Archive for the ‘Self Education’ Category

Our New “Sputnik Moment” – More Scientists, Engineers, and Mathematicians

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Maybe it’s just my selective hearing, but it seems like everybody these days is talking about how desperately the United States needs to entice and retain more students in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics) fields, especially in response to our perceived technological race with China.* On Monday, I heard a very interesting talk by Ann Lee, author of What the U.S. Can Learn From China, in which she mentions China’s ability to churn out highly qualified math and science students. In contrast, statistics of U.S. graduates in 2009 show that we graduated roughly 89,000 visual and performing arts majors, but only 69,000 engineering majors, and 22,000 in the physical sciences or science technologies (see source). President Obama even alluded to this as our new “Sputnik Moment” in his State of the Union Address. Technological innovation and research are being hailed again as the answer to our economic, security, and way-of-life problems.

I’m not going to argue with this (yet*). It would be great if we could invent a long-lasting solar battery, learn to capture CO2 from the atmosphere, desalinate seawater cheaply and easily, find a cure for AIDS, etc. There are lots of ways that technology could really help us right now. The problem seems to be that not enough U.S. students are interested in or capable of rigorous study in these fields. So, naturally, policy-makers are thinking of every way possible to provide incentives for students, training for teachers, and more rigor in our national curriculum. It’s just ironic that we are paying so much attention to China’s school system in hopes of learning how to boost our kids’ STEM literacy while the Chinese are looking closely at our school system for ideas on how to boost creativity in their own students.

Nicholas D. Kristof noticed this in a recent New York Times article: “But this is the paradox: Chinese themselves are far less impressed by their school system. Almost every time I try to interview a Chinese about the system here, I hear grousing rather than praise. Many Chinese complain scathingly that their system kills independent thought and creativity, and they envy the American system for nurturing self-reliance — and for trying to make learning exciting and not just a chore.”  He wrote: “One friend in Guangdong Province says he will send his children to the United States to study because the local schools are a ‘creativity-killer.’ Another sent his son to an international school to escape what he likens to ‘programs for trained seals.’ Private schools are sprouting everywhere, and many boast of a focus on creativity.”

Isn’t that great? I love that the Chinese want their kids to be more creative, but it’s sad that so many of our kids are not prepared for the academic challenge of STEM fields. Perhaps the best solution is somewhere in the middle. Is it possible to build more rigor into our children’s education without squelching their creative spirit? I think so, and there are two big things that would help: giving kids ownership of their education, and  inspiring them with the best examples we can find.

1. OWNERSHIP – I’ve written before about my thoughts on systematic science vs. haphazard (self-directed) science education. The main point I want to emphasize here is that timing is everything. I disagree strongly with Nicholas Kristof’s opinion that the U.S. should start serious academic training in preschool, as they do in China. It is true that preschoolers are very malleable and easy to teach at this age, but they have far more important things to be doing with this precious time than getting a headstart on high school. Kids are BORN creative. If China (or the U.S.) wants their people to be creative, they don’t have to do anything special, they only have to avoid stopping it. That means letting children play, explore, touch, listen to stories, laugh, help, and be loved. As children mature, they are much better equipped to take on abstract studies of reading, writing, and arithmetic. As teenagers, they are more than able to take on rigorous studies if they are so inclined. The problem with pushing academics too early is that it kills curiosity. Once intrinsic motivation is lost, schools must rely on external motivators (rewards and punishment) to make up the difference. From what I have read about China’s education system, their rewards and punishments are more consequential than ours, and maybe that is why their kids take studying so seriously. But I think the best solution is to let kids direct their own education for their own reasons, because curiosity and ambition are powerful forces all on their own.

2. INSPIRING EXAMPLES – Passionate teachers, mentors, museums, science centers, movies, demonstrations, exhibits, and fairs like the Maker Faire are all wonderful ways to show kids the possibilities of science, technology, engineering and mathematics. Reading well-written books by authors who are truly passionate about their subject is another way to spark interest. Textbooks are usually not inspiring because they are written by a committee whose sole purpose is to instruct. Even if you don’t live close to a metro area with museums, science centers, and events to visit, make an effort to find inspiring examples for your kids. Work with your homeschool group to find local mentors or teachers for workshops and field trips. Are there any blacksmiths in your area? Beekeepers? Interesting retirees? We once made friends with an elderly woman who power-walked through our neighborhood every morning. We gave her bags of oranges from our tree and she invited us over for lunch one afternoon so that her retired husband could have someone to talk to. It turns out that her husband was a retired astrophysicist. As we enjoyed the gourmet home-cooked Chinese feast our friend had prepared for us, her husband talked non-stop about his fascinating research on comets. None of us had ever been interested in comets before that day, but his passion was contagious. When we got home, my kids all wanted to look up comets on the Internet so we could see what he had been talking about. If I had tried to introduce comets as part of some science curriculum, there is very little chance it would have made any impression on my kids. But a real person with real enthusiasm is hard to beat.

Fortunately, we also have access to very interesting people via the Internet. In my next post, I’ll talk about STEM- related websites that might inspire your kids.

*I’ve also heard reports that recent college graduates with engineering degrees can’t get jobs, but I’ll save that for another post.



Everything we Used to Think About College is About to Change

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Sebastian Thrun, a tenured computer science professor at Stanford University recently quit his job to dedicate all his efforts to an online school he helped create last year called Udacity. The school’s very first course offering, “Introduction to Artificial Intelligence,” attracted over 160,000 students in over 190 countries. It helps that the school’s courses are absolutely free, at least for now – how will they make money? But the big picture here is that there are a LOT of people who crave this caliber of information, who would not otherwise have the means to get it. Getting into Stanford is notoriously difficult, and even if a student is accepted, there is still the problem of paying for it. Thrun and his fellow co-founders David Stavens and Mike Sokolsky started Udacity because they believe that education can be delivered a lot more efficiently. They believe more people should have access to information and resources that, up till now, have been controlled by traditional universities.

They are right of course. The Internet has revolutionized information delivery. Anyone with access to the Internet (unfortunately this still excludes a lot of people) can have the world’s greatest library at their fingertips. With online courses and videos, we have access to any great thinkers and innovators who choose to share what they know. What, if anything, do traditional universities still have to offer?

Alan Jacobs wrote in the Atlantic Monthly: “Of course, there have always been autodidacts, especially in the technical realms. But what happens if universities come to see it as part of their mission not just to benefit from the next Bill Gates or Steve Wozniak but actually to produce him — or her — without having any formal relationship to that person at all? This could get dicey. At least in some disciplines — though surely not in all — even the great universities of the world could soon find themselves with nothing valuable to sell.”

The thing that universities still offer is credibility . . . credentials. After all, would Udacity have attracted 160,000 students if the Professor hadn’t been from Stanford? Maybe. In the tech world, its possible to gain credibility by virtue of one’s invention or start-up success. I’m sure people would have signed up for classes by Bill Gates or Mark Zuckerberg too, regardless of where they went to school.

But if you are a history expert and hope to provide an online course in history, how is anyone to know that you know what you are talking about? Without university credentials, your only hope is to have published reviewer-acclaimed books. But how would you get your books published in the first place without proving to the publisher that you know your stuff?

Artists, dancers, musicians, athletes, fiction writers, entrepreneurs, and skilled trade artisans are all well able to show tangible evidence of their skills. But not many people would want to take a chance with a self-trained historian or veterinarian or psychologist or economist or anything that is difficult to prove.

Credentials are kind of like money. Money represents value so that we don’t have to carry around cows and pumpkins hoping to trade with someone who has an extra pair of shoes. Money (and credentials) stands for something else that has value. As we negotiate prices, we are continuously changing the relative value of money. The same is true for information and education. As supply and demand changes with new technology, we are changing the relative value of credentials.

Already, the founders of Udacity foresee a future where tech firms will recruit new employees from this school, not because the school is accredited, but because it is the best.

I’m really excited to see where this takes us. As a firm believer in self-directed education, I would love to see society move away from the habitual conviction that a college degree is the only path to knowledge or success.

Image from Wikimedia Commons

Don’t get me wrong – I still think that universities have a lot to offer. I love to live near universities because they have so much positive energy and cultural opportunities. But why should students sit in a crowded lecture hall watching a Powerpoint presentation on an overhead projector when they could get the same thing (or better) on their laptop at home? There must be a way that universities could offer physical space to the classes that are best taught in person, such as labs, small group discussions, studio art, etc… while providing access to the best possible instructors via online courses for everything else. This would lower prices for everyone.

Maybe universities could become more business oriented, where customers could enroll for any courses they wished to pay for, without worrying about admissions or degree requirements. Then when they applied for jobs, they would attach a transcript of courses taken rather than simply a degree in such-and-such. Or maybe more universities could be like Oxford and allow students to plan out their personal course of study with the help of an academic advisor.

There are so many possibilities!!! What do you think? How can the great potential of self-directed education coexist with the need for credentials?

Keeping Teens on Track

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In my last post, I talked about keeping kids on track, which is really more about keeping track of what they do. It’s far more effective to let kids direct their own education than it is to hold them to anyone else’s timetable or curriculum. Planning ahead is OK as long as your kids are involved with the planning process. But for older kids and teens, planning ahead is essential.  Again, your kids must be involved with the planning process. They must own it. Everyone is responsible for his or her own education. You play a vital role as academic adviser, counselor and administrator, but you can’t make anybody learn anything. If you want your kids to learn things, it is really more effective to give them control. That means you will have to give up control. There’s no pretending here. If you say,”It’s up to you what you will study, but you need to include ___, ___, ___, ___, and ___,” then your kids are smart enough to know that it really isn’t up to them. You have to be willing to let them skip math or writing or whatever it is, with no guilt trips, and then they will know you are serious about giving them ownership.

Listen to your teens, take them places, find them resources, mentors or classes in subjects they are interested in. Help them find and decipher information about careers and college admissions. Let them work and learn to take care of themselves as much as possible. Give them responsibility, and give them the freedom to learn what they will. This sounds crazy to some people, because the teens they know would sleep all day and play video games all night if given the opportunity. But this is only because the teens don’t think of education as something they do for themselves; they think of it as something done to them. It’s a little bit like the difference between starting your own business and going to work at some indifferent job for a paycheck. People often work much harder for their own businesses than they will for someone else, even if they are conscientious workers, because they OWN it.

So, how do you keep teens on track if they own the track?

First, as I’ve said before, let your kids be involved with the planning. Sit down with them and make a list of the things they want to study. Go to some college websites and print out lists of recommended high school courses, extracurricular activities, and testing requirements (pay attention to homeschool requirements in particular because they may be different from public school applicants). Even if your child is not interested in going to college, it’s helpful for them to know what might be required if they change their mind. If they have some other profession in mind, like the military or a trade, help them find out what type of educational attainments would be expected. Together, make a master plan, in pencil, of your child’s remaining homeschool years. If he or she will need to take two or three years of foreign language to be accepted into a college, it’s better to find out early than it is while you’re filling out applications.  You should also make note of what your state homeschool laws require. Armed with this information, your student should be able to see what they would need to do to move forward, even if they are not interested in a particular subject. When kids are younger, education can be mostly interest-driven, but as they get older, they are able to make choices based on necessity. But that doesn’t mean they have to forgo their interests! The great thing about homeschooling is time and flexibility. There are ways to combine personal interests with “required” courses, so be sure to write down personal interests.

After you’ve made up a rough master plan for the long-term, focus on the year ahead. You can use a unit study or literature based approach again, but frankly, if your kids are planning to go to college, it’s so much easier to make up courses the way other schools do. Then, when you are creating high school transcripts for them, colleges will find it much easier to understand what your kids studied. So, take the to-do items on your student’s list and turn them into courses. When my son wanted to learn about forces, vectors and motion for game design, we made a course called, “Physics for Game Design.” When he wanted to learn about banking, personal finance, and our economic crash, we combined all of those topics in a course called, “Economics.”

Once you have the courses figured out, you need to figure out what resources will be needed. My kids were perfectly happy to have me figure this part out. I love researching books and they usually trust me to pick out something they’ll like. But I always talk to them before ordering anything. When picking out math curriculum, I’ll narrow the field to two or three possibilities, and they will take sample lessons from the different companies to decide which style they prefer. Sometimes, my kids already knew which books they wanted to read, and then we made a course out of those books. One of my sons loves computer programming, and since those books are so expensive (yet impossible to find in any library), he keeps a wish list for his birthday and Christmas. There’s no way I could pick these books out because they make no sense to me, but he does his own research to find the best ones. My other son loves theatre, Shakespeare, mythology and writing so it was easy enough to combine these interests into one course called “Language Arts” and let him pick which books and plays he wanted to read anyway.

Once the courses and resources are figured out, it really helps to break everything down into a schedule, either by day or week. How much of each resource/book will you need to cover? If certain courses are required, such as Geometry or American Government, it helps to look at your state curriculum standards (look online) to see what skills or topics students are expected to learn in these courses. If required courses are less defined, such as “Social Studies” or “Fine Arts,” then you can be more flexible when deciding what to include in each course. Figure out what could realistically be accomplished in one week for each course. Or, even better, let your student figure it out. This could be done on notebook paper, any of those downloadable planning forms, or homeschool planning software.

Here’s where the “Keeping Teens on Track” really comes into play. If your students have been involved with planning their own courses, and assigning lessons for each week, it should be up to them to mark off when items are completed. They need to have access to these plans, to be able to see what is ahead and how much more needs to be done. Some courses we did together because it was more fun that way. We would take turns reading aloud, watch documentaries, and have long discussions about the subject at hand. For other courses, like math, they would get in the habit of doing it at a certain time, and then we would all grade their assignments afterward. I made it clear to my kids that I wasn’t going to bug them about getting stuff done, but they asked me to help remind them. Plus we had so many conversations throughout the day about stuff they were reading or doing that it seemed to naturally keep them going.

It seems counterintuitive, but I found that the more I backed off my kids, the more responsible they became. Sometimes, they wouldn’t do math for days because they were more interested in finishing a series of books or a new video game. But then they would do two assignments in a day or work on the weekend to get caught up. When they started taking courses at our local community college, I didn’t help them at all. They would come home and tell me about what they were doing, but they never had trouble adjusting to a classroom environment or more formal homework assignments. In fact, they did very well.

If you have given your teens freedom, but they still don’t seem to be doing anything constructive, try to reconsider what you believe is constructive. If they are playing video games all day, play with them and see what it is all about. Be patient and listen to your kids, without judgement. Expect them to work and take care of themselves as much as possible. Do things with them, get them out of the house, help them find mentors and volunteer opportunities. They won’t be able to resist learning and growing – but it might not look like what you were expecting. It will be better.

How Do You Get Kids to Try Hard?

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Do you ever worry about your kids’ lack of drive? Oomph? Follow-through? Do they forget about taking out the trash or doing their assignments? Do they avoid work at all costs? I worried about that, too.

After all, hard work is important. As I was doing research for my book, one of the things that struck me about each of the people I studied was that they were all so determined. They were diligent, hard working, and didn’t give up after failures.

For example, Andrew Carnegie had a very disadvantaged start. He was a dirt poor immigrant from Scotland, whose father, a weaver, had trouble learning a new trade once machines took over the job of making linens. The family was just barely scraping by and Andrew went to work in a bobbin factory as soon as he could. It wasn’t long before people noticed his hard work and “pluck” so he was given more responsibilities and opportunities. He worked his way up to messenger boy and a telegraph operator and eventually became a superintendent of the Pittsburgh division of  the Philadelphia Railroad Company at the age of  18. There he learned as much as he could about business and money, while making friends with very influential people. He started companies, made investments, and eventually became very wealthy.

Andrew and Thomas Carnegie, image from Project Gutenberg

The story of Andrew Carnegie is classic rags to riches, and we all love those kinds of stories – so why isn’t everybody like Andrew Carnegie? Admittedly, he had good timing by being involved with the railroad and steel industries just as they were beginning to take off. But there were other boys in Pittsburgh who were there at the right place at the right time as well. What did he have that the other poor boys in Pittsburgh did not? I don’t know the stories of those other boys, and for all I know, some of them might have turned out very successful as well. But I do know that Carnegie worked his brains out, and then worked a little bit more. He always seemed to take that extra step. When he was a messenger boy, he decided to learn every street by heart so he could deliver his messages more quickly. He learned the names and faces of all the prominent businessmen so he could deliver messages even while meeting recipients on the street. He made a very good impression wherever he went, because he tried so hard. He also kept learning, paid attention, borrowed books, and copied the manners of the “educated” upper class.

Carnegie would never have been as successful if he hadn’t tried so hard. Again it strikes me – why isn’t everybody like that?

My kids have had their share of laziness, forgetting chores and other unappealing tasks, but they do know how to work hard when they set their minds to it. I wondered if this would be enough when they went off to “regular” school and had to do so much more homework along with all their other activities. But they have handled it amazingly well, maybe because they’re not sick of school yet. However, they can’t understand the attitude of so many other students who sleep in class, or goof around, or don’t pay attention. They bring me stories of how frustrated they are when working with some group projects because there are other students who just won’t do the work. They will agree to something but not deliver. Or they will deliver the bare minimum. Then my kids are stuck putting the whole project together on their own. It could be that these kids would work really hard outside of class, or for something they cared about. But it still begs the question: why do some people try hard and others do not?

I’m sure there are not any perfect answers, but based on what I have learned from the lives of successful people, I propose four reasons:

  1. Positive Attitude – People have to believe that their actions make a difference, and that there is hope for a better life. I think that most of us pick up the attitudes of those closest to us as children, so if our friends and family have positive attitudes, it will rub off. We also need to feel worthy or loved in order to face the risk of failure.
  2. Interest – In order to try hard, one first has to care about the outcome or at least care from a sense of integrity. So even if a student doesn’t care about a particular geography project or chemistry lab, they need to at least care about fulfilling a task they have agreed to do. But it’s always easier to work hard on a job that interests us.
  3. Ownership – This goes above and beyond just working hard. A lot of poor souls work hard with nothing to show for it. It’s also about going that extra step, learning to do something better or different. For this, a person needs to feel ownership of his or her own work. If they are waiting for someone to tell them exactly what to do, then they have given up ownership. It’s amazing to me that society claims to value initiative, yet tries so hard to make citizens obedient instead.
  4. Mentoring – People, especially children, need examples of what is possible. They need to know that success is possible, even for them, and they need to see what it looks like to work hard. Andrew Carnegie’s mother was a great mentor, extremely hardworking and resourceful. She was always looking for opportunities to improve their situation, and was willing to try new things. If his mother had given up, or felt like a victim with no luck, as if there was no use trying, how might Andrew have been different? He also had mentors as he grew older: all of those businessmen who were impressed by Carnegie’s “pluck” shared their experience and knowledge with him, and offered him opportunities he may never have had on his own. Carnegie also credited his childhood heroes of William Wallace and Robert the Bruce for the examples they set. Whenever times were tough, he remembered their stories and tried to emulate their courage and character, thinking to himself, “What would Wallace and Bruce do?”

As parents, the main things we can do for our kids is to love them completely; and model a positive attitude and strong work ethic. If you are reading this, then hard work is probably already important to you, but remember to keep it positive. We can also give our kids more ownership over their projects and work. If they mess up, they will generally learn more from their mistakes based on natural consequences. If we nag, criticize or punish, then that means we have taken ownership of their problem. If they ask for our help or advice, that’s different. But otherwise, allow your kids the dignity of believing they can do the job, and a chance to do it however they see fit.

One example of this is grades and school work. I’ve generally let my kids have a great deal of control over their curriculum and daily work. If they don’t want to do their math, they don’t have to. Really. But eventually they always start worrying about getting behind and decide to do the work anyway. And no, I don’t taunt them with dire warnings of failure in life if they don’t get good grades. I just have a firm belief that it is up to them, and they can be successful no matter what they decide. They have a complete sense of ownership over their education, and it shows in the way they get their work done.

The thing that we as parents don’t have much control over is interest. Our kids might have a great attitude and sense of ownership, but if the subject is really dull, they still won’t work as hard as they will for something interesting. But I don’t think that’s a terrible thing. There’s no need for any of us to knock ourselves out over every little thing. I may have to remind my kids to clean the bathroom, but they will do it, and then they’ll work for hours to make sure their own pet projects are done right. It’s important to be selective over how we spend our time. You will be amazed though at the difference it makes, just letting your kids make those decisions for themselves. Give them time. Give them space. Maybe a few stories about William Wallace and Robert the Bruce wouldn’t hurt either.


Who Controls Your Homeschool?

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There is an old adage that warns: “The more you use your power the less you have.” Seems like a reasonable  statement, doesn’t it? Thomas Jefferson applied that principle to government power. Leadership experts apply it to business management. I’m going to apply it to homeschooling.

No one has more power than a parent.

In the natural order of things, we do need a lot of authority to provide for and protect our children. Humans are quite helpless at birth, and instinctively cling to adults for care and guidance. But over time, children have to start doing more and more for themselves. The tricky thing is figuring out when and how. We’re not like birds who somehow know the exact right time to push that fledgling out of the nest or stop supplementing their offspring’s feeble hunting attempts.

Humans are more complicated than that, and I suspect that every situation is different. But the one thing I’m certain of is that we all learn better when we have some control over it. Learning is an inherently personal activity, like dreaming or thinking or believing. We adults will naturally pass along some of our own thoughts and beliefs, and we will naturally teach our kids a great many things about how to live in this world. But for active, purposeful learning, it is best for the student to direct his or her own education.

I know that sounds really bizarre to some people. How can kids know what they are supposed to learn? They are so young and inexperienced. But the real question should be: why is a kid supposed to learn a certain thing at a certain time? Maybe it makes sense in a public school where administrators must try to educate a lot of students at once. Here, curriculum becomes an issue of management and efficiency. Of course schools want their students to learn a lot and be successful in life. They are generally run by very good and dedicated people. Unfortunately, the best way to learn for kids is not the most efficient way to teach for teachers. It’s a lot of work supporting a child-directed curriculum. Every child is completely different, with different strengths and interests. Who has time for that? Parents do.

That’s the greatest benefit of homeschooling – a curriculum custom-made for each child. But if you want to take homeschooling to the next level, let your child choose their own way and what of learning. Let them have control.

This doesn’t mean you need to let them have control over everything. None of us have carte blanche to do as we will. There are always chores and obligations that we would rather not take care of, but we do, and kids should too.

But learning is different. As Leonardo Da Vinci put it: “Just as eating against one’s will is injurious to health, so studying without a liking for it spoils the memory, and it retains nothing it takes in.” We cannot make somebody learn something. We can make them take a test or fill out a worksheet, but we can’t make them remember the material. We can try to control what goes in kids’ heads, but we are only fooling ourselves to think it works. So stop wasting everybody’s time and just enjoy the true process of learning.

Where do you start?

Start where your child is. Ignore your own wishes and hopes. Pretend you don’t have any. Start where your child is. It’s easier if your child is young because they haven’t forgotten curiosity or their natural drive to learn. Just support what they are doing or what they want to know. Take them places, check out books from the library, play games, read aloud, have fun, go outside. If your child is older and more suspicious, my advice is the same. Start where he is. Does he like playing video games? Let him teach you and play with him. Does she only want to read fantasy novels by the woodstove? Let her! If you back off and don’t pressure your kids to “be productive,” eventually they will. They can’t help it. The only way they could resist the urge to learn is if they believe someone else is making them.

If you have always kept close control over your child’s education, they may wonder why you have suddenly backed off. Go ahead and tell them. But explain that just because you are not going to control their education doesn’t mean you are not interested. You are still there to help them find resources or mentors or outside activities. You will still be there to answer questions, talk, and . . . teach, if they want you to. You will still need to keep records of what they are doing. When schools or colleges ask for a transcript it will be your signature at the bottom of the page. But if your kids want to go to college, it is up to them to plan a college prep curriculum. You can certainly help, as an “academic advisor,” to find out what they will need to reach their goals. But the great thing about self-directed education is that once a kid is used to being in control, they take control. They will study the things that are boring in order to achieve a greater goal. They don’t see themselves in the passive “receive” mode of education; they see themselves as the active creator of their education.

A student who has been told too much what to do, and resents it, may comply in action but not in spirit. They may even rebel. The more power we try to use, the less we have.

If you would like to learn more about how successful people such as Thomas Edison, Andrew Carnegie, John Muir, and others controlled their own education, check out my book!

Ten Examples of Personal Self-Education Plans

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Our job as homeschoolers isn’t just to help our kids learn – we have to set the example too. Kids who grow up in households that value learning are much more likely to value learning themselves, and for a lifetime. We have to teach them that there is no such thing as graduation. We humans are way too smart for our own good, so we need constant reminders of how much we don’t know to stay in balance. Plus, how are we going to solve the world’s problems without pushing ourselves to get better?

There is something to be said for free-range learning, picking and choosing the next book, website, documentary or course as it catches our interest, leading to serendipitous discoveries. But serious self-education calls for a bit of serious planning. Instead of picking books willy-nilly from the library, make your own learning plan, just like you would for your kids.

This is something I’m working on for myself. As I mentioned in my last post, I’ll be using my other blog to write about what I learn as I pursue my own studies. But I don’t have it all figured out yet. I would love to add a forum to this site where readers can post their own or their kids’ learning plans. There are lots of websites with lists of resources for self-education. Try lifehacker and selfmadescholar for starters. But I had a harder time finding examples of personal learning plans.

To give you an idea of the diversity, here’s a list of 10 personal learning plans I found:

  1. Well Trained Mind Forum
  2. Gary Schroeder’s plan for a self-made MBA
  3. A plan to teach yourself film directing
  4. A homeschooling mom’s plan
  5. Another homeschooling mom’s plan
  6. A book lover’s plan
  7. A science lover’s plan
  8. Autodidact 101
  9. Teach yourself graphic design plan 
  10. Self-University

I’m actually surprised I didn’t find more. There were lots of helpful lists of suggested resources, and many book lover sites where people posted the books they want to read, but not many individual plans, as in “Here’s what I’m going to learn . . .” Maybe I didn’t look in the right places.

So, if you have a learning plan, send me an email at and I’ll post it here. As soon as I have mine sketched out, I’ll post it here too.

Terminator Mom

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I’ve been thinking a lot about the goal of this blog. What is my message? How does this fit in with the work I am meant to do?

Here are some of the things I am passionate about:

  1. Self-education and self-improvement
  2. Sustainability
  3. Freedom
  4. Creativity
  5. Preparation for a world transition

I think the world is in for some major changes due to population growth, resource scarcity, energy scarcity, economic collapse, and climate change (whatever the cause may be, things are changing). Being the sort of person that likes to plan ahead, I feel compelled to plan ahead for this transition and to help other people prepare too.

However, I really don’t yet have the skills or experience to help anyone else! All I can do is raise awareness and point people to the same resources/experts I am turning to. But I do have experience with self-education, self-improvement and creativity. These are the very skills that all of us will need, now and in the future.

Sometimes I think I’m like the mom Sarah Connor in Terminator, who raised a son destined to lead the human resistance against machines. I have this feeling that I am also raising my children to survive and perhaps lead the way in the troubles ahead. We may not have cyborgs to fight off, but there will be plenty of challenges. There will be major changes in our food, water, and energy supplies, and people typically don’t like those sorts of abrupt changes. Hopefully it will happen gradually enough that people can adjust. But I’m fairly certain that my children and grandchildren will have a much different way of life than I did. My job is to teach them how to make the most of it.

So, that is my message. I want to reach out to all the Terminator moms and dads out there and spread the word. It’s time to get ready. Each of us has unique strengths and skills to apply to the problems at hand. We must encourage our children’s unique strengths and skills, too. Who knows what they might be or how they might serve humanity in the future? This is no time to worry about standardized curriculum or pleasing bureaucrats – we have a world to save!

I’ll keep beating the drum of self-education in this blog, but because I am also in the process of educating myself about our coming transition, I will post thoughts about that in my other blog:

Next topic: What are you learning?