Sunday, May 5, 2013

The Educational Ecosystem

I overheard this striking aphorism the other day; words spoken by one battle-weary parent to another:
"You are only as happy as your saddest child."
Wow.  Think on that.  It packs a punch.  Those of us with multiple kids know - we are buoyed up by one child's success only to be brought down by the other's struggle.  At the end of the day, the plight of the troubled child is the last thought, the last words in our sleepy prayers for answers... for guidance.

This got me thinking about the ecosystem of families.  No family event, no family issue, arises in isolation.  Everything touches and changes everyone.   In nature if you take away something as simple as ants or bees, it can cause a collapse on a grand scale.  Correspondingly, the tragic tendrils of one child's misery can reach into every corner of family life, challenging even the most casual kitchen conversations. As parents, educators, providers, and cruise directors, we have to strike an absurd balance here.  Specifically, the task is to maximize the well-being of all family members so the ecosystem infrastructure does not rupture and so that all thrive. (This is the ancestral birthplace of heartfelt prayer!)

Thankfully, families have the ultimate superglue - love.  Love finds solutions where all else fails.  But, it is a formidable task, nevertheless.

If you think family ecosystems are complex, what of educational ecosystems?  Is a class only as good as its worst student?  Is a course only as effective as its least contributing, least interested student?  Maybe.

Ask any teacher and they will eagerly describe their trials and tribulations in the classroom.  If they have students who don't want to learn or who are disruptive, little can be done.  Like a drought or a monsoon on fertile fields, uncooperative students change everything:  the classroom atmosphere, the speed with which material can be covered, the teacher's mood, the motivation of the other students, and, of course, the learning outcome.

It is true in public schools, private schools, and home schools.

As home educators, we have checked out of the group-learning, school model, only to desperately recreate it at every turn.  We have homeschool-schools, co-ops galore, small group learning, and clubs.  We are not immune to the educational ecosystem challenges.  With the alacrity of an inborn, genetic predisposition we rush together and embrace the new ecosystems we create and all the concomitant complexities.

The metaphorical question is - how to treat an invasive species?  In nature, if long-horned beetles are spotted in a woods, the big chemical guns come out, treatment is aggressive, and many other beneficial insects and organisms are sacrificed in an effort to spare the trees.  This is imperfect but it does save the trees.  Measures like this (metaphorical only) don't work in schools.  The goal is to educate all, control the wayward, and keep everyone there ....whether they want to be there or not.  So, the invasive species is really part of the landscape, forever.  The weeds must be welcomed.

Home educators would be foolish indeed if they became saddled with the issues germane to group education.  We need to work just as hard at striking the ecological balance in our home schools, as we do in our families.  It helps to frequently revisit why we started on this journey in the first place.  For excellence, Godliness, familial ties, and freedom of choice - when we find ourselves in grave conflict with our original vision and our educational ecosystem is unbalanced,  it is time for a change.

"Nature is full of genius, full of the divinity; so that not a snowflake escapes its fashioning hand."
Thoreau