Thursday, April 21, 2011

A Lesson from Leidloff for Public Schools

I try not to diss public schools as a whole because I am a huge supporter of them.  Seriously, I am.  There are many wonderful things about public schools.  Just because we chose the homeschooling route doesn't mean I hate public schooling anymore than my daily choice to eat oatmeal for breakfast means I am a hater of all cold cereals.  I love many cold cereals, but for me, at this time in my life, oatmeal is my personal choice.  Same with homeschooling.  While the public schools in our area are a great option, for us, right now, homeschooling is our personal choice.

(If you are really interested in hearing more about how I feel about public schools, you can read my homage to teachers here.)

Now then, just a little dissing...

One thing most schools typically do not offer a child is exposure to real life.  Nowadays, with the  homework load required of students, my impression is that they don't tend to have a lot of time for real life experiences outside of school either.

When HotNerd, who initially suggested homeschooling, and I were considering our options for education, we were heavily influenced by Jean Leidloff's The Continuum Concept.  Leidloff, who recently passed away at 85,  lived for several years with the Stone Age Indians in the South American jungle.  A primary observation of hers was that the Stone Age Indians did not "teach" (as we understand it) their children much of anything.  Rather, the children watched the adults surrounding them and then joined in when they were ready.

While this method of pedagogy, as a singular entity, would have certain limitations in our post-modern, highly technological culture, and the fact is that Leidloff did not write the book as either a parenting or educational manual, the core idea that children learn from observing and doing is of utmost importance.

The problem is that many school-aged children have neither the time nor opportunities to observe the adults in their lives performing ordinary, fundamental, daily tasks.  Therefore, according to the Social Studies books many schools use, these tasks are integrated into the public school curriculum (please, correct me if I am wrong).  But I am confident that this is not the best way to learn how to navigate a grocery store or resolve a conflict.  Nor do I think teachers should be burdened with these subjects.

Allow me to elucidate using organically significant examples from my well-rounded, highly educated, perfectly evolved children (OR, here are a few examples that surfaced today and I got so excited about them that I created an entire post around the moment).

Today, Eggplant decided to do his own laundry (and by decided, I  mean that I told him to since he had somehow managed to rack up three new baskets of dirty laundry since I did his laundry four days ago).  He actually got pretty excited about the idea, though.  I asked him if he needed any help.  He had two clarification questions:

  1. "Do I clean out the lint catcher both before and after I use the dryer or just after?"
  2. "This is a different detergent.  Do I use the same amount as our regular detergent?"
We have never specifically instructed Eggplant (nor any of the kids) in the washing and drying of laundry, nor have we ever pointed out the finer details of this chore. He has, however, joined me or HotNerd in the laundry room for the past seven, almost eight, years.

Upon returning from putting his laundry in the washers, he informed me that the white load was a bit small so he added some of the lighter towels (he knew to separate the colors).  After switching to the dryers, he shared that he managed to get three loads into two dryers, but was worried they would not get dry if he added the fourth, so he used a third dryer (he knew that the dryers hold more than the washers).  Upon returning from the washer trip, he set the oven timer to the correct load time (he knew exactly how long the washers took and set the timer accordingly -- he neglected to set the dryer time, but few examples are all-inclusive).

While all of this was happening, Rhubarb noticed that our visiting two-year old friend was getting tired and took him into another room to rock him to sleep.  She does this quite regularly with babies and somehow knows exactly how to lull them into dreamland, though no adult has ever explained how.

Blueberry, for her part, was explaining to her friend how worms create compost, both of them elbow high in worms and mulch from the worm bin.  Again, I was amazed at just how much information she had ascertained about worms (today, she was regaling her friend with stories of multiple hearts and highly nutritious poop).

I should remind you here that it was exactly this scenario that made me think of Leidloff's work.  Every moment doesn't look like this.  

But, if I am to be really honest and not worry about the deafening decibels of braggadocio flying around here, it looks like this more often than not.  Though it took Eggplant until his ninth birthday to really master reading, he started cooking full, nutritious meals when he was about five and can moderate a dispute amongst peers with dignity and grace.  While I'd love to have bragging rights regarding Rhubarb's current spelling skills, I feel completely comfortable asking her to execute the details of a grocery shopping trip, including the exchange of money.  And Blueberry?  Well, I did trust her to remove two stitches from my nose and she has full access to and use of an array of chemicals and medical instruments.  Her printing?  Así así.

My point is that many of these experiences that our children will need to master someday, should they desire to function in normal society, are being taught as subjects in a text book.  Is it any wonder that the stereotype of the college freshman with an entire wardrobe in pink and a kitchen stocked with boxes of Mac-n-Cheese remains pervasive?  

My sense is that an ideal public school would last fewer hours and drop a good deal of its required homework in favor of life experiences, culled from relationships with influential adults in the child's life.  It would also need to reconsider its priorities and eliminate arbitrary academic timelines.  I mean, is it really important that children start reading in kindergarten?  Many are simply not developmentally ready for that.  But, I bet, given the chance, a large percentage would love to learn how to take a garden from seed to plant.  Likewise, while academic standards require mastery of certain math skills by certain ages, few curricula offer students the opportunities to implement such math skills in their daily lives.  Were they given the opportunity to, say, help build something or buy something, those math skills might be more easily assimilated.

My final surprise for the day came when Eggplant announced that he'd like to do all his own laundry from now on.  He received no argument from me, but I did inquire as to why.  "It's fun." he replied, "Plus, it's about time I do my own laundry, don't you think?"

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