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kids/worker bees/ivor (long blather)

updated sat 4 sep 04


primalmommy on wed 1 sep 04

Ivor wrote:
>"If every step and process along the way in a child's education was
>perfect. No interruptions, no disturbances,100% achievement at every
>step, no necessity for repetition, seamless interlinking from class to
>class and from school to school, then children would seldom be bored.
>But that could never happen, nor would "The System" allow it to

Ivor, I agree wholeheartedly. I write this as a former teacher and with
no hostility toward teachers, who do the best they can in an overloaded
classroom and an antiquated system, with all kinds of political hoops to
jump through.

But I have to say that my optimism about the potential of a child, as
artist and learner in an active (not passive) role, comes from what I am
seeing in my children, and the kids in the growing child-led,
interest-based homeschool community here.

No interruptions: If a kid is into bugs, he can draw bugs, read about
bugs, photograph bugs, study bugs under a microscope, write about bugs,
collect bugs, dress as a bug, paint bugs, put on plays about bugs, add
and subtract bugs, learn about prehistoric bugs, bug anatomy, bugs of
other continents. He can start a worm farm and sell bait to neighbors.
Build a robotic bug. Search the internet for dichotimous keys to
identify a cicada.

His love of bugs will lead him to other areas of study (ie: the scarabs
at the ancient egypt exhibit at the museum) -- or-- will burn itself out
naturally and he will take that enthusiasm and apply it to something
else: building kites, or kit rockets, whittling wood, fishing, sherlock
holmes mysteries, whatever. It is a lifetime process, and at no point am
I required to ring a bell and say "time for social studies", nor do I
have to stop him when he threatens to exceed the boundaries of "third

No disturbances: besides the general chaos of daily family life, we have
none of the time wasting distractions of my teacherly work day:
attendance, announcements, assemblies, bus rides, study hall, gym class,
behavior problems, dress codes and violations, "crowd control", and the
pressure from peers not to seem "too smart" (so hide any nerdish
enthusiasm about learning behind a bored eye-roll.)

No necessity for repetition: Repetition on a day to day basis is a
by-product of having to get 30 kids to page 14 by October 9th, and make
sure they all pass the government test (at the risk of school funding
and the teacher's job.) Kids who got it have to hear it again and again
until everybody is on board.

Repetition year to year is a problem because there IS no standard from
school to school. E.D. Hirsch has been advocating for one for a long
time. I can attest that I was taught 200 years of American history --
much of it tall tales, folklore and "heroic" versions of compliacted
issues, mostly involving educated white males. Never mind the annual and
repetitive foray into "the pilgrims" in every grade, and how many times
did I trace around my hand and make the damn turkey? I barely knew the
rest of the planet HAD a history. It was as if time began with the Nina,
the Pinta and the Santa Maria.

Still, the notion that there is one right curriculum and that every
child should learn the same thing at the same time is one of the biggest
problems, IMO, with our system. Yes, it's necessary, since kids move
from school to school and student-teacher ratio is often 30-1. But, like
the notion that "socialization" has to mean 30 kids with the same birth
year and zip code, the notion that kids have to learn the prescribed
curriculum in a specific order feeds into the problem you are

It would be as if the USDA mandated the food pyramid and declared that
every child should be fed -- force fed, if necessary -- the "right"
foods, and in the amounts declared healthy by the authorities. But what
if your kid is not hungry right now? What if your kid is diabetic, or
allergic to wheat, or dairy? What if your family is vegetarian? Do we
feed the active, skinny kid in mid growth spurt the same as the chubby
couch potato?

If it doesn't make sense for food, it SURE doesn't make sense to force
feed a kid's brain a pre-ordained diet. John Holt makes the point
eloquently in his writing.

More and more kids have to be medicated in order to get their
one-size-fits-all education. I am amazed that there are as many good
teachers still teaching as they are - a lot of them are giving up in
disgust. Still more changed from an education major to something more
lucrative in mid-college when they compared potential income to
burgeoning credit card bills and student loan debt.

Before I go on too long, here is my point: the problem is not so much
the content of what kids are expected to learn, but the carrot and stick
with which we force them to learn it. In a world where play has been
scheduled out, where entertainment is increasingly passive (nintendo,
tv, videos, computer games) -- kids learn to be passive observers in a
classroom setting as well, waiting to be told what to say/do/think in
order to get the grade.

Something you do for your teacher will not have your heart and soul in
it like something you do because it's what your brain is hungry for
right now. By first grade kids have lost interest in using their
imagination and enthusiasm because they have learned that there is one
right answer, and the teacher knows it. They have learned that you will
be called upon as punishment if you do not pretend to be attentive. They
learned that your best effort can come back to you scribbled with red
ink, which as kids we translate as "I am stupid, I have failed" -- and
not as "this material has not been taught in a way that works for me."

How can these kids grow up to be artists? How can we expect them to risk
themselves in a world of grades, red ink and peer ridicule? They learn
too soon that it is the job of somebody else to measure and determine
their worth. In order to jump start a class discussion with my freshman
college students about what they have to unlearn to reclaim critical
thinking skills, I had them all draw a picture. I do not think it is a
coincidence that many of them drew at about a third grade level --often
the very same pictures they had drawn in third grade before they quit
trying to draw.

Maybe that's why so many artists now seem to totally disregard the world
beyond their own navels and the contemplation thereof... a mass
rejection of the "what grade will i get on this?" notion that rules our
formative years.

My kids may not know everything but they are confident in their ability
to find it out. I haven't answered questions for them since they were
very small -- I say "how can you find out?" And one of the things they
find out is that sometimes there is more than one answer and you have to
use your own mind to pick one.

What if my kid misses some crucial "subject" in second grade curriculum?
Well, you can hand it to a fifth grader and he can read and master it in
an afternoon. The best thing i can wish for a kid is that he see things
that he does not know and thinks "I haven't applied myself to learning
this... yet..." instead of "Oh, I am a c student in that, I am not good
at that."

I missed the first part of this thread, having just come on board, and
have no idea what the "worker bee" part means. As for us, I have
considered both Montessori's philosophy of giving children real,
meaningful work to do (ie: teach toddlers to wipe a table instead of
buying them a plastic kitchen) and the German/Irish immigrant work ethic
I grew up with, and as a result my kids have jobs -- important jobs, and
the more 'grown up' the job seems, the more proud they are of their
work. I don't care if they grow up to be surgeons or mechanics or stay
home to raise kids, pride in your work and a healthy dose of "pitter
patter, let's get at 'er" as TC says, will get them farther than all the
degrees in the world.

I know as a potter, I could read fine books and attend workshops and buy
expensive gadgets forever, but I would never move ahead without the
drive to just get out there and work my butt off. Same goes for the
mommy/teacher/wife job.

TV/Nintendo/etc. are the opiates of the masses. Some stuff is worth
watching (the olympics!) but in general time is too precious, especially
for kids with growing minds. Mine can be found in trees, or in
complicated pretend battles that involve aliens or superheroes, chasing
fireflies, or tubing behind a pontoon boat, catching frogs in a swamp,
roasting marshmallows on a campfire, or leading a pack of neighborhood
kids on some adventure. Beats watching other people have a life on TV.

I wasn't going to let this get so long..

Kelly in Ohio
"fresh eggs and free range children"

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Ivor and Olive Lewis on fri 3 sep 04

Thanks for your thoughts Kelly.
Since you are a teacher you are aware, as many are not, of the
following generalisations;
That the framework of our current general school curriculum was
invented almost 2000 years ago !.
That, round about grade 1 or 2, children are still taught that you
cannot take a big number from a little number but the teacher who
tells a child that has no idea of the consequences at year 9 !
That any and every topic can be used equally well to teach Maths,
Science and Art !
That most of the teachers who have degrees have always been
successful. but when they meet a learning situation which thwarts them
they cannot cope with the emotional trauma of perceived failure !
Every teacher knows Rote is the best way to learn!
When state public and private school systems were invented to solve
social problems aristocracy continued to use governesses and private
tutors as educators! Which seems to prove your point about home
Best regards,

Ivor Lewis.
S. Australia.