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!


Saturday, March 27, 2010

A Teenage Brain

Something I have heard oh so many times is that, because as teenagers and young adults our brains are not "fully developed", we are "bad" decision makers, and not to be trusted.  It's a very frustrating attitude, that really seems to twist scientific data to suite anti-teen feelings in our culture.  What constitutes "bad decision making", anyway?  That's a very subjective opinion.

When I found this post a while back, I simply loved it.  It deals with just that subject, and does so in such a wonderfully positive, pro-people way.  It reads in part:
"Though Teen brains may indeed not possess myelin sheaths that adults brains have, that doesn’t make them 'unfinished', in the sense that the article portrays: foolish, flawed, poor decision makers.

Without Teen’s 'unfinished' brains 99% of the risk taking done in the name of love, art, idealism, adventure, protecting family, would disappear.

Teens excel at taking risks because they have perfectly developed brains for doing so.

Saying they have unfinished brains compares to saying a new moon hasn’t 'finished' until it swells to a full moon. The Teen brain marks one moment in the cycle of the brains life where it has enormous potential for one kind of behavior - risk taking, adventure, romantic expression."
I urge you to read the whole post.  It's not very long.  Personally, I just loved it, and will send it straight to the next person who seeks to silence and dis-empower a teen by telling them of their faulty brains!


Sunday, March 14, 2010

Unschooling and Access to Media

Yesterday, I asked, in a YouTube video, for people to ask me questions about unschooling.  And I got lots of interesting questions!  I tried to do a video on this one, but I was having a lot of trouble getting my opinions on this subject across in that format.  So, I decided to answer it in a blog post instead!  The question is in italics, my answer in regular font.

Let's say children are like seeds. In order to grow into good people, they don't need to be *forced* to grow, because they do that naturally. But that said, a seed must be planted in fertile soil, in the right climate, and must be watered, etc. What if some kinds of media today threaten the minds of the young- for example, television which provides immediate satisfaction but gives no decent returns in the long run may be more compelling than a book.

Firstly, I think you’re making a huge jump in saying that television gives “no decent returns in the long run”, and automatically assuming that a book has more value than a TV show!  I totally disagree with that!  Also, what’s wrong with instant satisfaction?  A life well lived is one made up of many happy moments: if watching TV gives you joy, I don’t really see how it’s in anyway unworthy of your time.  I’m an avid reader, and have been for many years.  Books have enriched my life in many ways!  But, so has TV.  When I was young, I watched tons of science shows and history shows.  Tons of “educational” shows on a variety of topics.  I also just watched some fictional shows.  I was never a particularly big TV watcher, but it was never forbidden to me, and I enjoyed what I did watch.  I also learned a ton!      

My opinion is that if kids have less manufactured entertainment stimuli they are forced to use their imagination to invent their own games, stories, etc. But because of the exponential growth of media, it is getting harder and harder to give children a world which does not numb their minds and imagination.

Again, I totally disagree.  Storytelling fuels imagination, and at their hearts, ALL types of fiction, be it novels, comic books, TV shows, movies, or oral storytelling, is just that: storytelling.  You find similar elements in all of them, and stories, no matter the medium they’re told in, can bring great joy, fuel imagination, cause you to question deeply held beliefs, ask profound questions…  Storytelling is an amazing art, and I find it rather sad when people start passing judgments on what types of storytelling are “good” or “bad”.

I also want to give some real life examples of this.  Far from squelching my very creative sister’s imagination (she currently writes tons of fiction), my sister would play pretend all the time based on various favourite movie characters.  She would also, as a young child, spend hours alone in her room just creating huge complex stories and worlds.  Soon, that imagination was used to start writing fiction.  She’s currently working on her first novel!  And she even plays video games, supposedly the most mind numbing things out there, and has played them for years. ;-) 

And yet- this brings up two competing ideas about freedom: should we free the child in the immediate moment, by imposing no limits on how they spend their time; or can we control their environment so that they are more likely to build their imaginations and judgements?

I’m sure you’ve gathered my opinion on this by now.  I do recognize that some (okay, a lot) of stuff on TV has messages that really aren’t so great (as do tons of books out there, I might add).  But I’m not advocating casting your kids loose and ignoring them while they do nothing but watch TV.  When you have a good, attentive relationship with your kids, one where you discuss what they’re seeing, have good dialogue, you’re exposing them to the world around you, with all of it’s negative and positive “influences”, and doing so while remaining a loving, supportive, and knowledgeable companion.  I don’t think that sheltering your kid does anything but make things more difficult for them later on. 

I also think that any time you make something forbidden to your child, you’ve just made it the most interesting thing out there.  Kids are curious, and if they’re denied access to something, chances are they’ll both really want to get access to it, and quite likely resort to lying and going behind their parents backs to do so.  Really, I don’t blame them!  I’ve come to this conclusion from my own experiences growing up, which were that the more controlled a child was, the more likely they where to frequently lie to their parents.  It was the only way they could have freedom.

I also want to add that even now, I find TV very “educational”.  I find advertising fascinating, I find the underlying assumptions and worldviews in mainstream shows fascinating, and watching TV sometimes helps me to remember how most of the world thinks (my sister regularly tells me I’ve forgotten what “normal” is)!

So that’s my answer to that question.  I hope I’ve given some insight into it!


Friday, March 5, 2010

Expectations on Being an "Adult"

In less than two weeks (on March 16th, to be exact), I'll be turning 19.  Almost two decades on this earth.

And I feel like it's this great, looming presence on the metaphorical horizon: waiting, the days counting down, their passage constantly reminding me of how old I'm soon going to be.

I haven't really enjoyed my Birthday in years...  Since I was 13 or so, Birthdays reminded me of all the things I hadn't done in that year (all the things I thought would be good to do at X age, that never happened).  A time to feel sad about all the things in my life that weren't the way I wanted them to be.  Isn't that a horrible way of looking at things?

But last year was different.  Last year, I was simply dreading turning 18.  Becoming an official "adult", with all of the encumbent expectations of just what being an adult entails.

I think turning 19 is almost worse.  At 18, I could get away with being a brand new adult!  Now, I've had a whole year to get used to it.  It's like solidifying the adult-ness.

And I've really, really been struggling with that.  At this point in life, even most unschoolers *expect* me to be working, or in college, or in an apprenticeship...  They expect me to be Doing Something.  Something more than what I am.

Because I'm not working.  I'm not in school.  I haven't found someone to apprentice to.  I'm still just writing, researching, planning travels to a couple places, on very limited funds...

And when I look around me, it seems EVERYONE my age is doing *more*.

I feel ashamed.  Embarassed.  Like I'm the slow kid in a nonexistant class, the one that people are looking at with a mix of dissaproval and confusion.  She's smart enough, why isn't she doing something with it?

Because the thing is, I don't want to be an "adult", whatever the fuck that means.  I finally realized that in one of my recent breakdowns (I very rarely meltdown, normally, but in the last couple of months, I've been making a habit of it.) that all I want to do is to be 15 or 16 again (despite the fact I had no clue who I was at those ages, and wasn't necessarily all that happy), and be able to just *be* without all of the pressure.  The expectation that I should be moving on to *more*.

And that realization makes me feel even more embarrassed.  I feel like feeling that way makes me immature.  I look at others my age, with their jobs and college classes and apprenticeships and world traveling, and wonder what they think of me...

My mother says I've always been very wary of and unhappy with change.  I know that to be true.  I've always wanted to watch from the sidelines for a while, before I decide whether or not I want to join in.

But haven't I been watching from the sidelong too long now?  Don't I have to find something to join into now?  I'm turning 19!!

And I do want to make some changes in my life.  I'm not as happy as I could be with where I am now.  But the changes I want to make aren't necessarily the changes others think I should be making.  And I'm no longer sure what the right choices are: which ones I want and which ones others want me to want.

I just feel lost...  And stressed.  And ashamed.

My mother and sister are supportive, and without them, I would truly be lost.  My father is loving, yet with a much more traditional outlook, and he's worried.  He thinks unschooling has failed, because I'm not doing any of the things I "should be" doing by my age.  He doesn't say it, he quite possibly doesn't even think it, but what I hear is that I've failed.  That's not a nice feeling.

So that's where I am right now.  What I've been struggling with for too long now.  My apologies for the disjointedness, the rambling...  It's late.  I'm overtired.  And life feels really difficult right now...