Monday, June 16, 2014

Unschooling Isn't New. Really, It Isn't.

"Have you heard of this 'unschooling' thing? Just wait until those kids grow up, they'll never make it in the real world!"

I can't count the number of times I've said, with as much patience as I can muster, that unschooling isn't new. That quite a few of "those kids" have already grown up.

John Holt is famously known as the creator of the term unschooling, about which Pat Farenga has this to say:
Unschooling is actually defined by Holt in GWS #2: "GWS will say 'unschooling' when we mean taking children out of school, and 'deschooling' when we mean changing the laws to make schools non-compulsory and to take away from them their power to grade , rank , and label people, i.e., to make lasting , official, public judgments about them."
I've been asked to define unschooling since 1981. The simple answer I learned from John is unschooling is NOT school. John Holt was tuned into popular culture and during the 1970s there was a popular television commercial for a soft drink called 7-Up. The marketing hook for 7-Up was that it was "The Uncola"—clear to look at, refreshing to the palate—it was NOT a syrupy cola. When John was casting around for words to describe learning without going to school the Uncola campaign was in full swing and it could have influenced him.
It's not a new term, and it's not a new movement.

Its also not a new concept. The idea of learning through living without compulsory institutions, learning through play and community involvement and following passions, is not new. In fact, it's really, really old. Peter Gray has written extensively both about the importance of play in learning, and how indigenous children traditionally learn.

Unschooling isn't new.

The "results" have already been seen.

Unschooled children have grown to adulthood.

Countless life learners have gone on to lead fulfilling lives.

It's not some weird untested theory being practiced by a bunch of people who just don't know any better. Instead, it's a way of living based on observations and experiences of how people actually learn best. It's an attempt to embrace what comes naturally to humans, which is a drive to learn and explore and become active members of our communities.

Children want to be part of everything. In this case, making bread!
An Idzie circa 1993.

It may have been getting increasingly popular, and receiving more media attention in the past handful of years. But that simply means that more and more people--educators, parents, students, and community members--are feeling there's something deeply wrong with the institution of schooling as it currently exists. While there are lots of new projects and new initiatives, new books and new blogs about unschooling and complimentary ideas, the ideas themselves aren't new.

Which means that we're lucky enough to have people to look to for inspiration, no matter how near or far in the past we're looking. It can be scary no matter what, to choose something as unconventional as unschooling, but we're not making our way through entirely uncharted territory. There are people who've gone before me, and now I'm honoured to have people who look to the experiences of my family for inspiration.

Before you react with a knee-jerk "that will never turn out well!", know that unschooling has been around for a very long time. It has worked, it does work, and it will continue to work.

Embracing unschooling may be becoming more trendy, but the practice itself is just plain old natural learning. And that? That's been around for a very long time.

1 comment:

  1. Amazing article! I want my children to always be life long learners.