An Autodidact on the Open Road
When I was a kid, I wanted to spend all of my time building umbrellas out of old wire hangers, duct tape and garbage bags; I wanted to take my bike, my notebook and my PB&J sandwich and be on the road all day long. I observed insects, drew their pictures and named them; I learned the names of the local rivers and made my own routes; I saved baby birds from the mouths of cats and learned how to care for them by talking with neighbors and going to the library. I once kept a baby Goldfinch in my room for nearly two weeks; every morning, I woke with the sun to bring it outside where its mother taught it how to fly until it flew away one day. I have to admit, though, that some tears were shed that day. Tweeters was indeed missed.
I felt more invigorated and more alive in these moments than I ever did in school. I found school to be a place where kids were mean, or they didn’t care about all the cool stuff I was doing. I remember longingly gazing out the windows, wanting so badly to be on my bike with my notebook and with other kids who were as into adventure as I was. The smell of textbooks made me ill; homework was a death march. I dreaded being squeezed into the school cafeteria with all of those smells - nervous sweat, Tetherball sweat; the odor of cheese zombies (think lots of butter, slabs of white bread and Velveeta cheese - all smashed flat by sweaty, miserable cafeteria cooks).
This was elementary school; prepubescent frustration with school led to downright rebellion in middle and high school. That’s a story for another venue.
So here I am, recalling the memories and details of what I remember from ages eight to twelve; what I learned from my own education during those years far surpasses what I learned in school - other than the terrible smells and anxiety of worksheets and text books. I don’t remember anything from all of those lessons, save for a few ridiculously awesome field trips and outdoor school.
If I would have had a few adults in my life who realized that school was actually choking me, and who would have allowed me to stay on the path I was on while coaching me along the way, I might not have dropped out of high school to play Hacky Sack with all of the stoner kids. In fact, I might have been coached into designing a really cool school club, where all the Hacky Sackers could go to kick sack and discuss politics or science; we could have had our own newsletter for the school to read and showed them that we were sharp. Since we weren’t seen as smart, but rather as slackers, it was all too easy for many of my friends to believe that. I believed it, too, for quite some time.
As the story goes, I now have my own self-directed learner, Zoe. She’s 16. She has struggled with school (academically) since the beginning. I’ll never forget - when she was in the 2nd grade, one of her assignments was to color in her hand turkey (you know, when you trace your hand and make your thumb into the turkey’s head; then all your fingers become feathers.); she had very little interest in doing this assignment. I remember thinking to myself: Why wouldn’t she be into this? What’s so hard about coloring in a cute little turkey? She didn’t see the value in it. She wasn’t interested in doing that. What she was interested in doing was spending hours and hours building an elaborate and well-designed (functional) palace for her hamster, or in running around outside and climbing trees. She was also really into fashion and dance. She was putting outfits together that Versace could learn from in the 4th grade.
I was a young mother, in college, studying to become a teacher. I knew that my daughter was the kind of kid my mother wished on me - she was like me. To this day, she hasn’t seen the value in cramming for tests, writing essays that fit into a rubric or learning about the threat and danger of suicide in health class for weeks on end. Inside, I agreed with her; I was right there with her when I was a kid in school, and my own values surrounding education contradicted every punitive action I took when it came to bad grades. But I couldn’t tell her these things - it would just fuel the “eh, who cares about homework” even more.
The ego can sometimes be mistaken for love.
As a parent and an English instructor, I was torn. My kid had to do well in school. She’s a representation of me. My ego and my genuine concern for my daughter were playing chess - one of those painfully long games, too, where an important move is so important that it takes years to make. I made her education about that for too long. I didn’t want either of us to be just another statistic of a single mother whose child flunks out of school. And if I am such a good instructor, then why is my own kid flunking out of school? Okay, I can understand why she’s failing math - but there’s no way she should be failing English!
Ninth grade was the last year I struggled with this whole debacle. My daughter goes to a good school, but it’s not good for her. She was on the varsity dance team with girls whose parents earned more money in a year than I will in my lifetime. She wasn’t one of them, and it was painfully obvious. I volunteered as a food mom, and during competitions, she often sat alone. I suppose it’s also worth mentioning that fees for dance team were well over $2K for the year and they offered no scholarships. I was barely able to come up with this kind of money, but to keep her involved in what she’s passionate about was important to me. And because she failed a few classes, she wasn’t able to dance for the final competition. And that broke my heart. I needed to make that chess move before my opponent forgot how to play chess.
I wanted my child to do well in school, or so I thought. When I let my love for her take over, and not my ego, I came up with a new question.
Do I want her to do well in school, or do I want her to do well in life?
This is right about the time I was introduced to Alan Burnce, founder of a new program here in Portland called Open Road Learning Community for Teens. I met with him; we talked as teachers together in this, and we talked from my position as a parent. This is the answer to my problems. My daughter met with him, we all talked together. It was unlike any other conversation I’d had before because we didn’t have to talk about forecasting, grades, classes that need to be repeated, test scores or whether or not we live in the district. My daughter is a dancer, she’s an amazing cook - totally into healthy designer food; she is an artist, and comes to many great conclusions and finds new interests through that art.
The dress my daughter is wearing in this photo was taken last year at summer camp. She was given a room filled with supplies, a sewing machine, a mentor and the time to make anything she wanted to make. She came up with this design years ago - a flapper dress is something she always wanted to make. There you have it. She made it. It took her hours and hours to glue those crayons onto that dress; and to this day, she is proud of her creation and dedication to her vision. This one dress boosted her confidence in ways I seldom see happen in school.
Knowing that Open Road can guide her through her passions and talents, connect her with people from the community who will work with her on turning those talents into real world opportunities puts my mind at ease. Without programs like these, too many creative and innovative kids get lost in the cracks of subject matter and tests.
I look forward to watching Zoe become confident and proud of doing what she does, and does well. This entire experience - parenthood - is a healthy and humbling beast. My grownup ego and hypocrisy have been sufficiently squashed. Zoe is her own force; she’s on her own path just as I was.
Open Road is building something special for teens like Zoe. If this concept moves you, visit their campaign on IncitED and share their work with your friends.
— Kevilina Burbank
Learn Self-Control Via Play
The obsession over self-control dumbs down to this: Do we want obedient children who only follow directions and kowtow to authority? Some schools have implemented boot-camp like routines by forcing students to walk in single-file lines, be dictated by rigid schedules, not speak out of turn, and suspending those who fail to follow orders. Worse, KIPP schools have created character report cards with a rubric consisting of 24 statements that students will be graded on. What this does is kill intrinsic motivation and turn school into a game with an end goal of collecting character points.
Children can learn self-control through discovery, play, and personal happiness, not conforming to the status quo.
Short-Changed by Education
In the past few years since I’ve left school I’ve developed such a passion for science, space, knowledge and understanding of everything. With my passions as they are now, I truly believe that if I had asserted myself in school, I could have become something wonderful and help to move the human race forwards. Particularly, something like an astrophysicist or theoretical scientist would have been of huge interest to me.
Now, part of the blame has to go to me, for being lazy and distracted and everything that a lot of people are whilst they’re at school. In honesty though, I feel really short changed by education. All you need to do is watch a few decent documentaries, watch a few debates or discussions and of course, read a couple of books before you find yourself lost in enthusiasm for knowledge and the future of humanity. It’s so exciting.
When I was at school though, it was all about passing exams. I never cared for chemistry, physics or biology because everything that we were taught was kept to a tight curriculum in order to take an exam. It was all about cramming as many elements and their atomic numbers and whatnot into your head as possible and it felt meaningless and dull. The moment I left school and stumbled into science, I found the same things I’d been taught at school and so, so much more out there being talked about by people who could really teach you something.
All of a sudden, the sciences came alive to me and its because they meant something. All of a sudden science wasn’t this dull subject taught by dull people, it was everything around me. It was all that there ever is, was and will be. Science became imagination just as much as reality. Like I said, I feel totally short-changed by the education system, for failing to teach us the important things in the world, in favour of a standardised system in order to put everyone into order, rank and file.
I hope this changes in the future but I can’t see it being so. For me, science lessons need to come alive, we need to talk more about space exploration and less about learning the periodic table by rote. We need to learn more about why things are important rather than simply what they are. Instead of religious studies (or whatever it is called wherever you are from) children should be taught Philosophy. This isn’t scientific elitism, it wouldn’t be marginalising religion, it would be examining all philosophies on life and looking at them in a holistic way. It would allow children from a young age to approach things critically - intuitively at times and rationally at others.
The same could be said about the way literature is taught, particularly with poetry but I’ll stop ranting and let this wonderful article speak about it for me, in a much more eloquent and comprehensive way: http://www.poejazzi.com/poetry-and-the-celebrity-the-best-minds-of-my-generation/
I am very lucky to be in the minority of people in the world to have received a full education. Some may say it’s ungrateful to be moaning when there are so many people in the world that can’t read or write but for me, it’s all the more reason people should be saying something about it. I value education more than anything, which is why it should feel wholesome and nourishing for all. Education should inspire people, not tire people. The education system as it is today is fantastic for bringing about the next batch of politicians, heads of companies, CEOs and whatnot, but it’s a terrible system to be bringing about the kinds of people who will truly change the shape of the world.
Sorry for the rant.
“Having spent almost a decade as a graduate student and professor, I was always struck by how resistant to change and questioning academic cabals could be. The growth of online education is yet another example. Many are embracing it, and many are resisting it because it represents change to a world that often moves at the pace of medieval guilds.”— Economist Zachary Karabell, on the unstoppable growth of online learning
My sentiments exactly
Does your boss flip easily?
I’ve been missing a lot. I know. Following #education is a lot like it was two years ago when I first came to Tumblr. This has been a pretty hectic year. Remember last year when I thought my days in the classroom were limited? This school has made me hope that the expiration date comes a lot faster.
My birthday is the 28th. For the past several years, I haven’t had to worry about having to work that day. This year, however, it falls the Tuesday after Memorial Day. We’ll be testing later that week, so I wanted to make sure it was okay that I take the day off.
Bad, Bad Substitute
The sub who was in my class Wednesday was worse than Cameron Diaz in Bad Teacher. Every time I’m absent, I ask the kids how things went, and they are all proficient enough to tell me what happened, what work they did, etc., and from all three of my classes I heard bad things. He told one of the girls in my class that they should have a ‘special relationship,’ meaning more than friendship, I’m assuming, told others to call him, and went as far as giving the kids his Twitter name and told them to follow him. Of course, I investigated, and two of my kids are following him.
My 1st block language specialist sat down at a table and said ‘That man was special. He wanted me to stay with him all day.’ She told the kids to ignore him and work on their assignment.
The district contracts substitutes to a temporary agency, a million dollar contract, no less, and one would think there would be a better vetting process; they won’t even allow teachers to cover classes. I emailed my principal and the substitute coordinator at my school. This guy doesn’t need to be around kids.
“Online education strips away all of those expenses except for the cost of the professor's time and experience. It sounds perfect, an alignment of technology, social need and limited resources. So why do so many people believe that it is a deeply flawed solution? Because it means massive swaths of higher education is about to change. Technology has disrupted many industries; now it's about to do the same to higher ed.”—College Is Going Online, Whether We Like It Or Not - Zachary Karabell - The Atlantic
I never understood tests/exams
I don’t mind them because I’ve always done well on them but I never understood why they existed, moreover why there are multiple ones per class you take. Here’s my take on it.
Why would you develop something that did the following two things
- Create an environment where cramming is actually a feasible thing (exams every week) for a student with 4+ classes, these kinds of classes are a nightmare.
- Reinforce that the talented, gifted, and clearly intelligent students are in-fact, intelligent. Gee Didn’t see that coming did we?
- Reinforce that the less talented, struggling students aren’t understanding the topic and aren’t doing well in the class.
So in effect, this praises and rewards students who do well in class and improves their grades, that sounds about right. But it hinders the students who didn’t do as well, I disagree with that notion and I hope that others do also. Why would you want to hurt the students who aren’t doing well in the class, and their chances of passing the class?
Before this gets brought up, cheaters and students who do poorly are not the same thing and I recognize that. My whole argument revolves around Tests and Examinations being the cause of laziness and professors who do not do their part properly. Help me portray my point to all of you who are taking the time to read this, and let me thank you if you took the time to. It’s something I always attempt to explain in person to friends but it never comes out right which makes most people who are closed minded simply write off my point. So thanks, truly.
If a professor actually made a curriculum that effectively made sense and helped single out the categories of students, I believe exams and tests could be eliminated from the system as a whole.
Give more homework, I know some of you may groan and say oh well that’s just a waste of time. I don’t think of homework as that anymore, especially since I’m in my 3rd year of college right now. Some of my professors don’t teach, legitimately don’t teach or cannot teach properly. So I take any and all homework as a Godsend, because it is practice and solidifies my knowledge in the place of what a professor should be doing. Helps me take my own education into my own hands.
By giving more homework, you would be providing the students the following things.
- A method to be graded from
- A PROPER evaluation of skill
In order for this to work, the grading regiments would have to be adjusted obviously so attendance and homework would need to be counted as the largest parts of a grade. Again most might groan and already not like the idea, but when you’re at my point and you’re paying for school yourself, you want to take the most you can from a class, I very rarely skip anymore nearing the end of my college education.
And what do I mean by a proper evaluation of skill? Well for one, the students who naturally do well will be rewarded as usual, the cheaters can be singled out and be reprimanded you know, given that the professor actually gives a damn and LOOKS for these cheaters. These days you can openly cheat on anything and the professors probably don’t feel like dealing with defiance so they stay seated instead of stopping the habit.
And lastly the homework would provide, for the student who struggles, the practice he or she so needs while providing enough opportunities to bring themselves up from not knowing. Teachers can spot the students who are not doing so well and provide closer attention for them to improve on areas that they don’t seem to understand.
Let’s say I assign a Homework Assignment to a classroom, it covers certain aspects of algebra, trig, and calculus. When I look over the results, let’s say James didn’t do well in most of trig, and didn’t do very well in Calculus. I can see in his answers what he did wrong, what he’s lost on and pinpoint the weakness, work on it with him, and provide him the security he needs mentally to not think he’s failing the course.
I hope this makes sense, and that it helps homework take on a better light. I’ve been wanting to put this into words but it’s a little difficult to make some people understand. Thank you for reading.
In response to my lobbyist commentary...
dizzyksc said: After spending the past five years studying political science, my peers and I have concluded that this country severely lacks in civic education. There has been no incentive for schools to teach civics or for government to push for civic education.
What do you all think? Is civic education getting the short end of the stick? What can we do about it?