So, do you ever get tired of being asked, “what is unschooling”? Or are you someone who keeps asking but you haven’t found a person who can really put it into words for you? Neither of you are alone! I knew that before I ever conceived my son, I would be ‘educating him at home’ and so did my hubby. I never put much thought into ‘the how’ or really much thought into ‘the why’, but it only felt natural and right.
When I became pregnant, home education is exactly what I focused on…not the fact that I was about to give birth to a child! I started reading and researching everything about homeschooling. I discovered ‘unschooling’. It made sense, because that’s the way I envisioned homeschooling to be in the first place. So, I was rather shocked when I kept finding all these resources online that were VERY ’school-at-home’ orientated. I guess being an Anarchist naturally puts me at odds with any educational system or theory that uses control of/over children to ‘produce’ results (i.e. an educated child).
I always assumed that what parents did with their children on most days before they were ’school aged’ and then sent away for 4 to 8 hours a day was unschooling. I mean, I know that no one really works at teaching their children how to talk, crawl or walk (barring some special cases) — we kind of have to figure that one out for ourselves in order to be able to communicate and interact with the Universe around us. How would this natural desire to figure things out and to explore our Universe go away if we never knew school? It doesn’t go away…until you go to school. Well, it might not go away completely, because we still (most of us) desire knowledge as adults and we find very non-mainstream ways of acquiring said knowledge at times. I have to admit though, I have been damaged by the public education system and most of those who are near and dear to me can attest to the same. As adults we spend our entire life trying to over come the damage of a childhood full of punishment and praise.
Back to unschooling. Unschooling led me to John Taylor Gatto and if ‘we’ are still naming Saints, then his name should be added to that list! Unschooling makes so much sense to me…why doesn’t it make sense to everyone else. Because everyone else has more faith in ‘experts’ than in themselves, let alone their children…not to mention that most people do not view children as real people with real feelings, thoughts and rights; they are only ’second class’ citizens who can not be trusted and need to be constantly corrected and broken like some kind of wild animal.
Respecting children as though they are real people is step one. Trusting that they know what is better for them than anyone else is step two…because I hope that you know what is better for yourself than anyone else does. Not pushing one’s own agenda onto a child or forcing them to ‘cooperate’ (read: obey without question) because you are selfish and assume that because you are bigger and older you matter more than they do is step three. Step four comes after all that…it’s when true autonomy is respected…not given, because that implies that you could take it away if you wanted. When you do not forbid something, it loses it’s appeal or never gains appeal in the first place — children can and should be trusted with EVERYTHING.
Unschooling…yes, it is in all of this rambling. Once you are at a place where you are able to put into action Steps 1-4, then it only makes sense to NOT enroll your children into ANY kind of school against their will, unless there is ABSOLUTELY NO other option. Children are unschooled from birth (or conception, depending on what team you play for) and there is no magical age at which they stop learning and wanting to learn. And right now, I have to say that if you are still reading this and saying, “yeah that’s nice, but I had to endure school and I came out alright — why shouldn’t my kids be schooled too?”, I have to say you are one selfish person to even suggest that your children deserve to endure the same pain, punishment, pressure and boredom that you endured. People try to defend school by saying that it is some kind of ‘rite of passage’, when all they are doing is trying to rationalize why they are sending their children away — even when their heart aches for them to be home and even when their children are obviously not happy and not succeeding.
I think I could maybe be swayed into believing that the school system has my child’s best interest in mind and might be more equipped to care for their education than I, if and only if, the system’s own report card was not so laughable! And if I didn’t know what the system was really there for in the first place.
Ok, so fine. Hopefully you have gotten through my very biased rant and now you are asking, but ‘how’, if there isn’t a curriculum or plan or goal of some kind in place (but there is). I’ve been trying to explain this one for awhile now. I’ve been trying to really make a fairly concise description and still get everything in there…I can’t do it. But, I can give examples of it in action and I can think of some words and I can share the words of others. One mother in New York, blogs about how she wishes she could be honest about unschooling to fulfill state requirements and she has this to say (extracted from link above):
If I could write something for this IHIP that would actually reflect some of the spirit and scope of unschooling, I would focus on the following four concepts. These are concepts that we encounter in many forms every day and that seem to flow organically from Lucia’s exploration of the world around her.
Concept 1: Information is available and abundant. Lucia will learn that her community is rich with resources. These include, among others, public libraries, museums, colleges and universities, research centers, nature centers, theatres and performance spaces, galleries, gardens, farms, and religious institutions. She will become comfortable using these resources. Lucia will identify her own interests and learning goals. She will locate and utilize appropriate resources, critically analyze and organize available information, and apply this information in the way that best suits her needs.
Concept 2: There are as many ways to live as there are people on the planet. Lucia will explore many cultures. She will find that ideas are expressed in many ways: verbal, visual, physical, and sonic. She will experience different concepts of family, friendship, and love. She will understand that lifestyles are shaped by many factors, both internal and external. She will come to recognize that there are many forms of government in place all over the world and that some are more participatory than others. She will develop an idea about personal freedom and individual rights. She will be concerned with issues of social justice because they affect her and the people she cares about - even some she’s never met.
Concept 3: We are part of a natural system. Lucia will experience her life as part of a dynamic, living system. Evolution is a chance occurrence that happens in response to environmental change. It has no direction and no goal. The idea that humans are somehow separate and distinct from other living things is sorely misguided and is largely responsible for the environmental crisis in which we find ourselves today. The earth existed for billions of years before us, and it will end without us. But before that happens Lucia will learn that natural resources are finite. Our actions have consequences. Our consumption creates pressures elsewhere. The food that sustains us is a product of the earth. The waste we generate must go somewhere. Lucia will have the power to live as a conscientious steward of the earth. She will help her family strive to reduce our negative impact on nature’s balance. This can be a challenge in our modern, technological society. It requires thought and effort. But a feeling of kinship with nature can only enhance our experience of the world, adding texture, depth, and a sense of fulfillment.
Concept 4: Everything is connected. Lucia will notice the connections among all of the concepts above. She will see, for example, how access to information affects personal freedom, how cultural belief systems affect people’s attitudes toward the environment, how participation in government can bring about legislation to improve a community’s handling of natural resources. There are countless possibilities. And it is within these connections that Lucia’s true education lies. In making these connections, she will begin to construct new and original ideas of her own.
I can just replace my son’s name wherever ‘Lucia’ appears and I’m done…for the most part! I think this beautifully captures and explains the curriculum part of unschooling, which is LIVING A REAL LIFE and learning from it! I can not really explain it better at the moment.
“But how will they learn XXX or XXX, if they never open a XXX book or never have to raise their hands to ask permission to pee or etc.?” Well, they might not, if they don’t need to. Really, how much of what was forced down your throat during school do you remember? And more importantly, how much have you needed to know to make it ‘in the real world’? If there was a certain subject that you really loved and one that you really hated, those are the two examples that are going to come into your mind right now. The first because you were genuinely interested and the second because you were being forced to ‘learn’ something that had no revelence to your life at the time…maybe you would have been ‘better’ at say math, if you hadn’t had to ‘learn’ it until you were a teenager or out in the ‘real world’ when you needed it.
The REAL World gets a lot of attention when it comes to unschooling and naysayers. As if school is the real world! I haven’t yet come across a situation in the real world yet (mind you I am only 26 at this time), that I have been prepared for because of school. In fact, there were TONS of things that I NEVER learned in school that I have needed out here in the real world that I have had to learn post-school. This doesn’t mean that my parents and other influences in my life didn’t teach me about some of the ‘life lessons’ mentioned in the article linked to, but I wasn’t taught most of them and I can not really remember being taught them in school or if I was, the information wasn’t presented in a manner that was relevant to my present state of being. Most of the things mentioned probably shouldn’t be taught or shouldn’t be expected to be taught in schools…but really, what should schools be ‘teaching’ in the first place? I think all schools should be Free Schools — at least if children are forced into going for whatever reason they’ll have a better chance at coming out the other side practically unschooled in a public manner! Is that really possible?
I’m going to do my best to explain unschooling as this blog progresses along…be patient though, it’s not easy…like most life lessons!
On a side note: I’m fascinated by the number of Radical Unschoolers out there who are not Anarchists (quite a few are Libertarians, so that can count…I guess).