But how will kids know?

People ask me how kids will know how good they are at something without tests. It’s a question I get a lot. Possibly because I go through life saying things like, “Can you believe how many tests kids have to take? How much better would the world be if they were drinking milkshakes instead?”

Milkshakes are so good.

OK, I don’t really think kids should drink milkshakes ALL the time. But I think they’d be better off drinking them than taking tests. Especially if they are chocolate peanut butter milkshakes.

I’m a little sad right now, because my mom just gave me this huge lecture about how I need to stop drinking so much diet soda, because it’s definitely going to kill me. I don’t remember why. Calcium was involved. Maybe my bones are going to turn to dust really soon. And diet soda was my healthiest option, since water tastes completely boring to me. She doesn’t know how close I am to drinking milkshakes all the time.

(Vanilla peanut butter is pretty amazing, too. Source)

But that’s not the point.

People explain to me how important tests are, for the kids. They emphasize that part. For the kids. You know, rather than for the maniacal pleasure of power-drunk adults who think tests are hilarious? Pick C., sucker! Fill in the C bubble on #29! You know you want to! DOO IT!!!!!!!! Actually, they mean rather than for maintaining the balance of society, which, they are pretty sure, tests . . . → Read More: But how will kids know?

Life lessons from the world’s classroom

This is a guest post from Kaamna Bhojwani-Dhawan, CEO and Founder of Momaboard.com, the social network for globe-trotting children and their parents. I love the idea of travel as education. When I was fourteen or so, my dad wanted to buy an RV and spend a year traveling around the country as a family. He thought that would be the best homeschooling education his children could possibly receive. My mom said no. And I’m glad I didn’t have to spend a lot of time in an RV with two incredibly exuberant, shockingly loud brothers. But still, it was a pretty awesome idea. Thank you so much for this post, Kaamna!

I moved to America from India to go to college. I left my home, my family, my comfort zone to move to an environment that was culturally and socially radically different from what I knew. And I was one of the luckier ones – I had visited the US before, spent some time in London and had a fairly good idea of Americanisms from shows like Beverly Hills 90210 and Full House (it was the ‘90s!). Some of my fellow international students had left home for the first time, and the formidable cost of a round-trip ticket meant that they weren’t going to see their families for four years, at least.

The decision was our choice – we voluntarily made this move, looking for better education, exposure, opportunities that we couldn’t get back home. Yet, we always marveled at . . . → Read More: Life lessons from the world’s classroom

Learning how to write

This is going to be shocking, so please hold on to something steady: kids learn at different paces.

Wait, there’s more…They learn from doing things, rather than just being told how to do things.

And here’s the most terrifying, overwhelming part: they don’t really need to be “taught.”

Lisa Nielsen, the well-known education and technology expert, writes about how problematic standardized reading tests are. They fail to measure how well a student will be able to read (which is usually quite well, given some time and support), and instead place enormous amounts of pressure on students to be at the same level as their peers, even when we have plenty of information about how the factors that influence when students will begin to read fluently have nothing to do with the classroom.

And what about writing? Nielsen worries that too much emphasis is being placed on formalized written communication. She suggests that writing doesn’t feel relevant for students, because their projects stay within the classroom, rather than relating to the world outside it. They could be writing blogs and columns and letters to the editor. But they write essays that begin with a thesis statement, are followed with two points in defense of the thesis, then a counterpoint, a summary, and a neat conclusion.

She asked me how I learned to write. Which is something I remember much better than I remember a lot of things that happened that long ago.

But first, this is how I learned to read: . . . → Read More: Learning how to write

Chapter 3: What SAT?

The last installment I’ll be sharing here of the thrilling memoir I wrote at sixteen. For chapter one, click here. For chapter two, click here. I don’t always remember my teenage self fondly, but she seems pretty decent in this story. And her name is Fern.

In the car on the way back from the coffee shop Mom wants to discuss my life. Specifically my education. Her favorite topic. I’m so exhausted from my coffee shop ordeal I can hardly keep my eyes open. She’s mentioning geometry a lot. History, too.

“… Responsible for at least a complete public high school educational equivalent,” she’s saying very seriously, glancing over at me. I’ve heard it a lot. I nod several times.

“I’ll have to start assigning reading,” she says.

“Ok,” I say. We both know I’m not going to pursue history all the way to the library myself.

“You have three credits in writing already this year, you need to focus on some other subjects. Such as geometry, history, and chemistry.” I record the amount of time I spend doing stuff on a chart, so that we can calculate how many and which credits I would be receiving in the school system. Colleges like that stuff. Apparently they don’t like it when you get more than one credit per subject a year, though. They think you’re lying if you show up with more than seven credits for any one high school year. I got twelve last year, a lot of . . . → Read More: Chapter 3: What SAT?

16 and homeschooled, chapter 2

Another chapter from the thrilling memoir of my (um, a girl named Fern’s) life as a homeschooled 16-year-old. The names of my family members have been changed to protect their privacy, it seems. My brothers real names are Jake and Gabe I’ll leave the boyfriend a mystery.

Abel, my younger, not youngest, brother, tells me that my boyfriend Drew has called three times. He also mentions that the chamber orchestra has called for him and wants him to tour with them as their soloist this coming spring. Abel plays the flute and he is great at it. He isn’t thrilled about touring, though.

“Where will I stay?” he says into Mom’s hair as she hugs him.

“I’m so proud of you,” Mom says. “What a wonderful opportunity!”

“Mom,” says Abel, who is thirteen but huge, “Will I have to stay in hotels by myself?”

“No,” says Mom, “of course not. We’ll all come with you.”

Max, my youngest brother, groans loudly. He’s sprawled over three dining room chairs, his upside-down face set in a grimace. “Nooo…” he elaborates. “I’m NOT going.”

I walk over to him and poke his stomach. I’m in a poking mood. He shoots upright, yelping, “Stop it, Fern!” He pokes me back. Max is not impressed by Abel’s accomplishments. He’s slept through concerts.

I hug Abel, too, since Mom has finished.

“Awesome, bro,” I tell him. “You rock.” Abel is one of my favorite musicians. (Another several including my father, Max, Ella, . . . → Read More: 16 and homeschooled, chapter 2

16 and homeschooled, Chapter One

Two nights ago, I found pieces of an unfinished loosely fictionalized memoir about my life on my computer. I was sixteen when I wrote it. My name in the pieces is Fern. I guess I thought that was a really cool name. I actually still kind of like it. People always ask me what I did every day, as an unschooler. And I never really remember. When I read this stuff, I got a better idea. So I thought I’d share. Also, you can think about how much I’ve improved as a person and a writer since than, and be impressed. Or think about how little I’ve changed and wonder what that says about me.

Here it is (at least some of it):

My only piano student is seven-years-old. Her name is Eve. I like the name Eve and I’ve also found symbolism there, because she’s my first student and Eve was the first woman. Stretching it slightly, I admit, but I always do. Eve is playing “In the Canoe,” and she’s singing the words they have under the notes. Her voice is really tiny. All of her is tiny. I tell her to put her hand over mine and feel the hand position. She does. I say, “We are strong pianists. We have strong fingers. Wimpy fingers aren’t allowed.” She smiles a little, concentrating. I can’t help thinking, even though I’m her teacher and I’m supposed to be all encouraging, that her hands are just too small. There’s . . . → Read More: 16 and homeschooled, Chapter One

Bear is a genius and I forget everything

My husband (who I refer to as Bear in everything I write) is kind of a genius. OK, he’s my husband, so obviously I think he’s great, but I’m serious: the man is abnormally smart. He’s smart in the perfect-score-on-every-standardized-test way. In the BA-and- MS-at-Stanford-in-four-years way. He’s smart in the thinking-about-the-world-in-surprisingly-unique-terms way. He’s smart in a way that allows him to be able to solve any problem you put in front of him, whether it’s fixing the toilet, programming a computer , comprehending the details of every kind of derivatives trading, or somehow figuring out what’s bothering me when I get really sullen. He’s smart in a way that enables him to be modest and never talk about how smart he is, and listen to other people instead.

All of this is amazing, until I’m lying in bed with him and he is taking a world geography test for fun, and asking me if I remember the capital of Sri Lanka. I do not. And then I don’t remember where Uzbekistan is on the map. Oh my god. A whole country, and I have no idea. It turns out there are other countries I can’t identify by shape. Many of them. Bear is telling me about how the ethnic minority in such and such a place, which is called this gigantic word that I’m sure he’s pronouncing correctly in a language I can’t identify, has a really interesting alphabet, with a really interesting history. And then there’s their currency. Which . . . → Read More: Bear is a genius and I forget everything

Bad at gaming the system

After reading the last post, my father-in-law sent me an article about homeschoolers that Business Week published a few years ago. He said the homeschoolers he’d heard about and come into contact with before me seemed more like the ones Business Week described.

Homeschoolers who are gaming the system. Homeschooling families that are producing super-genius kids who get into Harvard when they’re fifteen and go on to govern small but precocious island nations in preparation for the time when they can achieve world dominance.

My family definitely did not have that much of a plan.

Homeschoolers fall into a lot of different categories, which is confusing for everyone, including me. It’s kinda like Jews. Many non-Jews might think of “the Jews” as a single entity. After all, we’re a very, very numerically minor group. How different could we possibly be? Let’s just say that there are plenty of extremely observant Jewish men who would never speak to me, let alone consider me Jewish. I mean, I wear shorts in the summer and show off my naked legs. I sing on the bima, which isn’t even permitted by very strict interpretations of our tradition. My mother converted. I married a non-Jew.

(I’m scandalous like that. source)

But I am Jewish. I don’t think there are degrees of Jewishness. You are or you’re not. There are a lot of other opinions out there, and most of them come from other Jews.

At least no one can tell me, “You weren’t really . . . → Read More: Bad at gaming the system

“What do you do?”

Since Kika wanted to know what happened next, I’ll try to summarize the Emily story quickly before I start this post:

Emily left Waldorf after a couple years and we were reunited. She was the maid of honor at my wedding. But for the time that she spent in school, she was too busy learning the social system for me, and I was too busy running around in the woods to worry about it very much. School, even Waldorf, seemed all-encompassing. And when she invited me in for “bring a friend to school day,” I was shocked to discover that in art class, the teacher suggested that everyone draw a rose. The same rose. And all of the students turned to one boy and said, “Yours is the best.” I couldn’t believe that sort of thing was even allowed. (Also, I was a little offended, since I had hoped that my rose would be the best…)

And here is today’s post:

When you’re a kid, people ask you, “What grade are you in?”

I never knew how to answer, because I could never remember what grade I was supposed to be in.

When you’re twenty or so, people ask you, “Where do you go to college?”

And after college, people start to ask you “What do you do?”

Penelope Trunk wrote about the question “what do you do?” and offered some suggestions about how to approach it.

Which is helpful, because I never really know what to say. I do . . . → Read More: “What do you do?”

Emily goes to school, part 2

“It’s still school,” said Mom patiently. She looked concerned but in the way of someone who is trying not to look concerned. Like inside she was telling herself, “This is just a phase. Kate is just testing the boundaries.”

“I know…” I said slowly. “But…”

“We can talk about it,” said Mom.

We were supposed to be able to talk about anything, as long as I brought it up in a polite, mature way. If I just said, “But everyone else is going to the movie theater!” then Mom would say, “You are not everyone else. And I said no.” She hated movie theaters. She hated movies. And television. They were a waste of time. We didn’t watch TV. Not at all.

Emily was going to school. After we’d been homeschooled our whole lives. But she was allowed to watch some TV. And to eat Lucky Charms. She was practically a school kid anyway. No. That wasn’t true. She was supposed to eat healthy, but Christine let her pick out one treat every time they went to the supermarket. And she picked Lucky Charms. Sometimes when I stayed over Emily’s house, all I wanted to do was eat Lucky Charms and watch TV. I tried to be social, and play with the plastic ponies and all of her dolls, but it was like my eyes were stuck. I couldn’t look away from the screen, where everything was happening at once. I felt guilty, like I was stealing something.

. . . → Read More: Emily goes to school, part 2

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