Perfect Curriculum Does Not Exist; Standardized Curriculum is Inhumane

This afternoon I came across 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?”

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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.