All Roads Lead to Where You Are

Yvette Franklin, PhD. Lenoir City, TN.

yvette-kids

Bono of U2 said it best, “All roads lead to where you are.” When it comes to the schooling of our children, we didn’t really plan to blaze new trails. As a public school teacher I never considered not sending my children to public school…until I had them. Then the general principles of education became very specific. These weren’t just students, they were my kids. They were each so different. It was a full-time job for us getting to know them, finding out what made them tick, discovering their strengths, helping them with their weaknesses, answering their questions, guiding them to living peaceably together. I couldn’t imagine them being one of 24 souls in a room for seven hours a day with a lone teacher, being marched to lunch, recess, and the bus. The transition from the familial home as the location for their exponential growth from infancy to five years to a large local school seemed to be a transaction that resulted in too much being given up. We thought we could supplement their learning, but they came home exhausted. We thought we could balance our eating habits with the industrial food model in the public school, but we had to fight daily against snacks, sodas, and sweet rewards. We thought we could be part of our local community, but the cost was their childhood as they had known it.

So, we disrupted the well-worn path and we withdrew from public school life and began our own learning journey with the home as the locus instead of an institution. Foucault had scared some sense into us: prisons, hospitals, schools. There were no lines or rows at home. Montessori wanted children to be responsible for their own learning and to follow their own interests and we could do that in the intimate home setting. Rousseau wanted us to get to enjoy the outdoors and let the child be central in learning and our home afforded woods and time to pursue their interests, Aquinas sought to connect the Divine to knowledge making and we could explore faith freely in the privacy of our home. Greene asked us to harness our imaginations and at home we could let the kids read, create, and play for extended periods. As a parent and educator I can answer these calls within my home, free from the constraints of bureaucracy, the need for management of large numbers of people, and the limitations of teacher/student ratios.

When we saw that the public school setting was not meeting the educational needs of our children and that school itself had an institutionalizing effect we made the choice to find another way. We have through the years purchased our own materials and curriculum, utilized cooperatives and private online classes to augment our home education, and as our older children approach high school we have even chosen a five-day private school option. However, the choice to return home is always available for a child if needs are not being met in the traditional school space.

It is, of course, a privilege to be able to have schooling choice. This privilege reveals our income, education levels, and health. This cannot be a just standard in a society rife with income disparity, disproportionate educational outcomes, and varying family unit composition. However, all roads lead to where you are, and since jumping the hegemonic track our educational road led our particular family home for the early years of our children’s lives. Home is not perfect. But home is where we have attempted to answer the best of the educational thinkers before us in our unique circumstance and it is where we hope to separate the arbitrary from the essential to raise productive, thoughtful people.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Career Day at Norris Middle

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Brian K. Sohn, Ph.D., Knoxville, TN.

I went to the beautiful Norris Middle School a couple weeks ago in what seemed to be a kind of sitcom setup: the guy on the academic job market speaking at a career day. That is, I’m, um, technically, unemployed. I didn’t know exactly what I should tell them…when you get a PhD these days you’ll likely be on the job market for 2-5 years? What I did tell them was that I just wrote a 7000-word article, it was published in a relatively well-esteemed journal, and, well, I didn’t get paid for it. They were impressed I wrote such a long paper. But I wasn’t really selling academia to middle schoolers.

Since I figured it would be hard to convince any of them to follow in my footsteps, I started with our common experience—I had helped out on a field trip they took to go rock climbing at the Obed. Some of them loved climbing, others thought it pointless. Climbing is a challenge if you care to do it, I told them, if it’s on your radar. I asked them to think of the challenges they enjoy—I got a few volunteers to tell me theirs: video games, guitar, sports, writing stories. I told them to pay careful attention to the who what when where why and how of those fun, driving challenges. It says something important about you.

I told them my story and talked of my driving challenge, the one that’s so important to me that I made a career out of it: teaching. With words, with actions, face to face, through writing. I love to find ways to help students take on challenges that may not have been on their radar. Because the little spark I provide just might turn itself into a passion you have that you didn’t even know existed, and someday may be your career. They seemed to be following me, so I stayed serious.

But it wasn’t some random teaching anywhere I wanted to do. I was sitting in traffic in Marin County and I got the call. GO HOME. I didn’t catch the next plane or anything, but I did not ignore the importance of where I wanted to teach, which was Appalachia. I told the students to harness their passions to improve their communities.

You may be waylaid, sidetracked, sidelined for a time. But always keep in mind the challenges that are your favorites. They will likely change. I left them with a Myles Horton quote—you must be patiently impatient. Don’t just wait, but don’t expect it to be a one-touch process. You want to start liking school? Find the ways you can make school work for you—how school can help you develop your knowledge, experience, and awareness of your favorite challenges.

They asked a few questions, mainly about the length of time it took in school to become a teacher. A handful of them were fascinated that I had traveled in South America and asked about that. I felt pretty good about how it went. And luckily none of them asked how much money I was making!

 

A Second-Year Teacher Still Struggling to Find Place

Izaak Standridge, Knoxville, TN

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Children admiring the view from Sharp’s Ridge

Early on in my M.A.T. program I became excited by the idea of Place-Based Learning. The excitement grew after reading “Out of the Classroom and into the World” by Salvatore Vascellaro. I began to see, with my minds eye, a learning experience for my future elementary students that would allow us to go on walking field trips throughout the neighborhood and get to know individuals and their trades in a similar way that Vascellaro and his students did. I’m in my second year as a first grade teacher at Christenberry Elementary School and that dream has yet to become a reality.

Place Based Learning is encouraged through Common Core State Standards by way of making real world connections with our students (I debated using the word “with” or “for” in the last sentence and felt like “with” was more accurate). After my student teaching at Christenberry, an urban school, I was brought on as a first grade teacher for that following semester there. I began to feel the same excitement that I had when I learned about Place-Based Learning; but so did the reality that I did not know this new place, I did not know this neighborhood, I did not know these students. As a result, learning “with” my students has become my biggest connection to the neighborhood. The partnership developed behind my students and I has caused me to spend many afternoons walking around the neighborhood in search of opportunities to learn.

These walks have allowed me to speculate about these learning opportunities and a few possibilities have come to mind. First, a few blocks from the school lies a city designated birding park, Sharp’s Ridge, that includes a breathtaking overlook view of the city. The birding park also has nature trails and pavilions that would be perfect for outdoor lessons. Second, at the base of the birding park is a trail designated for mountain biking – this prospect is especially exciting due to a recently developed non-profit in town, Kickstand, that seeks to get bicycles in the hands of students living in poverty. The bicycle non-profit also seeks to partner with students to teach general bicycle maintenance and repairs. One walk around the neighborhood planted these seeds and my hope is that possible ornithologists, engineers, athletes, and city planers find their start by learning in place.

Betsy DeVos and Learning in Place

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Brian K. Sohn, Ph.D., Knoxville, TN.

I was among the many who called Senators urging them to vote against the confirmation of Betsy DeVos as Secretary of Education. I don’t have voluminous knowledge of who she is—I read a few articles about her and her policy advocacy in Michigan. But with my extensive experience in schools and studying education, it is not hard to see that DeVos is both unqualified and a threat to public schools at all levels.

As I understand her work in Michigan, she threw her vast wealth into lobbying for the least restrictive charter schools policy in the country. The result: Michigan is known to have the worst charter schools in the country—a story on NPR about a charter school for aspiring airplane pilots in Grand Rapids also discussed the typical results of “family choice” style policies like those DeVos champions: greater inequity, significantly lower test scores.

I do not see test scores as a gold standard for measuring school success. But when people of a mind like DeVos are allowed to shape policy, their goal is more schools like the aviation school—even if it means the common wealth of public schools is degraded as a result. There is no interest in maximizing the good for the highest number of citizens. The perspective is shaped by antiquated notions of social Darwinism: those that want to be pilots deserve more than those who may or may not know what they want yet, or may or may not have access to the resources required to attempt to attend an aviation charter school. The good of those students who can attend the few amazing charter schools is elevated above the rest of the population, whose test scores may dip by double-digit percentiles.

I oppose school choice and privatization policies in part because they elevate the notion of tax-payer over that of citizen. They encourage people to change schools, often leaving an under-utilized building with history, ties to a community, and perhaps in need of commitment from its constituents. They severe community members from their places. They factionalize. Research shows that the competitiveness they inspire does nothing to increase innovation or achievement.

What we will need in the time of DeVos is greater emphasis on a kind of social institution approach. Parents and community members must work to better their schools in whatever capacity is their strength. If a public school is a deficient institution, the public must work to better it. In the same way we protect the environment by repairing, rather than throwing away a jacket, so we protect communities and the ties between education and place when we work to improve public schools.

Learning by Doing

By Mary Morse, Ph.D.

When you think back to what you remember learning in any formal education setting, I am betting you remember things like field trips, interactive projects, or lessons on topics related to your personal interests. We need something to attach or relate new knowledge to in order to remember it. We need to be able to use this knowledge and to apply it to something that is meaningful to us. When we are learning through an activity that engages us, it allows us to apply the knowledge, and to test it and maybe even create new knowledge through experimentation. Examples of this type of learning can be seen in the use of online resources for self-directed learning and in business learning models.

My son has been teaching himself to do flips and other Freerunning moves by watching YouTube videos and following blogs. His progress has been amazing. He reads to find a trick he wants to learn, watches videos, and then goes outside and practices. When he encounters a problem, he goes back and reads, asks questions, and re-watches videos. Then more practice. He also verbally explains to me what he is doing and what he needs to work on. This process is textbook learning theory in action!

Mary’s son in action.

An important goal for many business training workshops is to get participants to use the concepts that they learn, in their own workplace, within 24 hours. Experience has shown that if new skills are not used in the workplace within 24 hours, they will most likely not be implemented at all. In the training industry, the 10/20/70 model is commonly used as a guideline for employee training: 10% of an employee’s job skills are obtained from formal learning from workshops and formal training sessions, 20% is obtained from informal coaching and interactions with others, and 70% is obtained from on the job experience. I wonder how effective this strategy would be in the classroom.

In a perfect world, all learning would take place in the setting where it is used. In the classroom, often the best we can do is answer the “So what? Why do I need to learn this?” with lessons that provide interaction, stimulate emotional attachment, and create interest. Techniques to accomplish this include discussing concepts in relation to our community and allowing students to approach a project through the lens of their own interests. Involving community members in classroom activities and using local community resources can help students attach meaning to new knowledge. Using online resources supports students in pursuing their personal interests as they work on classroom projects and assignments. These techniques allow students to see value and application in what they are learning.

Mary is a speaker, consultant, and writer with a focus on gifted education and on the importance of parental and community involvement in the education of our children. She homeschools her son and teaches with and helps coordinate her local homeschool teaching cooperative program.