Unschooling

“I guess my ideal educational system would be a society in which knowledge was widely free and widely and freely shared, and children were everywhere trusted, respected, safe, valued, and welcomed . . . I think practically anything we do to help is mostly going to be harmful except for very limited things – answering questions, showing people things if they ask you, being there as a kind of friendly, sympathetic companion if they have things to talk about, giving them comfort if they need that.” ~John Holt

My mother told me about a now-grown woman she met who was unschooled and seemed to have no knowledge of any subject but fashion magazines.  I told her that was very surprising and not like any unschooler I had heard of.  It was several minutes later in the conversation before I realized this woman wasn’t really unschooled–she was a product of the public school system and my mom was calling her unschooled as synonymous with “neglected education.”

But that’s the thing, I think the public school education is prone to neglect.  Those poor teachers have to lecture to 30 students at a time–of course some of them are neglected!  When you are unschooling, there is no neglect possible because you are not relying on a teacher to educate you.

Unschooling is the opposite.  Unschooling is, like the point of this blog, following passions.  And following passions is ALWAYS educational, regardless of age, time of day or year, or proximity to a schoolroom.  Following passions leads to deep understanding and CARING about a subject.  It leads to fascination with other subjects and an awareness of how different “subjects” fit together so snugly that sometimes the lines between are blurred and any attempt to partition them and teach them separately can be seen as ridiculous and futile.  When you are unschooling, you learn about the world, instead of subjects.

Why should a person choose to unschool?  Unschooling is a good choice if you are too busy with this fascinating world to take time out for education.

For example, maybe you need to sleep during school hours so you can stay up to watch the lunar eclipse.  As a parent, I have a role, but it is no more complicated than the kind of mindful parenting we all strive for whether our children go to school or not: attention, encouragement, sharing, and being willing to listen and learn from my children.

Read what some unschoolers have to say on the subject:

Why Unschool

Yes, I can Write!

And I really enjoyed this fun video addressing common homeschooling peeves (not specific to unschooling):

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=J1z_zMtofvY&feature=related

As for the specific case of my six year old daughter, Ada, I pointed out to my mother that she already has interests and knowledge far surpassing the grown “unschooler” my mother described.  And my mother agreed.  It’s not because I or anyone else had a list of subjects that should be covered.   It’s because, living in this world as she does, she became interested in words, numbers, shapes, and sounds.  It’s because grandma told her that the direction North had shifted, and showed her pictures of Mount Rushmore.  It’s because we read books together that take place all over geography and history.  She doesn’t know that you are supposed to learn addition before subtraction, followed by multiplication, so she learned them all at once simply by understanding numbers (which happened because no one took her interest in numbers and made it a chore).  She doesn’t know that division is different from multiplication either.  And is it?  She was never taught her shapes or colors, but seems to have picked them up.  She was not introduced to classical music, yet her favorite song in the world is Dance of the Reed Flutes by Tchaikovsky.

My mother homeschooled me.  I know she is confident in homeschooling and biased against public schools.  I believe she is concerned about our unschooling because she knows I am busy cooking cleaning and keeping my kids safe, blogging and running a business.  She knows that my home is not one enrichment activity after another, that I am not spending the day sitting on the floor with my girls doing science experiments.  Yet somehow Ada knows about the life cycle of jellyfish and how fruit are produced.  Sure my goal is to spend more time with them, but in the meantime, Ada has not let my life interfere with her education in the least.  Which leads me to believe that life is one big enrichment activity whether I’m busy or not.  Either I’m doing something right, or it was never in my hands in the first place.

One Reply to “Unschooling”

  1. you summed it up beautifully! “life is one big enrichment activity” – yes! and our “classroom” really is the world, isn’t it? i am learning so much from enjoying the world with my kids, way more than i did in school, and i know they are going to lead very full lives because they simply love to learn as it is just a part of who they are and not what they have to do. 🙂

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