Which school? I found one!

school cropped

Most parents want to provide what is best for their children. However, they don’t always know what that best is, where it is available or how to get it. This is just as true of schooling as it is of anything else. Fortunately, most children are adequately schooled locally, be it at a state or privately run facility.

I attended a Catholic school and have taught in both the Catholic and State systems. I see little real difference between what is offered in local private and local public schools as far as philosophy, pedagogy and quality of teaching goes. The differences, as I see them, are more due to the inequities in funding for facilities and resources, the restriction to accessibility by the imposition of fees, and the ability of privately run organisations to decline students as opposed to the state’s willingness to cater for all.

While I think most schools do an excellent job of schooling, there are aspects I don’t like.

© Norah Colvin

© Norah Colvin

Fortunately, most children survive school and graduate adequately prepared for life in the adult world. But the scarring carried by many, whether visible or hidden, emotional or intellectual, is a cost that should not be accepted.

In this TED talk Sir Ken Robinson asks “Do Schools Kill Creativity? He explains why he thinks they do and the manner in which they do it. He ends the talk saying,

“our task is to educate their whole being, so they can face this future. … we may not see this future, but they will. And our job is to help them make something of it. “

By the time Bec was born I had already decided that I wanted more than schooling for her. I had read voraciously about learning and education. I had observed the magic of learning as my son wondered, questioned, explored and reignited my own curiosity, during his before school years. I saw those same traits inhibited by uninspiring teachers. I have written about this before here and in an article published in a teachers’ magazine when Bec was of school starting age. At that time, it was necessary to make decisions about her ongoing education.

To school or not to school

I had already explored local (and not-so local) alternatives. I attended information sessions, read their publications (no Google back then), and visited schools to observe their practices and speak with teachers, children and parents. Disappointingly I found none that met all of my criteria.

Some “schools” provided little stimulus or input to extend or challenge children’s thinking. Some were very structured and without flexibility in their approach. Some that claimed to be alternative appeared to be not so with uniforms and strict rules and timetables. Some that claimed to be mainstream were more child-focused with an organic curriculum matched to children’s interests, but lacked other things I sought.

When the pluses and minuses of each were considered, there wasn’t one with a compelling scoresheet. There was nothing for it but to found my own, a possibility I had been contemplating for some time and a “dream” shared by many teachers. The Centre of Learning Opportunities was born. These are some of the original documents drawn up by the team back then.

Vision

Symbol

outside

COLO brochure inside

While working to establish this alternative to school, I began an MPhil research project “Educational Diversity: Why school? What school?” which, as well as exploring educational alternatives, was to record the first year of an (my) alternative school. As part of the project I conducted a survey of local alternative schools with the aim of recording the diversity of approaches available in order to demonstrate that there is more than one way to obtain a quality education.

Although the degree went down the same dead end path as the school, I was able to (self) publish and distribute the results of my research to participating schools in a document titled “Diversity in Schooling: Discovering educational alternatives in South-East Queensland.” (Surprise, surprise, I have just discovered it in a Google search. How weird is that!)

Diversity

I was reminded of my research and this document by a recent discussion with Pauline King, The Contented Crafter in response to my post Life — A “choose your own” adventure. When I alluded to the wisdom of young children and “our” efforts to obliterate it, Pauline agreed and suggested that she could do a post-long comment on the topic.  I jumped at the chance and immediately invited her to do so. Pauline again agreed but suggested I refine a set of questions as she could fill a book with her ideas. I”m working on it.

Responding to The Industrious Child Pauline wrote,

“Teachers need to be SO flexible in their ability to see their world, their work, their class as a whole and their individual students – it is never a one step process and different expectations and challenges can be laid down for different abilities. Almost every child will shine somewhere within the curriculum and many struggle somewhere else. After all, we all have our different talents and abilities. Schools are structured to meet the needs of a certain academic ability and those who fall above or below that parameter are, in my opinion, so often mis-educated.”

It is obvious that Pauline, Ken Robinson, and I, along with many others, are part of the same revolution.

In another comment on my post I found it first Pauline shared that she had spent many years trying to establish a school of her own but had found “an already working alternative system and never regretted it.”

I think I have questions enough for Pauline to fill a book’s worth of posts and look forward to sharing some of these in the future. If you have questions of your own, please pop them into a comment and we’ll see what we can do.

Thank you

Thank you for reading. I appreciate your feedback. Please share your thoughts.

22 thoughts on “Which school? I found one!

  1. Bec

    Another great post with wonderful memories of the COLO years. I don’t envy parents and their schooling decisions.

    It’s exciting to see the resources, and how fun it must have been to find your research on Google!!!

    Liked by 1 person

    Reply
    1. Norah Post author

      I didn’t expect to see it listed anywhere but of course it would have to be. I had to do it formally and get an ISBN for it. Those were the days. 🙂

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  2. Jean M. Cogdell

    Very thought provoking Norah. I’ve two grown daughters, one is an elementary teacher, grade 3 and her frustration is with parents who don’t take the education of their children seriously. Too many parents don’t seem to realize this is when a child builds an educational foundation. I agree balance is key, but nothing replaces the involvement of parents like yourself.

    Liked by 2 people

    Reply
    1. Norah Post author

      Thanks for visiting and adding your thoughts to the discussion, Jean. It is disappointing that many parents don’t realise the empowering value of education and its ability to improve lives. Sadly many of those people did not receive an education that inspired them to learn so can see nothing of value in it for their children, only something to be endured. They need to be shown how beneficial it can be, gently, with warm guidance and encouragement. I’m sure your daughter, though frustrated, does just that. 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

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  3. roweeee

    So much to comment on here. While formal schooling forms I guess the base of a student’s learning, I also believe that family and extra-curricular activities are important to extend your child…and I have found MYSELF!! Both of my kids do scouts where they do a lot of outdoor activities. Go bush etc which is really good for them in so many ways. Both have done dancing and instruments although my son gravitates to his ipad. We have pets.
    We have had to think a lot about school as our daughter has left the primary school she attended and starts year 5 in an opportunity class some distance away. She was in a mixed class last year and didn’t do all that well and asked me why she was in a class with kids who can’t read when she excels. She also came home and said how teachers destroy your creativity, which I thought was quite a comment for a 9 year old. That said, she did get ample opportunities and that might have been a bad mood. She has a lot of attitude.
    Right from when she was 3 and 4, she has asked me unusual questions. Like how do autumn leaves fall off the tree? Not why or when? I had to Google that.
    In a year’s time, she sits for the Selective Schools test and so the next 12 months will be about preparing for that on top of her usual education and activities. This process can be like being swallowed by a boa constrictor. Some kids are doing upwards of 50 hours tutoring or study a week. It;s clearly wrong and we won’t be going to those extremes but she’ll need to work hard.
    By the way, I thought you’d appreciate my son’s life lessons from Jamboree. There’s an interesting twist: https://beyondtheflow.wordpress.com/2016/01/15/life-lessons-from-a-young-scout/
    Hope you have a great week!
    xx Rowena

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    1. Norah Post author

      Thanks for sharing your experiences and thoughts about schooling. Other than wanting the best for our children, I think our thoughts diverge somewhat. But that’s okay, there’s room for many different ways of looking at life and it’s great when we can listen to and learn from each other’s ideas. It expands our horizons.
      Congratulations on founding yourself! That’s quite a feat!
      I agree with you that it’s great for children have a variety of opportunities for learning and avenues for exploration. However I totally disagree with students having to study for 50 hours a week! That’s more than a working week for adults, and we are talking about children, children who probably don’t have any say in it, who are under a lot of pressure to perform and achieve. I’m pleased you say that you won’t be placing that pressure of expectation upon your daughter. I think childhood should be a wonderful time with freedom to explore, discover, imagine, create, and discover who one is and how the world works. Your daughter’s question about the autumn leaves shows that she is a natural learner, as all children are. In one of his books, I think Good Ideas: How to be Your Child’s and Your Own Best Teacher, Michael Rosen tells a story of David Attenborough finding a bone somewhere. Instead of just telling him what it was his father, who was a MD and knew, suggested they find out and looked up books, and at other bones to compare, encouraging the wonderful insatiable curiosity about the natural world from which we all benefit.
      Great to hear that your son returned safely from camp and brought some lessons home with him. I hope Bilbo is happy now that he is back.
      Thanks for your stimulating comment. Best wishes. xo

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      1. roweeee

        Thanks, Norah. I’m still not really sure what my views are about education. I grew up attending Pymble ladies’ College and having all the expectations that put on you and even though I am quite alternative is many ways, I haven’t been able to escape that entirely. I was very career oriented and driven before I got sick and had pretty much filed away my creative writing ambitions. So, for me there are tensions between those two worlds. I don’t agree with all those hours of study but at the same time, she’s going to need to work harder…at least until the test is over next March. She has virtually done no homework last year. I tend to prefer her in planned activities because she started taking off her bike and hanging out with friends of friends that I really wasn’t happy with. My son has a very different lifestyle and only does scouts. To be honest, I probably need to encourage him to ride around with his friends more. There’s a balance and I think that’s what I’m striving towards for the kids and myself.
        Thank you for launching this great topic. You’ve had me thinking xx Rowena

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        1. Norah Post author

          I think you nailed it: balance. That’s what’s important for all of us, and it will probably be different for each of us. I wish you and your children all the best that life has to offer. 🙂

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  4. thecontentedcrafter

    Goodness, that is quite a build up Norah – my observations and thoughts had better come up to scratch! There is a lot to take in in this post as ever and I am sadly short of time this weekend. I did take the time to listen to Ken’s talk again and still enjoyed it. He is such a self effacing man, he makes it easy to hear his message! I shall trot off now and read your emailed questions. You will hear from me on Monday sometime. I do hope that is okay for you.

    Liked by 1 person

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    1. Norah Post author

      Thanks so much for taking the time to drop by during your busy weekend. I’m sure any thoughts and observations you care to share will not just scratch the surface but deepen our understanding. Having said that, the level of your engagement is totally up to you. I think Ken is a gifted speaker. He imparts his serious message with such humour and clarity that it’s easy for everyone to “get”. I look forward to hearing from you when the time is right. 🙂

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  5. vanbytheriver

    There is a lot to digest here, Norah, I’d heard the TED talk before. But my favorite part of this post is your graphic about Education Vs. Schooling…brilliant. I’ve been a teacher all my life. Trained in college, put into practice in secondary schools and private industry. There is still so much to learn about how we learn. Great post.

    Liked by 3 people

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    1. Norah Post author

      Thanks so much for your lovely comment, Van. I’m pleased you like my poem. I’ll be interested to find out what ideas about teaching we share and on which points we differ. As you say, there is always so much to learn about how we learn. 🙂

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  6. Annecdotist

    I’ve been reading a social psychology book on how diversity is good for the brain (the review should be out next month) with a couple of things to say about diversity in education which might interest you – challenging the belief that diversity holds children back in their learning.

    Liked by 2 people

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    1. Norah Post author

      That sounds interesting, Anne. I look forward to your review. I’m not quite sure what is meant by your final statement so I look forward to being enlightened. Thanks for reading and commenting.

      Liked by 1 person

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      1. Annecdotist

        To clarify, I don’t think this would be your belief, but it was something about an assumption that children who might not be fluent in English holding the others back (obviously in English-speaking school/countries) whereas the necessity of managing the diversity contributed to the children’s creativity and flexibility of thought. (Sorry the original was a bit rushed, as is this, so might not be all that clear.)

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        1. Norah Post author

          That’s okay, Anne. It doesn’t change anything. I still look forward to the review. Whether I agree or disagree it will give me something to think about. I feel that we benefit by engaging with people from all walks of life, abilities, interests, and opinions.

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  7. Sarah Brentyn

    So much to think about here! I’ll be back to watch the videos. Love his question on whether schools are killing creativity. Also love Pauline’s quote about us all having strengths and weaknesses and different talents and abilities. Most people struggle in one area, at least. It’s realistic and a healthy attitude I find lacking in most parents now. Their child has to be the best at EVERYTHING. It’s an unwritten rule that parents must brag and compete using their children as pawns. (I missed the memo.) Sorry. Rant. 😳

    Liked by 1 person

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    1. Norah Post author

      Thank you for reading and commenting, Sarah. You were quick off the mark. I always love it when you visit. I’m surprised you haven’t listened to Ken Robinson before. I just love listening to his ideas. I wish his latest book “Creative Schools” was available on audiobook. I was disappointed that he didn’t read one of his other books that I listened to. The narrator was okay, but I had to keep pretending I was listening to Sir Ken and changing (in my head) the accent and intonations. 🙂
      Pauline’s comment is very true, isn’t it. I think I missed the memo too. But maybe “they” realised that neither you nor I needed it. We know our kids are brilliant – no competition needed! 🙂 I love your rants. It’s fitting to have a rant reply to a rant. I’d miss you (and them) if you didn’t.

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