Monday, April 30, 2012

How Do You Know If It's Time for HoneyFern?

How do you know if you are ready for HoneyFern? We are a small school with big goals; we tend to take the long view of education and believe that students learn at their own pace. Here are the top ten factors in understanding if the time is right for HoneyFern:

#10:  You strive for and appreciate the core values of progressive education, including: empathy, creativity, ingenuity, passion, compassion, collaboration, communication, individual initiative, and commitment.

#9:  You want your kid to be able to explore things they are passionate about, to speed up and slow down at their pace, not the pace of a curriculum map or a classroom of 25 other kids.

#8: You believe that education occurs in the real world; you want your kid to explore and experience different things, learning hands-on as much as possible and working on projects they design (that will make a difference!).

#7: You think that your child should have more than 20 minutes for lunch, and that sometimes they should be able to lay on their back in the middle of the day, naming the shapes of the clouds.

#6: You want a rigorous, challenging curriculum that is personalized to your kid's learning style, interests and abilities....

#5: ...facilitated by a teacher whose main goal is aligned with yours: to help your kid achieve their wildest dreams.

#4: You believe that community matters, and you want your kid to be more than just a number.

#3: You reject the notion that your kid's intellectual development can be measured by a bubble sheet and look for a more holistic, portfolio-based system of assessment that, yes, does utilize grades but doesn't teach to a test.

#2: You are a homeschooler with an older kid (6th through 12th grade) who wants to explore a different model that isn't public school, OR you are a public school family with a kid who is losing their curiosity and desire to learn.

And the number one way to tell if it's time for HoneyFern....

#1: You want the best education for your kid that ignites their curiosity, honors their individuality and pushes them to do their best.

 Contact HoneyFern for more details and to schedule a visit!

Saturday, April 28, 2012


I am definitely a creature of habit; I put my keys on the same hook, park in the same place, wash my face in the same pattern. I would be very easy to stalk.

I have updated my computer to IE9 (which I had eons ago before they worked out the bugs that caused me to un-install and go back to IE8), which has updated my blog (which I have not been able to get onto for a week, but I have not, admittedly, been trying very hard).

I do not love the new Blogger look. It has essentially the same functions, but everything is in a different place, and words have been replaced with icons.

I do not need icons. I like to read. Perhaps this is the main issue we are facing today in all areas: no one reads. We could probably travel through our day without reading anything longer than a bumper sticker. Every update and "advance" seems geared to removing reading from our lives as much as possible (Siri, anyone?).

It is too early on a Saturday for me to attempt to navigate this for a serious blog, so I will end now, prior to my second cup of coffee, so that this does not devolve into a rambling, decaffeinated rant. It is going to be a gorgeous day; I have already completed the second stage of limoncello making and am now going to feed livestock, visit a farmer's market, etc.

Have a beautiful day, everyone!

Thursday, April 19, 2012

WAKE UP - Your School is For Sale

Public education is a MESS.

Official high school graduation rates dropped last week as a new measure for all states was put in place (Here, here and here are examples. One report in March from Slate seems woefully in the dark as they report a 3.5% rise in rates). Excuses given were that it is too hard to do the paperwork necessary to make sure withdrawn students are put into another school, or that this doesn't take into acount students who graduate in five years

Teachers are finally standing up and opting out of standardized testing (well, some are).

And speaking of standardized testing, as the nation is gripped by tension as kids bubble in their bubbles in the next month, remember this from last year - the sale of America's schools to the highest bidder ("One study estimated that revenues from the K-12 online learning industry will grow by 43 percent between 2010 and 2015, with revenues reaching $24.4 billion.")?

High bidders and big money players including but not limited to Bill and Melinda Gates and their involvement with Pearson, the company that coordinates all testing IN THE COUNTRY and is now "leading the way" as companies design curriculum and assessments for the Common Core Standards?



Public education is for sale to the highest bidder, churning out lemmings, not innovators, and sinking fast. Factories are coming back to the US not because there is a cry for manufacturing but a cry for jobs for students trained only to be a cog in the wheel (this article from 2010, the height of the recession, points out that there are plenty of jobs, but no one skilled enough to hire).

Common Core Standard are repackaged to appear as if they have more depth, but they are pretty much the same standards; states all over the country are working on "crosswalks," correlations between standards indicating that there really isn't much different. These are simply a way to make more money off of schools

We cannot change schools until we change our thinking. We cannot change our thinking until we stop looking at public schools as money factories churning out consumers. We are wasting our most valuable resources - thinkers, dreamers, doers. Leaders, writers, inventors. Wasted. Testing. Filling in bubble sheets. Circling the correct letter. Giving the one right answer.


Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Wisdom Wednesday - Guiding Your Life

Today used to be Wordless Wednesday, but I think it is time to change it to Wisdom Wednesday, and today I feature Sir Ken Robinson again in a "Sunday sermon" on finding your passion. There has been some debate recently about whether or not passion in life is overrated, with the hypothesis being that you can be completely happy without being fired up daily about your work.

While I agree that every day will not be a blissful understanding and fulfillment of what you feels is your highest calling, working hard to figure out what makes you tick is valuable and important work. Of course, paying the bills is important while seeking your bliss, but simply slogging through making a living without at least considering what it all means seems to me to be a sad way to live.

So here is a long and funny lecture delivered by Sir Ken Robinson that talks about this very subject. Enjoy!

Saturday, April 14, 2012

Losing Control - Willingly

I don't want to be in control anymore.

For those of you who know me, this may sound radical. Don't worry; I am still very interested in being in charge.

I just don't want to be in control.

I actually NEVER wanted to be in control. When I started HoneyFern, I envisioned a school with students who worked on their own time, on their own work, on things that interested them, as quickly or slowly or deeply or shallowly (a word?) as they wished. I saw a buzzing place with conversation and work together and real work on real-world things that mattered, far away from testing and worksheets, out in the pasture, under the trees, in the sunroom - a happy, contented, engaged buzzing place that matched the sweetness and calm of the name of the school.

I saw my role as a Guide, a Teacher when necessary, but mostly a Coordinator and a Keeper of Work and a Locator of Opportunities and Head Cheerleader. An Understander of the world because of experience, but no smarter than the kids I hoped would flock to a school that gave them the ability to guide their own learning.

I am all of those things right now, but I want to add Motivator and Empower-er (a word?). I have been pondering the concept of Sudbury Schools lately, and reading and watching videos on the school model and educational theory behind them. When I started teaching, this model is what I saw myself doing, and as public education moved farther and farther away from student involvement and responsibility for their own learning, I left to essentially go back to where I started (service learning, where kids identified an issue in their community and worked to solve the problem).

Public school is no place for free thinkers these days, and I need to make sure HoneyFern is. We have been sidetracked by various things and find ourselves straying from the course a bit; due to accreditation, a blessing and a curse, we will take a standardized test, and I also have several students with unique circumstances that make a strictly Sudbury model impractical.

But I know when I start to feel uneasy, when it gets too quiet in the house, when there isn't the burst of discovery and easy laughter, that we are not where we need to be, and it is time to make adjustments. We will keep the plan for the rest of the year, and this summer will be spent in contemplation followed by action and adjustment.

I believe in kids. I don't think adults have all the answers.  I believe in the power of play, and I believe that all people learn best when they are responsible for their education. This makes things messy. There is no easy way to put a grade on an afternoon weeding a garden, making a quilt or building a Rube Goldberg machine that traps a monster.

This makes school you pay for a hard sell. Why should you pay for someone to watch your kids all day when it is free at the public school down the street, and this childcare comes with a hard-and-fast report card that "shows what they know" (I disagree with this, but it is the prevailing sentiment)? How do you know kids are progressing at a school that allows them to choose their own adventure?

This is a leap of faith. This type of education takes the long view and believes that one shouldn't stop learning at 3 pm when the bus rolls off the school grounds, or in May when the last bell rings, signaling freedom. This type of education requires going against the grain, perhaps even against the manner in which a parent was schooled. It requires free thinking about education, a skill ironically not taught in public school (and, increasingly, not in private school either).

This is a leap of faith for me, too. I know a free and democratic (small "d," don't fret) education is the best way to learn, like the first time I stepped into a classroom of my own and my first act was to have the kids write the rules, along with a mission and vision statement for the year. There was chaos and beauty in the calm that followed, along with the ability for any kid in the class at any time to silently point to the rules or the mission/vision statement to remind anyone (teacher included) to stay on track. Letting go, losing control, moving out of what is familiar and comfortable - this is how we learn.

This is what I want us to be.

Monday, April 9, 2012

Soul-Sucking Vortex of Impossibility

I am suffering from massive writer's block, but it's not because I have nothing to write about. It's because what I am writing about, my job, my passion - education - has become a soul-sucking vortex of impossibility.

Mostly it feels like I am banging my head against a brick wall in writing about education. I don't see the outrage we need to make change; I don't even see change in slow, steady increments.

I see a few classrooms here and there making strides, 25 students at a time. This is noble but doesn't lead to systemic change (although the kids in those classrooms have no idea how lucky they are).

I see teachers being beat up on daily, and then shrinking into little fetal balls to protect their vital organs, right before they leave the classroom for good.

I hear tons of jabber-jawing about how vital education is, how much we need smart kids, then watch those budgets get gutted.

I see cheating on tests, tests that are ridiculous and don't reflect anything real about a student or the school they are in. I hear one of my third grade tutoring students say she has been throwing up nightly, she is so worried about it. (I told her, in earshot of her parents, that the tests mean nothing. They agreed.)

I read research from the Department of Duh about how important it is to engage students, how they need better spaces to learn, how education isn't preparing kids for either college OR the workforce (unless that workforce is a fastfood window, and even then kids don't need to know how to make change or add).

I am pushing forward anyway, but after a fashion it becomes depressing to be the one consistently sounding the alarm.

Conversely, it also becomes depressing to tell people about all of the things we are doing at HoneyFern and have them "ooh" and "ahhh" and then ask me about grades and tests, as if what we do can't possibly be valuable unless it has a percentage on it. Parents are so institutionalized at this point that they have a hard time shaking the standardized testing mentality, the teach-practice-test cycle.

And yes, for the record, we do take a standardized test, and we are accredited. The difference is that I have no idea what is on the test and haven't spent a particle of energy in test prep or practice.

But I digress.

Today, my pioneer-studying student is making biscuits from a recipe from 1830 and learning how to quilt. She has also written a 10-page research paper on the Victorians and a compare/contrast essay on the 1800s in America and England. Later, she is planting flowers and herbs in her Victorian kitchen garden, and then we will draw and study French. Tomorrow we are going to see Much Ado About Nothing; when we get back, one student is doing a lab about osmosis and diffusion with gummi bears, and the other is starting a plant scavenger hunt.

I can keep my head down and focus on the students I have. This seems to be the way that keeps me most sane. When I look at all we have done and all we have planned, I am amazed and proud and impressed at my little school and its students.

But when I pick my head up and look around at the millions of kids getting shafted daily, I feel the tug on my soul. They have no idea what they are missing, and adults in education are doing their very best to make sure they never realize how brilliant school could be, how brilliant THEY could be.

I don't know how to reconcile these two approaches - blissful focus on what is in front of me or fretting about the masses to distraction. This is why I haven't written. This is why I feel no blog instinct - either way, it's a lose.


Saturday, April 7, 2012

Parenting Through Adolescence

Newsflash: Parenting gets harder as the kids get older.

Those of you with kids grown and gone already know this.

Those of you in your first year of parenting may be sobbing right now, thinking that it can't possibly be harder than it is right now. It is harder in a different way. Trust me: eventually, the kid will go to sleep. You should nap when they do. I'm just sayin'.

Parenting The Child as she enters the middle years brings me right up against all of my faults as a human being. I have lots of experience with adolescents, so this age does not scare me in the way that it scares some.

What an adolescent does is peel back layers of insecurities and failings in their parents. This is their job, and they do it well. Not always intentionally; I am not talking about the extreme cases (of which I was one) when kids really struggle with this transition to adulthood.

I am talking about watching your kid go out into the world with the lessons you have taught them thus far and seeing how they hold up. For The Child, she is starting to confront body image issues head-on. Daily, she is assaulted with images and text proclaiming her fat or otherwise inadequate. Not her specifically - just anyone who is larger than a size 0, not blond and not 16.

I don't tend to post pictures of The Child on the Internet, but I can say that she is beautiful. She is strong and tall and leanly muscled from years of softball and general joyful running and play and tree climbing. Her parents are tall, and she will be, too. She has huge feet and is sometimes awkward.

Already her friends say they are fat, and they wear makeup.

Will she be strong enough to resist judging herself? I hope so. I hope we have parented her well enough thus far. Hard to tell until it's time to tell. This results in insecurity on my part. Have I taught her well? Does she believe in herself?

She told me yesterday that I was no longer allowed to hold her hand in public. I asked her if I could still hold it in private. She said yes, with a little smile and glance that indicated she was just humoring me for a little while longer. Then last night, feeling a little sick, she asked if she could snuggle on the couch, and we spent the next hour under a blanket, watching bad TV and breathing together.

Parenting an adolescent means giving them tools enough so that when they ask to let go of your hand you can. It means keeping your heart and arms open to them, even when they are prickly, so they can crawl back home when the world is too much. Have I done it well enough? Am I humble enough?

We will see.

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

The Excellence Gap

Consider this statistic:

Over 50% of California public school students are Hispanic, yet on the 2011 NAEP Grade 4 Math test, only 1% of Hispanic and Black students scored at the advanced level, compared to 19% of Asian and 12% of White students. Long-term trends do not lead to optimism: in 2005, 2007, and 2009, the advanced rate was 1% for Hispanic students in California.

This should be a mind-boggling statistic for you (read entire article here). Why are we failing to educate for excellence, aiming instead at the very minimal target of "competency," especially with regard to our minority populations?

What is it about education in US that refuses to adapt to the changes in the world?

Why are we throwing programs and standards at kids that have less to do with learning and more to do with test-taking competency?

Why is it still acceptable to have this kind of gap between races at the highest level of academic performance?

Do we really think this little of the kids in our country?

It is difficult to write a commentary on something that is so obviously biased in such an institutional way; when kids talk about racism today, they say how far we have come, how it is possible to be in a classroom and drink out of a water fountain with students of different colors.

They don't see the racism woven into the fabric of everyday life, legislated and legalized by the people who run the country, even as we have our first black president (who was characterized as "not as black" as other former presidential candidates).

The statistic at the start of this blog is sickening to me, and unacceptable. To be sure, there are a number of factors involved in a student's underachievement, but our system of education is currently perpetuating this underachievement in the way it does business. You can't shoot for the middle and hope for the best; the only students who will rise to the top are (generally) those who would rise to the top regardless of where they are and where they come from. Minorities and boys are currently underidentified in gifted programs, and we have done nothing to change that except dumb-down gifted curriculum to make it more inclusive and let anyone with a waiver in.

This is not the solution. Students will rise (or fall) to the level of expectation you set for them. If we think they are dumb and incapable, guess what? If we think they are brilliant and capable of greatness, guess what?

We are who we teach; they reflect us as clearly as a new mirror. Take a long, hard look, America.