Talk to Your Children

The homeschool versus public school debate revolves around the education of children typically only after the age of five. Ignoring what happens before a child is old enough to attend state schools ignores the reality that education begins at home, not at school.  A significant portion of a person’s intellectual capacity is determined in his or her first 36 months.  As such, parents cannot wait until children learn how to speak or until they are old enough to be shipped off to state schools to begin to foster their children’s intellectual development.  Fortunately for parents, developing a child’s intellectual capacity is simple; they only need to talk to their child, early and often.

In 2008, Harvard professor and innovation expert Clayton Christensen wrote Disrupting Class, focusing on how innovation can be used to transform education in America. Christensen felt so strongly about the importance of parents talking to their children that he deviated from the theme of his book and dedicated an entire chapter to this subject.

Much of the education gap between the rich and the poor upon entering school age is driven not by economic disparity, but by how much a child has been talked to by their parents.  As Christensen notes, “talkative,” college educated parents spoke 2,100 words per hour, on average, to their infants, while “welfare” parents spoke on average only 600 words per hour.  By 36 months of age the children of the talkative parents had heard their parents speak 48 million words to them, compared to the children of welfare parents who heard only 13 million words.  Christensen further explains why this difference is so remarkable. It is not that the kids of the talkative parents hear 3.7 times as many words as those of the welfare parents.  Instead, when kids are being engaged in conversation, even if they don’t understand it, they are developing the synapses between brain cells which improve children’s cognitive capacities.  Because each brain cell is connected to hundreds of other cells by as many as 10,000 synapses, the advantages of the extra 35 million words is tremendous to say the least, far more than just a 3.7 times advantage.

The difference in the number of spoken words can be attributed in part to the type of talking parents engage in with their children.  There is a difference between standard talking in which parents are giving orders such as “pick up your toys” or “wash your hands” and extra talk in which parents are engaging in face to face conversations with their children.  Such conversations are not merely baby talk, but fully adult conversations in which a child would be expected to respond to, if the child could speak. All parents talk to their children in standard ways, but it is talkative parents that engage in the more serious talk. It is those engaged interactions that stimulate the development of the synapses mentioned previously, something that cannot be replicated by sitting a child in front of the TV to watch Sesame Street.

The timing of parents talking to their kids is also important.  As Christensen states in his book, the most powerful words are spoken in the first 12 months of life, even though there is no visible evidence that children can understand what their parents are saying. Parents who delayed speaking to their children in a serious manner until the point at which their children were speaking (at about 12 months) found their children suffered from a persistent deficit in intellectual capacity relative to the children of talkative parents who were speaking to their children throughout the first year.

There is no college degree or teaching certification necessary to talk to your children early and often.  As with homeschooling from the ages of five and up, parents who take their children’s development into their own hands as opposed to waiting for professional educators will be the most successful.

Note: This essay was originally published by Antonio Buehler in 2011 on another blog. It has been copied here verbatim. 

Raising Resisters

The 2016 presidential election campaign reminded many Americans that while our society likes to boast about its commitment to equality, justice, liberty, and tolerance, that an often stronger undercurrent of bias, bigotry, oppression, and hate courses through the veins of American culture. Prior to the election of Donald Trump, and coming off two terms of America’s first black president, both the political left and right were generally dismissive of what appeared to be a rising tide of hostility toward immigrants, black and brown communities, Jews, Muslims, the LGBTQ community, and women. However, since the election, the hostilities against marginalized and oppressed groups have continued to rise, while fascist and white supremacist organizing has moved out from the shadows and into the streets. Although the fabric of society may have changed very little over the past year, the aesthetics have changed significantly.

As organic and organized protests began to grow after election day, and leading up to the inauguration, it became apparent that many previously inactive people were looking for ways to become engaged. While more established political and non-profit entities were eager to pull those people into their organizations, a small group of Austin activists came together as the Oh Shit! What Now? (OSWN) Collective to find ways to introduce those people into more radical activist circles that focus on direct action tactics. OSWN has since helped organize and plan study groups, discussions, trainings, and workshops aimed at building a diverse community of resisters, and equipping folks with radical skills that they can share with others to push back against hierarchical and oppressive forces within society.

The younger generations have historically been one of, if not the primary driver of radical social change, while their caregivers or guardians, as well as those who contribute to the development of the younger generations (e.g., teachers), help shape whether the youth believe that they can drive social change. Therefore, OSWN came together with Abrome, the Crustacean Zine Library, and Austin Yawp to launch Raising Resisters, a discussion group that focuses on anti-oppressive parenting and education tactics.

Parenting, education, and activism have a long history of interrelatedness. Radical leftists and anarchists have often understood that oppression is more easily dismantled within the family than within societal institutions, and that young people could be spared being conditioned by mainstream schooling into accepting authoritarianism, capitalism, nationalism, and other hierarchical belief systems. For example, in the 19th Century, Henry David Thoreau, Louisa May Alcott, Leo Tolstoy, and Francisco Ferrer Guardia all led alternative schools that were the precursors of radical free schools and democratic schools wherein children had full control over their educational experiences. In the 20th Century, in conjunction with the rise of the free schools, writers such as Paul Goodman, George Dennison, and John Holt helped introduce the notions of deschooling and unschooling as a means of resistance into a wider counterculture that was already questioning American foreign policy, racial segregation, and assumptions about social norms. Holt, being the most influential of these people, even forewarned of today’s rise of fascism and the inability of system reforms to effectively stave off that rise.

OSWN, Abrome, the Crustacean Zine Library, and Austin Yawp invite parents and educators to join us at our monthly Raising Resisters discussion group meetings to continue the tradition of marrying parenting, education, and activism so that we can build community to resist, and create something better.

Upcoming dates (meetings at 6:30pm at Austin Yawp, 4548 Page St., Austin, TX 78723):

·      Thursday, June 15th

·      Thursday, Jul 20th

·      Thursday, Aug 24th

·      Thursday, Sep 21st

·      Thursday, Oct 19th

·      Thursday, Nov 16th

·      Thursday Dec 14th

 

Originally posted on the Alt Ed Austin blog.

Deschooling: How Long Does it Take?

Parents should not enroll their children in traditional schools when their children become school-aged, especially public schools, even if they are advocates of public schooling. The reason being is that they do not know what the future holds for their children, and it is easier to go from a self-directed learning environment (e.g., emancipated learning, unschooling) to a schooling environment than vice versa. For example, if one enrolls their child in school and that child later decides to homeschool, the family opens itself up to the very real risk of malicious truancy claims by school officials.[1] Homeschoolers, however, will not be calling the police if your teenage child leaves the local homeschool co-op to enroll in a public high school. The more likely risk parents invite when they enroll their children in traditional schools is that their children’s inborn love of learning will be replaced with a passive resignation that learning is only relevant and worthwhile when it is being measured by people in positions of power.

We live in a society that emphasizes conformity over curiosity, tradition over progress, and authority over liberation. Schools are both a reflection of society and a force that perpetuates the worst it. Our society and our schools are most forgiving to those who have the most, and most punitive against those who have the least.[2] And while affluent and white students are usually given the benefit of the doubt in terms of grading and discipline relative to low SES students and students of color, all students are reminded every day that they are viewed as incompetent and ignorant, and needing constant direction from adults. Schools do not allow young people to believe that they are able to chart their own course in life. After all, there is a curriculum that the students must conform to. There is only one approved path that students can take, and it is the same path that their peers are expected to take.

The rigid and unforgiving practices and structures of schooling leave students incapable of experiencing true autonomy or intellectual vitality. The learning that matters most is the learning that is mandated for everyone, without concern for the unique needs, goals, interests, and contexts of individual students. The best students are those who subjugate their curiosity to meet the needs of adults who believe that a student’s value is determined by where they rank relative to same-age peers. The worst students are those who get distracted and wander down paths of personal inquiry, or those who engage in acts of resistance in the hope of holding onto a piece of themselves. And the majority of students who make up the center of the bell curve are those who do what is necessary to keep moving along through the conveyor belt of schooling from one grade to another. Most students quickly resign themselves to the reality that their education is not their own. And that leaves most of them helpless when presented with the opportunity to make meaningful decisions about their education. It is this learned helplessness that gave rise to the practice of deschooling as a transition from school to self-directed learning.

Deschooling is the “process of decompression from the effects of school.”[3] It is an adjustment period where parents step back and allow children to be free of all formal schooling activities such as required attendance, readings, journal entries, worksheets, and tests. It allows them to begin to recuperate from a schooling environment that in many ways mimicked the structures and practices of prisons or factory farms. Deschooling also allows children to break away from the schooling mindset and mentality that learning is about performing for adults, and that meaning is dictated as opposed to discovered. It allows them to restructure their concept of learning, and reframe their understanding of their role and responsibility in their own life. Deschooling also allows for rejuvenation, as they rediscover that they can have interests that are worth pursuing for their own sake, as opposed to for the sake of appeasing adults.

For parents who believe that education is about keeping young people busy and engaged, deschooling can be difficult. It asks parents to step back and not interfere with the child for a protected period of time. In this way, parents also go through a period of deschooling.

The general rule of thumb for deschooling is that it should last one month for every year a young person was in traditional school.[4][5] Abrome finds this rule of thumb problematic for three reasons. First, just one year of traditional schooling can do immense harm to a child. One month of freedom is unlikely to be sufficient to allow a first grader to embrace learning again. Second, the effects of schooling compound over time, making it much more difficult to rewire one’s mind after years in traditional school. It is this reason that teenagers who try to move from a schooling environment to a self-directed learning environment often flounder for extended periods of time.[4] And third, every person learns and develops on their own timeline. Just as schools wrongly expect every student to learn by standardized periods of time, it is wrong to expect every formerly schooled child to be able to transition to self-directed learning along a preset period of time.  

A better rule of thumb for deschooling is to step back and wait for them to celebrate their freedom, then get bored of their freedom, and then actively make use of their freedom. At Abrome, we have Learners who came to us from traditional public schools, traditional private schools, alternative private schools, and who have been homeschooled or unschooled their whole lives. Those who have been subjected to the more formal schooling of public and private schools have a much more difficult time deschooling than those who have only had progressive schooling or homeschooling experiences. For these reasons, a 13-year-old who spent eight years in traditional schools may require up to two years to navigate the deschooling process, while a 9-year-old who comes from a more progressive school may only need a couple of months, and a 5-year-old who was never subjected to schooling can transition seamlessly.

It is best for parents to not put their children in a position where they need to deschool in the first place. Extend unschooling beyond the age of five, and allow young people to retain their natural love of learning in a self-directed learning environment through adolescence and into early adulthood. Parents should seek out homeschooling and unschooling groups and cooperatives, or find self-directed learning spaces such as Abrome or democratic schools to enroll their children in. However, for families who enrolled their children in traditional schools because they thought it was the best option at the time, the most important step they can take in the present is to immediately withdraw their children from traditional school and begin the process of deschooling. The longer they leave their children in traditional school, the longer (and more difficult) it is going to take for them to move to a self-directed learning mindset.

 

1.     Every year, there are numerous examples of school districts harassing, threatening, and calling the authorities on families who decide to pull their children out of school to homeschool them. Some parents have even been arrested and have had their children taken from them. The Home School Legal Defense Association often posts about such examples on their website

2.     As both Bryan Stevenson and Immortal Technique have pointed out, you are better off rich and guilty than poor and innocent. Being identified as an ‘other’ in terms of ability, age, ethnicity, gender, immigration status, physical appearance, race, religion, self-expression, sexual orientation, or other identifier often becomes an aggravating factor when it comes to the way society collectively treats someone.

3.     The Homeschooling Option by Lisa Rivero

4.     Summer breaks should not be considered deschooling periods. Many students already see the summer as a season of respite from school, and if we hope to free children from the mindset of schooling, they need to recognize that they are being released from the practices and structures of schooling during periods in which they would normally be in school. 

Abrome extends academic calendar to 210 days; attendance still optional

Abrome is uninterested in replicating the practices and structures of schooling. For example, when we launched Abrome this past August, we committed to never subjecting young people to classroom instruction, homework, or testing, because those are oppressive practices that undermine learning. One practice that we felt we could not yet move away from was the 180-day academic year.[1] This coming year, we are introducing a year-round, 210-day academic calendar. 

This year, Abrome operated on an 11-month schedule consisting of 180 days.

The standard American school, public and private, requires students to attend classes for 180 days over a nine-month period. Year-round schools typically stick to the 180-day schedule, but they stretch it out over 11 or 12 months, giving students and teachers more frequent one- or two-week breaks throughout the year in lieu of a three month summer break.[2] A small minority of schools extend the academic year calendar without adding in additional breaks, giving the schools more instructional days.

Within the current schooling system, year-round schooling has palpable benefits in terms of testing and efficiency. Summer learning loss is attributed to long summer vacations, and it requires teachers to spend time each fall reviewing material that the students had supposedly learned the prior year. This eats into instructional time that could be used to move students further into their standardized curriculum. Additionally, there is a maintenance aspect of constantly having students in school and engaged in required academic material, because when there is not intrinsic motivation to master material that is going to be tested, schools are best served by repeatedly drilling students to keep material top of mind.[3]

From the vantage point of traditional schools, because they are typically measured by how their students perform on standardized tests, the aforementioned arguments for year-round schooling are quite compelling.[4][5] However, the benefits of year-round schooling extend to teachers, students, and families, as well. Teachers and students are less likely to experience burn out when there are more frequent breaks throughout the year. And studies show that although only about 50% of parents support year-round schooling before implementation, nearly 80% of parents support it after implementation.[6] Some of the benefits to families include reduced family conflict,  fewer childcare challenges over the summer, and the ability to take family vacations during off-peak travel periods.  

However, the reason Abrome is moving to a year-round, 210-day academic calendar has nothing to do with the benefits that traditional schools would garner from it. We are focused on helping young people lead remarkable lives so they can positively impact society and improve the human condition. In order to lead a remarkable life, one must become a lifelong learner. Meaningful educational experiences cannot be confined to the four walls of a school for 7 hours a day, 180 days and 9 months a year, for 13 years. At Abrome, we want to provide a safe space for Learners to be able to engage in deep, meaningful, and enduring learning experiences throughout the year, including the summer.

Next year, Abrome will operate on a year-round, 210-day schedule.

In order to tear down the notion that learning only happens at school, attendance at Abrome is optional, and we will highly encourage Learners to take at least 30 days off during the academic year to engage in off-site learning experiences. Abrome is a space where Learners can come to engage in self-directed learning, collaborate with other Learners, receive guidance from Learning Coaches, and recharge before their next learning challenge.

This new 210-day, year-round academic calendar also provides significantly more flexibility to Learners and their families. With an additional thirty days per academic year, Abrome Learners and families will not feel conflicted about taking time off for family vacations, summer camps, internships, or community service opportunities. For Learners who have friends in traditional schools, they can take time off when their friends are freed from school. For Abrome parents who have children at multiple schools, they can organize their schedules around the more inflexible academic calendars of traditional schools. And fundamentally in alignment with our educational philosophy, Abrome Learners will be able to take time off as they see fit for any other reasons they may have, without having to provide justification.

1.     We underestimated the extent to which Learners would want to be at Abrome. The most common complaint we hear when Abrome Learners come back from break is that they wish there were less breaks, and that they could not wait to return.

2.     For our first year at Abrome, we stretched 180 academic days over 11 months.

3.     http://www.nayre.org/questions.html

4.     Affluent high schools are also measured by the selectivity of the colleges their students end up matriculating into. Fortunately for the overwhelming majority of affluent high schools that refuse to move away from the traditional model of schooling, college admissions is highly correlated with family income.

5.     For the sake of brevity, we did not list other benefits of a year-round schedule for schools such as higher utilization rates of facilities and the ability to accommodate more students by offsetting the start dates of different groups of students.

6.     Palmer; Bemis (1999). "Alternative Calendars: Extended Learning and Year-Round Programs,". University of Minnesota, Center for Applied Research and Educational Improvement.

What Is the Best Way to Crush Entrepreneurial Spirit? Force Children to Take an Entrepreneurship Class!

Gallup recently shared the results of their annual poll on entrepreneurial ambition among American students.[1] In the prior five years of polling, 33% to 35% of high school students indicated that they planned to start their own business. This year that number dropped to a lowly 27%. This drop would not necessarily be noteworthy, if not for the unending emphasis that educators, economists, and politicians have placed on the importance of cultivating an entrepreneurial spirit in the next generation.

The focus on entrepreneurship is well placed. We have entered a period of technological advancement that is unprecedented in the history of humankind, and it is accelerating at an exponential pace. Within the next few decades, it is predicted that half of the jobs on earth will become obsolete, and many futurists believe that we will hit technological singularity.[2][3] Most young people are not going to have the luxury of getting a degree or learning a trade, and settling into a job for the duration of their adult life. They are going to be forced to constantly evaluate their skillset and their place in the world, acquire new skills as necessary, and create opportunities that allow them to provide value to others in a rapidly evolving marketplace. In the past, an entrepreneurial mindset was a lifeline for those who could not stand to work for others, but in the future, it will become a necessity to survive.

While the interest in entrepreneurship among high school students hit a low, Gallup pointed out that a majority (55%) of middle school students plan to start their own business. Gallup suggested that the 2:1 ratio in entrepreneurial ambition between the groups may be a result of goals changing with age, although that would not explain the widening gap between the two groups. Gallup also posited that familiarity may result in decreased interest in entrepreneurship among students. On that point, Gallup is part wrong, part right.

Gallup is part wrong because there is evidence that being introduced to entrepreneurship at a young age increases, rather than decreases the likelihood that one becomes an entrepreneur. This is particularly the case for children of entrepreneurs, who are two to three times more likely to become entrepreneurs than their peers who were not raised in entrepreneurial households.[4] Therefore, the phenomenon of student interest in entrepreneurship decreasing as academic entrepreneurial offerings increase needs to be scrutinized.

Gallup is part right because the wrong type of familiarity breeds contempt. Gallup points out that high school students were twice as likely as middle school students to have access to classes on entrepreneurship. In line with the counterintuitive reality of education, the more that learning experiences are formalized into curriculum, tested, and graded, the less likely it is that students will want to engage in that experience once class has ended. If you want to crush the entrepreneurial spirit in students, force them to take an entrepreneurship class.

Furthermore, schooling, with or without entrepreneurship classes, impedes an entrepreneurial orientation in students because it produces a risk averse mindset.[5] By virtue of high school students having on average four more years of schooling than middle school students, they are less likely to be able to tolerate the ambiguity and uncertainty of an entrepreneurial existence.

As opposed to Gallup’s misguided proposals for more academic offerings, schools should immediately drop entrepreneurship classes, entrepreneur workshops, and startup fairs if they are interested in fostering an entrepreneurial spirit in their students. Instead, schools need to step aside and allow students to engage in self-directed learning experiences in real world contexts so that young people can experience the challenges and joys of entrepreneurship in a low risk setting.

 

1.     US High School Students' Entrepreneurial Ambition at New Low (Gallup)

2.     For example, Thomas Frey has claimed that 2 billion jobs will disappear by 2030.  

3.     Kurzweil Claims That the Singularity Will Happen by 2045 (Futurism)

4.     Like Father, Like Son? (Entrepreneur) 

5.     http://www.abrome.com/blog/2017/4/21/does-self-directed-learning-create-an-its-all-about-me-problem

Elon Musk Does Not Care Whether You Have a College Degree. Why Should You?

While the Abrome YouTube channel has only eight videos on it, we have over half a million views. 99.95% of those views come from a video of super-entrepreneur Elon Musk insisting that when it comes to hiring talent for his team, that he could care less where candidates graduated from college, much less if they graduated from college at all.[1]

In the clip, Musk is asked by the interviewer which colleges or universities he is most interested in hiring from. He responds that it does not even matter if a candidate has a college degree, or a high school degree. He acknowledges that a top university can serve as a signal that a candidate might be “capable of great things,” but clearly that is not sufficient to justify bringing one on his team.

Musk is not alone. Internet giant Google has moved away from their early focus on hiring from a collection of top schools, and as of 2013, up to 14% of some Google teams were filled with people who had never even gone to college.[2][3] Google did not change their hiring process based on some sort of anti-establishment ethos, they did it based on their own analysis of their own employees. They found that there was no relationship between job performance and GPA or college affiliation after the first few years on the job. In fact, Google’s senior vice president of people operations is on the record saying that grades are “worthless as a criteria for hiring.”[4]

Historically, colleges were used as a lazy man’s screen for talent. This was in part due to people confusing admission into and performance at college as markers for ambition, intelligence, and perseverance. College attainment has always been more associated with class privilege than intelligence and hard work. It is a rather recent phenomenon that a stellar high school academic record can place an underprivileged applicant into an elite college in place of a privileged applicant with a middling high school record. But children of the elite still have tremendous advantages in the ability to access such educational opportunities, even though studies have shown that they are the ones that benefit from them the least.[5]

With a somewhat democratized economy, where large institutions are more easily challenged and brought down by upstarts, the companies that want to continue to grow and thrive will need to move beyond the lazy man’s screen for talent, and begin to identify better indicators for future performance and success among job candidates. With organizations such as Tesla and Google leading the way, other companies will either adapt their hiring practices or lose the race for talent.

As Musk said, evidence of exceptional ability and a track record of exceptional achievement are far more important than degrees from certain colleges. And the best way to build exceptional ability and to acquire exceptional achievements is to lead a remarkable life, not to chase degrees. However, our schooling system discourages young people from leading remarkable lives. It encourages them to aim for perfection on a narrow range of academic measures based on a narrow and out of date curriculum, and to chase degrees.

If one is intent on playing the game everyone else is playing, they can take comfort in the fact that most companies still rely on lazy screens for hiring. But the world is changing, and young people should not be subjected to the same game everyone else is playing.[6] The focus on academic achievement and degree hunting will not only fail to be an advantage in tomorrow’s economy, it will put young people at a significant disadvantage. It will leave them ill-equipped to navigate the hiring process, and unprepared to prosper in their careers.

It is remarkably difficult to lead a remarkable life while also trying to excel in the oppressive and restrictive world of schooling. Not only does schooling take up at least 6-8 hours a day, 170-210 days a year for 13 years of one’s youth, but it also take up considerable mind space that alters the way they see the world and pursue opportunities. Schooling creates a dependency on authority figures to dictate to young people what is meaningful in life. It creates a shortsighted focus on short-term, finite projects, because those can be graded, whereas deep, meaningful projects that span months or years are beyond the scope of what schools can measure and asses. Schooling also trains students to look for the “right answer” as opposed to dancing in the beautiful space of uncertainty, while risking failure, that is so essential to deeper learning.

The best hope young people have to lead remarkable lives is to divorce themselves from the schooling apparatus and to instead engage in self-directed learning experiences. Only by being able to pursue learning according to one’s unique needs, goals, and interests can one take true ownership over their educational journey. In doing so, they will ultimately find or create opportunities that allow them to develop mastery over or expertise in fields that have personal meaning to their lives, and through the continued refinement and development of their skills and the application thereof for the benefit of society, they will build meaning and purpose within their lives.

People who lead remarkable lives do not need college degrees from top colleges to get their foot in the door or to thrive in life. But a strange irony arises for those who lead remarkable lives: they have a much easier time gaining admission into top colleges, and they have the mindset and skills that allow them to outperform their schooled peers once in college. However, they are also more likely to opt out of the employment game altogether, choosing instead to pursue an entrepreneurial existence.

 

1.     The clip we showed came from a 2014 Auto Bild interview.      

2.     Google Doesn’t Care Where You Went to College (CNN)

3.     Google Has Started Hiring More People Who Didn't Go To College (Business Insider)

4.     In Head-Hunting, Big Data May Not Be Such a Big Deal (The New York Times)

5.     Some Colleges Have More Students From the Top 1 Percent Than the Bottom 60. Find Yours (The New York Times)

6.     It is also a game where there are far more losers than winners.

Picture of Elon Musk: Wikipedia