math 1

"I'm starving for math problems!!!" -- Noah, in response to my grousing at being expected to come up with math problems at 10:00 pm which is frankly past my bedtime.

Noah likes math. I've been very protective of this. It bothers me when people try to quiz him so they can place some sort of judgment on his abilities, or as a kind of game that they can set up so that they're the "winner" -- showing their cleverness in exposing his ignorance. Or when they try to teach him a certain technique. Both of these things interfere with his internal motivation and enjoyment and intuition. When quizzed he'll get nervous and stutter and his creative brain process shuts down. Suddenly, he's not so brilliant. That might not be apparent to those who aren't around him all the time, but the difference between his reaction to unsolicited questioning and judging and his normal sparkle and enthusiasm and innate genius is huge. It makes me wonder how many like him are not able to realize their potential because of the relentless teaching that goes on in school. He is such a classic example of how teaching can be harmful, and it just kills me that a whole society of people will never see it because the conditions that expose that truth would never be allowed, due to the near universal fear that people won't learn what they need to unless others constantly take them in hand and tell them to learn, and how, and when.

Yesterday he asked me how many seconds are in an hour, because he wanted to know how many seconds it would be until Scott got home from work. Not thinking very hard, I said, "three hundred and sixty." He protested, "That can't be right!" And I sheepishly agreed with him. I can be wrong. It's crucial for the development of their critical reasoning ability that the kids feel safe to question me and disagree with me and mentally work things out for themselves rather than feel they're supposed to just take my word for it and follow my lead unquestioningly.

One of the most damaging effects of school on me was the lesson that it is foolhardy to ask for clarification, and exponentially more so to question the expert's pronouncements, because you will be humiliated whether you're right or wrong. As Ken Robinson points out, children are taught to be afraid of making mistakes, and that is an enormous hindrance to creativity and self-motivation. The expert/novice dynamic is the backbone of the schooling model, and this has behavioral repercussions.

Noah is probably not actually working at "grade level" as the state defines it. But this is meaningless to us; grade standards are arbitrary and the only real benefit is that keeping up with them helps students to continue to keep up with the teacher's pace. The real issue is, what is lost in the demand to hold to an externally-enforced schedule? How many kids are awed when you show them multiplication by the column method on paper, or how to check equality of fractions? When Noah was six it would have been for him no more than rules for making pencil scratchings that happened to please adults. It would have had no meaning for him other than that. But because he's been allowed to roll numbers around in his head for fun, thus allowing him to develop an intuitive understanding of their relationships, math is fascinating to him, wondrous. What a terrible loss it would have been for him, for his brain, not to experience it in that way. Which is one reason why I am adamantly opposed to educational standardization and why I will not permit the state to define "proper" learning for my children.

joseph chilton pearce

Joseph Chilton Pearce, from What Babies Want:
These ancient encoded wisdoms and powers and strengths that are released at the moment of birth. I had read about this, but I had never delivered one of my own until twenty years ago, and I had grown children then and I think 8 or 9 grand children by then, but I had another child of my own and I delivered it, I mean I was the only other person present at his birth, the child’s mother delivered it. But I was stunned and astonished at the tremendous energy that filled that whole house, the house shook with that energy and it was an awesome near mystical experience for me, I would say that it was the closest thing to a wide awake mystical experience that I had ever had. Those of us who have delivered our children and made that contact ourselves know that it is an invitation to the greatest intimacy that life ever affords us, offered in that moment; and the infant is the one that offers that total vulnerable intimacy, and if we do not meet it, then the infant feels betrayed by the world, and so they’re coming into a world they can’t trust because it does not meet their most critical need right at that point
And from Magical Child, Chapter 10: Establishing the Matrix:
She conceives because she wants to create life, as her intent drives her. Her pregnancy is then first in her life and the source of her strength and calm. She knows the creative thrust of life supports her, that she is acting with the flow and has the strength of that flow. A husband may prove vital to this calm confidence, but I have met mothers who maintained their centeredness without one. I would opt strongly for the nuclear bond. [...] The strength and support of a husband or mate is almost essential for an anxiety-free pregnancy and mothering. The role of the father as a transitional figure from mother to world, particularly after the child's second year, cannot be overstressed. I am leaving fathers out here simply because the strength and response of the mother is the issue. His strength must feed into hers and through hers to the new life. That is the way nature has designed the process.

The mother is responsible, able to respond. She responds to the needs of her body with the same respect and care she will show for her infant in and out of the womb. She responds by making her own preparations for delivery, birth, and bonding. During the last months of pregnancy, she works specifically for bonding with her unborn child. [...]

She keeps communion with the child, thinking positive and creative thoughts about him/her. They are already friends. She attends to her child, becomes aware of different movements and responses. She is, from the first signs with her, learning about her child, learning to take her cues from it and respond accordingly.

Knowing anxiety to be the great crippler of intelligence, she works purposely for a calm repose. She begins each day in quiet meditation, establishing her union with the flow of life and with her child. She closes each day in the same way and makes her time in between a living meditation, a communion and rapport, a quieting of the mind to tune in on the inner signals. She reduces all the fragmenting intentions of life to the single intent of her act of creation.

She does not indulge in doubt. She chooses what she will entertain in her mind, and she chooses confidence, which means moving with faith. She knows the contents of her mind are matters of her own choice, that anxiety contents stir adrenal steroids that are passed on to her child.

She may elect to deliver the child herself, with or without help. She does not break the even tenor of her days but continues in her life routines. She avoids the risk of serious startle or stress, knowing the adrenal flood would transfer to her infant. She prepares a proper delivery and birthing place: private, quiet, dimly lit, with no possibility of unwanted intrusion or noise. The necessities for tidying up are laid out, and a warm bath may be readied. The preliminary signals are noticed with rising anticipation and excitement, but without alarm. Relieved of the trauma of having to rush off to the hospital, she continues her routines until the final moment.

If she has help (the midwife, perhaps a doctor, and the father), they are there only for the physical delivery itself. They maintain quiet and calm, giving strength and support. Onlookers and friends distract, break the flow, set up expectancies discordant with the flow of the event. Her intent and intentions must merge into a single point of total absorption. She uses the birthing position adopted throughout the ages, squatting on her haunches or perhaps on her knees. This aligns her with the earth, with gravity, puts all her muscles into the most advantageous positions for the work at hand.. She flows with the process, a balance of stresses and relaxations.

She knows what to do by heeding the 3-billion-year biological coding built into her genes. Her knowing is not articulated, though-out, coherent, or verbal. She is just a coordinate of smooth actions. Her thought is her body action, and in this she is like a child. She is gripped by that same intensity found in deep play (skiing a dangerous slope, scaling a cliff face, fast tennis): the total attentiveness and single-mindedness of confrontation, an ultimate encounter. Every move, act, signal heeded is an unbroken flow of controlled abandon. By being responsible, she is in her power, a joyful response to a body-knowing that “breathes” her and does the proper thing at the proper time.

why I'm not a bad dancer

I was supposed to learn a series of dance moves for a performance. My friend urged me to practice with her and as I did it became apparent that I didn't know the dance moves and had to mimic her after the beat. I knew that this was why I had been placed at the back of the formation.

My first thought upon waking was: What an odd dream. Because I'm a good dancer. And then: What a powerful dream. Because what if my only experience with dance had been that of doing a kind of dance I did not find compelling; what if I had to do it not because I was interested in the dance itself but for others' interests; what if it was presented to me as something that only a certain type of people (of which I am not one) can do well; what if competition was expected and I wouldn't under any circumstances be good enough to compete at it; what if I learned it only well enough to fulfill the merest of expectations, just so I could be left alone?

If that had been my first and usual experience of dance, would I still think of myself as a good dancer?

In real life, that all actually happened for me with drama, speech, music, art, science, languages, team sports, math, and yes, even writing. Some of those things I have no present skill at and don't expect to ever have any; others, because of later intervention that undid some of the prior conditioning, I know I'm good at now on some objective level, but I still carry paralyzing self-doubt about not being good enough (for what, I'm never sure.)

But that didn't happen with dance. I love dancing, and I can recognize that I have a natural affinity for it. I'm not one of the best, certainly, but I have no concern about that. And I think it must be because I did not have the opportunity to dance until I was able to do so on my own terms, and in an environment where I was considered as capable as anyone, and where there were no external expectations (i.e. not my own) to live up to.

Up until now I was of the mind that one of the failings of schools is that there is so little attention given to the arts. But now I see that's all wrong, and it's just one more reason that the schools in their present form need to be scrapped for human potential to really be served.

stealth learning

This morning Noah was sitting very quietly in front of a page of text on the computer, which caught my attention because usually he's moving around and making sounds and using the keyboard (game playing behavior.) I asked him what he was up to, and he replied, "Reading about how Neopets got started." I said, "Oh really?!, What's it say?" He read me a bit at which point I got excited and interrupted him to run and get the video camera. In the midst of my filming him, I realized that the "clank-clank-clank" of something in the dryer was going on in the background, and I asked him to do it again but he was tired of performing. I asked him if I could put it up on my blog though and he said yes.

So without further ado, Noah reading:

In case you can't hear very well what he was reading, here it is:

Neopets® began from an idea Adam had way back in 1997 while sitting in a dingy little computer room, possibly while eating kebabs or pizza. The site was launched on November 15th 1999. Our aim is to keep adding new and exciting games, puzzles and activities daily, and hopefully keep you all entertained!!!

So: This is a nine-year-old boy who has never had any formal reading instruction, and whom we don't test. He also, as I just noted, is not a performer. So even though I probably should know better by now, I'm still a little surprised when he just up and reads something. It feels a little like, now wait a minute, when did that happen?!

math and bedtime

Noah: "Story problem, Linda, story problem!"
Linda: "Uhhh... uhhh... 150 times 4."
Noah: "That's not a story problem!"
Linda: "Noah, 10:30 at night isn't an ideal time for my brain to be working this way."
We head into Scott's room where Jake is effectively crushing him with a goodnight hug.
Noah: "Scott, story problem!"
Scott: groan
Noah: "Okay, how about a riddle?"
Linda to Scott: "What were those riddles in The Hobbit?"
Scott, rubbing eyes: "Oh, I don't know."
Noah: "Story problem, story problem!"
Linda: "How about if I write some out for you tomorrow morning."
Noah: "What if you forget?"
Linda: "I won't forget. Or I could just go get you a math workbook." [thinking of the torturous regularity with which I encountered story problems in math workbooks at school]
Noah, making horns gesture and banging head to indicate how rockin' an idea this is: "YES!"
Linda: "Great. Now let's get to bed."
Linda leaves room.
Noah: "Riddle, Scott, riddle!"
Scott: "In the morning I have four legs, in the afternoon I have two legs, and in the evening I have three legs. What am I?"
Noah, mumbling to himself: "four legs... two legs..."
Jake: "That's a hard one."
Noah: "Wait, I can figure it out. Three legs..."
Scott, eyelids drooping: "Think about it and tell me in the morning."
Noah: "Two legs..."
Jake: "It's impossible."
Scott: "Gedouddahere!"
Children scurry into bed.
Noah: "Good night Scott!"
Scott: "Rock on, Noah."