“Does fence have an e at the end?” Joel asks me.
“Yeah, why?” I ask.
“Then it’s not following the rules. It should be pronounced feeeeenced instead,” Joel says with a multi-syllable long-e sound. The day before he was upset that tomb and bomb didn’t make the same sound. So, I explained comb just to see how he would react.
“But it’s not following the rules.”
“Language isn’t about rules. There are trends, but not rules. You can say that words ending in -e usually make that sound, but it’s still a description. Think of it this way, how often do I wear orange?”
“But is it a rule? Can I still wear orange?”
“When you wear a Giants shirt,” Joel points out.
“You’re right. It’s not,” I tell him.
“When do you follow the rules and when do you get to make your own?” he asks.
“That’s a great question that few people ask at my age.”
So we talk about rules and language. It’s an uncomfortable topic for me, because I am bothered by how rules-based the school system is. I want him to think critically and I’m convinced that conformity isn’t the best option. I consider, at various moments, taking him out of school and choosing a home-school or un-school route.
Sometimes that last statement shocks people. They’ve heard me rail against those “outside the system” trying to tell me how to run my classroom. I admit that I need to be more specific. What bothers me are corporate reformers hell-bent on buying my students’ minds. I’m against Bill Gates trying to transform schools with a top-down approach and no input from teachers.
I’m good friends with several un-schoolers. Often we avoid the topic of education – not because it’s uncomfortable, but because we’re talking about social issues, world events, novels or music. However, there is one un-schooling dad that I hang out with regularly. Both of us have learned a great deal from one another. The conversations haven’t always been “nice.” We both get really passionate. However, the tone is always respectful. He’s never called me a prison-guard-slave-driver-child-abuser and I’ve never called him a negligent-uppity-head-in-the-clouds-hippie.
How He Influenced Me
- He reminded me that kids need to move. Initially, I was up for intellectual freedom, but I had a hard time with the notion of free movement. He reminded me just how hard that can be for any human. These conversations led to my standing centers and a change in our class rituals.
- He helped me to see that choice is not the same as freedom. He has pushed me toward more freedom.
- He pushed me to see that personalized learning should be something all students experience regardless of perceived maturity, skills or mastery of standards.
- Specific strategies: how to truly pull off the workshop model, how to guide children in self-directed projects, what it means to give formative feedback through reflective questions rather than judgmental phrases
- He has pushed me to redefine holistic teaching and to get into the homes of teachers, understand the community better and take on an attitude of humble service toward parents.
- He pushed me to back up my beliefs with my practice. If I believed that there should be no standardized tests, no homework and no codified lists of rules, I needed to act on it.
- He introduced me to un-schooling, de-schooling and home-schooling authors like John Holt
How I’ve Influenced Him
- I helped him to grasp the reality that not every child is like his child and not every child comes from a similar background with similar parents. For some kids, home feels like a prison and school feels like a place of freedom.
- We both recognize that the real enemy is coercion, but there were some moments when I pushed him to recognize ways that he was failing to act upon his beliefs as a parent. I pushed him to rethink behaviorist tendencies he had (just as he pushed me to give up many of my control-oriented approaches I used in the classroom)
- I helped him to see that the issue is the system rather than the people who work for the system. Blaming teachers or even principals denies the ways in which people are working to transform the system.
- Specific strategies: how to implement project-based learning, what inquiry-action-reflection cycle looks like, ways to engage in social justice and critical thinking.
- I pushed him to recognize that sometimes public school teachers have some great ideas to offer as consultants on an age group. I admit that I don’t completely understand first-grade behavior, but my son’s teacher has a viewpoint that is sometimes helpful.
- I introduced him to Paulo Freire and other education authors who understand social justice