Friday, October 22, 2010

Why I Think Unschooling is the Best Option... For Everyone.

I think an easy to digest, and common, opinion about unschooling is that it's not for everyone, and won't work for some kids.  This is an opinion held by many unschoolers, and that's quite fine.  But it's not my opinion.

What that opinion says to me, is that some children have the right to choose, the right to live in a way that nurtures freedom, and some?  Some don't.  I believe that freedom, on both an individual and community level, is a fundamental right for every person and community.  So deciding that some children deserve to be given as much freedom as possible, yet some don't, just really doesn't sit right with me.

Which leads me to the fact that as far as I'm concerned, unschooling is the best choice for everyone, and should be the default.  By saying that, what I mean is that everyone should be given the freedom to choose from the start.  With that freedom of choice, it's quite fine if some kids or teens decide to go to a school, or to structure their days in a rigid manner, or not.  The key is choice.

Because I don't just see unschooling as one option among many, but as something that should be the default, sometimes I worry that people see my opinions as being somehow exclusionary or judgmental to anyone who doesn't unschool.  Yet I realize that not everyone is going to agree with me, and that I'm not going to "convince" everyone.  I don't expect all my friends, my Facebook friends, all the people I follow on Twitter, or all the readers of this blog to share this opinion.  All I ever attempt to do is share my opinions and experiences in an honest and authentic way: to share my truth as best I can.  And that's what I'm doing when I say that I believe that everyone deserves freedom, not just a select few individuals deemed worthy or capable of dealing with it!  I believe we all have the innate ability to make our own decisions, and to live consensually, these abilities just need to be nurtured and allowed to grow properly.

Update: I expanded on some opinions expressed in this post here, which may help clarify a few things that were brought up in the comments on this post..

27 comments:

  1. I could not agree with you more! : )

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  2. Thank you - so, so much for writing what some of us don't have the ovaries to put forth. Hee.

    The "well it's not for everyone" has been, in my excuse, used to really mean, "I no longer want to talk about this or hear your ideas" - and almost always (so far - again in my experience) spoken by someone who knows little to nothing about unschooling. Let's ponder what they might really be saying then.

    If you're ever a parent or carer to children my heart just feels incredibly glad for what they'll have growing up. Something most of us never get.

    Thanks.

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  3. Um, I meant to type the word, "experience", not "excuse". Slow it down, Hogaboom.

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  4. I agree! Unschooling is for everyone, people just don't choose it, get it or know it.

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  5. Yup, I agree. I think that it's mainly people who don't know unschooling who say that and those who are unschoolers probably mean something like "We're not trying to force everyone to do the same as us".

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  6. I agree with you completely! I was unschooled until I started college, and trying to explain to people that I'd never been to school before, yet still felt perfectly prepared for "real life" just boggled their minds. And then I proceeded to get better grades than most of them, and they finally started to realize it isn't necessary to sit in a classroom 8 hours a day to learn. (Not that grades are the only indicator of intelligence, but it was one where they could see I was doing just as well as everyone else in the class)

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  7. I have a hard time balancing when talking to people about unschooling without putting down public schools in a way that might make them feel that I am judgmental of their schooling choices. Like "Why do you unschool?", "Because public school sucks and turns beautiful, curious children into mean, self-conscience, bored drones."

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  8. I usually end up compromising and saying "Well, unschooling only works for some kids and not for others..." and in today's world, where it's practically impossible that everyone could unschool, I think that's true. I think some kids do need a network to learn. I wish there was a more established unschooling network so that school wasn't the only option. Thanks for the post - you made me think! =)

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  9. I agree with Maggie - a strong network to support those who want to unschool would be awesome.

    The thing that I worry about is that young children may not be able to unschool on their own without help from their parents. Older children have the agency and ability to direct their own education much more easily. But if a 6 year's parents both work full time, that child will probably get a better education at school (even if it's an admittedly problematic education) than they will recieve stuck at home without the resources they need. Some families can't afford books let alone other necessities, and some simply don't have the time or money to help their young child unschool, even if they wanted to. With an older child, at least they can walk themselves to the library or explore the world on their own a bit more easily.

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  10. Meant to write "6 year old" not "6 year's". Whoops. (I went to school and apparently I CAN'T write. ^_^)

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  11. I am unschooling my 4 children. I agree, in an ideal world every child would have choice over how they grow up. However, although it suits every *child* it won't suit every family necessarily and the key when raising children is that virtually every decision involves compromise.

    As someone without children (I assume) you probably haven't experienced this yet (not meaning to sound patronising, I have been an adult with and without children) and like a myriad of experiences as a parent - it's something you just can have no idea about until you are one.

    Example, we are unschooling our kids. That means that I don't work at all outside the home, and my husband works stupid hours, because we have chosen to have 4 kids and therefore need a lot more money to survive. I am not experienced or qualified in anything that can earn any amount of money beyond minimum wage, so my husband works long hours. The compromise here, in order for us to unschool (home ed at all) is that my husband spends no time with his family Mon-Fri/Sat.

    Because we choose to unschool, we are living on a reduced wage in a society that assumes both parents working as a basis for being able to afford to live. So we drive a crappy old car, live in a home that is in a pretty bad state and never go on holiday. This is our compromise, and for some families they couldn't make it and feel happy.

    As a person with 4 children, who are with me all the time (youngest only 4years old) and a husband working all the hours he can and no family nearby, my major compromise is that I have no 'time to myself'. I am here 24/7 and with at least one child probably 99.5% of my waking and 100% of my sleeping time. I get maybe an hour a fortnight on average where I have no children with me. Unless you've done this, you can really have no idea how hard it is week in, week out, month in month out, year in year out. It will pass, but my god, is it a personal compromise.

    The thing is all these compromises are in order to homeschool, not particularly unschool. But some parents are just not able to let go and believe in unschooling as a possibility because they have been so indoctrinated and it's such a huge leap to even homeschool. To take the next step may take a while, or may never happen.

    Plus you have well meaning friends/relatives or less-well-meaning educational professionals harassing you for 'evidence of learning' which can be a really difficult thing to cope with if you are unschooling and just hoping for the best - as most of us probably are.

    So, although I also believe it would be fantastic for every child to be unschooled, I can understand the social and personal restraints that can mean this is one compromise too much or too much for a particular person to cope with.

    The way forward, I guess, is for it to become more and more known and for us to hear more about those people who have been unschooled and come out alright! LOL. And of course, networks of unschoolers are just vital and that leads to it (unschooling) being seen as a social norm rather than something weird and destined to failure.

    Sorry for the long ramble btw, just something I've been thinking about a lot lately.

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  12. Replies
    1. The ability of making decisions by yourself.Being able to make choices without coercion. You know... being human!

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  13. I agree wholeheartedly with Becky -- where unschooling certainly fits every child...it's not always a good fit for the *family*....or at least, it's perceived as so.

    We have two children -- and our first is a kindergarten drop-out, so we've lived both lives, albeit we were *schooling* only for about 6 torturous months. In that time I was working full-time...which meant two full-time wages and all the things that go with that. So our decision to unschool meant HUGE changes on every front. And yes, a lot of compromise. It's compromise we are absolutely committed to, and believe vehemently in...but we were already in that 'head space'...so it wasn't such a difficult leap. That isn't always the case though.

    Add to that, most people have never considered the possibility..they ARE indoctrinated...and they are the most violent and vicious critics of unschooling because it challenges something they've long held as The Way It Is...and that terrifies the crap out of most folk. And that's what families are up against when they make this choice. It's even worse to hear these things from family and close friends...because they are our support system. Which means, for some families, alienation and estrangement from loved ones over this choice to unschool. A lot of people aren't willing to risk that.

    Again to echo Becky --- I think general acceptance of unschooling will only come as more and more children emerge --- because as much as it stinks to have to justify oneself, people are gonna want proof! LOL

    Another great post....

    sorry for the rambling comment...;)

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  14. My shackles rise when anyone-no matter if I agree with them or not- tell me what I should or shouldn't do or what's good or not good for me. I'll be the judge of that!

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  15. Forced unschooling anyone?

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    1. I wonder... when slavery was abolished, then the former slaves were "forced" to be free? Do you seriously think that there would be former slaves saying "but I want to be a slave! I want to serve a master and being owned by him/her!". Only someone entirely brainwashed by a benevolent master would say that. But most slaves, the ones who suffered abuse and violence, would never go back to such state.

      Forced unschooling is an oxymoron. It can't be forced because unschooling is a matter of choice. If a kid is curious and wants to try school to see how it's like, he/she should have the freedom to try it out.

      AND he/she should also have the freedom to decide if he/she wants to stay in school or unschool. But after the experience I seriously doubt a kid or teenager would still want to go to school.

      Freedom. Being able to decide on how you want to learn and live. Guidance, not authority.

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  16. I'm with you Idzie. While many will ultimately never consider it or choose against it... in it's purest sense, "personal freedom" IS for every child. For many children it's taken away at birth... but it doesn't mean it isn't theirs.

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  17. I think if you're going to broaden the definition of "unschooling" to include kids who go to school and like it, you've rendered it meaningless.

    That said, I'm highly critical of unschooling, and I do know a lot about it. I was once quite enchanted with the idea, having read lots of unschooling theory (Ghatto, Holt, etc.).

    But time and relationships with many unschooling families has shown me there are too many limitations when we direct our own learning. We are hampered by our own sense of what is possible, what is important, what is next. We miss out on so many experiences that are unexpected consequences of interaction with gifted teachers from different disciplines.

    Many unschoolers rail against the school system and compulsory education, claiming they have no desire to attend a higher learning institution... and yet have never spent a substantial amount of time inside one.

    They claim a love of learning, yet show nothing but disdain for those who are paid life-long researchers (i.e., college professors). They act as if reading the book of one of these thoughtful individuals will give you the same depth of learning as sitting in a classroom with one, engaging in discussion and debate, and defending your ideas against theirs...
    (continued)

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  18. ...
    Meanwhile, these same unschoolers are often unable to understand the difference between peer-reviewed research and pseudo-science. They show a propensity for believing highly distorted views of history. They think they're free-thinkers because they parrot some counter-cultural ideas borrowed from John Taylor Ghatto or the anti-vaccination mothering.com crowd.

    They think that because someone writes well, they need not work under an instructor to further improve. The author of this blog *is* a promising writer. But she could be a much better writer after spending several years in a quality undergraduate English program. (Punctuation nuances are a big problem. In American English, periods always go inside the quotation marks.)

    Unschoolers present false dichotomies. Be a life-long learner or a brainwashed school-adorer. Pull your children out of "the system" as early on as possible or they will be unable to enjoy learning. You must want to learn about a subject or you will gain nothing valuable from a course.

    Here's a puzzle for you. My husband attended one of the top engineering schools in the country... and fell in love with liberal arts because of the compulsory humanities program. He struggled through several courses, hating every moment of them, but counts some of them as extremely valuable knowledge in his work life and the rest as water under the bridge. Many nights he can still be found curled up on the couch reading a classic novel or a book on sociology.

    My four year old attends preschool four half-days each week. Some mornings he says that he wants to stay home: we take him anyway. He draws pictures and tells us they are "contemporary art," something he learned about from his teachers. He brings basil cuttings to school to feed the caterpillar and view under the microscope. And with the same gusto, he discusses tensile strength and viscosity and other engineering ideas he learns from his father.

    For a number of years, I was highly disdainful of school and professors, haughtily believing I could teach myself anything with a library book or two. (Good Will Hunting, anyone?)

    I was wrong. (So was Will.) Because I had entered public high school on a moderate path (e.g., Algebra I in 9th grade) thanks to early private schooling and its limitations, I was bored in school and thought my teachers and classmates were mostly idiotic. My SAT scores earned me a place at a prestigious university, where I soon discovered that classes properly matched my academic level and ability were actually extremely interesting. I began to learn at a far deeper level than merely reading a book would provide, because many brilliant professors teach in universities but do not write for the general public.

    Perhaps rather than view the world of classroom-based education as a segmented and compulsory place, it would be more accurate to regard it as somewhere that a large portion of learning occurs, but not the endpoint of education.

    Or, as my husband often says when he hears about the field trips unschoolers take and the things they study outside of the classroom: "Ok. We do those same things. I thought that was just good parenting.

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  19. Meanwhile, these same unschoolers are often unable to understand the difference between peer-reviewed research and pseudo-science. They show a propensity for believing highly distorted views of history. They think they're free-thinkers because they parrot some counter-cultural ideas borrowed from John Taylor Ghatto or the anti-vaccination mothering.com crowd.

    They think that because someone writes well, they need not work under an instructor to further improve. The author of this blog *is* a promising writer. But she could be a much better writer after spending several years in a quality undergraduate English program. (Punctuation nuances are a big problem. In American English, periods always go inside the quotation marks.)

    Unschoolers present false dichotomies. Be a life-long learner or a brainwashed school-adorer. Pull your children out of "the system" as early on as possible or they will be unable to enjoy learning. You must want to learn about a subject or you will gain nothing valuable from a course.

    Here's a puzzle for you. My husband attended one of the top engineering schools in the country... and fell in love with liberal arts because of the compulsory humanities program. He struggled through several courses, hating every moment of them, but counts some of them as extremely valuable knowledge in his work life and the rest as water under the bridge. Many nights he can still be found curled up on the couch reading a classic novel or a book on sociology.

    My four year old attends preschool four half-days each week. Some mornings he says that he wants to stay home: we take him anyway. He draws pictures and tells us they are "contemporary art," something he learned about from his teachers. He brings basil cuttings to school to feed the caterpillar and view under the microscope. And with the same gusto, he discusses tensile strength and viscosity and other engineering ideas he learns from his father.

    For a number of years, I was highly disdainful of school and professors, haughtily believing I could teach myself anything with a library book or two. (Good Will Hunting, anyone?)

    I was wrong. (So was Will.) Because I had entered public high school on a moderate path (e.g., Algebra I in 9th grade) thanks to early private schooling and its limitations, I was bored in school and thought my teachers and classmates were mostly idiotic. My SAT scores earned me a place at a prestigious university, where I soon discovered that classes properly matched my academic level and ability were actually extremely interesting. I began to learn at a far deeper level than merely reading a book would provide, because many brilliant professors teach in universities but do not write for the general public.

    Perhaps rather than view the world of classroom-based education as a segmented and compulsory place, it would be more accurate to regard it as somewhere that a large portion of learning occurs, but not the endpoint of education.

    Or, as my husband often says when he hears about the field trips unschoolers take and the things they study outside of the classroom: "Ok. We do those same things. I thought that was just good parenting."

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    Replies
    1. "There are too many limitations when we direct our own learning".
      Oxymoron; the opposite is true. If we direct our own learning the only limits are in our minds.

      Also, directing our own learning doesn't mean we don't interact with other people to learn or that we don't receive advice or instruction from mentors, trainers, or even college professors (preferably OUTSIDE university). It just means that WE are in control of the whole experience; that's how it should be. It means that we choose to pay mentors and teachers to helps us fulfill OUR own agenda and goals instead of paying them to shove unasked assignments and exams down our throats and submit to their curriculum and schedule. As Idzie says, it's a matter of CHOICE.

      "The author of this blog *is* a promising writer. But she could be a much better writer after spending several years in a quality undergraduate English program. (Punctuation nuances are a big problem. In American English, periods always go inside the quotation marks.)"
      Or she could just keep on reading and writing more.

      Personally I'm impressed that someone her age is writing articles as articulated and deep as the ones in this blog. But maybe you appreciate more a period inside a quotation mark than the life-changing message she's trying to spread. Quick, call the grammar police!!

      "Here's a puzzle for you blablabla....." That guy could've gotten that same knowledge (and more) without struggling with the fluff he hated. It would've been much more time effective, without all the unnecessary stress.

      If you are not suffering and struggling doesn't mean you are not learning. Sometimes there is frustration and obstacles in our learning process, of course. But the overall experience should be one of pleasure and growth, not of constant pain and struggle and submission.

      "I began to learn at a far deeper level than merely reading a book would provide, because many brilliant professors teach in universities but do not write for the general public."
      Want to absorb the most knowledge you can from a college professor? Hire one to become your mentor and work 1-on-1 with him. Expensive? Maybe. More expensive than 5 years of private university? I don't think so.

      More effective than having to interrupt a whole class to ask a question and participate on forced, artificial and graded debates? You bet.

      "so i heard u liek debates?" Then talk to people learning about what you are learning and form a debate group. Simple. No us$5k+ each semester for that.

      Also, you hated school, yet you got through it so you could get into University. You could've done the same thing without school; just with a little determination and assertiveness.

      "it would be more accurate to regard it as somewhere that a large portion of learning occurs"
      It would be even MORE accurate to regard it as a place where STUDYING (read: cramming) occurs, and a very tiny portion of actual learning happens as a small bonus.

      But whatever... maybe we are all wrong, unschooling and autonomous learning will turn us into apes and school is our (FALSE) GOD and we are just blinded by it's mightiness to appreciate how awesome it really is. Because that's how the vast majority of children feel about school; that it's AWESOME and not jail at all, right?... right? Oh, wait...

      ---

      The good thing about dream-zapper comments is that they help us clarify and strengthen our points of view.

      And Idzie... eres genial!! That is all :D

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  20. Anyone can disparage another under the cover of anonymous. If you feel that strongly maybe you should share your name.

    On a side note more of the American public cannot tell the difference between good and bad science look at FOX news.. its pure crap and very popular.

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  21. Anonymous wrote: "For a number of years, I was highly disdainful of school and professors, haughtily believing I could teach myself anything with a library book or two. (Good Will Hunting, anyone?)"

    Yes, well that was yesterday this is today. A library book or two might have been all the alternative to school there was when I was a kid in the 1950s and 60s but in 2010 I have a whole universe of education literally at my fingertips in the comfort of my own home. Or anywhere I happen to be.

    Khan Academy on the iPhone anyone?

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  22. I think the writing on this blog is FANTASTIC...very talented.

    But let's say a writer did have some shortcomings. Why would they need a university degree to fix that? Why couldn't they get a grammar book from the bookstore, or library? Why couldn't they do a grammar program online?

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