Thursday, April 23, 2009

If I had my own school

If I had my own school, every child will be free to bloom in their own time without interference, without the agenda of any adult, authority, getting in the way. We simply need to prepare optimum soil conditions and allow them to bring to bear the DNA that's in their seed, for them to bring to bear their purpose in coming to this world, in designing the world.

I would not press upon children traditions and regulations and adult beliefs, which, I believe, is the cause of the brokeness in our world today. It is because of our faulty reasoning and beliefs and our insistance of passing them down generation upon generation, and disallowing examination, that is the root of our degeneration. I will allow each child the time and space to access the voice of God in them to ascertain for themselves and separete between incomplete thought, false ideas or Truth. If God made children, who are we to interfere with God's work?

I, as well as all the teachers, will let learning happen the way Nature intended it to be : Organic. Organic learning means to provide optimum conditions based on how each organism is supposed to grow and develop. We will not mechanise things by setting 'curriculum'. We will not try to speed growth up or employ artificial means as short-cuts to yield 'results'. In other words, we will not assume to tamper with Nature's Hand.

As a farmer, I must learn how each type of plant grows and observe how it interacts with nature to pollinate, grow or thrive. My job is not to force it to grow but to listen to the needs of the Land they are planted in (the environment or society a child is in) and to be sensitive enough to tend to the plant in ways that is helpful to its growth. The things I would need to cultivate in myself is simply a sensitivity to Life and an ability to examine and observe intelligently. From intelligent examination and reflections, I will develop more experience which I can then share with other farmers, about the organic process of Nature's Work.

I will not try and cram children in small spaces like dairy-cows in their pens. I will not drill and exhaust them the way machines milk cows to their deaths. I will not push them to produce more eggs or milk the way schools push children to produce results. I will not burn their beaks with a solder in order to reduce the aggression and violence I have bred in them by conditioning them to the inhumane conditions which is a transit for the slaugterhouse. I will not treat children like 'meat' and 'milk' to serve the needs of Mass Economy Corporations.

Not that I'm equating children to vegetables and animals but biologically, Humans bear more resemblance to organic forms than the mineral/mechanical existence Industrialists and Feudal Lords tend to equate us to.

I'd let what the Earth can Grow to decide what the Market can demand as a need, instead of allowing Consumption to demand from Mother Earth, Her resources to produce for our greed. I will not subject children to experiments and be modified or turned into fighting beasts and working zombies. I will not let children become pawns to a world controlled by 1% of people who see everyone else in no other role except of Consumers and Human Resources.

So intead of forcing children to adapt to a marketplace, I'd let these Children grow up to design and create a world market that is just, fair and able to solve all human needs.

Investing in our Children's Education - Part 2

I wonder if anyone reading the previous blog would have taken it out of context. Well, the fault lies in me because I assumed readers would know I was talking from the premise of the average parent that sends their child to public schools.

If I had a choice to invest time, money and effort in a speculative way or a productive way....guess which choice I'd make? A sound investment is one that takes in good info, sound fundamentals and smart models of calculation to arrive at a logical investment strategy.

All of us are investors, one way or another. By the choices we make in our lives, we've investing in a creation or destruction of a worldview or way of living. There is no escaping the fact that we invest in every aspect of life and since we are organic and not mineral forms of life, we either evolve or devolve.

People always say that investing in the sharemarket is risky. I believe it's only risky if you don't know (1) the market (2) understand the fundamentals that are driving the market (3)investing more than you can afford to lose. But then again, don't listen to me, I'm not an investing guru. I'm just applying common sense here. But how about investing in a schooling belief where no one truly understands the origin and purpose of schooling, the hidden curriculums, the obvious but unspoken collaboration between schooling and mass economy? How can we invest in our children's education when we cannot identify and watch the shift in the tide, or the undercurrents behind fundamentals? How can we expect a downfall or to succeed in investing when we don't even know the first thing about the implications or ramifications of our actions/decisions?

Subscribing to the idea of schooling lock, stock and barrel is like putting your nest egg into a company you can't even understand/verify the reports or know nothing about their philosophies, management, operations, culture and direction.

I'm not asking parents to pull their kids out of school. If you know what you're doing, you're not likely to get burned. But in the event you do get burned, make sure what you had at stake is something you can afford to lose. Otherwise, educate yourselves.

There is hardly any excuse for people nowadays to say they didn't know that. There's an information freefall out there and blogs, youtube, websites, books are all pointing the direction for us on where to go, to educate and empower ourselves. Today, a student told me, "Teacher, there are people whose mindset do not allow them to gravitate towards useful information. There are people who, even if you tell them and explain to them, they will refuse to believe the writing on the wall." I asked her, "Why is that, then?"

She goes on to say, "It's because people don't know whether to trust the information or not. Maybe they're afraid to change."

So what lies at the heart of our atrophy? Whenever I come across new information that challenges a previously held belief, I ask myself whether what I'm believing is helpful to my life? Is it helping me achieve my fullest potential and live a fulfilled, loving, abundant and joyous life?

Dragging my only child out of bed and have her screaming and cursing me at the crack of dawn, scaring all my malaikat and blessings away is not a helpful situation in life. Is schooling worth this? And so I base my examination on one simple rule : If something is broken and to keep on doing the same thing that got it broken is pure stupidity.

Sometimes we cannot make the decision in an instant; unless you're a highly spiritual, transparent vessel of life that you can immediately see the cause of the danger/problem in one instant. If you have a gut feeling that something you're doing in your life is broken or damaged, you have to stop and listen to the voice of Reason instead of using our Ego to make up excuses and justify life.

Right now it looks like only highly educated and fairly affluent parents can homeschool their children. But the investment in education I'm talking about is not about homeschooling per se as a choice. It's about needing people to stop fooling themselves about what they're investing in. The first fundamental to learn and understand is the parent. It is the intelligence of the investor him/herself that affects the outcome of the entire investment.

Fortunately, children have a way to repair themselves once they are adults. Schooling won't destroy the entire human race, it simply slows us down tremendously from unleashing our potential and purpose as a collective. Suffering increases when the distance between our perceptions of what reality is, and Truth, increases. The opposite is true for Joy and Happiness.

Schooling by itself cannot cause as much damage as the collective, the parents and teachers, add to the entire machinery. It is the type of people still inside schools and the type of parents still looking to school as a benchmark of their own self-worth that's causing all the problems.

Once, I had a student that liked nothing better than to complain about schooling and what they were made to do in school. In short, I told her it's because her expectations of school differs greatly from the reality of schooling. She then said, if she had her way, she'd not want to go to school anymore. I asked her why isn't she doing that then?

To which she answered,"Well, if everyone thought like me and stopped going to school, then the schools will close lah! Who will go?"

I smiled at her until she realized what she had just said. "Exactly. Schools will have to change when people stop going."

"But the government says we have to go to school."

"And if the government asks you to go to war and kill another human being? Kill the child of another person? Kill the mother or father of someone else? You would?"

Ironically or not, the answer was 'No'. But that's exactly what nationality that is being taught in school is for - that we engage in a type of identity which would justify killing other people for 'country'. "Untuk bangsa dan negara." So in Malaysia, it's a bit unique : you can choose to kill each other for different reasons, bangsa or negara. You can kill each other because each of us is defending or bangsa. Or we can sepakat and kill people from other negara.

My point is, people have a default excuse when it comes to "The government said we must do so." They mouth that off without realizing two things : (1) Governments are elected representatives. We can de-select them. The government and the generals only have power because people are willing to be killing machines for a faceless, temporary, figure of authority. Whether it's Najib, Abhisit or Hitler, they have power only because people give it to them.

(2)People are very arbitrary when it comes to what they are willing to do or not to do based on what the government tells them. By not empowering themselves about the meaning and purpose of life, human beings surrender their autonomy to a government that can create the perfect storm to 'motivate' people to obey and behave in a predictable way. Read : Hitler. Read : Nationalism and Religiousity in schools.

The fact that school became this way or the dream that schools will be a place of empowerment has little to do with the schooling itself or the teachers/government. It might not seem that way, but it is the INVESTORS, the parents who are buying into the very illussions that are supporting the system the way it is right now. It is tax-dollars supporting the government and the way governments are using schools. And it is parents and taxpayers who are really at fault for not having a proper understanding of the history and projections based on those fundamentals.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Investing in our Children's Education

There are several things parents need to be aware of when thinking along the lines of 'investing in education'. 'SAVING' money in some kind of fund is not a form of investment, it is a form of saving, and when today's socialnomics rules have changed, savers are losers.

An investment in something means that the amount we will reap will be many times the principle amount we invested. For instance, if we spend an average of $300 a month on books, uniform, transportation, school fees, tuition fees, school activities, etc over the course of 11 years, that would total (give and take) $50,000 once you factor in inflation and a devaluation of currency.......

It's going to take more and more money to equal the value of something, so it's not necessarily true that the prices of things are going up except that it now requires more and more devalued currency to purchase items that provide the same value. So, remember, you have to factor that in too when you're 'investing' in your children.

I know the actual amount for most people goes higher than $300 a month. We haven't yet calculated the real costs of lost opportunities into it.

Once you add tertiary education in - well, we know the Math. Assuming a school dropout eventually earns $5,000 nett a month as a, say, foreman or entrepreneur or some other form of skilled craftsman, how much more would a 'schooled' child need to make in order to say an investment paid off at X% after all factors considered, etc.?

Many people take for granted that a university undergrad, grad or post-grad is a form of INVESTMENT into the future. That is only true if the institutions are adding a chain of value to the 'commodity' i.e. the child's innate nature/abilities. How many of us can say that school helped us identify our innate gifts and nurture them to fruition? My own schooling experience taught me that my "writing should not exceed 350 words and arguments must be more down to earth". My sense of justice and my ability to illuminate what others are feeling and express them in words got me labelled, "If you think you're so smart and want to change school, then go be a teacher or politician". My schooling experience invalidated my observations and intuitions into what I sensed was a dumbing-down curriculum. But as we know by now, it's absolutely untrue that teachers, as "civilized" servants can create any real change in the bureaucratic setup of school, what more the policy-making educrats.

Undergraduate studies, while an opportunity for social freedom and growth for man is just an annex of schooling, not an addition to an investment. What most people undergo when they get to college is to struggle through undergrad, scraping through grad and tightening their belts to do a postgrad. Then one of two things happens : The undergrad or postgrad drops out of school - therefore, defaulting on the previous 11 years' worth of investment which staked everything on a future whereby the ROI would beat what the average non-schooled person is making.

The widening divide between the business world and schooling created a reality today's graduates are ill-prepared for : to find that the market doesn't REWARD mere time spent in an academic setting.

It hardly matters to universities and colleges if students drop out - until the dropout rate is too high that it affects the university's ability to pull in more paid students. So what are parents REALLY investing in since both schooling and tertiary education is NOT accountable for producing the ROI parents are investing in?

Would any investor pump 11-15 years of money into a company that has a track-record of not being accountable for employability and a certain % of return that would make it worth it? Would you keep money in, say...a fixed deposit if inflation is going to rise faster, or the rate at which your currency is being devalued is faster than the interest you could accumulate? The $50,000 you put in 10 years ago will no longer buy the same things. To be RICH and to have a RETURN is to have double digit returns.

We'd like to believe that what was true 50 years ago will continue to be true 50 years from NOW. We'd like to believe that we live in a "stable" and "constant world". It doesn't even matter that tectonic plates tell us otherwise, we are beyond the elements of Earth.

We'd like to believe that in general, people who are more educated earn more money. But they only earn more money not as a result of the education, but as a result of the market still being willing to bear the cost to juice them for their abilities. But markets change. I don't have a to be an investor to tell you that MARKETS CHANGE and if you cannot detect the currents you'd most likely drown.

When people frame their future based on their past, in this case, assuming that the more time and money one 'invests' in their child's education, the same thing that held 50 years ago (in the 50s) will hold true for the next 50 years (80s to 2030s). Now, ask an investor who does the same thing : Can we make money from shares BASED on their performance in the past or do we make money based on our knowledge of the current, undergoing, fundamentals of a company?

But most people do that, with investing in shares and investing in education. The first people that got in bought low and will make money regardless of when they sell because they were in the know about the developments and undergoings of the fundamentals of the company/market. So other people tail that and buy higher...and some are lucky enough to STILL sell even higher. While previously, investors were buying based on REAL KNOWLEDGE of fundamental market behaviour, now, speculators are buying whatever that the price is going UP UP UP and GAMBLING to be able to SELL HIGHER and get out rich!

If you know what happens in the stock market when stock prices go up because of increased demand rather than strong fundamentals, you will realize that is exactly what will happen to your investments in 'education'. People today are investing in 'tuition' and 'workbooks' and doing well in school which is so 60s! Their reason is because 'they didn't get to buy in back then.' Even during the time I was in school, the market no longer rewarded academic prowess. It was beginning to reward emotional and social intelligence, being able to think out of the box, being able to use technology and being able to be a self-directed learner. The bubble was due to burst two decades ago but new wealth has been sustaining the inflated perceptions. We know what happens when a really big bubble bursts.

I profess that I know absolutely nothing about finance, economics nor investment so you don't have to take anything you read here seriously. I just knew enough of what I know to get out of advertising when I saw the end of the road for mass media (in 1995) just like I knew enough not to try and be a "good student" to earn brownie points playing by the rules of a dumbed down learning experience. I'm wrong with a lot of things but I'm generally right about sensing "shifts".

It's extremely difficult sometimes in my capacity as a teacher and a parent to talk about things which cannot be 'touched', 'seen' and 'proven'. But I do know that the more invisible something is, the more powerful its force tends to be. I'd like parents to listen and invest in the strength of the fundamentals of the next big market. I'm already investing in that. If you don't know what those fundamentals are, then it's time to worry. If your money's already in and you cannot time the market except gamble on it, ....well, I'm just saying. Don't listen to me.

Sunday, April 5, 2009

How can I protect my child from other teachers?

I wrote a blog yesterday ( deserved a follow-up, better sooner than later. You can read that too to obtain some premise of an overdue narration about 'teacher-training'.

But before we can really get into how you can become an effective teacher to your child, we need to do a little exercise to examine your current views about teachers and teaching.

Teachers are not
- authority figures
- surrogates for parents
- a special breed with superior intellect
- a power over you
- domineering
- stereotypical
- experts in what they teach
- people who have all the right answers

The list is a lot longer than that but I simply want to start off challenging the most common notions of what being a teacher is about. There is a big difference between what we perceive to be true and what IS. We have conformed to the idea of all the things listed above without actually having ever examined whether it really IS or isn't. And because we conform to it, it becomes true for us.

In spite of my perspective, I'm not a teacher-basher. If I appear that way, it is only because I am being measured against a very, very narrow definition of what a teacher ought to be. I prefer the premise of expansive thought to narrow thinking.

Even if a majority hold to be true what is not true, it doesn't make it true. It makes it real to the people who hold on to the notion, but it doesn't make it true, does it? A majority of people hold on to the things listed above as the definition of what a Teacher is. But I know you are one of the few who have started examining preconceived ideas.

A long, long time ago, a Teacher was someone who had the wisdom to see the inter-relatedness of ideas, information and thoughts and to weave a cohesive pattern that allows them to transcend, to some degree, a future. Teachers were philosophers, writers and vanguards of morality. They were not necessarily chaste and celibate because it was demanded of them or a code they had to abide to; they are moral because there is order in their hearts. That Order comes from a sense of Knowing that made Teachers appear more mystical, more mysterious - special. They hold a higher moral standard than others not because they get paid to do it or because it's a "should", they have a higher moral standard because they are closer to Truth, to Love, to Light. Being closer to Truth melts away the Ignorance that causes Conflict and Desire and pulls away the web of Deceit and Delusion shrouding our consciousness. Higher morality is something you Are because of an inner-change that comes within you. It is not a standard dependent on others' views or judgment upon you. It is simply a cessation or lessening of violence because Truth neutralizes a great many Conflict that arises in Man's heart.

At the root of all their Wisdom and Morality is simply Unconditional Love. They have developed and nurtured a sensitivity to Nature, which brought upon a blossoming and heightening of their Awareness. Some of this transformation comes after considerable movements of Time, but sometimes Awareness happens instantaneously. The point is, their Awakening is not dependent on Time, Skill, Knowledge, IQ, wealth, etc. It depended only upon Sensitivity and Love.

This Sensitivity and Love is necessary for Observation and Examination to take place, to have meaning, to have purpose, to navigate their direction. The process inside that includes Reflections. Eventhough I use 'navigate direction' as a metaphor, the process towards Knowing is a Pathless one.

A lot of people accustomed to the idea of gradual learning and development find it extremely difficult to internalize the idea that the movement towards becoming a Teacher is an inward, not an outward movement. Thus, the movement cannot be neasured in increments expanding outwardly, confirmed and awarded, like a certificate or graduation. If we can see and understand that the process of Knowing (as opposed to a state of Collective Information we loosely call "I know"....) is a reversion into ourselves, not a conversion towards a different label, name, form or status - then it is easier to understand why each and every person is essentially 'qualified' to be a teacher.

The problem we have with the world right now is that we had adopted a thought that we did not examine. This is the thought that the label 'teacher' is some kind of commodity. How many times have we heard children being made to come up with a sentence like, "When I grow up, I want to become a teacher/doctor/writer/monk/" etc.? It is as if, if all conditions and rewards are fine by me, then I "become" a teacher/doctor. But there is an ocean of difference between the 'name' teacher/doctor/monk and the actual practise of it, and any good teacher/doctor/monk can attest to that.

Based on the information so far and the beliefs you are asked to examine, how far are you with this? Since being a Teacher to your child or to other children is not a matter of incremental steps, it is absolutely imperative (for effect!)for you to understand that learning to go inwardly into yourself is not an external movement towards a destination. It is a return to yourself.

Accepting the role of a teacher is as much a spiritual quest as it is an actualization process for yourself and the children you nurture. Children need Teachers a lot less than we have bought into. Children are very capable of learning by themselves. We didn't walk around with a big white button badge that says, "Mummy" in big black words or out-loud when we're near Baby, yet, they learned language pretty effortlessly. There are so many things children learn through modelling, not through direct instruction.

For more evidence you would have to read the works of Maria Montessor, Jean Piaget, Johann Heinrich Pestalozzi and a host of others who are more intellectually qualified to relay this information to you.

When I first naively shared with people in my life that I wanted to be a teacher, I received nothing but outright criticisms. "Your face can be a teacher!" and "Why the heck would you want to go do a drop-out's job?". Not one single person understood that it was as much a spiritual journey as it was going to be a professional one. But along the way, I've met so many role-models who didn't start out (or continue to be) on the straight-and-narrow path of what we'd expect of a 'typical' teacher. Truly, we are doing harm to ourselves to believe that there is anything typical about spirituality and awakenings.

At this point, there is bound to be some conflict arising about how Parents can't make good teachers, or the notion that some people are better at teaching than others. Just because someone out there can be better than you at a chosen task doesn't automatically make it impossible for you to also be able to perform it. It would be like a man saying, "There are other men who can be better husbands and father better children with this woman here, so I might as well let another man do it." How ridiculous does that sound now? Or an IT businessman/investor saying, "Warren Buffet/Bill Gates can do (and has done) a better job than me so I shouldn't even delude myself into thinking that I'm going to be able to make even a measly $10million dollars a year." - Well, so what if other people make $100 million a year? Even $5million a year is not so bad. I'd take it any-who.

There is this widely-practised (yes, practised) belief that we cannot teach our own children - because...................Because we are so attached to them! All our judgments, perceptions, attachments, prejudices, preconceived ideas,unexamined beliefs are unleashed unto them! It is not that we cannot teach them, it is that it's too much work to work on ourselves, so we'd rather pay someone else to do the teaching! However, this doesn't absolve the fact that parents are their children's first teachers. A majority of the things they will use to define and value life comes from us, the parents. Their mannerisms, generosity, perspectives, influences, drive, motivation, direction, comes from modelling after us. I even believe that parents who complain about their children having a hard time waking up are themselves parents who are not morning-people! But it's a different story if the child is undergoing severe depression and not being able to get up is not just a case of genetics, but a sign of having lost perspective and being unable to face the day ahead.

It is our nature to want to get definitive, simple, clear-cut solutions to the most complex, personal problems we have. But to start off telling you 'Steps', 'Methods', 'Practical Approaches' or 'Theoretical Aspects' has a danger of making you put more pressure on yourself and your child to solve the question of whether or not you can be a Teacher. The only purpose a Parent should have in wanting to know if they can be a Teacher to their Child or other children is the acceptance of embarking on a spiritual awakenig of themself.

Saturday, December 27, 2008

Homeschoolers and learner autonomy

A few weeks ago, I attended a talk given by a leading educator in the field of autonomous learning. So how does autonomous learning tie in with homeschooling?

Despite the early opinions of homeschoolers as religious fundamentalists who stayed away from mainstream schooling, the results today show otherwise. The children of parents who were pioneers of the homeschooling movement in the U.S. have reached college going age and how they have turned out has indicated that perhaps those parents did something right which traditional schooling got so wrong.

  The parents of these children boast none of the usual credentials of being ‘certified’ and ‘state-qualified’ or ‘highly-trained’ teachers. Yet, they succeeded in raising children who have turned out to be so well-adjusted, highly functional and academically successful. These young people not only aced scholastic aptitude tests and scored better in reading and math than the national average but also impressed college entrance interviewers with how well-adjusted and confident they appeared. 

These homeschooled children entered college going age at the same time the American public schooling system showcased publicly how it was suffering from a systematic failure across all boards. Over the past decades, across the Western hemisphere and spreading quickly to the East, we are witnessing social outcomes that are symptomatic of this schooling crisis. An examination of and discussion with primary and high school teachers in America, Western Europe and Australia will show that even in ‘developed’ countries, the problems that plague us exists as well. The only difference is that their earlier awareness and openness to admit the problems have initiated research and responses to the crisis. 

 This system failure is being replicated around the world and Malaysia is not immune to it even if we deny the bigger question and fiddle around with piecemeal solutions. As I write this, I am resonating with an eerie déjà vu of a book I read not long after I finished secondary school, Allan Bloom’s The Closing of the American Mind. The bestselling book, published two decades ago paints a picture that I believe is not exclusive to America but is unfolding right here on our very shores. Even though the premise of the book talks about contemporary American higher education, as a student just out of secondary school and skeptical of what university life was supposed to offer, I drew a parallel which saw what I experienced during my eleven years or so of schooling as a precursor to the same failing or closing of the Malaysian mind.

  I had always strongly believed that was happening in universities was simply an extension of what was happening in schools. With bated breath, I was hopeful that Malaysia being a younger nation would avoid the pitfalls of the schooling systems in developed country and yet be able to hitchhike on the advancements they had made in research and approaches to teaching, especially in the field of learning skills and language acquisition.

Two decades later, I see that this systematic failure of schooling has traversed time and space and is played out as much here as it has elsewhere in the world. We are witnessing an increase in parents and teachers experiencing anxieties induced by disenchantment with what is happening in mainstream education. This anxiety transcends (almost) all economic and racial barriers. Yet this situation is not unique to Malaysia. It is a uniform effect of the failings of the traditional model of schooling.

Faced with an impossible situation of being educated enough to not surrender the fate of our children to the failings of the system yet unable to extrapolate and digest empirical studies that would give assurances about making alternative choices for our children’s future it is understandable that parents and teachers alike feel stranded on a highway going nowhere. Seen in this light, it is worth acknowledging the decisions of the pioneers of homeschooling who have taken the plunge decades ago. Their efforts have provided the first set of data to suggest and support the viability of an alternative form of learning which challenges the traditional practices and approaches and which goes beyond schooling as we know it. 

For most of us, we bear witness to an era in modern human civilization where the ‘Separation of Parent and School’ (as opposed to Church and State) has carved a distinctive psychological divide between Parenting and Teaching. If a parent has chosen a path to home-school, how does a parent start crossing that divide? There is something to be learnt from the pioneers of homeschooling. Remember, they were neither ‘certified’ nor ‘state-sanctioned’ teachers. In fact, in some states, it was illegal to home-school your own child due to a belief that one needs to have special qualities and aptitudes that were the exclusive of state-trained and approved teachers. What magic then, did these homeschooling parents conjure that helped them consistently deliver star-quality learners to college? What qualities did these pioneer parents possess or acquired in the course of their homeschooling which provided a bearing indicating a direction where learners acquired the skills and knowledge they needed to succeed in life yet managed the equilibrium between academic and emotional success?

 What that magic was was that, through an inductive process, these intuitive homeschooling parents have discovered the importance of understanding how different personalities and styles of learning affect outcome. Research in the past few decades have supported this notion and it has repeatedly pointed educators and teacher-trainers in a radically different trajectory from traditional practice. This has been the path pioneer homeschooling parents had boldly gone where mainstream schooling had not gone before. The traditional teacher-centered approach to teaching assumes that students are like raw ingredients that can be put on a conveyor belt and manufactured to fit into neat moulds which were convenient for instruction and testing. The pioneer homeschoolers’ ability to cultivate intuitions about their children and their children’s learning was what made them highly-effective teachers in spite of a lack of formal training, which in turn, produced highly functional children who became autonomous learners. 

 So what exactly is the ‘official’ definition of an autonomous learner? There is tons of literature out there on the general and specific definitions but here’s one I find concise enough to sum it up - A self-directed learner (autonomous learner) can be summed up as someone who is highly confident of their ability to learn which enables them to study entirely on their own, acquire a set of learning which can be learned and applied in self-directed learning, take charge of an inborn capacity which is suppressed by institutional education, take responsibility for the methods, measures and achievements of their learning goals and is capable of recognizing their right to determine the direction of their own learning.  

 These ideals seem very lofty and unattainable. However, there is a possibility it sounds that way because we are products of a “Boxed in School of Thought”. - So what does Prof. Confessore’s area of expertise in self-directed learning mean for parents who are looking for alternatives beyond schooling? 

 The theories of SDL (self-directed learning) provide a general direction that can lead to sought after answers for parents who need to have some ground to touch about the validity of learning that goes beyond traditional schooling. There has always been a canyon that divides the inroads made in academic research and its applications in the general populace those studies are supposed to benefit. It does seem unfortunate that it takes decades before we could apply what research has discovered to benefit the development of ourselves and especially that of our children. Generations of young learners would have forgone a window of opportunity for learning. Not only that, the core-beliefs they cultivated about themselves as learners due to ineffective teaching can further impede their own chances of later becoming a self-directed learner.

On an average day parents often look to teachers who together look to government policy-makers or popular trend for clues to the most sound and beneficial approaches for their children’s learning. The disenchantment is real while the optimism towards the promising results of ‘Malaysia’s next schooling experiment’ dissipates. The sense of urgency felt by teachers and parents is compounded by a perception that the window of opportunity for learning can swing either way - be damaged by neglect or killed by over-drive. Arguments are rife about whether less or more schoolwork and pressure is beneficial for the school-going child and are clearly illustrated in the sekolah kebangsaan - sekolah jenis kebangsaan divide.

 The idea of ‘autonomizing’ learning is indeed very novel to us and on the surface it seems to fly in the face of the enormous resources and effort dedicated to curriculum design, planning and implementation. How can learning happen if the learner doesn’t accept expressed learning objectives or teaching instruction? Autonomous learning does not do away completely with teacher intervention. However, the confusion between autonomous learner and self-instructed learner would require a separate article.

 How fortunate for us though to have information about the latest developments in self-directed learning distilled and delivered by the speaker who is an international leader in the field of self-directed learning. What is also interesting to note is that the speaker has extensive research and teaching experience in the field of curriculum design and specifications as well as teacher-training. Translating academic findings to the mass in order to manifest meaningful developments that go on to benefit the formative years of young learners seems like a protracted labor and it looks like we have had a great opportunity to induce the labor and get it going.

When it comes to learners, Prof. Confessore illustrated a distinction between two extreme groups of learners; the DDs (Dysfunctional Dependent Learners) and the DIs (Dysfunctional Independent Learners). DDs are described as learners who are so completely dependent on direct and step-by-step instruction from a learning authority that they would be completely paralyzed without very clear guidelines. These learners would be unable to neither induce meaning and learning objectives nor absorb content and message without being explicitly told. Most Malaysian parents are aware that this is the preferred outcome for our teachers who have inherited their teaching-style without much examination and applied it by default. In plain-speak, it’s described as a ‘spoon-feeding’ method, a practice validated by punishments if students dared ask further questions or have their own interpretation of their learning. 

 In contrast, I am reminded of what Prof.Confessore said about one of his doctorate students’ reactions when she first went to the US. Being Asian, she was completely aghast that students in her professor’s class were raising their hands and asking questions and challenging the validity of the information their Professor had just presented. It made me wonder whether our children would still be capable of curiosity, critical thinking, meaningful reflection and intelligent questioning after having their ‘fragile’ nature packaged and delivered through those years of mandatory schooling. If these packages (our children) arrive in undergraduate programs and slave through graduate programs ‘damaged’ in their intellectual and critical capacities, how much can tertiary education do even if parents have all the money in the world to pay for it? It’s a reality that few would get an opportunity to do graduate and post-grad studies overseas in acclaimed institutions. A majority would have to carry on with life being the only learners they knew how to be – Dysfunctional Dependent ones. 

On the other extreme, Dysfunctional Independent learners were described as people who possess a high drive to learn and explore but whose sense of seeking eventually leads to dysfunctional learning consequences. This situation can be seen in American society where crime is disproportionately represented by Black and Hispanic minority groups. By refusing to conform to and rejecting outright the norms of being educated (based on a deeper sense of resentment or disillusionment with the circumstances they have found themselves in) they re-express this intent through aggressive behavior which often leads to them being innovative gangsters, drug-dealers and perpetrators of other forms of criminal activity. This scenario can also be seen played out here in our streets regardless of whether they were from vernacular or kebangsaan schools. We have our version of the law-defying pirated DVD-peddlers and the death-defying Mat Rempits or less dramatically, seen in children we know are highly intelligent but utterly repulsed by the thought of schooling.

 A healthy balance however is manifested in a learner who can express cognitions such as goal-orientation, conscientiousness, engaged learning and emotional intelligence in their learning. In my opinion, the most significant message coming out from this talk is that parents are capable of beginning their journey as self-directed learners and it is this self-directedness that their children model after and eventually apply to become highly successful learners. In an age where the playing field has been leveled by the rise of literacy around the world, the Information Revolution belongs to the self-directed learners who can swim, surf and sift through the waves of information; to know who they are, what they want and how to get it. The distinction can no longer be made between the successful learner and the autonomous learner for in a world where knowledge and information is freely available the successful learner is the one who can navigate between all that to distinguish him/herself and his/her value in society.

 Despite the fact that the talk was organized by homeschooling advocates and attended by parents who have found themselves at a crossroads where mainstream schooling may no longer be an option, it is worth noting that there is no rule that states learning beyond schooling can only be done by people who have completely rejected the norms of schooling. In fact, the complete picture of homeschooling goes beyond self-directedness in a significantly more holistic approach. However, autonomous learning remains a central and important theme within the scope of homeschooling.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Which comes first, the Parent or the Teacher? My story as an unschooling parent.

I realize that in most of my blogs, I have been writing as if the people who might come across my blog ages and ages from now already know who I am and what my believes and approaches towards learning and parenting has been. A few weeks ago, I asked my 11-year old daughter to read one of the hundreds of blogs I now keep, just to have a different pair of eyes read it. She said, "'re writing like you're lecturing. It's like you're trying to slice into people's brains and make them buy what you're saying."

I'm going to transfer several blogs that I wrote at the beginning of my unschooling journey and I hope the timeline would provide valuable insight into my journey as an unschooling parent. But this blog will talk about my experience, something I didn't get a chance to talk about at the Homeschooler's Dinner organized by FamilyPlace due to scheduling commitments.

First of all, it might seem that unschooling is an easier decision because I was a school teacher. There were times when teaching seemed utterly pointless. I went in gung-ho and was stonewalled by the incredibly low standards in ethics, intellect, ability, social, moral and emotional responsibility, personal integrity and not the least, administrative functions of schools.

We know that no credible person enters the profession to make money and to know I wasn't going to actually make any difference to the world, despite everything I've tried, was pretty depressing. But that was until a wise woman told me, "Sloane, if not for anything else, you'll become a better parent to Thea."

My daughter was 4 when I took my first paying job teaching part-time. In the following years, sanity would not have been possible if I depended only on my salary as a teacher. I don't know how things worked but it did and the pot of gold was the confidence I now have in issues of language learning, teaching and learning and how they all matter to me in order to become a more empowered parent.

It might seem that being finally, 'trained' and 'qualified' as a teacher would make homeschooling/unschooling so much easier. Let me share with all parents what I've learned in the last few years in my perspective as both a school teacher and a parent. I stress that point because I was teaching students in the upper-secondary levels and got to know their feelings and thoughts about schooling, life and their future. Things did not look good for them and we can trace all their lack of learning,skills, and eroded sense of self to what they experienced after 10 years or so of schooling. 2 years ago I started my own learning centre. When a few of them got to see how I teach my own child and children who came to me for private lessons, they expressed how much they regretted not having experienced the same things when they were younger.

Just today I showed my class of 17-19 year olds examples of stories children below 10 in another class did. They were completely in awe and asked me why they were not capable of that when they were that age and not even now. Upon discussion, they realized they were never allowed to go through a processes of learning that made things meaningful. I had an article nearby from ERIC digest which talked about teaching emergent literacy. As I read the do-s and dont's,they nodded that they practised ALL the things that impeded and destroyed the creative writing process throughout their schooling experience. Is it any wonder we have people who seem to suffer from aphasia each time they have to speak in public or produce a piece of meaningful writing?

Being a teacher did not make the choice to unschool any easier. From personal experience and upon reflection I would really like to stress the first point I'm going to make about choosing to unschool: Choosing to homeschool/unschool your child is a HIGHLY PERSONAL CHOICE. When you've reached a point in your life where you are confident to take full responsibility for your life and your family's interactions with the neighborhood, extended family, community and society at large - then you're probably more ready to homeschool. The philosophy I adopt is, "Be the change you want to see in the world." No one, I repeat, no one is going to change the world for us or our children. No matter how much we complain, campaign or picket, the world is made up of the collective actions of each individual.

Before I started a family I had always thought that when the time came, I wouldn't school my children. Truth be told, school left such a bitter aftertaste that I could never bear to revisit it even when I became a teacher. But for the sake of closure, I made myself face my greatest impediment and regret in my life : schooling. To prove to no one else but myself that I could be an adult about my past, I accepted my role as a schoolteacher, to try and make a change from the other side of the classroom.

Since I've always told myself I'd homeschool I assumed it would be easy when the time came. But boy, the pull towards conformity and the fear of rejection should not be underestimated. And so, in some semi-conscious decision,I enrolled her in a Chinese school, horror of horrors! It's still a mystery how I could contradict myself and everything I've ever learned about schools by making such a decision.

Nothing made the choice to unschool her easy. More money, more freedom, more qualifications, more time, more information, more opinions, more courage - nothing was going to create the deciding point where I just 'know' this would be the right thing to do. It felt as if I'm heading towards a point of no return.

However, once I'd made that decision to unschool it gave me the distance i needed to look back and realize how much of a tunnel vision I was suffering due to pressures I had put on myself. Whether or not it was because I was by then a single parent, having no one else to refer to or support me in a decision to 'go against the grain', I can't be sure. Every one of my peers and people whose opinions were dear to me warned me about how mpetition to get into schools and unis and jobs is getting fiercer, and what I would be doing would be tantamount to destroying my child's future. There is nothing more scary to a single parent than to tell them they're messing up the way everyone else is waiting for them to mess up. I was under incredible pressure to NOT pull her out from school. I spoke to friends who had grown up children, the same friends who complain about the schooling system in Malaysia. I talked to friends who had friends who migrated to give their child a better schooling elsewhere. I talked to school counsellors, both at my daughter's schools and elsewhere. I talked to people who hated school, people who didn't have that much trouble in school. I talked to both single and married university lecturers, working and middle-class folk, my daughter's teachers who cared enough to ask about her. I pretty much put my market research field work experience to good use, collecting qualitative and quantitative data to mine in order to extract an informed decision from!

In the end I found a way to categorize the myriad of answers and opinions I was getting. I first decided, with all due respects, I had to exclude those people who don't have their own children nor had experience raising their own children hands-on. That still left a lot of opinions to consider. Then I chose from those who complained more and those who complained less about schooling and life in general. I focussed on those who complained less and were more apolotical in general. I figured that people who complained less were simply people who found answers that gave them less reasons to complain in general.

And among those who complained less I looked at those who had a quality of life I desired for myself ; people who were comfortable with themselves, fulfilled, financially free, confident, calm, happy, composed, proactive, spirited, etc etc. When I was 21 I wrote myself a Master Law : Don't listen to anyone on anything you don't think they are a model of success in. This doesn't mean I don't respect people's opinions. It simply means that when I have to make a decision for myself, I should take into account how close to the 'inner circle of effective information' the source is. I know that people often give well-meaning advice out of their own hidden fears and doubts. I know a lot of people care for me and are worried for me and want to look out for me. But I cannot take advice from people who are saying things from a premise of fear or doubt because I learned earlier on that all decisions that are based on fear and doubt echoes back fear and doubt. I can only take advice from people who have used the same principles themselves and achieved the results I wanted to see in my own life. And in the end, I used that to find my way through the mass of opinions I had gathered.

So as you can see, the decision is a highly personal one and one that does not have a 'deciding, 100%, confirmed, point.' You simply need to arrive at a level where you feel you're informed enough to make or not make a decision. I suppose it's like marriage; no one can tell you whether this is going to be Mr. or Ms. Right for the rest of your life but it's tepuk dada, tanya selera.

In the end parents shouldn't see unschooling as a finale. There's always affordable private schools and many more alternatives. If you live in Penang, I can give you leads on where to ask. Besides, schools take 13-15 years to teach what a young person can learn in under 2 years. We have a lot of time to waste in between.

I would like to stress that contrary to popular belief, you cannot possibly 'fall behind' in any significant or damaging way by taking a few years out of school. If anything, your child would most likely benefit. Do not underestimate the potential of the willing child to learn and do not overestimate the school's or their teachers' ability to teach. Trust me, if the school your child has been attending is really one of those rare schools where teachers live up to what we expect of them, you'd know and never even consider homeschooling in the first place!

Another reason why unschooling/homeschooling is such a highly personal choice is because the root of being a teacher/parent is the same thing : to look into ourselves, to reflect on our own learning and to be sensitive to the fact that intelligence manifests in each of us in these three ways : Diversity (multiple intelligence), Interaction (what we learn and how we learn is dynamic) and Creativity. When I say Creativity, I mean how each of our brain DECIDES to filter, absorb, create and express meaning from learning.

Somewhere throughout history, and I suspect it's somewhere in the last 200-300 years, parents became separated from their role as teachers and teachers became separated from their role as light-bearers. Education became commodified and a state-controlled one at that. Teachers became well-meaning public servants. Even those who became teachers because they truly believed they could make a difference in the world end up finding themselves merely a number, an instrument, a dispoable one, in the machinery that churns out workers for Industrialism.

I don't mean to preach but it is my personal opinion that choosing to not conform to the brokeness in society also means a necessity for a person to revert back to a spiritual consciousness where they reclaim their right as a whole-being, an intelligent being that is a bearer of both the light of love and knowledge. Discovering Jiddu Krishnamurthi's words on Education opened a floodgage of emotions in me that I had kept locked for many years. In his talks on education, it reminded me so much of how I was as a student and the arguments I was making against schooling. But because I was only a child who eventually suffered from severe self-esteem issues in trying to defend my rights as a learner, I chose to forget everything that I was in order to 'grow up'. To borrow from Si Tenggang's Homecoming by Muhammad Haji Salleh, "The unschooling journey that I traversed is a journey of the soul".......

So you see why I stress that choosing to unschool is such a highly personal choice. To me the decision eventually awakened my spiritual responsibility, forced me to reconcile the pains that made me borderline dysfunctional, made me live up to my innate potential as a storyteller and vessel of hope for young people. I began to have so much teaching energy after finally choosing. I felt myself expand, being more open to people who still choose to school their children. I felt myself being more capable of being honest when listening to young people who wanted to kill themselves because of schooling and parental pressures. Instead of simply being angry at schools or societal pressures on children or simplifying their depression by saying, "You'll get over it", I could offer them a sort of courage and strength that helps them see life differently even when things remained the same.

Each person will eventually arrive at their own logic or reason which drove them to do what they do. I've always been an advocate of fearlessness, freedom and joy. It's just who I've always been and choosing to not conform now seems the most logical and rational thing for me to do. To be fearless is not about the total absence of fear and doubt, but to be able to eventually grow bigger than those fears and doubts and to decide based on higher qualities than them. I'm not able to do that in every aspect of my life, but I somehow could for my stand as a parent.

Because unschooling was also a part of my spiritual journey it eventually gave rise to an awareness that I had to stop being afraid of the Past, the Future and everything else that God did not command. I had to do that to be more able to see who I am. And in that, it made me more transparent in my understanding of my child, her nature and purpose in this world, as God intended.

One simple way of getting rid of our irrational fears is to notice that in no Holy Book did God/Yahweh/Allah/Christ declare : Thou shalt deliver thy children to government or private institutions of schoolig to become disposable resources supplying industries that greedily mine Earth's bowels for Her resources. Thou shalt allow Industrialism and its Mistress; Authority, together with their spawn; Fear, to fool all of you to turn into Hungry Consumers worshipping a Material god.

It may or may not be helpful to you but it sure did all my fears away in one single breath! I arrived at almost perfect clarity when I realized, even if no one else gave me permission to do this, God did not forbid. So if it is not Haram nor even Makruh, I can do it. And I am only answerable to Him.

Did God ask that I protect and nurture my child? Yes. Did God allow me to feel the deep dysfunction and brokeness of schooling even when I was a student? Yes. Did God allow me to stir with these feelings that something is not right, that I have to go out and learn what it takes to understand that gnawing gut feeling? Yes.

One we get past the layers of conformity, fear and tradition and revert to ourselves, we will come to understand our role as a parent and the Yellow Brick Road unfolds itself. From understanding the Divine Duty as Parent, we will be able to get rid of our fears as Material Servants. We will start to see the Child as an embodiment of our Love, of God's Love and God's Will incarnate. We will understand our intentions and that our intentions to teach them are above what the elected government's intentions will ever be. We will see with clarity the goals we want for ourselves, our children; we will examine our ambitions, our competitive attitudes, anxieties, stress, fears, insecurities - we will see the root of all those layers as they are. And when we do, all those questions that gave us tunnel vision will melt away.

I know what I'm saying is pretty presumptuous and preachy but thank goodness everyone understands that a blog entitles its owner to their own opinions.

When I decided to unschool my child, never did I imagine that the greatest gift would be the one to myself. The greatest reward was being able to reclaim my rightful relationship with her - to finally be able to see her as an embodiment of Love and Intelligence instead of all my fears projected unto her.

In the beginning, it was all about my dissatisfaction with my own schooling, with schools at large, with the standards, social problems, government, etc. My own fears about being a 'failure' in life, failure to launch. The 'failure' as a parent was a subconscius presence that dominated and drove many of my beliefs and intentions before. Without realizing it, I was projecting all my unfulfilled potential unto my child, relying on her to be an extension of life, a life that I believed had passed me by. I had become so insecure and afraid of myself that I had shut that out of my consciousness completely and projecting them unto my child. How unfair to her! I was trying to live through her, to see in her all the things I could not be, to make her not be the sum of all the mistakes I see in myself.

On the day I signed the letter to take her out of school, I was still full of the fears and doubts about whether I'd be able to prepare for exams and uni and this and that. I was still very worried about being "Mom Failure No.1". I was worried about whether I would always be financially able to give her a life where she did not have to be without, education and social wise. I was at my wits' end wondering if I'd ever be able to customize the perfect curriculum to 'maximize her potential'. I worried about how my work schedule and my easygoing nature was going to work around giving her a 'structured life' and 'routine'.

In the end, I realized, emak borek, anak rintik. I cannot dictate a routine or schedule that is not 'me'. Children pick up the habits, lifestyles and behaviour of the adults in their life. I quit being who I wasn't and leveraged on what made me an effective adult thus far. I eventually allowed her to slack as much as she wanted because I remembered how it was like after SPM. It was during that period that I couldn't believe that I could actually get bored from complete inertia. Guess what! She eventually complained she NEEDED to create a routine for herself, she REALIZED "Mum, I need to have goals."

I raised her using the only tools I really have : Honesty and Integrity. I work with young people enough to know that they have an uncanny ability to see right through adults. I knew I did when I was a young person! I didn't try to make her do things I wasn't very good at myself which eventually got her complaining about how imperfect I am. She complained that I'm not like Bree Van Der Kemp (Bree Hodge) and Martha Stewart rolled into one. She said I'm not 'a perfect mom'. What's funny was that once I became OK with myself, I became OK with being seen as not perfect. I realized I had caused so much conflict in our relationship before because I was trying to make her think I'm perfect, even when I'm wrong. And in doing so, she started feeling like there was everything wrong with her because she couldn't be perfect enough for me.

In giving up trying to be perfect for each other we both became more honest, respectful and supportive of each other. It's still a work in progress but I wouldn't trade what we have now for what we had then. The new level of the relationship I'm sharing with my only child is more meaningful to me than any dime a dozen university degree or 'job'. And along with this paradigm shift was the realization that I don't even want my daughter to have a job anymore. I'm learning financial intelligence and investment so my daughter will become an entrepreneur and investor, not a worker. Imagine, if I had continued to kill myself over a sense of being a failure to launch in my life and career, I'd never be able to try and learn something new to help my daughter. And she's taken to the idea very, very well. She has been admiring Martha Stewart since she was 5 and I couldn't see the attraction in that. When she was about 7 or 8 she asked me how Martha Stewart ended up in jail. But now I realize her fascination; it's part of her blueprint that being a domestic goddess, boss and investor is one and the same thing. The reason I never saw this before was because I am completely uninterested in domestic life and was more an 'academic sort' and took it for granted that that's going to be her blueprint for life too. The miracle that stopping to try creates!

She asks me like clockwork, every few months, about how Oprah and Martha and JK Rowling make their fortunes. She asks me the difference between criminals and Martha Stewart. I had to tell her it's about taxes and stuff. She said she's going to learn about how taxes work to avoid going to jail for tax evasions! And here I am, grumbling about how mah-fan filing taxes is while my 11-year-old is already having an end in mind. She asks me if people can make money without working so damn hard and just do what they love. And because she asks me these questions I have to go out and magnetize all this information to me so I can digest them for her.

Like I said, I only had Honesty and Integrity as tools. I couldn't teach her anything domestic at all except grocery shopping. I suppose that's why she writes me Father's Day cards as well, I'm like the father who uses money to solve all problems. Buy, buy and buy. Kau-tim til next time.

Since I'm a domestic pariah, I told her to go watch her grandfather cook. He does on an almost daily basis. She reports that her grandfather is more of a mad scientist than a cook. But she's learned gardening and sorting spices and herbs and pounding this and that and preserving and marinading this and that, etc. And I asked her grandmother to teach her needlework.

I teach her Economics and lecture to her about Finance. Last night, we were at a mamak and I was reading a financial magazine I had picked up. I then illustrated to her the story of subprime loans, an article which was in there. I also showed her an article about how to invest in gold because I'd picked up some brochures from Public Bank and she had asked how buying gold works. Things like that.

I know, it's a little crazy, but that's from the premise of Integrity and Honesty. We can only teach them from things which we are ourselves, "we" meaning the adults in children's lives. From different friends of mine she learns different things, such as, why one friend of mine is perpetually attracting mentally unstable acquaintances into her life! At her age, she figured out that it's only helpful to be nice as long as we don't become suckers because after that, we suffer the consequences of being afraid to draw the line between what we find acceptable or otherwise.

My life has gotten pretty exciting and more adventurous now that I don't have that dreary routine of sending her to an intellectual and creative prison every morning. I make effort to be more Honest and to have more Integrity as a person because I see how directly relevant that is in becoming a Highly Effective adult, role-model in her life. I don't know if I get it easier or harder, being a single parent. It's easier in the sense that my invisible spouse seems to agree and support every decision I make. You can only imagine in what sense things may become harder.

What's our typical day like now? Conflicts don't carry over time. Do we get tired of spending time with each other? All individuals need their own space sometimes. The important thing is, we're there for each other once we start to miss each other. Is she learning above and beyond her peers? I don't really care anymore. If I want a PhD in the family, then I'd better be that change I want to see. After all, learning is a journey, not a competition for status. And learning happens best without competition and fear. And how's her behaviour and self-directedness? Improved by leaps and bounds.

The last thing I had expected when I unschooled her was for her to become more responsible, mature and independent. I live with my aunt and my aunt is perpetually worried about my lack of concern with domestic duties and career regularity. To some onlookers, I seem like I have no direction or purpose in life and I admit, their opinions about me affect me sometimes and I'm constantly worried about what sort of role-model am I to my daughter. But maybe somewhere in me I am a responsible, mature and independent person. Maybe not in my domestic duties and race for social prestige.....

She does the laundry..........when it suits her. She helps me clean my office and home. She takes pretty good care of the cats. She now knows what to do during domestic emergencies. She's grown in confidence. She spends a great deal of time reading. I cannot afford to drive a nice car because our book bill per month is what a car installment would've been. I sometimes have to sneak out and buy books because I find it too difficult to tell her, "You can't have another book" when Mommy just bought 2. So we have a 2:1 deal. For every 2 books I buy, she gets 1. I'm really like the husband that allows the wife extra shopping money only when he's blown some money on his own toys....:(

I suppose a child with different influences will find different ways to express what they need for their being to flourish. It's a happy coincidence that she turned out to be a reader (didn't send her to any programmes, she started kindy only at age 6) because it has made parenting for me so much more convenient. I don't mind spending thousands of dollars on books. But I'm really sakit when she asks for $50 for art equipment. I remember how it was when I was a child; I didn't get books because my guardian thinks books are a waste of money. It made me realize that how we choose to spend money on things that matter to our child has a lot to do with who we are ourselves. I admit it's really difficult for me to do things like take her to parks, sending her for camps, going with her on field trips, etc. She thinks Nature is FUN! Nature is nice but can somebody airlift me and just drop me at the waiting point?

I do feel bad about a lot of things I cannot be for her. It doesn't help that everyone else in my family is as much of an outdoor slob as I am. She likes swimming, not me. She likes hiking! I'd rather read an entire set of encycloepedia Brittanica than go hiking! She likes visits to butterfly park and anything that has lots of nature, the beach, hills, forest. But Mommy's a mall-rat. Thea hates the mall. She likes cooking, baking, gardening and painting. I can even kill a cactus. I've tried buying plants several times but each time Thea doesn't visit the office for some time, they die. I'm pure vegetation assassin.

I found myself wanting to buy her a bread-maker to not feel so guilty. Again, using money to solve problems. She said she didn't want one coz it would make the bread hard in the middle. Is that true? I don't know.....not like I bake. I tried compensating for not bringing her to the parks enough by asking her to like a pair of Rollerblades. Since they cost like RM1,000, that should keep my guilt at bay for a few months. She refused them! She gets angry at me and says I never listen to her! How not true! I'm trying to listen to her by negotiating a different choice for her. I know how much she likes parks. With a pair of rollerblades we can pretend the mall is a park too, right?

I asked if she'd like a PSP. Sigh. No. I bought her seasons and seasons' worth of Pokemon and any Japanese animation on offer. Since Pokemon is Japanese animation, any type of Japanese animation would do too, right? And if they're on offer, that sweetens the deal. Apparently not. She says my taste in Japanese animation is horrible. I asked if she'd be interested in foreign indie films instead; she says I don't listen. How is that? Japanese animation is foreign, indie films are like animated shows too - they have a storyline and their characters speak in a tongue we don't understand.

Recently, she asked to be enrolled in an art class. So every Friday, I sit for 2 hours at a Starbucks cafe waiting for her to do her 'art' a few floors up. I bought her a folder to keep her art pieces, not because I've become more supportive but because I cannot bear to see her art pieces lying around the house. Anything that indicated she had a 'artist' side triggered a great uneasiness in me. I bought 'her' a nice piano which she liked merely as a furniture piece. I asked if she'd like a Clavinova instead? She told me to get it for myself. One day, I accidentally said out loud that, "I'd die if you became an artist. I really wished you didn't like art and liked playing music instead."

Instead of being angry at me, she laughed at me. This wouldn't have happened a year ago. 2 years ago, I used to threaten her with the cane so she could get her major scales right. But why is Mommy like this, actually? So Mommy learned the piano instead.

So why does Mommy hate the idea of her being an artist so much? Following her lead, I revisited another 'bad memory' from my past. I bought myself a sketch pad and borrowed her brushes and paints. I know why I hated art : because my teachers told me I was bad at it. My art has a very psychedelic element to it and Thea thought it was nice. But I said, Mommy's art teachers said I was stupid because I was too colorful and I represented feelings in symbols and ambient contours and lines, not the way they wanted, to scale and with correct lighting, color and perspective.

So that's how our journey had turned out to be - we just let learning and things evolve. I let her own interest unfold and show me the way but I need to give her enough breathing space and time to arrive at one. I have to be aware of and resist my own prejudices and ambitions. We just trust in the invisible hand that Love invites into our live, to guide us. We just do our best and trust in God because there are just too many things in life that cause struggle and misery. I don't want parenting and love to be one of them.

So this has been the story of my unschooling journey. I've decided to make my choices simplere by just trusting God and trusting His reason for giving me this Child.

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

The idea of LEARNING is actually not as straightforward as we think

There's something I've been teaching and preaching over and over again the past years. Before we can start to change and expect different results, we have to take a look at what we've been doing that's not working, internalize that, and go acquire the knowledge, skills (methods) to do things differently. If you do things the way you've always been doing them, you will always get the same results. No?

I teach language - but teaching effectively nowadays is not a mere exercise at the subject per se. The end result of teaching is learning and the expectations of learning is exponential learning. In order to really teach anything, we actually need to know how learning happens. The hardest part of teaching language is actually to teach people how to learn. It may seem ironic but it seems like the biggest stumbling block to learners is not so much the subject matter but the knowledge of how to learn. 

Learning how to learn would mean noticing that if you do the same things, you get the same results. And to change the results, we need to change the variables. The single biggest variable is the method. The way we design our method of learning must meet our objectives. 

Students want to achieve good results in their exams. But that is not an end in itself. Achieving good results is a means of securing a place in a good varsity, obtaining a tertiary degree is a means of getting a higher paid job, obtaining a higher paid job is a means of ...etc.etc. 

Perhaps everyone should start with an end in mind. The end in mind for most, if not everyone,  is to be happy, contented, confident and to have a great sense of security. To be happy is to be able to contribute value to this life, to be contented is to be able to accept yourself and your circumstances, to be confident is to be doing what suits your aptitude and to have a great sense of security is to know that you have the ability to create and obtain the life you can be happy with. 

Language learning should be seen as a means towards that end. Actually, any type of learning should be seen as a means towards that end. The irony is a majority of people who are looking to 'learn' something is approaching learning with an extremely shortsighted view of things and wonder, why, after many extensions of these short-sighted attempts, they're really not progressing that much. You cannot go far if you're looking at your toes while you're walking. 

The hardest thing to teach, really, it to teach a person how to learn. Time is limited, so is effort.The analogy I use is that we can't hope to go forward if we keep stepping on the gas while the gear is in Reverse. We actually have to stop and find a centre, go neutral for a while. Discard a previous notion of learning something if that method has NOT proven to give you exponential learning. Analyse where you're at, think a moment and consider the alternatives. All it takes is a change of gear before you go full speed ahead. 

If a mind does not understand the concept of learning how to learn, efforts in teaching new information would be wasted - like pouring liquid gold through a tiny straw. More spills out than it does going through the tiny gap.