This Is It, Pansit!

2019 was an interesting year.

In January, we braved the winter cold and freezing temperatures of Eastern USA to attend a wedding in Greenwich, Connecticut and also to visit the Sudbury Valley School in Framingham, Massachusetts. This December, tomorrow in fact, as I write this, we will be off to reputedly one of the hottest places in the Philippines, Gensan. How hot is it there? Well, an internet meme puts Gensan in between the Earth and the Sun.

We had two weddings in the family. My niece had hers in September and my wife, Marylene and I were the emcees. The last time I was a wedding emcee was around 8 years ago so I was nervous at first but a few minutes in, it was like slipping into familiar, comfortable clothes — or like riding a bike after a long time of not doing so. You don’t really forget how to do it and it only takes a couple of kicks on the pedal to get going again.

Marylene and I had never been to Boracay — never ever. But last October, we had the opportunity to go there — twice. Talk about making up for lost time. The first was courtesy of our supplier, United Laboratories, and the second was to attend the second wedding in the family – my nephew – brother of the niece who got married in September. We no longer emceed that one so we just kicked back and enjoyed the show.

Perhaps the most significant undertaking I had this year is really threshing out plans for starting a Self-Directed Learning Center. I wrote a lot of articles about it, studied some implementations of it like Sudbury’s democratic schooling, NorthStar and Agile Learning Centers. I organized meetups among like-minded parents or just those curious to see what this was all about, and generated interest, questions, doubts, objections — and it provided a lot of material for thought and reflection.

We were able to gather a group crazy enough to start this experiment — well actually not much of an experiment any more since we’ve seen great results from people who already experimented on this for decades. It’s not so much stepping into unknown territory as it is just following the model they have already laid out and to avoid pitfalls and mistakes they have already experienced. We already have a place and all that’s left is to fix it up and get the paperwork straightened out.

So 2019 was interesting, but 2020 will be exciting.

This is it, pansit!

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School is a Prison (Part 2)

As promised last week, here is the final part of the speech written by my daughter, Meryl Faith:

Force-feeding loads and loads of information is not learning. Yes, I said it. Why must students spend hours and hours in school when most of them don’t even like what is being taught? 

In order for people to achieve actual learning and retention, they themselves must first be interested in the topics followed by repetition. In school, they just learn these lessons for a few days then after their exams, they forget it. The forced nature of schooling turns learning into work. Teachers even call it work: “You must do your work before you can play.” The very act of taking control of children’s learning turns that learning from joy into work.  Tell me, how is that learning? How is that education and why is this our standard for education?

We spend almost a fourth of our life in school yet the actual learning is only less than 10% of all the learning we will have in our life as a lifelong learner. Why must we spend this much of our life as prisoners in school just because society deems children as ‘too young’ and that ‘they don’t know anything’. Why do we discriminate against them just because of their age? Aren’t children people too?

Kenneth Danford, a former high school teacher in Boston, saw the disconnect and established the North Star Center for Self-Directed Learning. Here, students get to express what they want to learn and the staff find ways to support them. This is what Danford says in his book, Learning is Natural, School is Optional: “Young people want to learn. Human beings are learning creatures. You don’t see us having to persuade a baby to be curious or to seek competence and understanding. Rather than trying to motivate kids, we have to support their basic human drive to learn and grow. Learning happens everywhere, not just in school. Society expects children to go to school in order for them to learn, as if learning can only occur in places specifically designed for that purpose. People learn all the time outside of school…the best preparation for a meaningful and productive future is a meaningful and productive present.” 

School should not be a prison. It should be a place where children are free to explore their curiosities. Our schools today deny children of liberty without just cause and due process when in other situations, this is against the law and your rights as a human being. We are depriving students the time and opportunity they need to practice self-direction and responsibility because they are too busy fulfilling school requirements that have no meaningful purpose. Why do we frown upon the idea of playing over studying? How do you know that the child isn’t learning more from their play than the content of their textbooks? Let children be children, they are not prisoners. 

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School is a Prison (Part 1)

I would like to share with you a speech written by my daughter, Meryl Faith, which she delivered in her freshman college class. Faith stopped school after 10th grade. We got some homeschool material for her but she ignored most of it and basically just spent the next 2 years pursuing her interests, video-editing, graphic design, dancing, drawing and going out with her friends.

She chose her own college and major, took the online admission test, and got in without much fuss. We’ve had some conversations about traditional schooling and I guess what she wrote below is telling of what she got out of those conversations. So here it is:

School is a prison. 

Prison is a place of involuntary confinement and restriction of liberty. Inmates wear uniforms and follow a daily routine set by the warden. They are let out of their cells, eat, exercise and do other duties on a fixed schedule. Basically they are told what to do and are punished for failure to comply.

Now let’s look at school. Students wear uniforms and follow a daily routine set by the principal and their teachers. They are let out of classrooms, eat, play and do other activities on a fixed schedule. They need to follow rules set by the school and are punished if they fail to comply.

Notice the similarity?

Worse, children have committed no crime other than being “too young” or being “of school age” so we force them into schools.

Our society is very strange. We frown upon the idea of force yet this is what we do to our children. Teachers get mad at students when they can’t answer the questions. “Why didn’t you study?” they would say. How can we expect children to retain all this mind-numbing information when we as adults can’t even remember most of it. We were forced to learn cursive because when we grow up, this is how we’re expected to write. 

Tell me, besides your signature, when have you ever been expected to write in cursive for normal use? Aside from a few exceptions, majority of the people don’t have time to think about fancy-ing their ‘f’s or even write on paper. We live in a digital age where people take their notes down on their phones and laptops. There are plenty more lessons that they deemed useful for adulthood when in reality it isn’t. But I guess it’s also important to know that the mitochondria is the powerhouse of the cell.

Just like how prisoners don’t get to choose their meals, students don’t get to explore what they want to learn. Everyone is given the exact same material and is expected to learn it at the same pace. They are called stupid if they don’t. When prisoners question authority, they get punished. In a similar manner, students are expected to ‘do as they are told’ and to not question it because they are simply just children and they do not know anything. How are we expected to learn and progress when we are not allowed to question why things are the way they are?

To be continued next week.

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Another Brick in the Wall (Part 2)

As if to answer the question I left hanging last week, “Is that what education really means?” — referring to a student’s ability to satisfy a teacher’s or a school’s requirements and get a diploma — news came out of our performance in the PISA 2018 where our students ranked at the bottom of around 70 countries.

The PISA (Programme for International Student Assessment) is an assessment  tool of the Organization for Economic Development (OECD) administered to 15 year olds and “examines what students know in reading, mathematics and science, and what they can do with what they know.”

Since the result has been out for a few days, there has been all sorts of panic in the education-sphere. “Oh look how bad our students are,” or  “Oh, we need to do something about this,” and “We need to spend more money on education,” “We need to teach more math and science,” and so on.

The typical educator’s knee-jerk reaction to this sort of thing is to think that it needs more teaching, with the assumption that it will lead to more learning. Expect more projects, extra reading and homework in math and science in these coming months because the “brick” that people seem to think that a good education is made of has math, science and reading as its main ingredients, and schools want to produce as much of these bricks as possible in order to do better in the next round of PISA.

Let me repeat the question I asked, is this what education really means?

I am not saying that reading, math and science are unimportant. They are quite important and useful but they seem to be hogging all the attention right now, as if our performance in them is all that matters, as if education is all about doing well in these areas. 

We pay a lot of lip-service to the idea that children develop at their own pace and have their own strengths and interests. It is lip service because, believe me, because of this PISA report, and because of misplaced pride and a sense that “we ought to do something,” a lot of money and effort is going to be poured into these 3 areas. A lot of kids are going to be forced to do well in reading, math and science by age 15 because that is what will be expected of them to raise our PISA scores and restore our national pride in our “education.”

But what about emotional stability? What about intentionality and self-direction in life? What about knowing one’s self — one’s own strength, weaknesses, and inclinations? What about sound decision-making? What about being kind and considerate to others? What about respect and responsibility? What about social interaction and ethics?

A child may be able to factor a quadratic square trinomial, or perfectly balance a chemical equation, or explain the Theory of Relativity, but if they cannot manage their emotions, if they lack empathy, cannot handle stress, and don’t have a clue what to do with their life, then none of that other stuff is really going to matter.

A child is not another brick in the wall, not something to be shaped by adults into an image of their liking. A child is a human being, like you and me. And just as we expect others to respect our individuality and humanity, so must we respect theirs.

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