The first installment, entitled Bare Feet and Learning Connections, came out today:
Today, as I walked with my sister and a friend, I was thinking a lot about this column. What to write, what to write… The sun was getting steadily lower, but there was still a fair bit of light, birds singing, and the scent of smoke in the air. My shoes, even though I was only wearing flip-flops, felt like they were trapping my feet, so I slipped them off and spent the rest of our long and meandering walk in bare feet.
Ahh, the relief! The joy!
The world passes by underneath my feet.
When I finally came back inside, soles thoroughly blackened and sun mostly gone, I felt a bit of a letdown. Still no inspiration for what to write. But then I started thinking about walking in bare feet. Thinking about how hardened my feet used to be, and how soft they are now that I’ve been wearing shoes so often. I miss walking in bare feet. So I’ve been determined to go barefoot more often! I like it. It feels good.
And I started thinking about why I like going barefoot. What about this no shoes thing makes me so happy? I realized that what it really is, the connection. With shoes, I’m putting yet one more barrier between me and the world around me. Without them, I feel more connected to the dirt-grass-gravel-pavement-mud.
What's one thing you wish people knew about unschooling?
I wouldn’t say unschooling, per se, but there is one thing I wish that people would realize: that people, all people (children, teens, adults), don’t have to be TAUGHT to LEARN, and in fact will even learn better when engaged and interested in the subject matter, pursuing learning of their own free will. The belief that teaching is necessary for learning, and that learning is something difficult and un-enjoyable, so that people must be FORCED to do it, is one I find very frustrating. That belief is the biggest thing standing in the way of people understanding unschooling!
P.S. A big thanks to Ronnie for reading over this interview (I was alone in the house when I wrote it, so couldn't rope any family members into reading it) and giving some great feedback that really helped me make this piece better!
On a recent Nightline segment on Unschooling (ABC really likes this topic, it seems!), something the reporter mentioned stood out to me. Near the end of the segment (which featured the Martin family) she said: "What happens when the learning becomes more sophisticated and her kids need to be exposed to Shakespeare or Twain or Henry James?"
And that stuck with me. Because really, does anyone "need" to be exposed to Shakespeare? And by being exposed to Shakespeare in school, do the vast majority of public and private schoolers really develop a deep and abiding love for the famous playwright's work, or do they hate, dislike, or find absolutely useless and/or boring everything they're taught about the man and his writing?
Yes, I'm sure there are a very few who actually find Shakespeare, his life and work, to be fascinating, and love learning about him in school. But can anyone tell me that that's even remotely common?
I was big into poetry as a kid (I still do love poetry). I'd completely memorize poems that were pages long, and regularly my mother, sister, and I would pull out a book (or a few books) of poetry and take turns picking ones to read out loud, to share with each other. So I came across some of Shakespeare's poetry at a young age. However, none of it ever really appealed to me.
As for his plays, since popular culture is steeped in references to and spin-offs from his most famous plays, I knew the basic story to them, and read bits from a few childrens versions. But, as with his poetry, nothing ever particularly caught my interest.
Then, just a month or so ago (maybe a bit more), PBS was scheduled to air a production of Hamlet starring David Tennant, an actor whom I adore. So, along with Emilie and a friend, both of whom also happen to adore David Tennant, we settled down to watch.
And I was entranced. The archaic language was unsettling for a minute or two, but after that I became absorbed in the story, language, and truly incredible acting.
I was surprised at how many lines I recognized, and for the first time ever I really understood why Shakespeare was considered such a great writer. Despite the length (a whopping three hours) I was sad when it was over.
How could things have gone differently? Had I been forced to read and dissect Shakespeare's work, would I have been willing to even try watching the performance? And if I had, would I have enjoyed or appreciated it (the language and tragic intricacy of the story, the tortured character of Hamlet)?
Art, any art, should be enjoyed and interpreted by the individual, of their own free will. To force someone into "art appreciation", to drag someone to the theater, to force someone to dissect poetry or interpret a painting the way the teacher interprets it (or risk getting bad marks), is to kill art for that person, to kill what enjoyment they may have found in their own time.
Enjoyment and interpretation of art is a deeply personal thing, and it angers me when people try to take that away from children and teens.
So, please, let the kids discover Shakespeare (or not) on their own terms. If they never find joy in Shakespeare, I highly doubt that will negatively affect their life. But if they're force-fed Shakespeare against their will, I have no doubt that it will have a negative impact!
For unschoolers, constant questioning quickly becomes the norm. What I've been thinking about today is the vast array of *types* pf question you run into. There are many different people that ask questions about this lifestyle in many ways, but there definitely seem to be some trends in what feeling is behind the questions. Now, overgeneralizing is rarely a good idea, and that's definitely what I'm doing, but most of the people who've asked me about unschooling do seem to fit (roughly) into one of these categories! :-P
The hostile questioner. "Aren't you ruining your life? How will anyone ever hire you if you don't go to school?" This person is instantly suspicious and disapproving. For whatever reason, be it jealousy that they never had the option of learning (and living more) freely, they are determined not to believe in any alternatives to conventional schooling, and will do anything to disprove whatever you say. Their purpose is not to learn, but to devalue the lifestyle you're living. To invalidate it, and thus validate their own choices as the clearly Right ones.
The well-meaning yet ignorant questioner. "But what about socialization?" This individual is simply curious, and entirely uninformed, the questions asked being slightly annoying only because of how often you've answered them before! This person hasn't usually thought through the questions at all, they're just repeating things they've heard before in regards to home and/or unschoolers. They really do want to know more, and just haven't really thought much about any type of education, other than school, before.
The confused questioner. (After having just explained unschooling) "So, is your mom a good teacher...?" This person, no matter how many different ways you try to explain things, just isn't grasping the concept. They're not confrontational or anti-unschooling in the slightest, they're just either very set in their ways of seeing the world, so much so that nothing else even computes, or you just think in a way that's too different from them, and can't explain things in a way that they'll get.
The cautiously optimistic questioner. "So, you can get into university?" The idea strikes a chord with this person. They kind of like it, but aren't quite sure they should, and are worried they're missing something crucial. This is one of the most rewarding scenarios for an unschooler who wants to share this philosophy with others. This person is very likely to be helped by finding out about unschooling!
And, recently at the anarchist bookfair, I've been exposed to another type of questioner. I'll call those who approach things this way the constructive questioner. They're coming from a place that's already supportive of freedom, and their questions are intelligent and well thought out. Their desire is to learn, and build on the basic knowledge they have, not to tear down the idea. I found that quite delightful, and really enjoyed the panel discussion I was a part of there.
This post doesn't really have much of a point, I'm afraid. It simply came about because of a few vague thoughts about ll the different types of questions I've been asked about unschooling, and a desire to get back to posting more regularly!
So, what types of unschooling questions do you get asked? Do you enjoy educating people about unschooling, or do you find it frustrating/annoying? Is there a certain mindset you come across sometimes in those asking questions that just makes your day?