Tag Archives: traditional school

The Practice of Learning…the cultivation of the child

Kurt Vonnegut said “The practice of art isn’t to make a living. It’s to make your soul grow.”  

I risk a paraphrase of that magnificent quotation…

The practice of Learning isn’t to make a living.  It’s to make your soul grow. 

Inside every human child there is a secret place… hidden… unknown… instilled with a magnificence we cannot fathom…

A place as deep as any ocean… as individual as each child’s DNA… In fact, I postulate this place holds each child’s personal intellectual genetic compass… a pathway that is only found through following the desires of that child’s intellectual heart… 

It is a place not often found… a place found only by the most blessed of people who were reared in an environment that encouraged that mad pursuit of intellectual independence toward what a “particular”  child was created to do… not educated, but cultivated… placed in sacred soil where the child was allowed to grow toward who he “is”…  for those who never find that special gift become those who live incomplete lives and who come to say in their old age those most tragic words… “If only”…

It is a place all but never found… for the soil in which we place most children today is not sacred… rather it is an artificial soil intended to grow discrete skills, uniformity, conformity, and the intellectual joining with the mass of humanity… humanity defined by the industrial definition of what it is to be human… 

They all must read… but they will read…

They all must calculate numbers… but they will calculate…

They all must write… but they all will write…

They all must understand what they need to endure in the world… but they will endure…

and they will learn all those things through the search for that hidden place… the sacred gift that each child is given… what they were made to be… 

These blessed children live in a world not defined by an expert’s definition of what a “graduate looks like”… No, they live in a world dedicated to letting them find the hidden place within their being by following their joy… by following that strong compass bearing holding true in their soul… by following their innate fascination with the creations miraculous paths…

They are the ones who walk the paths reading the compass of their heart… indeed that is the nature of those who found their genius… those who did not find that hidden place look at those who did find it and marvel… and feel the saddest intuition… did I not have something like that in me…

When we look at such a person we are looking at pure joy… we are looking at a being following the light for which they were created… the musician who plays miraculously… the doctor who heals with hands that seem dipped in sacred waters… the teacher who can reach into a child to help them find their hidden gift… the shuttle pilot who rides the thunder into the vastness of space… the carpenter who builds a house to stand the centuries… the cook who creates wonder from the gifts of the Earth… the physicist who listens to the music of the spheres… the machinist who works the elementals into shapes that allow the engines of our world to generate untold power in silence… the pastor who can communicate the eternal or quiet a grieving heart…

All these and millions more gifts are in as many children… But so few ever find that hidden place within their soul… so few… 

So what must we as a civilization do? 

We must remove the bindings of artificiality in what we allow children to learn…

We must renew our faith in art… music… great literature… true science…

We must renew our faith in play…for play is the foundation of creativity…

We must learn to trust that true compass within ourselves that always points to the joy… for as surely as we try to follow another’s compass or definition of learning we crush the joy…

We must give up our belief that there is “One” body of knowledge needed by every child…

We must not confine our thinking about learning to the small and mundane, but rather turn our thoughts to the greatness that could be… in every child… for in every honest and good path there is greatness…

We must trust our civilization to the miracle of the genius that created every child… we must allow ourselves to cultivate every growing child in such a way that they search, honestly search, for their hidden place… their hidden gifts… who they are supposed to be…

We must believe that we were given our minds to develop… 

We must believe above all else that we do feel the tug of the compass within ourselves… 

We must believe that if we follow that tug, that arterial tide within ourselves we will find our genius…

We will know when we have found our hidden place because it will be as if we have a powerful wind at our backs… those who have found their hidden place are the ones we call brilliant… the ones we call genius… the ones who inspire us… 

Should we fail in this we will see no more Galileo’s, no more Bach’s, no more Debakey’s, no more Einstein’s…  and we are failing… 

We are failing because we have believed a lie… we have believed that every child must be measured, cut from the same dull cloth, labeled with any of the hundreds of ways we try to categorize and limit human beings… We have believed that every child must learn the same things and be measured in the same way… and match the image of “what a graduate should look like”.   

We have believed the false premise that a human child can be manufactured through our well-meaning programs and curricula.  We have believed that the fact that we all share DNA makes us like every other… 

We have to learn that our DNA, the very thing that defines us all as human, makes us all as humanly different as stars in different galaxies… for that is what DNA is… it is an individual program… none like another… 

No human child is created like any other…when we found that DNA is a living program we took it to mean uniformity of universal intent when it means exactly the opposite… universal uniqueness…    

 This is why there is a dawning in some hearts lighting the way to another path, an independent brook away from the stream of humanity flowing into a sea of conformity… into the religion of similarity, of artificial counting of bits of knowledge, of sameness…. 

Those are the hearts that beat independently, the do answer to another rhythm, another music of the spheres…..

 The saddest truth is this; we will not see another Galileo, another Bach, another Debakey, another strange walker in time unless we have the courage to rebuild that which we call learning…. in our attempts to create uniformity in learning we will block the next stage in our development as human beings…. as a species specially created by God… each of us with a distinct purpose… each with an inborn joy that is lost to most of us by the time we are teenagers… the result being all the particular problems that do overtake our children because we are trying to actually create a uniform human being… as uniform as the length of each grass blade in a suburban lawn.

We must adopt a practice of learning that is only intent on finding that hidden place, a practice of learning that is independent, that results in the cultivation of the seed that is within every individually created child. 

 

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Inadequate Textbooks, Homeschooling and open education

Recently, I posted an entry on developing custom personal “textbooks” by collecting content from the internet.  I was very gratified when that post was picked up by Openeducationnews.org.  When I clicked over to their link I discovered another excellent article titled Illusion of Quality in K-12 textbooks written by Jane Park.  This event was extremely rewarding to me but it was also a perfect example of why I advocate the use of personally developed research oriented material rather than the use of textbook-like materials. 

The publication of my thoughts led me to discover information that provides a more complete foundation for my post. That is at the heart of what occurs in true independent learning.  It also extends the post with new information that I can use to learn along with anyone else who reads it and then follows the links provided.  Another wonderful benefit of this even was that I was introduced to writers working on the same concepts from whom I can extend my reach. 

That is what learning is like in the real world. 

Most often after what we think of as formal schooling we learn far more through the interwoven networks of our real work interactions and real research.  By research I include any and all learning in any field of endeavor from developing skill in a trade to practicing medicine.  All learning should be thought of as a practice. 

All of that post-school learning is motivated intrinsically within us thus it is retained.  I will never forget Jane Parks’ article because my mind was in what I refer to as the “Learning Mindset”.  

The Learning Mindset happens when we are involved in work that has meaning to us.  That is why so many people, if they are honest with themselves, readily admit they remember almost nothing they learned in school except that which they use in their lives. 

An example of the worst found in the thought of education reformers taken right out of the current debate on education can be found in the January 2010 U. S. News and World Report in an article titled “The Extreme School Makeover”.  The article makes the stunning statement that under President Obama’s education proposals seniors “could be expected to solve problems such as – if there are 8 x 10 to the 12th power hydrogen molecules in a volume of 4 x 10 to the 4th power cubic centimeters, what is the average number of hydrogen molecules per cubic centimeter?”   Forgive me for I don’t know how to do superscripts in Wordpress.   To me this immediately begs the question why would the average citizen ever need to know how to figure the average number of hydrogen molecules per cubic centimeter?  And, why would we expect any student not bound for a career in a field in which that arcane problem is useful remember it past the test?  Ask any senior why they need to know that information.  They will answer “I need it for the test”. 

Congratulations the most powerful government on the face of the Earth has labored mightily to lay another rotten egg. 

This is an example of why education is failing.  That question is one constructed by a committee of individuals who sat down to construct the ideal knowledge set to be learned by the ideal student.  They probably asked themselves this inane question as I once did on a similar committee; “what should the high school graduate look like”?  That’s a quote from the task set before the committee on which I served.  That day was one of the turning points in my outlook on how education is done in this country.  

After a while I realized that “the” high school graduate should look nothing like any other high school graduate.  Some will most certainly look like future engineers, chemists or medical doctors.  But others will look like writers, journalists or anchors.  Some will look like diesel mechanics, transmission specialists, entrepreneurs and carpenters.  Others will look like biologists, foresters or any of the untold professions that can be found among human beings.  Further, each graduate will look different because they are not mass-produced objects put together on some obscene human assembly line. 

To look at students any other way is to deny their individuality inherent to each one.  That is why learning materials need to fit the individual rather than some ideal group.

Then the committee, more then likely, set out to brainstorm the things this ideal graduate would be able to “know and do”.   That particular requirement given in U. S News came from some list of abstractions sewn together by such a committee like some Frankensteinian freak.   All such requirements could now  be required of every innocent child born in America .  Absurdity on absurdity.   

Tragically, this is how commercial textbooks are written.  The time to blaze a new trail has long since passed.   Constructing custom resources using the internet is useful for a number of reasons. Very carefully selected and modified commercial materials can also be useful.  But, here are a number of thoughts on why I advocate constructing personal materials.   

  • The information you find using quality sources will be current. 
  • An internet based “textbook” can be changed in a heartbeat.  If something doesn’t work change it.  It isn’t required curriculum.
  • The information you find will be specifically fitted for what you or a child needs now.
  • The information you select will be relevant to what a child or independent learner needs to learn.
  • One thing I did not emphasize in the last post was the value of involving independent learners in the development of the material.  Doing so will increase what is retained because it will be meaningful. 
  • Questions will lead to other questions
  • Intrinsic interest will be high. 
  • As material is discovered and learned neural pathways in the brain will develop due to intrinsic interest.
  • As the materials are discovered new questions will arise opening new pathways.
  • Research skills which are intrinsically useful will be developed in a natural way just as carpenters and machinists can work with fractions as if they were born with the skill.  Those trades use fractions every moment of the day.  They can’t help but learn fractions. 
  • The material will be learned because it is discovered personally and “worked” personally.  It isn’t assigned. 

The simple reason that most of us don’t learn material that is simply assigned, even if we made 100’s on the assignments, was that our minds were not “personally” engaged by it.  We were fulfilling someone elses goal.

We learn the things that are personally meaningful, fit our God-given gifts, fit our God ordained developmental pathways and have meaning to our particular lives. 

I won’t try to outline what Jane Park wrote so well in her article.  Please read Jane Park’s brilliant article for yourself  here.

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The role of responsibility in single parent homeschools…

Can single parents home school their children?  Most certainly yes.  The adolescent in American society has been marginalized.  Teenagers are able to do much more than society has indoctrinated us to believe.  We have come to believe that during the teenage years kids are just unable to take care of their lives.  Nothing could be further from truth.  The social beliefs held by society regarding teenagers hold that they are basically not responsible, unable to think for themselves and unable to make rational decisions.  Perhaps so, but we have trained them to be that way.

The first thing we have to do is rid ourselves of the notion that young people, after an age where they can care for themselves, are unable. Adolescence is an invented concept, an illness almost.  This condition was created to justify the continued confinement of young people in state institutions where they are forced to follow strict guidelines aiming to help them grow out of this invented malady. 

Young people are not disabled.  They may be inexperienced, untrained, lacking in the social graces but that isn’t their fault.  Rather it is the fault of a society that keeps kids in a perpetual state of childhood long after they are able to do much for themselves.  We create kids who are unable to cope with life by not allowing them to live life.  We seek to control them far beyond the years when they need or want control.  They are shackled to us as people who are actually mentally ill or disabled.  I don’t believe this is the case. 

I have come to believe that most of the problems we have with kids in this era are caused by the way we treat them especially after the age of about 12.  We have never seen an era in American history when we have so  crippled the development of young people.  How do we expect them to grow into young adults capable of taking care of themselves and their business when we keep them in de facto day care until they are close to or at the age of 18. 

We make every decision for them.  We tell them when to change classes.  We tell them that you study math from 9 to 10 in the morning nor can anything else be done during that time.   Institutions tell them when they can go to the bathroom.  They tell them when they can eat, what they can eat and give them about 25 to 30 minutes to eat.  They have little or no control over what they learn or what they want to learn.  They are often told that what they want to learn is unimportant.  They are lied to about the usefulness of many subjects in their future lives.  Complain to me about that last statement if you can still work with Quadratic Equations or have ever used them in your work.  Better yet complain to me about that statement if you didn’t eventually figure them out for yourself. 

Everything we do with kids is designed to support an invented culture.  In that culture invented labels control who you are, how valuable you are thought of and often where you will live, how much money you will make as well as whether you will be regarded as a useful member of society. 

So, in setting up a child to be able to care for herself when a parent is not around first the parent must throw out all that garbage.  Parents have to give up the idea that kids are incapable of caring for themselves.  Yes, they are still responsible to the parent legally and morally but they are able to do the work of men and women much earlier than our culture seems to think.  Can a child prepare lunch? Yes.  Can a child follow a schedule?  Yes.  Can a child stay alone after a certain age for the greater part of the day?  Yes. 

I did.  I had no choice.  At home I was regarded as a young adult able to care for myself, take care of my needs and behave responsibly during the time my single mother was at work.  I was taught that I was able and responsible from the time my father died when I was 12 years old. 

I was thrust into an environment where my mother had to work or we didn’t have bread on the table.  I had to man up.  And I responded to it.  Yes, I still did childish things.  I liked to play.  But I also owned my life.  I soon came to believe that I was man enough to make the basic decisions about my life.  I took on learning projects at a very early age at the encouragement of my mother but also on my own.  If I wanted to know something I learned it.  Soon I came to regard school as superfluous to my life.  I had enormous problems with school after that.  I didn’t get into trouble because I was taught not to disobey, but it rubbed me raw that I had to slow down for the school, do what I perceived to be silly, and surrender my independence to the school at the start of the school bell.  I was a kid who was able to cook, able to plan my own learning, able to take care of the house, able to do all the things I needed to do to live successfully on my own when my mother was not around.  

Yet, while I lived a near adult life at home, I lived the life of a child in school.  I lined up with the rest, went to the bathroom when I was told, drank water when I was told and only then.   I could not take part in the most basic social interactions people are used to in the general society.  My conversation was controlled.  Attempts were made to control my thinking.  Attempts were made to make me think what the school wanted me to think.  Those attempts were unsuccessful.  I watched friends hit with boards because they spoke out of turn, engaged in normal childish behavior, forgot something  or expressed an opinion.  And I watched the culture approve of that. 

So step one has to be when working toward developing a single parent home school to give up the idea that your child is unable.  Your child is able to do far, far more than the culture has indoctrinated us to believe.  Trust your child.  Treat him as a young adult.  Extend freedom until a breakdown occurs then talk about it, pull back a little.  But, by all means sit down with the child to show him what is needed in a given situation, then expect him to fulfil what he needs to do.  The vast majority of the time the child will come through.

Don’t forget that adolescence is an invention designed to support government schooling.  It is a concept designed to keep young men and women in a perpetual state of childhood until they are nearly 20. 

And above all remember that your child was given to you by God.  Your child does not belong to the state.  Your child is a holy gift from God with all the rights all people are born with as stated in our government documents.  We seem to be forgetting that people crave freedom, independence and self-realization.  Give those things to a child and you will see miracles occur.

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Truth, Home schooling and love — to Hope McGeough my mom

Warmth…..

I know I felt her warmth as she read to me.   Time stopped during those moments when I listened to my mothers serene voice as she spoke the words that I followed with my finger.  I may have been six.  Croup as it was called then kept me in her lap.   My death was close just hours before.  I knew it.  I felt it.  I had descended deep into it…peaceful…deeply loved….wonderfully floating….But, it didn’t happen that night.  They said it wasn’t time….So I was in her lap hearing the words as she spoke them….small finger following them in the book. 

Warmth…

Soon I would read with my own voice…without the aide of that small finger.  I just…learned…..just learned how as she read to me.   And I learned it at home… everything I learned, I learned at home…

She held me with a love I am not sure men can understand.  Her serene voice…  Her warm breath on my shoulders as I lay on the friendship quilt in her lap.  The softness of her right hand as it stroked my hair….I lay curled up on that sacred quilt….on the words of those who preceded me years before…their mother’s reading to them back in the dimness of time….who had come finally to their time ….. when they felt the love and peace I had just felt but whose time it was…so they went on. 

The quilt rests in my home now with it’s incomprehensible dates sewn by the loving hands of women born two centuries before I was a glint in my mothers’ and fathers’ eyes. 

The words sank into my being.  I wish….I wish I could remember what they were. A Golden Book I imagine.   But, that’s not as important as that I was in her lap learning….without learning….but coming to know.  

The early afternoon air rushes around my body as I try to keep my fingers on her casket, wood as she had asked for and that I picked for her,  as it is lowered into the welcoming earth….at the end of a life well lived full of joy and tragedy as we all experience.

My fingers strain to keep contact, but I can’t follow.  My hand lingers there.  I try to burn the feel of that precious wood in my mind.   I am aware of people who love me looking on…just aware.   I remember momentarily that I had wanted to make her final bed…I had the plans….but I just didn’t have the time.  I think of the ornate angel there with her resting over her heart my cousin Dennis made for her…it was over her bed for years…it gave her strength when she could see it, it brought her solice when she could not longer see but could feel it.  I thought of the tiny cross made from a slat that held up her mother’s bed on its’ iron frame that she holds in her hand…..and that I made for her….for this day….around her neck is a dove descending as the Holy Spirit descended on Christ when he arose from the water on the day he told John to go ahead and baptise him….when John thought he was unworthy.  Larry Fussell, an artisan and great friend – a brother,  gave her that gift that she so treasured….the smoothness and artistry of which she would feel after she could no longer see the world.   She asked to hold it especially in the last days.     

Lower. 

Then, finally, the casket came to rest where her beautiful earthly body will be until Christ returns in glory on the clouds.  A silver ring placed on the casket rests there now, placed there by one of her much beloved “sons”.    

I had no tears then, only relief for her tortured body, her blind eyes,  her legs that would not walk,  only gratefulness to God for her relief.     Only gratefulness to her for the man I had managed to become…even though I had only started to grow into real manhood.   Standing beside me with their arms draped over my shoulders, leaning on me,  were two of the boys and young men who helped carry her that day…all of whom she loved in a special way.   Their gaze followed her casket down until it made contact with the protection of the vault….their eyes filled, their hearts full.  She loved those kids in my youth ministry.  She loved all kids.  I learned that from her.   These boys from the ministry loved her.  I remember thinking that they would remember this day as long as they lived. 

Several leaves blew past on the wind.  Cody said to me “I’ll never forget this.  Thank you for letting me do this”.  I told him “She loved you Cody”. 

A day full of miracles….. miracle upon miracle.   

 The top of the vault is in place.  Still they are there….standing watch with me.   I would not leave her until it was finished….until her earthly body was safe….One of them, I don’t remember which placed his head on my shoulder…an intake of breath, I don’t know which one.  

The hallowed earth is put in place.  Slowly she is safe.  Slowly it ends.  And I breathe a “Thank you God”.   How do you thank God for someone who literally taught you everything about life….who taught me so much of what I would learn. 

And all of it I learned at home….at home in the shafts of afternoon light where I studied…. when I came home from school.  School….a place that was a nightmare for me….where I was placed in the “special classes” for a time because I was so different.  School….a place where I had already learned everything they had to teach me but where I knew I dare not show it.  School….a place that taught everything I already knew but nothing I wanted to know.  School…a place where kids were beaten because…they were kids…because seven and eight and nine year old boys couldn’t sit still in chairs locked into rows.   School….where you learned that to be different was to be done for.   

 

The last bit of earth is in place.  Yet, the people still stand with me…the strongest, most loving,  most beautiful family standing with me….good people…great friends…. My family stands around me along with the boys.  I remember saying to God…”how did I come to have this family filled with nothing but love”. 

Can I possibly feel my grandparents….can I possibly feel my father?  

the workers place the flowers….I take roses….

Kindness upon kindness….people walk by….some speak kind words….some just hug me….others of the boys who carried my mom surround me….their hands rest on my shoulders….the pastor who came to love my mother stands with me….Pat and his wife Connie, their son Charlie, are standing there….friends beyond anything I deserve….yet others still stand….then we turn to leave….

My father had nearly 50 years before gone home to God.  Now they lay together once more.  But, she was the one who taught me,…. not because he didn’t want to….only because his chance to shape me was taken too early.    

So she made a home for me.  I could not know then the depth of sorrow she felt.  I would be able to imagine her grief later…but, that was still in my future.  I remember on the day my father was buried she held me so tight I thought I would not breath again.  But, something in me said “let her hold on if it does kill me”.  Later, too, I would realize why she held onto  me so hard.  I would later release the ashes of precious cargo into the cold North Pacific wind…the ashes of a child conceived there above the green Pacific waters where the Puffins dive.  And those of his mother.  

I then knew why she held me so hard.     

I would come to know that there could not be great sadness without great love preceeding it.  And I was glad in my sadness.

And, she continued to read to me…and she continued to teach me, and she continued to help me understand that it was ok to want to know why the stars burn when you are six, that it was ok to imagine that you are conducting an orchestra when you are eight, that I shouldn’t be frightened that sometimes my vision went away and I saw fantastical bursts of color when I listened to music as still happens, that it was ok when I wrote b when it should be a d, …..  she said the “d will be there whenyou are eighteen”,

and all the while she took care of my father who was dying…..then helped me keep my faith and find myself again in music and science and a galaxy of words in my own special world when I started to go crazy when he actually did die… while she was coming apart herself…

and when I was fourteen she helped me heal from an event in which I was almost killed but about which she never really knew….nor did she ask… a decision I am sure she made consciously even though she must have known that I was changed forever…for which I am eternally grateful… she just stood by me until I had my bearings again… 

when I was too old, as I thought because of the arrogance of youth through which most kids pass, she provided me with books, conducting lessons, trumpet lessons, ….from which I learned everything I ever learned…..and from which she taught me and helped me learn everything I knew…

At home.

Thanks mom.

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It’s never too late, independent learning, Grandma Moses

As I said in yesterdays post one of the things I wonder about is time.  I’ve spent my life trying to figure out what learning is and how it happens.  It has been at foundation of my most recent profession.  I am at a place where I feel close to really getting a grip on what motivates kids to learn, what the best techniques are to learn a field, and can you really teach anyone anything.  I’ve come to the conclusion that you can’t teach anyone.  The single thing you can do is make them want to approach the warmth of your life and how you use your intellect.  But I said I wanted to write a few words about time.   It’s 2:00 a.m. in the morning.  I won’t sleep until I get a couple of thoughts in electrons. 

Time is the bane of any scholars life.  Remember when I use the term scholar I refer to anyone who has a serious interest.  I am now 58 years old.  Sometimes I do lose sleep questioning my accomplishments, my ability to accomplish what remains, or to start anything new.  Reasonable thought all.  Thank God I am not a reasonable person. 

Neither was Anna Mary Robertson who was born in Greenwich, New York, on September 7, 1860.  I have loved Anna Mary since I was about 16 years old.  I just didn’t realize her practical significance to my life until the last few days.  She was one of the reasons I found school to be a prison.  Because I would rather have spent time with her than almost anything back then except music.  You see her colors fascinated me.  She spoke to me about the life of my grandparents who I loved so deeply.   When I looked at her work in a book I checked out of the little library in Galena Park I saw my grandparents home for some reason.  I saw my childhood that was fast fading into the background of my existence.  I saw a way of life that I secretly wanted to live.  But it was my secret. My school in particular was not one that took a kindly view of 16 year olds who liked primitive art.  I protected that part of myself.  Until I escaped my prison into symphonic music, art, learning what I wanted to learn, and being around people who were giants to me in symphony orchestras, the worlds of music and art and at university.  The woman whose work I was in love with is better known as Grandma Moses.  She died just before I entered high school in 1961.  

And she had no real formal education.  Thank God she had no real formal education.  She would have probably been ruined.  Yet she is one of the most influential of America’s painters.  To me she is the equivalent of Norman Rockwell whose work I also love.  Her first painting was on a wall in her house.  She was wall papering but she ran out of wallpaper.  What a fortuitous problem.  Because she hung a sheet of white paper on the wall.  She painted a scene on that paper to finish out the decoration in the room.  What a finish it was. 

The scene is called fireboard.  If you want to see it you must go to the Bennington Museum in Bennington, Vermont.  I will go there one day.  When I go I will whisper a thank you to Grandma Moses for helping me realize that it is never too late.  You see it took me nearly 20 years of my 30 year career to begin to think there were other ways to learn except in a classroom.  I came late to home schooling and independent learning.  But I am here now.  And even though I work in a classroom now I also work with many kids who have never seen the inside of a classroom.  And I know something I didn’t know when I was young.  There are other ways to learn save in a classroom. 

But back to my Grandma Moses.  The point is this wonderful American artist painted her first work in her 70’s.  After 70 years of life she started the work that would change the art world.  She found herself at the beautiful sunset of a quiet, worshipful, country life.  Grandma Moses started painting, in fact, because of the common illness of old age – arthritis.  Her husband who she loved dearly had passed away.  She became to old to farm. Grandma took up embroidery to fill her time.  But, soon, age cast its shadow over her again.  Her arthritis would not allow her to work her needles.  So she began to paint at the age of 76.  She once said:

What a strange thing is memory and hope; one looks backward, the other forward; one is of today, the other tomorrow. 

I want each of you to come down on the side of hope.  She also said:

If I didn’t start painting, I would have raised chickens

Thank God she didn’t raise chickens. 

And thank God you, my older readers, aren’t going to raise chickens.  Well, unless that is what your life long project is going to be. 

I am 58 but I am going to reach forward to the outer edges of what can be found out about how kids learn.  I am going to open a lot more doors.  And in that process of opening doors I am going to write as much as I can, speak as often as I can, teach as much as I can, take as many pictures as I can, learn how to use curves in Photoshop to make some of my more lousy pictures look presentable, see as many birds as i can, cut as much wood as I can and annoy as many adults who believe there is only one way to learn as I can. 

I can see the sun has past its zenith.  But I also see there is a while before sunset;  Barring some dump truck with my name on it.  If you are 20 or 40 or 50 or 80 there is still time.  Presidents have been elected in their last decades.  Many, many artists do their best work in their last decades.  So do scientists.  And so many of you, my friends, still have a work to do.  A short time back one of the people I most admired died in his late 90’s not a long time after he had performed his last heart surgery.  Dr. Michael DeBakey passed away near 100 have worked his entire life doing his best work late in life.  I saw him once in the Houston Medical Center bounding up a flight of stairs with a group of breathless, slobbering, gibbering medical students trying to keep up.  All kids.  All kids who couldn’t follow their aged professor and mentor up a flight of stairs; whose hands could not perform the miracles done daily by their demanding mentors’  hands. One of the young doctors said under his breath “what is wrong with that old man there are elevators.”  Being me I yelled out as he disappeared up the stairs “There’s nothing wrong with him.  He’s a force of nature.  He’s alive and living it all!”

For Heaven’s sake don’t give up.  I mean that literally because even if you are 58 or 59, you still have intellectual gifts to give the world.  You still have a path to mark out; a territory to claim.  Claim it!   

Live it all.  Find your project then live it. ………………………Home work will be checked :).

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Give your life to a purpose, passionate living, home school, independent learning

I have a great challenge for you tonight.  What do you want to give your life for.  No, I’m not talking about dying a noble death.  I’m talking, no, I’m asking you to find something worth living for, not dying for.  I want you to find one or more passions; things worth spending your life doing or learning about.  Something worth dreaming about for hours during the day.  A thing worth planning years ahead, plotting, laying out a trail to lead to a golden end.   I have three.  First, the life of the mind takes center stage.  How do we actually learn.  Why is it that so few of us live exciting intellectual lives when I believe that most of us could live a passionate intellectual life.  And, on the practical side of it.  How do kids best learn.  I am convinced it’s not at school for most kids.  For me, school was a 12 year long prison sentence.  As  a teacher I work everyday of my life to try to make schools – or at least my little corner of the school world into a vibrant place that young people love.  Second, I practice two arts; photography and woodworking.  They are my connections to sanity as well as an extra income stream.  I am fascinated by the beauty of transcendent craft in wood.  The beauty of an artfully produced photograph always stuns me.  I drift from one to the other.  The third is bird watching.  Bird watching is as much a connection to God as the church.  In birds I see the magnificence of His creation.  I see the infinite variety, infinate adaptations, transcendent colors and the thing I dream about most – flight.  The photography, the woodwork, and the bird watching are for me.  The study of the mind as well as how it learns is for the world.  I want you to find something to change the world. 

Egotistic you say?  Not at all.  The field I have set for myself is impossible.  How people learn, how they make knowledge their own, then grow into experts is so hard a mine to explore that I will not live long enough to make a change I fear.  That is probably one of my greatest nightmares; that I know I will die before I have learned it all or made the difference I want to make to kids and other people who are trying to learn.   Not all people do learn.  Some shut down after the 12 year prison sentence that school was for me.   They never want to pick up a pen or pencil again because we have squeezed the guts out of the pleasure.  By the time many kids get out of school they find themselves ready to cast away the vestments of school to run as far away as possible.  To be naked of school is their goal.  But so many never find the joy out of school.  These unfortunates have been so convinced that learning cannot be a thing of transcendent joy that they look upon learning as a child looks upon vomit.  So they run, ridicule and resist any further intellectual life.  They have had enough.  They have fed at the table of knowledge and found it poisonous. 

What I am asking you to do, if you are one of the   many who have started to follow these electronic scribblings, is to find a new passion.  It’s there.   Somewhere in the darkest, cobweb infested mind there is a corner where a dim flame still burns waiting for holy breath to blow it into raging flame.  You had something you wanted to learn to do, or say, or perform at one time.  When you were a little child still resisting the poison of industrial education you still had it.  You looked at it with love.  Perhaps it was a love for a subject or a project that was so deep it went beyond love into obsession. 

You will find something to take out of that corner which can be dusted, made new and shiny, ready to be loved again.  You will find something as beautiful as I find discovering what it is that really, genuinely brings out that passion in a child.  That passion that says I have to do this thing or I will just wilt.  My life will die.  Look around you on your commuter train or look from your car.  Look at the faces of those going to work at jobs where they will labor with a sense of quiet desperation.  Perhaps you are one of those.  Stop it!  At least devote some of your time to the thing that makes your soul soar to the Heavens when you are doing it.  I’m not telling you to quit your job.  No, but, I am telling you to become an independent learner with a purposeful life seeking to add to human knowledge. 

Eric Hoffer discovered his passion.  Hoffer wrote ten books while he labored as a longshoreman.  His “True Believer” which set the standard in the social science study of self-esteem as it effects fanatical movements.  While he labored on the docks he contemplated the rise of totalitarianism and the loss of the self.  His postulate was that fanaticism had its gnarled, arthritic claws firmly planted in self-hatred, self-hate and insecurity.  All of this Hoffer did with little formal education and a labor job on the docks.  Eric Hoffer is now a major figure looked up to in the social sciences.  Had he let himself believe that he was less worthwhile for lacking the college degrees and the paper expertise of the dilettante, he would never have changed the course of American social thought. 

Frans Lanting is a photographer.  He discovered his passion in the Albatross.  These magnificent seabirds of the deep oceans are slowly yielding their secrets to Lanting.  He has made photographing them, documenting their lives his life’s work.  As he developed his photographic skills he came back to them over and over.  He is now the leading photographer of this magnificent species as well as one of the world’s foremost experts on the Albatross.  All through his pursuit of photography he intended to show the world the magnificence of the bird he loves.

Don’t live a life of quiet desperation.  Discover your passion.  Perhaps you left it years ago feeling that I can’t make a living at that.  You were probably wrong.  But, for whatever reason, you left it.  Maybe you wanted to become a premier doctor in some medical field. And maybe the time of medical school has passed you.  But you can still form a foundation to raise money for the field.  You can still write scholarly articles and books to help the laymen understand what it is that you want them to know about your passion in medicine.  You can also help them by writing passionately about the disease from which they may suffer.

In the next while we are going to explore how to do this.  We are going to look for a life project.  This will be something that will be significant to you perhaps to no one else.  It doesn’t matter.  You are going to use your full talents for something that will give life meaning to you.  Give your life a renewed purpose, a new hope, a new direction.  Pick your field, master it and make it your own.  Thousands of men, women and young people such as yourselves have done this without the Ph.D.’s  Don’t be intimidated by the terminal degrees.  Often these degrees take the joy out of the hunt for the people who earn them.  They focus so finely on one small swatch of the fabric of their discipline that soon they may know the most about nothing among all the experts in the world.  Being the master of a cubic  centimeter is not a match for having a broad understanding and feeling for the width and breadth of a whole discipline.  Hang on for the ride is going to be fun and bumpy.   But what a ride it will be. It will be the ride of your lifetime – a lifelong learning project to take you down roadways yet unknown.

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Independent scholarship, independent learning and success

Did Leonardo Di Vinci have a Ph.D.?  No.  Nor did George Washington, Thomas Jefferson or Benjamin Franklin have any advanced degrees.  The fathers or our country lived at a time when if a citizen went to school at all, one only went through elementary school learning to read, write and do basic arithmetic as well as ethics.  At the time Leonardo was alive and working, knowledge was acquired in an individual way.  Before the industrial revolution when assembly line schools came about across the world, education was largely individual or built around the classics and mentors.  Before that time scholarship outside institutional education was the norm.  It has now become the exception but the tide is beginning to turn.  Many more people everyday are opting for the freedom and intellectual independence afforded them by becoming an independent scholar.  

 Early practices of pursuing knowledge were based on individual interest and passion for a field of study.  This is returning today.  The university system arose throughout the nineteenth century.  The pursuit of knowledge was essentially unionized locking out those who were not part of the university system.   But private or freelance scholars have persisted outside the walls of the university because they have a passion for what they do.  They have a love for their subject that transcends the limits of the traditional university.  There are astronomers, futures study specialists, biologists, photographers documenting the entire world and so many other areas of study going on that it is hard to comprehend it all.  The problem of being inside academia versus working outside academia has always been an issue.  However, in the 1970’s independent scholarship began to build its own house.   Now independent scholars are becoming more accepted as they publish their work and make real contributions to a variety of fields.   If you want to pursue this further you might want to read “The Intellectuals and the Powers from 1972, Men of ideas by Lewis Coser from 1965 and Independent scholarship by Gross and Gross which is presently in print. 

 The fact is many books written in the non-fiction market in America were written by someone who could rightly be called an independent scholar.   The Chronicle of Higher Education, Change, Lifelong Learning as well as other journals are paying much more attention to the phenomenon of independent scholarship.   The number of people pursuing serious intellectual work outside of the university is very, very hard to pin down.  There is something like 100,000 people who are in and out of the academe, many Ph.D.’s who will work out of the academe.  Estimates for those numbers go upwards of 10,000.  Membership in independent scholarship organizations has grown and now numbers just under 2000. 

 Among the issues that led to this growth has been a desire to return to the real intellectual exploration that characterized the founding fathers.  250 years ago education looked nothing like it does today.   While there were schools the majority of Americans did not attend them.  Some did attend them but rarely did anyone achieve anything beyond a basic elementary education in school.   The father of our country George Washington had what amounts to an elementary education.  Yet his intellectual growth and intellect made him a giant.  Most education at that time revolved around the classics and mentorship.  One most often learned by doing something worthwhile in the presence of a mentor. 

 Other pressures leading to the growth in independent scholarship has been the downturn in available jobs in higher education.   Many people who achieved advanced degrees could not find work in their field but they still found joy in doing work in their discipline.  There were other professors who became dissatisfied with the political nature of the academe just as many parents have become dissatisfied with the character of the public school today opting for home school.   Many of these people began to think of themselves as truly independent.  And, they began to organize. 

 The National Coalition of Independent Scholars is one such organization.   The goals of the NCIS are as follows:

 The National Coalition of Independent Scholars (NCIS) was formed in January 1989 to facilitate the work of independent scholars.

NCIS objectives are to:

•Bring independent scholars together to share scholarly interests and expertise

•Improve access to research libraries for independent scholars

•Offer independent scholars information and advice about grants and fellowships and about publishing.

•Encourage foundations and institutes to open competitions to independent scholars and to include them on review committees

•Hold conferences and workshops of interest to independent scholars and to the public

•Offer grants-in-aid to NCIS members and small grants to affiliates

•Serve as administrator for members applying for grants

•Encourage information exchange through publications and electronic communication

•Aid organizations of independent scholars by collecting and sharing organization experience and by publicizing their work

•Provide information for the creation of local organizations of independent scholars

 

The movement is growing.  There is no reason why any intellectually interested child or adult should not become an independent learner.  Up until this century there was very little organized schooling and some would argue that average citizen was much better educated.

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