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Family Unschoolers Network
What is the Family Unschoolers Network? We are an organization that believes learning should be fun for the whole family. Homeschooling offers learning opportunities for adults as well as children; and helping children learn is one of the ways adults can grow and learn as well.
So, this newsletter is designed for the entire family. All ages write articles, submit artwork, news, reviews of favorite books, or anything else that is relevant to their lives. Our desire is to present information that is interesting to you as lifelong learners and not just as homeschoolers.
There are many fine homeschooling publications available, and we do not intend to replace them. Our purpose is to supplement them with articles that you won't find anywhere else, and to provide you with quality information at an affordable price.
Write us! Contribute! Your input is appreciated and will help ensure that the design of this newsletter continues to improve to meet your needs.
WHAT IS "UNSCHOOLING"?
Everyone has their own definition, but most would agree that it involves a more relaxed approach to learning that follows the interests of the child rather than relying on a fixed curriculum. Unfortunately, many people have a negative image of people who say they are unschoolers. We have even heard some people comment that unschooling is just an excuse to be lazy! A unfortunate misperception. The unschoolers we know are deeply committed to doing what is best for their children.
We decided that the easiest way for us to explain what "unschooling" (also called holistic, organic, child-directed, interest-led, or self-directed learning) means to our family is to print our philosophical beliefs that we place at the beginning of the portfolio we present to our local school district. It is as follows:
- Nancy & Billy Greer
"A life worth living and work worth doing - that is what I want for children (and all people), not just . . . something called a better education."
- John Holt
Lessons From the Business World
Quality in Education
by Billy Greer
October is National Quality Month, so it seems appropriate to discuss quality in education. It's great to see the movement to apply Total Quality Management (TQM) techniques to education, but many schools are behind the times in their approach. It seems that most people think of quality in terms of the old models of production lines in factories. This view is prevalent at many schools, perhaps because our school system uses ideas from mass production, and was designed to help prepare students for factory jobs. In this view, schools are factories and students are their products. Unfortunately, these factories are churning out "defective products" - children who cannot read, perform basic math, and are otherwise ill equipped to be successful in our society. Old quality models relied on techniques to detect flawed products and remove them for repairs or disposal before they were sent out. Most schools are still at this stage, and they frequently use testing and grading to identify "defective" students that need repairs in the form of remedial classes, or repeating grades.
The more enlightened administrators have recognized that this view of quality is outdated. Businesses have long realized that while it is important to prevent substandard products from being shipped, it is even more important to prevent them from being produced in the first place. A factory that never ships out a defective product will still not be very successful if half its production winds up in the reject bin with major problems. Thus, new models of quality are necessary to help eliminate problems before they occur. The idea is to design quality into products by defining what the desired result is, to develop some ways to monitor progress toward that result, and to quickly act to correct any situations that move the product away from the desired result. Educators who embrace this idea typically love establishing standards and criteria that can be measured and compared. They get excited about higher standards for teacher qualifications, having more accountability for teachers, having national education goals, having children start school "ready to learn," implementing outcome based education, improving student teacher ratios, or increasing access to computers.
Unfortunately, most of these people are still viewing the education problem as a production problem. They focus on improving the school "factory" so that better student "products" can be manufactured. The problem with this approach is that students cannot and should not be viewed as a mass-produced commodity. They are not vessels to be filled with knowledge, sealed, labeled, and shipped out. Education should not follow production ideas of quality, but instead should be modeled after service organizations. Students are not products; they and their parents are customers. It is hard to see this in most public school systems because students are customers with few choices. They don't get to choose which school they go to, they don't get to choose which teachers they get, and they don't even have much choice in which courses they take. As a result, public school teachers don't have much motivation to see students as customers that they need to serve. Usually the attitude is quite the opposite and they expect the students to serve them. They may "lay down the law" to a new class explaining just what they want from the students before they will be willing to provide a good grade or other rewards. Students are expected to do what is necessary to keep the teacher happy, or they can expect retribution in the form of poor grades or other punishments.
Look to the private sector, especially adult education, and you see a different situation. Instructors strive to make courses interesting, they concentrate on information that is of practical use, and they usually do not stress grades. They realize that they are providing a service to students who won't come back or won't recommend the course to friends if they aren't satisfied. In a customer driven definition of quality, what matters is meeting the needs of the customer. Instead of trying to mold students into the school's perception of an ideal, the school must mold itself to meet the needs of its students and their parents.
This is one reason for the success of homeschooling. In the homeschool environment, it quickly becomes clear when the needs of the student are not being met, and there is the flexibility to adapt to those needs. Success is much more likely when students are actively involved in their education and have some degree of control, rather than being forced into programs where someone else has made all of the decisions and they have little control.
This is also one of the appeals of charter schools and voucher programs. Instead of trying to establish a statewide system of identical schools in order to provide the same educational opportunities to everyone regardless of where they live (a system that hasn't worked anyhow and in fact seems to strive to prevent any schools from getting too much better than the worst in the system), many different schools form and students (and their parents) decide which ones they attend. Schools come to fit the students rather than trying to force the students to fit the school. This recognizes the fact that there is no one "ideal" education. Every student and community has different needs. Let market forces and quality principles adapt education to meet those needs.
Leaders in the business community have already learned this lesson. Large companies that impose the same structure on all of their operations regardless of their customers' needs are failing. The successes have come from the specialization that results by recognizing the needs of the customer and adapting to them quickly in different locations. It is not uncommon to find two grocery stores within a few miles of each other that are owned by the same company but carry a very different selection of products based on the specific needs of two different communities. A mini-mill that can provide a few customers with small amounts of exactly the product they need can be much more successful than a large mill that produces only a few products that the customer must modify to use. If education follows the model of the business world, expect to see schools recognize students and parents as customers, expect them to strive to identify and meet the needs of those customers, and expect them to be replaced by competitors if they don't.
"How is it that little children are so intelligent and men so stupid? It must be education that does it."
"I am beginning to suspect all elaborate and special systems of education. They seem to me to be built upon the supposition that every child is a kind of idiot who must be taught to think. Whereas, if the child is left to himself, he will think more and better."
by Shari Henry
A couple of months ago, I listened to a debate on National Public radio between Susannah Sheffer (editor of Growing Without Schooling) and a man representing a national council of elementary school principals. I participated in a simultaneous live chat on American Online. My nerves were on edge as I cheered on Susannah and furiously typed my opinions into the computer with my three children playing in the background. About half of those present at the online chat were home schoolers, the other half were made up of the general public, including many teachers. I'm accustomed to defending home schooling but the hostility pouring through my screen caught me off guard.
As the hour passed, the home schoolers answered the normal charges with common sense and familiar research statistics; our kids are academically and socially thriving beyond their schooled peers, their senses of self-worth are intact and they do not suffer from the negative effects of peer pressure. I found charges of elitism humorous considering the wide spectrum of homeschoolers our family knows and knowing full well how our public school cafeterias are divided neatly into cliques and categories of popular students, druggies, nerds, gifted kids, dummies, blacks, whites, Hispanics, Asians, and any other category that human beings can conjure up. In the midst of pleading my case though, I realized there is something the public at large just won't "get" until they know enough home schoolers face-to-face. It's something that can't be proven or measured by statistics. It just is. It is, though, consistent in every home schooling family I've met. It is the very essence of the home schooling movement, the tie that binds us all together. It is the importance of family.
No researcher can measure how two year old Phoebe feels to have her big brother put aside his spelling for a moment to teach her the proper swimming start, taking time first to dress her in bathing suit, cap and goggles, before showing her how to crouch over on his foot locker and dive onto his mattress. Tests can't score why both of my girls are usually the only siblings at swim meets standing as close to the pool as officials will allow so that they can out-scream all the loud daddies to cheer on their strong brother. There isn't a way to evaluate the importance of the time the three children cuddle together with a book or hover around the computer screen. Or the way we all hurry together, dividing and conquering household chores. Or the way we shelf the books to spontaneously take advantage of a sunny day and ride our bikes to get milkshakes. Or, on rainy days, the way we sometimes leisurely enjoy bagels and Knudsen-spritzers high up on stools in the midst of hurried business people at the local sandwich shop. Or the unspoken commitment we have to one another that no matter how rocky the road is one day, we'll get up and do it again, together, hopefully better, the next.
These are the most important, the most significant, the most profound "things" about home schooling. Yet they can't be quantified, qualified, or neatly graphed or charted for outsiders to evaluate in any way. Because these precious, unnamable, innumerable things are matters of the heart. Indeed, these things are the very Heart of Homeschooling.
I met Trevor for the first time in a little house in the Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia. He looked very old to my young eyes, with a deeply wrinkled face and leathery hands. Only his sparkling brown eyes betrayed the youthful nature of this 70-something man. He was a relative of mine, though I've yet to find out exactly where he fits on the family tree.
Before I even met Trevor, I'd heard stories of him walking to every destination, forsaking cars to walk 20 miles a day, even into old age. Adding to the mystique, when we finally went to meet him, we had to park our car at the end of a deeply rutted dirt road and walk the rest of the way to his house.
As night fell upon us during that first visit, Trevor fascinated us with true tales of his childhood with a few "tall tales" sprinkled in. I even heard of a "haint" (a ghost) for the first time. My sister and I, children who grew up watching Sonny & Cher, Bewitched and the Partridge Family, were sitting in rapt attention listening to his stories.
We were in the presence of a storyteller. He didn't have a degree in storytelling, he was just born before the invention of television, and lived in a small rural community where people spent their leisure time spinning yarns and sharing news (and spinning yarns about the news!) Unfortunately storytelling has rapidly diminished with the intrusion of television. Despite such modern obstacles to passing down this art, there are fine storytellers still telling tales to audiences, and there are recordings of storytellers. Libraries often have books of traditional stories of the state they are located in, and about the U.S. and other countries. If your library carries cassette tapes, you may also find some traditional folk tales. The following list includes some other resources:
National Storytelling Festival, Jonesborough, Tennessee (800-525-4514) - This festival is held annually in October. If you can't make it to Tennessee, there are also cassette recordings of the stories told at the festival by various storytellers. I've checked a couple of these out at my local library, and they are terrific. The stories are told by people with various styles of storytelling and different cultural backgrounds. They are also available through The National Association for the Preservation and Perpetuation of Storytelling (NAPPS, P.O. Box 309, Jonesborough, TN 37659; 615-753-2171). Additionally, NAPPS offers an assortment of books on how to tell stories. For a free packet of information, write to the NAPPS address above.
Yellow Moon Press (800-497-4385) - They offer through their catalog books and tapes of storytelling, music and poetry. They also offer a guide on how to tell stories.
Winner of the Parent's Choice Award, and a family-owned business, Boomerang Audio magazine (BOOMERANG! 13366 Pescadero Road, La Honda, CA 94020, 800-333-7858) is a unique concept. Each month subscribers receive a 70-minute cassette tape that follows a regular format. All interviews and stories are told by young people with a kid's perspective.
Great Hall Productions (P.O. Box 813, Benicia, CA 94510) is another family-owned business. Their recordings feature Jim Weiss as the storyteller (it is amazing how many characters he can represent with his versatile voice!) Stories include Sherlock Holmes for Children, Greek Myths, Tales from the Old Testament and more. He is one of our favorite storytellers. Tapes are also available in the FUN Books catalog.
Odds Bodkin (Rivertree Publications, P.O. Box 410, Bradford, NH 03221) uses his versatile voice along with guitars and harps to entrance the listener with traditional tales. Our 7-year old son sat captivated as Odds retold the epic Odyssey tale (this is a boy who doesn't listen to audio tapes, and this one is over 3 hours long). Tapes are also available from FUN Books catalog.
Tom McCabe is a storyteller I heard at a conference for young families. He taught a group of children how to tell a story, as a group, for their parents. It was great fun, and the kids had a good time being storytellers. Tom's career is presenting storytelling and reading incentive programs for kids of all ages. In addition to storytelling, he publishes a free newsletter called The Shoes News (send a SASE to: Tom McCabe, P.O. Box 60657, Florence, MA 01060 & request to be added to his subscription list for The Shoes News) He also publishes a free Storytelling Club newsletter.
Storytelling has a remarkable ability to adapt; and even though our society has been bombarded by television and computers, a flicker of oral tradition remains within our own families through stories told at family gatherings, around campfires, children's games, proverbs, and nursery rhymes.
Three of F.U.N.'s Favorite Homeschooling Organizations:
(We have others, which we will share with you in future issues of F.U.N. News)
Home Education Press
Publishes the bi-monthly Home Education Magazine and homeschooling books. The magazine offers well written articles, Becky Rupp's excellent resource column, Good Stuff, and the Kaseman's penetrating column on legal issues.
Growing Without Schooling
Publishes the bi-monthly Growing Without Schooling magazine and homeschooling books; most notably books by the late John Holt. Insightful letters written by GWS readers, commentary by Pat Farenga and Susannah Sheffer, and interviews.
Nat'l Homeschooling Assn.
Publishes The Forum, (Quarterly newsletter), Readers' letters with a topic each month.
School Resources for the Home Educator
Explore the earth, sea and sky with the Crayola Dream-Makers #6 package. Receive a 32-page teacher's guide, 16-page art techniques guide, fine art and student examples. The package is designed to "help kindergarten through 6th grade students investigate and understand the Earth, Sea & Sky through hands-on age-appropriate themed art activities consistent with the National Standards for the Arts." Send a $3 check made payable to Binney & Smith Inc., your name & address and request for the "Crayola Dream-Makers package #6" to: Crayola Dream-Makers, P.O. Box 21187, Lehigh Valley, PA 18002-1187. (Other packages include III - "Visual World" for $2, #4 - "Imagination" for $2, #5 - Time-Traveling for $2)
Pizza Hut's Book-It! reading incentive program begins October 3 and lasts through April. Every month a personal pan pizza is awarded to each participant and at the end of the program a pizza party is thrown for your entire group. You need to register early. Call in the spring to register for fall. Contact your local Pizza Hut or call 800-426-6548.
November 13-19 is National Geography Awareness Week. For a low-cost packet of teaching materials (they sometimes send additional material throughout the year), send your name and address to: Geography Education Program, National Geographic Society, P.O. Box 1640, Washington, DC 20013-1640. FYI: Homeschoolers can take part in the National Geographic Bee that takes place annually. The deadline for registration is in October, and is open to grades 4-8. Write to the National Geographic Society, Washington, D.C., 20036.
Art to Zoo is a free publication of the Smithsonian; each 8-page newsletter covers one topic (For example, September 1994's was spiders) and includes lesson plans, a pull out activity page in English and Spanish, and resources. Write to the Office of Elementary and Secondary Education, Smithsonian Institution, Washington, DC, 20560 to be placed on their mailing list.
The Real World
by Manfred Smith
Besides hearing the socialization question, another question heard frequently - especially if you lean toward an unschooling philosophy - is whether your children will be ready for The Real World.
The reason homeschoolers are asked this question so often is that school teachers are forever telling their students that they are trying to get them ready for the Real World. Closer examination reveals that for many teachers and their students, The Real World is a place very much like school: regimented, arbitrary, autocratic, and filled with dull routine work. For many, The Real World is a place one must tolerate for a good part of the day until one escapes from it late afternoons and weekends, to where, I presume, one has a life outside reality.
But there are many realities. For those who regularly follow the media, The Real World is a dangerous, unpredictable place populated by incompetent, lying public officials who place their self-interest ahead of the interests of their constituents. For those who identify themselves as poor, The Real World is a place of limited opportunities, diminishing jobs, and little money. For those who feel oppressed, The Real World is a grand conspiracy of bias and lack of equal opportunity. Those that consider themselves harried feel The Real World is an overflowing calendar with not enough time for the family. There are many individual "realities," but The Real World is perceived by many as brutish, short, and painful.
There are, however, positive realities, too. Realities of success and empowerment that cut across all social, economic and racial lines. Real Worlds where problems are seen as challenges. Where difficulties build character. A place where people strive to create their own realities. Where reality is not perceived as something one must tolerate until retirement, but instead a stage where one is director, producer, and actor all rolled into one. A place vitally alive.
My children are not preparing themselves for the Real World. They are in the real world. Each and every day my children are forging their own reality as they interact with life. An important feature of home education for me is that my children have the freedom to create their own reality. I am not interested in how others perceive The Real World to be, and especially that version of reality which so many subscribe to: the one that is learned in school and mindlessly followed until retirement or death, whichever comes first.
Reality is what we perceive it to be. When I am asked whether my children will be ready for The Real World, I say - Absolutely!
Homeschooling, A Piece of Cake
by Billy Greer
Homeschooling parents, especially those just getting started, frequently ask a very simple and seemingly innocent question. Just what is the best way to homeschool? A common answer from experienced homeschoolers is that there are as many methods as there are homeschoolers and that one method cannot be said to be better than another. This can be a disappointing answer for someone hoping to be shown how to best educate their children. It can also be argued that it is a wrong answer.
With my background in science, I have usually found that if there doesn't appear to be an answer to a question or a way to find the answer, then the question itself is usually at fault. For example, let's ask a question that may seem easier to answer. What is the best cake?
First of all, we don't know if the question is asking for one specific, individual cake, or one general type of cake. Changing the question can eliminate the confusion. What is the best type of cake?
Now we have to worry about what "best" means. Do we mean the best nutritionally, the best looking, or the best tasting? There are many other possibilities as well. To a store owner, best may be best selling, most profitable, or longest shelf life. A thrifty shopper may equate best with the lowest price. Someone on a diet may prefer the most nutritious or lowest in calories.
If we decide that taste is most important, we can now change the question to, "What is the best tasting type of cake?" Obviously, the answer will depend on who you ask. One person may choose chocolate, while someone else prefers angel food cake. There are also some special cases to consider. It is unlikely that someone would pick a type of cake they didn't know existed. Their answers will be limited by the types of cakes they have tasted and their choice might change after they try a new type. So it's important to be open minded about trying something new.
Deciding which homeschooling method is "best" is not really very different. There is a best way to homeschool for each person, but it is not always easy to find. Only you can define "best," and that will depend on what you want to accomplish. Do you want to emphasize creativity, self-reliance, religion, or physical ability? Are you just interested in your child's physical safety and emotional health? You can narrow the list of possible answers by looking at why you want to homeschool. Once you have a good idea of your reasons and what you want to accomplish, then you can make a better decision on how to accomplish your goals.
Expose yourself to various types of approaches, question them, and evaluate them until you find one you like. Experiment, don't limit yourself to yellow cake just because you didn't know there was anything else! Once you have found an approach you feel comfortable with, don't be afraid to personalize it by making changes. You can improve your educational approach by trial and error, just as you can improve a recipe by adjusting the ingredients to your taste preferences.
Don't spend a lot of time worrying about picking the absolute best method. Doing a method right is probably more important than doing the right method. Even a confirmed German chocolate cake lover would probably prefer another type of cake to a German chocolate cake that was badly burned or was made with salt instead of sugar. The best recipe is not best for you if you don't have the ingredients or proper equipment to use it. You are better off using a recipe that you do have the ingredients for. If you want to use a highly regarded curriculum that requires your kids to spend hours of reading, but you can't get them to stay in one place for more than 15 minutes, don't expect much success. You need to switch to a recipe that will work with 15 minute bursts of activity.
Deciding to homeschool means taking on a little more responsibility, but it provides the opportunity for much more satisfying results. Baking a cake yourself involves a little more work to decide what kind to make, to obtain the ingredients, and to actually bake it, but you have a better chance of getting the cake you want than if you went to a store and just took the first cake that was offered to you. One of the appeals of homeschooling is the freedom to decide for oneself what is best. You are much more likely to get what you want, whether that means using less sugar or oil if you are concerned about health, adding fruit if you like, or using a mix if you want to save time. In the end, you can be happier than if you let someone else make those decisions for you.
A house is not a home unless it contains food and fire for the mind as well as the body.
See what our readers have to say!
F.U.N. Folks: Good luck with your new newsletter. We homeschool 3 and have for 4 years.
. . and find your low cost/no cost resources worth the $. Thanks for making a newsletter
finally affordable, too!
What FUN reading (no pun intended)! I especially enjoyed Bill's "Lessons from the
Business World." I've had many of the same thoughts . . . I think you've got an
excellent newsletter going, and hope it grows and develops into as large a publication as
you want it to!
Our children are now in school, but I still like to be connected to home schooling
families. Thanks for a wonderful newsletter. Full of true and good info.
May your F.U.N. Newsletter flourish! I enjoyed the sample issue you sent and am sharing
it with [others].
I'm really glad you're doing this kind of newsletter - it sure is needed! I wish you
Thanks for the sample - I really like all the resources!...We've been homeschooling for
11 1/2 years now. We look forward to each issue of F.U.N.! Many thanks!
Loved your news!!!
The resources alone are worth the price of the newsletter!
The Premiere Issue of F.U.N. News was originally published in October of 1994. Since then, thousands of readers have enjoyed our publication. We hope that you will also join our growing group of members. Check out the links below for more information!
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We hope you have enjoyed this sample issue of our newsletter. Our usual issues include sections for letters from our readers, along with columns, artwork, and ads submitted by readers. Lessons From the Business World, Resource Center Page, Computer Corner, and Random Notes are other sections that appear regularly. Each issue is crammed full of resources to support you in homeschooling. The average issue length is 18 pages and expanding.
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