custody mediation is a roller coaster ride. focusing on one of the peaks of the experience, i had the opportunity to spend time writing up my priorities for quinn’s education, and i find that i continue to think about it and tweak it even though the decision has been made and quinn is, for reals, going to attend our living school (insert excited jumping up and down mama emoticon). i am glad to have had the motivation to articulate these thoughts that represent many years of contemplation, research and reflection. when i shared my list with my mom, she expressed that as a former public school teacher, this is what she and every other teacher she knew would want for children, if only they could accomplish it in that setting. to say the least, a grammy emoticon is also jumping up and down in excitement about her grandson attending our living school. and it got me thinking that i should post my educational priority manifesto publicly, and hope that in some small way, via ripple effect it influences someone in some way until someday our public schools provide this kind of educational experience for our children. feel free to distribute wildly. this thing is so going to go viral and change the world. )
My priorities as Quinn’s mama for his educational experience focus on surrounding him with nurturing environments and people and preserving his love of learning. While I do not distinguish between learning and the rest of life, as I believe the two are inextricably linked, I will do my best to list my priorities for how I believe Quinn can best be supported so that he may thrive as a life long learner. I believe this will be achieved by prioritizing:
1. Safety- A learning environment where physical safety is a no-brainer. First aid, booster seats, sunscreen, and other reasonable precautions are all taken as a matter of course, and all caretakers are attuned to his (and all childrens’) safety as the utmost priority.
2. Connection Between Student and Teacher- A bond between student and teacher that ensures priority #1 through open communication and positive regard of one another. Quinn’s teacher is someone he knows he can confide in immediately if he ever felt unsafe, and count on to immediately provide safety. In addition to how connection enhances safety, it also promotes an enriching educational experience, because of the comfort in which he can learn. From connection flows the sense of nurturing, unconditional positive regard, and feeling of equal dignity that all humans deserve and require in order to do their best learning.
3. Connection Between Teacher and Parents- Rapport among teachers, student and parents will allow for real, tangible assessments based on the individual student. Teacher observations are translated to parents in detail through open channels of communication. Daily experiences, triumphs and disappointments that Quinn has, rather than letter grades and test scores, (or worse: diagnoses and labels) are emphasized. Connection allows for his strengths and areas needing extra support to be known to all involved, because his teacher is attuned to his unique learning styles and pays attention to his experiences. Parental involvement at school is frequent and meaningful.
4. Sense of Belonging- Quinn feels ownership of his school as a place that is Home to him, with a positive sense of caring for his fellow students, who in turn care for him as part of their community. Values are instilled by the teacher towards this end, and extend outward to include his greater community, in which his school is an active participant.
5. Whole-Child Approach- A worldview that sees children as intact beings who are destined to grow into their innate competence (given their basic needs are provided for), as well as prosocial beings whose desire by default is to cooperate, belong, and get along. This can be expressed as giving kids the benefit of the doubt in their intentions and abilities. The opposing worldview is one in which children are deficient and need to be filled up with knowledge and morals through a hierarchical framework that places them below their teachers and other adults, and re-shaped into good human beings, and must prove through standardized testing that they have reached competence.
6. Emergent/Constructivist Curriculum- Choice is very important to a successful education. Quinn is able to learn what he is drawn to, with teacher guidance to help him create meaning for himself about what he learns. He is able to approach each component of academics as he is ready for and drawn to it, in a way that he can absorb it efficiently because it’s meaningful to him. He has the freedom to opt in or out of lessons he feels compelled or uncompelled by, and there is plenty of enriching material for him to engage in and be challenged by. Further, the lessons offered are set at a level that is most likely to compel him, given that they are based on his/the student body’s emerging interests/intrigues/questions/thoughts/votes. He sets his own balance of autonomous learning time to cooperative group learning time. Extending this to middle and high school years, Quinn’s preparation for his life/career goals (college, trades, conservatory, world travel or whatever they may be) is in his own hands and he is confident in his ability to craft his own educational curriculum, one that will land him squarely where he desires to be, wearing a set of wings to take him far beyond.
7. A Yes Environment- Opportunities, space and materials are available to him whenever he takes initiative to express and explore. When he reveals an interest, the tools and materials he needs to follow that thread appear in a timely manner so he can continue and take it as far as he wants, until he is satiated. If he is engrossed in dinosaurs today… books and activities show up in following days based on that theme and are strewn in his path for him to gobble up. His teacher’s role is to observe what is sparking his interest and tend the flame- requiring an individualized approach, attentive observation, and one-on-one time with each student. In turn, this requires small class size and ability to steer curriculum to tailor to the students at hand. Also required are outlets for fine art, drama, choral/instrumental music, dance, creative writing, world culture, cooking, sports, etc. (When I refer to a Yes Environment, this is one of the things I find it hard to extract from Life and label it School: Many of the interests Quinn will develop will be honed at home, e.g. woodworking with dada or sewing with mama, and at private (dance/music/art/sports) lessons or through outside-of-school classes, so I apply this concept to Life in General as well as educational goals.) Again, extending to his life goals beyond K-12, Quinn is encouraged and supported in his goals and help is always available to guide him in the right direction to meet them.
8. Developing His Own Internal Moral Compass- Rather than responding to external triggers like “do I get a sticker for sharing,” or “do I lose a sticker if I talk in the line,” Quinn gets to grapple with right and wrong based on his own inner knowing, as he practices and calibrates his internal compass. He receives lots of guidance and suggestions to help him navigate territory that is new for him, but never force, coercion or bribery, rewards or punishments.
9. Steering Clear of Rewards/Punishments With Respect to Learning- Rewards and punishments are avoided in order to protect his intrinsic motivation to learn. His desire to learn comes from within, and that is honored in a way that maintains its integrity within rather than pulling it outside of him and replacing it with an external stimulus. My belief is that rewards and punishments backfire in the longer term when used as extrinsic motivators for learning academic subjects.
10. Play- Time and space to be a kid, with both structured and unstructured time to play. Play is of extreme importance to learning, and again, not separate from learning. Play is learning.
11. Academics, while held at high priority, do not eclipse other important lessons. Some of the lessons/skills I value most, in no particular order, are:
practical life skills (everything from gardening to making things to voting)
being a citizen in a democracy
12. Age integration- Kids who are older to look up to, admire, imitate, (who have skills he has yet to acquire), and kids who are younger, to keep things infused with imagination and wonder. involvement of people of all ages from the surrounding community, because the real world is a place where people of all ages interact, to everyone’s great good fortune.
It is my belief that by prioritizing these values and qualities in Quinn’s education, Quinn will be set up to lead a fulfilling life. He will know himself well, never having been divorced from his own internal motivators, conscience, or self-knowledge. He will have confidence that he can achieve whatever he sets out to do, and will have obtained skills and knowledge that are required for that journey. He will know what it is like to be surrounded by supportive, encouraging people, and will recognize them in society. he will be attracted to workplaces with similar atmospheres and friendships featuring positive regard and nurturing. He will be unwilling to tolerate injustice because of his intimate experience of participating in a compassionate, justice-promoting community. He will know how to be respectful as well as to live in a way that inspires respect. He will know how to be flexible, how to think critically and creatively, and how to navigate real world situations because the real world is the place he will always have dwelled. He will be fully competent in making choices, as choice has been a key component of his entire educational experience- he will know that life is made up of choices, and he will be empowered to make them, to lead where others might defer to someone else, or wallow in indecisiveness and let decisions be made by default rather than empowerment. These approaches to Quinn’s education will produce a strong, capable, caring, well-rounded, enthusiastic, empowered, joyful human being.