This article is a little deviation from my norm, but the sentiments herein apply to the overall drive in all the work that I do. As humans and technology advance, so must our approach to education. We must learn flexibility for productive development and true growth as a species. Flexibility is what makes all things possible. As you read, please remember that I am not stating that anyone should change the methods of schooling their children. I am not trying to rattle any cages. I am merely relaying my experience, because it has been profoundly eye-opening.
Life is a series of natural and spontaneous changes. Don’t resist them; that only creates sorrow. Let reality be reality. Let things flow naturally forward in whatever way they like. ~ Lao Tzu
My children are homeschooled, and not because 2020 forced us to do so. I knew LONG before I had children that if and when I ever DID have children (there had been a doubt that it was possible decades ago), they would be homeschooled. We do not do it for religious reasons or for any ideology born out of conspiracy theories. We do it because I want the best for them educationally, socially, and developmentally. Intuitively, I have always known that this is the path to that goal.
Homeschooling is not for everyone, parents and children included. However, I work ten to fourteen hours a day, seven days a week, AND I homeschool my kids on top of that. I mention this only to say that it IS possible to do so provided there is great determination, motivation, imagination, and perseverance.
And I don't mind at all working hard, because my children and I are worth it. At the end of this article, I will show you an example of how I make this all possible with strategic use of technology and children who have been taught since a very young age to be curious, find answers on their own, and do what needs to be done to solve a problem.
Back when I was a full-time professional musician, opera singer, and private voice, piano, and guitar coach, and long before I dreamed of being a mom, I realized a very striking difference between my school-age voice students who were homeschooled versus those who were schooled in the mainstream way. My students often told me what, to me, seemed like everything about their lives and experiences. I let them talk, because as a singer, if you have emotional stress built up, it is VERY hard to have a productive voice lesson and sing flawlessly. Stress means tension; tension means sub-optimal singing. So I would let them vent for a few minutes when they needed to.
What I learned floored me. The mainstream-school children (public school and private school, the latter resulting in surprisingly more questionable experiences) would tell me about how they were treated by other children at school, and of course some of those stories were horrific. But then we all have to learn how to make it in this world, and as long as the adults supervising TRULY do their jobs, the children are more or less ok, aside from mental and emotional scars we all tally up. But the most concerning stories came from experiences where my students were hurt greatly by the words and actions of the adults that were supposed to be caring for their well-being. Students would tell me stories of teachers and administrators treating them horribly. And while I know children have a tendency to exaggerate when it suits them, as most humans do, I would sometimes ask if it was ok with them for me to speak to their parents about it. And I would corroberate their claims. It was downright scary. And that is not to say that this happened to every child. But it was FAR more common that one might guess.
Surprisingly children who were more or less fine at school, suffering little to no mistreatment, were still always enamoured when I would mention to them that if I ever had children I planned to homeschool. I cannot tell you how many children have told me they want me to homeschool them. This led me to believe that school is rarely a joyous experience for children.
Thoughts to Actions
Once I became a mother, I found out very early that my oldest, my son, is on the autism spectrum, and not just a little. By the way, I refuse to call it a disorder. It is merely a different operating system. At first, I did not know what to do with it all. But the more I worked with him, the more I realized I too am comfortably smack dab in the middle (some upper middle and even high in areas) of the autism spectrum. What a relief! I realized I think this way because I was built this way. And now I see it as a blessing and a gift. But in the beginning, it was hard. With my son, we tried medications to help him focus better, because back then I still thought I had to stick to a fairly mainstream way of teaching my children. But when it comes down to facts: my autistic son does the best on no medication and with an educational structure based solely on his own needs. So that is what we do, and he often excels beautifully, even when a subject is not his favorite. Inspiration is the key.
Why All This Matters
I want my children to be who they truly are in this world. I feel that is the purpose for each and every one of us on this planet. Why else would we be here? To live? Yes. To laugh? Sure! To love? Of course! But can we TRULY do those things to the fullest before also truly knowing who we are? I personally do not believe so. And I have found that human society as a whole, regardless of culture or background, has never really been an entity with the aim of inspiring humans to find out who and what they truly are. Society is more about categories, labels, and systematically organizing humans so as to make itself functional and self-sustaining.
My children did not come to this world to help society sustain itself. If it is the case that a better functioning society is the side effect of them living out their truest and greatest potentional in this world, then so be it! But their truth should bow down to no society. Society, instead, should celebrate their truth. It should celebrate the truth of each and every one of us who has the courage to truly find and cultivate it in this world.
“He who knows others is wise; he who knows himself is enlightened.” ~ Lao Tzu
This all makes it sound like my children are some wildly outlandish beings, but if you met them, you would not find them any different from mainstream children, not until you really get to talking with them. Then you would be amazed. Fundamentally, there is nothing better about them in comparison to mainstream-school children. All children come into this world carrying within their being infinite potential and possibilities. I make sure my children get to retain and develop all that potential to the greatest of my abilities.
Mainstream Versus Homeschool
In mainstream schools, the teachers have the hardest jobs of just about anyone in our society. They have to deal with a system that barely values them, while they fight to live up to test score demands, while teaching to the lowest common denominator in the class. That is not fair to the "smart" kids, the ones who learn easily in a classroom setting, to the "average" children who have their ups and downs, or to the "special needs" kids, the ones who do not fit the mould exactly and need more specialized approaches to education to help concepts click. And it certainly is not fair to the teachers who have to juggle it all. And for my family, I chose not to fight that battle long before my children were ever conceived.
I taught, got to truly know, and loved my time working with hundreds of mainstream-school children during my many years as a performer and educator. I was lucky enough to get to work with some of the most magical human beings I have ever met. But almost every single one of them had a box around them, one they had to fit into, one they often forced themselves to stay contained within for fear of being different or causing problems for themselves. The main difference between them and my children is that my children are afforded the space to be who they truly are every moment of every day. There are no societal pressures to be like anyone else or act in any certain way. There is no cultural force working to mould my children to be something they are not. The only pressure they really have comes from me, which is mainly encouragement to be everything they truly are capable of being, and from themselves, a drive to be all the things that I have whispered in rumors to them that they can be. The thoughts they think are their own. The words they speak are their own. And I love that. It does not offend me. It enlightens me.
In educating my children, I take the "see what sticks" approach. This means that I start with college level concepts and boil them down to ideas that I communicate through words my children can digest. I throw it ALL at the wall (or the ceiling...it depends on how you like your pasta) and see what sticks. And by approaching their education this way, I have seen amazing achievement that I never could have imagined possible. The key is flexibility. Follow the path of the flow and find the strengths that can minimize and eliminate the weaknesses.
So my children have learned MUCH of what they know straight from the mouths of Hank and John Green and other amazingly wonderful human beings who have dedicated a great deal of their lives to inspiring other humans in their respective fields. That is how I choose our material. And it WORKS!
For example, while if you were to ask me what grades my children are currently in, I would answer with 8th and 5th, they are also, however, currently learning the Freudian and Jungian concepts in Psychology and Sociology, college-level language arts concepts and implementations, Python programming, computer and data science, deep learning and artificial intelligence, and high school level chemistry and German. And I have automated most of it so that the time it takes for me to actually educate them is usually about 2 hours a day. The other 5-7 hours, they complete projects, do their studies, speak their German, and code their programs.
The example I will use to exhibit how I use technology to make this all work comes from the chemistry course I am currently working on with my children. I create almost all my own courses in my free time over the summer and plan it all out through interactive online platforms organized through the Google's suite.
In this example, I show how the "see what sticks" approach works. I start with the complex concepts of high school and college level chemistry and show them how to use coding to make it all make sense. The following is the code we wrote together in our current section on calculating molar mass, converting grams and moles, and other such chemistry math.
This Google Colab notebook and imported helpers file contain 6 functions. The children are taught the core ideas of each of the concepts represented in these calculations, why they are necessary, how they work, and when to use them. And we use the code to create a connection between chemistry and computer science. In fact, I find the more I intermingle subjects in homeschool, the better they understand and can implement the concepts they are learning. This is an important facet of homeschooling, where subjects do not need to have such clear delineations, but rather can be more naturally interlaced to enhance cognition and application.
The following notebook contains the code for using the chemistry calculation functions from the imported helpers file. The original code for the function for calculating molecular mass can be found here. Aside from that function, the code comes from our homschool lessons. The PDF for this code is available here.
This second notebook is the original from our class where we covered how these calculations work and implemented the concepts through code.
These are just part of one example of how I use technology to streamline homeschooling. The possibilities are endless. And any time I can tie our education into code, I do. And the kids LOVE it! For me, I find this to be the best of all worlds. Because my shortcuts are actually greatly enhancing my children's education and giving them invaluable skills for their future professions. And that is truly satisfying!
January 6, 2023 - Today in homeschool, we learned about calculating the empirical formula for a given molecular formula and number of grams. We we continued out routine of putting it to code. We made the functions such that they will be multi-functional and can be used in our upcoming lessons. And we tried to be very clear how we turned the concepts into code so that the children could retain an understanding of what was happening at every step of the overall process.
The functions below are all tied together in the last function,
empirical_formula(). Take a look! 👇
Thanks for taking this little deviation from the norm with me! Back to data wrangling I go! For another project of mine based on streamlining homeschool, check out my first app, Homeschool Today! I made this back when I first decided to leave my music career for a computer science career, another very prime example of going with the flow of life. Thank you for checking out my content!