Sunday, March 02, 2014

Minecraft homeschooling: pro and con

I will start out by saying I looked at their class offerings a while back and don't feel strongly either way, but I did want to address some of what Amy Milstein of UnschoolingNYC had to say on her blog.

I don't strictly love the connection between Dickens and Minecraft, partly because I've never been a great reader and never been all that into Dickens, to be honest.  But I get why one thought led her to another: it's not uncommon for the schoolification of something to completely ruin it.

So that's where I want to start: why do we let school ruin stuff?  It doesn't have to be that way.  If something becomes sucky because we do it in school, then we need to stop suckifying stuff when we schoolify it.  That alone, if we could make it happen, would change everything.

But let's look specifically at Minecraft.  I counter that using Minecraft in schools could be one of the ways we eliminate The Suck and bring in The Awesome.  I'll come back to this.

Clearly, Amy writes a blog about Unschooling, which I completely respect.  School as we know it does not work for MANY kids.  Hence the growing popularity of homeschooling and unschooling.  I'm all for that.  But don't the folks involved in those alternatives need some accountability to prove that they're doing their kids a favor by opting out of their local public schools?  I think that is what Minecraft homeschooling is trying to provide.  I won't say (because I don't have any actual experience with them) whether they do it well or not, but it seems to work for some people, so yay for them.

What got and kept my attention though, is the idea that making Minecraft a school thing would somehow ruin it.  First off, you can't ruin Minecraft.  It's just. so. good.  But even if you could, it wouldn't really be Minecraft you'd be messing with.  It would be how your kid is spending her time, what kinds of learning experiences you're encouraging, etc.  You don't ruin a state park by taking kids on a field trip there.  You don't ruin computer programming by giving kids a ton of different ways to experience it.

If you're homeschooling or unschooling, and you've eschewed tests and grades, then rock ON with your bad selves and don't grade the Minecrafty experiences either.  Give students as much choice as possible in the videos they find and watch, in the goals they set for themselves, and so forth.

When I use MinecraftEdu in my Digital World classes, which for the record are at a private independent high school, I do provide some guidelines and requirements as well as student choice within those guidelines.  We make our MinecraftEdu world an extension of our classroom, and I'd have to argue that I provide a respite of non-suck from the purely academic experiences my students are immersed in the rest of their school day.

Wouldn't these kinds of experiences, if they were spread throughout our public schools, encourage some (not all, and I am cool with that) of the current homeschoolers and unschoolers to consider coming back?  People have a lot of reasons for opting out of public schooling.  Whether they choose private (for religious, philosophical, or other reasons), homeschooling, or unschooling, sometimes their main reason is they don't agree with how public education is DONE to their kids.  Most of the awesome stuff happening in public schools, in my opinion, is being perpetrated by those who are getting around the stupid things and seeking forgiveness later rather than permission up front. (Hi Karl!)

So why not bring in fun, awesome, engaging stuff from the world where our kids are already spending a ton of their time?  Just don't suckify it.


Amy said...

Hi Diane!
Love your post. I actually think that we agree almost 100% about this. What I dislike is when Minecraft homeschool becomes another thing that is "done" to kids in the name of education. They suckify it. (Great word, btw.) Or even if the program itself is good, the kid doesn't really want to experience Minecraft that way, but mom or dad thinks it would be more "educational" and so they sign the child up and then insist they perform. (You have no idea how many families I know personally who are forever signing their kids up for classes of all sorts without asking the child if they have any interest in it at all. Homeschooling, unschooling, makes no difference.)

Thank you so much for taking the time to write this response. It gave me more food for thought, and I can never ask for more than that!

Amy Milstein

Karen said...

Point of interest: homeschooling/unschooling is the historical default. Public school is, comparatively speaking, a new fad. I reject the statement that homeschooling children must be tested to see that they meet the standards of public schools. Quite frankly, most American public school systems are less than optimal. As a grader of standardized tests, I can tell you that public school students are tired of being tested and teated, only to be prepped for the next test - they write this on their exams every day. Between classroom bias, intense pressure to master advanced skills in an environment that suppresses their physical needs to move and wiggle, behavioral problems that make it impossible for the other students to learn - it's no wonder that my MIL's college algebra students don't know their multiplication tables. Something in the public school environment doesn't work for the great majority of students - what about the public school environment do you think should be replicated in a home environment?

Consider one more thought: parents are not supposed to be "accountable" to the government, nor are we owned by the government. (Looking at the state of public housing I'm thankful for that.) The responsibility of a parent is all towards their child. When given the right support and resources, parents generally tend to do the right thing by their children. But not replicating "school at home" does not equal failure to educate one's children.

Diane E. Main, GCT NorCal 2006 said...

Hi Karen. Thanks for your thoughts. I read back over my blog post. I mentioned accountability, but I did NOT say that homeschooled or unschooled kids should have to be tested. You put words in my mouth that were not even there. There are a LOT of ways to demonstrate learning. I am thinking more along the lines of the homeschool and unschool experiences being trusted by higher ed. as preparing students adequately for university in this country, which again, I believe can be done without testing. I oppose tests on principle, and I don't use them in the classes I teach.

You brought up a lot of important points that aren't really about what I wrote. It sounds to me like you and I agree on many things. I think kids need to be allowed to move more during learning. I oppose tests (standardized and otherwise). I am against moving ahead all the kids to the next topic before we know for sure everyone has mastered the current topic, which makes for a strong case in favor of individualized instruction/curriculum.

You asked me what about the public school environment do I think should be replicated in a home environment. Is that discussion even on the table in response to my original post? If the public school in question is doing things well, then I like socialization with lots of kids from different backgrounds and cultural and socioeconomic groups. You can do that with homeschooling and unschooling. So why did you ask me that?

Your final thoughts lead me to believe you came here looking to pick a fight. Please re-read my original post and more of my blog, as well as the kinds of things I share on Twitter (@dowbiggin) and my personal website at -- I think you'll find I am not the enemy here. I don't believe in government control of families. I do believe that many parents are not in a position or well-qualified (for a number of reasons) to teach their own children at home, and I include myself in that number. I would not be able to homeschool my child. Period. However, I do teach him a LOT, including an inordinate amount of time spent supervising and sometimes guiding him through homework. Not by my choice, necessarily, but it is what it is. I also teach him through experiences we have together. Ask anyone who knows me and my child, I am doing plenty of educating of my own child without keeping him out of a traditional school setting. This is what works for me. Glad to hear something else works for you. I think that is one of the things that is great about this country.

But please don't pick a fight when we are all on the same side.