Thursday, April 4, 2013

Isn't there a place for both in Talmud Torah?

Dan asked:

you schooled Chana or unschooled?

What do you think about the idea of using both methods based on circumstance? Isn't there a place for both in Talmud Torah? 

I don't think it has to be an all or nothing thing - all lo lishma bo lishma or all Kohn. I think the Rambam and Kohn are both right. Sometimes its best not to push with rewards and let pure curiosity determine the agenda and sometimes its best to push with rewards - as is clearly the case with Chana that you described. It appears to be a delicate balance depending on circumstance, child, subject, age, and everything else.
I started to answer Dan, and it turns out I have a lot to say.   (that's why i blog :-P)

I unschooled chana until about 3rd grade.  Then we started doing "official" chumash.  I do think there is room for being more or less unschooly, and for a combination of official teaching and of following the lead of the child. There is a place for many different methods in talmud torah, and I am not advocating one over the other per se.  What I love about homeschooling is that parents get to choose for themselves, and tailor their education to their own children.  Many people who choose to do this do it thoughtfully and heed their principles and pay attention to the effects the education has on their children.  Most homeschooling children have a fairly large amount of input in how and what and when they learn.  In that sense, it is a combination of "child led learning" and "classical" learning.

When I muse about these issues, it's mostly when I think about taking a purist unschool approach, which really can't be mixed with official teaching.  Let me explain.

A purist unschool approach (which I'm not necessarily touting, though I do ponder it often here) waits for the child to show interest, for the child to request to be taught, for the child to be so motivated by his own interest in the knowledge that he studies it because he is interested in it.  He learns because he wants to know it, he wants to learn it.  He pursues it because he desires it.

Teaching actually interferes with this.  I can see this pretty clearly with Chana in math.  She asked to be taught carrying and regrouping, she asked to be taught multiplication and division, and she asked to stop being taught fractions.  I have used, as suggested above, a combination of unschooling and schooling in this situation.  I introduced fractions, she didn't understand them, we waited a few months, we did them again, it wasn't well-received, we waited a year or two, I brought it up again, periodically, casually, and she learned them.  The idea of waiting until she was ready (vs. when she was "supposed" to do it by curriculum or grade or age), and stopping when she disliked it or didn't understand it are elements of unschooling.

But.  I am still clinging to the framework of school, to the notion that she must learn these things, that this is the math "curriculum." Instead of her discovering math, a joyous body of knowledge to unfurl, desired, as she seeks it, I am trying to gently and kindly slip it into her brain, in the least painful way possible.  So she will probably never discover it as a fascinating toy to play with.  Because I keep trying to give it to her.

I don't think all areas of knowledge are like math.  Then again, maybe they are.  Maybe they are all to be explored and played with and enjoyed.

If I keep trying to give Chana math information and skills in as pleasant a way as possible, she might not dislike it, and she might learn it.  But she will likely have a tepid, uninspired relationship with it.*  I think if i let her come to it on her own, she will enjoy it and internalize it in a way that I can hardly imagine.

There is, of course, a risk that Chana will stick with art and writing and never be interested in math at all.  Many people insist they never use algebra.  I personally feel that Chana's brain would and will love mathematics, if she would ever be interested in studying it.      But what if she never does?  As an unschooler, she would be used to learning things quickly and efficiently when she wants to know them.  There is no doubt that it will take her not more than 20 minutes to understand the intricacies of 10, 20, and 30% off sales when she is spending her own money.  But will she ever go beyond practical business math to the beauty of mathematics?  It's a risk.

And that is not a risk that a Jew takes lightly regarding Torah.

Which is why I hesitate.  Ironically, I feel more willing to take the risk with the boys.  Psychologically, I think it's because I haven't started down a path yet and feel comfortable letting things go until about age 10 and reevaluating then.  Even if they learn nothing (which I doubt), that's still plenty of time to teach skills.  Also, because talmud torah is really Ari's chiyuv, I feel like I have a backup person responsible and it's not all on my head, so I can be a little more risk-taking and experimental.  But I'm going off on a tangent.  Basically, if I wanted to do a purist type of unschooling, which would (hopefully) lead to the children learning efficiently and quickly and most enjoyably and when they are self motivated to do so, I can't really also teach them skills as pleasantly as possible, because the very act of teaching them and trying to put information into their brains affects their desire for it and prevents their curiosity from welling up full force at a later time.  It's kind of like saying, "I'll wait to feed my child when he's hungry and asks for food," while also giving them an IV, or feeding them little bits of pb&j so they don't starve while you are waiting for them to get hungry.

feel free to comment and force me to clarify.  As I was writing this, I felt that I really don't have a full idea of what benefits, exactly, I'm anticipating from unschooling.  What is the nature of the type of learning that unschooling leads to?  What is good about it that I want my children to experience it?  Why do I think that it would be better than classical learning?  (hmm.. another blog post coming?)

* Sarah adores math.  I taught it heavily to her and used a pretty intense, honors curriculum.  She didn't love math, but she tolerated it and was good at it.  We rushed through algebra, faster than was good for her learning, in order to finish in time for the test, the Regents exam (everything I dislike about school).  When she got to high school and had professional teachers, she fell in love with math.  So I'm not saying that teaching precludes passionate love for a subject.

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