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Posted in Educational Reform, Homeschooling, Inspiration, Tips for Parents

That’s Just The Way It Is…NOT, Part 1

So many aspects of our modern lives and the way society is structured are taken for granted, and we just assume things are the way they are because they have to be that way. This series of posts looks at a few of the hidden assumptions we commonly make about education.

Parents At Work, Kids At School

The fragmentation of family life is an artifact of corporate culture, but it’s not how most people truly want to live. It seems so normal now for parents to spend most of their day working outside the home and kids to spend most of their day at school that it’s easy to forget that this isn’t an arrangement ordained by nature.

In fact, many parents pine for all the moments they miss having with their kids, and miss having the chance to see them grow up. Most parents feel that they have no choice, and that leading separate lives from their kids is a matter of economic necessity.

However, it doesn’t have to be that way, and many families are proving that learning and life don’t have to be separate. Not only that, but work and life don’t have to be separate either. Go to school, get a job, work until you retire is still the dominant paradigm, but it is fading faster and faster as more and more individuals and families discover the alternatives made ever more accessible by the emerging connection economy. As the human family wakes up to its technological and social potential, the old assumptions about how we must organize our lives become more and more obsolete and less and less appealing.

Planning your life is no longer a matter of selecting from a menu of available options, it’s an open-source, DIY, choose yourself free-for-all. The bottom line is this: if you want to actually grow up with your kids instead of seeing it happen from afar, you don’t have to get permission, you just have to decide to make it happen, and get to work figuring out the nuts and bolts. If this family can do what they did, any family can equally well live the life they choose.

Posted in Educational Reform, Math

Math Is A Creative Endeavor

Many of us come away from our compulsory math education with the impression that math and creativity have nothing to do with each other, that math is the epitome of convergent thinking: there is just one right answer, and just one way to find it. At best, this is only half true.

Mathematical statements are precise, and have binary true/false values (if they are well-defined), but those of us who enjoy math see it as a creative exploration of logical relationships. The answers in math may be convergent, but the ways of arriving at them are infinitely divergent.

For example, consider the question “what is 5 + 5?” Ostensibly, it has just one answer, 10. But how many ways are there to arrive at this answer? Some people might do it by counting. Others might do it by multiplying 5 times 2. Others might do it by looking at their hands. Many probably know it by rote memorization. In terms of the inner cognitive process of computation, there is literally no limit to the variations of thought involved even with such a simple calculation.

Now consider something a bit more sophisticated (yet still relatively simple), like a proof of the Pythagorean theorem. It has been known at least since the Babylonians, definitively proved at least since Euclid, yet over the centuries hundreds of proofs of the Pythagorean theorem have been recorded, including an original one by president James Garfield. The question “how many ways are there to prove the Pythagorean theorem” is a classic example of divergent thinking in action.

If the idea of math as a creative endeavor seems surprising to you, don’t worry, it’s not your fault. It’s simply a result of outdated teaching methods. When I teach math, I do it in a way that engages both sides of your brain, so that it is actually engaging, interesting, satisfying, and yes, creative.

Posted in Homeschooling, Independent Education, Tips for Parents

Why Homeschooling Should Be Every Parent’s Dream

The joy of having children is not just in seeing them grow up, but in growing up with them. Seeing how they are coming along is fine, but it doesn’t compare to the experience of participating in their evolution, and expanding your concept of yourself as a person in the process.

As a society, we place a lot of emphasis on family values, but this does not mean that family is central to our lives. On the contrary, it is a reaction to the reality of emotional distance and physical separation that many families are experiencing. It is an expression of nostalgia. As a parallel, country music wasn’t popular in America when most people lived on farms. It started to become popular when more people started to move to cities, and it has become popular in other countries around the world that are experiencing similar demographic transitions.

Also by way of parallel, the Tao Te Ching says,

“When Tao is lost, virtue arises.
When virtue is lost, benevolence arises.
When benevolence is lost, morality arises.
When morality is lost, etiquette arises.
Etiquette is the husk of faith,
and the beginning of chaos.”

Similarly, it might be said that when familial cohesion is lost, family values arise.

“To spend more time with my kids” is the wish of every overworked parent. But more and more families are demonstrating that the demands of modern life don’t have to compartmentalize family members, that education can involve parents and children in a cooperative, mutually beneficial process instead of segregating and isolating them.

Millions of homeschooling families have found that it is possible to rewrite the societal script for how children should be raised, and eminently worthwhile. For the most part, they aren’t doing it because they have to, but because of the rewards it brings, because they find the role of parent-as-partner far more fulfilling than the role of parent-as-provider. In doing so they are rediscovering a meaning of family that goes beyond just sharing a home to actually sharing life. Children are not just an opportunity to teach, they are an opportunity to learn and to grow, if we are up to answering the call.

Posted in Educational Reform, Homeschooling, Independent Education

What’s Wrong With Compulsory Schooling?

If school is necessary and beneficial, why does it need to be mandatory? Things that are truly necessary, like eating and sleeping, don’t need to be enforced because people want to do them. Likewise, people, especially children, are gifted with an innate curiosity and industriousness that makes them want to explore, discover, and create. They want to help others, they want to do the things that adults do, and every child, at some point, dreams of saving the world. Children do not want to avoid meaningful work, they crave it. Passivity is not the natural state of the human organism, but it is a natural reaction to coercion.

The belief that people don’t want to help themselves is a self fulfilling prophecy. If we believe that children must be forced to learn, we rob them of their initiative and don’t allow their creativity and intellectual curiosity to flourish. Children forget most of the facts they are force-fed at school, but they learn the meta-lesson all too well: “You are not in control of your life.”

The reason kids don’t want to go to school isn’t that they don’t know what’s good for them, it’s that they do know what’s bad for them. They don’t want to spend their time on useless, unfulfilling tasks, they don’t want to be forced to compete, and they don’t want to be judged, ridiculed, or belittled. They want to flourish, and they seek out the things that help them do that whether we try to force them or not; in fact we can’t keep them from doing it. We don’t have to force children to learn any more than we have to force them to breathe.

Posted in Inspiration, Tips for Students

I.Q. Isn’t All It’s Cracked Up To Be

Some kids give up on trying to learn math because they think they’re not smart enough.  Others are afraid of asking for help because they don’t want to appear dumb.  Both cases result from the mistaken emphasis placed on IQ.

If I.Q. is a thing that we can even measure, then it is a measure of how well a person can solve the types of problems that appear on I.Q. tests.  This really doesn’t tell us much about a person or their potential for achievement, any more than any other narrow metric would, such as how much weight you can lift, or how well you can draw.

Above-average intelligence is a gift to be sure, but everyone is gifted in different ways.  If you are wishing to have someone else’s gifts, it is because you aren’t fully appreciating your own.  Someone who has a high I.Q. might wish to be gifted with more physical beauty, someone who is physically beautiful might wish to be gifted with more athleticism, someone who is gifted with athleticism might wish to be gifted with a better sense of humor.  All such wishing is pointless, because it prevents us from appreciating, enjoying, and sharing the gifts we have.  It is also misguided, because when we are doing it we aren’t realizing that people who have those gifts we are wishing for aren’t necessarily having a better experience of life than we are.  Someone who is naturally athletic, beautiful, intelligent, or is born with tons of money in all probability lives with their own set of regrets and limitations that you would be glad not to have.

Intelligence is certainly not the determining factor in how well you do in school.  As one recent article states,

“A highly intelligent person might solve their homework in half an hour. An actively intelligent person starts their homework early, takes longer, but gets it done in a weekend. Both students pass.

The luckier person might seem the more intelligent one, but there are dangers to coasting through most of your life. The actively intelligent person is developing a more valuable skill: how to recognise and consistently do the smart things, even when they might not want to.”

Also, if you read the answers to the question “What is it like to have an extremely high I.Q.?” on Quora, you will see a common theme emerge: many people who answer say that school was very easy for them, but they hated it, and that it took them much longer than other people to learn many valuable life lessons.

Also, being praised for being smart has plenty of drawbacks, as my own experience has attested; it actually lowered my self esteem and my drive to achieve.  Being thought of as dedicated, kind, honest, and fair will get you much farther than being thought of as smart will.

Overall, giving any thought to your I.Q. is pointless.  Whatever your score on an I.Q. test would be, there is nothing that you could do with it, and nothing that it would allow you to do (or prevent you from doing).  You will be much better off focusing on discovering what you are passionate about and pursuing those interests, whatever they may be.

Posted in Independent Education, Inspiration, Teaching & Learning, Tips for Students

Albert Einstein’s Letter To His Son

I recently came across a letter from Albert Einstein to his son, aged 11, just before he became famous.  Historically, eccentric geniuses don’t tend to make the most reliable fathers, and Albert was absent for most of his kids’ lives while they were being raised, but this letter shows that this was clearly a matter of distraction rather than a lack of compassion.  My favorite thing about it is that Albert, never a stickler for academic conformity himself, tells his son that there are more important things than school, namely joy and learning:

“I am very pleased that you find joy with the piano. This [is] better even than school…Mainly play the things on the piano which please you, even if the teacher does not assign those. That is the way to learn the most…”

Posted in Online Tutoring

My Secret Strategy For Making A 32 On The ACT – Without Test Prep!

In this blog post I will reveal the secret strategy that I used to make a 32 on the ACT and go to college for free, without any test prep. Are you ready? Here it is:

Learn what is taught in school as you go along.

Let me explain. Students and their parents spend hundreds of thousands or even millions of dollars on test prep materials, services, and software each year, but the ACT (as well as the SAT) is designed to measure academic achievement in high school. This means that there’s nothing on the test that is not covered by the standard curriculum that all students are required to take. Test prep is only a review, and can’t prepare a student to perform well starting from scratch. The time to begin preparing for the ACT is not a month or even six months before taking the test, but the first day of freshman year, by having a passion for learning, a personal motivation for what you are doing, and by getting help along the way. Learning is fueled by relevance, and without having a sense of purpose and drive, cramming facts and figures is like trying to fill a bottomless bucket.

As an online tutor and academic coach, I help students not only learn the most effective ways to use their talents, but also get in touch with their own sense of passion, motivation, and burning sense of curiosity. If you build a house with a strong foundation, you won’t need to do last-minute repairs. Contact me today to find out how I can help your son or daughter unleash their inner academic rock star.