Apr 012014
Some rights reserved by CollegeDegrees360

Some rights reserved by CollegeDegrees360

I was reading an article about how much pressure is put on high school students to get into good colleges and all the things they need to do to get into college. All of this is incredibly stressful and means giving up most other things that they might want to do or enjoy. Parents consider it a sign of Good parenting if their children get into a “good”school.

What seems so sad to me is that most Sudbury Valley students who want to go to a “good” college get in. What’s sad about that is that they haven’t given up as much. They do have to take their time to study for the SATs or the ACTs and of course fill out the applications but they haven’t spent time fluffing up their resumes with good looking extracurricular activities. They haven’t stressed for a single minute about grades or tests.

They struggle when they get into college just like  every student because the work load is very different from anything they’ve had but since they’re much more used to managing their own time they often have an easier time adjusting to the high demands of college.

The sad part is that SVS students get into college at a similar rate that those from a highly affluent high school do without the stress that those kids in traditional schools endure for years. If getting into a good college is the goal of good high schools then we can see that it can be done with far less stress and trade off.

Some will argue that the students at SVS are self-selected intelligent kids from middle class families since there’s no financial aid but so are the kids from affluent high schools.

The question comes down to, if all the kids that were going to college anyway can be just as successful doing so whether they are pushed and stressed or allowed to relax and choose their own activities and ways to do things every day wouldn’t it be better to do the latter? Our young adults could arrive at adulthood  happy, self-confident, capable and accepted at college as opposed to stressed and overwhelmed as they start their adventures as their own grown-ups.

It certainly seems like common sense that the pushed and stressed way would be the more successful way, but years of data show that either way works so let’s give our children the gift of emotional stability as they ascend into adulthood.



Feb 132014
Old woman sitting with baby girl on her lap

Some rights reserved by Old Shoe Woman

Many people often feel that one of the reasons that adults get to determine what children should do is that they have experience that children don’t have due to their age.  Adults look back over their lives and determine what has been beneficial or detrimental to them and use that information to decide what children should or shouldn’t do.

The problem with that, though, is just because something went a specific way for one person doesn’t mean it will go the same way for the next person.  Generations are different, context is different, and people are different.  One person shouldn’t necessarily impose the lessons they learned from their experience on anyone else.

People who are older than other people often feel that they have the right to tell younger people what to do because they have “learned from their experience”.  The issue, though, is that what each person learns from their experience is different.  Each person should be allowed to learn from their own experiences.

I find it valuable to hear about other people’s experience.  I like to hear what other people have been through, good and bad, it’s interesting and could be helpful for me.  I keep an open mind as to what I can get from other people’s experiences.  I use what I hear though and filter it though my own experiences, values, lessons I’ve learned and an understanding of who I am to consider how to use the information from others.

The tyranny of experience needs to be curtailed.  Grownups think they know how children should and shouldn’t do things because of how their own lives have gone.  The problem, though, is that cutting someone else off from learning through the experiences they choose stops the learning process.  Telling someone of your experience can be helpful, but it needs to be done without imposing the lessons learned.

Imposing the lessons that you’ve learned from an experience onto someone else disrespects each individuals’ differences and the fact that just because a particular experience affected one person one way, doesn’t meant that it will affect the next person the same way.  Assuming that everyone learns the same thing from a specific kind of an experience is unfair and disrespectful.

Don’t get me wrong, experience is very useful and can help other people learn, but imposing the lessons we learned from our own experiences on others doesn’t make sense.  People of all ages, children or adults, should be allowed to create their own experiences and draw the lessons from them that they feel are important.


Feb 062014
Child in seat belt

Some rights reserved by Kacey3

When I was watching a documentary about prohibition a phrase used struck me in that the narrator explained that the people advocating for prohibition felt that they were fine dealing with alcohol but they felt that other people couldn’t handle it and needed to be regulated by a law. This is not unlike people’s thoughts on many issues, most people feel that they are in control of their actions but are sure that others need to be related, restricted, limited, educated, etc. in order to behave correctly.

I also used to be a foster parent and the stated goal of every intervention with the children in their care was, “the best interests of the child.”  It quickly became apparent, though, that most everything done was in the “best interests” of the foster care agency. They either needed to cover liability issues or work within their resources or deal with personal issues related to abuse and neglect.

Figuring out someone else’s best interests is incredibly difficult.  Even figuring it out for ourselves is difficult.  Is it better to eat only meat and vegetables or should we focus on grains and other foods?  Is it better for us to spend our time working hard in a career we love while earning little money or work less hard in something that’s tolerable and earns much more money?  Many questions are just unanswerable.

So when we think of doing things in the “best interests” of our children, how do we know?  There are some easy issues.  It is definitely better not to let two year olds run into traffic, it’s better for my kids to brush their teeth than not, it’s better that they wear their seat belts as opposed to not.  The problem comes in when you go beyond the obvious.  Is it really better to make them eat all organic food or make their bed every day or learn long division?  Honestly I don’t know.  I’m not sure anyone knows at this point.  It was considered important that I learn French and ballroom dancing as a child.  I’m not at all sure how those things have contributed to my life.  Could I have spent that time doing something that would have been better for who I ended up being?  Again, I don’t really know.

When we think of what’s in someone else’s “best interests” perhaps we need to think a little more carefully about where those ideas of what we know “better” than someone else come from.  Do we wish we had been forced to do better at long division?  Do I feel like my experience is just like what someone else would experience and therefore I can take my lessons and apply them to another person?

To me, it seems that it may come from two places, a sense that many people believe that if everyone acts in a certain way we could have a perfect society, so basically control and/or wanting to give our children the best chance to have the easiest and happiest lives we can prepare them for, in other words responsibility.  The belief that there is a “right” way to do things and if everyone did this everything would be perfect for everyone is a fantasy.  Also, the idea that we could prepare ourselves or the people we love in a way that would make their futures exactly what they want is also, unfortunately, a fantasy.  None of us have that much control in the world.

Basically, none of us knows for sure most of what would be in the “best interest” of any of us and certainly not of someone else.  I will continue to prevent small children from running into streets and nag my children to brush their teeth, but beyond that I need to stay aware of the fact that I don’t know what is “best” for anyone, but I do know that annoying, forcing, criticizing and punishing people for not doing what I want them to do is harmful.  Letting my loved ones (of all ages) try out actions, experience consequences and then decide how they want to proceed the next time with that action is probably the best I can do.



 Teaching  Comments Off
Jan 302014
Some rights reserved by golbenge (골뱅이)

Some rights reserved by golbenge (골뱅이)

When you teach someone a single way to solve any problem you risk that they will rely on that way of reaching a solution. The problem comes in when the usual solution doesn’t work or the solution might cause problems give the circumstances.

This is one reason that I believe that traditional teaching is not a good idea. It relies on the concept that there is one best way to do most things. This type of teaching was designed at a time when conformity was prized over almost anything else and it was accepted that rich people were better than anyone else and what they said and believed was always more valuable than what anyone else said or thought.

Society had since learned that this is an incredibly limiting easy of thinking. Valuing ideas based on the status of the thinker instead of the quality of the idea limits innovation and growth. Anarchy of thinking and idea development is important for best growth.

Currently children are considered lower status people and their ideas are generally not respected. They are considered solely learners and required to learn the few “right”ways of doing things before they can be allowed to start having respectable ideas of their own.
The problem is that this shuts down creative thinking once they’ve been taught a “correct” way of doing something by an authority they are less likely to come up wroth their own solutions that might be better, more efficient, more elegant or just interesting.

If we as a society again deem a whole class of people as having only unimportant ideas and thoughts we miss out on any innovation they might have. If in the meantime, while they are growing through this demeaned status, we indoctrinate them into the ideas we already have then we risk missing out on what they could come up with that might be better.

We need to stop assuming that age and experience always breeds better solutions and ideas. Sometimes naivete is exactly what is needed when coming up with something.


On-Demand Teaching

 Teaching  Comments Off
Jan 232014

Joryn Snowblower 2013Recently I was teaching one of my sons how to use the snowblower.  He’s been waiting a number of years to be tall enough and strong enough to use it. Excited as he was to learn about it, he listened carefully about how to turn it on and off, how to manage the finicky choke and how to keep from slicing off any limbs.  He then took hold of the machine and off he went.  He was tentative at first, plowing through a short pathway then turning and asking me for help with some maneuver that was difficult.  In under a half an hour, though, he was on his own so I was able to take pictures of his achievement and could go work on clearing off the cars.

As I moved away from him I noticed that he was plowing crossways on the driveway instead of lengthwise like I do it. I considered going over to him and explaining that it would be more efficient and easier to do the way I did it and then I stopped myself.  Who cares how long it takes?  We had all day and what he was doing wasn’t at all dangerous so why did I think I should interfere with how he was deciding to plow?  I watched him for a few minutes and realized that snowblowing across the driveway instead of up and down it had the benefit of making it easier to turn at the end of every pass because he wasn’t pushing against the house.  It occurred to me that it might actually be a bit easier.

I realized from this interaction with my son that there are many things that require teaching.  For example, how to start the dishwasher, how to do multiplication, how to drive a car, how to write a 5 paragraph essay and many more.  The issue isn’t so much that teaching is irrelevant, but it’s how and when it’s done.  My son was completely ready and interested in learning to use the snowblower.  He learned everything I needed to teach him in just a few minutes. Granted, it’s not an advanced skill, but he didn’t ignore anything I said.  When he was finished learning the essentials he went on to practice.  He spent some time working out things that couldn’t really be taught, but had to be experienced, like how to move the snowblower over a hill of ice and how to turn it and so forth.

The difference between this experience of teaching and learning was that it was on-demand.  My son has been wanting to do this for years, but I’ve had to put him off until he was taller than the machine.  I thought about all the other times he or his siblings demand some information or to be taught a skill.  I spend a great deal of time in the car answering questions about why can’t someone stop the war in Syria (they have friends from Syria), why does Kim Jong Un behave the way he does? what is a Tasmanian devil? how does quicksand work?  I feel like I’m constantly bringing up google searches and YouTube videos on my phone to show them something.

On-demand learning means that the learners are interested in what they’re trying to get information on and they feel like it is theirs.  They integrate the information more deeply and are able to use it instead of quickly forgetting it.


Generational amnesia

 Trusting  Comments Off
Jan 162014
Some rights reserved by SuziJane

Some rights reserved by SuziJane

I’m a podcast junkie. I listen to them on any drive I have without children. On a recent drive I looked down at my phone to see a TED talk starting that was titled, “txting is ruining language”. I don’t at all believe that so I considered fast forwarding through it, but I thought it might be a good idea to hear ideas contradictory to my own. It turned out, though, that the title was contradictory and the speaker was arguing my side.

It’s de rigeur he (and I) argue that each generation of adults must lament how young people are ruining language or are rotting their brains with novels, comic books, rock and roll, tv, video games, etc. There seems to be some amnesia that takes over when you reach a certain age that makes you forget that the last generation thought that you were the losers, but most of you made it and probably the next generation will as well.

I think there’s some level of anxiety that takes over adults when watching young people, especially teenaged young people that makes us think that there’s no easy that they’ll turn into responsible adults. They seem to be wholly immersed in whatever media had taken over their generation and the adults assume that it must be that which is causing the problem. Unfortunately, though, is a much larger problem. It’s developmental.

My children have just entered this age of adolescence and gone are the somewhat level headed, competent, coherent people I used to know. Now I tell them something on Saturday, they acknowledge it, then by Monday they’re doing the opposite and I have to lower the boom. It’s going to be like this for quite a while. If I was to predict their future based solely on their current behavior I would only be able to guess doom and gloom. They’re barely able to manage the basics of daily life without my prompting.

The only reason I can manage a modicum of sanity (and its barely more than a modicum) is because as a previous high school teacher and a studier of psychology I’ve watched many young people move from young adolescence to adulthood.  Luckily, it turns out, that young adolescence is a stage.  Most people smooth out as they get older and are able to make better and better decisions.  This is more true of young people who are supported and encouraged by stable and kind grown ups around them.

Jan 062014
Some rights reserved by epSos.de

Some rights reserved by epSos.de

I’ve noticed that one of the problems people have with my kids’ school is that it’s fun.  What I want to know is what the problem with fun is?  The reason people come up with is that the kids won’t be prepared for a not-fun adulthood.  So the next question is when did it become mandatory that adulthood not be fun?  I understand responsibilities and making sure that adults are respectful, responsible, productive and generally good people.  That’s what we’re all raising our kids towards, but why is it assumed that kids won’t be those things if not harmed as children?

I’ve tried to imagine what my biggest fears for my children are.  Certainly I don’t want them to get hurt or killed, but I would also be upset if they become drug addicts or criminals instead of becoming productive adults. The thing is that drugs and criminal activity isn’t actually fun.  It’s painful and miserable.  Raising my kids to expect that the world is fun doesn’t make them think that they will prefer to be doing drugs.  I, then, look at the fun and comfort they have as children to see if that could contribute to addictions and criminal behavior.  I rarely hear the background story of kids having a loving and comfortable childhood so they got into drugs.  Now perhaps the stories of ultra-rich kids turning into useless drug addicts, but I wouldn’t consider their childhoods to be free, fun and comfortable just because they have money.

I guess the question is: is being productive a product of making people be productive or is it part of the development of most people?  It might seem that children left to their own devices will just sit around and do nothing if productivity only results from force.  Every unschooler and free-schooler will tell you that lack of productivity is the last thing you’ll see in kids who have not had a schedule imposed on them.  Kids are extremely busy.  My kids have to pack up a wide variety of things to bring to school because they are very busy creating, collaborating, thinking, designing their world, interactions and time.

Fun seems to encourage more productivity, not less.  What they do every day is fun for them so they are incredibly dedicated.  Why would it change in adulthood?  Is everything in adulthood miserable?  I don’t think so.  I and many people I know have found ways to earn money in ways that are not torture.  Granted, they are not like playing outside all day, but we all realize that if we want certain things in life we need to do other things.  My kids realize this too.  They have to do certain things to get other things.  They don’t have to be taught this or forced to do things they don’t want to or are uninterested in for most of their time.



 Motivation  Comments Off
Dec 052013

Children MarchingAny good dictator will tell you that controlling people is not really as easy as it looks. It takes a lot of effort to make people do as they’re told. There is a lot of work making sure that people are scared and feel sufficiently boxed in,  feel completely unable to make choices. The idea that it’s easy to influence people to do things is fed to us regularly, especially when it comes to children. Parents are told that we are responsible for who our children become as if a deft flick of the wrist and a conscientious style of parenting will result  in influencing our children to become exactly who we want them to be because getting other people to do what we want is relatively easy. It’s just a matter of wanting to do it and putting a little effort into it. The message is that parents who aren’t succeeding at it just aren’t trying hard enough.

The ridiculousness of this is truly astounding. Advertisers have been working on the intricacies of manipulating the public to do their bidding for decades. Certainly they have done wonderfully, but still they wield a relatively blunt tool. Even advertisers can’t make everyone do exactly what they want, when they want. All influencing/manipulating is blunt, if effective at all. Sometimes it’s not only not effective, it may actually have the opposite effect of what was intended.

Schools, originally, were intended to give kids some very basic skills so they could help their families on the farms. Wealthier kids were meant to carry on activities to maintain the family’s wealth. Later, the state realized that educating citizens could gain them some workers that they could use to grow the state for their own purposes. When immigrants started coming into the country schools were considered the seat of assimilation. They were meant to be the place where children were prepared to be used for the family or the state.

Now it seems that there is some “highest potential” hidden in schools and if adults keep pushing content into kids, kids can get somewhere. We can’t let go of this idea that we, as adults, are supposed to be influencing our kids “correctly” because if we let go of that we feel that we’ll be blamed if our kids don’t turn out “right”. We forget the fact that we’ll be blamed either way. There is so much ridiculous and contradictory, solely  correlational data about so many details about children that noone really has any idea what causes a child to grow up to be a good person.

We just live in fear of doing the wrong thing and getting fingers pointed at us by others as well as ourselves if our children aren’t what we think they should be.  Perhaps it’s time we let go of the idea that we, as parents, can “make” our kids be anything in particular and get out of the way.


Yoga and learning

 Uncategorized  Comments Off
Nov 282013

4440274580_3102588a48_nI started taking Yoga classes just recently.  Many friends have said that they enjoy the workout so I wanted to see what it was about.  I already belonged to a gym so I found out when their yoga classes were and started going.  As expected, the workout is incredibly hard but satisfying

What intrigued me was how the class was run.  As an adult, none of us were forced to be there so the class is run assuming that we are all doing our best or getting what we want out of the class.  The instructor does the poses in front of the class and explains as best she can (right now I have only had female teachers) how we could mimic the poses.  There is no criticism whatsoever and from looking around the class I can tell that students are in all different phases of learning and ability to do the moves the instructor is modeling. Of course there are no grades or any type of motivational tactics used. We all choose to be there and are taking from it what we can and what we want.

It made me think of how different this is from traditional classes either for children or in typical colleges.  There is an assumption that people don’t want to be doing the work even if they, themselves have paid for the classes.  A great deal of pushing and criticizing and motivating is involved in teaching in the regular school atmosphere.

Why can’t all learning be similar to a yoga class?  There is a person there that knows far more than the rest of us and is modeling and instructing us, but the other parts, the assumption that we, the students, are resisting learning is missing.  People often start and stay with yoga for their entire lives even though it is quite physically difficult.  What would learning be like if people of all ages were trusted to go into every learning situation as if they were interested and self-motivated and would be taking from it what they could and what they wanted? The fear is that no one would learn anything because young people are assumed not to want to learn or work hard.

Everyone works much harder to learn and practice the things that interest them.  As long as these things are don’t harm anyone what’s wrong with letting people dig deep into their own interests?  There’s almost always a way to create a living out of at least one thing that a person is interested in, alternatively many people are perfectly willing and happy to do jobs that are not within their interests, but provide the money necessary to support their ability to do what they are interested in.



 Pushing  Comments Off
Nov 212013

Violin lessonsThere are so many skills and knowledge that have shown to help people be successful if they’ve learned them as children. What this has led to is a drive by many parents to work to push as many of these advantageous skills and knowledge into their children before they become old enough to make their own decisions about what they want and don’t want to learn. The problem, though, is that although the skills and knowledge are clearly helpful, but what effect does the forcing of this information have? Does it cause trouble? Does it cause more trouble than the skills help?

It turns out that how a person learns what they learn is as important as what they learn.  More and more research focusing on motivation is showing that factors relating to how much control over their own decisions a person feels they have guides a lot of their decisions in later life.  For example, if a person feels that they are continually pushed to do something that they don’t want to do, even if they happen to be very good at it, like math or reading. They will do it in the short-term, but will likely not do it in the long-term.

It has been discovered that  a person’s long-term involvement in an activity is determined by their feelings of intrinsic motivation.  a person feels intrinsic motivation if they feel a sense of autonomy, mastery and purpose.  That is to say if they feel that they can make the decision about what they want to do or not to do, if they feel that they have the chance to get good at it, and if they can understand how it fits into the bigger picture of what is important to them in the world.

More and more research is basically showing that the method of pushing our children to learn exactly what we want them to learn the way we want them to learn it is backfiring on us.  For some children it just fits.  It makes them feel autonomous and masterful and purposeful and for those children the system as it is is successful.  For all of the other ones, though, it is not.  All of the other children  are capable of learning, but without supported in their intrinsic motivation they are losing their natural curiosity and drive to learn and discover.  Adults are trying to push our agenda and fears onto children and it’s making things worse.