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!

Advertisements

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?

Appreciation!

I am very thankful, friends, for all your thoughtful responses. I’ve been “off-line” for about the last week due to having thyroid surgery, and it may take a bit of time for me to digest all your comments and respond. In the mean time, I am posting some photos and things about what we have actually done, and are continuing to do as part of our homeschooling this year.

In peace,

Kristin

A Guarded Education

When it was used in centuries past, that phrase meant educating young Quakers outside the temptations and distractions of the non-Quaker world. The idea was to be in the world but not of it. Quaker schools like Westtown, Moses Brown, Penn Charter, etc. were set up to do the job. As many have pointed out, they have all gone pretty mainstream with a minority of their faculty and student populations being Friends, and most are now separate from the Meetings which used to oversee their operation.

My husband and I are engaged in the guarded education of our children at home not terribly dissimilarly from those old Quaker schools’ original intent. We don’t like the culture or basic assumptions of the public schools in our area both because they are not centered on the development and welfare of children, and because they are subject to the winds of whatever the current reform package demands.

We want Berit and Dana to have their instruction match their learning needs (both have Dyslexia) and move at a pace that allows them to really learn, not match the pace of the group. We don’t have faith in the “special” education system, and we want our kids to see their specialness in broader terms. We are not seeking to divorce them from the modern world – they have a TV and computers, like to shop at Old Navy, etc. – but we want them to be accustomed to living simply and to living outside the consuming trends of fashion.

We are guarding their innocence and childhood too. Both of us see kids under significant stress in our daily work as educators, especially the ones who have some obstacle to smooth learning. If there is any simple thing that I have learned in 22 years of teaching it is that stressed out kids are more likely to have trouble learning and social growing (to say nothing of physical growing) than kids who have time to breathe, to inquire, and to follow their inclinations. Dana has been fascinated by birds this year and has spent whole days watching the activities at her feeder set-up. She wouldn’t have had the time if she were in regular school. I snuck in math (how many birds? which types? how much of each kind of seed?) and science and drawing, and poetry, everything in terms of birds. Berit has gone from one half hour lesson on her harp and being reminded to practice, to an hour lesson and needing to be prompted to do something else. This would not have happened in a school context. Both love Shakespeare and have no idea that its supposed to be “hard.” They are relatively unsophisticated compared to the kids I see in most of the schools, and that’s just fine. They will have decades of being adults. I’m happy that they are having a childhood.

I hope what we are doing guards them from those aspects of the world which would interfere with their learning to listen to that still small voice while they are growing up. I hope we are nurturing their ability to hear it and to respond.

What is Quaker about our Homeschooling?: Part II An attempt at a statement of Faith and Practice

The central guide for us are the leadings on faith and practice (small f and p, not meant to refer only to the published F&P) handed down through Philadelphia Yearly Meeting (http://www.pym.org).
They are principles, and ways of putting them into action, that center on the teachings and life of Jesus and on keeping free of anything that might distract one from connection to The Light Within. That Light is , we believe, that of God in each person: “that Divine Spirit which would lead them into all truth” (George Fox, Journal).
That said, there have been many changes to how Quakers of this type (there are others) interpret how to behave, worship, dress, etc. All those things can and do generate long and deep conversations but the focus here is on how we live and teach our children at home.
In these entries I’ll talk about things like a “guarded education,” simplicity and plainness, discipline, and the ways that the Quaker culture in which I was raised influences our homeschooling now.
I should make the caveat here that these are MY statements of faith and practice and that I don’t speak for all of Quakerdom.

What’s Quaker about our homeschooling? Part 1: The role, or lack thereof, that our Meeting takes in it, a painful story.

Well, first, we are. I was raised in Philadelphia Yearly Meeting, which my husband joined when we married and into which our children were born. We’ve never moved our membership even though we live outside PYM boundaries now, because we haven’t found a meeting community that feels enough like home. It’s probably a wild goose chase kind of thing, hoping to find one, but my heart can’t seem to abandon the idea. We’d live closer to home but the homeschooling laws are difficult in PA and my husband’s job is here. We’d be hard pressed to afford to live there too.

We have attended three of the meetings here, and did find one that we thought was a good fit until we asked them to be the supervisory organization for our homeschooling effort. In our state you can homeschool under the supervision of the public school district with almost no support, under the care of your religions organization, or an approved correspondence program. We now use the Calvert-Jemicy pilot program for kids with LLD (language learning disability), a state approved correspondence curriculum for Dana, and a combination of Oak Meadow 7, Live Education!, and elements of Dana’s curriculum for Berit under the auspices of the public school district. This means we have an apt with a rep of the district twice a school year who assesses whether or not we are meeting minimum requirements.

We wanted a more corporately discerned supervision – yes, more guidance and supervision for our homeschooling than is available from the state, and we wanted it in the form of a committee from the meeting. The meeting we were attending has an unusual number of educators in it and an unusual number of life-long Friends – not to say “Birthright,” who grew up as I did in PYM. We’d asked for, and received, the support and critique of a committee for clearness about going the homeschool route to meet our daughters’ learning needs, and had their approval to ask the meeting to extend beyond making that decision into oversight of the project. I made a proposal to the meeting and in the discussion held in the meeting for business, a member of the meeting said “I oppose Kristin, her vision, and everything she stands for.”

I was stunned. The meeting was silent. No one responded, and I said, somewhat choked, that such a response made me want to take my children and never come back. I was in tears – not a frequent thing for me – when I slipped out the door and headed for home. One member came outside to say she was sorry that I was upset and gave me a hug. I appreciated it! I had never in my 44 years seen such behavior in a meeting for business. The man who spoke did not know me, we had exchanged “good mornings” but had no other contact. I don’t know what he meant by my “vision” or what I stand for, as he would have had no knowledge of either. I guess he thought he did, though. Several of the members of this meeting had known me for almost 15 years, and knew my background in PYM because they had grown up there too.

A few days passed by and I received a letter – very formal – written by one of the people I had known for many years both professionally (we both taught at the Friends school here at the same time) and in the meeting context. She was writing on the behalf of the Worship and Oversight committee and said that I had prevented dialog by leaving meeting so quickly. I responded informally – hand written – and addressed to her by name, saying that everyone there had my contact information and no one had phoned, emailed, dropped by, or written other than she. That sending me a formal letter which had the feel of a letter from the authority, was at least off the mark. I wrote that I had left the meeting when I did in shock and hurt, not in possession of myself nor in a fit state to continue participation in the Light. What troubled me most was that someone would say such a thing as the man had at all, never mind in a meeting for worship with a concern for business, and that the rest of the group would sit there doing nothing in response. I should say that from the time he spoke to the time I left was at least 15 mins. Nothing moves very fast in a Friends Meeting, and it was the deepening shock over his remark and the lack of response that moved me outside.

The clerk has known me for many years, grew up herself in a monthly meeting adjacent to the one in which I grew up, and had taught with me at another school in this area. She’d been on the clearness committee, and we have been friends (small f) for a loooooong time. In fact, when she had given up attending meeting some years back, because the one we’d both attended in town, connected to the Friends School, was so much UNLIKE home for us that we’d both quit, I invited and encouraged her to come to the meeting out in the country where – much later – this MFB was taking place. She had come with me and then on her own and was now clerk! She is a wise and gentle soul, one I respect and for whom I have considerable affection. I still don’t know what she was thinking when this man spoke. She did say later, that she wanted me to come back and educate the meeting about homeschooling in general and ours in particular. My response was that the hurt and dismay I felt had eclipsed that topic altogether. What I wanted to know about was how this group conceived of the Quaker process? (for more on that see http://www.nyym.org/quakerism/uqp.html#mfb) It sure wasn’t anything I recognized. I told her that I was struggling with my own emotional responses, including anger, and that I was not ready to return to the meeting, wouldn’t be until I had settled down and could approach the subject and the assembled from a position of greater openness.

I’ve gone to meeting since then – 5 years now – but not to meeting for business. I have declined the invitation to be a crusader for home schooling, that was not my errand and I think to take it up would mask the deeper concern. I resigned from the First Day School committee and have been silent in Meeting for Worship when I go. There’s a woman who makes it a priority to greet me each time I go with exaggerated sweetness – not a person I know, but she was there that day. My effort is to meet the gesture with openness. I’d give myself a C- on that. All I have been able to manage is a weak “thank you.” There are a few who have spoken privately to me about their disquiet on the matter, and their wish that I would confront it, and one or two who “get” that in refusing to confront it, I am leaving it open. Only one, the clerk I mentioned, who gets that I am still struggling with my own reaction, and have to deal with myself, hold myself in the light, before I can reach out to engage the group again, that’s if I ever feel led to do so.

Berit and Dana are disinclined to attend because the rest of the children are significantly younger than they and the FDS is naturally aimed at the age group most represented, so they tend to sit in meeting with me for the duration. My husband will only attend if I beg him. His anger has been harder to soften because he was not there that day, and feels some agitation about what his role or gallantry might have been. When he does go, he departs the second MFW has risen.

All this has altered the notion I had of how Quaker Homeschooling would go in our household. Part 2 will focus on how it actually does go!

Newer entries »