Monday, June 10, 2013

Am I Ruining My Child? Education on Its Ass.

On a typical field trip in an average grade school, a student will encounter a "guide" or expert with specialized knowledge, who may train for years in a certain field. These people are either very enthusiastic volunteers, or they are paid to give 10-30 (ish) students access to the intimate knowledge they have on a particular subject. If they are avid information-sharers off the clock, they may join a like-minded group in their spare time. As a fervent volunteer, I have seen firsthand the large numbers of people who put in a great amount of effort to make the world around them a better place. We all have a special hobby, interest, or expertise that we take great pains to hone. An interest begins as a large but empty tank, and we fill it as a labor of love, an homage (or "a homage" depending on your pronunciation) to our reverence for a subject. We seek information to parse as true or false and cherry-pick the most consistent and logically sound pieces, filling our tank with the best parts. That said, if we walk around, full, without sharing or using the knowledge, that tank gets buried with our bodies (or scattered atop a mountain, or "promessed" if we're acutely aware of the unsustainable system of cemeteries). That information is gone, forever. Part of our drive toward the perpetuation of our species includes the urge to make a lasting contribution that will outlive our moment of death.

We've all heard (or rolled our eyes at) the phrase "it takes a village to raise a child." Even a conventional upbringing involves an endless supply of teachers, mentors, relatives, babysitters, coaches, and guardians - all working together (hopefully) to foster an atmosphere of learning, safety, and growth. In choosing to give my daughter an unconventional upbringing, I have found myself almost entirely responsible for locating each of these individuals. Two considerations are driving my search: 1. Out of all my friends and family, I know and love all kinds of people with great specialized knowledge - people who harbor interesting and wonderful worldviews, people who know a great deal about something that can consequently be whittled down to a small Wikipedia article (though it would be a great injustice to the subject to do so). 2. I want these folks to impart their enthusiasm on my progeny. I want them to feed her eager mind, simultaneously, with an almost irrational exuberance AND an abiding respect for the deeper concepts of the universe. I want her to be imprinted with the understanding that people are living, breathing relics of history. Above all, I want her to know that being passionate about her eventual way of life is necessary to happiness and ACTUAL success (not as measured by net worth/income).

You may think I'm insane. "Kristi, you're nuts" is a phrase that follows me everywhere. You may say any number of things about this decision, most designed to point out the absolute worst-case scenarios. "But there are crazy people! Cult leaders! Pedophiles! (oh my!)" - and there will certainly be no end to the age old mantra "if you're too open-minded, your brain may fall out." Well, let me be the first to tell you that I don't homeschool my daughter to shelter her. I homeschool her so that she can learn to think for herself. Does that sound contradictory? Can you TEACH someone to think for themselves? I assert that you can. My method thus far has involved teaching her a myriad of things, being honest when there are "science doesn't know why" answers, and I CAN and WILL say "gee, darling, I don't know - let's look it up together!" I believe there is no shame in asking questions. There isn't very much we are unable to learn, just things we haven't invested in learning, YET. I extend this practice into Open Source Learning: of course I wouldn't let a throng of bepitchforked strangers drag her off into the woods for a "swimming" lesson, but even if someone teaches her something outright WRONG, she'll have the same "relearning" experience most of us have during the transition between K12 and college. The difference between ours and hers will be that she will know this will happen, so she will prioritize the investigation of truth in her education. She will KNOW she is responsible for figuring out the credibility of the information she's receiving, rather than being surprised by having been taught incorrect information in the first place. Rather than blindly accepting all of the teachings of authority figures she hears, she will realize the importance of questioning information. 

I call this Open Source Learning because I am essentially positing that this method encompasses elements of peer production, opening the formerly proprietary nature of information as contained in textbooks (which has widely already been done by the Internet and universities across the country), as well as enabling Dahlia (and any child who wishes to be taught this way) to be self-enhancing through the variety of communication/models/information at her (or their) disposal. Technology has exploded, and it's time education took full advantage of this.

Without further ado, here are a few guidelines if you'd like to participate in the enrichment of Dahlia Violet:

1. For now, please keep each session to one hour or less. More than one session to teach a complicated subject is perfectly fine, but I think the longest she's able to give 100% of her focus to something is about an hour. She's six, and her attention span is pretty good, but all the same, she's six.

2. If you're teaching something extremely complicated, please reduce it to basics. This includes a vocab lesson if there's jargon, some deductive techniques, and probably talking to her like she's new. She just came out of me six years ago... she literally IS pretty new. Ask questions to determine whether or not she's understanding the material. She'll probably do the same.

3. Be okay with my presence. I may seem crazy, but I'm not crazy enough to hand off my kid to anyone without figuring out who they are on a deep personal level. Sorry. Many of these things can take place on Skype, at your house, in a classroom, in the woods, in a library meeting room, on a train, in the rain, on a boat, in a moat. We like it all, Sam I Am.

4. I am okay with all kinds of subject matter, but please check the logic involved when approaching her. Faith-based stuff, pseudoscience, supernatural fluff, metaphysics, and the like... not so great. If you're adamant, go ahead, but just know that you're filling the head of a very rational, intellectually honest kid. She'll tell you you're bullshitting her, if you are.

5. Think of the easiest way for a very visual learner to acquire information. That will be the greatest way she will learn. She's also very good with deductive reasoning. She reads a lot, but her ability to visualize complex systems (that aren't out of HER imagination) is questionable. Have some pictures handy, if you can.

So, that's about that. I believe in this project wholeheartedly, and I think if it works it could potentially revolutionize a lot of the way education is executed. Thanks in advance to the participants. Your contribution is priceless to making Dahlia the greatest person she can become. :)

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