"Next to the right to life itself, the most fundamental of all human rights is the right to control our own minds and thoughts. That means the right to decide for ourselves how we will explore the world around us, think about our own and other persons’ experiences, and find and make the meaning of our own lives.”
John Holt, American educator and author.
When I think about it, I’ve been directing my learning for most of my life. I was unschooling myself as a young person—and I didn’t even know it! I didn't have the name for it.
I recall as an 11 year old, teaching myself French because I wanted to attend the francophone school that my older sister was going to attend (We had just emigrated from England to West Africa). I was extremely motivated, I was intrinsically motivated, I was emotionally invested. I wanted to do this thing and I knew I could.
I worked very, very hard. Throughout the entire summer, I hung around les soeurs (Catholic sisters) of the secondary school, as they prepared my sister to enter in the fall. They gave me french books to read, comic books like the 'Adventures of Tin-Tin' and basically left me alone to figure things out, offering help when I needed it. I studied conjugation and vocabulary and sentence construction on my own.
As it happens, I didn’t end up going to that school but what I learned was that if I wanted to, I was able to be utterly focused without anyone forcing me or trying to get me to be so.
I bet everyone can think of a time, when their interest to learn something was burning and all consuming, and you learned because you really wanted to know, not because someone wanted you to.
In this way, we are all unschoolers.
As I got a little older, I learned to question what I read in books and what people were telling me. I remember disagreeing with a statement in a textbook and feeling thrilled and empowered that I could do this—me, little ol me, challenging ‘the voice of authority’ that was that textbook! This was an epiphany for me that I have never forgotten because it was the beginning of my being able to challenge and explore what I believed in, what was interesting to me, what was my reality and not some imposed authority outside of myself. I was 14. Later in my life, my children would be much younger to arrive at this revelation—I attribute this attitude to the support they would receive from their father and me.
When I was asked not to return to high-school due to too many absences in chemistry, a subject I found confusing and overwhelming, I studied math and advanced math at home and when it got to the point when I needed some help, my mother was able to hire a tutor once a week to help me as I prepared for my A levels (British system). I guess, I also learned this sort of ‘do it yourself’ you can do this from my mother, a creative, inventive person, skilled as a tailor and pattern maker (self educated) who has a high-school level but who has never doubted that any of her 5 daughters could do what ever we set our minds to.
It's not really that surprising after all that when I had my own children, the idea of unschooling them was something that felt natural. Now I'm seeing my sisters, although they are not unschooling, they have the philosophy on their radar and it informs their decisions/thoughts when it comes to the schools their children attend. They can think about how we are all unschoolers, whether in school or out, and we just need to nurture opportunities for kids to explore their interests more.
"Nobody can give you and education. Education must be taken by those who want one. The will and dogged persistence of the seeker are the only essential tools needed to become educated. Teachers, text, money play only minor roles and papers, pencils, tests play no role at all."(Gatto).