Handholding Across the World

373

Most women merely want to vent and have a sounding board for their rants and issues.  Victoria wrote about her doubts and challenges about homeschooling, posted them on the Worldschoolers Facebook page and got a number of encouraging advice.  Her story resonated with many others who were either going through or went through the similar situation of not knowing whether what you’re doing is right or best for your children.  Mothers wrack their brains, sometimes unnecessarily so, needing to chill out more like the dads who seem too together, too relaxed, too not overwrought.  No pressure because one half of the partnership in stress is already one too many.  Of course, that may be an oversimplification or an unfair generalization but you know what I mean.

I’ve been feeling so many doubts myself about this whole homeschooling/ unschooling/ worldschooling thing that I appreciate truly the kind, listening ear.  I set up a Skype date with our teacher-advisor at the Global Homeschool, our provider in the Philippines and poured out the worries bugging my brain and in the end, it was a relief to be talked out of panic mode, to remember to laugh and enjoy, to let go of what doesn’t work in favor of something lighter.

Today I took Joshua and Jimmy to the big indoor playground in the supermarket.  I’d like to imagine it’s my weird version of the Sudbury School here in China.  The kids are free to run around and choose what they want to do amidst an age-varied group.   It’s frustrating doing all this research work on alternative education and I don’t have access to any — except what we can create on our own.  If we lived in the United States, imagine the wealth of choices!  Sigh.  Wishful thinking.  Envy.

Sudbury school is a type of school, usually for the K-12 age range, where students have complete responsibility for their own education, and the school is run by direct democracy in which students and staff are equals.[1] Students individually decide what to do with their time, and tend to learn as a by-product of ordinary experience rather than through coursework. There is no predetermined educational syllabus, prescriptive curriculum or standardized instruction. This is a form of democratic educationDaniel Greenberg, one of the founders of the original Sudbury Model school, writes that the two things that distinguish a Sudbury Model school are that everyone – adults and children – are treated equally and that there is no authority other than that granted by the consent of the governed.[2]

While each Sudbury Model school operates independently and determines their own policies and procedures, they share a common culture.[3] The intended culture within a Sudbury school has been described with such words as freedom, trust, respect, responsibility and democracy.

— from Wikipedia

Tonight, Joshua spilled out a revelation quite surprising to me that it’s not his dream to travel around the world.  My husband went inside the room and said it was Daddy and Mommy’s dream.  I told him, maybe after our trip to America he’ll think differently.  And even if he felt the same, that I’d still be here to listen to his dreams and we’ll work out a way and support each other through those dreams as a family even if others in the family had different dreams.  I, too am rethinking this dream drive around the world.  Like my son, Joshua, I also want to be more settled in one place, but I also want to travel.  Perhaps this American road trip will be the longest stretch (four months) we will do and then after that we’ll settle in one place and travel only for a month or so max at a time.  So it’s still going around the world but in segments.  There’s also way of worldschooling that can be done locally by doing mini discovery trips, welcoming travelers, opening eyes to culture and pushing the creativity envelope.

There was a worldschooling Mom who railed about her child who just wanted to play on the computer the whole day and wasn’t interested in traveling and there she was planning trips left and right with aplomb.  The advice she got from others gently reassured her to get on the road with her child and gradually, there would be changes.

Dreams are tricky when you’re in a family and they don’t match up or they are in conflict.  But there’s also a way of threshing out differences so conflicts turn into something that complement each other.  How?  Sheer perseverance and by being sensitive to all members of the family – the parents and the children, the adult and the young, according equal respect to each and every one.

374

 

371

370

372

Who’s In?

236

PROPOSED TIMELINE AND GENERAL STRATEGY FOR STARTING A SELF-DIRECTED LEARNING CENTER IN THE PHILIPPINES (AND EVENTUALLY CHINA)

July 2017

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?

August 2017

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.

October 2017

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

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. Promote Peter Gray’s talk about self-directed education in Manila. Coordinate dates with the conference organizers who originally invited him to Manila.

237

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.

 

Gray’s Groupie

56

In his cool dude way, Phenix’s introduction of each speaker is very brief which is ideal because people can always read the bio on the program and dispense with the formality.  A graduate of the Holistic School, Phenix confessed to the audience point blank, “I never attended classes.  If you were given the choice to attend class or this . . . . ,” he said gesturing with sweeping arms towards the lush forest surrounding us, “what would you do?” Like introducing the next set in a rock concert, Phenix intones into the mic, “Let’s give it up for Peter Gray!”

The audience cheer like groupies.  Peter speaks about “The Biology of Education: How Children Learn through Free Play and Exploration,” linking Karl Groo’s Practice Theory of Play with his own study of children in hunter-gatherer cultures.  Peter did his study by contacting the anthropologists who closely studied hunter-gatherer communities around the world and asking them about their observations of children.

Peter then went to connect this research with his survey of students who attended the Sudbury Valley, a democratic school in Massachusetts where his son chose to go and wouldn’t have it any other way after his bad experience with regular school.  Peter then enumerates what he believes is the “optimal context for self-education” through this study of Sudbury echoing certain points in hunter-gatherer societies:

  1. The social expectation (and reality) that education is children’s responsibility
  2. Unlimited freedom to play, explore and pursue own interests
  3. Opportunity to play with the tools of the culture
  4. Access to a variety of caring adults, who are helpers, not judges
  5. Free age mixing among children and adolescents
  6. Immersion in a stable, moral, democratic community

Parents may unknowingly take away from children the drive to be self-directed by exerting too much control.  “The world has become worse for young people,” Peter said.  The degree to which you feel you are in control of your life plays is important.  “People who lack this internal locus of control are prone to depression and anxiety.   How can children learn how to take control of their life if they can’t be allowed to play without adults?”

Historical evidence and social science research shows that the decline of play over the last sixty years in America is correlated with the rise of social and emotional disorders.  Peter points out, 1) five to eight-fold rise in major depression and anxiety disorders in children, 2) four-fold rise in suicide rate for children under age 15; decline in internal locus of control, 3) increased narcissism, decreased empathy.
Regarding unschoolers, Peter commented that majority who responded to his survey became responsible and self-directed adults.  It’s important that parents allow opportunities for children to play and interact with others and be immersed in community life.  “Peers play a protective psychological role from parents.  If you have good friends, you’ll be okay.”
Since I was interested in exploring Project Based Learning, I asked Peter Gray about it and he expressed some doubts as to whether some of the projects are truly undertaken out of passion or merely out of duty since they may be required by the teacher or chosen by group mates.  The problem with academia sometimes is that even people pursuing PhD’s do so out of a calculated move for career advancement rather than a pure interest in the subject or a sincere desire to solve a problem.

When he started his research work on Sudbury Valley School and on unschoolers, Peter came in skeptical but the results show the favorable potential of unschooling and that parents in democratic schools like Sudbury don’t have to worry too much.  In a similar way, my quest to visit alternative schools while driving around the world is a search for answers.  Short visits can’t take the place of in-depth studies such as those conducted by Peter Gray but talking to practitioners could still offer some degree of enlightenment.

And who knows one day, what the Gray groupie can grow up to be.

5

Certified fan!  I ended up in this conference because of Peter Gray.  I emailed him about my thesis proposal linking nature, creativity and play and he responded by telling me about APDEC in Taiwan. 

Check out Peter Gray’s Blog Freedom to Learn and his article about Sudbury Valley School.

Peter Gray’s study on unschoolers is available in PDF file from Other Education: The Journal of Educational Alternatives:

Grown Unschoolers’ Evaluation of Their Unschooling Experiences

Grown Unschoolers’ Experiences with Higher Education and Employment

44

Transitioning

437

Today is my last day of teaching at the university.  When I hand in the grades, I’m finally free to be a full-time mom.  It’s so strange to embark on this “jobless state.”  My husband would disagree because it is a big job looking after kids but what I mean by job in this case is paid work.

After graduating from university, I can only remember two times when I didn’t hold a salaried post.  The first was one month between working in Congress and starting work at the Department of Social Welfare and Development.  It was one of the longest, most excruciating month at that moment because I hated the uncertainty of not knowing what to do next.  Being in limbo didn’t agree with me and towards the end of the month, I hit upon the idea of listing down names of people I admire and dream of working for, contacted the first one on the list and got my next job with her as an executive assistant, a case of the universe conspiring to give you what you want.

The second jobless period was the one year I battled cancer.  Oddly, it was not as excruciating as that month in employment limbo.  Because I was pregnant with my second child, I was hopeful, optimistic and jubilant.  My miracle baby was born healthy despite my going through chemotherapy while he was in my tummy.

After two years working as an English teacher in a Chinese university, I am now again entering but this time deliberately – an indefinite, no-formal-job status zone.  On my own volition, I chose to give up my current “stable” life for adventure on the road with my husband and sons.  No more tension between wanting to finish my work and wanting to be with my children.  Now at last, family always comes first.  How many times have I felt guilty preparing lessons for class or grading papers before attending to Jimmy who wants to play or preventing world war two from erupting between two warring factions.

There would still be tensions but they would be of a different cause and nature.  For example, my husband and I both agree in principle to homeschool and roadschool our kids.  However, we sit at different points within a wide spectrum.  Thankfully, at least we’re not at opposite or extreme ends.

He leans towards unschooling and while I believe in this as well, I am not keen on going all out unschooling during the first few years.  I believe the three R’s — reading, writing and arithmetic — should be acquired first, using more curriculum based methods like homeschoolers, unlike unschoolers who do not have a curriculum since their curriculum is whatever the child is interested in.

In primary school, the kids would spend around seven hours in class.  Now, they only spend less than an hour a day getting lessons from my husband and me plus tutorials thrice a week.  I would like to expand that to have daily tutorials but my husband prefers to teach them on our own.

While it’s wonderful and rare that both parents are able to be at home for their children, I believe we can learn a lot from others who have more experience and patience teaching young kids.  They say it is easier to teach other kids than one’s own. Watching others teach my sons would allow me to see other perspectives that can only enrich my way of instruction.

So I hope and pray that my husband lets me to arrange tutors for our children — both face-to-face and online to able to compare techniques.  Eventually, we might have to rely more on Skype tutors because we would be travelling a lot so it’s good to try them out to find a good fit.  Other homeschoolers and unschoolers around the world depend partly on tutors for their children.  Parents combine teaching subjects they are most comfortable with and getting experts in other areas.  For instance, my sister who homeschools her thirteen-year old daughter, teaches her science, history, English and the bible but hires tutors for math and Filipino.

Perhaps there is more pressure on me to undertake a more structured format because I am responsible for enrolling the kids at TMA, a homeschool provider in the Philippines that helps families comply with government regulations regarding education.  Beacause of this, I am more conscious than my husband about fulfilling academic requirements.  This September, Joshua is scheduled to take a test at TMA so that he can be enrolled in Grade 1.  From then on, the kids will take tests at TMA every year and we will have to submit quarterly portfolios of their work.  In the future, should they wish to attend high school or university, they can more easily do so even if they are homeschooled because of the records and documentation of TMA.

 
My friend and fellow-homeschooler, Grace told me that it is important for husband and wife to communicate about and agree on the methods of homeschooling because children are very clever.  They can spot if there is a difference in styles and can use it to get their way.   At the end of the day, my husband and I both want what’s best for our children.  We may disagree about the definition of “best” but we can always negotiate the details.

438