The past couple of weeks I have been getting calls by parents as well as community workers on how to introduce the unschooling approach to their children and their community. They lament that the education systems here (the public schools, semi-public as well as independent schools) are seeing increasing numbers of students dropping out. Parents are worried for the future of their children. Community workers are worried about the increasing gulf between the rich and the poor. The former can afford private and international schooling, with all the rich resources at their finger tips. But the poor has nothing for them.
We need a complete mind shift to tackle the many issues that confront education today.
Asking the right questions is the right start. Ask not what education can do for me, but ask instead, what I can do for education! Parents who come asking about what curriculum and what exams to take, do not get it. It’s sad for their kids who continually get pushed into the various systems but end up learning nothing worthwhile.
So let’s begin by asking questions and here’s the place for you to do so! Here’s a recent one from a young mother:
Question: “How do you decide on the unschooling approach when there are so many approaches out there such as Waldorf, Montessori, IGCSE, etc?”
Unschooling to me is a natural approach to living and learning that fits my views and values of what education should be.
1. Parents take an unhurried approach to letting children be naturally curious and excited about the world around them. Why time or measure our children like they are in a race? Life is not a race! It is a growing process to be experienced, explored and expounded in various stages and with lots of love and understanding.
2. With the understanding that each child is different and learns at differing rates, there is no stress on children to start reading at a certain age, or get their numbers right at a particular stage. The important thing to do is to be present in mind and body with your child and to be actively involved in the most important element of learning – PLAY!
3. Unschooling is a way of life- not a philosophy or a theory by a person of authority. Parents get to explore the various ways to live and to learn and to play and to work. There are no absolute rules or systems that we need to follow. There are no prescribed books to read or study. There are no restrictions on what materials to use and the activities to do with our children. Thus parents will have to rely on the most essential element when making educated choices – our common sense!
4. Humans do all sorts of tests on animals. And humans see no wrong in testing humans too. But we are NOT animals. How can we allow our kids to be tested? And based on such a narrow result, we expect the conclusions to be conclusive!
5. To unschool is to unshackle the chains that bind us – the mindset that imprison us, the wrong views that mislead us, the fears that paralyzes us. Our children should not be additions to our world problems – they should be the creators of solutions to solve them!
We need more compassionate, all-inclusive and empathetic citizens to bring peace to the world. To me, unschooling is the antidote to the effects of schooling. That is the big picture that many fail to see. But to the few that do, it’s a very liberating life indeed. And we will never trade it for anything else that resembles schooling in any way!
Okay. We started an alternative to school that is NOT a school. A learning center that is not a tuition center. A free learning entity that is NOT for profit. It’s sort of a free “school” that is really FREE! It’s a perfect solution to the many issues of schooling, which, amongst other things, is not changing fast enough to cater to 21st century learning – learning that needs to be personalized as opposed to standardized, passion-driven as opposed to results-driven and collaborative as opposed to competitive.
We all know the problems that school-going kids face everyday – peer pressure, sheer boredom, in-the-box learning, bullying, the lack of morals and morale, just to name a few. We also know that to change the schooling system and its embedded cultures, we’ve got to change the entire mindset about learning – from the ministry of education down to the school administrators and to the parents and students. And that would take much too long. Our children cannot wait for the tiger to change its stripes. We have got to make the change ourselves because that is the only chance our children have to make education work for them to maximize their fullest potentials. Schooling is about catering to the top 10%. Education is about making learning an integral part of living for everyone, irrespective of race, gender and income. Unfortunately, this is not necessarily what we are getting due to the social and political history of the country.
And so, we continue to remain seated in the big white ship knowing very well that it is leaking in many places and that it is slowly but surely sinking, and it is taking everyone down with it. To deal with the sinking feeling, some resort to denial by pretending that all is well and good. Others are pulled away by the many distractions provided, like food and games and other carrot-led activities. But there will be a few who can see what is really going on, and are visualizing and planning their escape from the sinking ship. They try to sound the alarm to the rest of the passengers, but no one is really listening. So they have got to save themselves by getting out before it is too late!
To get out of the system that is rooted in industrial productions, we have got to get out of the industrial-mode thinking – standardization, production and competition, and get into the creative-mode thinking – divergence, personalization, collaboration.
The schooling system teaches us to be passive learners – we sit down quietly to listen to the teacher (the person endowed with knowledge) telling us what to learn and what to believe. Rules are made to put every student in his/her place. Those who conform are rewarded. Those who oppose will be severely dealt with. The element of fear and punishment is utilized by the authorities to maintain the status quo. Divergents are frowned upon, and in some cases, even expelled.
But in our present climate-change that is extreme in nature, we need to be a little more “extreme” in our approach and attempt in charting new directions in our flight paths so as to avoid head-on collisions with extreme weather conditions. To do this, our navigational tools need to be up-to-date and state-of-the-art technology. And our navigational skills need to be constantly upgraded to cope with new challenges that present themselves to us in this volatile and difficult-to-predict environment.
To address new problems and issues, we need to have new ideas and approaches. Divergent thinkers have the edge in thinking up divergent solutions to current problems. The question we should ask is: Do you want to be normal like everyone else? If the answer is yes, then by all means, go through the entire education chain. But if, however, your child wants to be different, to do something else other than the prescribed formula, then he or she is a divergent. And you will have to think like a divergent parent to help your child get to a place that few have had the courage to try!
Bake with Dignity is a project by a group of enterprising teenagers with a special twist – they are persons with special needs. It was initiated by a few enterprising parents who wanted to create a learning opportunity as well as an income-generating opportunity for their teenagers and soon-to-be adults so that they can become independent and productive citizens of the country.
I know one of the founding members, Pang Hin Yue, from way back 2001 when she joined my playgroup with her son, who was subsequently diagnosed with autism. After struggling for years with all kinds of intensive and expensive therapies, she realized that what her growing son needed was something practical to work with. Baking was close to her heart as she had always enjoyed making cakes and breads. So finally she set up a little baking project from her home and together with another parent with a special needs child, they started taking orders from friends and supporters. And it grew from there!
Now she helps out at Dignity & Services, which was set up 22 years ago, to help individuals with special needs to learn and put their living skills to practice in a right livelihood project of their choosing. To date, besides the baking project, they also have a Juicing stall called “One Two Juice” at the Wisma Selangor Dredging. They are currently looking for interested individuals with learning disabilities to work in additional outlets.
For more information or to contribute to the project, here are their contacts:
BAKE WITH DIGNITY offers delectable cakes, cookies and bread loaves. All baked with the finest ingredients by Options members who are under the aegis of Dignity and Services, an advocacy movement empowering persons with learning disabilities . A part of the proceeds goes to Options members as income.
To place your ORDERS, text Bakewithdignity at 0192420075.
Pastries are baked fresh every Monday. Collect your orders on Mondays after 3pm at Options House. Add: 49, Pinggir Zaaba, Taman Tun Dr Ismail, Kuala Lumpur.
Order your CNY cakes and cookies from them!
What is the “Living Room Session”?
Well, it’s an acoustic music session held in your living room! Instead of going out in the hot sun to catch a live show in a jam-packed venue, you get to have soft and soothing live music in your living room by a real musician! This approach is more intimate and personal, and provides a music experience that is rarely found elsewhere.
When we were living in Seremban many years ago, we hosted an American classical/jazz pianist at our humble home and he performed on my piano in our living room for a small audience of friends and music teachers. What a cool experience that was! When asked why he preferred this approach compared to a public venue, he said he liked to experience the local cultures and get to know the local people better this way.
How does it work?
If you are keen to host a “Living Room Session” for Amrita, just let us know and book a date with her. All you need is a living room and your family and friends!
Is there any payment involved?
The amazing thing is, it’s FREE! No need to purchase tickets, no cover charge and no need to buy food or drinks (but as a host, you may like to provide some refreshments for your guests, but under no obligation, really!). Just help support Amrita by purchasing her EP album :) No obligation either!
How do I book a date with Amrita?
Just email your request to firstname.lastname@example.org and your party is on!
This is YOUR event and YOUR party. Don’t forget to invite your friends!
Looking forward to invading your living room!
We had a session recently at the invitation of Dignity & Services – a project for individuals with autism, Down Syndrome and other disabilities. It was so good that Amrita will be going back there to play every month in their living room!
Her coming “Living Room Session” is on 7th February 2015 in Subang Jaya! Write to us at email@example.com for the invitation :)
To check where Amrita will be playing next, or to purchase her CD album “Clues”, go to http://www.amritasoon.com
Having a vision is important in whatever endeavor that we wish to pursue, because the ability to visualize our goals will make the actualization of that vision a reality. My vision for our learning place or club or center was a homely place where parents and kids come together for meet-ups – play, cook, eat and share ideas for projects or activities. Shelves of books line the walls for easy retrieval and everyone. Parents act as facilitators rather than teachers. And kids of different ages play, learn and work together as a team and a family. Yes, there is work to be done like sweeping and cleaning the place, composting, planting and maintaining the garden. Fixing and painting work. They are all part of their education.
After we moved out of our initial borrowed place at a shop lot unit in Kota Kemuning, I knew we needed to move into a house – a place we could call home for our community homeschooling. But there were so many “What if’s” from various well-meaning people.
What if the neighbours complain? What if the authorities find out? What if the rental is too high?
But being die-hard optimists that we are, we did not let this stop us. And so we went ahead in search of the right place to continue growing our idea of community unschooling. I believe that things will present themselves to us when our mind is clear and hopeful. And it did! We found a nice house with a small garden but a large kitchen and we furnished the living room with shelves and shelves of books, from our own collection as well as from friends who knew about our community unschooling center. And with the commitment of 4 other families to share out the cost of rental and other expenses, we were ready to continue fulfilling our vision of a free and child-directed learning space where families can call their own and parents play the role as facilitators and initiators of child-centered activities.
Next: Getting Started
When I saw this book at our favorite neighbourhood bookstore, I fell in love with it’s title and its cover design – it projected a very novel and innocent approach to a subject that often eludes us – how to be happy. The writer did not take on this book project because she was unhappy, and I did not buy the book because I wanted to “find” happiness. I was curious how she approached the subject and her project. And here’s how she did it – month by month, a target was assigned.
1. January: Boost Energy
2. February: Remember Love
3. March: Aim Higher
4. April: Lighten Up
5. May: Be Serious About Play
6. June: Make Time for Friends
7. July: Buy Some Happiness
8. August: Contemplate the Heavens
9. September: Pursue a Passion
10. October: Pay Attention
11. November: Keep a Contented Heart – Attitude
12. December: Boot Camp Perfect
She is writing from her own personal experience as a writer, a wife and a mother of two kids. From her writings, one identifies with some of them, and in the process, visualizes the changes needed to boost one’s happiness in certain areas. Her tips are thoughtful and helpful, and she quotes research facts in every other sentence that she writes. This is intended to prove to the readers that she is not merely saying it because of what she thinks is right, but they are backed by research findings of specialists and experts. She also runs a Happiness Project blog and often asks her readers to write in to share their opinions on certain topics. These are included in the book to give a wider perspective to the topics discussed. Many of the “advice” and suggestions given here are quite simple and straightforward. Sometimes you wonder why you need to pay good money to be told the obvious! But then, many of us are so busily carried away with our daily problems that we often overlook the simple solutions to everyday happiness. So just reading a book like “The Happiness Project” can boost one’s happiness levels just by having one’s problems brought to the needed perspective. And it aptly ends with a chapter titled “Your Happiness Project” so that the reader is proactive about her own happiness by dwelling on some important questions related to happiness (and the lack of it) and useful strategies to achieve one’s happiness goals.
My only “problem” with this book is that it sounds too happy and chirpy to be taken as seriously as I would like to! This is just my personal opinion – don’t be swayed by it. I get a little uncomfortable with people who seem super chirpy and super organized! So I skip the chapters that sound too obvious to me and go for those that bring new ideas and new perspective that I may have overlooked. All in all, a nice book to add to your “personal development” collection.
Go check out Bookalicious bookstore for more books like this :)