Tuesday, October 21, 2014

One Little Bean At A Time

When kids are traumatized by school, learning becomes one of those words that makes them shut down. You know your kids has been traumatized when you try to start a lesson and he curls up into a fetal position for an hour before finally relaxing enough to even give it try.

And then rocks it, because Squirrel is Smart.

The fear of failure, of being wrong, of being berated, bullied, and teased that goes into this regular ritual that starts too many of our days is something that makes me just want to cry. I feel like it's my fault for not saving him sooner, for missing the signs, for not being brave enough or strong enough to protect him, fight for him, help him. Education is one of the few things provided directly to my family from the taxes we pay, and I have had to refuse service. I had no idea how bad it was, but this kind of evidence is startling, angering, and devastating.

When I get him to uncurl, he's just fine, although the odd holes in his learning have been a bit of a surprise. I've had to go back and pick up material he should have had- according to the school's own curriculum literature- in first or second grade. He has missing splinters of math, chunks out of basic history, odd lapses in science. As we work through the deschooling, I am also trying to shore up some of these gaps, without being blatant. Math, however, we have to work on directly. It is one of the subjects he will be tested on at the end of the year, so it is important we have that caught up. I signed him up for Khan Academy. We've had to start with Early Math.

In deschooling, we have been shooting a little fast and loose with the science and history side of things. We had a plan, but for now, the important thing is to catch his interest and get him to understand what it means to learn. We need him to calm down and understand we are here to help him, not beat on him. We love him and support him, we are not here to embarrass him or make him feel stupid. We want him to see what we see: how intelligent and capable he is. So when he showed some interest in early American settlements, we ran with it. When he showed interest in gardening, I started in on plants.

It was a little on the rough side. Once we get through the shutdown, we have looked at some websites, and we made some colored-paper picture models of plant parts, starting with cells and seeds. I'm hoping to do seedlings, simple dicots, and trees tomorrow, and finally leaves (before all the fall leaves are gone!), to make a book. He put them together, glued on the labels, and I laminated the results. He wasn't impressed, but we got the first two together.

At the farmer's market, I picked up some lima beans, and decided to give a try at having him look at them. After all, our seed chart was a bean. So I gave him some to look at, and told him to open them up and take a look.

Can I cut them open? Can I break them in half? 

Sure, do what you want, I shrugged, while my head exploded- was he... actually... interested? He took a knife, and carefully cut one in half. He pulled another apart. He squished one, to see what would happen.

I peeled the seedcoat from one, saying, "look, here's the seedcoat, let me take it off and show you..." and he came over to me, and watched. I opened the halves, and there, perfect as I could wish, was the little plant embryo, with a perfect little plumule, hypocotyl, radicle...

"Here, let's look at this under the magnifier, with the chart you made..." I pulled out the chart, laminated and all, and the magnifier stand I got with this very moment in mind- a big one, on three legs. I drank up the flow of "look at this, mom" and "oh cool". And then he set it aside, his attention span done, to look at later "when it dries", to see how it might be different. I fixed him a sandwich for lunch, as if nothing unusual or wonderful had just happened.

As he reached the stairs to go nest in his room with his lunch, he stopped.

"Hey!" he suddenly exclaimed. "Wait a minute! I just learned something! You cheated!"

Yes, I sure did, Little Squirrel. I sure did. 

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