Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Deconstructing Education #2

This link will take you to the blog, "I'm Unschooled. Yes, I Can Write." This is written by a 21-year-old who was unschooled and is a very good writer, in my opinion. She distinguishes in this post between unschooling and relaxed homeschooling. I appreciate that there is a distinction and that unschoolers are concerned about the co-opting of the term by homeschoolers who do not actually unschool. Yet there is also a definite difference between "radical unschoolers" and plain old unschoolers, so obviously this is a term with a subjective and relative definition. Just as there are many styles and variations of homeschooling, it stands to reason that unschooling will mean something a little different to each person.

For example, I met a homeschooling mother who asked me something like, "Do you homeschool or do you do a co-op?" She seemed to be under the impression that this was an either/or type of thing. We belonged to a co-op which met for only a few hours on Mondays at the time. This did not mean that was all we did as homeschoolers. I considered the co-op to be supplemental, with my child's core education coming from home. People outside the homeschooling community seemed often to be under the impression that the co-op was the primary teaching tool, the "real school" if you will, and were confused about why it met only once a week and for only two, 10-week semesters a year. Clearly this is because it fit into their conception of what school should be better than the idea of a home-based education. To me, the co-op was mostly for socializing purposes for my only child, to do things with other children in a group and to have teachers other than me. It wasn't necessary for her education.

Today we do not belong to a co-op. We are involved in other community activities that fulfill the needs that we previously got from participating in one. Many of the classes there were excellent in quality, while others were perhaps not the best use of time. Belonging to the co-op took time away from myself, since I had to be a teacher there and spend a lot of time outside the co-op to prepare my lessons, and it took away from time I thought would be more beneficially spent focusing on other things with Beezy. At any rate, co-ops can certainly be a viable part of a homeschooling experience; it is not an either one homeschools or one belongs to a co-op type of proposition. This is to point out that even among homeschoolers there are varying beliefs about what homeschooling means, about what it should or should not be.

As far as unschooling goes, I think that term is sometimes used in very "radical" situations when unparenting or uneducating would better apply. But barring those extreme situations in which parents simply fail to parent and the learning of children is seriously stunted, unschooling seems to be a viable option of enriching education which encompasses an entire way of life. In my opinion, unschooling means that one does not generally apply the tactics and methods used for education in the public schools to one's approach to the education of one's children. Open Source Learning, a term I believe John Taylor Gatto coined, may be more accurate to what unschooling actually is.

I think it would be true to say that the Montessori Method is a style of unschooling, even if it is implemented in a classroom setting, although spending long hours away from one's family and segregated from the larger community is still problematic. Montessori's method is based on educating a child for life, on giving children a high level of, but not absolute, freedom of choice, and on being auto-educative and child-centered. Children have freedom of movement and are not shackled to desks. They are also not sequestered with children solely their own age, but have multi-age groupings. Teachers facilitate rather than dictate what a child learns. These are all tenets of unschooling. But unlike some forms of unschooling, there are rules, and the three Rs of respect for oneself, respect for others, and respect for one's environment are intrinsic to this method.

Efforts to instill good habits in children are important. Children are, after all, less mature and less experienced in life than adults (although there are surely exceptions to the rule!). They do not automatically know right from wrong, or how to resolve all of their own conflicts, and they couldn't possibly know what they might be interested in learning more about unless they have first had some exposure to a topic. With unschooling, I understand that this exposure happens more organically rather than by the direct intervention of adults. At the same time, I don't think unschooling necessitates that a parent never initiates a learning experience or that an adult never directly teaches her kids anything. Children thrive best with healthy boundaries and gentle guidance, gradually being given increasing levels of responsibility for themselves. In my opinion, unschooling does not mean that you can't read a book about rainforests to your child unless she has expressed a clear interest in the subject!

So can relaxed homeschooling be understood as a type of unschooling? At this point in time, I would say yes. If you disagree, I want to know why! I did not go to Wikipedia for a definition of unschooling to see if I am understanding the concept. It is clear that some unschoolers themselves misunderstand what it means to de-program oneself and one's children from the spirit-killing effects of government schooling. After all, when John Holt coined the term unschooling in the 60s, it was synonymous with homeschooling. I think some unschoolers have found only an alternate way to kill their children's spirits, well-intentioned as they may be. Yet it is also apparent that many unschoolers have found a way of living that works very well, producing well-rounded individuals who think for themselves and express themselves with extreme proficiency. Furthermore, these kids grow up to be happy people!

As with homeschooling, I will suggest that there is no single, right way to do unschooling. I am unschooling myself by not going to an online dictionary to have someone else's opinion thrust upon me about what this is and whether or not I can call myself an unschooler. I'm not saying that I am an unschooler. I'm saying that I'm thinking for myself about what such a term truly implies. I do not think, for example, that it implies allowing a child of 5 years old to eat junk food all day, and then try to tell people that it is because I trust my child that I allow him to do this. To me, that is simply ludicrous. Such "radical" unschooling really has nothing at all to do with education or authentic spirituality. Right now I have begun to experiment with unschooling. I will continue to log my thoughts, results, questions, successes, failures, and conclusions, and I welcome your imput on the journey!

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