Thursday, October 01, 2009

Unschooling 101


My friend, Betsy Agar teaches a course at McMaster University and invited me to speak to her 'Engineering in Society' class of third year students. What a great bunch of kids! They were really interested in the topic-Unschooling/Open source learning and asked good questions, and gave thoughtful comments.
I introduced the idea of unschooling by reading a chapter from Astrid Lindgren's Pippi Longstocking. What a hoot! 'Pippi goes to school' was the chapter I read to the class. Why did I choose Pippi? Well, she is really the quintessential unschooler. Yes,she displays great ignorance and even rudeness.But she is also truthful; "Well now, really my dear little woman," said Pippi,"that is carrying things too far. You just said that seven and five are twelve. There should be some rhyme and reason to things even in school. Furthermore, if you are so childishly interested in that foolishness, why don't you sit down in a corner by yourself and do arithmetic and leave us alone so we can play tag?"
So the spirit behind what she says and does is what an honest experience of unschooling would entail.
She tries to create meaning in the questions the teacher asks the students, attempting to contextualize an otherwise vague inquiry;"If Lisa has seven apples and Axel has nine apples, how many apples do they have together?"
"Yes, you tell Tommy," Pippi interrupted."And tell me too, if Lisa gets a stomach ache and Axel gets more stomach ache, whose fault is it...?"
This is not a smart alec talking but someone who is actually reflecting on the question as well as the outcome!
When it comes to drawing the "snip of paper" that the teacher gives the kids is far too small for her and she has already filled it up and is moving onto the floor to complete her picture of a horse;"Just now I'm working on his front legs,but when I get to this tail I guess I'll have to go out in the hall."
The non confirming, exuberant, joyful child is open to the world and refuses a type of 'learning' that takes space in the confines of a school room; "There's altogether too many apples and ibexes and snakes and things like that. It makes me dizzy in the head. I hope that you, Teacher won't be sorry." And not too long after, she gaily leaves on her horse. With a 'ringing laugh Pippi rode out through the gate so wildly that the pebbles whirled around the horse's hoofs and the windowpanes rattled in the schoolhouse.' Awesome!

1 comment:

Betsy Agar said...

Beatrice answered their questions beautifully and "unschooling" continues as an example throughout our culture of technology discussions - thanks Beatrice!

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