Thursday, June 2, 2011

Finding Child-Led Learning in the Mainstream

Sometimes I wish I could point out the obvious, but I know that what I see as obvious doesn't translate well into mainstream conversation.

Marina and I like to read a column in the Wall Street Journal called Yoder & Sons. It discusses various money issues between the father and sons and gives both parent and child's perspective of the issues. A few months ago, Yoder & Sons went on hiatus as Steve Yoder decided to take his younger son, Levi, on a six month shoestring tour of Africa. I love that they took this trip! It is my belief that any opportunity for travel should be snatched. What better way to learn about the world than by pounding the pavement (or dirt roads) in distant lands?

The only thing that gets to me is how they have to make concessions for the school. Levi agreed to take online courses so he wouldn't fall behind in school. In this May 11th article, they discuss how work and school lessons intrude upon their trip. Now, I can understand having to write columns during their travels. Part of the purpose of their column is to show how they set up budgets to accomplish their goals. But the interference of school curriculum makes me sigh. This whole trip is a learning experience for them! At the very least, I would say it is pointless to be working on history and geography online when you are traveling! And then I noticed a curious thing happening, see if you notice it too:
I am given a choice of which lessons I want to do. So, of course, I choose the class that is fun or more interesting for me. Right now I am 95% through history and 7% through geometry. Without someone to force me to do the harder classes, I naturally will put them off.
~Levi Yoder
Did you see that? What Levi is experiencing is the freedom of learning. His wording is particularly interesting: "Without someone to force me to do the harder classes..." I have a feeling that, much like Marina, the harder classes are a matter of needing a different method of instruction. Online courses are great, but only to a point. They still tend to offer only one option in explaining how a concept works. This is why I would often scour the internet or the library shelves for alternative methods. Geometry was my own breaking point for school math. If my mother hadn't hired a tutor, I would have floundered and failed. It wasn't that I couldn't understand it, I just didn't understand it in the way it was taught to me.

But the Yoders are in Africa! If part of their plan, as they state in their first article about the trip, is to study the sites of early Western civilization, they can't help but stumble upon geometry in its purest form. True, Levi might not learn how to write a proof from that, but he will discover why geometry is important and how it is applied in the real world. No structure could be built to last without this basic understanding.

Sometimes book learning needs to be set aside to make room for life experience. Levi and his father seem to have a thirst for this type of learning. It is unfortunate that the artificial timetables imposed by the school get in the way of this. There should be room in the curriculum for independent study. In ten years, which will be most remembered, the learning that happened at a desk, or the learning that happened while touring a continent and interacting with various people and cultures?

Follow the Yoders on their travels at


Paula Vince said...

I agree with your point of view completely.It made me sigh when I read how they forced themselves to set aside the time for formal study too. We almost fell into that bookwork trap when we took our trip up the east coast of Australia in 2004 but realized how much 'real' learning was happening on the road. Fortunately, we'd just started homeschooling, so weren't accountable to anyone for dropping it all.
The saddest thing may be thinking of all the chances for child-led learning being missed during these hours set aside for the daily grind.

Inner Elder said...

I remember the summer car trips my Dad took us on to the South in the 1950's. I was surprised at how different the cities and cotton fields looked from what I had imagined in the school books I studied. And I will never forget my introduction to segregation; the conversation my Dad had with the motel owner about why the motel was "whites only", the separate hospital entrances. When you experience a place through travel, there is an extra undefined component that lives on in the memory. Love, Mom

Janet said...

:-) I loved this post!

angie said...

I agree! What a better time to pull out of school entirely and homeschool! And to connect geometry to real construction is priceless! How much more sense will proofs make when you understand what geometry is used for? Great post.

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