Workshop Notes: Passion Driven Education

How to use your child’s interests to ignite a lifelong love of learning. Presented by Connor Boyack. I got the full presentation – you just get my notes – and a little commentary. Aren’t you lucky! You can decide that yourself when you get to the end ūüôā

First of all, you probably are wondering, who is Connor Boyack? He is the guy behind Passion Driven Education,¬†and The Tuttle Twins,¬†and the Libertas Institute. So you know, he’s pretty busy. It’s important to know who he is in order to understand where he is coming from.

First things first – I went to this presentation knowing it was going to lean more on the unschooling side of homeschooling than I am comfortable with.¬†But I did it on purpose, not because I want to unschool, really, but because I wanted to know more about it.¬†I totally get the theory behind it, and I know unschoolers are actually incredibly successful people (sudbury schools, for instance!) but I can’t bring myself to actually do it, which I will explain later.

And that is the greatness of homeschooling. You don’t have to teach a certain way. For the most part, I am comfortable with where I am. And for the most part, we are going to stay there.

Still, I planned on learning a great deal and I took home a lot of great information and motivation to make some important changes in how we do things.

Here we go.

First, Mr. Boyack outlined the problems he sees with the U.S. education system.

  1. It is a conveyor belt form of education – you are taught certain things in a certain order and at a certain age. You end up with a homogenous education for all kids.
  2. It is highly regimented and structured, whether or not that is suitable for the kids or not.
  3. It is industrialized – the children are treated as commodities. In fact, U.S. schools were actually called factory schools in the beginning. Push them in, fill them up, and push them out – not all individual products, the focus is to produce all the same thing.
  4. It is an authoritarian system where the teacher and the textbook always know best.
  5. It is segmented by age which has psychological disadvantages. There is no opportunity for mentoring and it breeds competition and cheating.

BOOK RECOMMENDATION: For further information and greater depth into these issues Mr. Boyack recommend the book, The Underground History of American Education by John Taylor Gatto.¬†¬†(I’m actually going to get my copy at the library here one of these days.)

Now before we go into the solutions of the above problems in our educational system, we talked about what the goals of education should be. He listed persistence, curiosity, leadership, creativity, courage, self-discipline, reliability, motivation, empathy, humility, resilience, and innovation. But of course, you can’t measure those things on a test.

He quoted a recent high school valedictorian, Erica Goldson. Wow! You can watch her speech here or read it here! Crazy!!

So here we go. Mr. Boyack’s solutions! We should teach HOW to think.

  1. Educational freedom – the students get to choose what they want to learn, they are given a choice in the matter.
  2. Individualization – He pointed out that this just cannot happen in our current system. If we were to try and teach every single child as an individual and educate them as such in our public schools, the system would just collapse. There aren’t enough resources or time the way the system is set up.
  3. A Bottom-Up organization. You don’t have to recreate the wheel, but you can create education models around your child – not create a model and than fit all children into it.
  4. Age mixing – such as with co-ops and commonwealths. This allows children to mentor one another, it eliminates the competition, and “is the greatest solution to parent burn out.” (I don’t do co-ops at this point, although I know the leader of one that I’ve heard is pretty darn good. Hi, Heather!)

BOOK RECOMMENDATION: “The Element: How Finding Your Passion Changes Everything” by Sir Ken Robinson. Check it out. So will I.

He talked about a boy, Logan, who has found his element and studies his passion. I can’t get the video to embed, but here is the link for this kid’s Tedtalk.

(And at this point I can’t read my notes very well… sorry about that.)

Mr. Boyack used Angry Birds, his son’s passion, to help teach his child math, physics, writing, art, and basically everything else. He took what his child was passionate about at the time and made the learning relevant to the child, instead of telling the child what he had to learn. Mr. Boyack said, connect the learning to the student’s language and the student’s world. Speak to them and attach all learning to the passion.

Encourage creativity. Nurture it and let it flourish. Be the farmer – don’t tell the seed how and when and what to grow, but provide the elements and the atmosphere and nurture is\ so that the seed can¬†really grow into what it is supposed to be. Not in our language, but in the child’s language. Not coercion to learn, but opportunity to learn. Identify the child’s passion – and if they don’t have one of their own yet then expose them to lots of different things and give them freedom to explore (also realizing that their passion’s will change over time.) Then offer educational resources and experiences built around the child and the passion. -Don’t be the authority, be the facilitator.

Ok, here is where Mr. Boyack stops and I start.

I thoroughly enjoyed and appreciated this workshop. I gained tons of valuable insight and understanding. Upon self reflection – and actually I started thinking about this after I attended a presentation a few weeks ago – I realized I needed to give my children more opportunity to discover on their own as opposed to having me sit with them the entire time. They need more time to figure things out without me being there and ready to supply the answers. (I’m not horrible at this, but there is room for improvement.)

However, Mr. Boyack said at one point in the presentation that he was not worried about his children not being “well-rounded.” He said, who cares if your child doesn’t like history or science.

I care.

Let me rephrase that. I care that they understand history and science. I don’t care if it is their favorite subject. But I care greatly that they learn it!

Maybe if I had different children I would have a different opinion – out of necessity and the retention of my sanity. But when I introduce new topics and new areas of study that I feel are important for my children to learn, we all love it! They are excited about it. They want to know more about it. They ask questions about it. Obviously they are excited about some topics more than others, but I asked my kids not too long ago what their favorite school subject was and my oldest answered, “well, math, and history, and science, and Latin, and handwriting.” (I don’t think he included grammar!) He enjoyed all of it (almost).

At this point my children are very eager to learn. And so I expose them to as much as possible. We go broad for awhile and then in areas I feel are more important we go deep as well. As they get older I will narrow things down a bit – for instance in history. And then we will go much deeper. I feel education should be enriching and understanding the world around us (all aspects of it) greatly increases how much one enjoys and appreciates the world at large. It is enriching to know what the stars are up above. It is enriching to know how the little seeds grow. It is enriching to understand and appreciate great art and music. And it is enriching to solve complex problems. It is enriching to be able to see the world through someone else’s eyes.

But here is where I feel I need to add more passion-driven education into my homeschool. As they get older, and have an understanding of the world and humanity, I want them to find a passion and immerse themselves in it. In the last week my oldest has rekindled his passion for falcons (because he read “My Side of The Mountain” again) and he bought a little birds of prey book and seriously didn’t let go of it for days. And I encouraged that completely. In fact, we made a plan to head up to the local aviary so he could see these birds he’s so interested in in person. (See! Look at me facilitating! Go me.) And then he pulled out a crystal growing kit he got for Christmas (like, 2 years ago!) and wanted to do that. So we did. And he pulled out his rock collection and a couple of books on minerals that we have and tried to identify all his rocks. And we looked at them together. And so his passion for that day was rocks.

I completely encourage all of that. And as they get older, I’ll let them pick a passion and make that a personal study for them. They can learn all they want about it, I will facilitate in every way. And then they can teach us about it too. ¬†(And honestly they can do that now too, if they want, but that will be on their own time.) In the middle school ages we will cover the basics in greater depth than before, but then I will get out of their way for the rest of their “school” and let them follow their passion.

But first I feel they need a foundation. First they need to know all the great things that are out there. How can you specialize if you haven’t even seen the options? First, they must learn how to learn. Then they can take that knowledge and that passion and just go with it.

But for now, in the very early years when everything is still so interesting, ¬†during the school year when it is “school” there are things I feel are very important for them to learn and I’m going to teach it whether they like it or not. I just don’t feel comfortable leaving gaps where I feel the information is vital.

Furthermore, I don’t know how to teach math without a book in front of me. If you had to ask me to line up a bunch of math concepts that kids need to know, I would be able to cover the basics, but there are a ton of things I would leave out. I don’t feel comfortable leaving things out like that. You know, leaving MATH out.

Maybe that is this guy’s point, though. Teach them the math concepts they need to know for what they want to learn. I mean, he was teaching his little kid algebra with Angry Birds concepts because that is where the conversation lead them. (but then what about all the other math concepts? leave out the rest? Here, I hesitate.)

Anyway, you can see how I really agree with him on a lot of stuff, but also my personal philosophy on general education prohibits me from actually following his guidance completely. ¬†And I’m good with that. And I’m sure he is good with that too. The great thing about homeschoolers (not that there is only one thing) is that we are an accepting bunch. We all agree that parent’s know their children best and are the authority over their own children. And with that belief in mind we don’t criticize parent’s for teaching in a way we personally wouldn’t teach our own children.

Connor Boyack’s 9th (or maybe 10th) book is coming out in a couple of months. It is called Passion-Driven Educaton: How to Use Your Child’s Interest to Ignite a Lifelong Love of Learning. I’m going to probably check that one out, too.