“I love you, you love me….” These lyrics played in my head for years as I worked with one of my clients, the then music producer for Barney and Friends. (Please don’t hold this against me.) I served both as his publicist and as the “studio mom” who booked kid singers for rehearsals and entertained them during breaks. And if I discovered one thing during that gig, it was this: I needed to revise my stereotypical view of home-schooled kids. Maybe some youngsters end up socially inept due to lack of interpersonal contact from learning at home, but I sure didn’t meet any of them. No, I met kids who could commit to acting and singing and creating because they had flexible class schedules and spent zero time lining up and waiting their turn for bathroom trips. These kids knew storylines from Gulliver’s Travels to Robin Hood (they even knew there was a version of the latter before the one with tights). And the biggest surprise: they had serious social skills like saying “please” and “thank you” to each other and looking grown-ups in the eye while conversing about how Maid Marian roamed through the woods dressed as a page.
As part of my job, I also met the brilliant home educators behind the kids, parents deeply committed to teaching their children about botany by taking them to real forests and history by actual walking tours of Boston and panning for gold in California. Before long, I developed radar for super-geek home educators; I always loved asking what they were learning.
Although I’ve long since changed careers, I’ve continued to pick the brains of home educators. And one of my favorites is Erin Teske. If I could have attended any schools in the world, I would have gone to Erin Teske Elementary, Erin Teske Middle School, and Erin Teske High School. Her kids did the. coolest. stuff.
A few years ago, Rhonda, Erin (mother of Ellie), and I embarked on a Art-geek trip through Italy. From our base in Vicenza, we explored Florence, Padua/Milan, and Venice—with each of us responsible for one city. Rhonda took Milan, I took Venice, and Erin took Florence. And holy cow! Erin found us a hotel on the river’s edge near the city center with a terrace on the roof. (When Rhonda discovered the terrace and announced it with some exuberance, we thought she was saying there was a terrorist on the roof—but that’s another story.) In that city, thanks to Erin’s lesson plan, we “learned by seeing” about the transition from medieval to Renaissance art by observing our way through Giotto in the Brancucci Chapel, the Uffizi, and the Pitti Palace.
I give you all this background to say this: when Erin recommends a book about self-education, I listen. And recently she give two thumbs up to one: Teaching How to Learn in a What-to-Learn Culture, by Kathleen Ricards Hopkins. Hopkins draws on up-to-date research about how people learn and provides how-tos for helping students develop as readers, writers, and mathematicians. But it’s not just for people seeking to educate geeklet spawns. Geeks themselves can benefit from learning how to help themselves learn.