true learning

“One is that school and society have programmed us to think our personal worth depends on how we are evaluated by others, and that our status is defined by our rank within an institution or society. Another very important habit that needs eliminating is thinking: ‘Life is a process of graduating from one externally-provided program to the next.’ – Conrad P. Pritscher, Einstein and Zen 

I am at ease with my children taking the lead when it comes to what they are wanting to do. I simply don’t feel that there should be any rush towards any one objective that needs to be reached in a particular time frame. I am not holding their development to any preconceived ideas of what they should know. This is not the way i have always moved. For the most part i have been a follower of the ‘normalised route’ when it comes to educating children.  Had it not been for the witnessing of the unfolding of my older children’s educational experience, it’s highly likely that i still would be following the more ‘traditional’ paths so many are accustomed to. Are we primitive in our thoughts about this process? Are we at the stage where we are willing to question it yet?  Or, does is it seem too big, too hard to fathom, that possibly this system that is so heavy relied upon and trusted, could in fact be far more detrimental to our children’s spirits and abilities to learn than we are willing to admit.  I’m not entirely sure what exactly or who rather that we are entrusting them to anymore.  It seems it is somewhat a political game, and is far from focused on the intricate details of what is required for children to thrive in their learning spaces. Our children are spending the greater part of their childhood growing within this system. It would be somewhat naive, if you believe that during this time, that they’re not being deeply shaped and affected by those who they are surrounded by in their day to day lives.  The greater part of children’s productive waking time is spent within the school domain, and as unsettling as it may be, the predominate influence in regards to what children believe about themselves and their abilities to learn has become that of their educators and peers. Children are taught very quickly that mistakes are wrong to make, that making mistakes will amount to failure, and failure inevitably is how they will learn to feel about themselves. This message is undeniable and very difficult for a parent to convince them of otherwise when the message is reinforced again and again over long periods of time. It’s a familiar pattern in modern teaching now, it’s become normalised and is somewhat expected.  Whether or not we should be accepting it for our children, is the question that we should be asking now.

“Once compulsory systems of state-run schools were established, they became increasingly standardized, both in content and in method. For the sake of efficiency, children were divided into separate classrooms by age and passed along, from grade to grade, like products on an assembly line. The task of each teacher was to add bits of officially approved knowledge to the product, in accordance with a preplanned schedule, and then to test that product before passing it on to the next station.” –Peter Gray, Free to learn

 

women standing for women

It is my daughters final year of senior education.  To say I’m incredibly proud of her would be an understatement, but it’s never been her position to prove anything to me. She is already all-encompassing of everything she has ever needed to be. Her final year has been a heavy weight to endure. It has left me as a parent, quite disillusioned and a somewhat perplexed as to why we are deeming it necessary to place such astronomical amounts of pressure upon these young adults shoulders.  Even the most well-balanced adult would have difficulty sustaining the weight of such pressures. Nevertheless she has held her own, in a system that holds very little room for flexibility and individual sentiments. She knows that she has given it her all, and most of all she knows she did it for herself. And that is all that is ever really necessary.  For her final media piece she produced a short film focusing on concerning issues still facing women today on a global scale. She chose to use her voice, she chose to be brave and innately powerful in her message. Whats important is she is willing. Willing to be seen, be heard, and is already comfortable in the knowing that what she has to say matters. We can spend our entire lives coming to this realisation,  the realisation of our own worth and how much of a role it plays in everything we choose to undertake. If this is the only message that our children take with them as they embark on their journeys, then as parents we will have done enough.

leaning towards un-schooling

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I’m excited about my children’s education for the first time. After spending too many years on opposite sides of the bench with the school system and the education of my older children, it’s a much welcomed relief and an exciting new prospect for us. For the past 2 years i have been endlessly searching for alternative schooling approaches to educate my children that differ from the mainstream system that we so often seem to be hauling our children through. Homeschooling or better still un-schooling has gotten my eager attention. It’s not the conventional way to go, or even the most popular form for alternative ways to educate your children, nevertheless something is swiftly moving us in that direction. And really after having already been down the conventional schooling road before, i’m afraid it leaves little to be desired for at this stage. After researching the array of approaches to begin embarking on the homeschooling journey, it became apparent and with a much welcomed relief that we were already innately flowing to this rhythm of learning. And whist it may seem alternative now, my predicament is, as a society facing the enormities of such neurological diversity we will begin to explore these new learning styles more predominately in the future anyway. Right now, everything we are doing feels right. Moving in the natural flow of the children is easy, much easier than the rush of meeting expected time tables and fitting into a routine that doesn’t really fit with us. Now, we move slowly in the mornings, especially on the stuff that doesn’t really matter, like washing faces and getting dressed. The creativity usually begins before the first cup of tea. Everything is always open, accessible and available, nothing stops or finishes at a certain time.  I know the learning is happening when they wake and look out to see if anything has grown in the garden or changed form while they were sleeping. They notice a bee has taken up residence in the lounge room and they are unbothered by its presence, ensuring me that its alright, because it’s just pollinating our plants. Painting in your pyjamas is normal, brushing teeth at some stage before lunch is alright, imaginary play is unrestrained and  not restricted to any parts of the house, and can take over and last for hours. I can’t emphasis enough how important this kind of play is and how important it is to allow the space in children’s lives for this to happen naturally. We live in a world that is on sensory overload most of the time. Children are losing their way, forgetting how to be without the aid of an electronic device, clouding their minds. I’m seeing it so often now, children are struggling to think of ways to play. They have forgotten this innate wisdom they have been born with and its disturbingly heartbreaking.  Playing this way for us happens often and easily, they listen to each other, contemplate and cooperate together, most of the time my involvement is unnecessary and is kept to a minimal.  The children are happy, excited to wake in the morning and begin their days, they know that they have the unique experience of leading the way on how the day will unfold and its alluring to watch them in the freedom of this space.  It would be hard to imagine now,  a life of rushing them out the door by eight with breakfast on the run to spend 6 hours in a classroom, five days a week.  I’m thinking we have stumbled onto something uniquely wonderful here, un-schooling is undoubtably unorthodox and still really quite seldom, nonetheless we do like the idea of taking the road less travelled.

 

contemplation

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Education is a complex and unnerving predicament again for me right now. I am familiar with this approaching uneasiness, having been here once before.  Even though it may seem we have come so far in the understanding of Autism,  admittedly i still have very little faith in what is on offer in the realm of mainstream schooling.  Autism moves to a rhythm of its own, and the immensity of perceptual change needed seems far too great, before children with Autism will really be able to flow as themselves, in a conformed learning environment beside those without.   Autism is viewed and distinctively labeled as a ‘dis’ ability, diagnosed formally as a  ‘dis’order, a not quite ‘normal’ version of what is considered neurologically to be of normal functioning. There is nothing within this notion that i could disagree with more.  I have read enough to understand what the science says, i have collaborated for long enough with what the psychology is saying. I have been working my way through the often tiresome array of information and opinions on whats best for Autism right up until now.  Now, i have decided to let it go. All of it. I have let go of the psychology behind the monotonous methods of behaviour therapy,  which admittedly in the beginning i sincerely embraced, and only now do i understand was under the belief that Autism is a ‘problem’  that could be resolved and aided through repetitious behavioural training.  Quite possibly it did help on a surface level, however the notion that Autism is a ‘problem’ needing to be fixed, never has truthfully sat well with me at all. In the beginning, there was a level of expectation as a parent to take action. A portrayal of  an ‘issue’ needing to be attended to with a sense of urgency, whilst the brain functioning is still in its vital stages of development. You were considered fortunate to know early, with an increased prospect for your childs outcome,  more opportunity for implementing ‘right’ behaviours, re-developing the brains patterns to more appropriate responses and  actions. And, at a time when i believed i held limited information on what was best for my child, this was appealing and made considerable sense to me. It was easier to trust, to go along with and be told what it is you needed to do by the cultivated experts in the field of Autism, than trust your own innate wisdom.   It was easier and less confronting to go along with the preconceived ideas and recommended ways to best ‘help’ my child, before truly allowing myself the time to go through the process of really understanding what Autism meant for us. I realise now it takes tremendous  surety to step away from the opinions and conforming psychology that is embedded in the methods aimed at aiding those with Autism and it is only now, that i am able to do so in confidence.

So, after letting it all go and trusting that we are the wisdom in the knowing what is best for our child, he is truly flowing to his own rhythm. Now, only is he is really learning, he is teaching me what he needs to know more than any book or therapy session could ever do. Simply by being in the space with him and allowing him to be, allows there to be no expectation, on who he is, how his behaviours are defined and interpreted. There is no wrongness, or less than ‘normal’ view in his world now.  In this space he is opening and has the room to grow at his own pace.  He is leading the way in his education, he is deciding what he would like to know more about, what discoveries need to be made or challenges that must be conquered on any given day.  He does not have to hide himself, withdraw, or become conscious of his quirks that bring him confused and often misguided attention. By deciding to no longer try to change his innate being, and the letting go of any practices that are supporting of assertions that the Autistic way is not of normal, or appropriate functioning has opened up a space for us. A place left untethered by any of societies preconceived ideas on how he or we need to be. Now when we pay attention, it is to him, and not everything about him. This way, requires you drop everything you think you know and begin to move in a way that feels right, better, it demands your true attention, a kind of listening requiring your whole self. He knows when the attention is else where or wonders or you become distracted mid conversation. Ironically he has this way of pulling You back in, refocusing You by gently moving your face back to his centre, watching your eyes intensely to ensure the listening stays, and that you are paying attention with your whole self. This contradicts most of what is said to be true about Autism.  Looking back i realise that everything that we tried, the methods we used, was all in efforts to ease his suffering, what we believed would help settle him in the consistent unsettledness and better sustain him long-term out in the larger world. It is only now that i can see we were moving him in a way that will never serve his true self. We were teaching him to mask who he is for sake of survival, the sake of others, to move in a way that is foreign to him, to refrain from voicing truth of what he was perceiving in fear of judgement. Something that is harshly bestowed upon us in life, Autism or not.

What i have realised is, this unique way of being offers new understandings of the way in which we interact and communicate with ourselves and each other.   Autism reaches into places of raw, unattached truth and moves to a rhythm that for most is just too confronting, raising the  questions of your own beliefs and perceptions on what life is meant to look like.  It demands you move with intention and integrity, have patients and compassion, and a willingness to stay present.  For most, this simply is just too much to ask all of the time. We spend our lives listening to and being told what we need to do in order to be considered accepted and successful in our lives, often spending many years following that guidance presumably under the belief that it’s the right way, the only way towards a successful, happy life. Is it?  i sincerely wonder, about that now.   When my daughter was asked by an admired teacher what she wanted to do when she completed her senior schooling,  she replied with, ‘create something’. Her answer was not surprisingly deemed unacceptable. Her intelligence and ability to know what is best for herself was highly disregarded.  Was the honesty and integrity of her answer appreciated and respected?  I’m afraid not.  Needless to say she no longer holds this teacher in high regards and no amount of university degrees he has his name on would alter that perception.  Indoctrination comes in many ways, from lifes many teachers almost from the very beginning of our lives. She has grown securely enough to think otherwise for herself thankfully, that the only perception that matters on her life and the direction it moves is that of her own, anything anyone else thinks is irrelevant. When i asked her the question, ‘knowing what we do now, would you have preferred a different way of learning, to be offered something other than undertaking mainstream schooling? She was adamant in her answer, ‘yes’.