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GROWING WITHOUT SCHOOLING 67 Howpeople make discoverlcs ls the subJect of this lssue's INSIDE THIS ISSUE: NEWS&REPORTS p.2-4 CFIALLENGES & CONCERNS p.5-6 Mother Wants Tlme, La.rge Familles, How Worksheets Fail, What If She Wants To Go To School? WHAT WE CAI.[ LEARN FROM W}IAT HELPS TROTIBLED CHILDREN o.7 DEALING WTTH OFFICIAI.S p.8-9 DECIDINGTO HOMESCHOOL p. 10 WATCHING CHILDREN LEARN p. ro-1r,22-23 Writing Workshops, Muslcal Family, Programmlng, Reading, Math, Geography FOCUS: MAKING DISCOVERIES p. 17-19 AUAITITITY TIME p. 20 CHILDREN IN THE WORKPI-ACE p.2O-2r OLDER HOMESCHOOLERS p. 2 I 22 COMPLETE LISTS of certllled teachers, helpful lawyers, psychologists, and school dlstricts p.25-27 When I was about seven or etght, I understood that the earth was round, but I thought that we were all standing on the lnside of the ball, rather than on lts surface. I saw the earth as the bottom half of the clrcle, a sort of cup holding everything, and the sky as the domed cetlln$. My mother tried to erplain to me that thls was not an accurate model of the earth and the sky, that in fact we stood on bp of the bdl, wlth the slry everlrwhere around us. The ercplanation dldn't make immediate sense to me. Nothtng ln my own observation or or.perience conflrrned lt. The slry looked to me llke a huge blue dome, a curved ceiltng. When I put the pleces together, I formed a certaln plcture of thlngs, one that was not easlly shaken. How frustrattng tt must have been for my mother not to be able to glve me her understandtng of the world, not to be able to take the mental model tn her head and slmply place tt ln mine. When I did - not long alterwards - change my mental model of the earth and the sky so that it agreed wtth hers (and, of course, wtth most people's), lt was not because I was told to, but because, through my oriln observaUon and hypotheslzlng and testtn$, the new model began to make sense, to seem rlght. Ifs very tempting to think that with a clever explanation, with the right words, we câ‚Źrn stmply transfer understandtng from one person to another. If this were all that teachtng requlred, good teachers would be people who could artlculate good ecplanatlons, and that would be that. But, as John Holt says in the unpubltshed letter we excerpt from tn thls lssue's Focus, stmply putUn$ our own understandlng Into words ls not enough. John wdtes ln thls letter about what was then, tn 1965, the "new enlightenment' ln educatlon, character2ed by the idea that teachers should teach concepts rather than facts. Later, John often used the metaphor of bottles ln a factory to describe our mistaken assumptions about teachtng and learntn$. We thtnk that teachlng ts like pourlng llqutd lnto bottles as they come down a conveyor belt, he satd. QuesUons about educatlon are questions about what to pour ln the bottles: should we pour in three years of French or four? Thus' the questlon of concepts versus facts, when asked wlthtn the framework of this metaphor, was stmply a questton about what to pour ln, what to administer. It tgnored the lack of correspondence between bottles watting to receive somethtng and actual chlldren at work making sense of the world. Understandtng the earth and the slry did not happen to be part of my school currlculum at the time that I was trytng to form my own model of it. But suppose tt had been. Suppose I had had to agree that people stood on the surface of the earth, and to wrlte tt on tests, before I actually came to feel that lt was so. One consequence ofhavlng to "repeat, as sense, what makes no sense'to us, John says tn this lssue, ls that we stop trytng to check what people say agalnst reallty. Worse, we forget how to conduct such a test; we forget that learning is a matter of checktng somethtng that someone says, or somethlng that we suspect might be true, agalnst sâ‚Źnse, against reality. Recently a friend and I were trying to flgure out what one percent of a large number would be. In the middle of the arithmetic we stopped and asked ourselves what sort of number we were lookfng for, what size tt would make sense for lt to be. Thts ls exactly what the children ln How ChlldrenFcil dld not do, and what we ourselves seldom did lr school - checked somethlng agalnst our own model of hou' thxrgs worked, and felt conlldent about the result. People ln educatlon are still debating whether concepts or facts are best (these days, the argument tends to be ln favor of facts). But the discussion in thls lssue of GWS ls not as much about thls debate as lt ls about why this debate ls not the point. John's letter, and the dlscusslons that follow, are about what teachers ccrn do for learners, and what teachers should be careful not to do for learners. Often we recelve letters at GWS whlch ask, 'What do I do when my chtld doesn't understand somethtng? Is there any way to help? When does help become harmful?'The discusslons ln this lssue offer us some ways to think Susannah Sheffer about thts tmportant questlon. -

Growing Without Schooling

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