Saturday, September 11, 2010

Giving kids the support they need to be self-directed learners.

We are used to doing very little for ourselves.  Take sewing our clothes, baking our bread, making our own furniture, fixing our cars, our bikes, growing our food.. the list goes on.
While I am deeply thankful that I don't have to milk my own cow, or sew footwear for myself and the family, I can't help thinking that the less we have to do for ourselves the more we have developed dependent attitudes and  mindsets in all areas of being alive.

Perhaps this is why the idea of unschooling-of taking responsibility for educating ourselves- is unthinkable for so many. Not only is it unthinkable, it's challenging the status quo- and how dare one do this?
Besides, giving a kid that kind responsibility? Are you freaking crazy? It isn't fair for the kid.

I agree that it isn't fair to say to a child, "Off you go then! Carte blanche now. It's all up to you."
And that is hardly ever the case with unschoolers.

Here's an excerpt from an interview Radio Free School did with Susannah Sheffer who explains that the key to unschooling or self directed learning is support.

How can parents continue to support their home educated kids, find mentors, role models?

There’s a philosophical answer to that and a very practical answer. The philosophical one in a way, is embedded in that word “support.” Because all of us have been to school we are used to figuring out what kids need to do and then figuring out ways to get them to do it.
As colloquial as that might sound, that’s what much of the discussion on education really is about. You know, "what should kids be learning and how can we cleverly devise ways to get them to do it, and to get that knowledge in there?"
Then when people begin to critique that and question that model as many many people have, sometimes there’s a tendency to swing to a false other end of the spectrum where the assumption is that in that case you should just entirely leave kids alone.
That’s I think what a very, very superficial and ultimately false understanding of what sometimes homeschooling and some kinds of alternative schools is- you know that the alternative of making kids do things is nothing at all! And in fact there is such a profound third alternative.

And that alternative can really be summed up by the word “support” where there is quite a role for an adult in the life of a young person who is self directed and not forced to do things. There is after all a whole big world out there and helping young people to navigate through it, to understand what their options are, to figure out what they want and to know what’s available.
There’s so much that an adult can do.

And so, that gets into the very practical; example, a girl expresses a very general interest in working with animals, let’s say. She may not be at all sure what she means by that. She may not be sure what the options would be. One of the things an adult might do in that situation is first of all, let her know what the options are. Talk to her about how she could be reading about that sort of thing, she could be apprenticing, volunteering. What does she mean by animals? Does she mean training guard dogs for the blind, does she mean working in a veterinarian office.
There’s so many different things you can do and sometimes by throwing out those specific scenarios in the conversation with the girl or boy actually, that they figure out what it is that they really do want. An adult can offer very practical help like placing the phone call to the veterinarian to begin to explore those possibilities.

The easiest way to sum this up is by some very wise words of some friends of mine who run a resource center for young people and the way they would always pose a question both from little toddlers right up to teenagers; they would say, “what’s the part you can do and what’s the part you need help with?” Which really shows that it’s not an all or nothing kind of proposition. A young person might say, “I really need help with placing that phone call to the veterinarian because that’s a really scary thing to figure out as a thirteen year old. How to place that cold call to a stranger. But then once you place the call, Mom I would be comfortable going to the first appointment by myself,” or what ever it might be.

In other words there are parts that kids want our help with and parts that they feel able to do themselves.
It’s so important not to butt in and help with the parts that they don’t want, think of a toddler saying “No. I want to do it my self!” It’s so important not to interfere with that. But it’s so important to extend the help and support when young people do want it. That’s kind of an overview that I think really shows what kind of help we can offer. We give the help that’s asked for as John Holt but it and not the help that’s not asked for.


p2.rab said...

Instead of lending that helping hand when *solicited*, most of the adults either vest this responsibility to *impersonal* educators or shush the inquisitive child.

Lee said...

I love the question from the resource centre! I'm going to use it with my daughter. Great post!

Anonymous said...

@p2.rab-that has been my experience too. I was at the park and there were a group of kids playing and the person in charge had absolutely no interest in answering any of their questions-instead, she told them to "leave me alone and go play."

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