Sunday, September 19, 2010

Unschooling thread comments (from Facebook)

These are comments I made in response to some very respectful and thoughtful questions about unschooling. They seem to be moving toward the heart of a new revelation, so I am saving them here.
In response to a suggestion that unschoolers unschool due to childhood memories of school:

Our decision to unschool has everything to do with our lifestyle, and our children and their natural learning patterns. Neither would do well in a school setting - one is deeply philosophical in the small hours of the morning, and frequently sleeps through the day. The other is hugely expansive in her interests and questions, which would be a distraction in a classroom but delights us here, because we have ample time for her explorations. Both of them LOVE being able to come for kisses, hugs, snuggles, tickles, and conversation when they need it, which keeps them "filled up" and able to be very independent.

Also, I married a chef who does not have weekends off. The kids and Jim are as close as they are largely because Miah and Lise are able to spend Mondays and Tuesdays with him, and to be home still when he leaves for work at 2ish, and able to be up and awake he gets home around 11-12ish.

I won't say that my school experience had nothing to do with it. I didn't enjoy the endless repetition, the bullying, the arrogance of some teachers, the pointless homework, the bells that ruled our lives, the combination of mob scene and political arena that is the between-class hall, the half-hour ride on the diesel-belching, migraine-inducing bus....

My children, though, can choose to experience school if they want. They aren't home because we don't let them go to school. They are home, or wherever else we are, because they choose to be. And we are thrilled to have them with us, because they are simply incredible human beings! =)

In response to question regarding the whether we unschoolers felt we would be "qualified" to "teach" our children "secondary education", or whether we would send them to high school:

For unschoolers, there isn't clear division between life and learning.

Everyone in our home is a passionate learner. At just-turned-9, Jeremiah can navigate the Internet independently. What that means is that he has access to more learning than he could investigate in several lifetimes. As his thought processes become more complex, he understands more of the world. He is interested in philosophy, time travel, theology, physics, moral behavior, space, number play, and Pokemon!

Humans learning through the process of living, pursuing their own goals, do so in a very different way. Annalise, at 3, loved intestines and deoxyribonucleic acid, which she could tell you was DNA. Why? Because anatomy fascinates her. Many other things do, too, like horsemanship, challenging her physical capabilities, building and creating, animal ecosystems around the world and through time, languages, and dramatic play.

Life learners learn what interests them, and to the depth and breadth that they choose.

The headscratcher for me is this thought that compulsory schooling has been a fact of life for only about 5 generations. All the generations before did fine without it. Think of all the innovations made without the "benefit" of schooling, and it might seem like a less valid concern. Think that teenagers are something invented fairly recently, and that, through most of history and still, in some cultures, humans who had passed through puberty were adults, with the same rights and responsibilities as any adult. This says clearly that a person in their teens is as capable of learning what they need as an adult, given the freedom to grow freely into capability.

Unschoolers do not own their children's learning (really, no parent owns their child's learning, although that tends to get forgotten). What we strive to do, here, is to offer as much of the buffet of life as we can, and invite Miah and Lise to sample what they will, in nibbles or huge gobbling bites, or anywhere in between.

I have no reason to believe that they will eventually become incapable of learning what they need. So, my particular qualifications aren't as important as my willingness to help them get what they need, when they ask.

No, we wouldn't choose to put them in school. But, as I said, if it is their choice to try, at any point, they ill be supported. And they will know, too, that they can choose to come home again any time they choose to.

In response to a teacher's observation that college-educated people make more money; the assumption that unschooling is the privilege of the financially comfortable, that most people could not afford it, because both parents need to work; and her description of her role for 6 hours a day in a school that "fights bullying", "teaches tolerance", and where they "try to make learning fun":

Maybe people who go to college make more - but they almost always carry a large debt into their earning life. The grown unschoolers I know define success not by money earned, but by passion and joy. Often, they earn a living as artisans, musicians, or entrepreneurs. They tend to create a niche for themselves, based on doing what they love to do.

It's a mistake, I think, to assume that people who unschool are financially better off. We live on one very modest income. Our house payment is less than many people's rent. We drive vehicles over a decade old. Most of our clothing, books, toys, and electronics are secondhand or at least well-used by us. We enjoy the creative challenge of trying to live richly and joyfully with the resources available. Most of the unschoolers I know are in similar situations.

"Need to" is a phrase that's used a lot, but doesn't seem to get examined nearly so often. DO most families "need" to be two-income? Or could they live more simply, and get by on one, if they chose to?

In America, 150,000 families are estimated to be homeschooling. So it is a viable option, for that many.

I wonder if I'm the only one who finds the phrase "fight bullying" a bit, well, oxymoronic? I question efforts that aim for that, because bullying is a symptom of a deeper issue. Kids who are in school against their will, are, in their perception, prisoners. I did well in school, and there were some aspects of it I really liked, but I often felt that way. All the kids have done to earn that imprisonment is to be too young to refuse it. Some of them may be living in abusive homes, like I did. In such a circumstance, I think bullying is likely to be inevitable, and fighting it without realizing that it is an indicator of unhappiness in the lives of the "bullies" (who usually have been bullied, too) seems to be missing the point.

Teaching tolerance to people who aren't free to do as they please with those 6 hours a day is likely to lead to less than rousing success (the idea that kids "belong" in school, that they "need" that level of control over their lives, isn't, in itself, very tolerant of these children's selfness). These children can't go get a hug from Mom or Dad when they need one; their emotional needs tend to be placed beneath the academic "needs", at least in this country. Given these things, that there is bullying seems only logical.

The truth is, separating learning from life creates a multitude of problems that unschoolers don't see. Jeremiah and Annalise are tolerant because their emotional needs are being met, and because their parents are tolerant. They are tolerant and able to interact confidently with people from infants to elderly people because they are out and about, not behind school walls, but in the actual Real World school purports to prepare children for.

I don't understand the practice of "trying to make learning fun". Just the statement implies that learning isn't fun unless someone makes it so. But learning is a BLAST! Watch any baby who has mastered a new skill. Watch any child who still knows how to play freely. It's the attempt to force into a child a specific body of "learning" that isn't fun, because the child has no say (and often no real and immediate use) for what they are required to "learn". I use quotes because remembering something long enough to pass a test without connecting the information to any real-life experience isn't the same thing as figuring out something YOU really wanted to learn, and using that new knowledge in your daily life, and owning it for the future.

I'm not sure I can agree with your statement that you have them for 6 hours and the rest is up to the parents. It's not just the six's the getting ready to go, the bus or walk or car ride there, the bus or walk or car ride home, the homework, the decompressing from a long "work day", the getting ready for the next day, the bedtime....and that doesn't take into account the children who are in before and/or after school care, while their parents work. Schools here have even taken to assigning long-range summer homework!

I'm not trying to be disrespectful or argumentative in any way. Unschooling requires a huge shift in paradigm, and, once done, it's impossible to look at all those "have to's" and assumptions that are such a part of the mainstream world the same way. At first, it was terrifying! =) But now, our life flows with a joy and zest for discovery that I don't think can be duplicated in ANY artificial setting.

The teacher's next post, which validated "all my reasons for unschooling" and detailed her passion for her work, and the benefits she feels she provides her students:

I love that you love what you do. =) It must make your class a haven for your students. My years of studying French didn't turn out to offer me better job opportunities, but they did enhance my cultural understanding, and I could understand the Arrete signs I saw in Quebec!

* which will help them in the future with employment opportunities, cultural understanding and travel.*

This is one of those assumptions I mentioned above. It isn't a given that it WILL help. It MAY help.

My husband took French, too, for a semester or two, for no other reason than that it was required. He likes to hear me speak French, but he wasn't and isn't remotely interested in understanding it, himself. He didn't pay attention, and remembers almost nothing. The little French he DOES have, he's learned from his career as a chef.

That being said, I'm sure you don't understand all my reasons for unschooling. I haven't gone into them all here - I couldn't, because I don't fully understand WHY I have this conviction. A lot of it, though, stems from what is right and natural. Mammals are intended to raise their own young to competent adulthood. Humans are mammals. Evolution intends us to raise our on young; nature has given most of us the ability to do so.

For the children whose parents don't see it as I do, though, I am glad there are teachers who are passionate about their work. I'm glad you're there!

The other poster, seeming a bit defensive, asserted that this isn't how the world is, that it isn't "what you know, but what you show you know" that the world revolves around:

I don't have that experience in the world I live in. My world revolves around my family (Jim, Jeremiah, Annalise, and the chosen family we surround ourselves with), community, and learning. We pass most of our days in engaged presence and togetherness.

As a chef, Jim has built a very loyal local following for his Latino/Southwest cuisine, created from scratch, using his own recipes. What people experience is the passion he brings to every plate. What they have no idea of, most of them, is that he also excels at family fare, BBQ, vegetarian, and has experience with classic cooking. They don't know he makes bread with his children, reads cookbooks for fun, has hiked nearly every trail in Grand Canyon National Park, tells wildly outlandish stories, makes furniture, and held our newborn son while he died.

Life doesn't just happen to us, and we aren't its prisoners. Experiences happen to us all. We all get to decide what to make of them. Most of the unschoolers I know have opted for being present and conscious about every choice - conscious of just how many choices there ARE.

From where I am, the measure of success is how well I am living my principles. I judge this by how peacefully I live my days, how often I hear my children's laughter, and whether Jim's eyes still light up when we wake up and when he gets home. I measure it in how kind I am, how often I think before I act, how often I make a better choice. I judge it by the learning and growth we all are doing, how much fun we're having, how connected we are. I judge it by the confidence in my children's eyes when they speak to adults.

I don't judge it by how much of what I know I show.

The teacher then asked if unschoolers felt schools should be banned in America:

I think without question America would be better without schools, but banning them would be disastrous.

Unschooling has brought me face to face with my own childhood, led me to look at it deeply.

School damages most of those who attend in a very profound way. From the moment a child is first made to subject their own free will to the teacher's plans, there is the potential for the child to begin losing the integrity of their own selfness. Their own desires become secondary, if not completely irrelevant. They are told when they may eat, drink, play, rest, draw, sing, talk to their neighbor, use the bathroom.

They generally have no control over who is placed in the class with them, who rides their bus. Seating is often arbitrarily arranged, with friends separated so they won't get "distracted" by each other.

The children are told what is important. Staring out the window is not (no matter what deep ponderings about nature, weather, games, exploration, poetry, or freedom might be going on within the child). Daydreaming and using one's imagination without permission are disapproved. Doing as the teacher says is the only acceptable option.

The child must fit themselves to the system at all times, else face external consequences.

There is something completely godsmacking about being with a group of unschooled kids. They meet my eyes; they talk with me not in deference, but as equals. They are open about their lives, their loves, their hopes for the future. They have an inner wisdom I wouldn't have believed possible, because my own was deformed by my schooling (and I as a fiercely independent kid who wrote erotic stories in an alphabet I invented, hid a Star Trek novel in the Shakespeare I'd read at home, for fun, drew multitudes of horse pictures, and wrote poetry in trig, had more escapes available than many schooled children have).

Unschooled children are delightfully untrammeled - and, because all of life is theirs to claim, they all gravitate toward things that fill their unique passions.

Sandra Dodd has a quote, paraphrased: "School takes kids out of the world. Unschooling gives it back."

So, because schooled adults have almost universally lost that deep connection to self, and the freedom to express that self in their lives, because they have learned to subject their free will to the system in order to survive it,unschooling involves a HUGE shift in perspective. If a person is too deeply damaged, they may not be able to make that shift. Many, many more have a type of Stockholm syndrome wherein they have convinced themselves that school was "for their own good", and that not sending a child off to school at age 5 constitutes child abuse. These people have no interest in choosing to unschool.

What I think would IMMEDIATELY help would be to stop making attendance compulsory, and to stop requiring certain things to be covered at certain points and in specific ways. Can you imagine what your days would be like if every child was there by choice?! What if the kids were part of the planning each day, and everyone just flowed with their own interests? What if learning French was not placed above learning, say, Aramaic, Swahili, or Klingon? What if "school" came to mean a hub of resources available to anyone of any age at any time? What if you were completely free to indulge your own learning passions there, perhaps even learn from someone less than half your age ( I learn from my children, and their friends All. The. Time.) ?

Another help would be to stop propagandizing school as * a rite of passage*. It happens every fall, every May - the spate of commercials and news stories that seem to say school is a natural part of life. But it isn't. It's a social form contrived to churn out workers who know enough to function, but not enough to stand up and claim their own life and learning. School is treated as inevitable.

And yet, there are many children, and many, many more people through history, who lived without it. Honesty about that would be a huge shift for our society.

Also, honesty about what school provides. Only 60% of enrolled American children graduate. That means nearly half do not. Schools here are unable to get 40% of their charges to the "finish line" of graduation. (And why are there ANY finish lines for learning, to begin with? There aren't, in my world!).

A business with a 60% success rate would likely not last long.

Even among graduates, most aren't truly ready for the workforce OR higher education. Here, many children are passed through to graduation without basic literacy or math skills. Kids aren't prepared for the realities of living away from the rules and structure of compulsory schooling, and many (like me) are thrown into a huge tailspin by it.

Banning schools, when all most of us have known is an imposed pattern of behavior and thought, would be disastrous. Let's keep the schools, but open ourselves to other methods of learning. Let's make school a matter of preference (and preferably the child's; not the parents'), and make other paths more available. Let's stop making graduating from high school the goal that occupies so many of our kids. Let's make passion, and natural inclination, and freedom, our touchwords. Let's stop throwing more and more taxpayer money at fixing a system that stultifies us and is always clamoring for more. It DOES NOT cost that much to learn - the world, filled with nature, architecture, museums, festivals, people and LIFE is just beyond those school yards!

Let's just stop acting as though school is the be-all and end-all that prepares us for *THE REAL WORLD*. Humans are born prepared to live in a real world that expands along with their abilities...from mom's face, voice, breast, and smell, outward to include......whatever is there. Why do we put school there, separating kids from parents, siblings, pets, home, and LIFE?

Maybe it's time to remember that human beings are born to be remarkable adaptable animals, and trust that what we are born with is enough to begin with, and to trust too that what is within each of us will lead us to the life we are meant to be living, and that school is not only unnecessary to the process, but in many cases arrests it completely.


AmeliaJ said...

This is absolutely one of the best answers to the unschooling critics that I have ever read! This is exactly how I feel only I could never have articulated it this well.

Annette said...

Marvelous!!! Thank you so much for sharing this. I hope lots and lots of people end up reading it.

:) Annette

Sandra Dodd said...

-=-The headscratcher for me is this thought that compulsory schooling has been a fact of life for only about 5 generations. -=-

Maybe of very quickly-reproducing generations. :-) My own grandparents were one-room-school folks, who went for two years, four, unknown for paternal grandfather (which might mean "none") and high school for paternal grandmother. Their parents, my great grandparents, had no school as far as I've ever heard.

But there is one serious thing people often forget to mention about compulsory school, and that is that it saved MANY children from forced child labor on farms and in factories. A peek at the child labor problems of 100-some years ago might remind you that there was a time when school was pretty great for some kids.

It's not that I'm not glad we have the option, and that you're processing all that and writing some wonderful things. Unschooling as we know it, though, is a product of the age, of peace, electricity, running water and computers.