Topics Discussed

This page lists topics discussed here, on Homeschooling – Trinidad and Tobago, in a basic web ‘Blog’ format.  The articles or ‘Posts’ are arranged here in chronological order with the most recent at the top just below this text.  Each article or Post is associated with a Category or Topic.  At the top of the ‘Sidebar’ on the right, these categories are listed as ‘Topics Discussed’ and can be used to navigate among the different articles posted within each topic or sub-topic.  Thus there are two ways in which one can navigate through the posted articles: either chronologically, by using this page; or by category using the ‘Topics Discussed’ tree in the Sidebar.

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Some takes on success

Many times we, as parents, state what we want for our children. And, more often than not, we say that we want them to be happy and successful; happy and successful — as if happiness was not enough. And maybe, to be true to ourselves, it really isn’t. It isn’t because our egos want our children to be successful so that their success will mean we were good parents; so that we can be proud of our children. How then do we define success? Many may say that their children would be successful if they have good careers (which can be tongue in cheek for ‘if they make a lot of money’ (or at least more money than our friends’ children). Others may define success as not having to ‘want’ for anything. I am yet to meet such a person. I lie. There are some who have given their lives over to charity who want for little and seem content with less. Even though we admire those Saint Theresas among us, very few of us want our children to follow such a path. To us, such a path of austerity and self-sacrifice is a difficult life and we do not want our children to experience such hardship.

The philosophy at what defines success is broad an open-ended and I digress from the point I wished make. So let me drag myself back to what we think as success for our children and the danger that this poses. We are all fully acquainted with the concept of a child pursuing a career which he or she thinks will make one or both parents happy. The movies are filled with variations on this theme. What I want to look at is something more hidden, but a bit more sinister and one which I have never seen depicted on the silver screen. In fact, it is a concept that is so hard to put into words that I will have to employ some illustration. I know of three successful young people who have committed suicide even though they had the most promising and ‘successful’ careers. A cousin of a friend of mine was a successful accountant who migrated to Canada years ago and married a Canadian who bore two of his beautiful children. The marriage ended in divorce. She got the children. He could not take the stress and gassed himself in his garage with the car engine running. Maybe he could not handle his picture perfect future with his kids being shattered. Who knows? The son of a colleague of a cousin of mine committed suicide at twenty-five. He was a medical doctor at twenty two working at the Port of Spain General Hospital. Another successful accountant, the only son of a past government Minister in Trinidad and Tobago, committed suicide at a well known hotel in 2005. Why? The answer is stress in one form or another. These cases may be extreme, but there are many people in successful careers who are unhappy in some way or cannot handle the stress that ‘life’ may throw at them. In fact, most people are subconsciously unhappy and are not even aware of it.

If you need to escape from the stresses of your job or life so that you ‘have’ to go to a pub to take a drink, or to watch a movie, or some such thing to de-stress from your job or any of life’s hassles on a regular basis, then you have a serious problem.

I think I have reached the place where I wish to state what I want for my children. Yes, like all parents, I want them to be happy; and yes I want them to be successful, but by success I mean for them to get a handle on life – a handle which I am only now beginning to perceive, far less have a strong grip on it. It is very hard to put this into words. I want my children to question everything – everything! I want them to search for the meaning of life and the truth of why we are here. This may sound idealistic and overly philosophical and the rant of a madman (which maybe it is), but I want them to look at life in its face from very early. I do not want them to brush aside the real underlying issues and close one’s mind to the real problems just because we cannot truly wrap our minds around them. I believe they will be better humans if they do. I pray that God will give me the courage to pursue this and not give up. And, I believe that educating one’s children away from compulsion and imbibed in love is the beginning. I believe that trusting my child has a lot to do with trusting my God.

I want my child to be a better person than I am…

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Compulsion in education

One of the problems with educating a child in a conventional school is the issue of compulsion. In order for a teacher to complete her lesson plans so that the school supervisor will see that she is sticking to the syllabus and following the curriculum, she must ‘make’ her students do what most of them have no interest in doing. In other words, compulsion is necessary. Many of our teachers here in Trinidad are very aware that this has a negative impact on a child’s real education, but they have to please the Ministry of Education. The Ministry of the Education in turn has to get better results at SEA, CXC, CAPE or what have you. It’s a vicious, self-defeating, self-perpetuating, cycle; and like any cycle it leads to nowhere.

Compulsion takes all the fun out of learning. I remember, as an adult when I was seeking to further my studies in I.T., a field which I loved, I found it extremely difficult to read my texts and cover my work simply because I had to. It is very difficult to psychoanalyze oneself, but I believe that my distaste for these school books came from the childhood trauma of compulsion in the name of education. Einstein noted that, “It is, in fact, nothing short of a miracle that the modern methods of instruction have not yet entirely strangled the holy curiosity of inquiry; for this delicate little plant, aside from stimulation, stands mainly in need of freedom; without this it goes to wreck and ruin without fail. It is a grave mistake to think that the enjoyment of seeing and searching can be prompted by means of coercion and a sense of duty. On the contrary, I believe that it would be possible to rob even a healthy beast of prey of its voraciousness, if it were possible, with the aid of a whip, to force the beast to devour continuously, even when not hungry, especially if the food handed out under such coercion were to be selected accordingly”.

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The Arts

I think exposure to The Arts, should be done at an early age. When I use the term ‘The Arts’ I mean in all forms: art, music, dance, etc. In this article I lean towards music because it is my personal bias.

Our approach to education here, at Home Schooling -Trinidad and Tobago has one underlying tone – freedom to learn. So, all that a parent needs to do is to take a cue from the child and follow up on interests expressed by him or her. The child’s environment is normally naturally rich with such exposure. It is easy to feed his curiosity for many things. He may want to examine how the fan works; what his mom is doing on the computer; what his dad is doing in the kitchen; what his uncle is doing with his head under the car bonnet /hood… Once treated properly, he will learn naturally.

However, due to the decline of the Arts in our local community over the years we may have to artificially stimulate the child by creating a slightly unnatural artistic environment. In the old days, when electricity was not so ubiquitous, people actually used to play instruments. My uncle told me stories of how some of his friends were in a three-man band and he used to go ‘liming’ with them even though he did not play any instrument. This was more common then that it is today. Today, our either of ‘playing’ music is depressing the ‘play’ button on the MP3 player.

Many parents rightly recognize the need to give their child early exposure to music and send them to piano classes. I was no exception. While the intention is good, it is apt to fail more than succeed as the child gets older and the ‘novelty’ wears off because of the same problem with our approach to academic education i.e. compulsion.

With my own children, I knew what I had to do: get a piano – not an electronic keyboard, but an acoustic piano. The reason is that once children figure out how to make these electronic keyboards play for themselves they cease to experiment with the actual notes the keys make and go straight for the automation. Knowing this, I searched and searched, but failed to find a piano under TT$12,000. I just couldn’t afford it. I capitulated. I bought two keyboards, first a new one from the music shop for under TT$1000 and another, used, but nicer for TT$500. I placed one at home and one at my office where my kids would be able to access them. And true to form, the idea failed. They quickly learned how to play the automated songs and abandoned real musical experimentation. I wish there were some ‘child safety’ mechanism to turn the automation off.

So, now, almost one year later and TT$1,500 poorer, I am no closer to achieving the objective as they get older – would somebody give me a piano! Wait, what am I saying? I do not need a piano. Why did I want a piano? I wanted a piano because it is the easiest professional grade instrument for a child to play without great manual dexterity, with the exception of a pan. So then, if I can’t afford a piano, why don’t I just get a pan? Isn’t writing out your thoughts great? I just (yes at this moment) realized that I had focused on piano classes, because ‘I’ have a preference for them to learn piano over pan. I have let that preference blindside me to this solution here. The idea is for them to get exposed to a musical instrument, and I guess any instrument will do. My personal preference is the guitar and I have a couple now, but can’t play any well even though I’ve been trying off and on for more than thirty years – that’s a long story. Guess I have to save up some money to buy at least one pan by early 2011.

Anyway back to the teaching of music to young children. The key (pardon the pun) to getting them to learn an instrument is: freedom to experiment; being surrounded by someone who can play well; and also someone else who is trying to learn. The rest will just happen give time. If it doesn’t, then it will be no use forcing – we are not all the same. For me, it would mean learning their instrument along with them, even while I stay struggling with guitar. Boy, am I glad I wrote this article. And again, the more we network as parents, the greater would be the positive exposure and the better it would be for our children.

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Teaching mathematics to young children

Many people have what they term ‘a block’ when it comes to mathematics and I was no exception. I avoided math all the way to university, where it caught up with me. There, with the help and direction of two teachers who loved their jobs (Shelton Nicholls – now Dr. and deputy governor of the Central Bank of Trinidad and Tobago, and Sase Narine – still a teacher at a South Trinidad Secondary) I was able to make some headway (for the details you can contact me, but it would be too much for this article). Still though, I’m no mathematician.

Neuroscientists could find biological proof as to why some people are good at math and some aren’t; you know, the right-brain /left-brain stuff and related genetic reasons. However, I gave it some thought recently and I believe that they way math is taught to young children could be a contributing factor. It is only as an adult when I got into computer technology and tried to understand more about how processors worked that I discovered a basic truth about mathematics that few people consider i.e. in mathematics there is really only one operator in operation. We were all thought the four operators or four ‘rules of number’: addition, subtraction, multiplication and division. However, the other three operators are just contrivances or speedy ways to use addition. When you minus a number from another you are really adding a negative number to it. Multiplication is really repetitive positive addition and division, repetitive negative addition. On the facetious side, regardless of how smart you think your computer is, all it can do is add.

This may seem a simple thing at first and many educators would think that it would be harder to teach the concept of negative numbers, etc to a child. That may be true, but it may help with relieving a whole lot of frustration later on. I remember trying to learn all sorts of contorted artificial rules such as: two minuses make a plus with the answer (the sum) taking the sign of the larger number; when you multiply like signs the answer (the product) is positive; and a host of rather unnatural rules that confuse many of us at that time. The rules might be good later on, to speed up the thought process after one gets a handle on it, not before the one internalizes. Mathematics is a natural thing like speech and language. It is a logical extension of the thought process and similar to what an author goes through when he tries to put keyboard to monitor (or pen to paper if you prefer). In fact, many of the great mathematicians such as Descartes and Pythagoras were philosophers trying to make sense out of what they saw around them. One interesting way to teach multiplication might be using what is known as the Chinese multiplication ‘trick’. For more info on that you can just do a Google or visit youtube for a video. Also we might want to take a look at the abacus. It would be nice if we, as parents, can put our heads together on this one.

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We are unique – our curriculum is not

It is a moot point to argue that each of one of our almost seven billion people on planet earth is unique.  This is true not only of our physical markers such as fingerprints or retinae blood vessels, but also of our psychological makeup.  Even this varies through time with our bio-rythyms.   So much so, that we commonly hear someone say that he is a morning person or a night person depending on when he feels the most energy.  Why then, do our curricula treat all as one?  The answer is easy: it is convenient to do so.  I mean, how else could it be done?  As I wrote elsewhere, it’s not the fault of the curricula designers, no curriculum can cater for the differences of every single child.  It just cannot be done.  Sure we can categorise children into different learning groups and label them as slow learners, bright kids, or whatever, but “all in all it’s just another brick in the wall”.

Learning takes place best when it is conducive – period.  At one point in time the body /mind may feel  like learning something mechanical, another something artsy; sometimes linguistic and yet another time, mathematical.  I think it is important to incorporate this concept into the education of our children.  It’s no work really, you don’t have to figure their moods or anything out.  You can’t.  Just pick up on their signals and try to work with it when you can.  It is not all that difficult.  Approach it the way Sun Tzu recommended that one approach battle in the Art of War. He states that it is futile to plan for every eventuality; just be informed as you can; equipped as you can; and as flexible as you can; move forward with a positive mind.

On the pragmatic side, if your child is old enough to assist you in what you are doing, or have to do, at any point and needs your assistance to do something else, suggest that you all can finish your task first together and then you’ll be able to move onto what he or she wants.  There are no rules, only room for creativity.  It might be poignant to refer to the old Biblical proverb, “…incline thine ear unto wisdom and apply thine heart to understanding

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Tips: Do’s and Don’ts

This is a simple list of Do’s and Don’ts with respect to Home Schooling.  Neither is exhaustive by any means and I hope to add to them as comments and recommendations are submitted. 

DO’s:

Do give them time to play and be themsleves.
Try to give your children space and time to do what they want, not always what we want them to do. They need more of a creative environment rather than benovelent direction. Provide, as much as you can, a creative environment with lots of stuff /apparatus, but don’t be too disappointed if they don’t use any of it. For more on this, see the article “Helping your child find a career” under Home Schooling – Tips

Do let them help around the house.
Even though the young ones might not complete the task the way you would like, let them participate. Let them get a little dirty. There are disposable gloves, dust masks and sun-block. I wish they would have more kid sizes of protective wear, but we can improvise.

Do let your children interupt you from time to time.
Many times you’re doing something from which you do not want to be distracted, then up comes a young one with questions. Stop, take time, can you really not attend to her questions now? Many times it’s simple and easily dealt with, but don’t just give a hurried answer. If you have to, take a note of it and attend to it properly later.

DON’Ts:

Don’t always tell them no.
It’s easy to say no, but you shouldn’t use it just to save time or get you off the hook.

Don’t always tell them “I don’t know”If you don’t know then tell them so, but do not use it as a cop out. You should try to find out. Better yet, if it is possible let them work with you on ‘finding out’.

Don’t praise your child for every accomplishment.
It’s natural for any parent to praise a child for accomplishments or favourable actions, more of which we would like to see. It seems natural as the flip side to punishment or disapproval for things we would like to discourage. However, one must be very careful of this. This can easily turn your child into a ‘people pleaser’. I am very guilty of this. So much so that my kids now look to me and their mom for praise for almost everything. I have created ‘look at me daddy’ children. When properly examined, one can see that it is largely brought about by our own egos. This is a syndrome of which one has to be conscious and make an effort to stymie — the earlier the better. This point needs much more thorough discussion than the space available in a simple “Don’t” and I promise to write an article on it soon. In the meantime, you can do your own research. However, the material is not plentiful as this goes counter to our modern western culture. A good starting point is Naomi Aldort’s article, “Getting out of the Way” (http://www.authenticparent.com/articles3.html).

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Patterns of intelligence

“How is it that little children are so intelligent and men so stupid?  It must be education that does it”. (Alexandre Dumas)

The above quote may be passed over as just some witty comment, but on closer examination it may reveal a great deal of truth.  After a lot of personal observation, much discussion with parents and some serious research, I have noticed that there is what I call a ‘pattern of intelligence’ that occurs in the childhood of many.   It goes like this.  Many adults who spend time around little children from roughly ages three to six are amazed at the children’s level intelligence (whatever yardstick the adults use).  You often hear it said, “Wow! She sure is smart; she just used that complex word in the correct context, blah, blah, blah…”  Within a couple years, however, that same child is now presenting the adults with ‘developmental challenges’ such as she won’t do her home work; forgotten things she has just learnt; and the list goes on…  ‘So-called professionals’ discount the parents’ prior amazement at the child’s intelligence as just an ‘everybody thinks their children are geniuses’ phenomena and conclude that the child really has learning problems, etc. 

Personally, I don’t think so.  What if the child’s normal inquistive intelligence, which is as unique to each child as her retinae blood vessels or her fingerprints, was ‘beaten’ (I don’t mean physically) out of her by some system.  A system which we all know has flaws, but which we perpetuate because it’s the only way we know.  Let me draw analogy at this point. It was only until the 1990s that it was accepted that the majority of stomach ulcers are caused by a bacterium.  The scientists discovering this were for years ridiculed by their peers before it was gradually accepted, even though the proof was in front the faces of their peers.  One of the lead scientists doing the research actually drank a cocktail with the cultured bacteria; gave himself a stomach ulcer; then remedied it with anti-biotics; and still, his colleagues would not believe him. Hey, you remember when the earth was flat? The analogy is instrumental in the understanding of what is happening to our children, and by extension, our society.  Are we just going to go with the flow, because we can’t see a direct way to fix it, ‘steups’, throw up our hands and capitulate? Are we going to take the path of least resistance and let our child’s intelligence be subject to the onslaught of our ignorance? Look at the Parliament Channel and see what we have as a result of that apathy.

I believe God created us not only to help those who cannot help themselves, but also to wonder at his creation; to marvel at it; try to explain it; and to unlock its secrets – this cannot be achieved by forced curricula, no matter how well intentioned.  Unfortunately, many of us are caught between ‘a rock and a hard place’ as the Americans say.  We sigh and then try to convince ourselves that it’s okay.  We say, “Well we survived it, so it can’t be that bad, and we’re doing pretty OK”.  Are we really?

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Our Priorities

I have been reflecting on our priorities. By ‘our’ I mean we as a nation, a region and by extension, a planet. Who are our heroes? It is clear that people in the media light become easily worshipped: actors, musicians and sports-persons. But why, why are we so shallow? It is not to berate these personalities. I believe in sports and the Arts as fantastic tools for our development. However, one hardly hears about or remember the people who have made discoveries in trying to alleviate the problem of the human condition.

Locally, ask the average school child who is Machel Montano, George Bovell or Brian Lara and they are sure to give you some feedback. Not so if you ask them about Professor Joseph Lennox Pawan or Anil Kokaram. Pawan was the Trinidadian doctor who was able to prove that rabies could be spread by bats and was also able to isolate the virus. His discoveries, through hard work and determination has saved countless lives. Kokaram received an Oscar in 2007 for his work in digitally restoring (re-mastering) old movie footage.  Further afield, no one has ever heard of Grigori Perelman who submitted a proof for the Poincairé Conjecture that was verified in 2006 and was awarded a US$1,000,000 prize in 2010, which he declined.

Could it be that traditional schooling has ‘dumbed us’ down so much that we are now like cattle, following where ever the media point us?  Or maybe not, Christ came into Jerusalem on the Hosannas of the mob, but was murdered by them within the week because they could not understand his higher objectives.  “There are none so blind as those who will not see”.

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Helping your child find a career

It is important to like what you do to make a living.  It’s likely that you will spend most of your waking hours doing it.  If you have a career where you just wait for Fridays to reach, then you have a serious problem.

Now some people are lucky, they figure out what they like early, are good at it, and they make a good living.  Such a guy is Evan Wilson, a fellow student of mine at St. Mary’s College way back in the seventies.  He always loved aircraft.  I remember him in form two telling me the differences in the under-carriages of almost every fighter plane of World War II, from the Japanese Zeroes and Nazi Messerschmitts to the British Spitfires and American Mustangs.  He is now a pilot.

Others, like myself, like one thing, but are good at another.  If  you child is stuck in such a situation, let him focus on the thing he likes first and use the thing he’s good at as an option, unless of course, he really hates it.

To understand how important this is, let us create a scenario.  Take two guys, Fred and Jack.  Jack makes twice the amount of money as Fred.  Fred does what he likes, but Jack does not.  They both invested their life’s savings in CLICO.  Now that CLICO’s bust and they’ve both lost their life savings, Fred can look back and at least be happy that he did what he liked all these years – poor Jack!

So, the question is how do you help your child choose.  It’s not an easy task, but try to expose them to as much options as possible.  Let me tell you what I’ve been doing.  When my first daughter was four, she hit her elbow really hard and asked me about the elbow bone.  I tried to tell her that there was no real ‘elbow’ bone, but that there was a biological definition blah, blah, blah.  Rather than me try to explain and bore her and her little sister, who also fell into the conservation, I ordered a two foot high anatomically correct model skeleton off the Internet.   When it arived, they were all exited at first and helped me assemble and disassemble it a couple of times, but it is in one of the cupboards for now.  Still, it makes a reappearance every once in a while and who knows…

We sometimes watch BBC nature documentaries together and they became interested in finding out where on earth were these exciting places.  After some demonstration with a 12 inch diameter Pricesmart Repogle globe, I realized it was too small and ordered an inflatable 27 incher.  It has gone the way of the skeleton, but at least it’s there should we need it.  Of late they have shown an interest in listening to heartbeats.  My next mission? Remembering to ask one of my doctor friends if they’re willing to part with any of their old stethoscopes.  My first daughter loves flowers.  This Christmas vacation I’m planning to let her spend some time in the flowershop of a friend. 

Get the picture?

This is why it is important to network with other homeschoolers in Trinidad Tobago.

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Parents: Their Relationship and Occupations

As stated in an earlier article titled “Can I be a homeschooler?”, the personality of at least one parent is the major factor affecting the decision to home school.  I suppose then, the second major factor would be the relationship of a child’s parents, their occupations and external support systems like grandparents or aunts.   Wouldn’t it be great if we could all be millionaires, not have to work and spend time homeschooling our children?  Maybe not :)   The truth is things are seldom what we want them to be.

Let’s first examine the relationship between the parents. Of course, it would be best if both parents were together, living under the same roof and seeing eye to eye.   This may not be the case, and if it was, it may change at anytime.  If you are in a strained relationship with your spouse it would be best to seek counselling.  In the words of Brian Skinner, a former counsellor, and an overall great guy, “the best thing parents can do for their children is to love each other”.

I have examined broken homes and though it seems that young children are resilient little beings and not really affected by separation of their parents, in the long run it is hardly ever so. (“The sins of the parents are visited upon the children unto the third and fourth generations”).  If you feel that you are the one that is doing all the giving in the relationship and that you are being used and abused, and that there is no ‘love’ any more, contrary to what holds today, I say: stick it out.  Pray and bend over backwards.  As Gandhi-ji would say, “…pocket the insult”.  Or, as my little three year old (at the time) looked at me and enquired,  “Jessie? (that’s her nickname for me: Jessie - the central character in the Free Willie movie) Jessie, you give up? Don’t give up nah Jessie, don’t give up”.

The combination of parent relationship, occupations and external support systems are numerous, some are: both parents together, seeing eye to eye with only one working; both parents together, but not seeing eye to eye with only one working; both parents together, seeing eye to eye, both working, but with an external support system; single parent with a felxible occupation and an external support system; and single parent, inflexible job and no external support.

With respect to making the decision to home school the first scenario is ideal (both parents together, seeing eye to eye with only one working) while the last scenario (single parent, inflexible job and no external support) is the least favourable.

We have no easy solution for these problems, but we think that if our network of homeschoolers or those interested in home schooling grows in a productive manner, then our options, especially for those in the least favourable category can widen.

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