|Yeah, I don't have homework tonight! Or ever!|
One of Holt's strongest beliefs was that children did not need to be forced into learning and anything that resembled school at all was counterproductive to their success. Unschooling, child led life learning, was born.
When I first heard about unschooling 8 years ago I thought it seemed crazy. I thought all the things that some of you are thinking right now. What about socialization, grades, college? My children need to go to school to be “on track” with everyone else. I thought it seemed lazy and neglectful and couldn’t imagine going against the grain in such an “extreme” way.
Flash forward to today and you see a very different philosophy in my home. I have spent the past 6 years homeschooling my oldest son. I have since had 2 more children, traveled with them extensively, moved to a foreign countries, and experimented with almost every type of homeschooling you can imagine. Then I discovered the mind opening experience that is unschooling and now I can’t imagine living my life in anything but this “extreme” way.
My oldest son started out life in a mainstream fashion. He attended 2 years of preschool and then went on to half-day Kindergarten. We lived in a wonderful small town with an excellent school system and were lucky enough to get an award-winning teacher for his Kindergarten experience. She was fantastic but through her own admission she could not provide the experience that she felt all the students deserved. It wasn’t a bad experience but we wanted more for our son. What more did we want? That is easy; room for independent thought, creativity, an ability to question things without being in “trouble” - and the freedom to run our household without the demands of the school system intruding.
The nagging question that remained was what could I, as a parent, do? After talking to that very same teacher and a lot of soul searching I decided to withdraw my son from school. She not only encouraged this, she was almost as enthusiastic as I was about the idea. I found that there were many philosophies to choose from within the realm of homeschooling. Since I was still caught up in the “school” mentality, we started by doing a canned curriculum at home. We tried this in many different ways for 3 years until I realized that we solved some of the issues but not all of them. Simply put, we were not enjoying it as much as we thought we should.
At this point I opened up my mind to the thoughts of unschooling and started reading book after book about it. I realized that I needed to throw away conventional thinking and open my mind up to the possibility that what I thought of as learning may not be the only path to knowledge. My discovery took place because of pioneers that came before me, Holt, Gatto, Kohn, and Sandra Dodd. They all showed me, through their writings, a new reality that I will forever be grateful for.
Reading books and opening my mind were the first steps in the process of de-schooling that Wikipedia defines as “the mental process a person goes through after being removed from a formal schooling environment, where the school mindset is eroded over time”. This step is vital for the entire family but for the parent it can be very difficult. We have far more baggage in regards to school and the added feeling and stress that we are responsible for our childrens’ education and, ultimately, their future. I struggled with what seemed like an ingrained need to follow the norm.
I did go to public school after all, and in his book Dumbing Us Down, John Taylor Gatto says “we are schooling children to merely obey orders…” Although I was a bit rebellious in school, I was still conditioned by societal norms and allowing myself to beak out of the box is where I struggled most on my journey to unschooling.
Ivan Illich first coined the term de-schooling in a controversial book called Deschooling Society, published in 1971. In this book he enlightens his readers to the fact that “universal education through schooling is not feasible”. He goes on to explain that the institutionalization of education means an institutionalization of society as a whole. And that it isn’t until we change the way we view education that we can change the way all institutions function. There is a corrupting impact at the institutional level but it is particularly damaging to society when this happens in schools, and it is happening in schools as we speak.
Another big hurdle for me was in understanding that authentic learning happens all the time. I realized over the past few years that you really can’t stop someone from learning no matter what you do or don’t do. My middle child has never been to school or even attempted anything remotely resembling school, yet at 7 he can read because he wanted to. Through simply living our lives he has learned numbers, adding, subtracting, percentage, fractions etc. How? We play war, poker, exchange money, let him do some shopping and all of those things are necessary for him so he has learned it. School puts our children in a box and real life cannot be found within it. I would prefer my children spend their time outside of that box, learning in the real world.
Everything my kids do shares an equal value because they are always learning, whether it is a walk in the jungle, playing video games, or reading a book. I love that my children have a say in what they want to discover. We offer them ideas and show them various paths to knowledge and support their enthusiasm, but ultimately it is what interests them that's most important to us. And don’t we all learn better when it is something pertinent in our lives? I know I do and I know my kids do as well.
De-schooling is an ongoing process and something I will be actively doing for many years to come. It has profoundly changed me as a person and there is no going back ever. It reaches beyond schooling and into our lives on every level. There is a new intensity of respect, equality and unconditional love for all members of the family. We all know now what authentic learning is, it looks nothing like school and we are all happier for it.
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