Are you frustrated with how your child is being educated? It’s easy to feel that way, even if you’re homeschooling. Truth is, most of us went to school. It’s hard not to do to our children what was done to us—especially when it comes to escaping a boring, one-size-fits-all approach to education. If you’re looking for my joy in education, listen in, because my friend Andrew Pudewa knows how you’re feeling and he’s here to encourage you. As a beloved teacher and founder of the Institute for Excellence in Writing, Andrew knows a thing or two about what it takes to help children stop surviving and start thriving in education. Listen in! I know you’ll be encouraged!
Transcribed version of the podcast is below.
Today’s Scripture Writing Challenge Verse
- 1 John 4:9-12
Resources Mentioned in Podcast
- However Imperfectly: Lessons learned from thirty years of teaching
- Dumbing Us Down: The hidden curriculum of compulsory education by John Taylor Gatto
- Book: However Imperfectly
All Things Heidi
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Andrew Pudewa is the founder of the Institute for Excellence in Writing (or IEW) and a father of seven. Traveling and speaking around the world, he addresses issues related to teaching, writing, thinking, spelling, and music with clarity, insight, practical experience, and humor. His seminars for parents, students, and teachers have helped transform many a reluctant writer and have equipped educators with powerful tools to dramatically improve students’ skills.
Although he is a graduate of the Talent Education Institute in Japan and holds a Certificate of Child Brain Development from the Institutes for the Achievement of Human Potential in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, his best endorsement is from a young Alaskan boy who called him “the funny man with the wonderful words.” He and his wonderful, heroic wife, Robin, have homeschooled their seven children and are now proud grandparents of eleven, making their home in Tulsa, Oklahoma.
Hey you guys, this is Heidi St. John. Welcome to the podcast. I’m so happy that you’re here. Today is episode number 812— it’s Friday, August 30th. As promised, today is the second day of my interview with my friend and the founder of the Institute for Excellence in writing, Andrew Pudewa. We’re going to be talking a lot about what’s happening in the school system today and encouraging you. If you’re struggling to bring joy back into your classroom— Andrew has a lot to say that’s going to just light you up and encourage you like crazy.
Stick around, I think you’re going to be encouraged
It’s very, very hard to come out of that school mentality. And you wrote about this in the book. You said that even though you wanted to do something different, this system of education was so ingrained in you that you and your wife ordered a pile of textbooks with the number on the cover—and you started to do school at home, replicating the very system that you knew you didn’t want to be a part of. So talk to the mom right now, who is going— oh my goodness, that’s me. That’s me. I just opened up this catalog and I’m like: I have a second grader, a fourth grader, and a sixth grader, and I ordered all the things with two and four and sixes on thim. I know it’s not what I want to do, but I don’t want my kids to fall behind. That’s the main fear. Of course we think— Ooh, that’s bad. So how can you encourage that mom right now? How do we break out of this idea that education has to be a one size fits all?
[Andrew] It’s a tough one because even when we say that’s what I wanna do, we fall back into our fear of— how can I do that differently? We actually need to start an organization called School-a-holics Anonymous.
[Heidi] Yes, we do.
[Andrew] And we can just all get together, virtually or in litter chapters.
[Heidi] Hi, my name is Heidi and I can’t put the text book down.
[Andrew] and I went to school and I don’t want to be that way anymore. I think one of the terms that is misunderstood is the term unschooling. A lot of people think— well that’s where you just keep your kids home and you don’t teach them anything. That would be non-unschooling. Unschooling is when you undo some of the schooling you’ve had. So it’s especially helpful for parents who are pulling their kids out of an institutional setting, you may have to just take some time and say— we’re going to do everything differently.
We’re going to read books out loud together for a couple hours a day. We’re gonna let everybody do math at the level where they can do it and not worry about what number is on the cover. We’re going to scrap science text books and study natural philosophy by going outside and collecting insects. And then maybe there’s an idea pf collection or leaves. Then we’ll make a collection of different blades of grass and we’ll catalog and observe—just get out of the mentality that knowledge and experience are best delivered through books and just undo some of that. Once you’ve had some healing then and you can go into a new phase and appreciate books and use resources in a different way. Perhaps while the weather is still nice, and it’s fall, and before it gets cold and miserable— make a focus on spending more time outdoors collecting and more time sitting on the grass, reading a beautiful book or book of stories or taking turns reading, memorizing poetry, having kids spend more time doing what they love.
If they love to draw, give them more time to draw. Music, writing. I think that can do a little bit to help us undo some of the schooling that we still have as baggage. There’s plenty of time. Here’s the other thing I would say, Heidi— I have been in public schools, I have done professional development in public schools, I have observed in public schools and I would affirm what Gatto said, which is: essentially, even in the best schools, 80 to 90% of what goes on is just logistics and people management and discipline and organizational issues. The real learning that happens in most schools was a very small percentage of the time that children spend there. So you don’t have to do a whole lot of active teaching to do as well as the school. That frees you up to have a whole lot more time to just live and follow the Holy Spirit for your family and the direction you want to go, and giving kids more freedom. It was Maria Montessori who said the work of a child is to play.
[Heidi] Yes. And boy that’s something the schools don’t do anymore.
[Andrew] Set up the proper play environment, which will be a non-screen approach too.
[Heidi] Right. I think sometimes you get into the habit of… once you retrain your yourself, because that’s really what we’re doing when we talk about unschooling. I think parents need to unschool themselves. Go back to this idea of where we went wrong and then try to go a different direction. Our son, Spencer, just started college this last week, and on a Sunday night he got an email from the head of the writing department there. Spencer had taken their entrance exams or whatever and they wrote to him and said: Hey Spencer, we’re going to take you completely out of freshman writing. You don’t need it and we’re just going to skip your freshman year. We’ll start you in your sophomore year. And Spencer came running to me and I was in the kitchen. He was like— mom, check it out. He said— I didn’t know if this homeschooling thing was going to work, thank you. Then he just started laughing and I laughed too because what my goal in educating my children became over time— is I wanted them to love to learn. I didn’t want them to think of school as this— oh, gross, here we go, grab your pencil, 45 minutes for this, close your book, go to the next thing. I wanted them to have a sense of wonder about learning and to enjoy learning. It took me quite a long time to get to that point. Mostly because I was so hung up on it had to look a certain way. I so appreciate your voice in this, Andrew, because I think what you’re doing is you’re setting people free. You’re setting parents free to say— it doesn’t have to look the way that it did when you grew up, and in fact there’s freedom and when you free yourself from the constraint of that of the system that you grew up in, your kids can actually flourish.
[Andrew] You know, that makes me think of how certain terms get hijacked. For example, choice has been hijacked. The way it’s used isn’t what it means. Another one is progressive. Progressive should mean progress. Only, objectively, we’ve had five decades of decline in academic performance in schools. So if that’s progress— do we really want it? The one that really irks me is a college and career readiness.
[Heidi] Oh yeah.
[Andrew] These are buzzwords that we’re institutionalized by the College Board and the redesigned SAT and they’re just saying this all over the place. It’s kind of along the sides of critical thinking, which is a slightly different topic. Sometimes I try a thought experiment with people and audiences, I’ll say— okay, so let’s pretend that you are a person who has to teach, or a person who has to hire and supervise high school graduates. So imagine yourself in one of those situations. Would you please tell me some of the skills or traits or abilities or qualities of a person that you would like to have either in your class in college, or in your workplace? What do you think people say?
[Heidi] Kind, honest, teachable…
[Andrew] Teachable, humble.
[Heidi] That’s why I’m always looking for: Teachable. Humble. Here at the homeschool resource center we talk to the kids about character. We’re much more concerned with their character than we are with where they come in academically. Because we know that if they’re teachable, we can work with all the rest of it. If they’re humble and kind and they can ever expect and know how to listen to the teacher then we’re gonna get somewhere. That’s like the wise person versus the person who’s got a head full of knowledge and no wisdom to back it up.
[Andrew] Yup. Precisely. People often will add to that and say—communication skills or they’ll say interpersonal skills, or sometimes they’ll go down to the very baseline and say: show up on time. I would say 90 some percent of anything that anybody ever says is not something that can be evaluated by the SAT test.
[Heidi] Hallelujah. Thank you. That’s right.
[Andrew] But the college board thinks what we’re going to do is create a test that’s then going to force publishers to create curriculum that teachers are then going to use to create this college and career readiness when, as you and I know—just give me a humble, hardworking, teachable, happy person and I can teach them stuff. I don’t need them to have all sorts of high academic test scores. Honestly, I’d take a homeschool graduate who never stepped into a college classroom over someone with a business degree from UCLA probably any time because the person with the degree—they think they know something. So that whole idea about how, and what you said—one to love learning—if you walk into a new job or a new class and you say— Hey, I’m excited about this opportunity. I’m not good at it yet, but I’m excited to learn. What more could we ask for is as teachers and business owners?
[Hiedi] Yeah, that’s exactly right. The gentleman that donated the building that The Firmly Planted Family Resource Center exist out of—talk to Jay and I, he’s been mentoring us for several years. An incredibly wise man. He’s a genius and he’s an inventor and he didn’t enjoy school. He sounds a lot like you actually, Andrew, he did not enjoy school. He came out of it like— I wasn’t born to do this. It took him awhile, but then he figured it out and he started his own business and he said— you know, Heidi—we were talking about who he would hire because they have people there that are engineers, people that work in the front office, people that are working in design and development—He said: I use a cash system when we look at hiring and his cash system stands for character, attitude, skills, and habits.
He said, if the character’s not there, I don’t care if they have the skills or not. Because if they have the skills or the head knowledge, but they have no character to back it up, I’m not going to hire him. Same thing is true with their attitude. Let’s say they got good character but their attitudes wrong, well then I’m not going to hire them. He said skills are at the bottom of the cash lists that we look for and what we really want is exactly what you were saying, Andrew. What we really want is humility. What we really want is teachability. He said—if you give me an 18 year old kid who just got out of school, who is really fascinated by the robots that we have here, because they do a lot of robotics, but he doesn’t have any real experience with it except for he’s interested and he wants to learn and he’s humble—that’s the guy I’ll hire. I thought, yup—that’s right. But that’s not what we’re talking about in education as a whole anymore.
[Andrew] Yeah. And sadly, we’ve taken a very industrial model and applied it to human beings. In the business world, I’m sure you’ve heard this—what gets measured is what gets done. Assessment drives productivity. And maybe that is true in some situations in the business world of adults, but when you apply that to children— you’re essentially denying their soul, their humanity, their individuality, what God has put into them, their hearts, and minds. Then you’d try to backward engineer education and that’s not what growth…. and let’s get back to that word that I said that you thought of at the same time: flourishing. What is it that will really help our children flourish? Some environments are more conducive to growth than others, but we can positively influence in every single circumstance to some degree to help children flourish.
[Heidi] Yeah, that’s absolutely right. Your book However Imperfectly, where can listeners find that?
[Andrew] We sell it on our website, there’s some people who sell it on Amazon.
[Heidi] Well I’ll tell you what, I will link back to it because I know there’s a lot of people listening to this today that are going to want to get their hands on this because you’ve got essay after essay after essay of insight into teaching. Because what we’ve talked about today is just a snippet of what you’re talking about in However Imperfectly. It’s going to be such a blessing to so many people. So for those of you who are listening, you want more information, I will link back to that in the show notes today. Andrew, you are a national treasure, particularly to the homeschool community. But to me, I could be the president of the Andrew Pudewa Fan Club. So I thank you so much. Thank you so much for taking the time to come on and encourage listeners today. You are a delight.
[Andrew] Well and you are one of the most inspirational people I have ever known. So I’ll be, I don’t know if I could be president, but I’ll be a member of the Heidi St. John thing, that’s for sure.
[Heidi] Well we’ve been in the “looks too young to be a grandparent club” together for awhile.
[Andrew] But you see, you’re still in it, but I’m way out of it because people see me and they just think grandpa. I have 11 grandchildren and three on the way. I mean they are coming fast and furious.
[Heidi] Oh my goodness. Well, I’ll tell ya. Here’s a fun little announcement. I have two grandkids, which, you know, and one on the way.
[Heidi] Thank you. Thank you. So I’m gonna start gaining some traction here, I hope, with the grandkid. I know that the race is on. But, in this position we can only do so much. We can just smile and nod and it looks good. Oh, Andrew, thank you so much for coming on the show. It’s been a joy to have you.
[Andrew] It’s a pleasure as always. God bless you, Heidi.
[Heidi] Thank you as well. For more information on an Andrew Pudewa, and the resources at IEW, go to the show notes today and I will link back to all things Andrew Pudewa and his new book.
Remembered today is a great time to register for my event in Fredericksburg, Virginia, and also to get your early bird tickets for the Heidi St. John Conference Faith that Speaks, coming to Vancouver. Thanks for listening, everybody. Have a great day and I’ll see you back here on Monday.
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