Sunday, April 03, 2011

Unschooling: experimental or experiential?

A few posts ago, I was wondering why so many people call unschooling an experiment. Someone in the comment section asked me to explain why I didn't like calling unschooling an experiment. I guess I didn't do a good job the first time so I'll give it another go.

To me unschooling is less of an experiment; more of an experience. I like to think of unschooling as experienced- based learning as in a collecting of, a conscientious bringing together of action, observation, deliberation, reflection, immersion of self in the flow of life.
Of course, along with this comes experiment. One experiments with ideas. Unschooling is not an idea. Unschooling is a way of life; a philosophy of life. It embraces the experiment; it is not the experiment.
This is how we humans attain adulthood—by the experiences we live through.

Rather than counting our years by the measure of what grade we are in as school does and waiting until we have worked through all the grades before set free,we can begin to live, unschooling demands experience now.
I understand how unschooling can be viewed as experiment—the 'what we don't know' as contrasted with what we do know: school. But I find that the term when used on unschooling tends to cast unschooling into a light that makes it (unschooling) seem like something uncertain.

That's what I don't like. Unschooling as an experiment conveys an idea that I am uneasy with—the idea that unschooling is something that careless or neglectful parents might do. People who do it are the opposite. They wish to conserve the natural traits of their children; creativity,curiosity, self-directedness. They are not willing to toss that all into the school pot—which to my mind, experiments largely with these natural qualities—often to the detriment of the child. School is the largest experiment devised for young humans.
Unschooling families wish to preserve family and community. The great experiment that separates kids from adults for the most part of their childhood is not one they wish to support. Unschooling refuses to let children be the guinea pigs in the school laboratory.
Unschooling as experiment suggests that the parents are experimenting on their children. This is not the case. Instead the child  leads with his interest; the parent supports the interests. The parent facilitates exposes, the child follows.  At its best, usnchooling is a partnership in learning and living.
Comments, thoughts welcome!


Danae said...

Excellent post.

In my view, schooling is the most haphazard experiment wherein many children are brutalised and damaged.

Anonymous said...

RFS-I am a teacher and I take offense to this post. As far as I am concerned, school is experiential as well. Children experience and are exposed to all kinds of subjects in a safe and controlled environment.They are not experimented on. We do not brain wash them but expose them to all kinds of ideas and to people from all types of backgrounds. Many unschooled children do not get these opportunities.

Wendy Priesnitz said...

Thought you did a great job the first time. And a better one this time. ;-) As I've written untold times over the past 35 years (and I'm certainly not the only one to do so), school is the experiment.

And, sorry, "Anonymous," as much as teachers would like to think school is "safe," it isn't for many children.

At any rate, learning in the real world is preferable to the pseudo-reality that we call school. I look forward to the day when teachers and others involved in schools can be really effective as learning facilitators in a non-compulsory environment...where kids participate because they want to, not because they're forced to.

rfs said...

Thanks for the comments. Thanks to Wendy for your comment in response to the teacher."Safe," "controlled," these are not the kind of adjectives that make for exciting, independent learning.

Shannon Dee said...

@ Anonymous -

Children do have experiences in school, but I doubt very much that any school is or can be a "safe and controlled" environment, unless every child is there every day, by choice. Otherwise, the very act of enforcing attendance is likely to feel like something very different than safety, to a child who does not choose to be there.

Also, the epidemic of school bullying that reaches into the afterschool hours, but is born in the schoolroom or schoolyard or schoolbus, speaks volumes about the safety and control of those places. So does the rash of abuses committed by staff at these "safe and controlled institutions", and the memories of people like me who faced daily torment there.

The problem with your statement that "Children experience and are exposed to all kinds of subjects" is that it isn't likely to be ALL kinds of subjects nearly so much as it is to be "all those subjects the school board or state education department deems valuable, and that can be funded".

Nor is life broken up into subjects. Life is vast. As hamlet said, "I could be bounded by a nutshell and count myself king of infinite space."

My 6 and 9 year olds know that quote and others, from a sunny afternoon spent sitting on the summer grass in a park, soaking up Shakespeare before riding an historic carousel, sharing birdseed with a gaggle of other kids at the duckpond, exploring sculptures and discussing Gertrude's costume and awkward death scene across two chairs with the actress who portrayed her, then negotiating city traffic by foot, and heading to another park in another town to watch a friend fulfill his acting dreams in the musical parody, "Once Upon a Mattress" (they had explored the outdoor set at an earlier visit to the park, and waited eagerly for all the goodies they knew to be under the "bed" to be revealed.

This account is just a sliver of what happened in one day in the lives of my unschooled children. Every day varies, and each is precious and engaging and filled with moments of true, self-initiated discovery that no curriculum could ever allow enough space for.

If school does not experiment on the children who attend, how do you account for the seemingly endless succession of "innovative" new programs, shifting start/end times, and all the other things that change from year to year?

"We do not brain wash them but expose them to all kinds of ideas and to people from all types of backgrounds. Many unschooled children do not get these opportunities."

I am curious about how many unschooling families you personally know. I am also curious about what constitutes "all kinds of ideas and to people from all types of backgrounds", because it seems to me that isolating children in classrooms and away from the flow of the world beyond is far more limiting than growing in the ebb and flow of that world, out where those people and ideas really, truly live, and are there, free for meeting, delving into passionately, skimming over, or saying, "no, thanks, this isn't for me" without threat of getting a bad grade.

Vickie said...

If unschooling is an experiment, then its "effectiveness" should be proven by the fact that every child learns things like walking and talking without any formal instruction, before they reach "school-age" even!

I'm already convinced that it's the way for me and my family. No experimenting needed! Very good post. Interesting topic to think about.

Cathy said...

I think that many "unschooling" parents are experimenting and don't actually feel comfortable with what they are doing. I think they trust their kids just as long as they are following a path that feels comfortable to the parents. It is when we feel comfortable with unschooling that it becomes an experience not only for the kids but also the parents.

rfs said...

@Shannon Dee-wow! Thanks for a great comment. Sounds like your unschooling experience is rocking! Nice part here-
Nor is life broken up into subjects. Life is vast. As hamlet said, "I could be bounded by a nutshell and count myself king of infinite space."

rfs said...

@Cathy-thanks. This does make sense. People who are new to unschooling might think of themselves as 'experimenting.'

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