Saturday, June 30, 2012

Chinese Camp

We are so fortunate to live in a city where this type of camp is offered!  Arwyn spent the last week with two Chinese women - one who came from Beijing specifically for camp and teaches in the top dance school in China!

Thursday, June 7, 2012

Experiential Education and Change on the Horizon

Each day my daughter walks into a mixed age kindergarten where she sings songs and recites verses.  She plays half of her day on a lovely playground and then goes inside to grind wheat in a hand turned grinder.  She has a natural snack of oatmeal or quinoa or bread made from the wheat ground earlier in the week.  She watercolor paints using vegetable based dyes and fingerknits using natural yarns.  In case you could not tell from the photos on the blog she was adopted from China and became party of our family at the age of 3.5  with an unrepaired cleft palate.  Though we have a little way to go, she was recently released from speech for a break after about 18 months of therapy one day per week.  Her SLP at a world renowned speech clinic told us that very few native English speakers who come to their clinic have the vocabulary and ability to speak and string sentences together that she has.  Though I know that much of it is living in a language rich home there is no doubt in my mind that the verses and songs and puppet shows she sees and hears and participates in daily have given her an edge and vastly helped her in her language skills.

Our son walks in each day to a blank page and spends a full school year creating his own textbooks.  His 4th grade curriculum was filled with animal studies, fractions, Norse mythology and essay writing.  He learned cross stitch and played kick ball and studies Spanish.  Each day he was taught experientially.  He was never told something would be on a test.  He was educated for the sake of being educated and learning to go forth successfully into the world.  His world is more reflective of a classical education surrounded by the beauty of the Waldorf method instead of cramming knowledge into be regurgitated on a test to be forgotten the next day.  He is submersed in subjects for weeks at a time instead of taking a leap frog approach to subjects skimming the surface enough to ring the bell  before moving to the next lily pad.  

Does it matter?  To us it does.  In today's educational environment children are being conditioned to "the test."  I have not heard it from one college professor but from many.  When college professors are teaching the hands go up.  "Professor, is it on the test?"  Last night a girl who has a Ph.D. and is a literacy coach in a large public  school system said that in the current education environment that if she had children they would most likely also attend private school like she did.  She said she could not send children into classroom where the test is the ultimate goal and teachers are held hostage to the percentages.   

With that said, she also shared with us change is on the horizon in the public schools and that gives me hope.  I have been studying news articles regarding education, particulary in TN and the greater Southereast.  Though test scores do little for me I was happy to see that TN has gone from being 46th in the nation in education to 21st and that Georgia has made it to number 8.  I have been hearing from friends who are involved heavily in public schools in Nashville that the high school we are zoned for has allowed the local Chamber to step in and help steer the school and created a series of "academies" that are the talk of the nation.  In fact, they often host educators from all of the country wishing  to recreate the model in their own schools.    

These academies give real world experience and allow the children (high schoolers) to choose their potential career paths from 5 broad options.  They are taught from the perspective of those paths and are even partnered with local professionals in a mentoring process.  It's all about the experience and giving the children a larger view of education and providing hands on opportunities.

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Education - City Mouse vs. Country Mouse

Though my experiences were not the best in the small town in which I grew up I know that much of what fuels the education debate is a crisis found more in large suburban areas and in cities where there is much disparity among schools.  Growing up  in  a small town the children received the same education regardless of whether or not they lived in a large country estate or in housing projects in the middle of town.  Having only one elementary school (now there are two) in my hometown we did not have to consider busing vs. neighborhood schools.  There were no lotteries or magnets schools.  Charter schools were something that crazy people in California were discussing and had no bearings on our educational system.  

Living in Nashville I see much the broader picture of urban education and its impact on my own family.  If we were to put our children in public school in the Fall we would be driving them a couple of miles down the road to what I hear is a fantastic public elementary school.  Looking at the website and talking to folks in our area, I believe that it is truly is a great place to be.  Unfortunately, the school in my backyard - which we are not zoned for - is also a great school and is Montessori based.  We are a 5 minute walk to that school but children have to be enrolled there through a lottery process by age 3 or else there is little chance of getting in.  That school has no buses that roll through.  The families there are committed to education and it has a high level of parental involvement (though I hear the other one has very involved parents as well).  

For families who cannot afford private school and who cannot afford to be zoned for a great elementary school, the lottery is the only choice if they are seeking a better education for their children.  I do not want this to seem like I support busing (because I do not), but there has to be a better way.  The question I always come back to is why aren't all of the school as good as the lottery schools?  In Nashville where many of the elementary schools are fantastic why do I meet parents in all areas of my life who pull their children out of the public system as they enter into middle school if they do not get into a magnet school?

What can be done to improve education overall in the US that will not only satisfy those who push for markers of success but will satisfy the needs of all communities and most importantly feed the children emotionally, socially and mentally?

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Education and Roadblocks Along the Way

Okay, so I shared with you some of my personal experiences in education.  For myself, the issues in the classroom centered around a few key points.  The first is being forced to sit for the majority of the day with one person (1-5 grades) droning on about subjects that I cared very little about.  Had our day been broken up with movement and song and projects I would have had a much more enjoyable experience.  When not in the classroom (having been sent to P.E.) we were subject to the whims of a couple of women who clearly hated teaching and were to be quite frank - cruel to all but their favorite children.  We were not allowed to speak at all during lunch which limited our ability to talk to recess which was unfortunate as that was only about 30 minutes for the entire day.

Bullying was also a very serious issue for myself and a couple of my friends who also came through the system.  Daily taunts and cruelty from a few other children who were allowed to behave badly due to the social status of their families or because they were top students did not make life any easier.  Between extreme boredom and bullying the 180 days per year I was forced to attend school was pure agony. 

I want to be clear here.  I know that is NOT everyone' experience.  But, it is the experience of many.  I also know that we are in an age when so many education reformers are working so hard and putting their time and talent to improving the education of children in this country.  I know that so many are attempting to remove antiquated methods and bring in progressive thought on how children should be taught.  And, I know that those teachers are being blocked in many schools by legislation, administrative staff members who are not progressive, lack of funding (how can we fund major league sports and not have enough text books?) or teacher unions who do not allow the best to stand out as it emphasizes those who are not performing as well.  

For the children who find themselves zoned for great school districts (in cities) or who land great teachers these are not issues.  For the rest of the children....well.....they are.  

Stay tuned for more on my thoughts on education and why we have made the choices we have made. 

Monday, June 4, 2012

Experiential Education and the Reasoning

If you read the previous post you know that I am constantly thinking about education and the choice we make for our children as the financial investment into private education is huge.  It really was only this year that I began to really articulate for myself why we continue to make the choice of Waldorf education for our children.   One of my "aha's" came a few weeks ago as I was cleaning out our garage.  A neighborhood church was having a yard sale and was advertising pick up of unwanted items to be donated.  I called and a gentlemen in his late fifties came and picked up our donation.  As we spent some time visiting with this man and chatting about his life in our community talk turned toward education and where our children go to school and where his adult children attended school.  Near the end of the conversation I shared with him that I wanted my children to walk into a great experience each and every day.  He told me that was not possible.  Rubbish!  We choose our reality - at least I do - and I know that the choices we make for them dictate much of what they experience each day.

Speaking of experience, though I will not go into great detail here I will say I had varied experiences in school.  A product of public education nearly each of  the first 7 school years for me were pure hell with the last 5 improving greatly.  I can honestly say that the improvement came as a result of having about 8 phenomenal teachers between 8th and 12th grades.  Not to say my entire high school experience was great.  But those 8 teachers made the rest tolerable.  Tolerable.  That was largely my school experience.  Had it not been for those 8 teachers (who were inspiring and motivating and exciting) and of course the great group of friends that I surrounded myself with I might not be able to use the word tolerable at all.  I would guess that between 8th and 12th grades I had approximately 25 teachers and even now looking back to be able to say that 8 were phenomenal is shocking to me even now.  That is not to say there were only 8 good teachers at my high school.  There were others in classes that I did not take but I can honestly say that many of my classes were uninspiring and ineffective to say the least.  And, that is NOT to say that every teacher in every private school is inspiring and phenomenal because I also know that is not the case. 

Circling back around to my previous post and keeping the word "tolerable" in mind I'll share with you the conversation my husband and I had last night as we stood by the bonfire talking with his friends and listening to another alum play the guitar and sing.  I told him that SAS must have been a really great experience.  It was he said.  As he went there late (as a junior) he wasn't quite as connected to the culture and the people.  But, he had a great experience.  His days were filled with inspired learning where knowledge was taught for the sake of knowledge and for the sake of learning and acquiring wisdom.  Subjects were delved into and critical thinking was encouraged.  We stood under the stars last night and I listened and knew that these folks were greatly shaped by their education environment.  They are all life long learners and were part of a long tradition of people who had come through the ranks at the school.  Each year this reunion is for all graduates of the school.  There oldest reunion class that I saw was 1952.  To know that these folks all come back there each year to celebrate that experience is amazing.  

Experience.  Experiential.  What is it about the experience?  Stay tuned for more thoughts on the experience vs. the education.

Sunday, June 3, 2012

Experiential Education and the Cost

Last night I had the opportunity to attend my husband's 20th high school reunion at St. Andews Sewanee here in Tennessee.  As I met with some of his high school friends and watched many other reunion groups during the evening it fueled much thought and fed into my ever dissecting of the decision each year we make to send out children to private school.

Let me set the stage.  St. Andrews is a former military school turned college prep in 1981.  My husband's class was only 11 years into the college prep program and now they are moving into their 32nd year of co-ed education.  St. Andrews is set on a huge campus of beautifully forrested land on a mountaintop in Sewanee, TN and the children attend classes in a wonderful modern building amid Spanish influenced dorms and offices.  They fill their days with inspired classes and have access to an incredible university library a few miles down the road.  Extracurricular programs include typical high school things such as football and cross-country, drama and art but due to their mountain setting they have opportunities to hike and canoe and explore nature as well.

Most of the graduates (of course there are exceptions) are thriving adults who went on to institutes of higher learning and are leading successful lives all across the country.  For the most part, there is nothing too extraordinary about the folks I met and spoke with.  They are in design, finance, education, and engineering.  They are married with children and live for the most part a fairly typical life.  As someone who is constantly reevaluating our choice in education for our children, I listed intently on the conversations these folks had about their school experience as well as what their lives look like now.

Let me clarify something about the reevaluation.  I do not reevaluate because I doubt the educational choice for my children as in questioning the validity of the method.  I do question each year if it will make a difference in their lives later on to have made what will eventually be a 6 figure investment into each of the children's primary education.  I am writing about this today because I know that so many of us who are making this investment do question.  Beyond the financial  the real question is this - what difference does it make if my children attend the private school of our choice or our neighborhood public school.  In the long term what is the difference? 

I am going to leave you with that thought and tomorrow you can see what I have over and over again come up with as well as continuing to have my feelings validated by experiences such as this weekend's reunion.