Thursday, May 17, 2012

The Big Picture of Learning/Secrets of Private Elite Boarding Schools

How do you define learning?
“You and I are blessed in mortality with a multitude and variety of opportunities to learn and increase in intelligence--the intelligence defined as applying what we know for righteousness.  Consequently, we should not equate intelligence with formal education, academic degrees, or worldly success.  Some of the most educated people I have ever known had little or no intelligence.  And some of the most intelligent people I have ever known had little or no formal education.”  ~Elder David A. Bednar (Increase in Learning, p. 73)

A list of some of the formal educational and career achievements of the First Presidency and Quorum of Twelve Apostles:
  • Doctorate in Educational Administration from Brigham Young
  • Internationally renowned surgeon and medical researcher (U of U)
  • University of Chicago Law School, Justice of the Utah Supreme Court.
  • George Washington University
  • Two Harvard MBA's 
  • Master and doctor of philosophy degrees from Yale University.
  • Phd. from Purdue University
  • Law degree from Stanford University
  • Law degree from Duke University.
  • One speaks French, Portuguese and Spanish in addition to his native English (Neal Anderson)
  • MBA from Brigham Young University (Thomas S. Monson)
What Does It Mean to Be Well-Educated? 
By Alfie Kohn 
“No one should offer pronouncements about what it means to be well-educated without meeting my wife. When I met Alisa, she was at Harvard, putting the finishing touches on her doctoral dissertation in anthropology. A year later, having spent her entire life in school, she decided to do the only logical thing . . . and apply to medical school. Today she is a practicing physician -- and an excellent one at that, judging by feedback from her patients and colleagues.
She will, however, freeze up if you ask her what 8 times 7 is, because she never learned the multiplication table. And forget about grammar (“Me and him went over to her house today” is fairly typical) or literature (“Who’s Faulkner?”). After a dozen years, I continue to be impressed on a regular basis by the agility of her mind as well as by how much she doesn’t know. (I’m also bowled over by what a wonderful person she is, but that’s beside the point.)”

So if education's true core isn't really spelling, grammar, and basic math facts, then what is???

Meet John Taylor Gatto:
  • New York City Teacher of the Year four times
  • New York State Teacher of the Year in 1991
  • 30 years of classroom experience (7th-8th graders)
  • A man with great courage and without guile; child-like yet highly intelligent
  • An incredible mentor to youth
I heard him speak at the North Carolina Home Educators Conference (NCHEA) around 10 years ago, then purchased the audio talks  on these two topics :  
  • Secrets of Private Elite Boarding Schools (Leadership Schools vs. Govt. Schools)
  • What Kids are Capable of When We Open our Eyes (told true stories of his students & other young people who achieved remarkable feats.) 
He takes an approach that many seem to refer to as "un-schooling", but I believe a more accurate description is: "Agency Education" which includes accountability and wise guides/mentors.
In my humble opinion, John Taylor Gatto exemplifies the following quote in his work with youth:  

“I believe that this gift of discernment when highly developed arises largely out of an acute sensitivity to impressions--spiritual impressions, if you will--to read under the surface as it were, to detect hidden evil, and more importantly to find the good that may be concealed. The highest type of discernment is that which perceives in others and uncovers for them their better natures, the good inherent within them...” (David A. Bednar quoting Stephen L. Richards, “Increase in Learning”, p. 58)
The Secrets to John Taylor Gatto's Success?
  • He told us how prior to winning these achievements he began to wonder how the wealthiest, most-powerful people educated their children and then he proceeded to research the methods used in our nations private-elite boarding schools.
  • He was amazed to find out the techniques and principles used were inexpensive and things that ANYONE could apply, including himself.  
  • The results he would get, even from the poorest ghettos of the U.S., were so spectacular that even he was blown away!
He also pointed out that in the 2000 presidential election four of the six candidates had come from one of these private-elite boarding schools which only graduate about 1,000 students/year.  And as it turns out, Mitt Romney also attended one. :-) 

What did he discover in his research?
He found each of these schools had 14-core common themesthough each school operates differently in many other respects.

1. No child should graduate without A THEORY OF HUMAN NATURE, or an understanding of what makes people tick. What buttons do you press to get the results you want? They gain this theory through the study of history, philosophy, literature, theology, and law, NOT psychology!
[We LOVE Liahona distance-ed. for history (5th-12th grade)! The Robinson Curriculum booklist and TJed booklists are great resources, but the possibilities are are everywhere when we open our eyes!]

2.  Writing & Public Speaking--they MUST be able to do these two things very well. Offer your children regular opportunities to speak before strangers. To write well they must do it every day or regularly. The simple practice of doing it is powerful. 
[Journal writing and the Robinson Curriculum does this very well (we don't do Robinson six days, however.) SPEAKING: Our family gets the chance to speak in front of strangers when we minister to people at a local abortion clinic while doing community service.]

3. They MUST have insight into the major institutions like courts, corporations and the military, including details of the ideas that drive them. Government schools fall very short of this:  not taught how to speak one's mind clearly or how to give good arguments--it would lead to much more effective dissent--however, this is what America was founded on! Government schools don't teach an understanding of the inner-workings of our institutions!

4. Repeated exercises in the forms of GOOD MANNERS & POLITENESS : not touched in public schools.  This is based on the utter truth that politeness and civility are the basis of all future relationships, alliances, access to places you might want to go. This is the complete opposite of what goes on in the public schools. "Now don't just tell me that's common sense because every public school I've ever been in, and I've been in hundreds, is a laboratory of rudeness, cruelty, sloppiness, coarseness."-John Taylor Gatto

5. INDEPENDENT WORK; in pub. schools teachers are responsible for filling 80-90% of students time one way or another, and all the choices are the teachers. In the private boarding school that ratio is ideally reversed. They're expected to DO most of the work and to be resourceful enough to use the work of other kids too.
[They are required to ACT rather than to always be ACTED UPON--This is a huge emphasis in Elder Bednar's new book! This is also a core principle in the Robinson Curriculum.]

6. Energetic PHYSICAL SPORTS aren't a luxury or a way to blow off steam, but absolutely the only way to confer grace on the human presence. "And if that grace translates into power or to money later on, so be it." George Washington stated that two things made his physical presence outstanding and were deliberately selected: horse-back riding and ballroom dancing. They conferred a commanding physical presence on the person who could do those things well. Sports also teach you practice in handling pain which occur in emergencies.
[Horse-back riding and ballroom dancing are both very expensive activities today, but ballet dancer's always have great posture and poise I've noticed. T-Tapp dvd’s greatly help me out personally with my health and spinal alignment. When I do them, of course...:-)]

7. A COMPLETE THEORY OF ACCESS TO ANY PERSON OR ANY PLACE: Far better than reading a civics textbook.  He would challenge his students to get a private meeting with the mayor of a big city, the governor, CEO's (his students got access to all these people, CEO's beyond count.)
[He taught them about dress, poise, manners etc. to help gain this access.] 

8. RESPONSIBILITY as an utter part of the curriculum. That includes things like washing dishes, but also things like caring for a horse, to take on some important community service, to go for leadership in clubs; it's easier than you think because it's a lot of hard work to be a responsible leader of a club that's actually doing something.  They're taught to always grab for responsibility when it's offered and to always deliver more than is asked for.
[Neal Anderson said he grew up working on the family farm from morning till night in his bio.  Many, many of our church leaders had this type of responsibility while growing up! I can think of a number who lost their father's early in life so they were forced to take on responsibility while young. For example: Joseph F. Smith, Brigham Young, Dallin H. Oaks....]
9. ARRIVAL AT A PERSONAL CODE OF STANDARDS IN PRODUCTION (work), BEHAVIOR,  & MORALITY-- a long range goal, but one that needs to be checked regularly.  You don't really ever quite get there, but always aiming for your personal best is emphasized. 
[Think of Steven Covey's "sharpening the saw" analogy from his "Seven Habits of Highly Effective People" book.]

10. FAMILIARITY WITH THE MASTER CREATIONS OF MUSIC, OF ART, DESIGN, PAINTING, ARCHITECTURE, SCULPTURE, LITERATURE, & DRAMA. To be at ease with the arts, because apart from religion the arts are the only way to transcend the animal materiality in our lives--to get in touch with the bigger you.
[I LOVE this, of course, being the mother of a musical artist! But it is just SO true! When you hear inspired music, read inspired literature, watch inspired performances, or see inspired artwork it is FAR easier to feel closer to our Heavenly Father!]

11. THE POWER OF ACCURATE OBSERVATION & RECORDING. Example: In the British upper classes, if you could not draw what you saw with your eye you did not see what was in fact there. Drawing was expected not as a way to pass time but a way to sharpen the perception. Example:  Charles Darwin's drawings -- how far would the theory of evolution gone without his drawings?
 [He recommended the book "Drawing on the Right Side of Your Brain" in one of his talks. I also love the book "Drawing with Children" and have used it with great results.]

12. The ability to DEAL WITH CHALLENGES of all sorts: Everyone's challenges are so different-- you must KNOW your son or daughter in order to help strengthen them. For example, if your child is painfully shy, obviously public presentation is the corrective that they need rather than live that way the rest of their lives. Perhaps all of us are cowards on some level, but it's vital to find out that physical/emotional/mental/spiritual challenges can be met...and if they hurt, we find out not as much as we perhaps feared and we end up with personal GROWTH. Teach your child if they get knocked down to stand back up, and if they get knocked down again, to stand back up again! But challenges are different for different people.

13. A HABIT IN CAUTION IN REASONING TO CONCLUSIONS: listening to or watching propaganda for hours is not the way to find answers! They were told to form the opinions only after very careful study, pondering, etc. 
[This is certainly not something I was ever taught in school! But what a difference this one principle alone could make in the lives of youth!]

14. THE CONSTANT DEVELOPMENT AND TESTING OF JUDGEMENT; you keep an eye on your predictions to see how accurate or how consistent things are.
[Refer back to the discernment quote above from Elder Bednar's book. I think his entire book, if carefully pondered and studied, could develop this ability in remarkable ways. What better guide and tool of judgement could we encourage our children to use or have than the gift of the Holy Ghost?]
"Now this is a curriculum well worth considering long and hard."
~John Taylor Gatto

But what about early childhood?

A Key Book:  Dr. Raymond and Dorothy Moore’s:  A Successful Homeschool Family Handbook
    • Based on solid legitimate, educational research, NOT on "trendy parenting" or popular culture.
    • Required reading in Charlotte, NC’s largest home schooling group (Home Educators Need Team Support/HINTS)
    • Teaches a balanced program of work, study & service (in the home and out-side the home as children grow). They call this combination "The Moore Formula".
    • Teaches that a secret to creating genius is warm, loving, nurturing parental responses to children.
Example: Francis Sellers Collins, is an American physician-geneticist, noted for his discoveries of disease genes and his leadership of the Human Genome Project (HGP). He became recognized as one of the most important and talented figures in the field of medical genetics. His early education certainly fit within the principles laid out by The Moore Formula: He was raised on a farm in Virginia's Shenandoah Valley, and home-schooled by his mother until the sixth grade with his three older brothers. It’s reported by John Taylor Gatto that they would all vote to decide what subject they were going to study together, with only one rule: as soon as they got uninterested they had to choose another subject!
Example: "Homeschooling for Excellence" by David & Micki Colfax, tells of their educational journey while homesteading just about 20 miles up the road from my childhood home in Ukiah, California. They also applied the Moore Formula, though they didn't call it that. Three of their four sons attended Harvard on full-tuition genetic science scholarships--the fourth went to a top culinary school in San Francisco. They learned first-hand about genetics while breeding animals on their homestead. They also found the chance to read books a great relief from all their physical, hard work. Nobody forced or bribed them to learn! They also didn't have a TV set. When young people have experiences that back up their book-learning, everything comes alive, interesting and far more meaningful! Is this not just "common sense" though? What has happened to most parent's "common sense" when it comes to educating children? In most cases it seems to have been trained right out of us with all of our schooling!

Parting thoughts/quotes that will help improve LEARNING & PEACE in your family:

"...Researchers concluded that what seems universal in people who have excelled in their chosen profession is that they felt an 'underlying, love, respect and honesty from their families.' Those character traits seem to be the critical common elements that run through the family histories of those who have attained eminence in society. But they are also the character traits of parents who have children who become happy and successful and productive in all walks of life." ("The Power of Play" by Dr. David Elkind p.186-187)
"… You cannot drive people to do things which are right, but you can love them into doing them, IF your example is of such a character that they can SEE you mean what you say." 
~President George Albert Smith

"We can guide, direct, and prune a tender sprout, and it inclines to our direction, if it is wisely and skillfully applied. So, if we surround a child with healthy and salutary influences, give him suitable instructions and store his mind with truthful traditions, maybe that will direct his feet in the way of life." (Discourses of Brigham Young, 209)

"You see, hear and witness a good deal of contention among children—some of you do, if not all—and I will give you a few words with regard to your future lives, that you may have children that are not contentious, not quarrelsome. Always be good-natured yourselves, is the first step. Never allow yourselves to become out of temper and get fretful. … They have so much vitality in them that their bones fairly ache with strength. They have such an amount of vitality—life, strength and activity, that they must dispose of them; and the young ones will contend with each other. Do not be out of temper yourselves. Always sympathize with them and soothe them. Be mild and pleasant.
(Discourses of Brigham Young, 209–10)
“One of the great discoveries of parenthood is that we learn far more about what really matters from our children than we ever did from our parents. We come to recognize the truth in Isaiah’s prophecy that ‘a little child shall lead them.’” 
(Elder Boyd K. Packer, April 2012 Conference Report)

An increased yearning to learn is one of the important spiritual effects that grows out of putting off ‘the natural man...’”
~Elder David A. Bednar
“The Spirit of the Lord is the only true and trustworthy teacher who can 'teach us all things, and bring all things to our remembrance', and kindle within us an abiding love of and for learning."  
~David A. Bednar (Increase in Learning, p.19) 
“From failure you learn, success, not so much.”
~Meet the Robinson’s, movie
“Around here, however, we don’t look backwards for very long. We keep moving forward, opening up new doors and doing new things, because we’re curious...and curiosity keeps leading us down new paths.” ~Walt Disney (also describes Gatto)

The Bible says “fear not” over 360 times! Let's educate and raise our children in a spirit of FAITH, rather than worry and fear. You can do it!
"Go Forward in Faith." 
 ~President Gordon B. Hinckley's biography title


  1. Thank you for this thorough explanation. Keep up the good work. May I share this information with other parents?

    1. Hello! Thank you for the kind comment carynelizabeth! Yes, it would be great for you to share this information! Knowledge is power! 👍😊👍


The Big Picture of Learning/Secrets of Private Elite Boarding Schools

How do you define learning? “You and I are blessed in mortality with a multitude and variety of opportunities to learn and increase in i...

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