Monday, June 11, 2012

Conveyor belt: what is it really?

Recently on a forum, a homeschooling mom made a tongue-in-cheek confession that she loved a good conveyor belt.  I'm sharing with you some excerpts of my response to her :).

Remember that TJEd concept of conveyor belt education? Its where everybody hops on the belt (preschool or kindergarten), then gets the same education, at the same time and pace, without consideration of individual learning needs or interests.  At the end of the belt (eg grade 12), you get the "stamp of approval" (diploma), you hop off, and you get a job. Or go on to another conveyor belt (eg college).  In a conveyor belt model, you are told what to think. But not how to think. 

In the homeschool area, I think the conveyor belt is more of a mentality than an entity:

A mentality that the "plans" (such as a school-in-a-box curriculum) must be followed to the tee in order for real learning to occur. Or that you must have plans at all.

A mentality that we must check, check, check the items off the list, irrespective of the individual student's learning needs, desires and abilities. 

A mentality of one size fits all and the size is not dictated by you but by someone else. 

Please don't fall into that trap. Its the sure path to mommy burnout and kills any love of learning.

During a couple of my pregnancy/baby years, we used Sonlight curriculum - a packaged school-in-a-box that comes with ready-made lesson plans and a schedule for 36 full weeks of school.  This would be considered a conveyor belt, because someone else made these plans.  Yet, we loved it! The reason we loved it and why it worked was because I did not approach it with conveyor belt mentality.

I was very careful to make it work for us, and not be a slave to its plans and checklists. We didn't do all the writing assignments, grammar components, etc etc etc. and we didn't finish 36 weeks of lesson plans - nor did I ever expect that we would. Rather, we did what we loved - the reading, the mapping, the Bible memory, the running off on trails for the sake of learning. We used it as a spine and let it be a rough guide. There was no "drudgery" or "work" involved, it was pure pleasure. It inspired the kids, and because of that, we kept it up. I think many people who first buy a boxed curriculum expect to "finish" in the prescribed 36 weeks, but seasoned homeschoolers soon find out that its difficult to stick to someone else's plan and still be happy and sane by the end of the school year. We all either abandon it, or alter it, or burn ourselves out.  Same with any specific "curriculum" for individual subjects - reading, history, math, french - if you expect to get on the conveyor belt at lesson one, and require your kids to complete every. single. page. from start to finish, I think you miss a great opportunity to enjoy the ride of learning. I would bet that at some point it becomes drudgery. And while your kids may now be fluent in french verb conjugation and they are officially performing at grade level of their peers, at what cost did they achieve it? At the cost of love of learning? Wait a minute - that's one of the reasons why I started homeschooling in the first place - because I wanted to instil a great love for learning in my children!!!

Even the TJEd for Teens Top 100 booklist could become a conveyor belt, if approached with the mentality that "these are the top 100 books that every wannabeascholar MUST start with in order to be a scholar, and we will go through each and every one so we can check, check, check them off the list." I certainly don't think that list is the be-all end-all. But, if you use it as a spine or a starting place, tweak here and there, read this one but not that one, then it becomes a great tool! Any list of classics can and should be approached this way; they are after all, a matter of opinion.

My entire point was this: to employ a TJEd or Leadership Education model, we need not be afraid of packaged curriculum per se.  We just need to know how to apply it and not have crazy expectations.  We need to use it concurrently with inspiration. 

Avoid the mentality of the conveyor belt.


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