Quaker homeschooling conference?

Now that Learning Monthly Meeting is up and running, I think it’s time to pull together a conference on homeschooling among Friends. What do you think?

PYM glow

An old friend of mine from when we were Young Friends, is working with the current Young Friends group here. His son is here too, just a little older than Berit. It is fun to see the next generation together, and growing in the metaphorical soil that nurtured us. Meanwhile there has been much wrestling with how to manage a budget in which the income is not enough for the usual purposes. Programming for the children & adolescents is easier to cut than some other things. I’m going to resist the urge to rant on the subject for the moment, in favor of enjoying the good and deep conversations, the rising silences, the pleasure of being among Friends. I’ll rant later.

Philadelphia Yearly Meeting, Annual Sessions 2011

The girls and I are here, among Friends and as the program got under way last night, it was a treat to see Berit and Dana with other young Friends. I got to chat with another old young Friend, after too many years apart. This morning the girls are off on a hike with their middle and high school groups. Happy and without a backward look! I’m for the plenary. Knitting bag on my shoulder, I’ll be interested in all the business but keeping an eye out for home school interests. More later!

Meditations on Quaker Education via Howard Brinton

Brinton says: “There is a vast difference between preparing to meet college entrance requirements and preparing for the kingdom of heaven. But there was a time when Quakerism had a definite philosophy of life which resulted in a definite standard of living embodied in a real community of persons. The purpose of education was to provide training for the kind of living which was implicit in the nature of Quakerism.[Quaker education in theory and practice p. 20]”

Can we prepare for living a Quaker life, college, and heaven at the same time? I tend to think that getting the patterns of our living here and now as close to what we imagine, are lead to imagine, heaven to require, ought to be our effort, and that we can raise our children within that effort. If college preparation is a part of what we think important for them, we should be able to do that in the mix. What do you think?

Berit at Friends Music Camp

Berit in BarnesvilleSuddenly Berit is grown up enough to go away for a month to FMC at Olney Friends School for music and Friendship.  She will be going to a magnate school in the fall for serious music study too.  Over the month at FMC she’s learned to play guitar and have room mates, be on Quaker style committees, cook with a group for a bigger one, and all the interpersonal things that go with a Quaker kids conference.  She’s had the best roots I could figure out to provide, now for the wings part! Sigh

Pondering Quaker education again

How could a curriculum be kept simple without being insufficient?
Recently I was working with a student at Westtown School who was asked to reflect, in essay form, on the testimony on simplicity in Quaker life.  He was to read the queries on the subject from the current Faith and Practice of Philadelphia Yearly Meeting, and one of those was “How do I manage my commitments so that over-commitment, worry and stress do not diminish my integrity”
One way this boy could attempt to satisfy the implied injunction would be to steer clear of all social engagements of his own, and use all of his discretionary time to work on his assignments.  That would occasion another query about what time and activities does he maintain in is schedule for the refreshment of his human relationships and his balance of fun with work? It is a difficult problem to solve because, for example, this boy is given homework in each subject that he studies: English, Physics, Geometry, Peace and Justice, Quakerism, and  Latin. The Geometry alone is designed to take an hour. He has two hours each evening for doing homework, and another 45 minutes during each school day.  If he devotes an hour to his math class homework, and if the other assignments are similar in their demands, how can he complete the assigned work for each evening in time? To further complicate the matter, on a recent evening, the same boy was required to attend a dinner for the track team, of which he is a member, and a dance recital.
These occurred during what was to have been his dinner time and the first of his 2 hours of study hall that evening. Although the schedule is not so crammed each evening, the time allotment given each student is the same, and this makes the assumption that each student will need the same amount of time to complete their assignments.
In thinking about how to set up an educational paradigm which would reflect Quaker testimonies on simplicity and the value of the individual, the respect for differences, etc.  I wonder what the solution might be? First, the curriculum and the timetable for its use would have to respond to that of God in each student. I’ll translate that into meeting the strengths of the individual, and providing support for the individual’s weaknesses.  How might that be done if we are educating children in groups with a teacher student ratio of 1 to 20? We might have to shrink that ratio to something like 1 to 5. We might have to open the timetable so that benchmarks could be reached at different times by different students. We might not group children by age as often, and we might want to be more selective about the purposes for which we group them, when we do. For example we might make groups for learning objectives like long division, or level 1 Spanish. We could group for developmental stage – everyone who is on the edge of puberty and needs to know a few things about what’s going on in their bodies; such groups could be further refined by gender.
The bottom line here is to center the instructional plans on the people needing the instruction, rather than on what is most expedient for those in charge of the budget, or similar focus, distant from the person-to-person work of teaching and learning.
That would mean significant change, and it would mean taking on the largely unrecognized substrata of our beliefs about what children are relative to adults.
If we honor the testimony of equality among people, we need to decouple “equality” from “sameness” in a number of ways. First, we have to dispatch the idea that adult authority over children is a necessary part of an educational system.
What would happen if childhood were respected, and cherished in school?

An idea for Quaker Homeschooling

I have an idea for creating a community for homeschooling among Friends and I want to float it here for consideration and constructive critique in the Light.  This is essentially what I proposed to the Meeting we attend years ago with the idea that it would be under the care of that Meeting.  The proposal was not accepted but I wonder now if it could be done outside of any existing Monthly Meeting and perhaps developing as an entity – a Monthly Meeting – of its own.

In Maryland, where we live, homeschoolers have a choice of  being “supervised” by their school district or by a distance/correspondence school or group “operated by a bona fide church organization.”  Whichever is chosen by the family, the organization must review the student’s program of study twice a year to assess whether or not the student is receiving “regular and thorough” instruction in the usual school subjects. “Regular and thorough” can mean a lot of different things from unschooling to a very school-like distance learning program.  The state or district cannot prescribe what approach the family should take.  Many Maryland homeschooling families sign up with an “umbrella” group which vouches to the state and district for the “regular and thorough” instruction of the student and the family then meets with the umbrella group’s representative rather than the person from the public school district.  The most prominent of these is a non-denominational “bona fide church organization” (http://www.tlci.us).  The point here is that the required “supervision” in Maryland can range from the very minimal two brief meetings a year of the parent with the school district representative, to a very much richer and more supportive community relationship. I don’t know how it might mesh with other states’ laws, but I imagine it wouldn’t violate them.

So, the idea I propose is a Monthly Meeting for worship with a concern for homeschooling which would opperate like any other Meeting for Worship with a concern for business, but members might raise issues troubling them or inspiring them, committees might be convened and then report for things like field trips or foreign language, Quaker studies, college planning, or Quaker life at home.  The group might have weekly meetings for worship or members might belong to regular monthly meetings in addition to the home schooling one or they might not.  Students might present individual projects to the group, they might get together for shared concerns or interests, dare I say pot-lucks?  I imagine local monthly groups, which could connect in regional quarterly groups with a session at their yearly meeting or parallel to it, and even connections at a national (international?) level.

What do you think?

Meeting today

Dana and I went to meeting this morning, for the first time in a long time. Now that school is out, I don’t have students on the weekend so I’m not as tired on Sunday morning, and don’t have to rush. The day was beautiful and, in this kind of weather, meeting is held outside on the back porch of the meetinghouse, overlooking the graveyard. That might sound morbid but really it is lovely. The old stones are closest to the porch and are covered in yellow-green lichen. There are big old cedar trees in which blue birds are nesting. Dana added three nests to her list, including the blue birds and a white breasted nuthatch.

No one spoke today, so it was birdsong and tree rustle, bicycle wheels on the road below the meeting house, and an occasional car. The breeze was fresh and cool. When the other children went to first day school, the Friend who is teaching it motioned an invitation to Dana, but she declined. She sat beside me through the hour, much as anyone else of the variety of ages did.

When announcements were made at the rise of meeting, one was about a group who will share a pot luck dinner on Tuesday, followed by a worship/meditation sharing while knitting or doing other handwork. Dana sought the Friend who had made the announcement to say she’d like to attend and to ask what she should bring. Folks remarked that she had elected to stay in meeting rather than go to FDS, and that they’d never had a child to the handwork worship sharing group before. Dana told them about her bird feeding station and her habit of sitting still so the birds will not mind her being there. One Friend remarked that this must be the explanation for Dana’s being able to sit quietly in meeting for worship, unusual for a ten year old. She replied that sitting with the birds is her own meeting for worship time, just not so many people. Dana asked if I would drive her to the handwork group and bring my knitting too, further suggesting that she might bring cucumber soup, and this was greeted with pleasure. Developments to follow!

Integrity & Authenticity

In terms of our Quaker homeschooling, these two values are vital and central. One of the most important reasons for teaching our girls at home has to do with the quality of their learning, which is not a clear and individual focus in schools, despite NCLB. Berit and Dana both have Dyslexia and ADD – (Dana with the H). In school, the move-with-the-group method is hard on them. Berit needs to go more slowly than the average kid with regard to writing and reading as well as math, while she is beyond her age group in terms of comprehension and music (the harp), Dana is quick but her ability to focus attention wavers, and her self-regulation is immature. In a group setting she coasts and doesn’t internalize or authentically learn as well. Her teachers always sing her praises, but worry about work getting done but not absorbed. In a one-to-one setting they both thrive. The integrity of their learning is deep and honestly measurable.

The authenticity part has to do with framing the lesson in a way that is most meaningful to the child. Dana is fascinated by birds, so we couch her lessons in terms of ornithology whenever possible. Her measurements of how much bird seed her station uses in a week, for example make authentic use of her math learning, her observations of what bird species visit her station and their behavior employ her science skills, and she learns about being still so that the birds will accept her presence. She keeps a daily journal of her observations which includes record keeping and writing based on her observations. She does have schoolish lessons too: math word problems reflecting invented situations, grammar exercises emphasizing a rule but about as disconnected from authentic language use as any we ever had in school, and some Calvert/Jemicy concept lessons that really make us laugh. One of those involved cutting out a picture of a frog named Brad and pretending to feed him grapes to demonstrate consonant blends at the start of a word. We had a good hoot over that one, but our favorite was the curriculum directed me to squint at Dana and ask her “what am I doing?” in the service of getting the “qu” sound in focus. She looked at me as though I had lost my mind and said “I don’t know! Are you ok?” and it took some minutes of laughing before we discussed the phoneme and resorted to Dr. Seuss’ ABC for a clearer lesson on it. “The quick queen of Quincy and her quacking quackeroo” doesn’t sound authentic, but it was more so than my scripted squinting at her.

The integrity of their learning and the authenticity of it is probably the most important pedagogical goal we have in our homeschooling. This connects, of course, with our values for a guarded education and simplicity, plainness, and reverence in our faith and practice as Friends every day.

Some links to more scholarly treatments of authentic learning and the context of learning

Accountability

I have been thinking about this word since it was part of what responders interpreted me to be wanting when they read my story about our meeting and our homeschooling. I don’t think that word captures what I was after, really. What I wanted was Quaker process, corporate discernment, a collaboration in holding my daughter’s education in the light. A committee which would recommend, assist with seeing the way ahead, question.  That would be Quaker practice in homeschool oversight. The committee for clearness on the way forward would have been great in this role, had it continued. It is true that I wanted more heads than mine and my husband’s attending to the matter in part to catch what we might miss, and in that sense I did want a kind of accountability, I guess, but not in the sense of answering to an authority who would praise or blame.  Is that what you meant by “accountability” or have I misinterpreted?

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