Ivan Illich, Literacy, Schooling, Teaching

Reflections on Illich 04: Why so long to do such simple stuff (and then get it wrong at the end of the process)

Illich, I. (1970). Deschooling Society. Cuernavaca, Mexico: CIDOC.  Downloadable from: http://www.preservenet.com/theory/Illich/Deschooling/intro.html

pp. 13-14  “There are very few skills that cannot be mastered by intensive drill over a relatively short time at a cost far less than the cost of 12 years of schooling.”

My initial training in schooling was as a Primary Teacher.  I have qualifications and experience at every level of schooling: Diploma of Teaching (Primary), Bachelor of Education, Master of Education (Leadership), Doctor of Philosophy (Education) and Certificate IV in Training and Assessment (Vocational Training of Adults).  I also have training in the teaching of reading and writing: a Certificate in the 4S Literacy Program, a Certificate in Spalding Phonics, and an Advanced Certificate in LEM Phonics.

I have taught at all age levels from Pre-school, through High School, vocational education for post secondary students, and have tutored a very large number of university students, helping them with their undergraduate studies.

I have taught in cross-cultural contexts people from a very large range of ethnic and language backgrounds: from China, Taiwan, Korea, Maldives, South Sudan, Singapore, Malaysia, Papua New Guinea, Thailand, and other places.

I have worked with Australian Aboriginal students, particularly from the Warlpiri nation, both in and through English and in and through their native language, Warlpiri.

I think I know a little about what I am talking about when discussing education and schooling. 

Well, when I ran a small tutoring business, providing help to illiterate children and adults who had been going to school for many years, or who had left school after many years of attendance, it amazed me how very short a time it took to get the students to independently read and write using an Intensive Phonics method.  I had one student, who had been ascertained Level 7 Learning Disabled, who had an attention span of only 2-5 seconds in the classroom, who could not read and write by the end of primary (elementary) school. Over a four-week period he developed an attention span of up to 20 minutes a session, and wrote beautifully crafted words, correctly spelled, in properly formed sentences, and then was able to read them back to me accurately.

Why couldn’t seven years of primary schooling produce the result that I was able to produce in four weeks?  I have the dated befores and afters in my files, for anyone who wants evidence.  And yet, repeatedly, I have been persecuted, bullied, and forbidden to use in my school classrooms the techniques that I used successfully in my tutoring business.

Anyone can teach children to read and write.  It does not take a long time.  It does not require complex resources, and years of study and preparation.  I can teach anyone who wants to learn, how to teach their child to be an independent reader and writer in a matter of moths for a younger child, and in a few weeks for an older child.  It is not hard.  It is not a mystery, and it does not take four years teacher-training, and then 12 to 13 years of application in a school (and even then a very large number of school graduates cannot read and write) to produce the results.

There is something wrong with schools–no, there are lot of things wrong with schools–and one of those things is the length of time it takes to do badly what really only should take a short time to do well.

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Bursts of Inspiration in Other Directions

Analysis of the Poem: ‘On His Blindness’ by John Milton

When I consider how my light is spent,
Ere half my days in this dark world and wide,
And that one talent which is death to hide
Lodged with me useless, though my soul more bent
To serve therewith my Maker, and present
My true account, lest He returning chide;
‘Doth God exact day-labour, light denied?’
I fondly ask: but Patience, to prevent
That murmur, soon replies, ‘God doth not need
Either man’s work or his own gifts. Who best
Bear his mild yoke, they serve him best: his state
Is kingly: thousands at his bidding speed
And post o’er land and ocean without rest;
They also serve who only stand and wait.’

From an early age, John Milton knew that God had called him to a great purpose, and his Puritan background had convinced him that the God Who calls a man also calls him to account at the conclusion of his life. So are we all called to give an account of the use of the gifts and talents that God has entrusted to us. ‘On His Blindness’ expresses Milton’s experience of being frustrated in his desire to fulfill the call upon his life. Normally, blindness limits what an individual is able to achieve. Milton had hoped to create an epic that would bring glory to the name of the Lord, but his premature blindness threatened to frustrate that aspiration.

Complimenting the above, however, Milton has revealed the sovereign grace of his “Maker”. The real purpose of the poem is to display the goodness of God. God does “…exact day-labour …”, but at the same time He “doth not need Either man’s work or his own gifts.” The Scriptures clearly teach that even the “plowing of the wicked is sin”, but God has saved us by grace through faith. Our good works will not save us; we have been saved for good works that God has prepared beforehand that we should walk in them. The lesson of the poem is that those good works are of God’s choosing, and if He chooses that we serve Him by sitting still in His presence, then we are not to question His “kingly” state.

In a masterful way, Milton has recreated the emotional journey that he must have travelled whilst coming to grips with his blindness. As with us all, when faced with tragedy in our lives, Milton expresses his personal pain and frustration. Eight times he writes, “I:, “me” or “my”; self being the focus. The focus shifts at the volta. The latter portion of the sonnet brings God into the focus. From this new perspective, the exacting harshness of the “Maker” is replaced with the gracious enabling of “Patience”.

The sonnet is pregnant with skillful use of poetic tools. If the reader will allow the work its proper gestation period, birth will be given to a rich and meaningful experience. The sonnet is a poetic form that has been used to express important subjects. A man’s wrestling with his loss of sight is a very appropriate subject for the genre. It is interesting to note that the number four, in the Bible, speaks of the earth. The first two quatrains deal with Milton’s earthly perspective. On the other hand, the number three speaks of the Trinity, and it is in the final two groups of three lines that Milton sees the situation from a heavenly perspective.

With the contrast of perspective there is also a contrast of language used. We feel a sense of terseness in the use of words like, “useless”, and “chide”. After the volta, however, “mild yoke”, “rest” and “wait” help to create for us a feeling of peace and gentleness. Such contrast serves to underscore the contrast of perspectives. Milton judiciously uses alliteration, i.e. “Ere half my days in this dark world and wide,” and aurally unites his images.

As with the majority of the poetry from the Puritan period, Milton’s intimate knowledge of the Scriptures is evident throughout the sonnet. He alludes to many Biblical references. In the Gospel of Matthew it is recorded that Jesus equated good works with light. Milton complains that his capacity to do good works is finished; his “light is spent”. The parable of the talents is about a slothful man who hid his talent, and was rebuked by the Master upon His return. So Milton fears the day of accountability before his “Maker” because of “that one talent which is death to hide”. The reference to “day-labour” is of course a reference to the parable of the Owner of the vineyard Who employed labourers at different times of the day, and rewarded each the same wages, even though their job descriptions were vastly different. The reference to “mild yoke” points to the command of Jesus that we are to take His yoke upon us, for His yoke is easy and His burden is light.

The Puritan doctrine of the Sovereignty of God, and the gratuitous nature of God’s grace is implicit in the lines:

……………………………… ‘God doth not need
Either man’s work or his own gifts.

………………………………………………….. his state
Is kingly: thousands at his bidding speed,
And post o’er land and ocean without rest;

A sovereign God needs nothing from the hand of man. Such knowledge reduces us to humility before such an awesome God. On the other hand, the grace that allows us to “stand and wait” in the presence of a Holy and Righteous God, fills us with love and affection.

This sonnet provides us with a model of a Christian response to suffering. Few of us have suffered for our faith unto the shedding of blood. Few of us have wrestled with God in the way that Milton has wrestled with God, and as a consequence gained a perspective of life that enabled him — having come to grips with his handicap — to write one of the greatest poems in the English language, ‘Paradise Lost’. This sonnet is good poetry. This sonnet is a worthwhile experience for a Christian. This sonnet is an inspiration to obey the injunction, “In every thing give thanks, for this is the will of God, in Christ Jesus, concerning you”.

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Ivan Illich, Teaching

Reflections on Illich 03: Teaching is not all there is to learning, and it is not restricted to schools and schooling

Illich, I. (1970). Deschooling Society. Cuernavaca, Mexico: CIDOC.  Downloadable from: http://www.preservenet.com/theory/Illich/Deschooling/intro.html

p. 13  “A … major illusion on which the school system rests is that most learning is the result of teaching.  Teaching, it is true, may contribute to certain kinds of leaning under certain circumstances.  But most people acquire most of their knowledge outside school, and in school only insofar as school, … has become their place of confinement during an increasing part of their lives.”

In my dissertation (pp. 122 – 136) I argue that the office/ministry of teacher has a place in a society.  However, teachers must function in their teaching roles as marketplace entrepreneurs, under the instruction of church officers, and engaging parents directly with free-market contracts.  There must be no compulsion in the contractual relationship, no age or time restrictions and no restrictions to location. 

Teaching has a valid role to play in the education of a student, but there must not be a prescription around who is to be the teacher at what particular stage in the student’s educational journey.  This must be determined by the parent, in consultation with the child (in the case of older children).  But there should be no impediment to others being involved in the teaching events.

When the compulsion is taken out of the equation, then teaching events also become learning events.  When young people are engaged in things that they have a passion about, then they will be much more receptive to the teaching that is taking place — if teaching is what is needed for learning to occur.

It is true, most of the real learning that takes place is after the teaching has ceased.  I think of driving a car, for instance.  When I wanted to learn to drive a car, I sourced a driving instructor (a specialist teacher of a specific skill).  This was a family friend who was willing for me to learn to drive in his car.  He was not government trained, not government certified, not government supervised.  He simply had a skill that he was willing to share with me, and my parents contracted with him to teach me what he knew.  When he finished teaching me the basics, then I obtained my driver’s license, and then commenced to learn how to drive.  It wasn’t until I was allowed to put the basics to unsupervised practice, that I then learned about driving in various conditions, at various speeds, with various loads, sizes of cars, etc.  I enhanced my learning by adding personal experience and research to what I was taught.

Why does this have to be restricted to learning how to drive a car?  Could it not equally apply to learning how to read, learning how to numerate and apply arithmetic to real world applications (such as shopping, trading, designing, etc.)?

Teaching does not have to take place in a school to be teaching.  Teaching is not all there is to acquiring an education, but it is a valid part of the process.  However, the validity of teaching is not realized by restricting it to the location of a school and the schooling process.

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deschooling, Discipleship, Ivan Illich, Unschooling

Reflections on Illich 02: Schools don’t just school the kids, they school the whole society

Illich, I. (1970). Deschooling Society. Cuernavaca, Mexico: CIDOC.  Downloadable from: http://www.preservenet.com/theory/Illich/Deschooling/intro.html

p. 4  “Everywhere not only education but society as a whole needs ‘deschooling’.”

When I was growing up, the most common comment made to a child when met by an adult was, “What are you going to be when you leave school?”  It was assumed that children went to school.  No one that I knew even thought of a possible alternative.  Schools and schooling are a mindset, and a mental stronghold.  And the stronghold pervades our western culture.  Sure, there are small pockets of those who have thought outside the norm, and there is an even smaller minority who have actually applied themselves to the task of doing stuff that is not like school.

However, due to the pervasiveness of schools and schooling, the very fabric of western culture is schooled.  Schools look very much like total institutions (as I argue in my dissertation pp. 87-90), and the survivors of schools carry institutionalized thinking into the general culture.  This spreads institutional thinking throughout the culture.

Institutional thinking reduces human value and interaction down to systems, rationalization, pragmatism and utilitarianism, that is measured quantitatively.  All in all you’re just another brick in the wall (to paraphrase Waters).

This is in contradistinction to organic thinking.  Organic thinking is creative, entrepreneurial, cooperative, relational and achieves quantity through qualitative measures.

Institutional thinking is top-down.  Organic thinking is top-up; and by top-up I mean the kind of leadership that serves and equips, rather than uses and rules over.

Cultural change must begin with me and mine, and must start with a change of heart.  Having a change of heart, we need to become educated after a process of deschooling.  From my perspective, the best way to become educated is through unschooling, and the most powerful unschooling is that that which is done at the side of a caring and trustworthy mentor, who demonstrates and coaches, equips and encourages, and finally releases into joy and fruitfulness in life.  Over time, this will leaven the whole of the culture with an unschooled mindset.  It has to start somewhere.

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Education, Education Delivery Programs, Home Schools, Home-Based Education, Ivan Illich, Life Learning

Reflections on Illich 01: Home-based education is education in community, not in isolation

The 1970s work of Ivan Illich has been an important point of reference in my PhD dissertation.  In many respects, Illich understood a Biblical Christian approach to the education process.  I am hoping to comment on a series of quotes that are recorded elsewhere in this blog (Illich quotes) .  This is the first of the quotes.  The full text can be obtained:

Illich, I. (1970). Deschooling Society. Cuernavaca, Mexico: CIDOC.  Downloadable from: http://www.preservenet.com/theory/Illich/Deschooling/intro.html

p. xix  “Universal education through schooling is not feasible.  It would be no more feasible if it were attempted by means of alternative institutions built on the style of present schools.  Neither new attitudes of teachers toward their pupils nor the proliferation of educational hardware or software (in classroom or bedroom), nor finally the attempt to expand the pedagogue’s responsibility until it engulfs his pupils’ lifetimes will deliver universal education.  The current search for new educational funnels must be reversed into the search for their institutional inverse: educational webs which heighten the opportunity for each one to transform each moment of his living into one of learning, sharing, and caring.”

Here, as in other parts of Deschooling Society, Illich identifies that schools and schooling, because of their very essence, are unable to deliver true education.  Reformation of schools will not bring about the changes that are necessary to enable education to be accomplished.  Schools are, fundamentally, anti-education.  The thing that schools do best is school its attendees.

No amount of reformation, according to Illich — adjustments to the ways schools are constructed and run, changes in teachers’ attitudes to students, the use of technology in the classroom, and even a change in how students are engaged — will alter the outcomes of schooling.  Schools can only school.  And they can only school, and not educate, because they are total institutions that are designed to control every participant and process within them towards a stated end: egalitarianism and unquestioning submission to the state or some other dominating institution, i.e. an organized religion.  This is not an education, it is indoctrination.  It breeds narrow-mindedness, and an incapacity to think independently.

Schools are not to be reformed, they are to be abandoned altogether, and the vast resources that are taken from families and businesses (through taxation) to fund the schooling industry, should remain with the families and the businesses to fund home-based education and more financially viable private enterprise.

The proper context for education to take place, according to Illich, is living life: “the opportunity for each one to transform each moment of his living into one of learning, sharing, and caring.”  And the support structures for a thorough education are “educational webs.”  Education must be in a context greater than the family.  The family is an essential base from which children move in and out.  Parents are important gate-keepers, who must vet and monitor the kinds of influences that their children are exposed to in the marketplace.  However, no parent is able to provide everything that the child needs for a well-rounded, reality-grounded education. 

There are three essential agents in an education, from a Biblical perspective.  The three agents are: the family, the church and the marketplace.  And the family needs to engage both the church and the marketplace as important sources of educational moments and experiences, not just lock their children away in a family fortress, as some (a small minority) home schooling families do.

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Home Schools, Home-Based Education, Unschooling

Some more discussion around the terms associated with home-based education

This has been posted at the blog site: ‘Go School Yourself” http://goschoolyourself.com/2014/07/18/de-schooling-success-no-summer-break-for-us/comment-page-1/#comment-72  I have reproduced it here to encourage as much discussion around the topic as possible.  I am really interested in what others have to say about the matter.

Thank you so much for your feedback. This looks like the beginnings of a long discussion, and I hope it will expand to include a lot of people who can make detailed comments from their positions in the spectrum. My full PhD dissertation is posted at: https://www.academia.edu/7970729/Deschooling_Unschooling_Australian_Biblical_Christian_Education

I am proposing that we set up a blog site that is specifically dedicated to this topic, and that the developing definitions ultimately be written up into a series of peer-reviewed journal articles which can be released into the marketplace for ongoing feedback and refinement.

It seems to me that a lot of criticism is aimed at home-based educators through straw-man arguments, and that is possible because when the term ‘homeschool’ is being used, it means everything and in so doing, means absolutely nothing (to paraphrase John Lennon). But if, as a movement, we can define the terms, with shades of application that cover the full gamut of manifestations of home-based education, then we can knock down the straw-men with a word.

So, back to your reply. I feel stronger that the term “home-based education” is a good umbrella term. It is home-based, because it is not “home-bound”.

In my research I came across families that were home-bound. Everything that was done in the name of home schooling, replicated the school in the home. The only problem was that the children were separated from anyone outside the home. The focus was academics, without any influence from others in the community. It seemed logical to me that these kinds of manifestations should be called, home schoolers. The term has two words that easily evoke imagery that enables the visualisation of the situation: most of what happens in the home looks very much like what happens at school. In 2013 the New South Wales state government, in Australia, released a set of regulations governing home schooling, and the NSW state government has made it illegal for any kind of home education to take place that is not registered, and to register, the home education must look exactly like what takes place at school. http://www.boardofstudies.nsw.edu.au/parents/pdf_doc/home-edu-info-pack-13.pdf In fact, what is required of home schooling parents is over and above what is achieved by professional teachers in school classrooms. That, from my perspective, is home schooling. It is on the extreme of my proposed model, it exists, and is mandated by state and territory governments in Australia. I talk about it in some detail in my PhD dissertation. From that definition, there are many who call themselves home schoolers (homeschoolers), but who, in actual fact, do not run their home-based education exactly like school (but it must be conceded that some do – I have evidence of that fact).

So, what term can we use that distinguishes home schoolers from other home-based educators? I found the term unschoolers, and I think that term is useful. Unschoolers consciously do stuff that does not look like school.

Now, on the other extreme, there seems to be those families that are so unlike school, that they make the child’s decision-making processes the sole guide to what takes place in life. The child chooses when to go to bed, the child chooses what to eat, the child has free and unfettered access to the internet, the child, in effect, brings him/herself up without any kind of supervision, interruption, guidance, input from the parents; a complete hands-off approach. My research has found such families – they exist – and it is a radical extreme of the home-based education community. And sadly, these are often called homeschoolers, and the outcome of their hands-off parenting gives ammunition for policy makers to label homeschooling as child neglect. I have evidence. This group looks nothing like school, so in that sense they are unschoolers. However, I have identified them as the ‘radical unschoolers’. Now, many who, at the moment, call themselves radical unschoolers would be offended by the characterization that I have made. So, my argument is, those who would be offended by my definition of radical unschoolers, are in fact not radical unschoolers, but unschoolers with a particular emphasis.

Unschooling, therefore, is home-based education that does not look like school, but it does not precluded a whole range of strategies and manifestations of education being employed where appropriate: these manifestations and strategies I have called emphases in my dissertation. In this sub-category called emphases I have included: natural learning; discipleship; child-led learning; child-focused learning, academics-focused learning; life learning/education in life/education for life; apprenticeship; eclectic learning; kitchen table/dining room table education; practical learning; activities-based learning; democratic education; anarchistic education; etc. This means that the pool of unschoolers is a very large pool that includes: unschoolers with a discipleship emphasis; unschoolers with a natural learning emphasis; unschoolers with a gentle-parenting emphasis; unschoolers with a range of emphases at different times and for different children and for different circumstances and opportunities. I have tried to talk about these emphases in my dissertation, and am fully conscious of the fact that a whole PhD dissertation could be developed around just this single point: the words used to describe home-based education.

I am not claiming to be the authority on this matter. I am simply wanting to provoke a discussion, and get as many people involved in the discussion as possible, and then synthesise the discussion into some useful articles that can then be used by the home-based educating community to defend themselves from being all lumped in with the people on the edges of the movement who attract the wrong kind of attention. Don’t get me wrong, I would defend their right to bring up their own children in the way that they think fit. It is not for me to interfere with a parent’s parenting. However, when we talk about these things we need much more precise language to draw from.

Am really looking forward to ongoing discussions around this issue.

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deschooling, Schooling, Unschooling

Much can be learned by unschoolers from Indigenous pedagogies

If you haven’t checked out Tyson Yunkaporta’s web site: http://8ways.wikispaces.com/ then you really need to give it a check out.

Indigenous ways of teaching/learning are very unschooling-friendly.

The best teaching day I had in my whole teaching career was when I employed two of Yunkaporta’s motifs.  I had a great time, and the students in my class had a great time, and time flew, and the day looked nothing like a day at school.  By the end of the day we had learned so much that was really interesting, and the students remembered everything that we had learned.  It was a class of Indigenous students who had previously not produced very much school work.  However, they produced pages and pages of stuff in response to the fun learning that we all had.

The best un-school day in my school career (from my Master of Education (Leadership) dissertation: Warlpiri Business as Pedagogy: A Learning Journey :

“I will illustrate how the application of Indigenous pedagogies makes a difference in the classroom of Indigenous students, by sharing a personal experience. I recorded the following on Thursday 12 July, 2012. It is a reflection on my experience of consciously applying two of Tyson Yunkaporta’s 8 ways Indigenous pedagogies (Yunkaporta, 2009, pp. 35-38). The experience had previously taken place on Monday 28th June, 2012, and it proved to be the most satisfying experience that I have ever had in a classroom.  I had read Tyson Yunkaporta’s (2009) PhD thesis, the night before, Sunday 27th June, 2012, so I was not overly familiar with his ideas, but they rang true, and the two that I used had particularly stuck in my head.

“The students in the class that I worked in were all speakers of Central Desert Indigenous Languages, and English is possibly their third, or fourth or subsequent language. The student cohort was an ungraded Middle School cohort (Years 7-10), made up of boys and girls, notorious for their disengagement from mainstream classroom learning situations. Some of the students were barely literate, and reluctant copiers, and did not exhibit independent writing behaviours. The following is an account of what transpired:

“I work in a private school that is funded at the level of other private schools, but does not collect fees from the parents (because they are amongst the most disadvantaged minority group in Australia). Getting teaching relief for the school is very difficult due to the isolation of the city in which the school is found. The teacher for the ungraded Middle School class phoned in on the Monday morning to say that he would be away for three days for health reasons. As the Curriculum Coordinator, it was my responsibility to act as relief teacher for the class. However, I was only notified half an hour before the school day began of the teacher’s absence. To add difficulty to impossibility, I have morning duties, which have to be attended to, and they occur during the half hour that would otherwise be used for preparation for lessons for the day. There was no time to gather resources. There was no time to sketch a plan for the day. There were no available instructions from the classroom teacher to follow.

“Two and a half years earlier, I had been the Middle School teacher in the same school, and memories of the very difficult times experienced trying to teach Middle School aged Indigenous students, using the strategies learned in teacher training, flooded back to me with a rush. Oh the deep, gut-wrenching dread!

“As the bell rang for the school day to begin, I walked into the classroom with some of the early arrivers. The students meandered around the classroom, while I drew two of Tyson Yunkaporta’s 8 Ways icons (Yunkaporta, 2009, pp. 35-38) on the blackboard (blue-tongued lizard icon and returning boomerang icon).

“Using the classroom interactive whiteboard (IWB) with internet connection, I then located clips of blue-tongue lizards, watching short excerpts until one was found with two blue-tongue lizards walking across the screen.

“This was viewed several times, and acted as a stimulus to draw the interest of the students as they variously arrived over the first thirty minutes of the day. When sufficient students gathered around the IWB, observations were made about the behaviour of the lizards, and students began to engage in the conversation that opened up. When there seemed to be general interest in the conversation, I pointed out the blue-tongue lizard icon on the blackboard, and commenced doing an improvised dance, imitating the blue-tongue lizard’s movements in search of food. Some discussion was then had around the lessons we can learn from blue-tongue lizards, and how our food is knowledge, and if we ingest knowledge, and allow it to become a part of our lives, it can make us strong.  The returning boomerang icon was then pointed out to the students. One of the students asked the question, “How does a boomerang come back?” I entered the question into a google search, and came up with the Charlie Drake song, “My Boomerang Won’t Come Back.” After listening to the song, the students thought it was quite funny. I continued to google the question, and came up with a cartoon clip that demonstrated the aero-dynamics of the flight of a boomerang. It also demonstrated the techniques of throwing and catching boomerangs.

“I took a sheet of scrap paper, and blew across the top of the sheet whilst it was held at one end. At rest, the paper curved downwards. However, when I blew across the top of the paper, it rose to the horizontal position. When I stopped blowing, the paper sank to its curved position again. This was repeated several times, and the students were then invited to find scrap pieces of paper, and try the same experiment.  I then showed the students how to make a ruler boomerang, by tying two wooden rulers, with their curved sides facing in the same way, in the middle with string. This made an X shape. All of the students then made their own ruler boomerangs.

“The class then went outside to the school oval, and the boomerangs were tested. It was observed that in whichever direction the curved side of the ruler boomerang was facing, that was the direction the ruler boomerang tended towards. It was established that the boomerang needed to be thrown vertically, with the flat side facing away from the body, and this enabled the boomerang to curve across the body, and eventually to come back to the thrower.

“Initially the girls sat on the sides of the oval and watched the boys. No attempt was made to coax the girls to participate, but as they saw how much fun the boys were having experimenting with different throwing techniques, the girls soon joined in and had a lot of fun also.

“The class returned to the classroom, and there was some lively discussion about what was observed. We talked about the principle of lift, using the language of: “When air moves over a curved surface, it has to travel a longer distance than the air that moves over the flat surface. This makes the air moving over the curved surface weak. The arms of the boomerang try to fill up the space made by the weak air, which is what makes the boomerang curve in that direction.” (It should be noted that I have subsequently been advised that my explanation was poor science. This was the explanation I was given in school 45 years ago, but not being a Science-oriented teacher, I have not kept up with the developments of knowledge in this area. However, the explanation worked for us at the time.  A better explanation can be found at:  http://tiny.cc/tlj6nw)

“There was then discussion about how this principle applied to the wings of aircraft and the wings of birds. Aircraft wings and bird wings were found on the internet and projected onto the IWB, and the curve and flat sides of the wings were commented on.

“One of the ruler boomerangs was then hung up by a piece of string from an air-conditioner duct, and remains as a reminder of the lessons learned from the question.

“Then I posed the question, “Where do boomerangs come from?” Two visiting students from the continent of India were sitting in the back of the classroom. I proposed to them that boomerangs came from India. Both of the students protested strongly that this was not the case. Both denied this as a possibility.

“The rest of the class was asked, “Who thinks that boomerangs may have come from India?” Half the class put up their hands for yes, and half of the class put up their hands for no. I then googled the question, “Where do boomerangs come from?” An article was found which identified boomerangs as having been discovered in the Ancient Cultures of America, the Middle East, Australia and Southern India (Wikipedia, 2012b). The Indian students became very interested in this novel discovery – they in fact had some cultural connection to what many have identified as an Australian Aboriginal technology. The students in the classroom then engaged in some discussion with the Indian students, and there was a deeper connection that had not been in the classroom before.

“I then drafted a report, with input from the students, and projected it onto the IWB, and the students copied the report, with diagrams. They wrote far more than they normally write, and were fully engaged in copying down all the notes and filing them in their writing folders. This was about 1½ pages of notes, with half a page of diagrams. This was far more than most of the students had ever written in a single sitting.

“The students then went out for morning Recess. The time flew for the morning session, and I have never seen Indigenous students as fully engaged in school-based learning, as they were engaged throughout the morning, without any need to consciously bring the students back on task.

“After Recess, the blue-tongue lizard dance was rehearsed, and the top-most dot was pointed out on the icon. I explained to the students that this represents the first feed of knowledge. The second dot was then pointed out, and it was explained that we were moving on to the next feed of knowledge. As we take knowledge in, like a blue-tongue eats insects, the knowledge is absorbed by us and makes us strong.

“I then remembered that the classroom teacher had previously planned to run a soup stall during Recess of the approaching Friday.

“A spreadsheet was projected onto the IWB, and categories of: Price, Number of Customers, Income, Costs, and Profit were put into strategic cells.

“Formulae were placed next to these headings, and variables were placed in each of the cells that contained a formula. As the variables were changed, it was projected that the class could make a range of between $0.00 and $198.00 profit, depending upon how the variables were decided upon. The students became more and more interested as they learned that their decision-making processes could determine the size of the profit that their stall could make. It provoked a lot of discussion.

“After an optimum array of variables was decided upon, I proposed a chant that the students could memorise: “If you got no profit, then you got no business; and if you got no business, then you got no business to be in business.” This was chanted several times, until all the students had it down perfectly.

 “We then talked about the importance of marketing, and its capacity to increase the number of customers; the importance of selling the value of the product, so that customers want to buy at the optimum price for the optimum profit.

“Using the internet, and projecting the results onto the IWB, I googled pictures of differe nt kinds of soups, to include on two large advertising posters that the class eventually made. However, before we moved to making the posters, we conducted a spelling activity, using dictionaries. I wrote the names of the soups that appeared in the pictures on the IWB onto a blackboard. Many of the names were written with incorrect spelling (deliberately). Students had to find the words in dictionaries, and indicate as to whether I had written the words correctly or incorrectly. Previously students were very reluctant to use dictionaries, but this time the activity was made a competition between the boys and the girls, with points allotted to each side, and most of the students entered into the activity very enthusiastically.

“The soup words, after their spelling was corrected, were then collated to make a class rap: “At Friday’s stall we’ve got onion soup, We’ve got potato soup, we’ve got, pea and ham soup, We’ve got … “  This became a reading activity, as the students had to read the soup names in the rap to be able to chant the rap with the rest of the class. Once again, most of the students participated in this activity.

“The remainder of the time, leading up to Lunch, was taken up with making the two large advertising posters. Interesting invitations to customers were written, various pictures of different kinds of soups were drawn, and an optimum price was committed to.

“Students then went to Lunch having been fully engaged for the one and a half hour block.

“After Lunch, once again I performed the blue-tongue lizard dance, and the third eating spot was introduced. Yunkaporta’s story of the integrative nature of the returning boomerang was discussed with the students (Yunkaporta, 2009, p. 25). At the lower level, the details seem to be very far apart, and perhaps unrelated. But, as you follow the arms of the boomerang to the apex, you find that the parts are integrated at a higher/lower level. I threw out the challenge of finding a way of integrating the various feeds of knowledge that we had dipped into during the day.

“A spreadsheet was projected onto the IWB, and this time we looked at how to create formulae. As a group we took the raw commands: = , A1(etc.) , + , – , / , sum , ( : )  and combined them in various ways and observed the different results that happened when the same data was associated with a different formula. Students wrote these formulae by hand into their work books.

“Because the students had worked so hard for most of the day, we finished off the day with a game of basketball in the school hall.  At the end of the basketball game, just before being dismissed to go home, I once again did the blue – tongue lizard dance for a final time. At each of the stops where the lizard eats food in the dance, students were challenged to recite the things that they learned at that part of their learning journey through the day. The students were able to recall, in some detail, all the pertinent pieces of knowledge that they had been exposed to (Box, 2012b, pp. 143-146).

“Without any preparations, with only the resources that were at hand, and with the availability of an IWB connected to the internet, the class had a continuous stream of higher level learning, which was accessed by applying two of Yunkaporta’s Indigenous pedagogical concepts and processes. Nurtured by my input, the Indigenous students explored this learning with some support from technology and simple resources which just happened to be on hand at the time (rulers, string, paint, and so on). Points of frustration and resistance (which had been my every day experience when I previously applied Western-inspired pedagogies to the same class level in the same school, 2½ years earlier) – points at which, in the past, the lesson would collapse and melt down – simply did not arise.

“Everyone enjoyed the day. Everyone learned something (even the Indian students visiting the classroom learned something). From my perspective, it was the best day of teaching and learning that I have ever experienced in my whole teaching career – best day ever.

“This kind of teaching requires that teachers have a broad range of life experiences to draw upon. A resource-rich classroom would be an asset. A detailed study of Tyson Yunkaporta’s 8 ways Indigenous pedagogies needs to be internalised and automated, so that his icons evoke layers upon layers of application, and the most appropriate icon being available for recall for the specific context being explored. A personal experience of participating in Indigenous dance would also be helpful.

“From this recount it can be seen that employing Indigenous pedagogies can elicit responses that often do not follow the application of Western pedagogies in classrooms with tradition-oriented Indigenous students”   Box, L. A. (2013) Warlpiri Business as Pedagogy: A Learning Journey. Sydney: National Institute for Christian Education. Dissertation submitted for partial fulfilment of a Master of Education (Leadership) degree.

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Education Delivery Programs, Home-Based Education, Unschooling

Flexi-Learning Centres as a service to home-based educators

I am thinking about the concept of a Flexi-Learning Centre in accessible locations around Australia, primarily serving the home-based education community.  What do home-based educators think?

I am proposing that in Australia there be developed a federation of Flexi-Learning Centres. These centres would not be in competition with Flexible Learning Centres ‘Youth +’ run by Edmund Rice Education Australia. Flexible Learning Centres ‘Youth +’ are run as registered schools and they target youths who have fallen through the gaps in regular schools. The Term Flexi-Learning Centre was a term coined by me in 2001, and was included in a proposal to establish such a centre in Toowoomba, Queensland, at the time (This was a long time before Edmund Rice Education Australia called their facilities ‘Flexible Learning Centres’).   Flexi-Learning Centres, in contrast, will be privately managed, partially supported by the tithes and offerings of local churches, and partially supported by commercially contracted fees paid by the users of the service. Typically, Flexi-Learning Centres (F-LC) will be run out of private homes, or rented facilities. Access to the facilities and/or resources is by paying a locally determined fee.   Their target market will be home-based educators, whether home schoolers, unschoolers or radical unschoolers. F-LCs would be equipped with a growing Biblical Christian research library, consisting of physical books that can be read in-situ, digital books that can be accessed in the F-LC by computer, or accessed on-line through a purchased password. Christian home schooling textbooks could be available for loan or purchase. The F-LCs would have a range of technologies available for educational use, such as photocopiers, printers, scanners, computers, and access to the internet. There will be a place where lessons can be conducted, discussions and meetings can take place, and help and guidance can be found. A cup of coffee can be purchased, and serious discussions about things Biblical Christian can be freely engaged in. The F-LCs will be a learning clearing house, where a database of skills and knowledge providers (who have been vetted by police checks, character reference checks, and due diligence on the local grapevine) will be made available to those who want to obtain direct instruction or apprenticeship in specific areas. Access will be by payment of a locally determined fee, and inclusion on the list will be by payment of a periodic fee. It is envisioned that all kinds of different learning opportunities will take place in, around and out of the F-LCs. A very limited sample might include such things as: parenting workshops, household budgeting workshops, vegetable garden design demonstrations, pet care classes, Bible Studies, teaching evangelism, worship services, permaculture design ideas exchange, intensive phonics instruction, mathematics instruction, controlled science experiments demonstrated, and so on.

Associated with the F-LCs would be a portal enabling enrolment in an Australian campus of the New Geneva Christian Leadership Academy (NGCLA), currently located in Appomattox, Virginia, U.S.A. Local Biblically competent scholars will be encouraged to function as mentors for young people engaging in formal study through NGCLA. NGCLA would offer tailored learning units that can be linked together by students into a meaningful string of relevant and practical learning in accordance with the students’ interests and passions. NGCLA, over time, will develop a comprehensive digital library of books and articles that relate to all facets of life from a consistently Biblical Christian perspective, and in particular, providing an Australian perspective to the topics. Students will be encouraged to make their studies practical, with a measurably actionable outcome at the end of the study process. Local mentors will meet with the students on a regular basis, typically weekly, and will set small research assignments relating to the student’s interests. At the regular meetings the students will report back on what was learned in the previous period, and the mentor will ask clarifying questions around the things that have been learned, and then assign a further research question to be investigated over the next study period. This cycle of study and questioning will continue until the student has sufficient knowledge to engage in a practical project. At the conclusion of the practical project, the student will write up the body of knowledge learned through the research phase, and report on the experience gained in the practical project. This combined theoretical and practical report will form the basis for awarding a graduation acknowledgement in that area of interest. Students can engage in as many or as few of these cycles of learning as they want. It would be hoped that the things learned would enable the student, over time, to develop a range of marketable skills and knowledge sets that can be turned into an entrepreneurial enterprise. One of the cycles could be related to how to set up a viable internet-based business. Another could relate to setting up business accounts, and legally minimising tax payments. Payment to the mentor will be lesson by lesson, and this will encourage the mentors to make their appointments with the students interesting, so that the students will be encouraged to return. This will ensure that poor teachers move on, and good teachers are rewarded. To make the process viable for the mentor, and affordable for the students, there may be a small group of four to six students at each of the meetings.

NGCLA would also offer the opportunity to study formal bodies of knowledge from a Biblical Christian perspective, with the view of encouraging the students to contribute to the wider community of Biblical Christian scholarship and perhaps contribute to the development of a series of whole Bible commentaries and research resources in varied spheres of cultural endeavour. Individual students can work on projects on their own, and communities of students can work on projects cooperatively, mediated through the communication networks that are associated with the F-LCs and the Australian and international campuses of the NGCLA.

Connected to the NGCLA would be a publishing house that regularly gathers, peer-reviews, and publishes scholarly articles in digital magazines that focus on a range of cultural activities and foci. These magazines, after release, will be stored on the NGCLA database for use by NGCLA research students who are taking on advanced studies. The emphasis will be on the Australian context, but articles will be accepted for inclusion from like-minded communities in other countries. Permission will be obtained to reprint pertinent articles that appear on web sites on the world wide web. This database will have mirror sites around the world to protect against cyber terrorism and vandalism.

Is this something that would interest home-based educators in Australia?

Would love to hear from any one about this idea.

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deschooling, Home-Based Education, Natural Learning, Unschooling

The flexibility of home-based education

In preparing research for my PhD dissertation, one of the participants in an interview made the following statement:

“… over the years we went through times of more flexibility in academic learning.  At times we were less academic, and more kinaesthetic.  In town we sometimes reverted to natural learning.  We went backwards and forwards in methods.  Over time we saw that development of character was critical; the development of godly character.”

This is one of the most powerful features of a home-based education: total flexibility.  Parents need to be deschooled, and that takes time.  The home-based journey may begin looking a bit (or a lot) like school, while confidence is being built.  However, everyone learns together, and if there is constant communication, instruction modes and ways of learning can be trialled, embraced or laid down for a time.

There are many, many ways of teaching that parents can study, trial and consider the benefit of for specific children, for specific learning objectives, for specific seasons of learning.  No one style is better than another, and all of them can sometimes be a wrong fit in a particular context, but a right fit in a totally different context.

Above all else, it has to be kept in mind that the objective is character development.  Listen to the children.  Children love learning, and if they are not loving the experience, work out why.  Is it an instructional misfit?  Are they not ready for that phase of learning?  Are they bored and need a fresh approach to the same thing?  Are they simply having a bad day, and need a big hug, a break from it all, and an opportunity to make a fresh start after a good, long sleep.

 

 

 

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deschooling, Socialization

… vive la difference …

In the book, The Twelve Year Sentence: Radical Views of Compulsory Schooling, edited by William F. Rickenbacker (1974),  H. George Resch, in his chapter ‘Human Variations and Individuality’ points out that human equality is a myth.  There is nothing equal about any of us, other than our equal responsibility to live righteously before the law.

From the minutiae of our DNA, to the macro details of our body shape, emotional responses, mental capacities, preferences, gifts and motivations; the total combination of who we actually are is completely unique from everyone else who has existed, and ever will exist.

Our uniqueness makes mass education an impossibility.  It is just not possible to cater for all the educational, emotional and relational needs of all the children in a classroom.  The expectation placed on teachers to do so is an unreasonable expectation, and in many cases causes stress for the teacher who is failing to rise to the expectation, and the students who are not having their needs met.

One of my respondents stated that, “… some children need the read / write version of instruction.   However, it is a challenge to children who are not wired that way.  Different families can cater in different ways for the differences in their children.  They can provide a certain kind of education for those children academically-oriented, and give a life-oriented education for those children who are that way inclined.  Parents can cater for the different needs of each of the children.”

Parents who are giving their children educational opportunities in the midst of everyday family life, can guide each of their children into tasks and projects and research assignments that cater for the particular learning style, interest and capacities of that particular child.  In a classroom you are not living life, you are creating an artificial hothouse, and every situation has to be planned and prepared for.  However, not everyone will be catered for, so boredom, frustration and anti-learning elements will be introduced into the classroom, which will draw the teacher’s energies and attention away from the students who are interested and do want to learn.

Long live the differences in humanity.  However, the socializing agenda (i.e. indoctrination into socialism) of schools militates against such differences.  Only home-based unschooling can properly recognize, feed and cause to flourish the uniqueness of each person in the family.

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