Building community: Self-Directed Education

Many organizations use the word community as a buzzword, and particularly so in education. We believe this is in large part because educational institutions so often utilize practices and structures that are isolating at best and dehumanizing at worst, and buzzwords can often distract people from focusing on organizational or institutional shortcomings. At Abrome we are not on a mission to do schooling better; we are focused on building liberatory educational experiences and environments. And liberatory education requires community building.  

We are currently reading Emergent Strategy by adrienne maree brown with some other education visionaries from across the country. The book stretches readers to imagine and create a better future without being constrained by the dominant culture, "the way things have always been done," or a devotion to order. It challenges us to reconsider our human relations and central to that is our understanding of community.

We have written before about the corrosive effects of competition in educational settings, and about the toxic pyramid structure of society. adrienne maree brown encourages us to think beyond the socialization of independence (and a world where we compete against others) to move toward interdependence (a world where we collaborate and support one another). This requires community. 

At Abrome we are building community in a variety of ways. First and foremost we treat everyone in our mixed-age space as equals. Like democratic schools, we believe every Learner should have the ability to impact and shape our culture without limitation on the basis of age, experience, education, or other qualification. At Abrome the adults are not more important than the Learners, and we do not expect Learners to outsource their decision making to us. We instead utilize tools such as the Community Awareness Board to provide supports for Learners to co-create culture with us. 

It is only in relation to other bodies and many somebodies that anybody is somebody. Don’t get it into your cotton-picking mind that you are somebody in yourself.

~ Jimmy Boggs

Second, we work to expand our community beyond the walls of Abrome. This is why we invest our time in people and programs outside of Abrome through our participation in our local public library (e.g., free play, public talks, Smart Schooling Book Group), Raising Resisters, and the Education Transformation Alliance. By helping others learn about liberatory ideas, and to have a taste of Emancipated Learning, we can help create a more welcoming and tolerant world for autonomous young people. 

Third, we work to get Abrome Learners out into the broader community as often as possible. We do not believe that learning should ever be confined to the walls of a school, and that there are untold numbers of people eager to engage with our Learners if only given the opportunity to do so. So we take Learners into the community multiple times per week on offerings, and once every three weeks on dedicated field trip days. We are not constrained by any notion of seat time.

And fourth, we want to begin to bring people into Abrome to support our community of Learners. We know there are many people of all ages and experiences who would love to support children and adolescents in a Self-Directed Education setting. So this is a formal invite to all of those who have been following Abrome and wanting to get involved to reach out to us to learn more about how you can provide offerings (e.g., story telling, skill sharing, art, creative writing, science experiments, historical knowledge) and to serve as resources for young people who believe they can improve the human condition.

A response to The Atlantic's article on Finding Your Passion

"Passions aren’t 'found,' they’re developed." That's what Carol Dweck and Greg Walton of Stanford argue in a recent Atlantic article by Olga Khazan.

We've been slow to repost this article because we wanted to make sure we responded to it appropriately. And here it is (stream of consciousness almost, so it will be to the point).

First, Dweck's (and others') research that primes a participant to be fixed or growth minded in the moment is not very compelling in terms of suggesting how those participants actually tackle real world challenges.

That aside, I believe that a level of intellectual inquiry, or curiosity about the world is far more informative and relevant than a so-called growth mindset orientation. And growth mindset orientation may be better understood by the term self-efficacy.

Second, and more importantly, what is it that puts people in Dweck's stated growth mindset versus that of the fixed mindset? She, unsurprisingly, centers much her argument, research, and thinking on what parents and schools can do to help promote a growth mindset versus a fixed mindset among young children and young people. But it is the school environment that pushes so many from a natural, inborn growth mindset orientation to that of a fixed one. This is because schools tell them that they are of a certain level of competency, intelligence, work ethic - and they know this because they are tested, graded, and ranked accordingly. So I agree with Dweck on avoiding sending the message to students that they are fixed mindset oriented, but in order to do so one would have to withdraw children from any age-segregated, standardized, testing based, grading based, ranking based school. And to do so for all children means removing them from 99.9% of all schools (democratic, free schools, and self-directed education centers are the exception), and that is just the starting point.

Third, what is it about her so-called growth mindset that allows people to explore a variety of interests in order for them to find a new one? In a school-based society that requires a teacher, expert, or authority figure to introduce an opportunity to someone already having a growth mindset for them to identify that new interest to chase down. But that's absurd on multiple levels. One, the diversity of opportunities far exceed what any curriculum could ever expose any student two. Two, the best way to be introduced to possible interest areas are in meaningful, real world ways. For example, do you think someone is going to get excited about Astronomy by being introduced to a video as part of a class, or do you think that they might become more excited by going to an observatory, meeting an astronomer, or having the opportunity to stare into the night sky through a telescope? Three, people tend to get excited when they see their peers exhibiting interests. What do we get at schools? The most interested students are interested in getting straight As and getting ahead. There is no time for genuine interests. What they need is lots of free time, access to a large variety of opportunities that are not limited by curriculum, and lots of multi-age (meaning not just their age) peers to interact with.

The article goes on to say that "with the right help, most people can get interested in almost anything. Before the age of 8, she said, kids will try anything. Between the ages of 8 and 12, they start to compare themselves with others and become insecure if they’re not as good as their peers at something." Then it says, "That’s when educators have to start to find new ways to keep them interested in certain subjects." This should be a red flag to everyone who reads the article! Why do kids start to compare themselves to each other ... in school? It's because of school! Educators don't have to "find new ways to keep them interested in certain subjects." What educators need to do is get out of the way and stop pushing them into certain subjects where they are going to be compared to one another!

The article ends asking the question of "how to cultivate a “growth” mind-set in the young, future-psychology-experiment subjects of America?" Their answer was terrible. "If you’re a parent, you can avoid dropping new hobbies as soon as they become difficult." As we've made clear many times, you can also avoid dropping your children into standardized, age-segregated, testing and ranking based environments.

Finally, I agree that "find your passion" or "find your genius" is terrible advice. No person is preordained with a particular passion or genius. It is only through our experiences and interactions with the world that we are able to determine the degree to which we may want to leverage our individual differences toward certain endeavors.

 

Perfect Curriculum Does Not Exist; Standardized Curriculum is Inhumane

This afternoon I came across a two-year-old article on "Perfect, Freaky Olympic Bodies."

One thing that most so-called education experts continue to ignore when they talk about how 'every child is a genius,' or 'every child can succeed (in a simplistic, standardized curriculum)' is that every child is different.

Trying to force them all to utilize their unique differences for the exact same outcomes (academic success in simplistic, standardized curriculum) would be like judging all athletes by their outcomes in the same sport.

Can you imagine making Michael Phelps be a jockey, or making Nadia Comaneci play volleyball, or making Michal Jordan play baseball (!), or making Serena Williams play golf? We'd miss out on their individual greatness. And the potential outcomes for us as we live our lives are infinitely greater than the limited number of sports that are available to us as athletes.

Each of us is born with natural advantages and disadvantages relative to the wider population. And each of us is able to develop cultivated advantages based on our interests and our environments. It is time for adults to stop treating children as if they are all cast in the same mold, or to try to mold them into the same product. It is not only a disservice to the children and society to put them through standardized schooling, it is inhumane to do so. Be part of a real revolution in education. Remove young people from all standards based educational environments.

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Illustration credit: Renee Lightner and Jessia Ma of @WSJGraphics

Parenting, Schooling, and Planning the Future For Your Child

It is easy for parents to get caught up in the belief that it is their responsibility to identify a pathway for their child to proceed down en route to a successful life, and then direct them down that pathway. Likewise for educators, it is easy to believe that it is their responsibility to shape children and adolescents into eager students who will go to college, which will lead to success. It is easy to believe that the more we push children, demand of them, direct them, and handhold them, the more likely it is that the child will become a success. That is the narrative that society pushes, oftentimes blaming parents and educators for not doing enough, not doing it earlier, and not doing it with more rigor. 

Parents and educators do not deserve so much of the credit or blame when it comes to shaping children into successful adults. First, the way we define success is problematic in itself (consider what success means to you in light of these 5 deathbed regrets and these 24 regrets). Second, social and economic conditions that children are born into have a far greater impact on their future than proactive parenting or schooling does, and ignoring this most often leads to forms of victim blaming and practices that promote it (e.g., grit). And third, adults overestimate the benefits they provide to young people by way of deliberately trying to guide them down certain pathways, while grossly underestimating the harm they can cause by doing so.

Parents and educators generally want the best for children. They want a world where their children come out ahead, or at least keep pace. And the more that parents and educators try to prevent children from taking full control of their lives; because they fear the children will make suboptimal or wrong choices, or that they won't go down the right path; the more likely it is that they will deter the children from finding out who they are, where they want to take their lives, and how to make the most of it. In an attempt to put them on a right path, they end up moving each child away from an authentic, unique path that best fits each one of them. Some young people find ways to rebound; many do not. As a whole, adults end up doing more harm than good.

A better way forward for parents and educators is to focus on removing the obstacles that prevent young people from taking control of their education and lives. Addressing trauma or psychological distress is an obvious place to start. Next, remove toxic environmental conditions (e.g., bullying), or remove children from such toxic environments. Then, remove structures and practices (e.g., compulsory attendance, mandated curriculum) that undermine self-efficacy and prevent them from taking charge of their lives. Then, step back and breathe. 

Note, removing these obstacles does not mean removing adversity or denying them the opportunity to experience failure. All of the aforementioned obstacles inhibit growth, are not natural, and are unnecessary. When young people are able to focus their time and effort on their interests they will stretch themselves through meaningful challenges that move them further down their own pathways. 

It is time that we adults stop seeing ourselves as authority figures, decision makers, guides, or the ones who will protect children from themselves. It is time that we instead see ourselves as sounding boards, helpers, resource providers, and living examples of people who are leading remarkable lives themselves. 

If you also believe that we need to elevate the role of children and adolescents in their own lives then we encourage you to get involved in what we are doing at Abrome. 

What does it mean to give a child a choice?

Stop asking children these seven questions (and ask these instead) is an interesting blog post that gives parents a list of questions they can ask their children as opposed to the statements and questions that most children typically receive. And while they are better alternatives than the typical comments from adults, they really only make the oppression of childhood and schooling a bit more bearable. This one was the most interesting to me: “Here’s your new kindergarten” vs. “What kindergarten do you want to attend?”

illusion-of-free-choice.jpg

The author was asked what kindergarten he wanted to attend when he was five years old. He is eager to point out what a "formative moment" it was for him to be asked that question. He said it let him know that he was "in control of [his] destiny" and that he "could think for [himself], rather than depend on anyone else to do [his] thinking for [him]." He "felt ownership over it."

Unfortunately, he didn't really have the choice after all. His parents gave him one of four options. Reminds me of the "school choice" proponents who only want parents (but not their children) to have the choice of coercive district public schools or coercive charter schools, or sometimes coercive private schools. If Self-Directed Education (e.g., unschooling, Abrome, Agile Learning Centers, Sudbury) is not one of the choices then it is not really school choice (see picture). 

Let's not just try to come up with questions that lead young people where we adults want them to end up, or that will make an oppressive situation a bit more bearable. Let's actually allow young people to take control of their education. Although that may seem radical, it is really just the humane, ethical, and right thing to do.

 

Response to NYT Article Advocating For More Schooling to Curb Risky Behavior

This morning I read "Worried About Risky Behavior? Make School Tougher" in the New York Times. Here's my very quick response. 

This terrible article highlights how worthless researchers can be when they ignore context. Basically, the researchers argue that students get marginal reductions in drug use as school swallows up their childhood. The more oppression we place on the children, the less (marginally, again) risky behavior they engage in.

But they cannot imagine a world where children are not oppressed. They take it as a given that children must be harmed. They cannot imagine that children do not need to be subjected to standardized, coercive curriculum and the harmful practices and structures of schooling for 180 days a year, for 13 years of their youth.

Risky behavior is often a response to environmental cues. What does school teach young people? That there is a right answer. That there is a right path. And if you stay on that path all your problems will be solved. But students learn in school that it is not so easy to stay on the right path because to be on the right path they have to do everything everyone else demands of them, and nothing that they want to do. To be on the right path they have to be perfect for the adults, and they have to step on their peers to get to the top. And guess who can do that? Only one person in any given school (and then they go to college where they compete against a bunch of other people who did the same). School environments resign people to the lie that they cannot lead exceptional and remarkable lives.

If you really want to reduce risky behavior you allow young people to develop their own interests, develop executive functioning skills, and find purpose in their lives, you allow them to take meaningful risks as opposed to having to find an outlet for their natural adolescent risk seeking desires.

The article gets one thing right. Students who spend more time on schoolwork have less time to do other things. They have less time develop meaningful relationships. They have less time to develop their social skills. They have less time to pursue their interests. They have less time to develop meaning within their lives. They have less time to develop mastery in areas they care about. They have less time to sleep. They have less time to understand who they are. They have less time to actually educate themselves.

We can do better. Unlike these publication obsessed researchers who want to ignore context, we can actually focus on the context. And schooling is a harmful context. Change the context.

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Photo Credit: Alex Wroblewski/The New York Times

Peter Gray - Play Deficit Disorder: A National Crisis and How to Solve It Locally

Dr. Peter Gray was invited to the Laura Bush Community Library to speak about the lack of free play in society and what we can do about it. This video is shared courtesy of the library.

Author Dr. Peter Gray gives his second of a three-part talk based on his book Free to Learn: Why Unleashing the Instinct to Play Will Make Our Children Happier, More Self-Reliant, and Better Students for Life.

Dr. Gray’s research and writing focus on the natural way that children learn through play. Gray demonstrates how children acquire the ability to solve problems, negotiate relationships, and cope with adversity through self-directed play and discovery. These skills are essential in an ever-changing world. The alternative education Gray proposes can replace or supplement traditional education.

Self-education is at the heart of the public library mission. At Westbank Libraries, we are embracing the idea of free play in discovery-based programs, presenting opportunities for kids to explore their interests in a stimulus rich environment. And we’re making sure it’s fun! Check the calendar on our website for Free Play!

Dr. Gray is a research professor at Boston College, author of the text book Psychology (in its 8th edition), and a contributor for Psychology Today, where he maintains a blog Freedom to Learn.

Talking about and experiencing the benefits of free play

Professor Peter Gray argues that society can free children from coercive schooling through learning centers that will maximize their ability to educate themselves without depriving them of the rightful joys of childhood. We agree. Abrome is a self-directed learning community that opened last year to provide families with a real alternative to age-segregated, standards-based schooling. 

We created a space where unlimited free play is an essential component of our learning model. We did this primarily because it is the humane thing to do, but also because it is the best way to prepare for a lifetime of meaning, as well as academic, professional, and personal success. 

Far too many adults believe that in lieu of free play, the process of learning needs to be directed by adults. Unfortunately for young people, less free time and more mandated learning results in increased anxiety and depression, delayed emotional and social development, inhibited executive functioning skills, and diminished intellectual vitality. 

Play is a fundamental component of learning. Unlimited free play allows all people (young children, adolescents, and adults) to engage in the deepest and most meaningful forms of learning, maximizing their creativity, and igniting intellectual passion.

We invite all families to explore free play with us this month through weekly free play events, a book group discussion, and a series of talks, all of which are free and open to the public. 

April 16th23rd, or 30th: ‘Free Play and Food Trucks’ at Laura’s Library 

April 26th: the Smart Schooling Book Group will discuss Peter Gray’s book Free to Learn

Working with Clearview Sudbury School and Westbank Library, Abrome is bringing Peter Gray to Austin for three events

·       April 25th: ‘What is Self-Directed Education’ at Abrome 

·       April 26th: ‘Play Deficit Disorder’ at Laura’s Library

·       April 27th: ‘The Biology of Education’ at Clearview Sudbury

Do Grades Matter? Why Parents Should Care.

Antonio Buehler, founder of Abrome was invited to the Laura Bush Community Library to speak about the importance of grades. This video is shared courtesy of the library.

Grades are a source of anxiety and frustration for many students and their families. For others, it is an ever-present motivator to strive for perfection. Grades affect every student’s conception of how they learn. Whether or not grades are helpful or harmful, they are a reality for most students.

Antonio Buehler founded Abrome to fundamentally change the way the world views education. He wants society to reject the notion that education should be a standardized product in which children are expected to be passive recipients of instruction that is chosen and delivered by adults. Antonio wants learners to be able to direct their own education so they can live rich, fulfilling lives. He believes that by providing learners with the opportunity to take full ownership of their education, Abrome will help save millions of lives, and in the process change the world.

Antonio earned a B.S. in Systems Engineering from the United States Military Academy, an M.B.A. from Stanford University, and an Ed.M. from Harvard University.

Getting into Harvard and Stanford: How to Earn Admission Into Elite Colleges

Antonio Buehler, founder of Abrome was invited to the Laura Bush Community Library to speak about how to gain admission into elite colleges and universities. This video is shared courtesy of the library.

Getting into elite colleges such as Harvard or Stanford is not as simple as a perfect homeschool transcript, a 1600 SAT score, and lots of volunteer activities. 

Antonio Buehler, a Harvard and Stanford graduate, outlines the three dimensions that ivy league schools focus on most.

Antonio Buehler founded Abrome to fundamentally change the way the world views education. He wants society to reject the notion that education should be a standardized product in which children are expected to be passive recipients of instruction that is chosen and delivered by adults. Antonio wants learners to be able to direct their own education so they can live rich, fulfilling lives. He believes that by providing learners with the opportunity to take full ownership of their education, Abrome will help save millions of lives, and in the process change the world.

Antonio earned a B.S. in Systems Engineering from the United States Military Academy, an M.B.A. from Stanford University, and an Ed.M. from Harvard University.