I have this class.

They are a puzzle to me.

They have been since the first day.

They are so hard to “read”—I get very few non-verbal cues to know if something is working, failing, or somewhere in the middle.

Things aren’t going bad, but I want to bump up to the spectacular zone. It’s where we should be and I can’t quite figure out how to get there.

I have been wondering all year what I have to offer them. They are incredible writers. I think each one is writing the best they can. They just wrote inaugural speeches last week that Obama SHOULD have read. What will improve their writing is time, experiences, and wisdom. My teacher edition worksheet on how to support a topic sentence will not make them better writers. They can all follow directions to complete multi-step abstract problems. They can all take any directions I give them and complete the assignment perfectly. They don’t need a lesson on comparing and contrasting. They don’t need a lesson on cause and effect, or how to graph the number of immigrants in 19th Century America. So I have been searching for something I can give them that will change them, something that they need, something that they could use right now. I keep coming up with only one answer.


That is what I can give them. Freedom from their self-imposed rules. Freedom to live outside of their protective “box.” Freedom to imagine, dream, create, experiment, make mistakes, and to take a chance on doing something that might possibly fail. I feel like doing the same thing a college professor once did to me. He simply said turn in your final exam. No topic, questions, ideas, or guidelines. I was forced to think “outside my box.” I was forced to free myself from rules that I did not even know I was following to be able to imagine, dream, and create something using my own guidelines and steps that I discovered on my own. That was in my 14th year of school. I don’t want them to wait that long.

John Holt, wrote in his 1983 edition of ‘How Children Learn’. He said: “Fish swim, birds fly; man thinks and learns. Therefore, we do not need to ‘motivate’ children into learning, by wheedling, bribing, or bullying. We do not need to keep picking away at their minds to make sure they are learning. What we need to do, and all we need to do, is bring as much of the world as we can into the school and the classroom; give children as much help and guidance as they need and ask for; listen respectfully when they feel like talking; and then get out of the way. We can trust them to do the rest.”

I believe John Holt. I also believe that school tends to take kids who think and learn naturally and make them dependent on teachers for what to think and how to learn. This year I am really struggling to un-school them, or maybe I am just a bit more anxious for them to break out of their safety zone earlier than students normally do. Each time this year I have given them some freedom and space to run, for the most part they have run right back into their “boxes.”

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