Friday, March 16, 2007

Kamana and My Evolution from "Sage on a Stage" to "Guide on the Side"

Although it is Spring Break--at least for me due to UNM schedule--N. has been working on his Kamana. The weather has been so wonderful that he does the reading outside. He does a reading in the morning and practices an awareness exercise all day and then he journals about it in the evening. That's the Wilderness Awareness Trail. Then, every other day, he also does the Resources Trail--which involves researching in his North American Wildlife book, map study, listening to the Native Voices cd's, and more journaling. Both sets of journaling also involve detailed sketching of various organisms and field observation.

It is so wonderful to see N.'s absorption in his Kamana studies. He is no longer paying attention to whether he is "on break" or not. He has started managing his learning for himself, so that it is just another part of daily life. It is my challenge to let him alone and not intervene unless he requests help. That help usually involves me driving him to library or helping him find resources on the internet. It may involve solving technical issues with the computer. It is very rare that I am actually "teaching" him or even arranging his studies.

One of my professors in gifted education said that was important to use the Autonomous Learner Model so that students would become learners--guiding their own studies. And teachers would evolve, becoming "a guide on the side rather than a sage on the stage."

This was very difficult to do in today's classroom. Even though I taught a gifted resource the last two years, the general educators who were in charge of my students' time were very jittery about the NCLB testing and wanted to know exactly how what I was doing was meeting grade level standards--even though my students were working above grade level by at least two years. If one of my kids goofed off during computerized testing and got a poor score on even one question they were put on a "watch list" for an Academic Improvement Plan (AIP). This led to a lot of micromanaging of classroom performance and activities. The one thing missing was the sense of patience that is required of a good teacher. "Outcomes based learning" is not based on a year's work. It is about making each child produce every single day. And every single day there must be improvement. No one is to have a bad day, a lazy day, a sick day.

Good teachers know that this is not the natural rhythm of learning. People seem to need periods of intense activity followed by periods of rest and consolidation. People seem to need to explore sometimes and to focus sometimes and to just lie and look at the stars sometimes.

The type of education that is being promoted today is a system that does not take into account the organic nature of learning nor is it based on human reality. It is the factory model sine quon non!

And what I am realizing is how much my work in that system has turned me into someone who needs to see unrelenting progress every single day in order to feel that I am being accountable for N.'s home education.

And yet I know--somewhere deep down--that this is not the reality of deep learning.

So, I am biting my tongue and sitting on my hands a lot--just like a good midwife. I tell myself not to interfere in a natural process. That just as there is no textbook labor, so there is no "textbook" autonomous learner.

Sometimes I fail and then I see the consequences of my impatience. It usually sets us back for some time and I have to reconnect with N. and we both have to come back round to a place of trust in the process.

This appears to be more of a struggle for me than for N. He has been de-schooling himself unconsciously for some time now. I am somewhat behind in the process--having many more years of schooling to resolve. There is a lot of grief in the process. I find myself remembering all the myriad ways in which school deformed my learning and all that I lost in the process. And yet, I am also remembering all the wonderful ways my parents did guerilla learning with us--totally without plan. So it is a matter of getting back to that child that is buried deep within my adult self.

It is also a matter of observing N.'s instinctive knowledge of what he needs to learn and allowing that to be my guide.

This is hard when I let myself get in the way. And at the same time, it is easy and joyous and I watch it evolve.

This is the most fun I have had "teaching." Except that "teaching" is the wrong word. Now I am doing what I truly wanted to do in the first place when I decided to become a conventional "teacher." I am learning with a child. My child. And learning to know him--his heart, soul, and mind--is truly the most fulfilling experience I have had as his mother.

I am so full of joy that we started on this journey. It has certainly taken us somewhere other than I had planned. And that joy is constantly with me, running deep beneath the monkey-mind chatter that keeps me sitting on my hands and biting my tongue.

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