Friday, November 17, 2017

How we can use Vanguard to counter the harmful mindset of public education

All global ambitions are based on a definition of productivity and the good life so alientated from common human reality I am convinced it is wrong.
This statement caught my eye as I read "Dumbing Us Down" this morning.

So what is society's definition of "productivity," of "the good life"?

As taught to me in public school these definitions included the following:
Image result for image of competition--a well-paying job
--public recognition
--order/lack of conflict or challenges
--social acceptance
--approval by the experts
--getting whatever is newer and better, whether in material or intellectual areas
--getting ranked "higher" than those around us

Now I know that there is both great good and amazing teachers found within "the system."  However, as Gatto himself is a public school teacher it is important to see how these "lessons" or "definitions" not only exist, but how they are destructive and can be re-defined.

My mind made automatic counter-connections with two monthly areas of impact: "pursuit of happiness" and "work" and the lessons I have learned over the years in our study of those areas.  The lessons I learned through the classics in those areas took on more of the meaning that Gatto himself shares:
[We need to] locate meaning where meaning is genuinely to be found--in families, in friends, in the passage of seasons, in nature, in simple ceremonies and rituals, in curiosity, generosity, compassion, and service to others, in a decent independence and privacy, in all the free and inexpensive things out of which real families, real friends, and real communities are built.--pg. 16-17, "Dumbing Us Down"
I have learned these lessons:
--happiness can be found regardless of income
--self-guided missions lead to most satisfacting productivity
--to be different is beautiful
--peace and productivity can be found not only in spite of but through challenges and difficulty
--it is through our uniqueness that we bless the world and find ourselves
--people may not understand or approve of us, but that is not a healthy basis of self-worth
--God and myself are the experts on my life
--to find satisfaction and use in the resources around us leads to greater happiness than the next best thing
--we are all on different paths and to celebrate the uniqueness of those paths without feeling the need to compete or tear others down brings joy and greater productivity.  To spend our time comparing is counter-productive.
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I have shared the following analogy before in association with our "7 monthly areas of impact" visual.  Each component of the visual can be "colored" or "fleshed-out" through our study of the classics.  As we interact with classics that illustrate positive or negative influences in those themes, our students start to feel what are right or wrong, healthy or unhealthy philosophies or activities in those areas.  To have some negative exposure provides contrast to the beautiful, but the majority should be exposure to healthy classics.

For example, for the question of what makes a good society, it is beneficial to read books like "The Giver," Ann Rand's "Anthem," or "Animal Farm."  However, to just dwell on negative examples is not enough.  We need to give them immersion in healthy societies or interactions like "Princess Academy," "Laddie," "Wonder," or even "The Secret Garden."   As a student resonates and interacts with the positive, meaningful and good in each of these areas, they will be stronger in their ability to recognize the superficial, the destructive, the meaningless in the messages so strongly sold through our current education system.

If nothing else, they will initially feel that something is wrong with a particular world view and then their faculties will arise to meet the challenge of addressing what exactly is wrong and try to fix it.  It is that initial trigger of "something is wrong" "warning! warning!" that we need to instill in the rising generation to tackle the mass mind-numbing effect of social conformity to world views that are both unhealthy and inherently destructive to those very goals they are trying to meet: "productivity and happiness."

If you have any spin-off thoughts, arguments against, additional resources, please share or bring them up in the comments below!

I recommend reading the first 14 pages of Gatto's book if you have never read it or even if you have...quick read.  Good refresher about why we do what we do.  Try to answer his "lessons" with "counter-lessons" you want to teach in your home and how you can do it. I would love to hear your thoughts!

Thursday, November 2, 2017

Path to Discovering Genius!

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I recently read “Understood Betsy” for the Mentoring in the Classics course and realized that the book centers around Betsy's discovery that she has a genius. Since this is an integral part of what we strive for in Vanguard, this is a good checklist of pondering to review both as parents and mentors.

Betsy goes through quite the process to get there:
-discovery that she can learn (driving the wagon*)
-discovery that she can be needed (the cat)
-discovery that she can be a part of something bigger and that she is a contributor (prepping meals with Cousin Ann)
-discovery that she need not be limited by externally imposed labels (grade-levels in schools)
-discovery of the joy and heart of genuine service ('Lias)
-discovery that she, too, can lead and deal with problems (the Fair)
-discovery that she doesn't need Aunt Francis's validation to succeed (end)
*references within book

I would highly recommend this short, readable classic for the parent mentors of any group. The reading and discussion of it could even be extended over the whole year, with a chapter or two per month.

Image result for image betsy understood

Tuesday, October 10, 2017

Waking the Sleeping Giants in our Learners

I have recently begun the study of "Teacher in America" by Jacques Barzun.  Oliver DeMille refers to him extensively in his "Thomas Jefferson Education" so I decided to go to the source.

EDUCATION AND TEACHING: Honor the student's role in learning
Image result for image of teacher lecturing bored student
Barzun starts off his book with a discussion of the difference between "education" and "teaching."  He derides the presumption that we can be "educators" or claim the right and responsibility to educate another human being.  Personally, I think it is a matter of interpretation what the two words mean, but we can learn from his reasoning by taking his definitions at face value:

-"education": the actual learning that takes place
-"teaching": exposure to the idea so the student may educate themselves.

Here are a few quotes he has on the matter:
"Education is something...intangible, unpredictable.  Education comes from within; it is a man's own doing, or rather it happens to him--sometimes because of the teaching he has had, sometimes in spite of it." (p. 5)
"Education is a lifelong discipline of the individual by himself, encouraged by a reasonable opportunity to lead a good life...[but] cannot be 'given' in a short course."
"You know by instinct that it is impossible to 'teach' democracy, or citizenship or a happy married life.  I do not say that these virtues and benefits are not somehow connected with good teaching.  They are, but they occur as byproducts.  They come, not from a course, but from a teacher; not from a curriculum, but from a human soul."

These quotes support the Thomas Jefferson Education philosophy that people need mentors not professors.

How do we keep from stepping over the line between inspiring and lecturing?  From "filling the empty mind" to "encouraging to explore and self-educate"?

Barzun presents this dilemma this way:
"The teaching impulse goes something like this: a fellow human being is puzzled or stymied.  He wants to open a door or spell 'accommodate.' The would-be helper has two choices.  He can open the door, spell the word; or he can show his pupil how to do it for himself.  The second way is harder and takes more time, but a strong instinct in the born teacher makes him prefer it.  It seems somehow to turn an accident into an opportunity for permanent creation."

This is what we want to create in Vanguard!  "An opportunity for permanent creation"!

Image result for image of taking a puzzle apartWhen you think of writing inspirements or creating a class outline, we must remember that we are introducing the child to the "door" of a principle and sometimes, they need to learn how to walk before they can even approach the door!

Barzun put it this way:
The raw material is what the learner can do, and upon this the teacher-artist builds by the familiar process of taking apart and putting together

Image result for image of taking a puzzle apartBy the way, I love this idea of "taking the idea apart and putting it together"!  Often we expect a youth to take knowledge of a subject from our point and move forward.  However, there is great value in breaking the idea down and helping them put the piece of understanding together!

Continuing with Barzun:
He must break down the new and puzzling situation into simpler bits and lead the beginner in the right order from one bit to the next. What the simpler bits and the right order are no one can know ahead of time. They vary for each individual and the teacher must grope around until he finds a "first step" that the particular pupil can manage.  In any school subject, of course, this technique doesn't stop with the opening of a door.  The need for it goes on and on--as it seems, forever--and it takes the stubbornness of a saint coupled with the imagination of a demon for a teacher to pursue his art of improvisation gracefully, unwearingly, endlessly. (p. 25)
 At first I was leery of this analogy between a teacher and a demon, but having read C.S. Lewis's "Screwtape Letters" and remembering the creative persistence of those devils to "win" the man's soul, I found truth in Barzun's words.  And inspiration.

Perhaps we can look at Core class/Apprentice level like "opening the door" to a principle and then "Journeyman" and "Master" the rooms and levels within the principle?
Remembering his own efforts and the pleasure of discovery, the master finds a satisfaction which I have called artistic in seeing how a new human being will meet and make his own some part of our culture. (p. 25)
He follows these examples up with a warning. Again, I will take the words right from his book, as I feel they are effective:
Side by side with his eagerness, the pupil feels resentment arising from the fact that the grownup who teaches him appears to know it all.  There is, incidentally, no worse professional disease for the teacher than the habit of putting questions with a half-smile that says "I know that one, and I will tell it to you; come along, my pretty."  Telling and questioning must not be put-up jobs designed to make the teacher feel good about himself...Even in the best conditions of fair play and spontaneity, the pupil, while needing and wanting knowledge, will hate and resist it.
I have felt this before in many classes, when the lecturer in a "discussion classroom" setting takes on that "professorial tone" and we are subject to his many views on the subject of interest.  There is a place for lecture and presentation, but it is seldom in a leadership classroom setting and generally more specific to "skill-based" learning.
Image result for image of rubber stretchingThis resistance often makes one feel that the human mind is made of some wonderfully tough rubber which you can stretch a little by pulling hard, but which snaps back into shape the moment you let go... 
Consider how the student feels, subjected to daily and hourly stretching. "Here I am," he thinks, "with my brains nicely organized--with everything, if not in its place, at least in a place where I can find it--and you come along with a new and strange item that you want to force into my previous arrangement.  Naturally I resist.  You persist. I begin to dislike you. But at the same time, you show me aspects of this new fact or idea which in spite of myself mesh in with my existing desires.  You seem to know the contents of my mind.  You show me the proper place for your contribution to my stock of knowledge.  Finally, there is brooding over us a vague threat of disgrace for me if I do not accept your offering and keep it and show you that I still have it when you--dreadful thought!--examine me.  So I give in, I shut my eyes and swallow.  I write little notes about it to myself, and with luck the burr sticks; I have learned something.  Thanks to you? well, not exactly.  Thanks to you and thanks to me.  I shall always be grateful for your efforts, but do not expect me to love you, at least not for a long, long time." (ibid)
Image result for image of student resisting
Any resistance to learning is just that... resistance.  Any way we can avoid creating that resistance will help in the learning process.  Some students come with that resistance strongly in place no matter what we do.  There has to be some point where the student is willing to acknowledge and accept that they are entering into Vanguard with the expectation of being mentored, guided and led.  But if, within that mentoring, we can allow for as much individual exploration as possible, we can work around the resistance of force-fed learning and help them to educate themselves.

Also consider the warning to not appear to know everything. There is nothing destructive about saying, "I don't know...but I would love to learn more about that!"  Humility in teaching creates miracles.  Openness to learning from the students, from the Spirit...beautiful.

Appeal to the student's "curiosity and his desire to grow up" and then they can be "aroused to action."

TEACH PRINCIPLES: Connections and Context
The whole aim of good teaching is to turn the young learner, by nature a little copycat, into an independent, self-propelling creature, who cannot merely learn but study--that is, work as his own boss to the limit of his powers.  This is to turn pupils into students, and it can be done on any rung of the ladder of learning.
He shares the example of learning your multiplication tables.  When you teach a child that the answers to the multiplication tables can also be discovered by addition, "it would at first have been puzzling, more complicated than memory work, but once explained and grasped, it would have been an instrument for learning...and temporarily dispense with the teacher."
This is another way of saying that the only thing worth teaching anybody is a principle.
Barzun reminds us that while it is necessary to learn some facts "bare" or unassociated with a principle and that principles involve facts, to learn facts exclusive of principles is "hokum" or "words without meaning, verbal filler, artificial apples of knowledge."
A European child ought not to learn that Washington is the capital of the United States without fixing firmly in his mind the relation between the city and the man who led his countrymen to freedon.  That would be missing an association, which is the germ of a principle.  And just as a complex athletic feat is made possible by rapid and accurate coordination, so all valuable learning hangs together and works by associations which make sense. (p. 30)
 Why are we learning what we are learning?  How does this apply to me?  What  relevance does it have to my life?

When we can awaken in our students the curiosity, the responsibility, the connections and the context of their learning, they will be able to stretch their own muscles and feel their own potential, dwarfing all of our previous expectations for them.

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