Movie Monday: Born to Learn!

Birds fly. Fish swim. People learn.
~ John Holt

It turns out that the above quote is turning out to be more true than we thought! You’ve heard that babies are born already recognizing their mother’s voices, sometimes their father’s, and things like a passage from a book that mother read over and over. Well watch this amazing video from TED to see what else babies learn while in the womb!

[ted id=1289]
TED, a nonprofit devoted to Ideas Worth Spreading started out as a conference for people from three worlds (Technology, Entertainment, Design) but its scope has become ever broader since then. I love the TED Talks!

“He’s Bullied, But He’s Still Got to Go to School!” … Doesn’t He?

Jonah Mowry posted this video of himself about his fear and despair at the thought of starting 8th grade, because of the severe bullying he has experienced since 1st grade … and he started cutting himself in 2nd grade. At some point – at several points – during the ensuing seven years, he has contemplated suicide.


Jonah was fortunate to get a positive response to his video, and the kids at his school responded by befriending rather than more bullying. I am exceedingly happy for him that he’s got some friends now, that he garnered good feedback and his bullies realized what they were doing.


But I find myself in a real morass of anger and confusion because of this video, because this can happen to a child in our society. Here is a child who began cutting himself when he was just seven or eight years old. Cutting! This is incredible to me, and I can’t help wondering: when he came home crying, and beat up from bullies, and bloody from his own hand …

Why did his parents send him back to school?

I do not mean to imply that Jonah’s parents didn’t care or weren’t aware of what was happening to their son. I will work from the assumption that they knew and that they were trying their hardest to find the best help available for him both at the school and outside the school. But knowing that this is not a one-time scenario, that this is happening every day to children all over this country, I have to wonder how it is that so many of us have bought into the idea that keeping these bullied children in school is the most important factor to consider in this equation?

How has the institutional school system so brainwashed us all that we have reached a point where it is more important for a child to learn to add and subtract than it is to protect him from this sort of animalistic behavior? How can we – we parents, we teachers, we school bureaucrats – think that it is okay for him to despise himself, his life, and his peers, as long as he can diagram a sentence properly?

I’m filing this in the “Stupid School Tricks” category because this does not happen anywhere except in school (and if the school does nothing to promote it, it certainly does very little of real impact to stop it). If this were happening to your child anywhere else – anywhere else: church, the YMCA, the park – you would stop it. You would talk to the Sunday School teacher or church board or just change churches. You would go to the Y at a different time, or find another place to work out. You would stay inside, or go to the park only when the bullies were in school. You would find options.

You would protect your child.

And yet, when a child is bullied to the point of self-mutilation and thoughts of suicide, rarely is the first thought of pulling him out of school. Nor the second, third, or fifty-second thought. It’s just not on the table. Parents, I know you are trying to help and protect your child, but you are thinking inside of a square whose lines have been drawn for you by people with a vested interest in keeping your child in school.

I admit I do wish that more parents would simply realize that removing school from the equation is a viable option, but I realize that they will not. They can’t think outside of that square because they don’t even realize the square is there, hemming them in. So what outrages me is not so much the parents as it is the system that drew us into the square and has us all brainwashed into thinking that no matter how bad it is inside the square for your kid, leaving the square – leaving school – is worse.

Just think: a whole bureaucratic system with a vested interest in keeping your child in school, no matter how bad it is for him there. How bad must it be when a bullied population has as its slogan “It Gets Better”? That is an awful sentiment! “Stick it out, kid, because someday you won’t be bullied any more.” How about not being bullied now, in the formative and most tender years? How about protecting our kids?

So, if you are the parent of a bullied child, please let me reassure you: pulling your kid out of school is not the worst thing in the world. Watching him go through seven (or more) years of hell on earth; watching the professionals paid to educate and guide him through his childhood sit back and say, “Hey, don’t worry, it gets better after you’re gone from here”; watching him lose his sense of himself as a person of worth; perhaps walking in one morning to find he has taken the next step and eliminated himself from the equation …

Please don’t watch your kid be bullied and think there’s nothing you can do because the system tells you “he’s got to go to school.”

NO, he doesn’t. Pulling him out of school and teaching him nothing would be a step in the right direction, would help him turn out to be a better person than letting him live through this sort of agony day in and day out and realizing that, to his parents and teachers, his mental state is of less importance than the fact that he must be educated so he can “make something of himself” at some hazy future date. How about helping him make something of himself right now, instead? How about helping him make himself into a whole person?

There are options. There are always options. One counselor might say, “Stick it out, it gets better.” Another counselor might say, “This other school is better, try it out.” But if your child is at this point, I have to say I think finding another counselor or switching schools is like rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic.

Parents of bullied children: I know you want to help. I know are trying to help. But moving his chair to the sunny side of the deck doesn’t change the fact that his ship is going down. Be brave for your child. Be brave with your child. Try something different. Bring him home. Bring him to the safest place on earth for him, and let him heal.

Severe bullying is an excellent reason to try homeschooling. Think of it this way: even the schools are saying, “it gets better once they’re out of school.” Listen to them and take those words to heart. Get your child out of school now. Homeschooling is not the only option, but it is a good option to take into consideration.

I know single parents who make homeschooling work. I know two-working-parent families who make homeschooling work, or who find a way for one parent to quit and be home with the kids. I know homeschooling families who use grandparents or neighbors or friends from church who can be with the child during the day if he’s too young to stay alone. I know homeschool parents who need a little extra income and will sit for and teach the child of working parents, taking him to homeschool group meetings where he can make friends who won’t bully him.

No, homeschooled kids aren’t perfect, and of course there is some teasing, but that level of bullying just doesn’t happen in homeschool circles. It can’t. No homeschool parent would stand for it. The homeschooling parent already pulled her kid out of school; she isn’t going to hesitate to pull him out of a bad situation with a homeschool group.

And you shouldn’t hesitate to step outside the lines drawn and enforced by the institutional system, and pull your child out of a bad situation at school. It won’t be the worst thing in the world. Instead, it might be the best thing you ever do.

P.S. to the parents of the bullies: I’m talking to you too. Do you want to stop your child’s bullying behavior? Take him out of the situation that gives him that power, or that environment that makes him feel he needs to assert power over other children. Let him start living a real life without fear, which is often what prompts that types of behavior. Let him be safe too.

Jonah Mowry: A Typical Teenager
Does Homeschooling Prepare Students for the Real World?
Rebecca Black (YouTube Viral Video “Friday” Singer) Bullied into Homeschooling
Bullying: A Reason to Homeschool – series of posts looking at short-term homeschooling

Making the Choice: When Typical School Doesn’t Fit Your Atypical Child
by Corin Barsily Goodwin and Mika Gustavson: A look at the perceived barriers to homeschooling for children who don’t “fit” traditional schools, and how to find educational options that fully address your child’s academic and emotional needs.

You Learn to Teach by Teaching

Learn to be a TeacherA local radio station, KTAR, recently interviewed a friend and me about homeschooling. From a twenty-minute interview they put a couple of sound bites on drive-time radio the next morning (I didn’t hear it, but someone I know did!) and a brief article on their website. Thankfully, they didn’t try to make us or homeschooling in general look bad, which was pleasant! But I felt the author did pick out what could be considered my most inflammatory remarks and play them up, with the softening part played down, and I’d like to clarify. (Not to mention, they don’t really quote word-for-word; it’s more of a “gist of it” kind of quote.)

Carma Paden of Phoenix decided to home school her four children because she was turned off by what she calls the “institutional nature” of schools.

“There’s so little flexibility in schools, and so [little] ability to individualize education to the child,” Paden says. Paden has a four year degree in elementary education, and says first-year teachers are no better trained than the average parent on how to teach children. “Teachers that are just out of teaching college don’t know anything that you don’t know,” she says.

Paden believes that teachers coming right out of college may have learned how to manage a class of 30 kids, but they don’t start really learning how to teach until they work in the classroom as a student teacher.

She says that many people can learn how to teach their own kids by simply jumping in and doing it.

“You learn to teach by teaching,” says Paden. “That’s just as true with someone who has a four year degree as it is with a Mom.”

The reporter looked shocked when I said that teachers don’t know anything parents don’t know, and when he asked for clarification, I said something to the effect of, “Well, nothing that anyone with any four-year degree doesn’t know. What future teachers learn is classroom management and record keeping and so forth, but once that degree is in hand, they still have to learn to teach. You learn to teach by teaching, and parents can learn that just as easily as someone with a four-year teaching degree can.”

Who Can Teach?

This is not to denigrate teachers in any way, and please note that I am not comparing a first-time homeschooler to a twenty-year veteran teacher. Both of my parents are teachers, my sister is a teacher, and I chose teaching as my own potential profession. I am very aware that a majority of teachers love kids and are truly working their best to help them. As with any profession, there are some superlative examples, some quite dreadful examples, and a large middle population of people who are good to very good at their jobs.

No, my point is not that teachers can’t teach or don’t teach well; my point is not really anything to do with trained classroom teachers at all. My point is, anyone can learn to teach. The skills learned when acquiring a teaching degree are skills that are very specific to the classroom. My children and I do not live in a classroom, so those skills are unnecessary to me as a homeschooling mother. One learns to teach by teaching.

I’m happy to have my degree; there are parts of it that I find quite useful, not least the fact that that little voice that makes itself heard now and then inside the heads of most homeschooling mothers, the outraged little voice that says, “You’re not a trained teacher, what do you think you’re doing?” is not really something that I have to deal with for myself. Too, I find that sharing this knowledge with other homeschooling parents, especially those new to or just considering homeschooling, can open up a whole new way of looking at things for them and I am very pleased to be able to help them that way. If I had it to do over again, though, I wouldn’t choose education as my degree even knowing that I planned to homeschool. (In fact, there were several very specific factors in the last part of my college career that decided me quite firmly on homeschooling my own children, long before I had them. You can read that story here, if you’d like.)

You Learn to Teach by Teaching

I recently met another mom, one who has not chosen to homeschool. We were talking to a mutual friend and the subject of teacher training came up. I began with my usual spiel of what I had learned and not learned in teaching classes, and the new mom, the one who has her children in public school, started nodding along with me. Apparently she has a teaching degree too, and as if we had rehearsed it, she chorused with me at the end: You learn to teach by teaching!

So, my apologies to all the dedicated professional teachers out there. If for some reason I were unable to be at home with my children, I would be very glad of your services, in much the same way that if I had been unable to breastfeed my children, I would have been glad of formula. I’m glad it’s there, I know there are people who really need to use it, but I’m even more glad that I do not have to use public schools and can instead give my children the more personal, custom-tailored nurturing they can get at home.

I know someone will comment that there are a lot of things that a professional teacher could teach that I cannot, and I agree; that is true. On the other hand, there are many things I can teach my children that a professional teacher cannot. And, to be perfectly honest, there are even more things that my children can teach themselves than either of us could ever dream of, which is what they’re doing now.

So I’ll just leave all you veteran homeschoolers and new homeschoolers and thinking-about-homeschoolers out there – along with those who would never dream of homeschooling – with this thought:

There is no school equal to a decent home,
and no teacher equal to a virtuous parent.

~ Mohandas Gandhi

Hey, Gandhi said it, not me.


Why I Chose Homeschool Before I Had Children

The Easy Way to Run a Homeschool Group

It’s not a NO-work homeschool group, but definitely LESS work. Still sound good?

I’m the leader of my local homeschool support group. We’re pretty laid-back, so much so that I really don’t consider myself the “leader” … I fulfill more of a secretarial role in my own opinion. But most of the group calls me the leader, and in those few (thankfully VERY few) instances where leadership is called on to arbitrate disputes or deal with problem members, I get called on … definitely my least favorite part!

But as for what we do, we have a framework or routine in place, and we’re flexible within that framework. We’re not a co-op; that is, we don’t offer cooperative classes, although within our group different people get together and form their own co-ops, such as the history co-op taking place at my house this fall. But that’s not what we’re discussing.

Get Half the Planning Done in a Snap!

Our homeschool group meets every Friday afternoon for some sort of group activity. Every other week (sometimes more often) is a park day that is just relaxed and the kids hanging out and the moms hanging out … very nice. Very conducive to building relationships and friendships and even finding someone who has kids just your kids’ age and who is looking for a teaching co-op in just the same subjects you’re looking for. We have a few activities associated with our park days, such as a book club that meets once a month during one of our park days.

With half of your group meetings set as park days, half of your planning is done. Fini!

Plan the Rest of the Meetings

We have two planning meetings each year to work out a schedule for the rest of the weeks. First planning meeting is either at the beginning or end of summer. (Our group does not meet over the summer. This is not so much a concession to school schedules as it is a concession to summertime in Arizona. No one wants to go to the park, and a whole heckuva lot of us leave town altogether.)

I like to have it at the beginning of summer, because all the little changes we might want to make are fresh on our minds. I don’t know about you but after three months of travel and summer camps, I can’t remember what I was thinking six months ago that I wanted to talk to everyone about next time! The second planning meeting is right after Christmas, usually our first meeting of the new year. At these meetings we discuss when to have our semi-permanent days (parties and such) and what kinds of field trips and other activities we want to do on the other Fridays.

Have a Yearly Routine

We have several semi-permanent days set (semi-permanent meaning: we know we’ll have these events, but need to schedule the exact day). We always start off the fall meetings with a Kick Off Party (usually a pool party at someone’s house). We have a Fall Harvest Party each year, usually late October. Our Friendship Party comes near Valentine’s Day. And of course, there is a fabulous Year End Party at the end of May!

We pencil in days for the group to attend the state fair (October), a “school portrait” day (October), the American Heritage Festival (November), and the Estrella War (a Renaissance-fair type festival put on by the Society for Creative Anachronism each year in February). We schedule a day for our own Academic Fair (March or April), and a day for assembling our homeschool yearbooks (April or May) (you might like our easy method of making a personalized yearbook for your homeschool group!).

We also schedule in our regular recitals at a local senior home, which we do two or three times each year, and Christmas caroling at the senior home as well. Our TnT group (tweens-n-teens) hosts an annual charity yard sale (they raised almost $1,500 this year for a children’s home in Africa!), so we pick a day for that too. We like to volunteer as a group for Feed My Starving Children, so we’ll put that on the schedule for once or twice each year.

As you may imagine, these semi-permanent activities coupled with the regular park days take up a LOT of time on the schedule. In fact, the fall schedule is so crowded, any field trips we want to take are usually pushed over to January and February! With so many “already scheduled” activities on the books, the weekly planning that can be so burdensome when just one or two people are doing all or most of it becomes much easier to handle. In addition, with regular park days interspersed with the more energetic field trips and other outings, the kids (and the moms) have plenty of time to get to know each other and create real friendships. And there’s still plenty of time for feeding giant tortoises at the herpetological society when the opportunity arises.

Feeding Desert Tortoises

Encourage Participation

We encourage participation in the two planning sessions, asking people to bring in ideas for things they want to do, field trips they want to take, etc. While we make it a point that anyone can bring in an idea and does not have to be the one executing it (for instance, someone might have a great craft activity but not a home that will host everyone), we do encourage everyone to participate as they can. I find it is much easier to garner participation in a face-to-face meeting by sending out a plea over email! As we discuss what we’ll do as a group, if someone brings up an idea for a field trip, I will encourage them to find out the details of what we need to do to get it scheduled, and then I help them as needed to get it onto our schedule.

I do end up planning and carrying out field trips and such for many of the unscheduled days that are left, but it’s not so many that it becomes troublesome. I and a couple of other moms keep our eyes open year-round for attractive opportunities and pop them into the schedule when the time is right. I find this is a pretty easy, low-key, low-pressure way to run a homeschool group; at least it has worked for us for over half a dozen years now! But I admit, our sister group in town has it even easier: they have ONLY park days. And that works too!

Movie Monday: Early Animation

When my artistic daughter started experimenting with animations, this was one of her first, and her first success with lip-syncing an animation. She took snippets of her cousins’ voices from various videos and spliced them together to make this very brief story, featuring a conversation that never actually happened, and illustrated it with animations. (I like the VeggieTales-style of handless manipulation of objects!)


Don’t You Hate It When …

hair gel accident
Actual Anti-Frizz Gel Spill

You know how after you put some anti-frizzies gel on your hair, you set down the bottle and leave the little pop-up lid open by accident, and then by further accident someone comes along and knocks it over and no one notices it for hours and it leaks all over the three necklaces and two sets of earrings that were lying on the bathroom counter near it? Yeah, don’t you hate when that happens?

How Do They Learn?

Pain of Learning by Angelo Bronzine

The Pain of Learning” by Angelo Bronzine. Image in the public domain.

This image, “The Pain of Learning,” by Angelo Bronzine, is a pretty good representation of how a lot of folks think learning ought to look. So how do unschoolers learn?

He couldn’t have told you where he learned it. Or when. I doubt he would have said that he had learned it. It wasn’t a conscious thing. That’s what unschoolers mean when we say learning happens all the time. It doesn’t mean at the end of the day we can list and quantify and sort out everything that was learned, neatly into school subjects. It means it happens like breathing, you can’t stop it from happening. You can’t tell when it’s happening, because learning truly isn’t separate from living.

Read the rest of How Do They Learn? by Caren Knox.