Monday, March 29, 2010

Unschooling Creates "Gaps in Education"

One of the most common concerns brought up about unschooling is possible "gaps".  If unschoolers learn only about what they're interested in, won't they have gaps in their education?

And this strikes me as coming from such a very schooly mindset: a mindset that says that schools have the answer.  That everything chosen for the school curriculum is Important, and MUST be learned at some point or other for the learner to be a properly functioning member of society!  It comes from a presumption that the government knows everything that's essential knowledge for every human being.  And it comes from the belief that there IS one essential body of knowledge out there to be learned!

I totally disagree. 

The government wants children to learn what will help the system itself, not what's good for the individual or the community.   There are also much more important, to the system, anyway, lessons taught in school than what's "learned" about the "core subjects" (see John Taylor Gatto's The Six-Lesson School Teacher).

I also disagree that there are certain "core subjects" that must be learned.  As far as I'm concerned, a healthy community is made up of many people with many different skills, experiences, and knowledge bases.  The things that are important for each individual to learn are those important to that individual.  The idea of "gaps in knowledge" at all is pretty ridiculous, actually, when everyone can agree that there is a colossal amount of information out there.  No one can hope to absorb any more than a tiny fraction of the accumulated knowledge available to them, so everyone no matter what their education will have "gaps"!  It's just a matter of whether the knowledge you do have is of your own choosing, knowledge that is meaningful and worthwhile to you, or whether it's chosen by someone else, and forced down your throat "for your own good".

And really,  even if I did have to pick the things I think it would be truly good for everyone to learn, I'd pick things I think would be freeing, and help people move beyond our horrible system.  It would look nothing like a school curriculum.  I'd say that I thought everyone should know how to truly look after themselves.  Have a basic knowledge of health, how to treat yourself for a variety of common ailments using natural medicines, good nutrition (REAL good nutrition, not the food guide crap issued by governments), how to find/grow/raise your own food, how to make your own shelter, how to make decisions both individually and collectively, and live in a consensual, pro-community way with those around you.  I think those things are a hell of a lot more important than algebra or the capital of Oklahoma (no offense to Oklahoma.  It was just the first place that popped into my head! ;-)).

The idea of there being an essential body of information is a pervasive one, sadly.  Even most homeschoolers, and many unschoolers, buy into the idea of there being core subjects, even if they don't buy into the schools idea of teaching them.  I used to think that way myself, and to separate what I was doing into "subjects".  Hell, I still find myself doing that on occasion!  But I find it more freeing to go beyond that, to stop thinking of  life as having anything to do with "subjects", and to never place different activities, different types of learning or knowledge, into a hierarchy of importance based on the pervasive schooling mindset of our society.  To try instead to let myself gravitate toward the things that simply feel best, feel the most important, empowering, and good to me, whether or not those things are considered important by the rest of the world!

Peace,
Idzie

23 comments:

  1. Excellent!
    Why do people think that schooled kids have no gaps? I mean let's be real here. What's a gap anyway? We all know what we know :)

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  2. Good article. I agree with everything you wrote.

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  3. I went to school and my education is full of gaps just as with many others I know who attended school. Those who I speak with who are in high school now or recently left, no little but the political propaganda pumped into their heads. They are teaching a political ideology as scientific fact.

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  4. Oh, Idzie.
    You had me in the beginning with "coming from such a very schooly mindset: a mindset that says that schools have the answer. That everything chosen for the school curriculum is Important, and MUST be learned at some point or other for the learner to be a properly functioning member of society! It comes from a presumption that the government knows everything that's essential knowledge for every human being."

    You are so right.
    Why on earth would we replace our own (intuition and intrinsic) judgment with that of a bureaucratic government's?

    Absolutely.
    Unequivocally.
    Truly,
    Yes.

    You cut to the quick with "Question The Authority".

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  5. Ditto, I agree with everything you wrote (except maybe building a shelter, but luckily you're not imposing that on everyone ;D).

    But for every one of these posts, there's something that always lingers in the back of my mind. Yes, healthy children will naturally learn what they need to know to get what they want.
    But what about the mentally ill?
    What about the teens that have such strong anxiety that they can't make themselves master something they find very difficult? I'm not talking about brain surgery, I'm talking about being able to write a sentence. :| It just makes me sad that there is no EASY way for them to learn something that would impact their lives so greatly.

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  6. I issue is not gaps in learning, it is gaps in credentials.
    I think well-intentioned parents aren't concerned about what/how much their kids are 'learning' and getting prepared for life. I think they are hopeful that their kids are prepared fully to pass college entrance tests, and that they take prerequisite courses that meet college entrance requirements, and that they remember them at least long enough to manage in college and obtain the college credential. Parents are hopeful that their kids will become credentialed as the system requires to allow them have their desired career choices open to them.
    I have told many people that they can essentially take all courses offered at MIT and a few other universities, and they all reply "but do you get credit?".
    On the other hand, I know a man who worked in engineering, studied it in all his free time out of passion, and knew more than most others in his company, but could not advance as he desired because he did not go to college and did not have an engineering license.
    Of course Blake Boles' book presents a reasonable alternative plan to put minimal personal resources into credentialing for college (if desired). Your comments are appreciated.

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    1. This is my biggest concern as a homeschooling mom. My kids are still pretty young so it's ok for now, but I want to be building towards them being able to get a college degree, certifications, or whatever else they want. Being as my husband is in IT he is big on our kids have a portfolio as a proof of work. I think there is a load of information, but if you don't pay for it and receive a piece of overpriced paper, what you know is meaningless. It's concerning to say the least. I know there are colleges where you can build your own program and that would be ideal, but still you have to pay at a bloated rate to get it.

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    2. This is my biggest concern as a homeschooling mom. My kids are still pretty young so it's ok for now, but I want to be building towards them being able to get a college degree, certifications, or whatever else they want. Being as my husband is in IT he is big on our kids have a portfolio as a proof of work. I think there is a load of information, but if you don't pay for it and receive a piece of overpriced paper, what you know is meaningless. It's concerning to say the least. I know there are colleges where you can build your own program and that would be ideal, but still you have to pay at a bloated rate to get it.

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  7. Hi Idzie, this is the first time I've commented on your blog!

    This post helped me out a lot, I think the argument you presented had been floating around in my mind for a while but I couldn't pin it down as clearly as you did. I agree with everything you said!

    I'm not sure if this is a question or just my take on it, but my only problem with it is that I feel like I SHOULD know certain things just because other people do. I feel guilty for not going through the motions like schooled kids - honestly, I haven't done as many hard things as they have (even if they were only hard because they had no personal interest in them). Do you ever feel like this? If so, how do you deal with it?

    Thanks :) Your writing is lovely!

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  8. The biggest gap in a schooled person's knowledge is likely to be a lack of truth about one's country's history, and the truth about what one's country is doing to other people around the world right now. There's a huge conflict of interest in the fact that governments control the education of their populations. The knowledge that we are free to question the institution that teaches us is conveniently left out. There are plenty of intentional gaps in the school curriculum, the biggest one being that we are *born* free - free to use our own brains, acquire our own knowledge, and come to our own conclusions. Governments and government schools don't give human beings freedom. Governments can only forbid it, partly by forcing us into their institutions during our most vulnerable years.

    History only began to make sense to me long after I got out of "the system." No unschooled person should ever feel bad about being free from having the wool pulled over their eyes. Knowledge gaps are far less of a risk when one is free to own one's own mind and think for oneself. Unschooling is a triumph.

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  9. "But what about the mentally ill?
    What about the teens that have such strong anxiety that they can't make themselves master something they find very difficult? I'm not talking about brain surgery, I'm talking about being able to write a sentence. :| It just makes me sad that there is no EASY way for them to learn something that would impact their lives so greatly."

    I am autistic. I let school rather late, at the beginning of high school. In school the method for teaching us (myself and the other autistics at my school) was to restrict our access to our "special interests" until we did what we were supposed to. Which for me meant that all of what I learned has no relevance, and fell out of my head. Even writing had to be relearned so that it had purpose and was something I could access without struggling. Since I left I have learned a lot of things that I probably should have learned in school, a lot of things they probably don't teach at school, and some things that are just interesting all because I tied it into my special interests and skills. What school was taking away so that I could "learn".

    I would imagine there are similar ways to help people with other mental issues learn at home.
    The child with anxiety might need to learn grounding exercises, but then maybe the anxiety would reduce if s/he wasn't being graded?

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  10. Idzie, I love your posts! I was just thinking yesterday about how a much more appropriate subject in school would be "relationships" than "algebra." :) Much more useful for us all.

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  11. Wow, so many comments so fast, thanks so much guys! :-)

    @Stephanie: Thank you! And I think "we all know what we know" sums it up nicely. :-)

    @Todd: Thanks! Glad to hear it. :-)

    @Diary of a Naked Wombat: There seem to be so many things out there presented as fact, when really what's happening are a few facts being twisted to support a certain viewpoint... Thanks for your comment! :-)

    @Stephanie: Thank you so much for your kind words!! :-] Love your comment. And love this: "Why on earth would we replace our own (intuition and intrinsic) judgment with that of a bureaucratic government's?" If more people could just realize that, I swear things would improve immediately!

    @Anonymous: Thanks, I'm glad! Well, maybe I'm not thinking of the same types of cases as you are, I don't know what your experiences are, or where you're coming from, but I do know I've seen people with mental illnesses struggle greatly in school, and I definitely feel unschooling would be a much better experience for people who do! Anxiety especially, in my personal experience, is something I think gets worse the more pressure is put on someone... Again, I'm not quite sure where you're coming from, just sharing my opinion from what I understand! Thanks for the comment! :-)

    @Lindsay: Most people do seem to worry about gaps in actual learning, as well, but I agree they also usually worry about credentials. Well, firstly, I know tons of unschoolers who've gotten into university, by either taking the SAT, or by portfolio, or by starting out at a community college, then transferring to a university, so getting credentials really isn't an issue for most unschoolers... And for those who choose not to go to college or university, or even to not take any high school leaving exams, I think those lack of credentials are often less of an issue than most people think they will be. It *can* be an issue, but it often doesn't seem to be. I guess it depends, because my father, for instance, doesn't have an engineering degree, but has worked for years in positions that are made for engineers thanks to years of experience, if not papers. A few places want the papers, but most are happy with an extensive resume. And many, many university educated people struggle finding jobs in the field they studied in at all! So that's kind of how I think of it... Yeah, I've heard good things of that book!

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  12. @Julie: I'm assuming you're the Julie I know, so hey, I hope you're doing well, and thank you for commenting!! :-D Firstly, thanks so much, it makes me very happy to hear you enjoy my writing! :-) Yeah, I do feel like that! I feel both bad when someone who's gone to school knows stuff that I don't, and I feel bad in a totally different way when a friend complains about homework, or getting a bad mark, or something similar. I try to be sympathetic, but I just can't relate to it, and I feel bad that they have/had to go through that and I don't/didn't! As for how I deal with it, well, I usually just get mad at the schooling system for making things that way, instead of feling like I should be doing things differently, so I don't think that's particularly helpful. :-P Anyway, thanks for commenting! :-)

    @Cheryl: Yes, especially with my political leanings, I notice that so much! How ignorant the great majority of people are about what the USA and Canadian governments are doing to people abroad, to people at home (I'm thinking First Nations peoples, the homeless, etc.), and what they've done in the past. The history taught in school seems to be very supportive of the system! I really love your comment, thanks for leaving it! :-)

    @Starre: Thank you so much for sharing your experiences and perspective!! And I'm so glad to hear leaving school was such a good experience for you (I love hearing stories of people leaving school! *Grins*). I really didn't feel I was a good person to address that question, so I'm really glad you did. :-) I've dealt with anxiety issues and panic attacks, though not nearly as severely as I think Anonymous is thinking of. I do know that the pressure of school and grading would have been the LAST thing I needed, and growing up in the supportive environment I did, I learned how to deal with it... :-)

    @Adrienne: Thanks so much!! :-D Haha, yes, that does sound FAR more useful!

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  13. I agree with just about everything in this blog. I wonder if you could help me with one thing though. My children only became home-learners this year, so I'm still learning, too!

    Here is my problem. I have to submit a report to the Board of Education at the end of the year. Too this end, I have been keeping track of what my children do and separating them into subject areas. For example, playing the Wii is Math (keeping track of scores) and Health/Phys Ed (As we all know, the Wii involves a lot of movement, not to mention hand-eye co-ordination!) while writing a letter to Grandma is English.

    I would be grateful for any advice you might have about how to submit a progress report without dividing everything into subject areas, because, frankly, I hate classifying everything the children do, I'd rather just sit back and enjoy helping them learn!

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  14. Fantastic post Idzie. We all have gaps, otherwise I think we'd all be considered robots and not separate, individual human beings with interests and passions all our own. Why else would any of us follow blogs, as an example, if not to learn new things from others? And what defines a gap anyway? Or should I say who? Stupid system. Oh yes...your writing is so lovely.

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  15. My kids are so young and we are still at the very beginning of our unschooling journey. And we are facing a lot of opposition.
    I love seeing how someone who has been there feels about the process. It bring me confidence in what I do.
    Everyone treats the things I say like they are jsut theoritical and that kids can't possibly be motivated to learn on their own. It's sad that no one respects children.
    Thanks Idzie!

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  16. Hi Idzie, I love this post. I was going to write a response, but you already said it all. :-)

    Why does our culture value homogenization so much? Why should everyone know the same things? What would be the point of that, even if it were possible? Yeah, these are rhetorical questions. :-)

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  17. That was such a great post and I completely agree!

    It's just sad most people can't see that.

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  18. "Gaps" is a term that doesn't begin to cover what is missed by Attending any sort of Formal Learning. While I agree with you in this aspect, i don't understand what makes any form of learning, be it Unschooling Homeschooling or Public schooling, Better then any other form of learning. Going of the fact that everyone is a completely different person, how can you say that people will get more out of being unschooled then they will being Public schooled. Your Opinion is Valid, seeing as you experience things for yourself, and have seen the effects that the other forms have on people, but can you honestly say that you've seen enough that you can Catagorize any system as the best for everyone?

    Excuse me if I read what you've posted wrong, but that's what I thought about when I read it.

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  19. Anonymous asked about how mentally ill teenagers will learn. Firstly they don't learn much in school and are frequently expelled for starters. Secondly, it is the job of the community to care for ALL it's members, and compassion is a crucial lesson for that to exist within the community. Unfortunately, there is not much compassion being taught within the education institution.

    Great post - as usual!

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  20. In my opinion, the only think most schools want to teach is what you have to know in order to have a life which they think you should have. All my junior high school I was taught how to pass exams to high school, and all high school how to pass final exams and get into uni. By the last year of school I hated it so much that I only attended 50% of classes, so pointless it all seemed to me. And I came out of school hating all sciences and all kinds of sport, only to discover long after leaving school that I totally love learning all that I previously thought I hated. Irony...

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