Sunday, March 10, 2013

What I am Reading: Autumn 2013

My reading over the past summer has followed my play theme in the last issue: forever a topic close to my heart.

Peter Emmenegger in Nurturing the Playful Mind offers some ideas to help choose toys and materials that encourage children to learn about themselves as well as the world around them. He also offers some excellent tips for encouraging natural play. “Unstructured child’s play – the kind with no rules, few gizmos and little or no adult direction – packs a powerful developmental wallop.” 

The Curriculum of Play by John Taylor Gatto is a thoughtful rambling essay exploring the idea and characteristics of play and how it is essential to helping individuals develop a personal style they can call their own. Whatever else it is, play is freedom. It expresses a wordless joy at being alive.”

Can schools survive in the age of the web? This is the title of an interesting article by Tom Chatfield: He notes the rapid increase in online courses and opportunities but suggests that there is “something paradoxically conservative about most MOOCs (massive online open courses): recorded lectures, online tests, digital documents, and blue chip institutional endorsements.” Rather than “unbundling” traditional education and offering something truly innovative in education, “those looking for genuinely new kinds of skill and instruction are unlikely to find them in even the most articulate digital incarnations of a conventional apparatus.”

I am reminded sharply of the controversy beginning to surface in a very real way in the USA about the efficacy of cyber schools. Article after article point to misleading advertising, fudged figures and under-achieving students. Rehashing traditional methods of instruction into online formats aren’t producing the promised results. “A digital lecture is still a lecture; an online test is still a test.” What is touted as innovation isn’t really innovative unless it’s accompanied by a totally different perspective.

There is hope for real learning to occur in the online world and it is happening every day. People are using the internet and world wide web to do what they want and need to do, driven by interest and passion and curiosity and supported by communities of like-minded people. This is the real innovation in education. Schools may survive but not as educational institutions: they will eventually be unmasked as elaborate and expensive child-care centres.

“Education itself demands rethinking in an age where helping people to help themselves is not so much an aspiration as a fact of the tools we use every day.”

School Refusal and Home Education by Allison Wray and Alan Thomas deals with a modern illness that didn’t exist until recently, school phobia.  Families studied turned to home education as a last resort but decide to continue after seeing their children thrive academically and socially. An important paper given the growing number of children schools are failing. I attended a discussion panel recently hosted by a metropolitan council titled ‘Is school the only option?’ It was refreshing to hear of the range of options available to high school students, yet I came away thinking that although there is recognition that schools are failing so many students, the options on offer are only helping a fraction of the children that need it. Home education is definitely picking up many of the rest. Parents need more support than the state is currently willing to offer, but perhaps we are gradually moving more in that direction.

Time has declined, free time to muse, think, ponder, reflect. Too much planned activity has filled up the time we used to have to simply wander and wonder. Our lives are dictated by the need to be doing something and the emphasis on simply being and experiencing is becoming lost. Schooling combined with the relentless emphasis on economic gain and more stuff in our lives is taking a heavy toll. Sad. New research suggests that school children are becoming less creative:

An important lesson for me (and most parents) is learning how to regain our sense of personal power, that which was conditioned out of us as children. This helps us still the impulse to control our children, thus robbing them of their ability to become fully independent. This article on Parenting for Social Change has some great tips:

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