Youth for Freedom Summer Conferences ONLY 1 SESSION LEFT!
by Oliver DeMille
I just take a book.
On my last visit, the office was especially busy, so I got to wait for a long time. My wife was with me, and we ended up having a delightful conversation with a couple sitting next to us.
We talked about our kids, our work and inevitably, given where we met, our health. We compared ideas on good nutrition, and it came up that our new friend was a holistic doctor.
He practices a number of healing modalities – so many that I wondered about his educational background. It turns out he spent the better part of his twenties traveling the world and studying with various master healers. He has mentors in Latin America, China, Japan, Thailand and Canada—at least these were the ones he mentioned.
When I asked how any of my children might pursue a career in his field, he didn’t have a pat answer.
He said he would need to meet personally with the interested young person and ask questions in order to give real advice.
Interesting. It had a familiar ring….
The day moved on to other things, but I was left with a renewed sense of enthusiasm. Individual mentoring is alive and well – even in the health sciences!
Now, don’t get me wrong—I’ve been very impressed with many, many health professionals I’ve met over the years. We have known miracles and angels in the flesh whose gifts and ministry left us humbled and blessed.
But mentoring is a lost art in so much of modern society, and when thinking of the arenas where it is still an integral part of the process, health care doesn’t immediately spring to mind.
While mentoring appears to be making a comeback in the last decade, too few people have truly personalized, individualized educational experiences. And, in reality, all education should be both personalized (by parents, teachers and mentors) and individualized (by each learner).
During breaks in the conversation with our new friends that day I was reading the latest issue of The Wilson Quarterly.
I like this publication because it has a section that summarizes several top articles from other recent scholarly journals.
Every time I read it I find myself looking up half a dozen or so of these articles online.
I guess I was in need of a theme unit (where a number of different experiences teach the same lesson over the course of a week or month), because the article that most caught my eye was a piece on unschooling.
Astra Taylor, the successful writer and film-maker, wrote about her experiences with unschooling, which is an educational philosophy based on the idea that children are naturally curious and the best educational system is to help them explore their interests and expose them to the exciting world of learning rather than follow a pre-determined list of assignments from a packaged curriculum.
In our years of promoting the Thomas Jefferson Education (TJEd) style of learning, we have recommended an unschooling approach for young children (especially ages 0-8) so I was interested in what the article had to say.
By her account, Astra Taylor and her siblings (all unschooled as children) are successful, and have a quality education without any gaps that they can detect.
Astra Taylor’s unschooling got her into Brown, where she attended for a year; but after years of pursuing her own educational interests she found the conveyor-belt approach unfulfilling and dropped out to engage her real passion in film-making.
This led her to advanced education, and she eventually completed a master’s in Liberal Studies—on her own time and at her own pace and interest.
The key, as cliché as it may seem, is to never let your schooling get in the way of your education.
The central theme of unschooling is personalized and individualized learning, and the freedom to pursue one’s interests at will.
A significant part of this is for the parents and teachers to set an example of great learning, and to create an environment where excellent materials, art, books, projects, experiences, people and ideas are readily available.
Thomas Jefferson Education advances key points from each, so my wife and I have long experience applying these ideas in our home school; we also drew from these principles in developing and consulting for private schools (elementary, high school, college, and corporate training) and in training and following up with teachers using the model in charter and public schools.
In all of these, and at all levels of learning, no system that we have researched or experienced comes close to the educational quality of mentors who personalize each student’s education and learners who individualize their entire educational program to fit their own goals, dreams, passions, interests and talents.
It is not an exaggeration to say that all great education is personalized.
In The Talent Code, researcher Daniel Coyle chronicled the many “Chicken-Wire Harvards” across the United States that are producing truly world-class educational results using non-traditional, non-conveyor belt methods of learning.
Futurist Alvin Toffler wrote in Revolutionary Wealth that in the emerging new economy, nations will fall behind if their educational model is based on rote memorization, fitting into a system and trying to get the “right” answer (as defined by a teacher or expert).
Wealth flows from innovation, Toffler argues, and innovation is the result of free enterprise, access to capital, and an educational system that encourages creative thinking, initiative, self-guided studies, entrepreneurialism and individualized learning. There is a great deal of research now supporting this reality, and many books and articles including those by Clayton Christensen, Howard Gardner, Daniel Pink and Ken Robinson. Unfortunately, mainstream education has struggled to apply and find benefit from these great ideas.
[One book everyone should read on the topic is Unschooling Rules by Clark Aldrich. This book literally gets to the heart of the matter, and is applicable for parents and also professional educators.]
When we approach education as a top-down system, to be run by experts or bureaucrats, it is natural to emphasize everything except the individual student. But that’s not really education.
True education is informed by its etymological Latin root educere, which means “to draw out.” To do this, learning must be … personalized and individualized.
Back to Basics
One of the 7 Keys of Great Teaching, the central tenets of Thomas Jefferson Education, is “Mentors, not Professors.”
In this context, a “professor” expects you to fit into a pre-determined system, while a “mentor” starts by asking what you want to learn, master, accomplish, contribute, achieve and become, and then helps you build a “curriculum” designed to reach these very personal goals.
Again, this is the core of great education at every level and in all walks of life.
After we got home from our office visit, my daughter Sara (age 18) asked if I had a few minutes to talk.
I did, and when I asked what she wanted, she said she is frustrated with how the conveyor belt is everywhere—even in places that profess to use a different approach.
“Even you, Dad,” she said. (Shocking? Not really. I had heavy exposure to the conveyor-belt, too. That “conveyor-belt hangover” can be like a force of nature…) “I come to you for personalized mentoring, and you naturally think of all the people you mentored before and try to duplicate something that worked with them. Okay, not always – but I’m not sure you really start with a blank slate and listen as closely as possible to my unique needs and goals. It’s frustrating.”
For all my great experience in my professional life, in spite of the hundreds of youth and adults I have personally, personally mentored, it is in the walls of my own home is where I find it most challenging to apply what I know.
Maybe you have that same experience.
I chuckled, then I said, “I’m sure it is frustrating. It’s also lazy. It’s human nature to seek the easy path, and if your needs are similar to what I’ve already experienced, it’s more simple to duplicate than to reinvent the wheel. But you’re right, great mentoring goes beyond the easy and the simple.
“Can we start over? I really do want you to tell me your goals and dreams. I’ll listen more closely, with a blank slate, and then, only when I really know what you want, will I turn my mind to helping you build the ideal, personalized program.”
She smiled, but I wasn’t done yet. “But Sara,” I said, “even then you’ll have to individualize the program to fit your deepest goals. Your education is your responsibility. All I can do is give guidance. You have to do the rest.”
“That’s exactly what I want!” she assured me.
Be Forewarned: Freedom Works.
You should be warned that if you help your students get a mentored, personalized, individualized Leadership Education, they’ll be independently-minded leaders who make increasing demands of quality mentoring from you.
This is equally true if you teach your own children or others in an organized school.
Mentoring means personalization. Period.
The quality of our mentoring is equal to the quality and depth of the personalization.
A “classic” is best defined as a work that is worth studying over and over because you learn more each time. This applies to books, articles, works of art and science, and any other works of greatness.
It also applies to people.
Indeed, people are the greatest classics. For example, I’ve been with my wife for well over two decades, and I still learn so much from her every day.
Sara is definitely a classic. And, thanks to her, I re-learned a very important lesson today. Without her, I might not have noticed this theme unit.
Another classic, as I’ve recently discovered, is the waiting area of the doctor’s office. I think the same applies to airports and other places where we sit and wait.
The rules go something like this:
- Always have a good book or periodical to read
- Relate what you read to what is going on around you
- Talk to people—they have so much to teach youOh, and…
- Really listen
- When you mentor, personalize
- When you are learning (and always be learning), individualize
All of these are vital elements of how to really read a book.
By Stephen Palmer
First of all, the question is utterly bizarre to me, given how much social interaction our kids get between several homeschool groups with tons of activities and outings, and myriad other activities, such as art classes, dance classes, cooking classes, Judo, flag football, etc., not to mention how much they play with neighborhood kids.
The idea that homeschoolers don’t get healthy social interaction is such a backwards, 20-years-ago perception.
Secondly, it makes me laugh when I think back to my public school experience.
Here’s what public school taught me about socialization:
- It’s okay — encouraged, even — to make fun of anyone “different” than you and your core group of friends, particularly the weak, weird, mentally and physically disabled, and poor.
- Within an “acceptable” range, everyone should dress, act, and think like everyone else, and those in any way and to the slightest degree outside of the norm should expect to be mocked mercilessly.
- Appearances are everything.
- You should only interact with those in your grade. Those in higher grades are cooler than you (and are therefore entitled to bully you and everyone else younger than them), and those in lower grades are less than you.
- You should compare yourself to and militantly compete with others.
- What your peers think of you is far more important than what you think of yourself, or what God thinks of you. Sacrifice everything for popularity.
- Don’t question authority; teachers and other authority figures know best. Stay in line. There’s an established, “right” way for everything — don’t deviate.
“The idea of learning acceptable social skills in a school is as absurd to me as learning nutrition from a grocery store.” -Lisa Russell
Based on most accounts I’ve heard, this is quite typical public school “socialization,” which is interesting in and of itself.
But here’s where it gets really interesting: Nowhere outside of high school have any of these been my experience, at least not nearly to the degree felt in high school.
Sure, I’ve experienced the very typical (and relatively benign) perceptions and comments regarding our non-traditional views on things like education, homebirthing, politics, etc.
But nothing even close to the overt and extremely aggressive ostracization, mocking, competitiveness, and bullying I witnessed in high school.
Rather than attending high school my junior and senior years, I attended a community college through a program called Running Start.
Not a single person in college ever cared about what clothes I wore, who I hung out with, what my interests were, how old I was, etc.
It was a completely different world than high school.
In fact, in college diversity was appreciated and encouraged much more than conformity. Everyone I interacted with was respectful and accepting.
It was encouraged to question commonly-accepted truths, habits, societal arrangements, etc.
Since leaving high school, I’ve never had a single friend who cared one whit about my fashion sense (or lack thereof, as the case may be).
I’ve yet to interact with an adult who thinks it’s really cool to make fun of those less privileged than them.
I’m still waiting for an adult to bully me because they’re a year older than me, or an adult to fear me because they’re younger than me.
If socialization outside of public school is nothing like, or is at least substantially different from socialization in public school, then what in the name of John Dewey are we socializing our kids for?
For those who disagree with my experience with and perception of public school socialization, who really value socialization and worry that your kids won’t get it outside of public school, I have a sincere question for you:
What do you want your kids to get from public school socialization (or socialization in general)?
I imagine your responses would include:
- You want them to be confident, emotionally mature, well-adapted, respectful, and considerate.
- You want them to be able to interact with, relate to, and positively influence anyone, regardless of age, race, culture, or any differences of opinions or perceptions.
- You want them to have the courage to stand up for what’s right, even and especially when it’s not popular.
- You want them to be a leader, not a follower.
- You want them to learn to strive for excellence, but without feeling the need to “beat” or denigrate others in the process.
- You want them to develop the maturity to respect authority for the right reasons without accepting it unquestioningly, and, as needed, to learn to question and change things wisely and effectively.
Well, we share those desires.
I’m not trying to convince anyone that homeschooling is better than public schooling — as a well-adjusted, socialized adult who believes in freedom, tolerance, and diversity, I wholeheartedly respect and embrace you, no matter your opinions on the subject.
But I am inviting those who advocate public school for the sake of socialization to question what your children are actually getting in the way of socialization.
As Manfred Zysk wrote in his thought-provoking article “Homeschooling and the Myth of Socialization,”
“A family member asked my wife, ‘Aren’t you concerned about his (our son’s) socialization with other kids?’. My wife gave this response: ‘Go to your local middle school, junior high, or high school, walk down the hallways, and tell me which behavior you see that you think our son should emulate.’”
And for those concerned that our homeschooled children aren’t getting enough or appropriate socialization, I’m inviting you to consider that there are other ways to achieve healthy socialization, and we’re not raising our kids to be cloistered, introverted misfits.
We’re not opting them out of society.
We’re just opting them out of the strange public school bubble that, in our experience, doesn’t even represent normal, healthy society.
In other words, we’re socializing them for what they’ll actually experience beyond high school.
Stephen Palmer is a TJEd homeschooler and the co-founder of Life Manifestos.
Oliver and Rachel recently collaborated with Stephen to develop the Leadership Education Manifesto.