Thursday, February 12, 2009

Guerrilla Learning: How to Give Your Child a Real Education With or Without School

Book Review by Cori S. Bird

Guerrilla Learning: How to Give Your Child a Real Education With or Without School
by Grace Llewellyn and Amy Silver

Recently a friend and fellow homeschooler asked me if I am a revolutionary at heart. As homeschoolers we naturally all have some degree of revolutionary in us. If we didn’t we wouldn’t have chosen to go against the status quo and keep our kids home so we could take control of their education. In the interest of continuing my own at-home education, a few weeks ago I read Guerrilla Learning. I chose it because of its covert sounding title; it seemed so subversive. How could my “inner-revolutionary” not be attracted?

The authors freely admit the book is not intended for those already homeschooling, citing an effect of preaching to the choir. They want to reach the millions of public schoolers in our country simply because that is the path chosen by the overwhelming majority. To this end, they offer much in the way of analysis of our current public education system, through both historical support and real-life examples. The authors are quick to give credit for the term “guerrilla” learning to John Taylor Gatto, a former teacher in the public school system and outspoken advocate against that system. Especially intriguing is the information regarding the foundation on which our public school system was laid. Llewellyn and Silver examine the aspects of public school that make it counterproductive toward real learning. Public schools “decontextualize information,” “higher level skills are neither taught nor tested,” and “the compliant are favored over the willful.”

Llewellyn and Silver hold up a mirror in which parents may recognize their sneaking suspicions of a standard public school education that isn’t providing “enough” for their children. “You don’t think there’s anything especially wrong with your kids’ teachers or their school – but you want more for them. More learning, more growth, more inspiration, more opportunity….”

Interestingly, the authors don’t demand all parents should keep their kids home, rather they offer the viewpoint that we should let go of the idea that learning takes place only in school. Instead, they propose, view school as only a small part of the whole. Get rid of our hang-ups about grades, standardized tests, and competitive classrooms. Show our children that while we may opt for the public school system, we need not make them slaves to it.

In keeping with that theory, the authors continue by providing readers with the “five keys to learning” in order to equip us with the tools to free our children and ourselves. As parents, they tell us, we have the right and the responsibility to facilitate the real learning that is necessary for the rich lives of our children. The “keys” as indicated by the authors are opportunity, timing, interest, freedom, and support. The authors first enumerate the “five keys” and then spend time providing descriptions and examples of each. Llewellyn and Silver include exercises at the end of each chapter for both parent and child. The exercises are intended to provide an understanding of the keys and insight into how each works and could be implemented. Readers are challenged, for instance, to remember a subject about which they had no interest and had to learn as compared to a subject in which they had much interest and wanted to learn. The outcome of the experiences is obvious. It is our job as parents to recognize when our child shows an interest in learning, and to provide the freedom and support for that child to pursue it.

Although the book is geared toward public schoolers, I found Guerrilla Learning not only an enjoyable read, but one worthy of parents on any educational path. Llewellyn and Silver have written a book that offers valuable information about our country’s public school system. They have provided a concept of supplementing, even circumventing if necessary, that system for the enrichment of the whole child. They have attempted to equip the reader with the tools necessary to implement that concept. With the tools the authors provide, a reader can truly begin the construction work of a real education. To quote Silver and Llewellyn, “In a nutshell, guerrilla learning means taking responsibility for your own education.” That revolution sounds good to me.

first published at the original KS Homeschool website, June 2006

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