Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Schooling a New Generation

I'm very fortunate (and very grateful) to be part of a thriving and active homeschool community. I'm very fortunate (and thankful) that I am given the opportunity to serve a very active role in that community, and not just as a parent/educational facilitator to my children, but also as a teacher.

I knew very early in my educational career that I would go to college, and almost as soon as I got to high school, I knew I would be majoring in English. I had lots of ideas about what I would do with that English degree, but at some point, I knew that what I wanted to do was teach ... and when I finally landed in a classroom, I found that I was very good at it. I loved my subject matter, and I was complimented - on more than one occasion - for how well I knew my stuff (literature/language). To say I was passionate about English would be understating things a bit.

Unfortunately, for me, the other stuff required of good teachers (classroom discipline, in particular), I was not so good at, and it didn't take long for me to realize that my passion for my subject was not enough. I could engage one or two classes for the 50 minute learning blocks, but to keep that level of energy up for six different classes five days a week for 180 days of the school year just wasn't possible for me.

Which makes it pretty awesome that I'm able to, now, find myself back in the teaching mode, and I love it. Teaching classes to homeschoolers is nothing like teaching in the public schools, in particular, because all of the kids want to be in my class, and so they will, by virtue of a built-in interest, not need discipline, and also because the classes are much smaller (eight students versus twenty), which is a lot easier to manage.

Even better is the fact that, unlike teaching in the public schools, I don't have to limit my class topics to what I "trained" to do. That is, I can (and have and do) teach English-type subjects, including: composition, poetry, creative writing, and literature. What's even better about being afforded the opportunity to teach these classes, though is that I can tailor them, and instead of just a general literature-based class in which I teach a core curriculum that is determined by the textbook my school system opted to buy, I am completely free to choose some out-of-the-ordinary topic and teach a class on that.

Last spring, I taught a literature class entitled Dystopian Futures in Literature. The reading list included books like The Hunger Games (Book 1), Among the Hidden (Shadow Children #1), and Oryx and Crake. None of the books I chose for the class were "classics", but they were all great stories with fantastic writing and truly horrible potential futures. As part of the class, we explored the unsettling fact that too many of those dystopian futures could too easily happen in our world, if we aren't very careful.

Right now, I'm teaching a class called World Without Oil, and it's based on an Independent Lens project from 2007 in which a very large group of people played along with the scenario that world oil production had suddenly decreased by 5% - like overnight - causing fuel prices to jump. What's kind of freaky about the class is that too many of the scenarios these people are imagining and discussing in their blogs and videos are really, really happening right now. The project took place before the 2008 housing bubble burst, before the current recession and before $94/barrel oil became a daily reality.

Today my students and I discussed future jobs for them, because they are young, and we are entering a world where we simply won't have as much energy to burn as we had when I was a teenager. The fact is that the EROEI on oil is 15:1 as of 2005 and the EROEI for wind is 18:1 (as per the figures in Rob Deitz new book Enough Is Enough: Building a Sustainable Economy in a World of Finite Resources), but no one is investing in wind energy ... and even if they were, the cost of energy, in general, compared to the return on the investment is more than twice as high now as it was when I was a kid. For me and my contemporaries, the sky was the limit. For these kids - not as much.

Even more remarkable than my being able to be a teacher in the homeschool community is the fact that my teenaged daughter can also be a teacher. For homeschoolers it's not about credentials, but about experience. My teenaged daughter has been an avid aquarist for the past several years, and not only have I been completely hands-off when it comes to her fish, but I find myself asking her to help her younger sister who has developed an interest in fishkeeping as well. My teen currently has three tanks, all of which she has decorated, stocked and maintains without any help or advice from me or Deus Ex Machina. There's something to be said for passion and a willingness to research for the answers one needs.

She has planned a class on setting up and maintaining a healthy aquascape for fish, written the syllabus, and is now taking students. She's pretty remarkable. Did I mention she also teaches intro-level dance classes?

It might be true that not everyone can do what I have done with my daughters' educations. It might be true that not everyone can homeschool, or even should, but what is definitely true is that our kids are going to need more than the kind of education we had, because the sky is not the limit for them, like it was for me, and they are going to have to be much better trained and/or a lot more creative if they hope to have anything close to the kind of lifestyle we've raised them to expect.

Personally, I'm very excited for my daughter. She's building a skill set that's pretty remarkable and could turn into something really amazing, and I'm pretty excited to see where it all takes her.


  1. "For homeschoolers it's not about credentials, but about experience."

    Public schools are going this way too. Many of my husbands colleagues are experts in their fields FIRST before they became teachers. I can say that 90% of the Science Department at his school and the Green Academy Teachers (teachers that are preparing kids for vocations in alternate-fuel careers) are all "alternate route" teachers. Meaning their time working in the "real world" was credited towards gaining a good majority of their credentials to become certified teachers. Makes sense to me...I like the idea of my kids being taught by someone who has worked in a lab or who has worked for an energy company. And actually in fact, my favorite teach in school used to be a vet before she became a teacher. I think you'll find this model become more and more common in public education.

  2. @ Kaye - that is so exciting! It's even better if those experts who decide to enter the teaching field aren't required to take a bunch of "education" classes before they could be hired.

    I'm really excited about the alt fuel careers the kids in your town are being trained to do. Very cool!