Today's post is a celebration of the brave few who recognize that their child is more than a "grade in a school" (ie, first grader).
It is an ode to parents who are brave enough to see that the old, dysfunctional model of school that by the way has been around for the last 200 years (and society's unwillingness to change it is dumbfounding) is NOT working and is BROKEN for many young people.
This post is for parents who want more for their children, to the point that they are willing to face the inevitable questioning/backlash from other parents who have their children in traditional school and who are contemptuous of anyone who looks outside the system. Sometimes the judgments come from within our own families.
Maybe we even question ourselves, asking whether we are making the right decision.
Most Acton parents will face this challenge at one point or another - a questioning of this unusual model of schooling they chose for their child.
Questions like "What grade is your child in?" highlight the differences in the two journeys. It is a question that everybody is so used to asking because they were programmed to look at their child as a number in a classroom, belonging to a certain grade correlated by age.
To look at each child as a human being - growing, learning, developing at his or her own pace.
In what laws of being a parent, is it written that each child should be writing or reading by age six? Or multiplication tables by age eight? Or know their sight words by age seven? Who dictactes these milestones? And why aren't more parents questioning these dictates that come externally and without any consideration of this unique individual child?
If you believe our studio is filled with (and we do), a future Einstein, Mother Theresa, Mahatma Gandhi, Elon Musk, or Nelson Mandela... a single individual who will change the world for generations to come. Do you think it is possible that these notable names were "different" and on their own path as children?
Just like our own children these notable names were in some cases, slow to learn in the traditional ways. They were a difficult personality at times, or prone to wanting to stare out the window.
Perhaps they are prescient and wise enough to know that this "school" thing often feels like a foolish game, and for what point? Why play THIS game when there are so many other fun and valuable things to do?
It is as if they already know deep down, that teaching/education is something you do to another person; and learning is something you choose to do (for yourself).
Let me give you an example, by sharing a short little story from our studio this week. It involves one of our younger learners, who joined us after struggling in a traditional classroom. Bright and funny, this young man has been resistant to reading... most likely from the pushing and cajoling that he received in being "taught" how to read.
Imagine the scene as the learners are playing in the pool as part of their reward time. Out of nowhere, this one young learner (we will call him A here) pops up out of the water and exclaims with excitement, "Ms. Chantal, I know how to spell CAN!"
Surprised by the unexpected pronouncement, Ms C said... "No way, Let's hear it."
A quickly said, "It starts with C..." but then his face took on a serious look as he picked two other letters that didn't quite fit.
Ms. C encouraged, "So Close! You got the first one right!"
Encouraged with his strong start, together they sounded out the word.
"Oh, oh I know! It ends with N," A added with excitment.
"Awesome!" More encouragement propelled the moment forward. Both A and Ms. C were now jumping up and down as the word is repeated several times. You can see this young Warrior thinking really hard about his challenge.
In the past, this is where the monster of resistance would have leap into the fray and taken over the day. Mind you, this is all happening pool-side with an army of other distractions. But he contined to work it out.
"Oh... it's A!!! C-A-N. I CAN spell CAN!
Everyone joined in with the clapping, jumping up and down in celebration, as the monsters of fear (I can't do this), resistance (I don't want to do this), and distraction were beaten back once again. A small moment of victory on this young Hero's Journey.
Small Struggles (and Victories) Turn Into The Hero's Journey
What does this small, innocuous story about spelling out a 3 letter word remind us?
Follow the learner. This took place during play-time in a pool. Not in a classroom. On his own time and at his own direction.
It took place after many earlier battles where the three monsters (Fear, Resistance, and Distraction) ruled the day.
My question to you... to all of us as parents, is what would the future of this young Warrior look like if he remained in a traditional classroom. I have no doubt he would have learned to read, write, and do multiplication tables. But at what cost?
When this story was shared with our team, Mr. T spoke up and said, "I know exactly how that would have turned out. I was that young child. I struggled to read, and they removed me from the main classroom and took me to the side to receive help with the struggling readers. They meant well, but that early experience shaped the next several years at school and not in a positive way."
Spelling C-A-N (could there be a more appropriate word for this story?) IS A BIG DEAL.
A struggled and struggled for a long time. This discovery of "wait... I can spell something" would not mean hardly as much as if it was just fed to him. It would be unmemorable. But because he discovered it on his own, he can build on this knowledge with enthusiasm and the love of learning has not been extinguished as traditional school would successfully accomplish simply by forcing him to do this 4 months ago because it is on THEIR schedule. Learning is also about building confidence.
Will there be struggles to come? Absolutely.
That is the Hero's Journey. It is true for ALL of our learners. We have other Dragonauts who took to reading early and with ease... but their bugaboo hides behind "Math" and all the different ways numbers show up in the world. Each child is different. Unique. A World-Changer in the making.
Once a parent finds comfort in knowing and can trust their child, the whole world and our perspective on what is possible changes. What does NOT change is the opinions of other people who only know the traditional path, and the questions that they will pose about what grade level, and what milestones by certain arbitrary ages.
The Answer Is To Trust The Child
Here is a recent shareable from Jeff Sandefer (one of the Founders of the Acton Network of schools, and of the Acton MBA program):
Acton’s paradigm of learner agency and peer-to-peer learning not only doesn’t compute, it’s a threat to the self-image of anyone who needs to defend the system.
Education is something you do to someone. As is teaching.
Learning is something you choose to do.
This can be encapsulated in a famous exchange overheard at a Teacher’s union meeting (which likely is apocryphal):
Speaker: We have taught them and taught them, but they just won’t learn.
A small voice from the back: “Would you define the word ‘teach’ in that last sentence?