We have settled into a rhythmic homeschooling pattern where in the morning, Joshua and Jimmy work with online programs in English, Chinese and math. Joshua writes in his diary while afternoons are free to enjoy the outdoors. While time4learning is loading, Joshua does math or language exercises in IXL which was recommended by a homeschooling couple we met in Manila with four kids.
We have a new favorite app that solves the long standing dilemma of being stuck in a place with no English bookstores. Getepic offers hundreds of children’s books online and the range of choices is amazing! No more hankering for a quick escape to a big international city or looking in frustration for English books on Taobao.
In the afternoon, we explore the mountains nearby which are filled with rows upon rows of beautiful rubber trees that have tiny bowls attached onto each trunk ready to catch the day’s sap. Upon research, however, I found there is a sad story behind these huge tracts of rubber and banana plantations that blanket the slopes of Xishuangbanna. In pursuit of the almighty profit, the rich, diverse jungles gave way to a monocrop that is destroying the environment, the reversal of which entails much political and community will.
The Chinese word for rubber tree has the same sound as banana so when Jason kept pointing at the xiangjiao, I couldn’t figure out where the heck were the banana trees until the wires connected in my brain that this was one of those common occurrences studying Chinese. It always happens to a hapless learner – those pesky homonyms but to the native speaker, the tones and characters are definitively different. Jason is not amused when I ask him to keep repeating the two words until I could distinguish the difference because even if I listen a million times, it’s the same banana to my stubborn, untrained ears.
Anyway, I remember in school when we were asked to memorize which products and raw materials were produced in regions and countries around the world like rubber, copper, wheat, etc. which I’ve all completely forgotten. I didn’t know then what Joshua and Jimmy saw for themselves now walking in the forest – botany and social studies alive. Jason talked about the dangers of having a single crop culture degrading the quality of the soil, making it dry.
Together with Hudou, Jason’s friend and partner in the tea business, we drove through kid-unfriendly, vomit-inducing winding intestinal roads up and down the mountain to procure tea leaves. The paths to the wild tea trees themselves were even less accessible like they were secrets to be guarded. A sumptuous lunch of worms gathered from the insides of bamboo stalks waited for us in the village. To a junk food addict like me, the combined crunchiness and saltiness made it like a nutritious alternative to potato chips that went well with a bowl of steamed rice.
The random mountain trails we find close by have me convinced that life here would be hard to beat by any place in the Philippines or China. The mild weather, affordability, the urban and the natural weaving in an unlikely harmony. It’s a wonder people are not flocking in droves and there are real estate projects like ghost towns pockmarking Everywhere, China. Perhaps that’s another plus side to new recruits in the area looking forward to an nth boom, figuring out how landlocked regions turn their weaknesses into an advantage.
Now, if only I can find other homeschoolers.
These are examples of treasures from Getepic. I think I am having as much if not more fun than Joshua and Jimmy opening these gems. I sometimes avoid clicking on the books that I know they like but I don’t because of the writing. What I do is what I do even with actual books: I try to hide the ones I don’t like so I can read the ones I do. I don’t do that all the time but I try to sneak in the ones I favor even though I’m an advocate of self-directed learning and freedom of choice. Since I’m the one reading the books out loud, some bonus for the audio talent, please.
Coldplay is coming to Manila next year and so many people can’t wait to get their hands on the tickets despite the skyrocket high costs. How I wish there could be a way that the event my friends and I are planning for next year can get the same reception. I’m not talking about numbers here because let’s be realistic. It’s not a concert of a popular band. However, we do like to find people who, if they knew, would jump at the opportunity to meet an international pioneer of self-directed / democratic education. Every advocacy requires groups of champions and we’d like to connect with those who are passionate about this cause in the Philippines.
My friends and I met Yaacov Hecht at the Asia Pacific Democratic Education Conference (APDEC) in Taiwan this year and after talking to him, the possibility of someday holding the conference in China and the Philippines was opened up. Before we knew it, we were organizing Yaacov’s talk in Manila for late July next year, before he flies off to Tokyo to speak at the APDEC there.
As an introduction:
“Yaacov Hecht founded the Democratic School in Hadera, Israel, the first school in the world to call itself ‘democratic’. The schools operate as a microcosm of the democratic state. In 1993, he convened the first IDEC – International Democratic Education Conference that has run for 24 years now all over the world, each year in a different continent. Yaacov Hecht has served as an advisor to Israeli Ministers of Education past and present, as an expert for creating connections and interfaces between the state and alternative education.”
Early this November, Yaacov spoke at the plenary of the World Forum for Democracy in Austria. Following are excerpts from his speech:
“I fear that in schools today they prepare us for the past. But how do we build a school that prepares us for the future? That was the idea behind my democratic school.
“And then, for me it was like magic. Once I’d built this school there was immediately a huge waiting list. And I found myself building another, and then another, another. I found myself building 30 democratic schools in Israel, and then I realized that I wanted to understand what had happened in the world, and so I founded an international conference, and I call it IDEC, the international democratic education conference, and I called on innovative democratic schools from around the world to come to this conference. And today, we have more than 1,000 democratic schools from all over the world in more than fifty countries. It is an annual event, running in different countries ever year.
“But what is this democratic school? Look today at democratic schools around the world and you will see that in most of these schools four major rules exist. But before I explain further I should say that among these 1,000 schools, every one is different, because we believe that different is beautiful. We say there cannot be two democratic schools that are the same. But you can find these four major rules in most of them.
“One, we live in a democratic community. For example, my school is six hundred students between 4 years old and eighteen, and every Friday we have a meeting and we make decisions together. My vote as the Headmaster and the vote of the students is the same. We cannot change the rule of Israel, but in the law I give all the power that I have as the Principle to the community.
“The second thing that we have in the democratic school is personalized learning. What does that mean? It means that every student in my school chooses: what, how, where, when she or he learns. Think about the traditional school, the great idea that if you are this age, you need to learn this and this. We think that the most important thing that God created was to create us different. And school needs to continue to find out our uniqueness. But what you find in the traditional school is that they try to make us the same. At the same time, no matter how bored I am, we sit with people who are the same age and we learn the same things. In the democratic school everyone learns differently, in mixed ages.
“Rule number three. In our school we have a very close relationship between the staff member and the student. In most of our democratic schools students choose their mentor. The teacher doesn’t choose us to sit in his class. I choose with whom I want to be in a close relationship, and this is my mentor.
“The fourth rule is content. Our content that we teach in our school is from the point of view of human rights. Most of the content that is studied today in conventional schools is studied from the point of view of nationality. We study from the point of view of human rights.
“Think about schools which don’t give the student any choice. I hope they will disappear very soon. Think how for one hundred years people have been sitting in classrooms being told what to do. From my point of view this is something very catastrophic. We can explain it . OK. It was the industrial age, and people needed to go to work as a machine, so we helped them go to work as a machine. But today in the knowledge age, it is very clear that we have to help students to find their element, a place where they can connect their talent and their passion. Because in their element they have the most chance to succeed in the future.
“How to do it? There exist a lot of ways, and I hope there will be a net here that will enable us to share our many ideas of how to do it with one another. It is a time for sharing. The young man over there asked me how to push democratic education in your city or in your area. It’s easy, build a network around this. Don’t be alone. Find another person who wants to do it. Go and meet together and talk about this. Then find another one. And then a big group, and then go to talk with the Department of Education in your city but as a group. I think this is the time of networking. So build a network around this. Yesterday evening I sat with a huge group of young people full of ideas about how to change the education system. That, I think is the way.”
Above are excerpts from Yaacov’s speech at the World Forum for Democracy 2016 in Strasbourg, Austria. You can read the full transcript here:
If you are baffled by the terms homeschooling, unschooling and roadschooling, be prepared to be perplexed by yet another head-scratching term – worldschooling. I interviewed Sachi through Facebook about being homeschooled and she shared this link about worldschoolers.
So to my friend, Jen and fellow homeschooling moms, here are ideas to make our heads spin even more:
- School: “Do what you’re told.”
- Homeschool: “Do what you’re told… by your mom.”
- Unschool: “Do what you want.”
- Worldschool: “Do what ya gotta do…”
- School – Trust school, government, and institutions
- Homeschool – Trust your family, friends, and community…
- Unschool – Trust yourself, your child, and the individual.
- Worldschool – Trust the world and the universe.
- School teaches there are few possibilities for you.
- Unschooling teaches there are infinite possibilities.
- Worldschooling teaches you which are truly for you.
As a newly minted homeschooling mom, there are days when I doubt what I’m doing. A sense of anxiety creeps up the back door and hits me on the head with desperation. I don’t know whether I’m doing what’s “right” for my kids. But then I hit my stride the next day with the promise that things are getting better. My husband and I keep improving our methods and styles. We continue to discover ways and resources while our kids are doing the same. We are all learning together and we are each other’s teacher. We are all students of the world and our classroom is boundless.
Even though I accept this in theory and know I should not be pressured, I can’t shake off the angst. I want my kids to read and do math so I homeschool in the morning, telling them what to do because mom says so and it’s important to follow the program online. Why? Because I said so. I watch Joshua like a hawk making sure he progresses through the language arts and math exercises. In the afternoon, I let go of the shackles and unschool. There is something in me that totally does not want to let go of the curriculum although I have read many times that the child should be the curriculum. It’s me balancing the expectations of society for children to achieve certain milestones while being relaxed about the whole thing so as not to pass on unnecessary apprehension to the kids. I still have a long way to grow in terms of trusting and chilling. Though I advocate self-directed education, there’s quite a way for me to go before I wholly embrace that route in practice.
Today, however was a revelation. If we could have more days like these, then I’d certainly become more at ease moving towards worldschooling. We went on a quest to the Xishuangbanna Tropical Botanical Garden searching for Charles “Chuck” Cannon. Some weeks ago while researching about homeschoolers in China, I read an article, A Garden Like Eden about a group of foreign research fellows who gathered and taught their children together. I was determined to find them even if upon arriving at the 1,100 hectare botanical garden, we did not know where to start and had no contact information except for a name. We had to be creative and persistent until we were dropped off at the research center where we found out that Charles had left Xishuangbanna two years ago and had gone back to America.
Here’s when being a Filipino proved once again its perks with kababayans located everywhere. A Filipina post-graduate student focused on bats and doing a report on orchids, introduced me to another Filipino who is into ecological conservation and who happened to be a student of Chuck Cannon! So there is always a way if there is a will to hack through the thick undergrowth of resistance. Before and after fortunately running into my fellow Pinoys, I encountered some unfriendly staff who made me feel unwelcome like I didn’t have the right to be there in the research facility. Tourists should stick only to their portion of the premises, an armed guard alluded.
The ultimate revelation of the day went beyond finding a way to contact Cannon. It was the amazing magnificence of the garden itself that surpassed my expectations of a Chinese tourist spot since it was clean and well-maintained more than usual. All around, beauty lived and was cared for by obviously passionate and expert hands. Every so often, we’d simply sit and marvel, awed by the surroundings, stretching our time in Eden.
After reading this blog, my friend, Jen said: “I think in the end we should not label ourselves anymore. What matters is the motivation behind why we chose to not put our kids in a conventional school. Each family will have a different way of approaching this “alternative” education and most will probably call themselves “eclectic” (Waaaahhh, another label!). And as for your anxiety about your children meeting “standards” versus your great attraction to democratic learning and unschooling, I think in time you will find a perfect balance. Whenever I am tempted to rush and want to cram knowledge into Stella, I try to think (that’s if I REMEMBER TO THINK) if what we are doing will contribute to our goal of cultivating a LOVE OF LEARNING in her. That’s what I want to build on. Plus of course, having a good view of God and growing her love for Him. But I’m sure in time you will find balance.”
When I met Sachi, she was spearheading a pawikan conservation project in La Union and she was clearly passionate about it. That was four years ago. She was single then and now she’s married to a New Zealander with a two year old boy of her own. Our paths serendipitously crossed back then courtesy of my departed grandmother and our roads intersect once more because of homeschooling. She was homeschooled by a groovy bee-keeper dad and artistic mom. Sachi plans to homeschool her child and future children while I’ve started homeschooling my two boys as well.
How long were you homeschooled?
From Kindergarten all the way through to my first year of college. If I remember correctly I just went to one year of kindergarten at a “regular” school.
How did your parents decide to homeschool you?
Like all parents, my parents wanted the best for us kids, and because my dad was working for an NGO that required him to move from one place to another depending on what community that NGO was servicing, my dad wanted us to all be together. My parents also wanted to raise us in a way where we would have many different skills and talents and at the same time, had the spiritual values my parents wanted to share with us. And because they felt that putting us into a “regular schooling system” would not make this possible, they decided to homeschool us. Since their youth, both my parents always broke away from the norm. It wasn’t that they were just trying to be “independent” or were “rebels,” it was just that they did not mind going against the current to find and do what they thought and felt was right.
Can you describe some moments in homeschooling that you can’t forget?
I’ll just name a few:
1. I’ll put this semi-negative one first. It did not bother me so much because, even when I heard the things people told me and my siblings or my parents, I had no doubts I was getting a good education. So: how some people (especially some of our relatives) were always… for lack of a better word, harassing my parents and us about homeschooling and saying that we were going to be “left behind” and wouldn’t get into good enough universities or jobs later on, but when we sometimes were allowed to skip to a higher grade and especially when we got into good universities, they had nothing else to say.
2. As an 11 year old, thinking and feeling how cool it was that I got to travel around and see all these cool places around the Philippines and meet different people and yet still keep up with my studies while we were on the road.
3. I am saying this in a very non-arrogant way: when I was in uni, my classmates always marveled at all the things I knew how to do and they always felt like, “I wish I could do those things too!!” And I knew that it was because of my homeschooling background that I had learned much more practical-life-skills and some other academic skills than my classmates.
4. As a teenager and later a competitive athlete – loving how I got to spend so much more time with my dad than people who go to the regular schooling system would be able to spend with their parents. My dad was and still is an entrepreneur, so he didn’t have to go work at an office or anywhere else, so this was also another good thing for me, because I got to spend a lot of time with him and learning from him.
Do you ever think about what would have happened if you went to a regular school?
Yes, I think I would be like everyone else.
What are you doing now and how has homeschooling influenced you in the path that you are taking?
Right now I spend most of my time doing social community development work and also taking care of my 2 year old son. Because I was homeschooled, I spent a lot of time doing extra-curricular activities, including going to different orphanages, old age homes, and poor communities where we hold different events for the benefit of different people. I also spent a lot of time in nature, learning about the bees that we were taking care of, taking care of so many different types of pets and animals, etc.- so these different experiences all nurtured a desire in me to really be of some service to others—be it nature, animals, or other people. I suppose all of those things can also be attributed to the fact that all that time I spent learning from my parents, especially my dad, and many other very nice people (many of whom also homeschooled their kids) all had a very good and effect on me. Many of the most valuable things cannot be learned at school, and growing up and having opportunities to learn from all kinds of different people (and also my parents) was probably one of the best things that came from homeschooling. Likewise, these experiences have all definitely influenced my overall view of life and how I choose to live.
Would you also homeschool your children? Why?
Yes. I don’t see why I would need to put them into regular school. I know they can get all the academic training they need and more through homeschooling.
Did you ever think you lost out in the socialization aspect in some ways during childhood?
No I did not lose out on socialization, in fact I think i had more opportunities because we made friends with a lot of people. Also, my parents made sure we joined different sports training activities so we got a lot of socialization from that too. We were always around a lot of people (kids, adults, etc) and they were all sorts of people, so it was good!
Do you or your parents have any regrets about homeschooling?
What do you wish people knew about homeschooling?
It’s not a bad thing at all; in fact, there are many benefits of homeschooling.
What was the most challenging thing about homeschooling?
Keeping disciplined enough to finish my school requirements and having to compete against myself rather than classmates.
This was Sachi when I met her at the Pawikan conservatory which she spearheaded in La Union and I blogged about it in my old blogspot.
PROPOSED TIMELINE AND GENERAL STRATEGY FOR STARTING A SELF-DIRECTED LEARNING CENTER IN THE PHILIPPINES (AND EVENTUALLY CHINA)
Hold a seminar-workshop on self-directed education with Yaacov Hecht and Simon Robinson as speakers. Yaacov and Simon will talk about his experience with democratic schools and the workshop after will discuss the following:
- What are the possibilities for a self-directed school or a self-directed type of education in the Philippines?
- How can ideas of self-directed education be practiced within existing schools in the Philippines?
- How can a self-directed school or learning center be started in the Philippines?
Attend the Asia Pacific Democratic Education Conference (APDEC) in Tokyo and months before the event, promote this in the Philippines and in China so that more people will know about it and those who are really interested can attend. We need to build a network of people who believe in this kind of education.
Hold a talk-workshop with Peter Gray about the Alliance for Self-Directed Education and share examples of schools, centers and organizations which believe in and practice self-directed education such as the Sudbury Valley School. This would be a follow-up session on the July workshop that would build on the momentum started with Yaacov and Simon. Hopefully a core group would emerge from the people who attended in July and in October and who will eventually initiate a self-directed learning center in the Philippines.
Aside from the Sudbury model, another model that could be considered is the Macomber Center because in the Philippines, there is already a growing number of homeschoolers and unschoolers. Members of the Macomber Center are all registered homeschoolers and they “pursue their interests in their own way, at their own pace and are free to explore the world in a way that they find meaningful.” They have “no formal curriculum or guidelines for achievement. Instead, they trust that children will thrive (and learn!) when given time and freedom to play and explore within a community of other young people, with support from knowledgeable, helpful adults.” The “school” or “center” does not even need to have a physical space or address. It could be a network or an alliance similar to the one set up by Peter Gray, the Alliance for Self-Directed Education. People can come together as they choose and the whole city, the whole country, the whole world is the school. Venues change as needed and as opportunities allow.
WORK THAT NEEDS TO BE DONE FROM NOW UNTIL JULY 2017
- Introduce and promote the idea of self-directed education and ensure that the talk of Yaacov and Simon will be well-attended. The target number of audience is 100 so we need to target much more than that – probably 200 or 250.
- Promote the Tokyo APDEC in the Philippines and in China to see if there are people who would seriously consider attending the conference. Use social media and our personal networks to reach out to as many people as we can.
- Promote Peter Gray’s talk about self-directed education in Manila. Coordinate dates with the conference organizers who originally invited him to Manila.
And how does all these efforts connect to China? My friends who attended the APDEC in Taiwan, Donna and Lucy also dream of setting up a self-directed or democratic school in China but as a strategy, we could start in the Philippines where the opening is wider. In the future, we can invite Chinese students and teachers to experience this for themselves, too.
Here’s a bit of Peter Gray’s background from his blog, Freedom to Learn, Psychology Today:
Peter Gray, Ph.D., research professor at Boston College, is author of Free to Learn (Basic Books, 2013) and Psychology (Worth Publishers, a college textbook now in its 7th edition). He has conducted and published research in comparative, evolutionary, developmental, and educational psychology. He did his undergraduate study at Columbia University and earned a Ph.D. in biological sciences at Rockefeller University. His current research and writing focus primarily on children’s natural ways of learning and the life-long value of play. His own play includes not only his research and writing, but also long distance bicycling, kayaking, back-woods skiing, and vegetable gardening.