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Living Inspiration

great education is inspired education The word “inspire” is one of the most powerful in the English language. It contemplates major improvement, massive personal change, and real societal progress—because when a person is inspired, he does things at a whole new level, frequently in entirely new ways. If not, he’s not actually inspired.

One of the great core principles of learning is that inspiration is central. When a person—of any age—is truly inspired, in the flow, deeply connected with the universal, truly “in the groove,” so to speak, learning always brings depth, wisdom, punctuated leaps, and even profound epiphanies.

Without this essential part of education, less learning occurs. Indeed, parents, teachers and other mentors and leaders who effectively inspire those they serve are the most important catalysts of great, quality learning. Nothing can take the place of inspiration in education.

With that said, inspiration in learning isn’t just lofty, stirring, or memorable. It doesn’t only bring shouts of “Eureka!” It is also incredibly basic. Foundational. Fundamental.

Specifically: The root of the word “inspire” is the Latin spirare, which means, simply, “to breathe”. (See Klaus Schwab, The Fourth Industrial Revolution, 2016, 109) This is incredibly profound. The opposite of inspire is “expire”, a synonym for death. Thus to be inspired is to be truly alive. To be breathing.

An old ad for a respiratory therapy stated: “When you can’t breathe…nothing else matters.”

Words to deeply ponder.

Freeing Inspiration

The root meaning of “inspire” applies to education in a direct and breathtaking way. How often does the system modern society uses to deliver schooling actually lead to the opposite of inspiration? For example, many people describe graduating from high school as “being free—finally being able to breathe, not being stifled anymore.”

Put another way: Is the way your child or youth experiences education at all stifling? Or suffocating? Many young people feel this way. More to the point: Is there anything you can do about your child’s/teen’s education that will make her smile, sit back, and breathe more deeply?

Does she need a change from the way she’s been experiencing education? If so, inspiration (real breathing) is lacking. In the martial arts and the healing arts (meditation, Yoga, Tai Chi, etc.,) the focus is frequently on learning to breathe more consciously, more deeply, more often, and with more purpose – to take in the essential, life-giving force that sustains, motivates and empowers us. This is, literally, what inspiring means.

When you as a parent or mentor inspire those you teach and serve, you improve their educational breathing—their connection to truth, goodness, personal purpose, and love of the things that matter most. If this isn’t a central part of their learning, their education will suffer. They need to breathe…

They need to be inspired.

Breathing Inspiration

Indeed, this is one of the most important reasons that TJEd and indeed all quality education often emphasizes inspiring over requiring. Requirements that cause constriction, tightening, narrowing, and shrinking of the student’s educational breath also trigger constriction, tightening, and shrinking of great learning. They smother the best things about truly quality education.

This doesn’t mean that learning shouldn’t sometimes be challenging, difficult, even arduous, but rather that such challenges should occur at the right times (less than our current modern educational system demands in Core and Love of Learning, and much more than the modern norm in Scholar and Depth Phases) and in the right ways (with mentors who set the right example and infuse the whole experience with meaning, relevance and purpose.)

After all, running hard—with proper training, rest, and repetition—gets the body in shape, while an out-of-shape body is often out of breath. The right educational exertion, done the right way, improves the mind as well. One way to clearly know if it is being done the right way is if the student is increasingly happy—deeply breathing in the joy of increased knowledge, wisdom, skill and learning just for the love of it.

If this bright, cheery attitude is lacking, breath (inspiration) is too thin. It needs to be boosted—immediately and consistently.

On an even more basic level, students who take a good, deep breath before they read, study, and learn, and breathe well throughout, learn more effectively. Thinking burns up a lot of oxygen. This applies in test-taking as well: Breathing properly and amply during tests is the natural result of consistently breathing well while learning in other ways.

Inspiration

To inspire greatness in learning, teach yourself to notice if a student’s current projects, assignments, topics, schedule, or other things about his educational experience and habits are more stifling or liberating. Do they quicken the breath with tension and anxiety, or with anticipation and excitement? Do they cause smiles (naturally lifting the diaphragm), or frowns (weighting down and slowing the diaphragm)?

Over the years as we’ve promoted the great importance of inspiration in education, and of parents and teachers becoming truly inspiring with every child, teen and student, a lot of people have asked us how to inspire. We’ve written a lot about it.

But nothing makes it easier than to simply link the word “inspire” and the word “breathing” in your mind.  This is part of Emotional Intelligence, and a great tool for parents, teachers, mentors and leaders. (See Daniel Goleman’s bestselling book Emotional Intelligence)

As a mentor, watch how your student is “breathing.” This will nearly always tell you her level of feeling inspired. If she needs to be more inspired (and who doesn’t? truly!), watch to see how your effort to inspire her influences her breathing. This is a powerful clue about what kind of learning she is experiencing—the kind that stifles her and brings hate of learning, versus the kind that inspires her and catalyzes an even greater love of learning.

Great education, like breathing, brings life, energy, and liveliness—and fuels passion for learning. If learning isn’t inspired, your child/student is slowly dying educationally, and at some point he’ll be gasping for air—or, in this case, gasping for the kind of learning that has real meaning to him. That matters to him. That he can truly care about.

Breathing is life, and in education inspiration is as important as breathing.

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by Oliver DeMille

Like the 3 words on quality education I shared last week, these 5 additional words can be very helpful to parents, teachers, coaches, mentors and others who work with young people. Have fun with them!

I. Protopia

next right thing The process of becoming better as time goes on. This is the opposite of “utopia” (where the ideal or the perfect has supposedly already been reached) and also of “dystopia” (where the supposed “ideal” is decidedly not ideal). “Protopia is a state of becoming, rather than a destination…. The ‘pro’ in protopian stems from the notions of process and progress.” (See Kevin Kelly, The Inevitable, 2016, 13)

The idea of protopia is to focus on today. Make it the best you can. Educationally, this means doing the things today that will help you learn the most effectively. Or, if you are the teacher, parent or mentor, help your student do the same. Forget about yesterday. And don’t waste your learning time planning for tomorrow. Once in a while (weekly works best for most people), sit down and brainstorm ways you can improve your learning—or your student’s learning.

Then, each day, look over your list of ideas, quickly add to them if new ideas or opportunities arise, and decide how to best learn today. Your home, family, learning and life don’t need to be perfect (utopia), and you shouldn’t feel overwhelmed or give up on improvement (dystopia—the disease of frustrated perfectionists). Focus on the now. Today.

How can you (or your students) learn the most, the best ways, today? This is the key.

II. Screening

Screening is the act of learning from the various screens in our lives—smartphones, tablets, smart watches, computers, televisions, electronic billboards, etc. (Ibid., 88-89)

This is actually a warning word. Screening can often distract from experiential learning (really “being present”). It’s one thing to read about Cape Canaveral, or the Jefferson Memorial (apply this to the Parthenon, Pyramids, ocean, etc.), but it’s quite another to be there, to touch the marble, to feel the breeze and look out at the view while the sun beats down and the breeze ruffles your hair. Sometimes learning is much more effective when we are doing something real. Likewise, visiting Valley Forge is great; visiting in the dead of winter is profound. Try walking barefoot for three minutes.

think read 3 As author Kevin Kelly put it: “I am happy to read a digital PDF of a book, but sometimes it is luxurious to have the same words printed on white cottony paper bound in leather. Feels so good. Gamers enjoy fighting with their friends online but often crave playing with them in the same room. People pay thousands of dollars per ticket to attend an event in person that is also streamed live on the net”, often for free. (Ibid., 71)  Sometimes really “being there” makes a big difference.

In the Digital Age, “experiential” also means reading in a book, looking at art in a museum where the pieces are original and you can see the depth and contours of oils on the canvas, or attending a play or concert in person. These days we get so much of our input from screens that these more tactile experiences heighten our learning.

As Kelly wrote:

“Screen culture is a world of constant flux, of endless sound bites, quick cuts, and half-baked ideas. It is a flow of tweets, headlines, instagrams, casual texts, and floating first impressions. We should properly call this new activity ‘screening’ rather than reading. Screening includes reading words, but also watching words and reading images….

“Neurological studies show that learning to read changes the brain’s circuitry. Instead of skipping around distractedly gathering bits, when you read you are transported, focused, and immersed…. One can spend hours on the web and never encounter this…. [Online, a person] gets fragments, threads, glimpses.” (Ibid., 88-91)

This kind of immersion, or flow, that can occur while reading books is an essential part of quality education—and it seldom happens while screening. It happens even less with mobile screens than on a fixed television or computer station.

Of course, screening is also an essential skill in the Information Age. But people who learn to truly read—closely, analytically, creatively—can access this skill when they’re screening. They hardly ever learn it by screening, however.

For example, even with all the increased activity on electronic devices over the past two decades, “The literacy rate in the U.S. has remained unchanged in the last 20 years…” (Ibid., 89) Still, “those who can read are reading and writing more.” (Ibid.) If you have a quality reading education, screening is a powerful tool. If you don’t, it hardly ever gives you the thinking, reasoning, or creative skills that are needed.

“Book reading [strengthens] our analytical skills…. Screening encourages rapid pattern making, associating one idea with another…” (Ibid., 104) Both are needed to deal with the many new ideas expressed so frequently in our modern world, and to simultaneously be able to effectively discern, think about, and see the ramifications of such ideas. Fast is good. But wise is crucial.

Quality learning involves both real-life experiences and also reading and writing (which require real thinking), that are removed from screens. Both reading and screening are important. But without moving well beyond screens and classrooms, education will tend to be fairly shallow, narrow, and limited.

III. Frictionless Entry

Okay, this is a phrase, not a word, but it’s still important. Frictionless Entry is a technology term, and means “the ability of [people online] to quickly and easily join a platform [like Amazon, eBay, Facebook, PayPal, Kayak, etc.] and begin participating…” (Geoffrey G. Parker, et al., Platform Revolution, 2016, 25) If a given platform doesn’t have frictionless entry, this means it is difficult to engage. Football-endzone

Likewise, wise educators and parents make learning to learn, and loving learning, as frictionless as possible. If you want your kids to read the greatest books, for example, have copies of them in your house—on shelves low enough that the kids can reach them easily. If you really want frictionless entry to great learning, go a step further: read from the great books aloud with your kids, starting from a young age.

Use children-friendly classics at first, and other great age-appropriate books, and build up to the heavier classics over time. Also, set an example by personally reading classics a lot—this makes the act seem natural, simple, and easy. All of this increases “frictionless entry” to great learning.

Montessori taught that a key part of helping young people get a quality education is having the right kind of materials close at hand for each child—and also setting a visible example of reading such books (or engaging such activities – be it mathematical learning, historical research, poetry memorization, public speaking, refining a performance art, etc.) routinely. When parents and other adults provide these two powerful things for children and youth, students naturally embrace learning with more gusto. And it usually lasts.

IV. Curation

Another word widely used in the technology world is “curation,” which occurs when the managers of a website or platform set parameters that everyone must follow. (Ibid., 26-27) For example, Facebook doesn’t allow hate speech, and you can’t buy certain items like firearms on eBay. By setting such rules, the designers of a site establish the culture they want in order to accomplish their goals.

learning-garden-meme Parents have great power of curation. They can set a curfew, for example, or keep the gaming equipment locked up except on special occasions, or make it “off limits” except on Saturdays and holidays. Another example of curation would be to hold a quick family meeting at the beginning of each morning and have an inspiring quote or song, a prayer or devotion. Then everyone can engage their projects, learning goals and mentor plans, and meet back at 12, or 3, or whatever, to briefly report on what they’ve worked on, discovered, learned, etc.

This little curation is usually best when kept short. Even five minutes can be great. It sets a powerful tone of learning for the entire day, and children become accustomed to launching right into their learning projects instead of letting distractions, chores, TV, or anything else take over their time.

The act of coming back together to share what’s been learned can be incredibly effective—as long as you keep it brief, fun, and remain mindful of the differing learning and reporting styles of the kids. Having this check-in time can remind the learners why they are doing what they are doing (to learn!), and the simple fact of asking them to summarize their learning later often increases retention. If you find that it’s a stress to one child, rather than a positive motivator, allow him to opt out of giving daily reports—let him just come listen to the others. In such cases, find different curations that are more inspiring for him.

For really great results, take some time brainstorming what kind of curation would help in your home. Don’t announce a bunch of rules at once. Just one or two at a time are usually most effective. Additional curation can be added later. And select curations that fit your family and culture—or what you want it to be—not things you think some expert says “all kids must do.”

Be flexible—if a certain curation doesn’t work, change it. If one turns out to work wonders in your home or school, give it time to really become part of your family or class culture before trying to add more. Giving a little thought to the right curation, and then implementing it, can make a huge educational (and relationship) difference in your home or class.

V. Technium

“The modern system of culture and technology…” (Kelly, 273) This is like “pop culture”, but in the Digital Age our lives are molded as much by social media, smartphones, wearable tech, and soon biotech as by Hollywood, iTunes, or TV. The very fact that we can list iTunes as a “place” to get music, as opposed to Motown (Detroit) or Nashville, illustrates how big Technium has become.

chess-meme Compare how often people now recommend finding something on Amazon versus the old suggestion to search the library, or getting something at the mall versus Googling it. In the 1970s social commentators worried about television and Hollywood culture having more influence on our youth than parental, school or community role models. Today the worry is about what niche they’ll fall into online—the mean girls?, bullying?, a predator?, the fan-group of a certain recording artist or band (which can be good or bad, depending…)?, ISIS? What happens online doesn’t always stay online.

There is, of course, much good online, and quality education usually includes at least some technological skills. Wise parents review their kids’ browsing history, chat groups, social sites, and keep track of their interests and passions. They use curation as needed to create guidelines and rules that keep the technium under control for their kids.

For example, some parents we know have blocked all texting or sending of photographs on their teenagers’ devices. The teen can send a photo on mom’s or dad’s phone if he needs to. And some parents have their teen’s phone (including texting) blocked between 10 p.m. and 10 a.m. Others routinely read all their youth’s texts every Saturday.

This isn’t censorship, it’s parenting. It’s also curation. Teens don’t really need frictionless entry to every screen under the sun, all the time. The technium is real, and it can be a dangerous place.

The technium is also a powerful tool and can be used for much good. People who keep up on the latest technology and culture know what’s happening in the world. It’s easy to waste time on this, but it’s not a waste to stay informed and connected in healthy ways.

Conclusion

Finally, the thing about new words (or reviewing words if you already know them) is that they can help us remember core principles of good education, parenting, etc., and implement them. To improve education, try posting these 5 words, along the 3 we introduced last week, somewhere you’ll see them a lot. Like on your bathroom mirror or the hallway to your family room.

Protopia

Screening

Frictionless Entry

Curation

Technium

Autoletic

Eudaimonia

Wuwei

With each new word we learn, our minds are opened to a new body of thought and application. How will these words inform your approach to education in your home, family or classroom?

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The New Purpose

Family-hearth-geoffroy Here are three words that can make a wonderful difference in your family’s education! Please don’t do what many modern Americans do when they’re reading and come across an unknown word and either skip it or stop reading altogether.

Instead, read even more closely to really understand it. Learning new things is key—if not, we’re not really learning!

So really think about how these 3 cool words can help your family! And have fun with them:

  1. Autotelic (Definition: Doing something for the value of doing it, for its own merit, for its own sake. (See Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, Flow, 67-70))

For example, you are making autotelic choices when to take a job because you love it, study a topic because it fascinates you, spend time with someone because you enjoy being with them, or participate  in an activity because it’s fun.

Compare the opposite. Your child is having an exotelic experience (the opposite of autotelic) when he does something for some secondary or third-rate reason: like spending time with a “friend” because he wants to be introduced to the friend’s pretty sister, or reading a book because he wants to get a good grade in a class or doesn’t want to get in trouble with the adults in his life.

In the modern world, the large majority of what passes for “education” isn’t autotelic at all. It is done with an agenda, not for the sake of great learning.

Here’s the principle: For the most part people get a lot more out of autotelic experiences than from any other kind. In the case of children and youth, most of their life should be based around autotelic experiences. They learn better this way, and they’ll be happier through life.

Indeed, children who don’t spend nearly all of their time before age 17 living and learning autotelically are often said to “never have experienced childhood.”

Truly high-quality education is almost always autotelic. Period. This means the most successful life-long students study what they study because they love it—because they love learning. When this is missing, the quality of education drastically decreases.

The New Connection

  1. Eudaimonia (Definition: Connection with your true self, the real you. From Greek roots, meaning “the flourishing, happy, you.” Knowing who you really are, what your life is truly for, and living in harmony with these things each and every day. (See Matthieu Ricard, Happiness, 108))

family As one author put it: “After sorting through piles of data, the researchers have concluded that pursuing happiness can backfire, but pursuing eudaimonia rarely fails. Eudaimonia is the Aristotelian idea of human flourishing, pursuing long-term goals that give meaning to life, rather than short-term happiness that delivers a [fleeting] jolt of dopamine.” (Barbara Bradley Hagerty, Life Re-Imagined, 7)

At first blush, many people jump to the conclusion that only adults are really mature enough to find their eudaimonia. But the facts show the opposite. Most toddlers have it—all the time, all day, every day. They know their purpose—they seek happiness. And they do so autotelically as well.

Few teens have eudaimonia (a clear and passionate purpose in life), except those actively involved in sports, theater, music, or some other driving passion that they chose to pursue. Even fewer people in their middle years have it. Some elderly people get it back. But to have eudaimonia in your middle years, from 20-60, is rare. Still, that’s the goal.

Individuals who know who they are, what their life is for, and that they are fulfilling their life purpose each day are a lot happier than everyone else. (Gallup says that in the U.S. less than 20 percent of adults like their jobs.) Part of educating our children effectively consists of teaching them about this—so they can live happier lives. If they go after a career, instead of a life calling and purpose, they’ll most likely be part of the unhappy 80 percent.

The opposite of eudaimonia is “attachment,” where you have been swayed by other people or other things in life away from your true purpose and connection with your authentic self—and spend much of your life doing things to try to impress others, or because you think they require it of you. Unhealthy attachment thrives on connections to things that aren’t your genuine life calling. (For a lot of people, this includes their career and work life.)

This was the theme of the movie Dead Poet’s Society—deciding whether schooling and work life is more about eudaimonia versus unhealthy (and often forced) attachments. Quality education isn’t “attached” to all the problems in the world. Instead it’s fresh, exciting, and focused on helping each learner be himself/herself. Truly. Fully. Without fear. We don’t approach education this way very often nowadays, but we should.

Fact: “Anti-depressant use among Americans of all ages has increased over 400 percent in the last decade.” (Emma Seppala, 2016, The Happiness Track, 7) For those under 22, the depression is mostly about school; for those over 22, it’s mostly about work. Something needs to change!

We’re a nation tragically disconnected with our true inner dreams (autotelics) and life purposes (eudaimonia). We spend almost all of our time on other people’s priorities for us, and then wonder why we’re not very happy.

The New Calm

  1. Wuwei (Definition: A Chinese word meaning literally “non-action”. A more accurate translation into English is “calmness” as we pursue life. (Ibid., 86-87) )

Emma Seppala notes that wuwei-style expressions “like ‘live in the moment’ and ‘carpe diem’ sound like clichés, yet science backs them up robustly.” (Ibid., 24) For example, research shows that people who learn to focus on doing one thing well right now—instead of constantly multitasking—are happier and more productive in life, relationships, and work. (Ibid.) In fact, studies show that students who do this frequently actually test better than other students. (Ibid., 25)

sara Here are some additional traits exhibited by young people who were raised by a parent or parents who emphasized calmness in learning (rather than being driven in schoolwork):

  • They are better at concentrating.
  • They perform better on tasks that require memory.
  • Over time, they have more charisma.
  • They aren’t “permanently anxious,” like many other young people their age.
  • They are demonstrably more creative than their peers.
  • They exhibit more empathy—the ability to see things from the viewpoint of another person.
  • They are better listeners.
  • They have more self-confidence. (This list from Seppala.)

Seppala shows that modern education often “buries natural creativity.” (Ibid., 102) The way our schools operate focuses on convergent thinking (“getting the ‘right’ answer, learning what to think) and frequently undermines divergent thinking (creativity, and learning how to think).  She wrote:

“George Land, author of Grow or Die, suggests that this kind of training [provided in our schools] dramatically reduces our natural creativity…. He found that between three and five years of age, 98 percent of children ranked as ‘divergent thinking geniuses.’ Between eight and ten years of age [after most of them started school], that number had dropped to 32 percent. Between the ages of fifteen and eighteen, the number had dropped down to 10 percent.

“When Land tested a group of twenty thousand twenty-five-year-olds, he found that only 2 percent could think divergently. Land concludes that while creativity is naturally present at a young age, we unlearn it through our education system.” (Ibid., 103)

Another study, by researcher Dr. Kyung-Hee Kim, found that “since 1990 there has been a steady decline in creativity scores while IQ scores have risen.” (Ibid.) This corresponds with school curriculum changes from a broad learning program to national-test-based areas of rote emphasis. Seppala wrote: “Kim concludes that ‘people in general are becoming less able to think creatively, and they are less tolerant of creativity and creative people.” (Ibid., 103-104)

Seppala concluded that as a society we now seem to have “no time for non-linear thinking,” and that our schooling is now almost entirely focused on the so-called “‘important’ stuff, like the requirements of career…” (Ibid.) Her point is that this is a very bad development.

The New You

All three of these words highlight how much parents need to take a serious look at the education of their children. If we mindlessly stick with a model that ignores our children’s passions, interests, needs and potential, our kids won’t get the kind of education they deserve. They’ll get something much less–something tragically insufficient.

The new economy is focused on innovation, creativity, and ingenuity—while most schools (Kindergarten all the way up through university and graduate studies) are stuck in the 1960s models of rote memorization and multiple-choice national test scores.

That’s sad. Yet too many people are simply afraid to look for and adopt something better. They know the old school model is failing our kids, but they just keep using it anyway.

With that in mind, here’s one more excellent word to chew on:

Resilience: “When you stop being afraid and start being yourself.”
(Victor J. Strecher, Life on Purpose)

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SUMMER 2016 BONUS EDITION: My Response Was “Wow!”

by Oliver DeMille

(Review of a new book that will bring real learning magic to your home: Give Your Child the World by Jamie Martin)

“The children should have the joy of living in far lands,
in other persons, in other times…in their story-books.”
—Charlotte Mason
(Give Your Child the World, p. 45)

Like a Kid in a Candy Store

Do you like reference books? I do. I’m like a kid in a candy story when I come across a new reference book that piques my interest. For example, I love the OED (Oxford English Dictionary). It contains many words that aren’t even used anymore, but they teach us so much about ideas and where our language came from.

GiveYourChildtheWorldMartin I love Noah Webster’s 1828 dictionary as well. It combines the words of our founding with little stories, vignettes, and examples that teach us a great deal about our culture and history. I love geography books with maps of the world, especially the ones with maps that show how borders changed as history unfolded. I love to go to big university libraries and read through biographical encyclopedias—and learn about so many people hardly anyone has heard of anymore.

I used to think this enjoyment of reference books made me pretty strange. But as I’ve mentioned this interest to various audiences over the years, I’ve been surprised by how many other people love a good reference book as well. Like scriptural concordances that show all the places a given word or phrase is used in the Bible. So fun!

Give Your Child the World. Literally.

But here’s the really exciting news. This week I got Simple Homeschool founder Jamie Martin’s new book, Give Your Child the World, and a few days later I sat down to read it. Imagine my surprise when it turned out to be one of the best reference books I’ve ever read.

It contains a number of book lists—the best books about other parts of the world, including Africa, Asia, Europe, the Middle East, Latin America, Oceana, Australia, and so on. In fact, it’s a lot more detailed, with lists of the best books on China, Colombia, Costa Rica, Chile, Denmark, Egypt, Ecuador, etc., etc., etc.

Not only does Give Your Child the World outline the best books for each area on the map, but it provides an introduction to each book so you know what it’s about—and what to expect when you read it. As the title of the book promises, it really does allow you to “give your child the world.” Literally.

The truth is, this is the best-written reference book I’ve ever seen. The prose is seriously gorgeous. Here are a few examples from the book:

“I sat by the edge of the island, watching God show off. If you’ve ever had the chance to visit Hawaii, you know that’s what he likes to do there.” (p. 17)

“Children don’t let the darkness of the world overshadow its beauty. They don’t make judgments. They just try to love—whatever and whoever stands in front of them.” (p. 18)

“All those voyages around the world between the covers of a book had kindled my empathy…. ” (p. 19)

“Good books make good neighbors…” (p. 41)

“An ancient Chinese legend states that an invisible red thread connects those who are meant to be part of each other’s lives. The thread may tangle or stretch, but it will never break. About a year after Elijah settled in our family, we started to feel a tug, a pulling, on our spirits. That tug led us all the way to India.” (p. 22)

Like I said, it’s the best-written reference book ever—probably because it provides so much more than reference lists. Truth be told, calling Martin’s newest masterpiece a “reference book” is only half true. Wholly the first third of the book is a fantastic introduction to great education, and how to offer it to your kids.

Indeed it’s part epic, part guidebook to a truly global education, part reference material, and part magic. The magic doesn’t just weave the other parts together, it also points the reader in many directions around the world.

A Teacher’s How-To

Perhaps most importantly: This new classic teaches readers how to introduce their kids to the big, wide world in practical and fun ways. Then it gives them the exact books to make the journey enjoyable. It tells us what to look for, and what to avoid in the process. Here’s another example from the book:

“I pick up our latest title and sit down in my favorite gray chair at the dining table. Noisy spirits, sibling squabbles, and daily distractions disappear as fiction transports us to another place and time.” (p. 35)

Did I mention that Give Your Child the World is also part primer to the best classics? Here’s another excerpt:

“Whether we’re reading about the enchanted wardrobe of Narnia or the blizzard-threatened prairies of Minnesota, the power of story plants us directly in the middle of the action. As the characters’ struggles become our own, we root for good to win, and we grasp more deeply the story we are writing with out own lives.” (p. 35)

Just to be clear, this book is a must-have for your bookshelf. You simply must have (and use) the booklists of great classics and key stories for each part of the world. No home that truly values reading can be without it. Seriously.

But there’s more. It’s also a must read.

It teaches so much that is so important about great education in a family. For example:

“Ten Ways to Build a Story-Solid Foundation For Your Family

  1. Use the Library in a Way that Works for You
  2. Don’t Feel Tied to Bedtime Reading (read in the morning, and any time that works)
  3. Invite the Whole Family
  4. Drop a Book if it Isn’t Connecting
  5. Talk About What You’re Reading Personally
  6. Use Audio Books
  7. Go With the Interruptions When You Can
  8. Get Dramatic
  9. Take Turns Reading
  10. Don’t Stop When the Kids Get Older” (pp. 38-41)

This is brilliant. It’s perfect. And the book is full of such profound advice. In fact, it also includes numerous quotes and suggestions from parents around the world who are helping their kids get a great education.

Like I said, it’s a must-read. Every home needs it. Every parent should read it—right away! I can’t recommend this book highly enough.

Read it and you’ll find out what I did: It really is magic

Check out the Summer Reading Program at Simple Homeschool! >>

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One of the more common (and most urgent) questions I hear is “How do I start from scratch with an older child?”

tollbooth This is indeed an urgent question; the clock is ticking LOUDLY.

We look at the [apparent] lack of preparation for adult-level experiences such as college, work, relationships, independent living, having a family of their own – and it’s enough to induce panic in a mom or dad!

Because preparation for successful/joyful life-long learning is distinct in the various phases of development, I’ll touch briefly on each – and give the majority of my focus to the oldest students.

Littles (0-8ish)

When little kids don’t exhibit scholar-like behaviors, I’m not too worried. In fact, I’m feeling pretty good about that when I know that the environment and modeling are in place, and I’m doing what’s mine to do. The Phases of Learning have worked pretty faithfully, in my experience, to predict and facilitate a successful transition from learn-from-play to learn-from-study, as the child matures into adolescence. (Click those two in-line links for more information on that process!)

Middles (~8-13 or so)

When middle kids don’t act like adult scholars, again: I’m not worried. It’s important to know what success should look like at each phase, and use the right measuring stick. Flitting like a butterfly from flower to flower, following rabbit trails of interest and inquiry, creating and exploring, beginning the efforts toward learning skills and habits that will later be mastered when the student has more maturity – these are natural and even ideal. However, if  “Middles” are dull and uncurious, I look immediately at two things: 1) Do they have negative associations with education from an environment or process that shut down their natural love of learning? 2) Are there things in their life that sort of suck the air out of the curiosity-room because they’re either too stimulating/addictive, or too time-consuming to allow them to show initiative and wonder? Those things are pretty easily resolved with deliberate and patient effort. The Family Reset works wonders!

Bigs (adolescents and above)

When healthy, normal older kids (who don’t have some neurological, developmental or emotional deficit or challenge) persist with a lack of motivation, I consider it a pathology; meaning, there’s something amiss — there’s something “infecting” their natural desire to learn and progress. Good news! When that infection is removed, and a healthy environment is established, they heal pretty quickly. I have seen this over and over, and the testimonials of others whose families have followed this course of healing and renegotiating lost phases, and have unlearned or re-scripted bad assumptions about themselves, their learning, their potential, etc., attest that the “miraculous” course corrections bring relief and delight.

Toxicity; or: Too Much?

Fairytale-Simplicity copy If you consider the picky little details in the 6-Step Plan for Family Reset or Detox, you might discover that there is something in their educational “diet” (something that perhaps society or even your family’s habits calls “normal”) that is doing violence to their love of learning and ability to commit to the rigors that healthy youth/young adult learning normally leans toward:

  • Too much (or wrong kind of) friend time?
  • Electronics as play or personal entertainment? (as opposed to using technology for scholarly pursuits, family bonding, etc.)
  • Dietary stimulants/toxins that have them foggy/moody/edgy/otherwise compromised?
  • Nutritional deficiencies?
  • Sleep interruptions or deprivation?
  • Emotional setbacks unaddressed?
  • Divergent learning style being dismissed or underserved?
  • Unique developmental timeline needing attention?
  • Poor modeling of self-education in the home?
  • Lack of peer modeling?
  • Lack of adult mentors/heroes that support or exemplify educational ideals?
  • Lack of clear, shared family education culture?
  • Family routines and/or parental expectations get in the way of study time?

You get the idea. Once you know what’s going on and why, once you know what the right question is, you can make the hard and productive choices to remove the infecting element(s) and prepare to be amazed at how they heal.

Deficiency; or, Not Enough?

There’s another side of it as well. Once you’ve considered the toxicity that might be “infecting” their educational growth, it is time to take stock of the proactive elements.

For example (using the infection idea), when you’re trying to heal a wound, it’s only half the battle to remove the sliver, the gravel, and/or the bacteria. You also need sufficient hydration, rest, calories, protein, vitamins A and C, and sometimes the mineral zinc. Without these key elements, healing may take much longer, or be suspended entirely. The worry of a wound that won’t heal – when you thought you had dressed it properly – is frustrating and fear-inducing. It’s so important to deal with not only the “toxicity” but the “deficiency.”

In educational terms, there are also “nutrients” that lead to healing:

  • Fairytale-yearn copy Solid core values
  • “Playfulness” with learning
  • Exposure to first-hand examples of people who love learning and do the hard work to learn, and achieve excellence
  • Access to high-quality resources (this doesn’t have to be TONS, and it’s literally better if you keep it relatively simple)
  • Social support from peers who share the study-with-a-life-purpose ethic
  • Inspiration from heroes who exemplify the value of education and personal mission, etc.
  • Time to be thoughtful, meditative, creative, bored, innovative, experimental, etc.

There are other details that can help, and TJEd does attempt to codify and simplify best practices and strategies to enable the ethic of family-centered, mentored self-education.

For example, for new homeschoolers or families who want to improve the education culture in their home:

For those who work with older students (or who are trying to get a great education as an adult):

Serenity

next right thing But you don’t have to internalize all of it at once to make meaningful progress. And you don’t have to have everything precisely.exactly.perfect in order to make meaningful progress.

Remember: the youth have a role to play in this process too, and they can do amazing things when they choose to — no matter what obstacles or disadvantages they have to work around. Think about it.

Really, think about it: this is so true!!

So what leads to them making such a choice?

Over the course of the next few weeks, I’m going to release a series of posts that deal with our worst homeschooling fears and nightmares, and the tried-and-true process of empowering excellent self-educators – at any age, and even when you start “late.”

Not only do we have 7 youth/young adults in our own immediate family who are head-over-heels in love with learning, effective at writing, speaking, teaching and mentoring, conversant in the Great Ideas, etc., but I am in a position to hear the success stories of thousands of other such families – so I know our experience isn’t mysterious, or isolated.

If you’re interested, here is one example of what I’m talking about:

Testimonial Audio Button

 

Students get a great education when they put in the work to effectively study great things.

Leadership Education/TJEd is all about how, when, and why students make that choice, and what parents and mentors can do to facilitate it. Stay tuned for more!

xoxo rd

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The Shift

cup-battle When American founding father John Adams realized what the split between Britain and the thirteen colonies in America would mean to the world, he exclaimed that humanity had entered “a new epoch!”

Today the same is happening in education.

It’s a new era. Changes in the national and world economy are real. Recent trends prove that the old, rote-based, “memorize, obey, and be on time” approach to education isn’t preparing students for success in the rough-and-tumble new economy of the 21st Century.

Global competition for jobs and contracts is simply too stiff, and a number of nations are far ahead of the U.S. in effectively educating students with the skills that are actually marketable in today’s careers and job market.

American graduates are falling further behind, largely because much of the educational establishment in the United States hasn’t yet responded to the reality that a big change is occurring. They’re still educating with many of the same principles, practices and methods that were used in the 1950s, 1970s, and 1990s.

Some educators “…have recently embraced the idea that character strengths are the key to success in the classroom and beyond—and that these strengths should be taught as skills.” (Paul Tough, “How Kids Really Succeed,” The Atlantic, June 2016) Most schools haven’t made this shift yet, but some are trying.

Strengths and Demands

What are these “character strengths” that bring success in the careers and marketplace of the new global economy? The answer can be summed up as: “resilience, conscientiousness, optimism, self-control, and grit.” (Ibid.) In other words, today’s students need to learn initiative, innovation, ingenuity, tenacity, self-directed progress, and other traditional leadership skills. (See Paradigm Shift: 7 Realities of Success in the New Economy, 2016, pp. 45-96)

The old industrial age lessons of “be on time, learn to do repetitive tasks with a good attitude, find and fit into your ‘place’ in the system” are outdated employee values, and the new economy is demanding a tougher set of skills. (See Alvin Toffler, The Third Wave) The lessons of “grit and resilience” are as important now as “addition and subtraction.” (Op Cit., Tough)

In short, we have a math problem. As the spending years of the Baby Boomer generation wane, the North America economy is naturally entering a new phase. Fewer houses will be needed, fewer products and services will be in demand, and fewer jobs will be available. Corporations are shifting resources to places where increasing populations will require more products, services, and jobs—particularly China, India, and other parts of Asia.

In these regions, higher demand will mean more jobs for decades to come. Such high-growth nations will naturally experience more demand for employees trained in the conveyor belt style. However, in nations where the number of such jobs will decrease for decades ahead, such jobs will be scarce, and easily filled. The growing demand in North America is for leadership-thinking, innovative, entrepreneurial types who know how to successfully start things, build them, and overcome challenges along the way.

Thus most current American education is training young people for jobs and careers that will exist mostly in Asia during their adult working years. Only a few forward-looking schools, teachers and parents are now educating their youth for success in the kind of economy we actually now have—and will increasingly experience—in North America and Europe. Such education is personalized, individualized, and nimbly changes monthly, weekly, or even daily—to meet evolving needs.

What Works Now

In the United States, old-style learning systems like Common Core and standardized multiple-choice testing need to give way to what really works—quality education that builds each child’s innate leadership potential in a personalized and individualized way, under the guidance of a committed mentor. This is the premise of TJEd, Montessori, Charlotte Mason, and of many great parents, teachers, homeschoolers and other educators.

This new approach is also the emerging view of what is needed to prepare young people for success in the 21st Century global economy. Those who stick with the educational systems of the 1950s will continue to fall behind. As L.P. Hartley wrote in 1953: “The past is a foreign country: they do things differently there.” If we want the rising generation to succeed, we need to do things differently in the face of new realities today.

Of course, math and science, language arts, and knowledge of history and social studies are still very important. But the one-size-fits-all conveyor belt approach of teaching these subjects, and the standardized list of what their mastery consists of, are generally failing to bring out the leadership, risk-taking, creativity, tenacity, and innovative skills that are necessary for career success in the new global economy.

Today’s parents need to take this seriously.

(Highly recommended reading: A new 2016 book, Paradigm Shift: 7 Realities of Success in the New Economy, available from the TJEd Bookstore)

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Seasons and Lessons

my-family-coloring-page-2 I recently saw two different ads in the same magazine that immediately made me think of TJEd. More to the point, they made me think of TJEd parents, youth, and kids, and what they are planning for the summer ahead. Here’s what I learned, and what I did about it:

  1. The first ad simply read: “This summer I…”

The rest was left blank. People had to fill in the answer for themselves.

“What a great way to get us thinking,” I thought.

Try it for yourself, and for each of the young people in your home:

  • This is the summer I need to…
  • This is the summer Johnny needs to…
  • This is the summer Mary needs to…

Seriously, try getting out a piece of paper and writing this down. It’s powerful and effective mentoring. [Do check out that link to avoid common pitfalls in “summer assignments!”]

When I applied this to each of our kids who still live at home, the results were spectacular! This will be a very different summer for Meri, Abi, Hyrum, and Ammon—just because I asked this question, found answers, and got the kids engaged in a dialogue about what they feel their summer should be about.

Of course, I didn’t just announce decrees to them. That’s not the TJEd way. Just discussing what I felt when I asked the question, and asking each young person to answer the same question for themselves, has each of them really excited about major summer learning.

Give it a try! It works.

Leaving the Negative

  1. In a second magazine ad I read the following: “It’s time to break up with your belly.” The ad was selling diet drinks that are full of sugar, but the catchy line got me thinking.

Specifically: What is it time for you to “break up with” right now? (You know, that thing that’s holding you back from having the greatest homeschool in the world. That thing that just keeps getting in the way. That thing you know you should have changed a long time ago.)

Likewise: What is it time for your kids to “break up with” right now?

Whatever it is, just asking the question and knowing the answer will make a huge positive difference. Breaking up with things that have outlived their usefulness will make it so much easier for Abi, Meri, and Ammon to do item #1 above!

Warning: This can be sensitive for some people, including children and youth, so proceed prayerfully and positively. I didn’t just inform Ammon that he needs to break up with something. I asked him what he thinks he needs to “break up with” right now—what it’s time to put behind him for a while.

He was very thoughtful about it, and asked if he could get back to me in a few days. I’m excited to hear what he decides.

Upgrading Life

These questions are so simple. Yet they are exactly the kind of mentoring questions that great mentors pose (like the mentor questions in the appendix of The Student Whisperer). Asking and answering them can greatly help make this a much better summer for our kids.

This doesn’t take a lot of work, and it doesn’t cost anything. But simple mentoring questions like these—and a little bit of follow up—can make a huge difference in the lives of those we mentor. It’s often the little things that have the greatest impact, after all.

Try these two simple questions with your kids. Ask them directly:

  • For you, Mary, this is the summer you should…?
  • What is it time for you to “break up with”?

These are really just another way of doing “The 6 Month No” and “The 6 Month Yes” ingredients in our book Leadership Education: The Phases of Learning. But for your kids, these catchy questions will probably seem a lot more fun. They certainly did for our kids.

By doing this (It’s so simple! Just ask each of your kids to answer two simple questions, and then make some plans based on their answers!) you’ll create a significant Summer Upgrade this year!

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Aloha! At this very moment Oliver and Rachel DeMille are keynoting the Hawaiian Homeschool Convention in Honoka’a on the Big Island of Hawai’i.

In honor of our new Hawaiian homeschool friends we’re reposting the content below, which includes a coupon code to purchase the e-book The 5 Habits of Highly Successful Homeschoolers for 99¢ See below for coupon code.

 

Diagnosis and Remedies: 8 Steps to Homeschool Bliss by Rachel DeMille

Compass-TJEd-meme Ever wondered why some families seem to do so well with homeschool? Why some kids just seem to take to stuff naturally, while yours are freaking you out?? Here are some questions to consider, to help set the environment and remove any needless obstacles:

1) EYES & EARS ON

Have you ruled out vision impairment or muscle imbalance that affects focus? Schedule an eye exam. Is hearing an issue? Find out. It’s worth it!

2) REDUCE TOXIC LOAD

Have you ruled out nutritional issues, like sensitivities that create problems with mood, behavior, attention, emotional equilibrium, sleep, etc.? Common triggers are sugars, additives, grains, dairy, processed foods, etc.

Obviously, all of us do better when we make healthy choices; but some kids (and adults) literally cannot function normally with these things, and more “extreme” care must be taken to remove allergens and triggers from their diet and environment.

If this is an issue in your home, it’s life-changing to make the special effort for these accommodations!

3) REDUCE DISTRACTIONS Fairytale-Simplicity copy

Have you removed distracting/addictive elements from your home and schedule? Common issues include too much: TV, video games, friend time, scheduled classes/clubs/lessons/sports, etc. For some kids, some families, some years – ANY amount of these can be too much.

Consider a 6-Month “No” to clear your time and take back your family learning life! (For help in owning your life and time, see Phases of Learning, Ingredient #7 and “Start the New Year Right“)

4) REDUCE CLUTTER

Is your home environment somehow disruptive to the learning and family relationships you idealize? Common issues include: too many toys, too much clutter, too many dishes/clothes/belongings that take too much time to care for or don’t have a good place where they are stored.

Consider a 6-Month Purge to take back your space, time and peace of mind! (For help on how to carry out a Purge, see Phases of Learning Ingredient #6 and “Start the New Year Right“)

5) LEAD OUT

Are you trying to copy “school at home?” It’s really easy to rely on the habits and experiences that are familiar to us, especially when we’re under stress or trying out new things. And yet, family learning is ideally a place for a different form to flourish. Invest in your own learning to lead out, by reading a classic book alone and/or with the family.

Do your homework by daily seeking inspiration in TJEd books and audios to help you stay focused and gain new insight on how it can look, feel and be in your home. (For pointers on how to take the lead in your Leadership Education home, see “Kindling, Carrot Sticks and Kidschool” and “TJEd and Riding a Bike“)

6) LET YOUR PLAN FIT YOU

Are you comparing your worst day with your concept of someone else’s best day? Are you trying to implement a vision that’s not compatible with your reality (new baby; caring for an elder; lots of little kids no big kids; health issues)?

Take stock of what matters most to you (Really matters. Not the things that nag you, or make you feel crumby, but the things that you actually are willing to go into the fire for!), and fashion a new ideal that you can actually succeed in. (For a nourishing and nurturing look at how to homeschool in a crisis, see “Chaos and Measuring Sticks; or, Gorillas and Cats. Whatever.”)

7) START FRESH

Have you and your family successfully reconnected and detoxed? As with Step 6, whether it’s a renovation in your school format, a new move, a new baby, an illness, a loss or a big change in any area of your life, reconnecting the family in Core Phase helps to synchronize your energy, re-define your ideals and help each individual thrive in their areas of needed focus.

This is sort of a healing time that brings back a more natural harmony in the home, and restores the child’s (and parents’!) natural love for life and learning. (For details and examples on how to detox and reset, see “6-Point Plan: Advice for Newbies”)

5-habits-cover 8) NEW HABITS

If you found these helpful, rest assured – these are just the beginning! Effective and happy homeschooling is absolutely within your reach. With all of the other stuff out of the way, you’re ready to cultivate new habits – 5 Habits, to be exact! These “secret” habits aren’t really secret – and as you cultivate them, your family and homeschool will thrive, your stress will diminish, and you’ll feel clarity and joy in your family education journey.

Download our e-book, The 5 Habits of Highly Successful Homeschoolers – normally $5.99, and available to our readers for just 99¢ when you check out with coupon code 5Habits-FIX at our Leadership Education Store. http://store.tjed.org/

 

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by Oliver DeMille

The Goal

next right thing Getting the simple things right can be really hard. But when you get them right, everything else thrives and flourishes—in almost every arena or endeavor.

That’s worth repeating. It can be difficult to get “the simple things” right.

This is true in relationships, nutrition, government, etc. And it’s definitely true in education. Or great parenting.

But however challenging it is, this is our goal. It’s the ideal:

To get the simple things right!

Parents who focus on this, even though most of us fall short over and over, usually see the best results. In contrast, isn’t it interesting that so many educational systems and programs that emphasize complex things end up mediocre?

Focus on the simple things. The things that really matter.

Specifically: Reading. Discussing. Learning. Thinking. Applying.

If your children learn how to learn—really, truly, deeply learn—you will have accomplished something great. If they also learn how to think—creatively, independently, deeply think—and effectively apply what they learn and think, you will have mastered education.

The Answer

think read 3 Think about those words: “You will have mastered education.” But nobody ever does this unless they focus on the simple things.

The opposite is also true. Show us a school where less than 90 percent of the students learn to passionately and consistently learn, think, and apply—and truly love learning and thinking so much that they keep doing these things long after they care about grades or assignments—and we’ll show you a failing school.

That’s a high bar, to be sure. But every home school can exceed it, simply by mastering the simple things.

  • Reading
  • Discussing
  • Learning
  • Thinking
  • Applying

The other skills (like writing, calculating, etc.) naturally follow in the course of doing these things well and consistently. But without these simple basics, great education seldom occurs.

Now for the fun part: How does a parent, any regular parent who wants to master learning and build a great home school, go about doing so? Most give up with the words “master” or “great.” What’s a parent to do?

Answer: Show Them.

It’s the oldest (and usually still the best) way of learning. Set the example. Just show them.

Remember: You, Not Them

F-YouNotThem-day When was the last time your kids saw you reading? For families who use TJEd, this is probably an easy answer.

When was the last time your kids saw you discussing what you’ve read? Again, if you use TJEd, they’ve probably watched you discuss what you read many times—often directly with them.

(By the way, if they don’t see you reading and discussing many times a week, that’s where you want to start. Very simple. Very powerful.)

Now it gets just a bit harder: When was the last time your kids saw you learning?

Think about it. How would they even know if you’re learning? Answer: you learn, and you tell them what you learned. And where you learned it, and what you were thinking about when the learning came to you. You share what you learn, day after day after day. There is no better method of teaching. None.

When was the last time your kids saw you thinking? They see you applying things you know all the time, but when did they last watch you struggle with important ideas and experience a “Eureka!” moment?

If that’s not something your kids see you doing a lot, they probably aren’t doing it either. Again, show them. #TJEdShelfie

These are the simple things. The short summary of this idea is “You, Not Them.” If you focus only on your kids’ education, you won’t show them what will give them a great education.

If you focus on your education—on truly reading, discussing, learning, thinking, and applying what you learn—you can show them how to find their own greatness. Along the way, you’ll find more of your greatness as well.

What books are you reading right now? Really thinking about, discussing, and learning from? Show your kids how you’re doing this. Week after week. Month after month. Year upon year.

As they watch you, they learn the most important educational lessons of all—what to do, and how to do it. There are no substitutes for these incredibly valuable (and simple to deliver) lessons.

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By Freeborn DeMille

The Class

freebs-bio This was a really fun three months! But it was exciting for a surprising reason. The Harvard Class I took online was so enjoyable.

At first I wasn’t sure I was going to like it. I’ve always enjoyed reading a lot, and doing other projects and assignments in home school. And I really loved acting in Shakespeare plays, and taking classes with our home school groups. But this was different.

I loved it. But I’m jumping to the end of the story. Here’s how it all began…

The Hungry Phase

It happened to me this year, just like this great event happens at some point in every young person’s life: This year I got hungry. It was the year that I turned sixteen, and being a teenage young man, I got hungry in more ways than one. Physically, I am now always ravenous. Mentally, I am no longer content being a little boy.

I am anxious to be given new privileges and pursue new opportunities. I am hungry for greater knowledge and understanding. I am beginning to see some of what our world is facing, and I am determined to be among the heroes who save it. I am making new mistakes, and learning new lessons everyday.

I recently explained to my mentor what my dreams are, and what impact I want to have in the world. I told him that I didn’t have any specifics figured out for sure, but I am very passionate about freedom, and I intend to make a positive difference by serving people.

We made a planned reading list, like we usually do, and outlined studies for several important subjects I want to learn about more deeply. Then he asked if I had ever taken an online course.

“Like what?” I asked. “I’ve researched a lot of things online and watched lots of educational YouTube videos…. But not really a full class.”

He had me look up courses on EdX, Coursera, Khan Academy, and others, and I found a lot of exciting options. We finally settled on an online Harvard class on American Government. I am so glad we did this!

What I Liked About the Harvard Class

  • The Content. Each video (two per week) covered an aspect of how our nation, and governments in general, function. The course was filled with principles of freedom, human nature, politics, power, and so much more. I loved the commentary.

I learned about many things I had never even considered. I learned new ideas about reasons our country was founded the way it was, and why it is headed in the direction we are today. True, I’ve already read a lot about this topic. But there is still so much more for me to learn.

Learning so much new information, some of which I thought I already understood, made me realize how much I don’t know.

  • Each lecture began with the professor on video at some location of consequence, like the Supreme Court, Boston Harbor, the White House, the Senate or House, the IRS headquarters, etc. He explained the significance of each location and what role that organization plays in American government or history.

He asked lots of questions that made us think. He used historical examples to illustrate his points, and visual aids such as pictures, graphs, and written quotes to better teach the material. At the end of each lecture he took a few minutes to summarize.

Though we couldn’t literally be in the classroom with him, the format of each lecture easily made up for it. The way the camera moved, the visual aids, and the questions made it feel interactive and engaging.

  • Post Scripts. Sometimes the lectures left certain questions unanswered, or certain ideas unexplored. The professor’s solution to this was to make a small 2-5 minute video at the end to address any extra topics. He also talked about personal experiences (my favorite part of the class). I often learned more from the postscript than from the entire lecture.
  • Online Group Discussions: There is so much we can learn, and just listening and gathering as much information is one of the best ways to do it. I have found, however, that the information in our head isn’t actually very helpful until we apply and share it. Knowledge gained is worth more once it has been shared.

The online forum allowed us to discuss our ideas with other members of the class. A lot of what I learned came from my thoughts as I pondered and shared my ideas in these discussions. I enjoyed reading the ideas of the other students. I could tell the other people taking this class cared very much about America (even many of those from other nations), freedom, and the different challenges the world is facing right now.

  • The Professor: Perhaps the part of this course that truly made it great more than anything else was the instructor, Thomas E. Patterson. I will forever remember his final postscript at the very end of the course. He took time to thank all the students for teaching him. He explained that it might seem strange for him to say this since the class was done largely through video lectures. But because of that very thing, he had to deeply consider what we might be thinking.

He had to ponder what questions we might have asked, what comments we might have made. He knew that if he were to make a mistake it would probably not be corrected, so his teaching skills were sharpened, and he covered certain details that he might have otherwise left out.

He especially thanked a few key individuals in American history that made all the difference. In this video he took us to the Old Granary Burial Ground. Buried there are Samuel Adams, John Hancock, and Paul Revere, among others. His words left me feeling deeply about America and freedom.

I didn’t always agree with his views or what he said, but by the end of the course I had come to respect him. He managed to inspire me to care about freedom even more than I already did. He is truly a great man, and a great teacher.

What I did not like about the course

  • The Readings: When I first started the class I was excited to do all the readings. I had high expectations for them after seeing other portions of the course. But I was disappointed. A few of the selections were really good (excerpts from the Federalist Papers, for example), but mostly they were redundant. Overall, everything found in the readings was covered more effectively in the lectures.
  • The Quizzes: After each lecture the course provided a small quiz. These were set up in a multiple-choice format. I didn’t like this because though I usually did well on the quizzes, I knew I could have made strong arguments for some, and often all, of the possible answers. The quiz format limited the true discovery of truth—and that’s not good for learning.
  • The Writing Assignments: I was thrilled to participate in the writing assignments, and was excited to get some constructive feedback. I was disappointed to find that the students were in charge of grading each other’s essays. (Many of them didn’t even bother to respond.) I would have much preferred for the professor, or some other advanced thinker, to grade my paper and make recommendations.

Fortunately, I took my paper to my personal mentor and he spent hours helping me with both the content of the paper and with my writing skills. (But I doubt most of the students in the Harvard course did it this way. Anyone who takes such online courses should get an in-person mentor to help them!)

Final Thought: Salience

Possibly the most valuable new thing I learned in the course is the importance of what the professor called “salience.” I didn’t know what the word meant, so luckily he explained it. “Salience” basically means being prominent, intense, and passionate—even as a minority or “less important” group.

When I mentioned salience to my personal mentor, he pointed out that “salience” as a word comes from the root word “sal,” which means salt. So salience is like salt in food. There is only a little bit of salt in a plate of pasta, for example, but it makes a huge difference to the flavor.

Another example: say Congress tries to pass a law and 90% of the nation supports it, but the 10% who don’t support the law care about it much, much more than the 90%. This passionate 10% is a lot more likely to act on their beliefs and to spread their influence.

Thus, there is a good chance the law won’t get passed, because of the major involvement and actions of the 10%.

This applies to those of us who love freedom. We don’t require everyone to be involved in order to make progress. We just need the true dedication and efforts of people who care enough to make a real difference. I am one of those people. I invite you to be one of them as well.

FreebsTurnsthePage Freeborn DeMille is the sixteen-year-old son of Oliver and Rachel DeMille. He is passionate about freedom, education and entrepreneurship. He has a black belt in Karate and enjoys reading, cooking, talking to girls, going to dances, and discussing ideas with his peers.

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