Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Unschooling Answers

She contributes:Marsh Clean-up.
I was recently interviewed by a group of University of Houston, Texas students for some research they were doing on unschooling.
Here are some of the questions they asked followed by my answers:
* What are your opinions of unschooling?
That’s a broad question but I will try to answer it. Unschooling does not mean uneducated. To the unschooing philosophy, curiosity, good old fashion curiosity precedes education. You have to start with a desire to know something and that thirst is what moves it along. Conveniently, that’s something we are all born with. We are all natural born learners.

* What are some common misconceptions about unschooling? How do you disagree with them?
"Unschoolers are not well rounded." " Unschoolers aren’t socialized." "You can’t go to uni or college if you are unschoolers."
I’ll usually counter with no one is truly well rounded. Or I might question the concept of well roundedness. Well roundedness at what price? Mediocrity all around?
Socialization? An unschooled kid is going to have more of an opportunity to be socialized-- to a wide segment of the population!
 "Unschooling works if you are rich," is another misconception. "Unschooling works if you are exceptional.  You can't be 'average' and be successfully unschooled."
This is all unfounded nonsense. Unschooling should not have to be forced into a position where it has all the answers to education. It’s one form of educating- it is a really good one for some people. I’d say for most people because just like we know kids can grow up without being punished, without being beaten so too can they grow up without going to school. Also, no one wants to grow up stupid and uneducated!
It’s an approach – an outlook that basically says, learn what you want. The rest will follow. Just like the old adage, follow your bliss. It’s the same people-doubters doubt that too,don’t they? Unschooling keeps you on your toes. It’s something I’ve noticed around unschooled kids- they take initiative quickly. Of course, there are those who are less motivated or feel that they should be in school. So go ahead! Go to school.
 Unschooling is not for the ones who like to be lead, who crave direction, who find comfort in the norm, the regular, the routine. Unschooling can seem like a wild adventure or endless boredom. It can feel like opportunities are everywhere; "Where do I begin?" or it can be like, "I don’t know what I want to do. Someone tell me!"
And both can live side by side comfortably once you get the hang of it. Need help? Go and get it. That’s where my role comes in as a parent. To find guides, all the time, the learner is steering this ship.
Schools should be using more of that 'self-directed,'' go get it ,' attitude; helping kids to find what they want to be if society really wants to build stronger, independent thinkers. They need to nurture the natural thirst to be the best person you can be. I think unschoolers are really lucky because they have that opportunity every single day. It’s up to them to use it. We all have that opportunity mind you- just that it is less obvious.
* Could you tell us about your blog? How could it help people have a clearer view of unschooling?

We started with a weekly radio program called Radio Free School. It was all produced by my husband and I, including our kids who came up with ideas about what they wanted to learn about that week. So it was a show, by for and about homelearners that ran for seven years. Some of the shows included self-directed learning advocates such as J.T. Gatto, Grace Llwellyn. You can hear archived shows by following the links right here on the blog. A book will be coming out soon (hopefully!) that includes many interviews we conducted over the years with leaning advocates of unschooling as well as grown unschoolers!
The blog serves to demystify unschooling, to give support, to share thoughts and ideas.
* What is school like in comparison to unschooling in your opinions?
Apples and oranges. School is prescribed, linear, usually no deviation from what the curriculum dictates. Unschooling is freedom in learning, self directed. It can become very structured too though- when you put all your energy into what you want to be doing. The only true dictate is follow your nose. Also, unschoolers have more time.

* What are your thoughts on the ageism and class rank instilled in schooled individuals?

It’s a shame. I think schools have an opportunity to be so much more than what they are if they could give up the fear, if they could share power but as Gandalf says, "There is only one master and he does not share power!"
Kids could teach one another- I see that all the time and it was like that before. More inter-relatedness like with unschooling. My 13 year old daughter plays with her 5 and 6 year old cousins and hangs out with kids down the street who are 11 and 10. She is not bothered by that. It’s because I think she knows that just because you are small doesn’t mean you have nothing to contribute.
So school misses that opportunity for kids to make real meaningful contributions to the community- because they are so locked up in the 9 to 3 or whatever time they leave at, within an institution with a few teachers and their peers. With unschooling, you get to go out a lot more.

Part II: About Beatrice's daughter

1. Could you tell us about your daughter?
I have three actually. But lets's focus on the youngest (13).

2. How and why did you decide to let your daughter become an unschooler?

I decided long ago that living a live of surprise,adventure and learning from a place of curiosity and love was more authentic then going to an institution that eats your time up.

3. Is there anyone in your extended family who disagrees with your decision to let her unschooled? How did you deal with it?
There are family members but I have never been one to worry about what other people think. I am strong that way. Besides, they observe the results all along.

4. When did she first know that she is different from schooled kids? What are her reactions then?
Outwardly there is no immediate difference- like yellow noses or purple chins. It is how they approach situations. They seem to have a broader understanding of things- not so desperate to hide ignorance; not afraid of failure of doing the wrong thing, of not fitting in, of making a faux pas.  They stand up for what is wrong even at personal cost to their selves.

5. What are your roles in helping her discovering her interests? How can you be sure that she is interesting in learning new things instead of staying home and playing around?

Be observant. Notice things. Questions. Ask. Think. Pay attention.

I am there to help her find the assistance/guide/coaching she needs – to help her find her own mentors. To push her if she wants me to.
First of all, playing around as you put it is fundamental to learning. We forget that is how all learning begins and in fact that element of play is crucial to invention, discovery, creativity. It is vital that children play and actually they don’t even make a distinction between work and play. So playing is fine. As kids grow they seek more- they want to learn more. We continue to encourage them to challenge themselves by taking lessons, reading, reading, watching youtube videos, going to lectures at the university, in the community, community engagement environment, art, etc activism. and so on.

6. How is her typical day of studying? How does she learn? Does she find any difficulties or challenges to overcome during her unschooling?

We go out a lot. We read a lot.  She writes a journal. She takes classes she is interested in. She does a lot of sports. If she wants to study then we work together. She meets other friends to study art, or biology. Life is challenge- of course she finds challenges but intrinsic motivation is what makes her seek to learn more. Also the thought that other kids are learning certain things is a curiosity and a challenge sometimes! (she is competitive!).

7. What are her hobbies or favorite subjects? Do you remember when she first started pursuing it?
She loves dogs. She fosters dogs. She loves soccer. Running.  Art. Writing. Reading. Her sisters play violin, piano, reading and science. “Of course I like science. I don’t like to study it. I can feel comfortable knowing there is a whole field out there that I will never know about. I can live with it," to quote her older sister (aged 14 and in highschool).

8. Does she encounter any difficulties in her social life? Does she have cousins, friends, etc. that are currently in school? How is her relationship with them?

Youngest is the most social! She has absolutely no difficulty whatsoever in social situations.

9. Why did she decide to go to school?

 She wanted to try it out because she was curious about it.  She wanted to meet more people. Also her best (always been schooled) friend was going.

10. Does she ever feel a sense of inferiority to the schooled majority, in any way?

No. Maybe the opposite even! She knows that there school is not the end all be all of he life. "I never let school interfere with my education," to quote Mark Twain.

11. Even if she feels like she has an intellectual advantage over other students, does she feel as if she has missed out on anything? On the other hand, has she ever encountered someone who is schooled, and felt they had missed out on something by being schooled?

Her friends envy her- her happiness, her social ease and well being. Her confidence. That she can  go back to unschooling if she wants to.
12. What does she expect to be in the future? How may schooling and unschooling help she achieve her goals?
An animal behaviorist! She gets to meet her idol- Jane Goodall!

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I love the way you answered these questions. You have such a 'straight up' take on unschooling; like 'take it or leave it.' It is really refreshing. Sometimes, we get so defensive about it and you present it so naturally.

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