Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Interview with Anna Hoffstrom (Part One)

The conversation about education reform tends to be a one-sided conversation. In this student interview series, you will get a chance to read the thoughts of students from across the globe. My interview with 18-year-old Anna Hoffstrom below is the fourth in the series and Anna gives us a great window into the mind of an "Unschooler."

Anna is a remarkably bright young lady with a unique perspective on some the major issues facing educators today. She has spent time in both the U.S. and Finland (where she currently lives) and has well thought out opinions about learning. She began the journey from traditional education to homeschooling to unschooling in the middle of 8th grade and "hasn't looked back since."

Q: How old are you and where are you from?

@adversarian: I recently turned 18 and live in Finland with my parents. I grew up in America, from ages 2-12, but my family moved back to Finland in 2005. Despite loving Finland and its culture I identify myself as American, and English is my first language.

Q: How would you describe your social media use on a normal day?

@adversarian: I tweet daily, and am looking into how to connect with autodidacts on Facebook as well. It might not be considered social media, but some of the best conversations I have are still through old-fashioned email!

Q: Do you think school, as an institution, is valuable? Why?

@adversarian: In today's society, what makes traditional public schools valuable are their mass efficiency, the millions of jobs, and the ease of having an educational record. They are the child's equivalent of a cubicle job: comfortable, familiar, and what people perceive as normal. It's what's

But as an educational system I think the current public school system, especially in America, is in terrible need of reform and gives very little tangible value back into the community. It's getting more and more obvious that cookie cutter education doesn't work.

Alternative school models, such as the Montessori and Sudbury models, are much more effective in educating students. That makes them much more valuable.

But traditional public schools? No, I don't find them valuable at all. The problems schools solve can be solved in much better ways.

Q: What weren't you being taught in school that you feel should be taught?

@adversarian: In America I really noticed a lack of world culture and world history in what we were learning. Something else I think should be taught, even from a young age, is reading, watching, and talking about the news. The two times we did that in school was on 9/11 and when Mount St. Helens erupted late 2004. Both experiences made a big impact on all of my classmates, and the impromptu lessons based around those events were a lot more effective than they would've been without such an obvious and tangible real-world example.

Q: What did you do in school that you feel was a waste of your time?

@adversarian: Most of my public school experience involved being ahead of the curricula because of my curiosity. Because of that, I helped tutor the struggling students in the class, and I learned very little in school. I had a wonderful experience tutoring and helping my peers, and that was never a waste of time for me, but sitting in school most of my day without learning much myself WAS a waste of time.

Q: What is the most valuable academic subject for students entering the second decade of the 21st century?

@adversarian: The most valuable academic subject isn't much of a subject on its own, but I would say study skills. Being able to adapt and learn are the two most important skills anyone can have, and being resourceful enough and understanding our own learning will grant us those
abilities. We can't predict our future, but we can do our best to prepare ourselves for it.

Q: What are your thoughts on the old phrase "Repetition is the mother of learning"?

@adversarian: Repetition can be helpful for memorizing, but I strongly disagree that it is the mother of learning. Learning something should require a deeper, more critical understanding than simple memorization. Anyone can remember 12x12=144, but understanding how multiplication works requires more than repeating an equation.

Q: What are your thoughts on standardized tests?

@adversarian: I understand the use of standardized testing to aid college applications, but I don't approve of it. For a multitude of reasons, tests themselves aren't going to be a realistic representation of a person's academic ability. Some of us get test anxiety, we might just be having a bad day, we might get high scores but not be emotionally ready for college, etc. There's so much more that needs to be considered, so standardized tests can be misleading.

Q: What makes a good teacher good?

@adversarian: In my life, the best teachers have been the ones who have made an effort to understand my perspective. They take the time to present material in a way I'll be able to understand and connect to the things I already know, instead of telling me what I need to know without filling in the gaps. They emphasize understanding instead of memorization.

Stay Tuned for Part Two with Anna Hoffstrom.

Check out the previous interviews in the series:

Pearce Delphin (Part One)

Pearce Delphin (Part Two)

Todd Oh

Lane Sutton

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