Thursday, February 20, 2014

Home Schooling

I've thought a lot about home schooling during my career as an educator, and as my wife and I talk about having kids at some point. One of the first times I considered it from a professional lens was when I was traveling in Kenya in 2007 and I stayed with a missionary family in Kisumu, a small city on Lake Victoria. They had two sons aged eight and ten, and while they had enrolled them in an international school, it struck me how richly educational the experience of just living in another country can be for young kids, provided they have adults in their lives who would support their inquiry of authentic questions that emerge from the experience of travel.

For anyone who knows the history of education, and who follows many of the trends that are popular today in education, the narrative of the "industrial model" of schooling should be very familiar. As we talk about the information age, flipped classrooms, mobile learning, personalized learning, and project based learning, parent choice and accountability, it surprises me that there is not more of a discussion of the right place for home schooling in the education of every child. I imagine that we could provide great value to every student if, as a system, we encouraged a certain kind of home schooling.

Take Logan Laplante, the 13-year old who gave the popular TED talk last year about "hack-schooling." Setting aside any analysis of the content of his talk and what his story suggests about privilege, his performance and skill is evidence of the incredible value that can be built in a nurturing environment where individualized attention supports interest-driven learning.

What kind of changes could we make to traditional schools to foster this level of passion, drive, and exceptional development for all kids? What do these kinds of results suggest should be the role of parents in supporting education when their kids are enrolled in a traditional school? When does it makes sense for a kid like Logan to go back to school? What's the right balance? 

As I wrote a year ago, I think we'll make a lot of progress in providing for all students when we figure out a new model of financing and school choice that prioritizes strong community schools and a competitive ecosystem of private providers of specialized services. Let's add to that recipe a clear and purposeful place for home schooling. Perhaps we budget for training parents to be the kind of coaches and teachers that the best home school parents are; perhaps our public school system should be equipped with social workers who are tasked with visiting homes and helping to set up libraries, work spaces and virtual learning environments. I like the idea of encouraging small collaborative learning groups among families, so that home schooling responsibilities could be shared by several working parents and kids could benefit from group learning. Finally, we might make some real progress in considering the questions of time in school alongside the notion of homeschooling. 

For those of us who are serious about learning and like to talk about what future school should look like, let's seriously open up the exploration to how learning time at home is utilized, whether it's a radical re-imagination, or it's just evenings, weekends, vacation breaks, and… snow days.

Saturday, January 18, 2014

Greening Schools, Transforming Lives and Communities

I just watched this TED talk from Stephen Ritz, who started Green Bronx Machine while he was a classroom teacher in the Bronx. The talk is super inspiring and shows how finding one catalytic lever for positive change can spark deep holistic change in a school, community, and in the lives of kids who otherwise find so little meaning and opportunity in their surroundings. 

I hope that a project I lead can one day generate such positive change. One lesson, of course, is to start with something small--one person, one classroom, one blighted building, even just one seed--and then nurture it with unwavering care and devotion. 

What other projects inspire you? Who's work is most deserving of support, promotion, and replication? Who's the next up-and-coming Stephen Ritz? If his students can do all the things he showed in the talk, what will they do next? How can we help? 

Wednesday, January 1, 2014

"The Unbalanced Trajectory of Human Life"

I offer you 2 learning objects to close out 2013 and launch into the future. 

This post was motivated by a thought-provoking opinionator piece in NYT this Sunday. The author, Todd May, said: 

"There is an assumption I would like to make here, one that I can’t verify but I think is uncontroversial. It is very unlikely that Edward Snowden will ever do anything nearly as significant again. Nothing he does for the remainder of his life will have the resonance that his recent actions have had. The powers that be will ensure it. And undoubtedly he knows this. His life will go on, and it may not be as tortured as some people think. But in an important sense his life will have peaked at age 29 or 30."

The question raised is: if at some point in our lives we are destined to "peak" in some sense, how do we respond to that experience, or even the knowledge that the experience of peaking can or already has happened? 

As I reflected on this question, it reminded me of a TED talk I watched this summer.

In her TED talk, Elizabeth Gilbert, author of Eat, Pray, Love, looks at fear, creativity, and how to handle the real probability of having already achieved the greatest success she will ever achieve. 

"Everywhere I go, people treat me like I'm doomed... 'aren't you afraid you're never going to be able to top that?'... I still have maybe another 4 decades of work ahead of me...and it's exceedingly likely that my greatest success is behind me..That's the kind of thought that could lead a person to start drinking gin at 9 o'clock in the morning...I have to create some sort of protective psychological construct."

I propose that when we think about time and the one life we each have, the answer to finding constantly renewing purpose and meaning lies somewhere in the "protective psychological construct" that Gilbert presents in the latter part of her talk. It involves continually evolving our own complex identity. It involves recognizing that while our circumstances may make it impossible to ever top some past experience, they also likely allow us to reach a new peak on a new plane of accomplishment or awareness. 

To a creative, ever adaptive and hopeful 2014. May you all discover new geniuses. 

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Now Blogging at Intentional Games

Yesterday a commentary that I wrote called "Feeling Lost? Geographic Ignorance, and 11 Games and Apps That Can Help" was published on  Check it out! 

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

Gettysburg Anniversary, Independence Day

150 years ago the Battle of Gettysburg concluded with a resounding defeat for the Confederacy. An ancestor of mine died in that battle, and my family is honoring him this summer. My grandmother's cousin also just published a beautiful book of his letters and journals, I highly recommend picking it up, whether you teach or simply appreciate history and good writing:

As tomorrow we celebrate Independence Day, please remember to be grateful and reflective about sacrifices made for our freedom, and the complex ways that freedom is created and preserved. We don't simply seek freedom from government, we seek freedom to govern ourselves. We don't just want freedom from poverty, we want freedom to achieve our dreams. Each end of the spectrum requires its own set of laws, customs, sacrifices and systems of exchange and communication. This means that freedom is something that we don't just fight for on the battlefield, but it is also something that we trade: we give up some freedom from (or protection against) poverty, in order to have freedom to pursue our dreams... it is my hope that tomorrow, when they are together with their friends and family, many Americans will understand and discuss this idea of freedoms as currency.

What do you think about freedom and sacrifice in America today, or anywhere else for that matter? Is there a way to maximize freedom across domains of our lives? Across society generally? What can we do to inject this notion into the political discourse and national governance of this country?