a guiding force over the coming years and help me evaluate any steps we take.

Does this sound a little “I” centered and leaves poor Dominick out in the cold? Well, the truth is, it IS the mom’s who do most of the educating, both of the children and of the fathers as we grow ourselves and share our newly acquired knowledge. Dominick has been a major contributor in a million ways, allowing me the time to research, read and expand my knowledge base as quickly as possible. He has shown incredible trust in me, valuing my gifts and talents and encouraging me every step of the way. He sees this as my new profession for the next several years, and he voices often how he knows I can succeed at it, and he rarely questions anything I do. That trust helps enormously, I am not justifying anything to him or anyone else as I experiment, fail, back up, and try again. Slowly I am creating a new model of education in my own mind, and though far from complete yet I am much further down the road than I was a year ago.

Books like Bach’s help enormously. Our unique little family bucks the conventional norm on so many levels it is almost laughable. ANY traditional model, be it public schooling or home schooling does not fit us well, so like the good Buccaneer I am, I am making it up as I go along. Will our ship sink? Oh boy, I sure hope not. Will we encounter rough seas along the way? We already have! Hahaha! Will we end up in a safe harbor at the end of our voyage? I pray we do, and will work hard to see to it that it happens, relying not on others to do the job for us but by trying my best to navigate using all the tools available to us.

Shoring up my own concepts is a key factor to success, as well as recognition that success for us will likely not look like a diploma from an Ivy League college…or maybe it will! Who knows? But being open to ALL the educational options out there is what is important, and understanding that success means looking at the end result…a career for each of our children that suits them as perfectly as possible and allows them to be self-sufficient. It is NOT about what college they get into or even IF they go to college, for as grammar is about creating good writers, education is ultimately about creating souls who pursue knowledge which will lead to rewarding lives.


Ohiomom2121 said...

Dear Cindy,
Ah, the sea legs I have been waiting for, for you! Funny the post is about buccaneers, as you have given yourself so little credit and so little faith along the way, matey! It is so good to see you finding your homeschooling path and the confidence to see its benefits. Funny, I say this even as both our youngest are currently enrolled full time in school and doing well. It is not HS vs. Public School, but if you're going to HS it's good if you achieve/recognize the benefits, and they are many. By the way, don't worry too much about Matthew needing more individualized instruction; part of the growth of HS that is achieved only by effort is self-study, and I believe it contributed greatly to the increase in test scores we saw w/our sons, even though it wasn't something they always loved. If things are really challenging to do at home, I do encourage you to consider a class or 2 back at school. My sons liked the social part, and for science & language, we couldn't beat the public school choices. Matthew is smart enough and motivated enough that you should not feel guilty giving him a bit less time than he "wants," as he might benefit more from struggling along! I do trust that you know your son best, so you probably do know his needs, but maybe my ideas will cause you to feel less guilty if in the end Matthew doesn't get the time you think would be best. The beauty of a class or 2 at school is that it forces you up and they get back before you would even be getting going at home. The downside is less flexibility in schedule. It worked for us!
Congrats on continuing to gain confidence and momentum in all your new roles!

Anonymous said...

I am sending this on to my daughter because I think it is so important. School--in its various ways--is so important. Public school teachers are now inundated with children from such a variety of homes, such a variety of experience, such a varied exposure to the positive and negatives of life that it makes it almost impossible to reach all of them at the level of their need. It takes team work with the parents and too often that is lacking. Some of the finest education my children got was not in the classroom (some was though). Thanks for this recommendation. I'll pass it on.


Anonymous said...

Nobody is good at EVERYTHING, but
Everybody is good at SOMETHING.

Learning to live with strengths and weaknesses is part of growing (for all of us!)

Finding God's special gifts in each of us is like a treasure hunt -- sometimes it's easy to spot, sometimes very hidden, sometimes we go down false trails, sometimes we confuse something good for what He really wants for us -- His Best.

We are all made in HIs image, and He delights in Each one of us --

Sorry -- just had to get that out!


Peggy in Virginia

Lisa S said...

Thanks for the wonderful post - I am going to try to go to a lecture by this author in Loveland, CO tonight. Now I'm excited :)