With home schooling being a reality again in New South Wales, let me explain what to focus on and what to avoid.
As part of the Greater Sydney lockdown extension, students will once again be home-schooled for the state to try to contain the Bondi outbreak. Although not yet announced by Gladys Berejiklian, the school will be open for children of essential workers. But for the rest of us, home schooling is upon us again.
I was homeschooled for eight years, from age 11 through college, before it was a new way for tiger parents to show their vibrant commitment to their children’s education. . Now, if millions of parents and families are suddenly going to be homeschooling their children for the next week (and, let’s be honest, most likely beyond), it’s worth trying to think about how to do it. do it as smoothly, sane, and wise as possible.
Learning at home is very different from learning at school. It forces us to reorient the way we think about learning in general, and the way we approach the process with our children – maybe even with ourselves too. Historically, education has been the preserve of parents. But the question of how children spend their time, learn and grow is one that society as a whole should pay more attention, instead of leaving it to professional advocates and their tired debates over charter schools. , unions and uniforms.
Home schooling is at the same time traditional, radical, stimulating, frustrating, revealing and, most importantly, not quite of the above. This is because it is, by its nature, highly dependent on the individuals involved. Spending very long periods of time with my parents (I’m an only child) was both the hardest part and the most positive part of home schooling. Finding my own motivations for overcoming setbacks has been the most difficult. Browsing through the ideas and topics that piqued my curiosity has been the most rewarding. For this and other reasons, try not to compete with all of your friends (online and offline) for how hard your child is hitting the proverbial books. Not only is this morally and intellectually damaging – it teaches kids the wrong lessons about what is important – but home schooling is one of the best opportunities you’ll have to indulge in more substantial and important comparisons in first place. Try to use this opportunity for something really alternative.
Learning what works very often requires first finding out what does not work and then adapting. Because we are all human, change is almost always difficult. Don’t just impose your ideal schedule on your kids and then get frustrated when they (and you) can’t stick to it.
There are four essential points that anyone who is currently experimenting with home schooling should keep in mind. First, it takes time to find your rhythm. It might seem obvious, but the first (too ambitious) schedule, or the second (reduced) or even the third that you come up with, is unlikely to be right for you. And you will only realize it through all the frustrations, failures and troubles that you and your children are having.
Learning what works very often requires first finding out what does not work and then adapting. Because we are all human, change is almost always difficult. Don’t just impose your ideal schedule on your kids and then get frustrated when they (and you) can’t stick to it. I found math difficult, so for months I avoided it. Then to do it, I made it the first thing I did each morning – and my fear decreased and my understanding improved. I still spent way too much time going through trigonometry. It will take not only time, but also multiple failures and slips to find a way to fix everything satisfactorily. Expect to experiment, make mistakes, and rearrange your priorities – many times.
Second, talk to your kids about what they want and what works for them. (Yes, they want more television; no, that’s not what I mean.) Many education systems fall into disrepute because of their inability to solicit, engage and stimulate student interest. Students are often discouraged from participating in their education. After all, how many of them choose what books they read or what science they pursue? Ask your kids what interests them and be sure to do it over and over, as their answers will change as they learn. Maybe they just want to sleep later (which research would be good for their physical, emotional and intellectual health in all respects). Maybe they’re bored of geometry and trigonometry, which, frankly, are often taught as if they were numbing agents. (Algebra is usually more interesting before it also gets too routine in high school.)
Don’t care less about their plug-and-chug skills, and give them an idea of the ideas and evidence that modern mathematics is actually based on (which is not over anyone’s head), and on which there are many recent and accessible books: for example, Love and math (2013) by Edward Frenkel and The companion of math lovers (2017) by Edward Scheinerman. Or read classic short stories with your kids and show them how you are affected by the literature you hope they learn. If you find that in fact you don’t like the stories you chose, try to explain why. It would teach your kids far more than any predictable, judgmental, and frankly boring, age-appropriate young adult novel. I recommend Isaac Bashevis Singer’s short stories – clear, lucid, powerful, and both appropriate and inappropriate for the whole family.
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TThird, perhaps the most difficult aspect of home schooling is the parent-student relationship and the myriad challenges it faces. Of course, you find home schooling difficult – you try to do it alongside your daily work! We probably have the Western workaholic culture to blame for this, which largely separates the roles of parent and teacher. Education in schools today is seen primarily as the acquisition of facts and skills. This is what schools are testing, after all. However, hard facts and techniques are not what deeply shapes most people when they are students, or later in their professional careers. Beyond basic literacy and numeracy, the most critical learning comes from what children see their parents, elders and friends doing, day in and day out.
What books and magazines do you leave lying around? What topics and ideas do you discuss with your friends when you see them? How do you treat other people you meet and what types of interactions take place? Children learn mainly by emulation, and the examples you provide every day in a modest way, the books you have on the coffee table, the websites you visit and the work you take home and talk about – that you are a lawyer, dentist, nurse or bus driver – provide more instruction than most classes. Your children’s education depends less on the notebook you choose for them and more on what you talk about at dinner. In my house, for example, the radio was often on and tuned to everything from Amy Goodman on the left to Rush Limbaugh on the right, with lots of national public radio in the middle. I learned more about politics this way than I could have learned in an average civics class in high school.
The fourth and final point, given that you are probably still wondering which textbooks or workbooks to buy, I can assure you that no work on a subject will come close. The first history study my father, now a former neo-leftist, bought for me was Howard Zinn’s iconoclast A popular history of the United States (1980). It was a telling story of American depredations, and I couldn’t stand it. I didn’t hate the politics, but rather the monotonous tone of the work. My father, whatever his political views, encouraged me to read other opinions. In other words, the Zinn supporter History was stimulating precisely because it was part of open learning. Sometimes a little bit of bias and fervor is actually pretty healthy.
Like his country, his education is, at bottom, an ongoing experience. Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks notes, in his introduction to The Koren Siddour (2009), that “Prayer is less about getting what we want and more about learning what we want”. If nothing else, for those who usually leave their child’s education to others, a few weeks or months of home schooling is an opportunity to encourage our students to do something new, different, unexpected – to learn what we could and should want, for them, and for us.
As a society, we have become exceptionally bad at encouraging our charges to be idiosyncratic and independent. These qualities are not measured by standardized tests, but are just as socially important as a vaccine against COVID-19. Being stuck at home for a few weeks and months, forced to home school, is a daunting prospect – but also a tremendous opportunity to cultivate the virtues of independence and original thinking.