While the public schools are preparing children for NCLB testing by teaching to pre-determined learning objectives and benchmarking progress at pre-set intervals with carefully calculated pacing guides (did I get that right?), we are…..not. We are not scouring the NCLB standards listings of what our children should be learning. We are not planning or performing to a set boxed “make it happen this way, today” curriculum. We are not creating detailed learning objectives that must be met, now or never. We are not anxiously marking our children’s “progress” with incremental steps that are supposed to lead to a prescribed learning jackpot called “success.” We are, however, preparing our children for life, and we are so very happy to be doing that without a formal education.
My son would be in kindergarten this year if in a traditional school setting, and my daughter would be in third grade. If they were in school this past month of November 2006, they would have been instructed in some of the following as determined by the school system and would have been expected to learn it this November 2006. “Objectives are placed in the quarter in which mastery should be expected.” They would be tested on these objectives, pass or fail, and then they would move on and away to the next predetermined set of objectives: Third Grade Pacing Guide.
If they did not pass the tests that supposedly prove that they are learning this stuff and that supposedly prove how much they are learning, they might be labeled failures, unsatisfactory, below average, learning disabled, unmotivated, careless, unsuccessful, and so on. If they “proved” that they are learning this stuff, they might be considered excellent, motivated, average, above average, gifted, motivated, attentive, successful, and so on.
Why? Why label a child “good or bad” based on school performance? Why go to all that trouble to make a child fit a curriculum, a set of standards defined by targeted (thus limited) detailed learning objectives when the end result is a label, "good" or "bad"? Why teach a child that her self worth is wrapped up in performance at all, and especially to faulty and invalid measures of real learning?
This past November 2006, my children were (and still are) learning about dogs because we just brought our new dog, Sophie, home to be in our family. We were told by the dog and cat rescue organization that we adopted her from that she is German Shepherd mix, part Lab. The trainer that we are taking classes from said Lab mix, part Rottweiler, and the mystery of "what is Sophie" is taking us to tons of information and on a real life learning experience and a critical thinking extravaganza.
Do you know how excited my children are? They are e-x-c-i-t-e-d! Do you know how much they want to learn about this dog named, Sophie? What breeds is she and what might that mean? Where does she come from? How, why and where did her breeds “evolve?” Why does she behave as she does and how do we train her (lots of classical/operant conditioning here and logical thinking in that one)? How do we care for her? What does she need from us? We are reading dog poems, dog stories, dog myths and legends. We are researching how to care for her and applying that information in real life. We are taking a dog training course. We are testing out behavior modification theory and taking note of dog and people psychology.
Sophie came into our lives and our lives are now about learning about Sophie. My children are personally invested in learning about this dog. They know and own their own “need to know,” and they feel directly empowered when they delve into that personal energy and learn in it. They enjoy the learning. The learning is a direct primary reinforcement. The satisfaction of the "know" surpasses any "superior grade" in quality of experience. The learning itself is worth it because it is relevant, wanted and needed.
John Dewey, a renowned educational philosopher and proponent of the modern public education movement believed in the power of what he called, “teachable moments." The MSN Encarta Dictionary defines a teachable moment as "a time at which a person, especially a child, is likely to be particularly disposed to learn something or particularly responsive to being taught or made aware of something." A teachable moment is when life and person meet with the desire to know.
We are living those teachable moments by living our lives and learning as we go. We are learning together and with friends, family and just folks we meet at the library, the pet store, the grocery store and so on, and then there are our fellow students in dog training class. People like to talk about dogs! We are having an on-going learning conversation with each other and these people who are a part of our lives.
“A dog splurge,” you say, “does not an education make.”
OK. A dog splurge does not make an education complete, and we were learning more than about Sophie these past November days. Life takes care of the content. We live our teachable moments when we are actively engaged in our own lives!
When my daughter was 5, I registered her for school. I received a packet that contained learning objectives already defined for her for the next five years of her life. I backed out (another story) and convinced my husband for a trial year of homeschooling. He agreed to it if I would assure him that we would cover those objectives. One day as I hedged along, I asked him if he was sure that we had to cover Betsy Ross specifically that year. By that time, he had begun to see things a little differently. He had begun to see the real live “learn as we go” learning and to value it. “Just make sure you introduce some history (any history),” he said. And we did, and we do.
From our past American girl excursion to our more recent Magic Tree house adventures (we plunder the library for myths and legends, stories, poetry, cooking and craft books, and informational books and dive into the culture and time) to visits to local living museums and working historical farms in character (my children like to dress up and participate) to travels from the beginning of time (my children are into early human and the evolution of humans and animals big time) to making history today by voting, meeting the governor of our state and making the world a better place today as we see it (my children are into protecting animals and making sure they do not go extinct), we are “covering” and making history. We also “cover” our science, our math, our geography, and our language arts in a similar fashion. We get involved in life and pursue it.
This November 2006 ended with the four of us sick, hanging out on the sofa and watching quite a bit of of TV (National Geographic, The Food Network, and Animal Planet), learning quite a bit about dogs (We just found out Sophie has Giardia probably from drinking from the creek or from the soil?…how’s that?...what do we do?....yuck...), talking about white blood cells, making stats sheets on pro football teams, and learning how to make chicken soup 3 different ways off of one chicken.
Living out our "teachable moments" gives us a direct connection to the learning that lives in life, our lives. It gives us the joy and thrill that belongs to our own authentic experience and the power to be self-determined. It works. We are creating our own learning objectives as we go. We are creating our own personal goals and living them out, and we are empowered by our own independence to change our direction and our goals when they no longer serve us. There is no way to pre-determine this kind of learning. You can’t NCLB it, and if you tried, you would basically destroy it.
Robin considers herself a budding naturalist and conservationist and a spiritual eclectic who enjoys celebrating the wheel of the year with her own unique blend of earth-centered world traditions.