Friday, August 10, 2012

Is Unschooling Elitist?

 Some people insist that unschooling is elitist; “Public school isn’t good enough for you?” they’ll ask.
They’ll compare this practice to the methods of the rich who can afford to have the best in private schools and tutors for their children, trips, vacations, resources and general privilege.

Other people think that keeping kids out of school to educate them at home is doing a disservice to those who fought so that education could be universal; going against the school system is sacrilegious. What about all those unfortunate kids over in Afghanistan or Ethiopia who would give an arm or a leg to go to school?  What do you say to that, when you turn up your nose at public schooling?
For example, here’s a response to my article on why I unschool:

To me this article smacks of elitism and onesidedness and is smug to boot. It assumes that all parents are able to guide their children's education. Well that's wrong. Many parents are not able to read well enough, or let alone teach. It takes an educated parent to be able understand education. I wonder what the Mexican janitor would think if he came across this article, if he could read it, (here I am, working my butt off to put my kids through school, so they could have a better life, better than mine, and what, I'm doing it wrong?) Single mums? Poor mums, in the inner cities? No trees, no grass,  no snowflakes. School is where their kids go to get any kind of teaching, or positive attention. What about the 'educated', 'rich' mums. A doctor perhaps. Should she just dump all that schooling to unschool her kids? The 150 years argument makes no sense, because this is the world we live in now. The professions that exist now are pertinent to now, not to 150 years ago. And women can be fulfilled outside of the home, away from their kids.
What is the endpoint of any type of education? Overall? Overall, I think it is to make a living. Practical, prosaic, unpoetic, making a living. I am sure there are many creative and free-thinking people among the homeless who line the streets of any town. Does unschooling lead to better employment opportunities, more professional success? That's the question you unschoolers need to ask, I don't know, but I can tell you a snow-flake never filled an empty belly.

People who think like this are missing the point.
I ask those who call unschooling 'elitist,' would you call breastfeeding elitist because rather than drinking formula, the baby is receiving breast milk--natural and tailored to his growth and well being? Would you call that mother a snob? Hardly! It would be ludicrous to claim elitism is at the core of her intention. And so it is with unschooling that some parents see educating their kids as being natural and wholesome for their family.

Let's take energy. Should ‘developing countries’ go through their own industrial revolutions and burn coal rather than straight to renewable energy if they have the chance to do so, because that is the proper way to do it, since Western countries did? Of course not.
So if as parents we view unschooling as a healthier way to educate, and we can and want to do so with our children, why should this pose a threat to the education system? Why should we be beholden to this institution just because others fought so that all could have a so called universal education?  Why is guiding your child's education without public school seen as elitist and wrong?
Innovation isn’t fair.
School: a level playing field?

Has anyone asked poor people what sort of education they would like?
Who has bothered to query the poor if the school system works for them?
In my opinion, knowledge is not power if the knowledge you have does not empower you. What is the use of knowing things that are useless to you?
Read Ivan Illich's classic Deschooling Society .

Ivan Illich said, “For most men, the right to learn is curtailed by the obligation to attend school.”
I take the position with Illich that public school can never provide universal education.
Back in 1970, Illich wrote in Deschooling Society 
Institutionalized education and the institution of the school are producers of merchandise with a specific exchange value in a society where those who already possess a certain cultural capital derive the most benefit. 
Here’s what Ivan Illich had to say about the so called mythical ‘leveling field’ that schooling is supposed to provide:
Many students, especially those who are poor, intuitively know what the schools do for
them. They school them to confuse process and substance. Once these become blurred, a new logic is assumed: the more treatment there is, the better are the results; or, escalation leads to success. The pupil is thereby "schooled" to confuse teaching with learning, grade advancement with education, a diploma with competence, and fluency with the ability to say something new. His imagination is "schooled" to accept service in place of value.
Medical treatment is mistaken for health care, social work for the improvement of
community life, police protection for safety, military poise for national security, the rat
race for productive work. Health, learning, dignity, independence, and creative endeavor are defined as little more than the performance of the institutions which claim to serve these ends, and their improvement is made to depend on allocating more resources to the management of hospitals, schools, and other agencies in question.......
It should be obvious that even with schools of equal quality a poor child can seldom catch up with a rich one. Even if they attend equal schools and begin at the same age, poor children lack most of the educational opportunities which are casually available to the middle-class child. These advantages range from conversation and books in the home to vacation travel and a different sense of oneself, and apply, for the child who enjoys them, both in and out of school. So the poorer student will generally fall behind  so long as he depends on school for advancement or learning. The poor need funds to enable them to learn, not to get certified for the treatment of their alleged disproportionate deficiencies.
What needs to change, what is already changing, is what as a society, we give value to. Education to further consumption or education to further contribution towards a decent society for all?


Wendy Priesnitz said...

I stopped caring a long ago about what other people think. Comments like the first one you quote come from people who obviously know little or nothing about the thing they're criticizing. And, in fact, I have found that they also find breastfeeding and other conscious parenting choices to be elitist - i.e. done only by those who can "afford the luxury" of staying home with children.

This sort of reaction (calling "unschooling" elitist, etc.) often comes from those who are resistant to admit there's a need for change. And only those who recognize the problem will look for the solution. The rest will stumble along in their own way.

rfs said...

@Wendy- So true. As if staying home with children has no price!Thanks for the comment.

Christina@ Interest-Led Learning said...

The person who commented to your article stated that they thought the main purpose for education is to get a job. Even if that were true, hardly anyone can get a very well-paid job after graduating high school. They can't even do that with graduating college either. More and more the people who will be comfortable financially will be those who are self-directed and self-motivated, not those who are good at following directions and allowing someone else schedule their life. They will be people who will work hard towards their own goals by actually doing and working at what they want to do for a living instead of just going to school and studying about it.

rfs said...

@Christina-that's my next blog post. What is the purpose of education? Earning a livelihood is important obviously-but it that all there is?

Anonymous said...

The commentator is really narrow-minded.She or he talks about 'dumping' their education in the case of medical studies) to teach your kids at home. This is quite rude- as if kids aren't worth it. So clearly, this person is an elitist-since being a doctor is'superior' to educating your own.
If an unschooling parent is confident in what she is doing-more power to her. This doesn't mean that she feels superior to others. It works for her.
This person sounds really fearful of unschooling because it sounds like she or he doesn't know much about it.

rfs said...

@Anon-Thanks. As you say,the comment from the person who commented on my article implies that teaching your own kids requires some education..but not too much or you'd be wasting your own education. I wonder what is the cut off point- according the the commentator. Is it after a year of university or college? Two years? That's elitism!

Sarah said...

I actually thought the commenter raised some valid issues that some need to come to terms with about unschooling. I disagree with the outright elitist accusation though - and yes, some people do (ridiculously) accuse mothers who breastfeed of being elitist for doing so as well. People like to belittle things they don't choose for themselves or don't understand.

But it is a valid point - what of the parent who isn't educated enough to properly unschool without instilling potentially worse lessons to their children. One thinks of some fringe fundamentalist groups who keep their kids of the school system so that they can steep them in their group's religious values (which isn't bad necessarily) and shelter them from anything going on in the rest of the world.

And what of the parent who has spent decades learning a highly sought after profession, such as medicine - is that person's best contribution made by teaching their own children, or by working in the medical field? Not that your blog says that unschooling should be everyone's goal in certain circumstances, but it begs to be discussed.

I don't even have children yet, but I wonder if I'll be able to devote the time to unschooling them, or if that would even be the best thing for them (am I the best person to lead a child in that course of education?). It obviously requires a lot of confidence and bravery to do something that is against the grain of mainstream society, and it's not a commitment to be entered into very lightly.

rfs said...

@Sarah-Thanks for the comment. The way I see it, unschooling is not a decision people come to without much commitment and willingness to deschool their own selves. By this, I mean divesting oneself of preconceived notions about learning. It is elitist to assume that that sort of education has been acquired IN SCHOOl. Being curious about your world, seeking to further yourself and to contribute to the community etc etc. does not require that you have been schooled (the more years the better). No. It means that you are exercising your natural curiosity and willingness to continue to learn.You do not need a degree, not even highschool education to unschool your own.
If you are a person who is interested in unschooling your children it is likely you are already very interested in education and you are already educating yourself.
As to those fundamentalist groups you mention, I am guessing they are NOT unschoolers are they?
Lastly, you question where a person's education are best placed-that is pursuing the path they started on (ex. doctor) or leaving this path to unschool. How can we know what the out come will be for any situation? What if that doctor raises the next Einstein making an even bigger contribution to society? The point is, people have to follow their hearts. We are not preaching unschooling, nor are we saying unschooling is for everyone. We are saying, hey! There is a way to educate without school and here's why and here's how.

Sarah said...

I definitely agree about the education coming from outside of school.

I think it's easy for people who are just learning about alternatives to school to conflate unschooling with homeschooling. You're right - everything I've read about unschooling so far suggests that anyone choosing to call it that is not taking education lightly and is probably rather interested in learning about learning, and doing right by the children they lead.

Not to say that homeschoolers don't do the above things, but homeschooling is a much larger spectrum of intentions, I'm sure.

There's so much to think about when it comes to figuring out education.

rfs said...

@Sarah-There really is so much to think about concerning education!

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