I got to talk to Heather on the phone yesterday, the first time in two months. That felt good. And then she sent out another e-mail about the summer school she's organizing, sort of a one-room schoolhouse (which starts today). Here's some of it:

There is a group of about 40 kids, AIDS orphans (they use the term "orphan" a little loosely here—it means they've lost one parent) that Mashiah Foundation pays school fees for (it's not free here—ever), and Mary Beth Oyebade learned this year that an unacceptable proportion of these kids were failing. (Remind me to give you my rant on the Nigerian school system. Later. All I need to say right now is that it's inadequate.)

So these kids have been invited (for free) to Hope School, a summer school taught in Bezer Home. Forty kids from 4 to 17, thankfully divided into two groups of 4 to 10 and 11 to 17. The younger kids will come Monday and Wednesday and the older kids Tuesday and Thursday, and everyone will show up on Friday, which I have nicknamed Mass Chaos day. It's going to be a sort of cross between VBS and remedial tutoring. Bible lesson, singing, crafts, storytime; and two intensive sessions of one-on-one tutoring in the 3 R's, every day.

..Please pray that the team works well together, that we set a good precedent with the first day and make the kids feel enthusiastic about the school and confident about their ability to overcome their learning difficulties. ...And that they learn. Just that they learn, throughout the time of the school—which will be the whole month of August. It's so important for them. I really want to serve them well. They get so little that is good, so little of the focused attention and motivation and encouragement and praise that is what we all want for our own children when they learn. I've been seeing, this month, how inadequate (or even wrong) schooling can cripple a person's ability to think. At Hope School we want to uncripple.

Some of what she said reminded me of a presentation on education that I heard at the Jesus Radicals conference. It was given by a professor from Seabury seminary, A.K.M. Adam, and was very well done. He has had extensive experience in education and comes from a family of teachers. Here's some of the questions he was asking:
What do we want to say with the ways we teach? When we assign our children to institutional structures that divide them into manageable divisions of age and, sometimes, alleged “ability,” of differentiated fields of knowledge, and then tell them that nine months of this experience are compulsory, but that three months constitute a liberation from learning—what are we teaching them? When we determine in advance that every normal eleven-year-old will attain proficiency in these areas in this sequence taught according to that curriculum, what effects can we reasonably anticipate? When we constitute for our children a primary social group of other children mostly their own age, what behavior and inclinations can we suppose that they will reflect? And what do all of these characterizations suggest that the culture we inhabit thinks about education?
And here's a taste of how he's answering these questions, selected from entries in his blog:
Not only will people always surprise you by their hunger and capacity to learn, but their learning frequently (I’m tempted to say “always”) depends for its quality on their desire to learn. Again, my experience confirms this, as a learner and teacher and as a home-school dad. Few things stick with me from high school as well as the probability theory I taught myself, the soliliquies I memorized walking to and from school, the basics of international relations, organizational politics, and diplomacy that I learned in Student United Nations and the Strategic Gaming club. We grounded our approach to teaching Nate, Si, and Pippa on that premise; I’ve wished any number of times I could teach seminarians that way (and I’m always looking for ways to approximate that more closely). I don’t think we should abolish schools and classes in favor of un-organized general learning, but it would take a lot to convince me that the goal of learning is best served by the assembly-line, compartmentalized structure that institutional education has taken in the U.S. and its sphere of influence.

Margaret and I have home-schooled the three kids we raised, partly on the basis of our commitment to their very distinct patterns of learning and interest, partly out of frustrating experiences in our own educational history, and partly from the conviction that they would learn well on their own terms, at their own time, what they really wanted to learn (and wouldn’t learn well what we tried to induce them to learn on our terms, at a time we chose). Our experience as learners, and our experience as home-school parents (“un-school” parents, to be more exact), places me squarely on the un-structured side of the discussion.... I wish there were some way I could choose to home-school the seminarians at Seabury.