If you see one post on why our education system is not for you now - please look at this short presentation.
If you see one post on why our education system is not for you now - please look at this short presentation.
Changing the bureaucracy is a slow and sometimes impossible task. So how are kids in Atlantic Canada going to get access to the kind of learning that they need now?
The answer is that a number of citizens have tired of waiting and are starting to off what many kids want and need right now. Here are some that I know.
Jevon MacDonald and Gavin Uhma, are based in Halifax. Jevon is an Islander by birth and is one of the regions top entrepeneurs. They are starting to offer Programming to kids. Jevon with Milan Vrekic are also starting a co working place for start ups called Volta Labs.
Maureen Kerr on PEI has been working with UPEI to offer Robot making and programming for kids.
Peter Rukavina and the UPEI Library are offering labs in Minecraft.
Don't you find this encouraging? Who else is doing this? Might it be you?
It might be a good thing to all get together. And BTW well done UPEI for being such a help.
Many children today find it very hard to concentrate. Many are hyper active. Many are on the autism spectrum. Many have very serious allergies. Many are consistently ill. Most of these kids have digestive problems. All of this presents the child with a barrier to learning.
There is a link.
The main thesis of this, and the related posts, is that we as parents have much more influence over our child's ability to learn and to develop than any school. This influence is at its most powerful in the first 3 years of life and our influence begins prior to conception.
We know that we give our kids our genes. We also see, over time, the mystery of how our kids pick up our habits and gestures.
But there is a new element that we inherit that science is just now starting to see as being very important and, unlike genes and habits, this inheritance is largely in the control of the parents. It is the innate gut flora and immune system. More information here. In the womb, your baby is a blank slate in terms of gut flora and immune system.
Ideally, and of course we can't always have the ideal, when your baby is born vaginally, she picks up mainly mum's gut flora and sometimes a bit of dad too. So if your gut flora is healthy then, your baby will inherit a healthy system herself. Then if you breast feed, she will pick up your immune system. If you have a good immune system, then your baby will quickly develop a good immune system too.
I am now going to do a dangerous thing. I, a man, will offer adivice to women.
I know being a man makes it odd to give advice - I can never have a child or breast feed, but as a father and a grand father, I hope that you can have give your baby the best start possible and so I offer you all that I know to help you in this. And BTW, Dads to be, your gut flora is in the vagina too so it is up to us to get with the program as well.
Why should this matter?
We are learning that gut health is at the core of not only general health but also it is strongly linked to the development of the brain. There is a strong link being made between gut flora and autism and many kinds of attention disorders. Here is a series of articles on Gut Fora and why it is important and what you can do to improve it.
So what to do? Great gut flora and a great immune system is the best start you can give your child.
So what might compromise your gut flora? The two risks are anti biotics and grains.
The easy risk to deal with are antibiotics. You know if you have taken them and so, if you have, you can work to repair the damage. For while they kill off the bacteria that we worry about, they also kill off the bacteria that we depend on. If you as a mother to be have been on a course of antibiotics before or during pregancy, work hard to restore your gut health. Probiotics are very useful in repropagating your gut. Fermented food such as sauer kraut and kefir help too. Cereals and legumes work against good gut health. Animal fat and fish oil help too.
Get your gut health tested after you know that you are pregnant. You can get it tested here right now in the largest citizen science project ever.
The harder part is to reduce or eliminate grains from your diet. Cereals are the foundation of the western diet. They are the core of most of our meals and snacks. But they contain elements that disrupt our gut flora.
The best science resource for all of this is Dr Natasha Campbell McBribe - Here is her site.
Then after birth, please think about your baby's diet then. It makes no sense to be careful with your diet before she is born, and then revert back to the diet that can compromise her gut health. The challenge is that all of our culture tells you to feed your baby cereals. The culture makes it hard to continue breastfeeding.
So all I can do is to ask you this one question. Do you want your child to have the best start that you can give her, or not?
I have been exploring touch over the last few days. One of my aha's is that while we think we are so modern, we are primates. We may have been homo sapiens for 40,000 years and we may have been "civilized" for 4,000 years but we have been primates for 4 million years. How important is touch to primates? Harlow's famous experiment some monkeys were given a wire mummy. The others a cloth fuzzy mummy. The wire monkey had food the cloth fuzzy monkey did not. The babies huddled with the cloth monkey. Grooming is at the heart of the social welfare of primates. Robin Dunbar's thesis is that language itself arose from grooming. Gossip is in effect long distance grooming.
Yet we are so frightened of creating dependency and maybe also of the sexual aspects of touch that most of us hardly touch our babies much when compared to primates and to most traditional human societies. Car seats, strollers, cribs and playpens are now the essential kit that we have as parents.
Our babies are in effect born six months premature. Our brain is so big that if we went to term, women would have such wide hips that they could not walk. Only marsupials, who have nice pouches, have more helpless infants than humans. I was brought up the traditional way and we brought our kids up the same. We were taken at the moment of birth and "cleaned up" by the doctors and nurses. Then whisked away to the nursery. We were presented to our mothers on schedule for feeding. At home the separation continued. I still recall biting my hand as we heard Hope cry for us from her room.
What I have been reading recently, The Continuum Concept, The Vital Touch and What's Going On In There - is quite clear. Babies need as much touch as possible in the first 6 months of life.
Bottom line if we fill the touch need of an infant, she will be quite independent. It's a paradox that I see so clearly in our two dogs. Jay was abandoned as a puppy and spent 4 months in the pound. He is by my feet as I type this. He cannot stay away. Mildred was raised with her mummy and then moved off with her litter mates and then into our bed and into the bed of her foster mum Ann while we away. She is the most independent dog out. Always on her own and not "needing"
I posted this back in October 2003. As I think about how we can give our kids the best start in life, "More Touch" is a simple mantra. Just as for our own health - "Don't Sit Too Much" works too.
School is far less important to our kids future than we think. It is the work we do - or not - before our kids go to school that sets them up for life.
What we do BEFORE they go to school will make all the difference.
This chart - from the research of Hart and Risley - Shows how the learning gap widens over time from the first day of Kindergarten. The children go to the same schools. But by 13, the once tiny gap is very large.
This is because the "Trajectory" has been set before they go to school. The real work of preparing our children to lear and for life happens NOT at school, but at home and is largely done by 6. In fact, as we will see, it is largely done by 3.
We will explore this in later posts. But the main points of the task for all of us as parents are these:
It's all about environment. The space that we set in the family for our children. The more aligned to the child's development and health, the better.
The modern workplace compromises the environment like no other negative force. The modern work place is a massive barrier to doing this task well as it drains our energy and separates us as couples and as parents. The issue that the job creates is time and energy. We have neither if we both have a job.
The irony is that more and more young people of parenting age do not have traditional jobs. In my first book You Don't Need a Job - I explore the why's and the hows of this. Not having a job does not mean that you have to be poor, it means that you have control over your time and it means that you are not separated from your partner, home or child.
Over the next few weeks I will explore all of this as I use these posts to create the notes for Book 4 - You Don't Need a Scool to get and Education
I posted this in 2004 - It is even more relevant today.
"I promised to write more about how I think Magic Numbers, or the natural social organization of humans, affects education and learning. So here goes. I am 54. When I talk to my contemporaries on PEI who were educated in one room schools, I hear a very different story about the school experience than what I hear when I talk to many of their children today.
Robert Harris - One Room School House, Canoe Cove 1881 (Confederation Library)
None of these schools had more than 50 students. Most had closer to 30. They had a wide range of ages and abilities. In practice, the teacher acted as a learning facilitator. Much of the teaching was done by the older students who helped the younger ones. So while the teacher was an authority figure, she was not the sole talker.
Most of the teaching was in the form of a series of conversations between the students themselves. She did not claim to know everything either and called on the wider resources and knowledge in the community to help if needed or pointed the child to the library. School was integrated into the full life of the community.
All the students lived in their community and walked to school. The teacher lived in the community. Marion Reid had retired from teaching when she started her family. A group of parents came to her house one day and made her a deal - they would bay sit her younger children if she would return to teaching their children. School was augmented by work and life in the community. Children were not excluded from work or their full responsibility for the community in which they lived. All the children had work to do at home or on the farm and learned a great deal of practical things about how the world worked from all the other adults in the community. They were not apart from the work of their families or the community.
While there were always naughty kids - they were naughty in the context of a community that had their eye upon them and where the consequences of doing the wrong thing were immediate and powerful. Very clever kids found that the community got behind them in their efforts to do well - this is part of the story of Anne and Gilbert of Green Gables.
But you say - this was not a very effective school. That is why we needed to consolidate. The kids need the physical resources that come with scale.
Not effective? The kids were fully engaged in their learning and in their full community. Literacy was very high. Now nearly 40% of Islanders cannot read effectively. Next time you watch Ken Burns' film on the US Civil War, think of the literacy of the private soldiers whose letters are featured.
I am sure there was bullying of a sort at times but not what we see so often today. It is inconceivable that a community would suffer the mindless vandalism that we see so often today. By walking to school and by participating in the work of the community, kids were in much better shape than today.
So what has all of this to do with Magic Numbers?
The one room school house was an "Emergent Design" that fitted naturally the formal learning needed by children into the life of their community. Being emergent, the design, like a good local fishing boat, emerged over time to best suit the real conditions. Being emergent, it had a scale that fitted the Magic Numbers of our natural organization. By fitting into that scale, it created by design the optimal social conditions for learning and social engagement. It was also very inexpensive and depended on few outside resources.
By linking so tightly physically to the community, it also reduced the real childcare issues and cost that face every family through all the ages. As with Marion Reid, the community could organize to deal with these issues.
We have replaced this system with an industrial model that violates most of the conditions of natural organization.
It is no wonder for me now that learning engagement is low and that we see kids estranged from their families and their community. A typical PEI school breaches the overall size needed to have as the basis of a community that polices itself - 150. There are no subunits of 8 - 15 or 35 that could reduce the stress of an organization that breaches this condition. So gangs emerge instead. Gangs are the feature of a society with low social capital. Without a formal structure, theses self defense structures emerge and prey on the weak and the different. You see this in prison, in the Soviet Union and in Sicily. they are a product of an authoritarian response to poor community.
Bullying is endemic.
Learning is reduced to speeches and bribery.
Bussing kids all over the Island will soon not be affordable as oil prices will make this process too expensive.
We have isolated our children from a social environment where learning happens as a result of conversation. We have isolated them from those other children who are both younger and older than them. We have isolated them socially from their families and from their communities. We have isolated them from the work of their households and their communities. We have isolated them from adult life. We have isolated them from their bodies.
And this is better?
Could we not experiment with a few new/old one room schools again?
Imagine what they could be like - especially in an internet world. With a shrinking population of children, the pressure will be the opposite. The pressure will be to consolidate even further. Yet in our heart we know that smaller and more local is better. If we look at this more carefully, I bet that we will find that lots of very small local schools will be both better and cheaper. Why not try a few? After all - we know that they work and they could not be worse that what we have now.
There is little doubt that the world of education is changing before our eyes. For most kids, K - 12 is failing to keep their attention. For those that graduate, College is too expensive. For those that graduate from college, there are too few jobs.
The experts are in ferment. Is the answer to double down, test more, focus on the 3 R's and make school more like a business? Or is it to use new social technology and to open it up? Or is it to change the pedagogy? Who will win? What is right? The answers are not clear yet. But parents of young kids today cannot wait for the experts to settle this. They have young who need answers now.
So what can we do? I hope to show you in my next book, You Don't Need a School to get an Education, that there is lot we can do without "School". You don't have to wait until the experts are setted - if they ever will be. You can do some things that you can be sure will help your kids, now!
As parents we can set our kids up for a great life. It's all in our own choice and power. We need no school or instutution to do this for us.
Once, all parents knew how to do this but, since we have let institutions take over our lives, we have forgotten how. Once we put the job up as the centre of our lives, we also lost the time and energy to do this.
But now at least 50% of European young adults don't have a job and will not get one. At least 35% of North American young adults either cannot get a job or are underemployed. Many potential new parents are in a great place to take back their power. Many grand parents are in a great place to help.
Many of us are learning that they can make a good living and NOT have a job. Many are finding that they can get back time in their lives. Time that is essential to raising young children. My first book - You Dont need a Job - shows you what is going on.
All we have to do is to remember what all parents used to know. What we do and how we are in the first 3 years of life sets up children for their lifetime.
Here is why.
If you want a satellite to get into orbit, you have to get the "Initial Conditions" right. Too fast and it escapes into space for ever. Too slow and it falls back to Earth.
All systems are like this. They are determined by Initial Conditions.
Humans have such a trajectory. We too are very sensitive to the kind of start we get in life. This start powers all the rest of our life. It drives our ability to learn, to cope, to be socially able and even our health. Here is what it looks like. It's a trajectory:
This is what this means. At 2 years old, we see two children. One can understand 300 words. The other can understand 150. Not much of a difference. But now look out over the next 15 years.
The 150 word child gets stuck and does not develop. This has nothing to do with school. The child is challenged before they arrive in school. Every grade 1 teacher knows what I am talking about. They can spot these kids in a few days. These children find learning very hard. They find concentrating very hard. They find behaving socially very hard.
It is exceptionally difficult to change this trajectory. A hard pressed teacher with 30 kids in her class has not much of a chance. Most of these kids get stuck at a grade 5 level. You don't believe me?
This is what it means for society. Most Americans struggle with comprehending the meaning of the written word. I only have data for the US but I doubt that if there were stats for British or Canadian kids that they would be any diferent. School as it is does not help most children.
The 300 word kid cannot be stopped. All this is easy for them. No matter how good or bad the school, they are going to develop well and fast. By grade 10, they are at a developmental stage of a 2nd year university student.
School has nothing to do with these two diverging outcomes. What sets these different tracks is all set at home. Set at home by parents. It is what we do as parents that sets the initial conditions. The critical period is from the moment we decide to have a child until they are 3.
Here is another look at the trajectory for development that I hope will show you more clearly what happens.
Here is the master chart for human development. It is very much like finding the right "speed" to find orbit. The key curve to get right is the curve at point 3. The period from 0 to 1 to 1 and to 3 is the critical phase.
No matter what school is like. No matter what the world is like. If you get this phase right, the your child will be able to cope with anything that the world puts in front of him or her.
This is why your child's future is in your hands. For you are the key influence in this period.
Over the next few weeks, we will look at all the factors in the early years that will help any parent have a great chance of giving the child the best possible start in life. It's all going to be about the environment that you create.
We will look at what you can do before you get pregnant. What is the ideal frame of mind and body. We will look at when you are carrying the baby. We will look at the first three years after the baby is born. We will take a holistic view. We will look at your relationships, state of mind, what you eat and do. We will look at the culture that you set at home. We will look at how you interact with the baby in every way.
I offer this up, not as the best dad ever. I was far from that. But as someone who has made a study of the best science on the Early Years and on Human Development. There is a growing field here that is like the field of Human Health that I discuss in book 3 - You Don't need Medicine to Get Healthy. This field of human development also looks back at evolution and at how we are designed to give our children the best start in life. As we explore this on the blog, I will introduce you to the many people who know far more than me and who can help you more than I can.
Want to come along?
HT Jane Boyd - If it can work in Northern Norway, it can work anywhere. See how the kids are outside in all weathers. Use real tools such as knives and saws. Make their own toys.
Those who know much more than me about education are saying that school itself - as it organized and encultured today - may not be the best place, or process, to set our children on course to be ready for the world that awaits them.
How can we help our kids get ready for a world of complex problems? How can we prepare them to see the patterns that all natural systems have? How can we help them see themselves as part of nature and as part of communties? How can we help them change the culture of separateness?
In 50 years kids have moved indoors and have lost touch with how the world really works. This is no small thing. They have been blinded by experience of the indoor life. (Link here)
"In their paper the trio pointed out cross-cultural studies that suggest that the “weird” Western mind is the most self-aggrandizing and egotistical on the planet: we are more likely to promote ourselves as individuals versus advancing as a group. WEIRD minds are also more analytic, possessing the tendency to telescope in on an object of interest rather than understanding that object in the context of what is around it.
Studies show that Western urban children grow up so closed off in man-made environments that their brains never form a deep or complex connection to the natural world.....
Given that people living in WEIRD societies don’t routinely encounter or interact with animals other than humans or pets, it’s not surprising that they end up with a rather cartoonish understanding of the natural world. “Indeed,” the report concluded, “studying the cognitive development of folkbiology in urban children would seem the equivalent of studying ‘normal’ physical growth in malnourished children.”
I grew up in the 1950's. I spent every waking moment outside when I was not at school. But today we tell ourselves that the world outside is full of danger. When kids are outside we supervise them. We don't trust our children anymore.
We have removed nature and real play from their lives. We tell them that the natural world is a dangerous place to be avoided. We inhibit their curiosity. Here is Peter Gray on what this means:
"The secure child, raised in a setting where others are loving, trusting, and nonjudgmental, and where the tools and examples needed for education are available but not forced upon anyone, vigorously and joyfully undertakes the natural childhood task of self-education.
Unfortunately, in our schools, we replace security with anxiety as the foundation for learning, and we keep children so busy doing what they are told to do that self-education becomes essentially impossible. In schools we "teach" in ways that subvert children's natural instincts to learn and that replace trust and security with distrust and anxiety."
What happened? What has made us so fearful - not just of abductors but of any possible risk? Has this imprisoning of our children helped them?
What can we do to reverse a change that has only taken place in the last 30 years? I plan to explore this over the next few months as I write my 4th book - You Don't Need a School to get an Education
One of the people I admire most who is engaged in the question of how do we make learning better is Will Richardson. Another is Sir Ken Robinson. Naturally they both are coming to the same conclusion:
The future is not about making school, as it is, more efficient - but to start with questioning school itself in the context of what we all need to be prepared to be as people in the world ahead. What is the right context?
Here is how Will sets up this idea and then we will follow with a brilliant RSA video of Sir Ken arriving at the same place.
"This moment of technological explosion raises a host of important questions for education leaders that speak directly to the way we think about the potentials of technology in school. If we see technology simply as additive, our questions will be about the technology: Should we get iPads or laptops? Does every classroom need an interactive whiteboard? What apps are best to engage students? and so on.
As Larry Cuban and others have pointed out, we've spent billions of dollars on technology that by almost every measure has had little or no widespread effect. No doubt, we've spent millions of dollars on iPads and interactive whiteboards in schools that do little more than deliver digitized worksheets or teacher-directed content to students.
But it's not about the tools. It's not about layering expensive technology on top of the traditional curriculum. Instead, it's about addressing the new needs of modern learners in entirely new ways. And once we understand that it's about learning, our questions reframe themselves in terms of the ecological shifts we need to make: What do we mean by learning? What does it mean to be literate in a networked, connected world? What does it mean to be educated? What do students need to know and be able to do to be successful in their futures? Educators must lead inclusive conversations in their communities around such questions to better inform decisions about technology and change."
Then he makes the key point - there has to be a shift in power - from teacher to student - from school and institution to student and community.
"Sarason (2004) writes that "productive learning is the learning process which engenders and reinfoces wanting to learn more" (p. x). Never has that been more possible than at this moment of abundant access to information, knowledge, and people via the web.
But "wanting to learn more" suggests a transfer of power over learning from teacher to student—it implies that students discover the curriculum rather than have it delivered to them.
It suggests that real learning that sticks—as opposed to learning that disappears once the test is over—is about allowing students to pursue their interests in the context of the curriculum. And it suggests that learning should have an authentic place in the world, that it should be shared with the world. I think John Dewey and Maria Montessori, both of whom saw school as a place for students to do real-life learning around the things that interested them, would be thrilled at the potentials that today's technologies bring to that vision.
That shift—from teacher to student control, from contrived to authentic creation and sharing of outcomes, from covering the curriculum to discovering it—represents ecological change. That's not to say that teachers haven't used these approaches before or that these approaches rely exclusively on technology. But it is to say that now—because of the web, because of how new technologies create new ways to connect, create, and communicate—those changes must become the rule in our classrooms, not the exception.
And with those changes comes a change in the role of the teacher. Teachers must be colearners with kids, expert at asking great, open-ended questions and modeling the learning process required to answer those questions. Teachers should be master learners in the classroom."
It means going from Here
Raises the question of how to pull this off - The answer surely cannot be to create a new institution?
And now here is Sir Ken - who makes the irrefutable argugment for this shift.