Monday, June 27, 2011

Agency Education: Success Stories!

Many years ago, I came upon the Ben Crowder article pasted below. In our "society driven" educational world, the straightforward concepts offered by this mother of nine are refreshing. 

Not only are the principles unique, but they happen to be true, simple and very effective! 

My experiences with my own children and study of the scriptures are my foundation for these judgements. I wish I had always followed the principles much more closely than I have, but fear and our own background of "traditions" seem to try and root their head, especially when working with a child who is more of a late bloomer as it pertains to "book learning". 

Nevertheless, whenever I have applied these principles I end up being completely amazed by the results, especially as time passes on.  

Another wonderful reference of support for these principles in Raymond and Dorothy Moore's book, "The Successful Homeschool Family Handbook". I was required to read this book when I first moved to our current area about 12 years ago upon joining a very large home schooling group called HINTS (Home Educators Need Team Support). They even have you sign a paper and mail it in within about 30 or days of joining, stating that you finished reading the book! Wow! They were very wise to do this as the book is full of tons of legitimate educational research, research that goes very much against how most of us were raised.

I must admit seeing the tremendous success of my oldest two children has recommitted me to reviewing these principles. I've already written in a former post (Peace Which Passeth All Understanding) about some of the successes of my oldest daughter, but most importantly she has a beautiful, strong testimony of the Savior, she is HAPPY and knows she is on track with her life.  She has a strong conviction that she is in the right place and at the right time.  She works on campus at Brigham Young University (Math Dept.) while staying with my wonderful parents and is preparing for her Jr. year there this Fall. She just loves life! What more could a parent want for their child?

Our second child and oldest son has been blessed beyond his wildest dreams as far as his "career" and "educational" goals.  And he is only seventeen years old! He was always an "early bloomer" pertaining to academics. I barely had to doing anything to get him reading and he seemed to surpass me in most general knowledge by the time he was twelve! He developed an intense passion and love for music and EVERYTHING about music as he grew.  When he was little we always played inspiring music in our home and we would often sing for fun. He took some cello lessons by a very easy going teacher when perhaps around eight years old and then piano at age eleven. On more than one occasion I would find his piano teacher (a professional performer and wonderful man) tearing up in my living room as he witnessed my son's amazing, rapid progress on the piano.  We did voice lessons a few years later with another wonderful instructor and he stunned us all by landing a lead in our Stake's production of "The Garden" at age fifteen.  He performed so beautifully and with such powerful emotion!  I still tear up as I remember that opening night when my husband and I heard him for the first time.  We had no idea he could sing like that! I obviously hadn't sat in on his voice lessons, though we had actually stopped lessons by then as we had moved out of the city and I felt the time and distance were too much.

 He somehow heard that our local community college had an excellent music program and determined to get his diploma as soon as possible in order to be a full-time student there.  He earned his diploma by age sixteen, completely on his own through independent study, and was able to audition and be accepted into the vocal program for last Fall semester. He was assigned a vocal coach who is an amazing world-class opera singer and performed in Europe for around ten years. He also took many classes in music theory, diction, and piano as well government, chemistry, college Algebra, etc. and earned a 4.0 GPA both semesters. The day after he finished finals for second semester we left for our annual LDS homeschool conference where a keynote speaker happened to be Michael Ballam, also a world-class opera singer who had performed in the past with my son's vocal coach of the past year.  When my son approached Dr. Ballam after hearing him speak and told him of the connection, he said he wanted to hear my son sing sometime. Later that day I happened to be in the room where the grand piano was and got to film this on my iphone (see below)! Michael Ballam met with me later and said that I had an incredibly gifted son. But as a result, my son was offered a summer apprenticeship in Dr. Ballam's Opera Company in northern Utah. He told me that only perhaps one other time in the past nineteen years had he invited someone so young to perform in this professional opera and musical festival. (We had about one week to prepare before sending him off!) That's where my son is now and will be performing in Oliver, South Pacific and Boris Gudunov (a Russian Opera) during the month of July and early August. He is singing side by side with post-graduate students from music schools like New York's Julliard and working with the best of the best directors, producers, etc. in our nation. Unbelievable!  Not only this, he will be attending Utah State University with a full-ride scholarship as a music major with Michael Ballam as a mentor in the Fall. What tremendous blessings, experiences and preparations for him before serving his church mission in the Fall of 2012! 

Gotta love those bare feet! :-)
I happened to be sitting in this large hall during a break between classes at the LDSEHE conference in Virginia Beach when I saw Brooks walking down the isle with Michael Ballam, our keynote speaker that morning. I said, “Oh good, I’m glad you two have met each other,” and Brooks said, “This is my mom.” Dr. Ballam took out his cell phone and took a quick picture of us together and then off they quickly continued to the front of the room. When I realized what was happening I remembered I have an iphone and went up to the front row to film.
Earlier in the school year Brooks’ vocal coach, Rebecca Cook-Carter, upon learning he was a Latter-Day Saint, asked if Michael Ballam taught at BYU. Brooks had no idea at that time who Michael Ballam was! Knowing of this connection Brooks approached Dr. Ballam after he spoke and told him who his vocal coach was and that he was a music major. He replied that he knew her, (Rebecca) and that he would like to hear him sing. Later in the day after Dr. Ballam spoke to just the youth, Brooks went up to him again and said, “So when do you want to hear me sing?” and was told, “Right now.” You can see part of that experience above in the video clips! Brooks says he wasn't warmed up so not his very best, but I love it. Michael Ballam later told him one of things that was so amazing was how Brooks hit the notes perfectly in spite of how he played the piano--no music and also distracted trying listening to Brooks, I would assume.  

What currently stands out to me about the Crowder's experience below is how they were obviously busy with their own lives while their son was gaining all this knowledge! She was having eight babies, raising toddlers and most certainly working to teach and train her children to work around the house, cooking, shopping, doing church callings, etc.

 While she helped her children the best she could when they requested it and read to them daily, her life didn't revolve around them, but on Christ and service to Him. What a beautiful and inspiring example of a "Christ-centered" home, verses "child" or "parent" centered!  


Another great book to check out is "An Agency Approach to Education" by Neil Flinders, a BYU education professor. I read this when my oldest child was five years old.  

Homeschooler Ben Crowder
Achieves Perfect ACT Score (2001)
by Tina Crowder

Many have asked us over the past few weeks to discuss our homeschooling journey with regards to our eldest son, Ben, who recently had the distinction of being one of two students in the nation to achieve a perfect 36 on the ACT exam. Yes, it has been nice publicity for homeschoolers when one of their own does something like this. Many home educators have contacted us over the past few weeks asking what we did in our homeschool that helped Ben in this achievement. However, we hope that homeschoolers aren't measuring their "success" by outward achievements such as this. Personally, our only hope for our own children is that they will have the necessary skills to get through this life. Most importantly we hope that our children will know Christ and gauge everything they do by His standard and not the world's.

Ben's score was just a pleasant by-product of his love of learning that has been fostered all his life. He never set out to try to achieve a perfect score but was just doing his best in order to get a scholarship. In fact, he just studied 10 minutes the night before the exam. (For those who will be attending the June convention, Ben will offer some basic information on what your teens can do at home to be prepared for the ACT exam).
We'll discuss Ben's homeschool journey with regards to child- initiated learning. When we began having children we naturally learned with them. By the time Ben was 3 he was reading out of "real" (not readers) books such as Dr. Seuss. At 5 years old he was reading the encyclopedia at bedtime, for fun. We took him to the local school and had him tested. The principal said he was at a 4th grade level in everything and there was nothing they could do for him. She suggested we home school him, which we were already planning to do.

Homeschool was just a continuation of the learning adventure we had been having with the children from the time they were born. For a time, we tried to mimic the public schools, but Ben rebelled immediately. In fact, he did very little formal schoolwork until the time he went to high school. During all those years we made weekly trips to the library with a wagon (and then a double stroller) and let Ben and his siblings choose books on topics they were interested in. Ben read half of each school day, and at night. We read to them at least two hours per day and always out of a novel at night. They always had a rest time after lunch with a pile of books on their bed. They opted to read instead of nap!

At the age of eight Ben asked me if I could help him learn how to create the programs that were on the computer. I said "no" but I would take him to the library (right then) and he could get some books. He went to the adult section and got manuals on BASIC programming and the like. I had a baby that night and discovered two weeks later (after recuperating) that Ben had taught himself beginning programming and animation. He was almost obsessive- compulsive about programming which I now believe is part of the learning process and becoming passionate about our interests.

During the next few years he took apart the computer many times, added things to it, wrecked a few hard drives, taught himself different programs and began learning everything about computers. He spent very little time playing computer games, but was creating them. He even had his own game- programming website for a year. Bear in mind that my husband and I know nothing about computers. This experience alone gave us the confidence to allow our children to teach themselves things we didn't know.

At 13 Ben enrolled part-time at Orem High and took their AP Computer Science course. Although he knew the material, he liked being around computers and helping others. At this time he started his own computer business/service. In other words, he fixed computers, installed programs, trouble shooted, saved hard drives, etc. for neighbors, friends, ward members, and all their relatives. People paid him very well and a neighbor said they could use him at his corporation. He soon landed a summer job at as a software tester for $10/hour. When the company found out he was 13 (he looked 17) they laid him off and re-hired him a few months later on his 14th birthday. (In Utah the law states you have to be 14 to have a computer desk job.) He loved the work and was re-hired the next summer; this time he was doing programming and earning quite a bit more.

When Ben turned 15 he became interested in writing--or should I say passionate. He checked out hundreds (I'm not kidding) of books on the writing process and getting published. Ben never did a writing assignment in homeschool, but wrote in his journal through the years. One day he came up to me and my husband and said that he submitted some of his work and was now a published and paid author for the Linux Journal, an international computer magazine with a circulation of over 60,000. We were shocked because we had told him prior to this not to expect to have your first work accepted and published.

Then he became passionate about languages and started studying their structures, which led him to Hebrew, Greek, and finally Latin. He started studying history and religion more in depth and began an intensive study of the scriptures that has been going on for the past three years. He reads the Book of Mormon several times a year and is deeply interested in ancient history. He asked for the Bible in Hebrew and Greek for Christmas, but we couldn't afford it. Ben learned how to play the piano at 5 and was given the freedom to play what he wanted. He went a year or two without touching it as a young boy and then went back and fell in love with it. He now composes music which has led to other things he find interesting. We could go on and on about this interest-led learning cycle... because it never ends.

Ben attends high school full time taking whatever he is interested in. This is called "non-diploma" status, and it is legal in Utah. This means he can attend high school, get a transcript, but he won't be able to walk across the stage at graduation (which means nothing to him). Ben wanted to skip all the classes that were either too easy, or meaningless to his goals. He opted out of P.E. and health. This alternative needs more publicity because there are many students who would stay in high school if they knew they could choose any class they wanted--as long as they are willing to give up the diploma. Don't worry, BYU and most colleges don't care about your diploma. (Has anyone ever asked to see yours?) They care about your transcript, the difficulty of the classes you took, what grade you received in those classes, and your college entrance exam scores.

We just want to say that homeschooling is about learning how to learn. It's about helping our children achieve their potential, not someone else's idea of what their potential should be. Once a child gains confidence in how to find out what he's interested in, then he will learn what he needs to know, when he needs to know it. I think we too often push children into learning experiences, co-ops, classes, that they wouldn't gravitate towards on their own in an effort to "teach" them something. It seems to us that the most meaningful learning comes from within the child himself. When we backed away and "let" Ben learn what he was serious about, no matter how disorganized the learning may have appeared to us, he learned. We have eight other children and all are very different from each other, with totally different interests. Each child has pursued his own path, in his own way. They are not all into academics, yet they all love learning and doing.

We welcome any questions at
Mark & Tina Crowder (this may not be a current email as it was written in 2001!)

newspaper article - Note:  "Perfect" means Ben scored 36-36-36-36; 12 students "averaged" 36 which would be 35-35/36-36-36.

1 comment:

  1. Hello
    I love your insight!
    I would love to chat sometime. Do you have an email??
    COuld you write about what you ASSIGN and what you let your kids choose??? Also what your day looks like?


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