The IDEA Blog

From Student to Conformist

Hi, my name is Claire Russell. I am a freshman at a mainstream public high school in rural Maine. I attended a "Waldorf-inspired" alternative school from the moment I walked into my first day of kindergarten, until the day I graduated from eighth grade last June.

I loved school. Every minute of it. There wasn't a day when I thought it was a drag to go to school. It was perfect for me. We learned to learn. My teachers taught to teach. We weren't tested, graded or analyzed. I had a second family of twenty-four kids my age and a teacher who probably knew me better than I knew myself at most times. The thought of leaving broke my heart a little every time I thought about graduation. It seemed almost surreal to me. I had known nothing else my whole life. But the inevitable day came when I stood up in front of the school community I loved so much and talked about my educational journey, something all graduates are asked to do. I remember afterward, standing next to my friend of nine years...

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Posted on Nov 06, 2009 - 06:58 PM by Claire Russell

Worry is an expression of love

As a parent of a ten- and two-year old, I continue to be awed and humbled by what parenting asks of me. Whoever said that raising children is like watching your heart move around outside your body was spot on. As an educator who spends my day with other people's kids, I'm also deeply aware of the ways parents and educators can work and grow together as well as the potential impact when we don't.

I've come to love the worry parents feel and often express (including my own). I didn't start there, but as my kids got older and I found my own anxieties arrive at how my son spent his day, I found myself needing to rethink my responses to worry.

The way I see it, the worry a so called "anxious parent" feels is an expression of love and care. While it might be misguided at times, the root emotions are something to celebrate, not shun. That doesn't mean our worries about our kids, their teachers, or their school's aren't worth challenging, in fact they often need to be, but something...

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Posted on Nov 05, 2009 - 12:32 PM by Scott Nine

Smart, funny and slightly disruptive

I have one kid I can't get to shut up and pay attention. He's smart, funny, and cute and is just always playing and being slightly disruptive. It's like being quiet for one minute is impossible. I don't want to totally shut him down, but I want to be able to work with him. What do I do?

- Minna D., San Francisco, CA, 9th grade teacher

This is a classic situation. The pace and structure of school carries with it expectations of what young people are and should be like. We expect our children to be able to "shut up and pay attention." But what do we really mean by that? In this situation it's not only that you want him to pay attention, it's that you want him to pay attention to what you think he should be paying attention to. And when he doesn't, it becomes frustrating, not only because he is running around, but also because you feel like your efforts to get him to "pay attention" have failed.

Teachers are under a lot of pressure to "get through" to the young people in our charge...

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Posted on Nov 04, 2009 - 08:27 PM by Jonah Canner

Using the Master’s Tools

My first week into teaching after my year in graduate school, I was filled with grand ideas and ideals as to what I would do in my classroom to help my students liberate themselves from the intellectual shackles of US public education. I entered my classroom and my school with the belief that my students and I would revolutionize the educational experience in Detroit forever--no hyperbole intended. This is how deeply I believed in my students and their potential to be positive change agents in a world which deemed them failures or equally insulting, average at best.

Critical pedagogy was my tool of choice: an educational philosophy accredited to the late Paolo Freire, which reconstructed the educational experience into one that liberated both student and teacher instead of subjugating the former beneath the latter. The traditional model of education is a banking method wherein the teacher is seen as the sole owner of knowledge and the student as a pail to be filled with said...

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Posted on Nov 01, 2009 - 03:47 PM by Ammerah Saidi

The First Three Minutes of Unschooling

Even though we went to mediocre public schools and are the products of lovingly conventional parenting, my wife and I are trying to create our own family quite differently by embracing attachment parenting and, more recently, unschooling our children.

We want our two young boys to remain the wise, compassionate, and engaged souls they are today. We want them to avoid the coercive, limiting regime of schooling we experienced which might, as with us, render their learning passive and repress their will to freedom and self-expression.

At four years old, after weeks of talking over educational options, my oldest son Ezra decided he wanted to go to pre-school. After visiting several, we chose a Waldorf-inspired school in an adjacent town. His experience was ok, not great. He then enrolled in kindergarten at a nearby Waldorf grammar school. Fantastic program, great teachers. While sort of bored with the routine, Ezra seemed ok with it all. It would have been easy to say "mission...

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Posted on Oct 25, 2009 - 09:06 PM by Khalif Williams

Welcome to Op-Education

Hello, and welcome to Op-Education. I am delighted to have you as a reader. My name is Shawn Gaillard, and it seems like I will be blogging pretty regularly for IDEA. I must say that I am truly excited!

As this is my introductory post, I suppose offering some background information about myself might be nice. I am twenty-three years old and live in Tempe, Arizona where I attend Arizona State University as a student of Philosophy. I am a passionate musician, a good friend, a dedicated vegan, and an open-minded biped if I do say so myself. I enjoy thinking outside the box, as well as exploring many different methods for accomplishing goals that are usually pursued in routine ways. I attended public school in Arizona from third grade until my high school graduation, hence it is no surprise that I am now writing about issues in public education, and education as a whole.

My interest in education is not born of some formal training in the subject, but has rather developed over years of...

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Posted on Oct 25, 2009 - 07:50 PM by Shawn Strader

What Is Uncharted Parenting?

For anyone dedicated to the ideals of democracy, peace, and equality in education, parenting can be just as complex as it is beautiful; just as frustrating as satisfying. That's because we're in new territory, endeavoring to respond to a failed schooling system and a troubled society in need of new solutions. We want to raise happy families that are resilient enough to find purpose and security despite our economic and educational systems showing ever greater signs of distress. We know that, to create the world we want, we must begin where we are. So we pour our hearts and souls into parenting our children in way that reflects our courage and hope for a better society.

The story of human culture is but a trail of flowers and fungus along an arching, aching branch made of parents and children. Parenting is at the core of who we are, how we are, and what we are to become. There have been millions upon millions of parents in our species' ancestry. Most of us have had at least one...

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Posted on Oct 24, 2009 - 09:31 PM by Khalif Williams

Prisoners or Students?

I'm 5'2" and about 105 lbs. I'm small--so walking through the hallways of the new school in which I just got a teaching position, I get mistaken all the time as a student, by students and teachers alike. This gives my students the impression that I'm a pushover, and staff the idea that I won't last in this school past a couple of months. But what my misleading physique grants me is a world into the daily feelings of my students inside a building they will spend four of their formative years in--if they make it through four.

"Hey! Where's your pass?"

"Where are you going? Get to class!"

"Who let you in this copy room?"

"Get to the back of the line!"

All of these are greetings given to me by adults in the building who mistook me for a student. No smiles. No hellos. Just a growing list of blunt, direct questions and demands that offered the receiver no real opportunity to respond. Perpetual rhetorical questions that seemed to eat away at who I am as an individual. These questions...

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Posted on Oct 19, 2009 - 10:14 PM by Ammerah Saidi

Welcome to ‘Got Questions?’

Welcome. Before I begin responding to your questions I would like to say two things about what I will be doing here.

The first has to do with my own life as a young person. I remember being very excited about the concept of democracy: People coming together to decide, through discussion and compromise, through an open exchange of ideas, the best course of action that they, as a group, should take. Perhaps that is why I never understood censorship or indoctrination. If you believe an idea to be wrong, let it out in the world so it can be proven wrong. Don't turn it into a precious subversive commodity that people can rally around without being given the space to truly understand it or its implications. And if you believe an idea to be right, invite challenges, welcome criticism, and relish the opportunity to have that idea take hold and grow into something that you haven't thought of yet.

It is for that reason that I wanted to do an advice column rather than a blog. I want this...

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Posted on Oct 14, 2009 - 11:16 AM by Jonah Canner

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