Missing You Much So I’m Rambling

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Okay, who’s bright idea was this, anyway?  Mine.  It seemed like a bright idea then but now I am somewhat regretful.  It’s been almost a month since Jimmy and I have parted ways in New York.  Jason and Jimmy flew back to China while Joshua and I returned to Manila.  Although I know we’ll be reunited at the end of July, it seems like eternity and I feel the pain of all mothers without their child by their side.  I know I am much, much luckier, muchly much luckier, ducky, that the time of separation is relatively short at two months.  Others have years in between of not being together, of not being able to embrace each other with only Skype to ease the longing and pain of distance.

At times like these, I need to reflect on the purpose.  Since Jason has family duties to fulfill in China and I had similar duties to perform in the Philippines, we decided to divide and conquer.  Before, it had always been my two kids and me going to Manila but now, we thought it would be good for each grandson to spend time with their grandparents in both countries since they have sorely been missed after embarking our major coast to coast drive.

I also wanted to focus on Joshua’s education, since another decision Jason and I made as parents is to finally enroll them in regular school.   Alleluia!   This has been my sentiment and hope for the past year even if I had been researching these alternative mumbo jumbo.  It was my smokescreen.  It was a desperate ploy to make sense of what we were doing if it was done within the context of a scholarly research, an experiment with academic bent.  However, the search was also a legitimate project that has evolved into something greater than I imagined, leading us to places we would not explore otherwise. It was a blessing.  It was my way of turning adversity to advantage.

What was the adversity?  I was not fully convinced about homeschooling for our family. I was more on the lookout for progressive schools.  Although I admire and envy many of my friends who homeschool (e.g. Bunny, Jen, Laksmi, Nimai), I know I dislike teaching kindergarten or grade school age kids.  At that age, I’d prefer to send them to a traditional or progressive school and the option of homeschooling would only be considered in the later years before or around high school.  I prefer formal schooling until they are able to read and write well enough in English and Mandarin.  Though, I am open to switching back to homeschooling if the kids themselves request it themselves.

Having tried homeschooling for a year, the results fell far short of my expectations and I need to cram review time.  I’m arranging tutorials for Joshua to get him prepared for the upcoming school year.   So that’s the other purpose of the separation — for me to be able to focus on Joshua’s academics.  I just did not realize it would be this tough without Jimmy.  We were separated when he was three months old when he had to go to China to get his passport with his Dad but we had recently been in this tight-knit, family bonding, 24-7 togetherness trip.  Without him, it feels like jumping off a plane without a parachute.  Jimmy is so sweet, so malambing.  He is the yin to Joshua’s yang.  Near polar opposites in personalities, the two boys are too dear to me for words, gushing moms know.

Another purpose for this imposed separation is the Art Camp Donna and I planned for July — the Hero’s Journey where Chinese students are flying to the Philippines to practice their English in theater, art and music workshops in Casa San Miguel, Zambales.  Jimmy is too young to join, Donna and I decided but now I wish we could reverse the decision. Jimmy has matured a lot after the US trip.

I guess I want Jimmy to know that this separation is hard for Mommy.  It’s only two months, for heaven’s sake!  It reminds me of my friend who’s having separation anxiety because her eleven year old boy is off to a three-week summer camp.  Separation indeed feels different when the child is at age 1, 5, 10, 15, 20, 25, 30, 35, 40, 45 . . . . You get the drift.  We parents have to eventually learn the art of letting our children go.  Imagine the parents who can’t let go of their kids who are already 35, 40, 45, 50!  Yes, there are parents like those, probably more in Asia.

Imagine the difficulty parents face when they can’t accept the fact that their 25 or 45 year old child has a life of his own, who can’t trust their child to make decisions for herself because they think it’s a mistake, they’re going to run aground, bash their heads into a wall, crash and burn, fall and scrape their knees like they were four year olds.

I don’t want to be a parent like that.  My friends and I talk about it.  If we come to a point in our lives when our children are grown and we still want to exercise control over their lives, we should slap and remind each other of that time when we promised not to be that kind of parent.

My husband, Jason remembers fondly and I do appreciate how he recalls the speech that Bo Sanchez gave during the Philippine Homeschool Conference that we attended last year.  A famous inspirational speaker, Bo said that parents ought to know when to switch hats.  The first hat is the Controlling Hat when the child is small and needs a lot of firm guidance.  The next hat is the Coaching Hat when the child has developed more independence and it’s better for the parent to act as a coach or mentor.  The last hat is the Consultant’s Hat when the parent is on call if the grown-up child asks for advice.

There are parents who don’t mean to be dictators but exercise a form of veiled dictatorship.  Pry underneath the layers of euphemisms and good intentions and it’s undeniable.  It persists and the child is not able to break out of his or her cocoon.  The wings are clipped.  Their every move is scrutinized and fall short of what their parents want for them.  What they want does not matter because they have been created for serving the purpose of their parents.  Yes, children ought to serve their parents, but they more importantly, serve the purpose that they were meant and put in this universe to serve.  Who knows what is the purpose for which each person is called?  “Anak, eto na lang gawin mo. Huwag na yan,”  the parent says.  The parent assumes to know the child better than anyone else.  “He shouldn’t go down that career path,” or “He can’t take a job far away because I need him here.

Where do you draw the line between pushy meddling and friendly urging, between unsolicited advice and necessary intervention, between healthy concern and unhealthy attachment?  What message do you send to an adult child — I don’t trust you to make that decision for yourself and then that child in turn won’t be able to trust her own child because she did not receive that trust from her parents.

Oooops.  I just wanted to say I miss Jimmy very much and I’m rattling on and on.  Jimmy is still far from adulthood.  It may be my way of consoling myself.  This too shall pass.  I need a diversion.

We all try to be the best parents we want to be.  We fall short as parents.  We fall short as children.  Our children fall short of our expectations.   How can the cycle be broken? Through this, one thing is certain and that is love.  Love forgives our shortfalls.  Love understands our fears.  Love makes us whole again.  Love saves us from ourselves.

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A Giant Shout-Out of Thanks, Gratitude and Appreciation

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This cross-country voyage of 96 days and 10,200 miles (16,415 km) would not have been possible without the many family and friends who welcomed us into their homes, took time out to be with us and showered us with provisions.  People keep asking us which is our favorite place but I can’t think of any one impressive place although if you ask me if I could choose to live anywhere among the areas we visited, it’d be Imperial Beach.

However, my real favorite part of the trip is definitely meeting up and having long conversations with old and new friends.  Joshua and Jimmy also can’t think of one place which they like the most but what they like best is being with other kids, the numerous playmates along the way.  So in the end, it doesn’t matter where; it’s not so much about the place but about the people.

We have a lot of people to thank — for giving us shelter, for cooking for us, for treating us out and for letting Jason use their kitchen to whip up his magical Chinese meals.  He has blossomed into an ambassador of China making his love for hotpot and tea a contagious disease. More than the place, travel is about food, food, food, plus discovering people’s personal paradises more than mere sightseeing or ticking items off a bucket list.  Everyone’s warmth and generosity has touched and blessed our family.

Edmund and Darin, we carried your Marathon water bottles from the start to finish line.  The Chevy Avalanche was a dream to drive which through your help, we were able to find, purchase and sell.

Cotton and Bill, we look forward to more park dates with Jade and Noah in the future.  Noah’s shoes joined Jimmy in his adventures all the way to New York but we did part with the Lego along the way when the two kids fought over them.

Nanie, I hope you meet up with Cotton more often after our crazy night-out.

Tita Jona, the tent you gave us was the first one we ever had where we could stand up inside since it was so spacious.  Your pied-à-terre will forever be associated by the kids with their first encounter with Alexa.  Kwenby, it was fun recreating our pose from our seventies Sanrio days.  You’re the Hello Kitty to my Twin Stars.

Egay, the big bottle of peanut butter lasted and served us during emergencies and I wouldn’t have been able to figure out Spotify (which sustained the kids throughout the long drives) without you.  The kids never stopped singing the theme song from Steven Universe thanks to Gabbi‘s introduction.

Claire, your construction paper was transformed into thank you cards by Joshua and Jimmy in many stops.  Whenever we go through a gate that opens automatically by remote control, they think of you and throughout our trip, I found myself continuing our conversation in my head.

Danny, when we hear Broadway musical songs, we remember you and your 300-strong group.  What a happy night we had at your rehearsals!  Thank you for making it easy for us to see stars in Hollywood.

Tita Joesy and Tito Sonny, even if we missed seeing you, we are forever grateful that all your children warmly hosted us in their homes – Lareina in Thousand Oaks and Leo, Lil and Jay in Eastvale.  I remember how you were always raving proudly about them and now I understand why.  Jimmy enjoyed playing dress-up with your granddaughter Bella while Lauren was a great host to my sons.

Ate Badz, you know I’ve always wanted to meet Ismael and after seeing you two, I’m happy and inspired how the two of you take such good care of each other.  Sana ganun din kaming mag-asawa.

It was amazing serendipity how Bill Myers agreed to meet with us through the books given by a boy, Silas in Xishuangbanna.  Bill met with us bringing autographed copies of Secret Agent Dingledorf and even read for the boys.  Bill introduced to us, Jason, one of his students who happened to be from Tianjin. What are the chances, right?

Ashley, Jacob and Teddy, you are our first worldschooling family stop in the States.  Jimmy is always talking about how Minnie wakes him up by licking his face and we’ll never forget the ride on your tuktuk.  We look forward to hearing about your work-away adventure in Iceland and your travels through Europe and the rest of the world.

Tita Baby, what a feast you prepared for us!  Nijel and Elaine, how sweet of you to indulge in Jimmy’s obsession with Paw Patrol.  Tita Baby, we were able to catch our breath after two nights of camping and had a truly relaxing stay in your Las Vegas house.

Lesley, if it weren’t for you, we wouldn’t have experienced living in a cozy mobile home and we wouldn’t have discovered this oasis of a community in the middle of the desert, complete with hot spring pools.  Beckett with his boundless energy was a good match for Joshua and Jimmy.  Lesley, thanks for ensuring that we have hosts in your other home in Calgary.

Nolan and Carter, Jimmy had a blast roaming and exploring the Mojave Desert with you guys.

Tammy, the ghosts of Virginia City will haunt us always, as well as your overflowing spirit of generosity and warmth.

Lisha and Collin, the boys enjoyed the big bonfire in the cold morning and getting the chance to chop firewood plus what a treat to tour Zoe and Nate‘s “forest school.”

Miranda, the boys tumbled down the stairs and went wild in the basement with Dexter and Theo who then enjoyed the stunt, off-road bike park with Joshua.

Lisha and Miranda, it’s refreshing to see the much simplified, sustainable lifestyle of your family which is in sharp contrast to the consumerism your countries are known for.  I had to google family cloth.

Danielle, I am so happy to meet Kurt at last!  Marion, I treasure our talk about Bah’ai and your mini musical concert with Danielle.  Jason enjoyed hearing the Chinese songs. Joshua sorely misses Toren.  I picture Danielle and Marion playing boggle and Toren on the trampoline.

Julia and Julio, our stay in your St. Cloud home was everything you said it would be – long and leisurely.  We blended in with the locals because of your generous preparations even before we arrived.  How could we ever forget Mhong night, two Easter egg hunts and the hilarious talk with Summer?

Vinny, your research laboratory was awesome and knowing you was even more awesome.

Kirsten and Ruben, you introduced our kids to Awana (where Joshua sang, danced and shopped) and you took care of them when we needed to rush to the city at night.  We are grateful for the playdates with Henry, Soren and Bjorn (Their Chinese level is amazing!) and for the sparkle box that kept us afloat.

Rinna and Chris, you know what a God-ordained meeting it was despite the unexpected.  Joshua and Jimmy now want to get a corgi because of Sir Ollie and Tommy.

Hossein, you held on tightly to your filmmaking dreams and look where it’s taking you – Cannes!  I appreciate listening to your story of perseverance and the universe conspiring to make things work in your favor. Jimmy enjoyed making homemade muffins with Laura and eating the strawberry crepes with Marjan who was a model older sister to Joshua and Jimmy.  It was lovely meeting Karen and seeing Kayhan and Janan so grown up.

Florence, we will be hanging your beautiful paintings on the wall of our new home.  So wonderful to bridge the gap of time and two continents.

Joanna and Jonathan, because of you we were able to try the best pizza in Chicago and bike ride to the school playground with Allyn, Dean and Dylan.

Ken, to add to our Nottingham memories, now we have sipping wine in your kitchen with Karen, boodle fight, hotpot in your home with a magnificent view, the maple syrup festival and our four kids enjoying themselves to the hilt.  JJ and Alicia, Moana songs form a special part of our trip because of you.

Lally, your invitation to the Royal Ontario Museum worked to keep the kids busy while we were able to catch up.  Without your help, I wouldn’t have known about nor had the opportunity to visit the Dr. Jackman Institute of Child Study Laboratory School.  Your daughter, Avery was an excellent tour guide and I hope next time, she and Coco can play with Joshua and Jimmy.

May and Bill, from homemade beer to craft beer, what a chillaxing stay in Framingham which happened to be strategically located for my research work as well.  The boys love Aidric to bits. Even goodbye was chillaxing flying the styrofoam airplane.

Peter, who could sit through a boring, detailed discussion of the alternative schools I visited and listen to me blab about this education research?  Only you, plus the privilege comes with omelet, lake, forest and potential kayak trip if the weather was more cooperative.

Auntie Inyang, you spoiled us with your homecooked meals which took us back to the Philippines.  Uncle Pabling, you helped Jason get the Avalanche ready for the photo shoot.  While Uncle Pabling drove us to Jocelyn’s place, Auntie Inyang’s many stories kept me riveted.

Jocelyn and Paul, it’s like we made it to Cape Cod with your lobsters and a quick trip to Duxbury beach.  Kylie swings like Tarzan from a rope hanging from the tree and Jimmy kept asking for her days after our visit.

Rick, after several skype sessions with you about my PhD proposal, we finally meet in person and I get to update you how the thesis has evolved to become something else different.  Thank you for showing me YOUR Cambridge.

Gambel, hanep na daig lahat ng counselors at therapists na pinagsama-sama all in one plus more.  Jun, walang walang makakatalo sa sipag at sarap sa pagluto. Kara and GJ, my kids couldn’t have asked for better playmates.  Despite the age gap, you guys rocked their world!

Peggy, grabe perfect New York escape talaga.  Wala akong masabiMarion, please make sure Peggy gets your bike and gets into fencing.

Denise, the Supermom/Wonder Woman, I look forward to knowing where Basti will be heading in the future.

Tonyboy, June, Veronica and Sophia, best impromptu barbecue ever! Hope all goes well in the crossroads decision making we’re all praying for.  We’ll remember fondly how Abigail led us up and down the dam park and showed how to make stop-motion videos using her phone.

Ate Bigi doesn’t want any mention in blogs but I hope she knows how happy I am always to see her.

Tita Shereen gave something that she has been holding for me for over a year, the most precious gift of Ma’s book of selected quotes, “Thoughts in Times of Trouble.”

Ninang Lin, we were all thrilled to watch Lion King.  The kids savored kayaking, biking, feeding the swans and visiting the beach.  Max, they also had a freezing and short swim with Harry in the pool.

Jerry, we were bowled over when you brought out your foldable ping pong table that filled the living area, ping pong machine plus rolls of cardboard to contain the balls when they fell on the floor.  Joshua had a rollicking great time with you teaching him the moves while Jimmy “fell in like” with Auroja.  Finding the books on alternative education in Jerry’s home-office was a dream come true for me.

Acela, oh to be among those trees both on the ground in the arboretum and up in the air at the Adventure Park.  David, the barbecue was superb and the breakfast sustained us in the airport.  Bu, the purple shirt you gave Joshua is now one of his favorites, a souvenir connecting him to you.

Melody and Andre, I truly miss climbing mountains with you and though, we didn’t have time for a trek, seeing you even for a short time was enough to rekindle our AMCI days.

Mew Yee, you are living our New York dream in a “secret” island to boot!  Ning and Hue, I admire your way and patience with kids.  Kin Hui, I haven’t finished “Ego is the Enemy” but I got too curious about Ryan Holiday’s other book and started reading “The Obstacle is the Way.”

Cass, I really think you should publish your children’s books.  Matthew and Sophie are so lucky.  We were able to enjoy lying on the grass with Mew Yee while Choy and Jason had their men’s talk because there were two excellent babysitters equipped with bubbles.

Jeanette and Will, your brood of five, Janelle, Genevieve, Giana, Justin, Jessica, made Jimmy’s birthday wildly unforgettable.  If you didn’t let us “park” our kids at your place, I don’t know how we could have attended that forum in Princeton.

Tita Gloria, watching you cook in your kitchen brought back so many memories of our days with Lola Pilar.  Vincent and Anna, your three daughters are so bursting with talent.

Eric, thank you very much for Jimmy’s birthday cake “from America.”  Although we are sad parting with Eve the Avalanche, we are comforted by the fact that she is now with a wonderful family who will love her perhaps even more than we could because she will stay with you much longer.

Eve, just perfect-for-us Eve.

My dad was worried sick during this whole time we were travelling even if I kept re-assuring him that we’re okay.  He didn’t know we had so many angels taking such good care of us.  It was also my dad, mom and Tito Ahing who made this trip possible for our family for which we are eternally grateful.  Actually, we have to thank our whole family in China and the Philippines for understanding that we needed to undertake this trip.

I am sorry I wasn’t able to see Jan, Lloyd, Mel and Vibes in Vancouver.  I’m dreadfully sorry we missed Maisie in Windsor when we were so near in Toronto but she was on holiday back in China.  And I apologize we weren’t able to go down further from NY to visit Yancey in South Carolina and Rusty in Florida.

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This pick-up truck was our home for three months.  Home is any place where the four of us are together. The people who welcomed us enlarged our hearts and our home.  Words are never enough to express our gratitude, so until next time!

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We Interrupt Our Regularly Scheduled Program

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Although this blog is about a specific dream, I feel free to put in whatever catches my attention at the moment although you could say it’s related in that it’s still about how dreams of excellence can be realized.  This morning, there was an old issue of Fortune Magazine lying around near the kitchen, a relic from the past of 2006 and there’s an article that I ended up underlining.

Quotes from What It Takes to be Great by Geoffrey Colvin (Fortune Magazine, October 30, 2006):

In virtually every field of endeavor, most people learn quickly at first, then more slowly and then stop developing completely. Yet a few do improve for years and even decades, and go on to greatness. . . . . . How are certain people able to go on improving?  The answers begin with consistent observations about great performers in many fields.

 

The first major conclusion is that nobody is great without work. It’s nice to believe that if you find the field where you’re naturally gifted, you’ll be great from day one, but it doesn’t happen. There’s no evidence of high-level performance without experience or practice.

Reinforcing that no-free-lunch finding is vast evidence that even the most accomplished people need around ten years of hard work before becoming world-class, a pattern so well established researchers call it the ten-year rule.

 

The best people in any field are those who devote the most hours to what the researchers call “deliberate practice.” It’s activity that’s explicitly intended to improve performance, that reaches for objectives just beyond one’s level of competence, provides feedback on results and involves high levels of repetition.

 

The evidence, scientific as well as anecdotal, seems overwhelmingly in favor of deliberate practice as the source of great performance. Just one problem: How do you practice business? Many elements of business, in fact, are directly practicable. Presenting, negotiating, delivering evaluations, deciphering financial statements – you can practice them all.

Still, they aren’t the essence of great managerial performance. That requires making judgments and decisions with imperfect information in an uncertain environment, interacting with people, seeking information – can you practice those things too? You can, though not in the way you would practice a Chopin etude.

Instead, it’s all about how you do what you’re already doing – you create the practice in your work, which requires a few critical changes. The first is going at any task with a new goal: Instead of merely trying to get it done, you aim to get better at it.

 

Research shows they process information more deeply and retain it longer. They want more information on what they’re doing and seek other perspectives. They adopt a longer-term point of view. In the activity itself, the mindset persists. You aren’t just doing the job, you’re explicitly trying to get better at it in the larger sense.

Again, research shows that this difference in mental approach is vital. For example, when amateur singers take a singing lesson, they experience it as fun, a release of tension. But for professional singers, it’s the opposite: They increase their concentration and focus on improving their performance during the lesson. Same activity, different mindset.

Feedback is crucial, and getting it should be no problem in business. Yet most people don’t seek it; they just wait for it, half hoping it won’t come.

 

“Some people are much more motivated than others, and that’s the existential question I cannot answer – why.” . . . . . . The critical reality is that we are not hostage to some naturally granted level of talent. We can make ourselves what we will.

Sorry for chopping up the article that way, rather like a dismembered Frankenstein monster.  If you want to read the whole piece, it’s available here online.

It intrigues me why people are more motivated than others.  What makes people highly driven and why are others not as driven?   On the other hand, you want to appreciate people in their entirety and uniqueness.  Drive is just one aspect and for some it’s not as important or as much as a priority for others.  Some people impose their standards on others and wish people to be just as driven as them, or to at least increase their “drive” level to a more socially acceptable degree.  However, the internal workings inside each person is so one-of-a-kind, we can’t expect everyone to march at the same pace or to even have the same definitions of success.   Do you notice I’m going around in circles?

Sometimes, I am the subject of such expectations and sometimes, I am the one holding similar apprehensions.  So that explains the circle but in the end, we are only responsible and accountable for our own self.

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On a similar note of searching, I found THIS VIDEO that my sister, Denise posted on Facebook.  If you read the quotes above, you’d probably want to watch the entire video, too. Or if you skipped through the quotes to arrive at this end, you can click on the video link. 

 

Rave, Rave about the Light

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If money was not a factor, what kind of education would parents choose for their children?  A private, progressive or international school with world-class facilities, a low teacher to student ratio and teachers with sterling qualification, progressive-minded leadership that recognizes and celebrates the uniqueness of each individual and strikes a balance between disciplined and student-directed learning?  While undertaking this research, I came across a few students from International Schools in Singapore, New York and Manila who make me wonder about the students who do thrive, excel and are happy in school with a tuition fee that’s prohibitive to most people.  I wonder about the school’s methods which combine a structured approach with a degree of interest-led learning through the wider-than-normal-range of choices and opportunities they offer.

My friend, Mew Yee’s daughter, Ning goes to the United Nations International School in Manhattan and at age sixteen, she spearheaded a project to teach children how to make props and sets for theater productions. Ning wrote, “. . . . I am a total theater geek.  But, I have never stepped on a stage to perform in my life.  Ever since I was 11, I loved to create, sculpt, paint, polish and design props and sets for shows.  When I thought about doing WIT for a business, I immediately thought about investing in my personal passion for theater.  My business, Set the Scene, aims to do just that – set the scene for 4th and 7th grade elementary school kids to learn backstage theater skills.”

These are the notes Ning makes for her class:

Crazy, huh?   Crazy, fun, free-to-be-me creative.  Every parent wishes that sort of self-discovery and enjoyment when their kids go to school – not dragging their feet through the mud but finding and stretching their wings to fly on their own, deriving pleasure in the exercise.

Ning’s sister, fifteen-year old Hue is very talented as well.  She did this and is into music and sports.

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When I met up with my friend, Sofie in Singapore, she introduced me to a family whose three sons attended the United World College.  I had seen the UWC website before and thought maybe, it’s just their online presence that’s impressive.  After hearing two boys rave about their education (the third one was in football practice) and after visiting the UWC premises itself, I was convinced that it was more than a blurb and that they lived it — “We inspire our students to create a more peaceful and sustainable future through education.”  The students visit third world countries and work on actual projects there to help improve people’s lives.  There are no grades in the early years and there is much individual attention and value placed on the uniqueness of each student.  Of course, the complete sports facilities and well-equipped workshops are quite enviable, too.  The boys showed me lamps they made using laser.

I also personally know two young girls who attend the British School of Manila (BSM) who have never praised their school before they started going to BSM.  They previously attended an ultra-strict Chinese school that burdened them with too much homework.  BSM for them, freed them to have a more balanced academic and non-academic life plus learning has become fun rather than a chore and a bore. They were raving about the activities, projects, field trips, teachers and how learning was exciting.

My visits to schools and talks with parents and students are too brief, perhaps too superficial to even make conclusions but they do lead to even more questions like what is the function of economic prosperity in providing good options in education?   To what extent does incorporating a degree of self-directed learning into traditional modes make it a more responsive and effective system?  Are the students happier in these schools that combine the “best of both worlds” — traditional (with a curriculum) and progressive (more freedom and interest-led)?   What can we gather from schools that incorporate varying degrees of self-directed learning that could possibly bridge gaps?   (my notes for future study)

I initiated this independent research on education as a way of grappling with my own fears and apprehensions of being a mother of two boys.  My husband and I tried homeschooling but I am not as convinced as him that this is the way to go because I personally see our sons as thriving more within a consistent and supportive community larger than the immediate family.  I am also more inclined towards a structured way of learning during the earlier years to establish a firm foundation.  This goes against the tenets of SDE (self-directed education) purists so I raised a question during the PLC (Princeton Learning Cooperative) forum of teens who have been shaping their own education path.  What’s their opinion about having a more structured approach during the elementary years?  The young panelists said that it depends on the individual. Some kids might work well within a structure and some might not.  For them, it was important to be a part of a community and it helps to be motivated around friends.

 

 

 

Haven for Homeschoolers

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Since homeschooling is a fairly developed field in the Philippines, there are a number of co-ops, providers, activity and field trip organizers, enrichment programs, sports, academic and non-academic options for homeschooling families to choose from particularly in the Metro Manila area.  There is also the Gopala Learning Haven in Silang, Cavite which offers a unique proposition: a lush, green sanctuary for homeschoolers where free-range kids can play to their hearts content, hike through a forest, go down a steep ravine hanging on a rope to reach the stream, jump on the trampoline, bike around, read books, do arts and crafts, learn from people of all ages, swing from a vine, climb trees, enjoy the outdoors as well as indoor spaces too.

Initiated by Laksmi Maluya, in it’s previous life, it was a play center located within a building in the town of Silang.  When Laksmi found Navadwip farm, it was the ideal opportunity to spread the wings of her homeschooling dreams.  What this learning haven could be is limitless exactly like the children it seeks to help nurture.   Parents are also very much welcome to contribute their talents, skills and interests to this growing community.

If this concept seems new and quite radical to some, there are models elsewhere in the world like the Macomber Center in Framingham, Massachusetts that have been existence for years, serving local homeschoolers, and in their own words, this is what they are about:

Our members pursue interests in their own way and at their own pace, and are free to explore the world in a way that they find meaningful.

We have no formal curriculum or guidelines for achievement. Instead, we 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 knowledgable, helpful adults. We are not a school. All of our members are registered as homeschoolers in their respective towns, and our member families represent a wide range of out-of-school approaches to education.

It’s comforting to know that we also have this kind of option in our own homeland.

 

 

Tigers, Humans and SDE

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Throughout this three-month, ten-thousand-mile journey, aside from enjoying the adventure, we’ve also managed to insert time for my research work (an adventure in itself!) and visited fourteen schools and centers which offer or promote an alternative form of education.  I’d usually observe or talk to the teachers, students and parents, but number fifteen on the list-of-places-to-visit is quite unique because a forum happened to be scheduled on May 31st, coincidentally three days before our departure.  How in the earth was I going to miss that?  The Princeton Learning Cooperative (PLC) in New Jersey held a panel discussion with teenagers and young adults sharing their non-traditional high school education and how it’s possible to go to college and have a career despite the unusual path.

While waiting for the forum to start, I sat chatting with the person beside me who happened to be a teacher at PLC.  Katy quit teaching in a public school after fifteen years because she refused to be a proctor during state tests.  She is not against all standardized test but she protests the way data is used and how the process is data-driven rather than people-oriented.  For her, education is not a business and tests can’t evaluate what’s most important.  Test results are not a true reflection of students’ capabilities.  She is much happier now at PLC seeing students directing their own education rather than being dictated from above.

When the forum started, Alison introduced the four young people who unfurled their stories: Jacob, Kennedy, Nathaniel and Cameron.

When Jacob’s mom told him about PLC, a school that gave no grades and had Wednesdays off, Jacob was eager to sign up.  He discovered that those perks were not the true advantage of being at PLC.  It was being able to spend time the way he wanted which was immersing himself in music, writing songs, being in two bands and even taking classes at the community college.

Kennedy is also into music and her dad is in the field of education.  Sometimes, it’s odd to be in a radical place like PLC when your own dad is involved in traditional school but the bottomline is that it’s a great fit for Kennedy being at PLC. She plans to get a degree in music and expand her clientele base in music teaching.

When Nathaniel entered PLC, he thought he wanted to be an architect so PLC looked for a volunteer local architect to teach him.  Nathaniel gradually realized, it was not the field for him and discovered something else.  He eventually got a personal training, CPR, first aid and wilderness certificates and plans to study Health and Exercise Science at the Colorado State University.

Cameron had health issues that made her dread going out.  She missed so many classes in school so her parents found PLC but even then, she was reluctant to go.  Only after a while did she start warming up to the PLC community thanks to a persevering mentor.  She took classes in photography, philosophy, emotional intelligence and art and is now training to be a yoga teacher.

Somebody in the forum asked about how they position themselves in college applications.  It is no longer a handicap to be homeschooled nowadays.  Since PLC does not give out grades, the student has to come up with a narrative transcript and write a self-evaluation.  They categorize the classes that they’ve taken in and out of PLC and put them into an acceptable format with the guidance of their mentor.  Students at PLC have taken placement tests and SATs to get into college.

Each PLC member meets weekly with mentors to discuss individual goals, issues, track progress and troubleshoot problems.  It can be more or less an hour depending on the need.

The participation of parents is important in PLC where family meetings are held three times a year for each member.  Among many other things so unlike regular school, the students appreciate that there’s no detention.  Whenever a problem comes up, they have to discuss and resolve it together.  In real life, there is no detention.  The members of PLC respect that every teen wants to be in PLC so abuse of freedom is not common as long as they keep in their hearts the key words painted on the colorful table at the center of their space: encourage, include, contribute, respect and empathize.  It’s simply an inspiring, nurturing and beautiful place to be that allows you to be you. That sounds pie-in-the-sky, too-good-to-be-true.  Is there a downside?

Having free, unstructured time could be a challenge in the beginning and each one grapples with time management and owning choices.  One panelist said that it’s a challenge having to transition from a fully supportive community to having none in the outside world but since they are equipped with tools to handle situations as they come, it’s not a major problem.  There is a feeling of isolation also as they see their other friends in regular schools prepare for graduation so they have to tell themselves that their path is different and unique.

How is graduation done at PLC?  Everyone says something about the graduate, speaking about how they made a difference in their life and you can imagine how that could end up in tears.

Nathaniel used the caterpillar in a cocoon metaphor.  If one cuts the cocoon too early, the butterfly doesn’t develop.  The caterpillar must be allowed to stay in the cocoon and the butterfly will emerge naturally through it’s own bidding.  For me, the cartoon that hits a home run for self-directed education is a Calvin and Hobbes strip stuck to a post in the central common space at PLC.

Calvin:  When a kid grows up, he has to be something.  He can’t just stay the way he is. But a tiger grows up and stays a tiger.  Why is that? 

Hobbes: No room for improvement.

They both pause and contemplate.

Calvin:  Of all the luck, my parents had to be humans.

Hobbes:  Don’t take it too hard.  Humans provide some very important protein.   

Some people have a difficult time grasping this aberrant-looking form of so-called education like the PLC.   We are all expected by society to perform and get good grades in school and “be someone” when we grow up.  There’s not much economic gain to merely “being.”   However, places like PLC show that if you nurture somebody to grow naturally towards the direction that he or she seeks, things fall into place in its own time.

Know more about self-directed education and PLC:

What is self-directed education?

Alliance for Self-Directed Education

Alternatives to School

Stories of How Teens Create Paths for Themselves

Who are the PLC mentors

I was very fortunate that on my visit to PLC that my husband came and shot the video of the forum.  I’ve tried uploading it onto Youtube but the file is too big so I have yet to figure how to cut it up.  But do check out this video on how PLC works.

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Fwenvy

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My very own Covfefe!  Fwenvy is my made-up word for First World Envy.  I experience it whenever we hit well appointed, beautiful public parks and libraries which we have a dearth of in Third World nations. People pay taxes for these and the government (despite Covfefe) works for the people, probably more than its own citizens appreciate.  The grass is always greener elsewhere.

I feel fwenvy, oh so fwenvy when I went to the Highline.  My New Yorker cousin doesn’t find anything special about it but I salivate at the details of its urban design and the revitalization of otherwise leftover and forgotten spaces.  This is my wish.  This is my other fantasy – to buy out all the empty lots in Metro Manila and transform them into parks.  Plus allocate a decent amount of land to affordable housing that is NOT an SM shoebox!

The Highline, has probably gotten too popular for its own good.  It looks as if it has jacked up property prices around it which may be good or bad depending on who is concerned.   It is a narrow park better enjoyed with less people but during holidays, people unfortunately get the same bright idea so try to visit this at odd hours and not on special days.  The original design intent probably can’t remain pure because there is more pedestrian traffic than expected and portions of the grass have to be cordoned off making it less than aesthetic.

I snuck out a solo tryst with the Highline and as Gambel said, I’m so lucky that I don’t have to think twice leaving the kids with Jason and going off on my own to explore parts of the city that won’t be too convenient if I brought the brood by bus and subway.   This is one of the things I wanted to see before leaving New York because Mew Yee gave me a book about it some years ago.  The story of how one man started a crusade to save an abandoned raised railway is inspiring and encouraging.  How it has expanded as a branded experience probably takes a bit away from its humble beginnings but that is part and parcel of New York’s dynamic evolution and constant re-invention.