Saturday, May 28, 2011

Airy- Fairy Unschooling:National Post Reporting

I was interviewed yesterday by a National Post reporter about unschooling although she didn't end up using my interview. She seemed reasonable but as it turns out, it's the usual slant you'll read whenever you pick up an article on unschooling. This includes the critics who worry that the unschooled kids are not getting enough exposure to diversity of people.
If these critics are so concerned about overarching exposure to diversity, why aren't they worrying that public school kids are not getting exposure to kids of the rich and famous and powerful?
They're never going to rub noses with this crowd- but no one is sweating about that.

The question that those 'reporting' about unschooling always drag up is the"'what about structure?" Had the  reporter included my response in the piece, structure arises out of sustained activity that the family and children are pursuing.
Furthermore, it is not because you follow the ding- a- ling of a bell that you are 'following structure.'
Instead, you are being trained.
"Going around, unfocused, not focusing on anything," was how she put it.

What can I say?

Unschooled kids have even more opportunity then schooled kids to be focused because they have time (and less stress) to really delve into a subject or area of interest. This is not the fast- food style delivery you can expect to receive with public schooling. This is authentic learning- giving learning time to 'stew.'
I think I've already mentioned in another post about how interest based learning draws in all sorts of incidental learning. For example, my eldest who was unschooled to grade 8 and is now in grade 10 at public high school is a huge anime manga fan -and she  particularly loves the Hetalia series -a series which presents an allegorical interpretation of political and historic events, particularly of the WWII era, in which the various countries are represented by anthropomorphic characters. This deep fascination has led her to have 100% in history class as well as developing a keen interest in world politics and civics.

I really wish people would take more time to investigate the topic-you know be self directed and make the effort to educate yourself.

Concerned about what kind of adults unschooled kids will turn out to be?
There are enough studies and reports (many of these on my blog) that showcase real life grown unschoolers and what they are doing so why not read about them, talk to them, meet them?

It's like the other day,a woman -a retired teacher - who heard me saying that my kid doesn't go to school interjected with, "Oh. Unschooling? Illich and that? Well it works for some kids but often it's just all airy fairy."

Uh huh. And so schooling works for everyone does it? Every single person who goes through the system, who wears the badge of school on their chest is.. successfully educated are they? Even if this statement were true I would still come back with,"So what? So what if your education is complete? What are you doing with it? How are you bettering the community?"


Kelly said...

This is one reason I have developed such mixed feelings about talking to journalists about home-based education of any sort. There is so often an agenda already in place; the article is already written in their heads before they start, and no amount of evidence is going to persuade them. There are exceptions, of course. I actually found that the media were much friendlier and more honest back in the day when there were fewer of us, and we were more like zoo animals, less of a threat.

Back then, I once coordinated interviews for a journalist for Today's Parent, which did a big article on "homeschooling." He had a big bias in place. He thought that motivated, intelligent parents who kept their kids out of school were robbing the "system" of their own personal contributions, making it a poorer place for the kids who had to be there.

The difference with this guy was that he was willing to come to terms with his own prejudice, see it for what it was, really talk to us and learn about homelearning, and write a good article. He ultimately realized that there are lots of ways families contribute to the community, and that just because you don't do it through the school system doesn't mean you aren't contributing. But times have changed. Now, media, tied as they are to the "systems" and "structures" of society, have a serious agenda in place when it comes to homelearning. Too many kids out of school means, in their minds, fewer jobs for teachers, fewer compliant workers ready to take on the joe jobs, a changed economy. Whereas many of us would shout "Yea!!" to that, many of them sense destruction of the current order, and that's got to be bad, right?

Anonymous said...

All of your points are valid but one criticism which the reporter didn't cover and which I think is valid is the confusion between unschooling and "unparenting." I believe in unschooling because I have seen it work with enthusiastic, guiding (or leading) parents. I have also seen it not work because some people equate unschooling with doing nothing for their children and it is by no means the same. Enthusiasm and encouragement that are child-led do not equal child-led irresponsible "let the child eat what they want when they want" kind of parenting. I think it is that kind of attitude that gives unschooling a bad name.

rfs said...

@Kelly-I feel the same way. I debated with myself whether or not I wanted to do the interview for those same reasons.As someone quoted on one of the lists I am on, ‎"First they ignore you, then they ridicule you, then they fight you, then you win."
-- Mahatma Gandhi
We are obviously in the ridicule stage-entering the fighting stage perhaps.

rfs said...

@Anon-thanks for the comment. The way I think about it is that is naive to expect that everyone who practices unschooling is going to 'do it perfectly.' We don't expect all kids who go through school to come out perfectly educated. That is just the way life is. As to unschooling having a bad rep- It is probably because you hear about things when they go 'wrong'-not when they go right.

parentingspeaker said...

There is so much information that can be shared about unschooling that a reporter can't capture in the 1000 words or so that they have to work with. I talked about the differences in the unschooling community about parenting philosophies and how some parents have more expectations for their children (spoken and unspoken)which is one axis of a healthy parenting style (the other axis is nurturing and engagement), but only so much can be captured in the media. I thought the article was quite good.
Judy Arnall
Unschooling expert and mom of 5

rfs said...

@parentspeaker-thanks for the comment.

Kelly said...

The very fact that time and space are so limited make me wonder why a reporter goes out of their way to seek out faux "experts" like Paige Fisher and Charles Ungerleider. It was their presence in the article that made it completely offensive to me. They clearly have their own agenda, and very little actual experience with homelearning. I am very tired of journalists' and news agencies' insistence upon "balance" at the expense of truth. This article was a classic example, and I'm afraid that I personally could by no stretch call it a good article.

rfs said...

Thanks Kelly for calling a shoe a shoe.

Anonymous said...

I've seen a lot of rude unschooling kids whose parents let them act out whenever they feel like it.

Dana said...

All I ever hear from strangers, store clerks, doctors, etc. is how joyful, enthusiastic, polite, intelligent and well-spoken my child is. And the "airy fairy" pursuits the unstructured weekday afternoons allow her? Many have led to great achievements at a very young age.

I know from first hand experience that homebased alternative education - if performed with love and care - has many, many advantages.

Those who say "I've seen homeschool kids who are brats" or "I've seen unschooled kids who are unfocused" are entitled to their opinion. But it isn't scientific and it isn't based on anything meaningful. It would be just as silly for us to say "I saw public school children smoking, therefore ALL public school kids smoke".

As the blogger says, the legitimate studies have never been able to debunk the alternatives to instutionalized schooling. Quite the contrary, in fact. There is plenty of proof that homeschooled children achieve more and become more-involved citizens.

Last point: the National Post article mentioned "gaps in learning" that might be a concern for home/unschoolers. Honestly, I'd take a gap in learning here and there ANY day if it means gaining the depth and breadth of learning my daughter has gained through her own studies and projects. The most wonderful things happen when the textbooks are put away and she is free to do whatever she wants. Yesterday she studied Bach's counterpoint techniques. A few weeks ago she started a business and made $100. She is 9.

The education I received in public school may have been "complete", but all that content flew by me so fast that I remember none of it. A delicious byproduct of educating my own child has been that we've mined great quarries of information and we've made many discoveries together. It gave me, as an adult, a chance to really learn and understand what had previously passed me by. A selfish thing to say, perhaps, but it's the truth and I'm pleased with it.

Whether math, science, art, literature, writing, history, politics, business or music - no regular school would take a child to the places we've been and stay there for as long as we often have stayed. There's just not enough time in the day when 30 children and vast curricula demand attention. There may be a few gaps (doubtful, though, since we've actually EXCEEDED the Ontario curriculum) but the depths my daughter has traveled can never be forgotten. She learned it because she loved it.

rfs said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
rfs said...

@Dana-this is awesome. Especially the bit about the by-product of educating your child; "It gave me, as an adult, a chance to really learn and understand what had previously passed me by. A selfish thing to say, perhaps, but it's the truth and I'm pleased with it." This has inspired me to write a post on what I've learned. Stay tuned!

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