education, creativity, belief

Bee's picture
Tue, 11/01/2011 - 02:17 -- Bee

The other day my daughter mentioned to a university classmate that she was homeschooled, and the other student recoiled in shock and disgust.

My kid said "What? You are acting like I was raised by the Klu Klux Klan. I wasn't. Homeschooling is simply another form of education."

I would have said superior but really, the proof is in the pudding: this strange kitten I raised would appear to have all the required life skills, contrary to predictions of those who disagree with or discount unschooling. Not least the fact that she was accepted to a prestigious university. Where her performance generally exceeds that of her traditionally trained colleagues.

The early years were not easy, nor would I make the same choices if we had better options or more money. But this is what I had: a very bright, clinically hyperactive child, in a bankrupt school system. I worked within the existing framework where I could, swapping her in and out of enrichment programs, running parent associations, helping start charter schools. But none of the free or public options worked for my child, not least because her driving inherent commitment to justice is disruptive to petty tyrants and third grade teachers.

Homeschooling didn't really 'work' either, but at least she survived childhood with her natural exuberance intact. As she pointed out to her colleague "I just went roller skating. A lot."

This is fundamentally true, and a good summary of my educational philosophy. When pressed for details about her curriculum my daughter just shrugs and says that growing up with me is like being enrolled in a perpetual debating society. I apply the Socratic method to life in general; every meal is a seminar.

I dropped out of school at fourteen, had two kinds of cancer and a baby in my teens, but finished graduate school at twenty-two. I am married to a world class mathematician who cannot do arithmetic or algebra; he has a PhD but never finished junior high.

We were both reckless, rackety students, and it didn't matter at all. Or rather, we couldn't have done it any other way -- we didn't fit in, and we couldn't change. Our children are much like us, and so far. . . it doesn't matter.

The only thing that actually does matter? Belief. We imagined we could do it, no matter how often other people said no. And critically, we met the occasional trickster or helper who was willing to tell a crazy poor kid that they could change the world.

I'm not saying that education is important or necessary. In fact, I think that formal education is toxic unless or until people want to be there. Too many students are passive consumers, instead of active scholars.

But at the same time I think that there are many people with cracked brains and eccentric ideas who would excel in academia, if they had the chance. My daughter is one of those people and it has been an overwhelming lifelong struggle to help her get there. The baby who talked in full sentences, the toddler who could memorise and recite monologues, the child who had such severe behavioural 'challenges' she attended school for no more than two years, total? That kid is happier and more productive in her competitive university than any of the docile youth who knew how to sit still.

Whether or not she remains in academia is irrelevant; whatever career she chooses, whichever life she pursues, her education has served her well. She has an investigative mind and enough confidence to take her wherever she wishes.

If I ran the world, my very first policy change would be this: I would tell all the weird kids YES. Believe to achieve, fake it til you make it. There might be a lot of compromise and lashings of heartache, but what is the alternative? Despair? Death? Watching television? Follow your dreams where they lead, and if you want to do it, go to school.

Here are some tips I compiled for my offspring and occasionally force on friends:

1. If you are a weird kid, go to a weird school.
2. If you can't manage that, study a weird subject.
3. If you are a font of trivia, go to graduate school.
4. If you are a font of trivia and love to argue, do a PhD.
5. Get funded.
6. If you have trouble getting funded, ask everyone you know if they have ideas for resources. Apply for everything!
7. Repeat: apply for everything. Grants, assistantships, wacky summer programs, study abroad, whether you are 'eligible' or not. Whatever!
8. Never, ever date within your own field.
9. If the going gets tough, get creative! There are all sorts of unexpected sideways solutions. Life on the loser track might be easier: whether you are a dropout or a mature student or something more esoteric, keep asking for advice. There is almost always a solution. Look for the loophole, and jump through before it closes.
10. Don't give up the dream, give up the haters.


rease's picture
Submitted by rease on

Im wiith elenoise - and I dont know anyone here well enough to know what thier educational background is, and experience seems to vary. My own school experience was beyond traumatic, it was fucking horrifying. I was in pre school in the prussian system in ukraine where corporal punishment - in front of the class, was 100% and propaganda really dominated the curriculum. Our school building looked like a prison, you could hardly believe there were children there. The current public education system here once looked like that, and in some states like kentucky - its still done.

Coming over here and being in the system was different in that most of the abuses were more subtle and noone whacked me on the fingers with a ruler. There was more of a social construct and the elite seemed to have alot of power and control, within the public schools. "Donations" made by the affluent families controlled the behavior of the staff and teachers and decided who ended up in detention, and the grades as well. Some of the kids only showed up half the time and fucked around, never turned in homework, and bullied the poor kids - and got a free ride, all A's - and were captains of all the teams. This is in the best neighborhood in the city, and the highest rated school in the city. Its still known as one of the best schools and is talked about constantly. Predators waited outside on school grounds, and the police did nothing to notify anyone in spite of megan's law. The teachers made fun of the poor/different kids right in class, randomly punished them for no reason (probably under pressure from a superior being threatened/coerced a parent) and sent them into detention or suspended them. The corruption and atrocities I experienced and witnessed within the public school system were enough to scare the fuck out of me and not want to send my kid there.

Of the three charter schools I have been a part of developing - they were a fucking blessing, an opportunity to give alot of choice to the parents, students, teachers and community in how the school operated. However, they arent as well protected or well funded as the public schools unless they accept corporate funds, and for those of us that want to provide educational alternatives that arent for the bourgoise - charter schools are the only way, because public alternatives seem to constantly have to fight pressure to conform. Its an uphill battle, in a constant storm. The credentialing requirements vary from state to state - but for people like me, with no formal teaching experience or accolades, unschool graduates, and teachers from around the world who's credentials are fucking amazing but have no weight in the public system - bypassing state certification is a must. My coursework in early childhood education was a waste of my time, and very few credentialed teachers that share my educational philosophy think thier credentials and certifications were useful, necessary and have spent thier last few years unlearning how to control thier students the way they were taught. The montessori school here and the montessori training available is sooo far, sooo sooo far removed from Maria Montessori's principles Im amazed and insulted that some of these institutions dare to use her name. Im sure she would feel the same way if she could crawl out of her grave and protest it.

I have a friend who went to a liberal college which she loved and open sourced thier curriculum and methods, and went to teach in the public schools - and like many teachers I know - ended up burning out because the system wouldnt allow her to anything that didnt involve controlling the students and was encourged to verbally abuse them. Maybe because Ive been in alternative education for a while Ive heard alot horror stories and most of the teachers I know have come from some of the worst schools and school districts in the country. I havent worked with anyone in the system, who has faith in the system and feels genuinely good about what they are doing and how they got there. Though I have heard of public schools in rural areas that are sort of like those one room schoolhouses, and pretty much are run by the community, and arent considered radical or alternative because they have been unchanged for the 100 years they have been there.
Its hard for me to understand why certifications hold weight for people, Ive seen them used as a weapons too much for me to think that someone waving around thier certification could be trusted to be a loving, caring person to guide my child on his learning adventure. I dont have any personal vendetta towards teachers who work in the public school system or teachers unions, people dont know that they can teach without going to college, and that public schools arent the only way to work with underserved kids. People want to teach, they want to get paid well and have the protections a union offers.

I know of some public schools that offer a decent curriculum and control over coursework, caring teachers and low enrollment - but, they dont seem to last long under the weight of district rules and regulations and vendettas of psycotic, authoritarian superintendants and rival schools who are put to shame by the decent public schools. And ranty parents who dont want thier money supporting them.

The school board has alot of control, and its sort of the same as any other political heirarchy, very few of them deal with the people they serve and mostly make descisions that make thier lives easier, and have nothing to do with the best interests of the students. Theres budget cuts sure, but the money was never managed well in the first place - its totally disproportionate and some districts get hundreds of thousands of dollars for aesthetic remodels while the school in my neighborhood, which has a decent enrollment - is getting shut down because apparently under 30 students per classroom is low enrollment. It seems in vain for me to get involved in trying to keep it alive - because there are so many problems I couldnt, with a good concience, actually say I want it to stay open. I would rather watch things collapse, one by one, until people are forced to act. Thats why the homeschooling community grew ten times its size in five years, and has made homeschooling resources sprout up everywhere, and its become more socially acceptible to not be in public school. Theres programs at the museums and libraries and all over the place. Some of them now offer scholarships too. Thats how a few of the best alternative schools i know of were formed - because of declining enrollment and budget cuts, lack of available teachers school shutdowns and the general stuff thats going on now - and districts being desperate. Thats me, I dont see the storm - I see the opportunity these so called disasters are creating. When you see a failing economy where a college degree gets you a minumum wage job if your lucky - and people finally stop seeing them as necessary, useful or helpful and actually detrimental (debt/ overqualified for work) - thats when my argument for things like internships, worktrades, cooperatives, and barter/trade associations stop falling on deaf ears and sounding like hippie shit and start making sense as a viable, sustainable way to rebuild the economy.