Schools have not necessarily much to do with education… they are mainly institutions of control, where basic habits must be inculcated in the young. Education is quite different and has little place in school. ~Sir Winston Churchill
I’ve recently come across a new idea, new to me anyway. It’s called, “Unschooling,” and it means just what it says. It is the practice of not forcing your kids to go to school. I know, I know… this is just about every kid’s fantasy. It sure was mine growing up.
I’ve long been aware of the home-schooling movement. It was really big in the evangelical church I used to be a part of. In a lot of ways, home-schooling is more about insulating your children from “the evils of the world,” than about enhanced learning, at least among the religious. Unschooling is much different, in fact, it’s almost the complete opposite.
I first heard the term, “unschooling,” from a lady by the name of Dayna Martin. I saw Dayna on the show Wife Swap. (Yes, I watch the show, and I do find it entertaining.) Dayna, a self-professed, “Radical Unschooler,” was swapped out, in true Wife Swap fashion, with an ultra-strict/militant mom. It was a very funny show. I was so interested in the philosophy of the Martins that I spent a few days researching it.
From what I can gather, the whole idea behind the unschooling moment stems from a fundamental belief in the right of a child to be self-directed in their education and their life in general. In this paradigm, the focus is shifted away from standardized learning and test scores, to curiosity and utility. In other words, a child will learn something when they have an interest in it, or a utility for it, as opposed to having information force fed to them, whether they’re interested or not. Now, this concept is very appealing to me. From the science I have seen, it seems clear that intrinsic motivation, or being motivate internally to do something, is far more powerful than any external force that we can apply.
I’m sure all of us can remember a time when we were so interested in something, that we would stay up all hours of the night learning about it, seeking out any information we could get our hands on. I was this way when I first started to learn html code. I was fascinated with it, and I spent countless hours learning it. No one forced me to. I wasn’t graded on it. No one rewarded me for getting it right, or punished me for getting it wrong. This is basically how unschoolers operate. The parent is more of a facilitator to the child’s learning. When they see that their child has an interest in something, they help them gain access to anything and everything related to it. Instead of forcing reading upon their child, they fill their environment with the written word… creating a utility for it. I remember Dayna talking in one of her videos about how her son, Devin, learned to read by playing online games. Now, to the most of us that sounds absurd, but apparently he can read quiet well today. The desire to communicate by chatting across the game with fellow players created the motivation to learn the skill.
What I find really fascinating about unschooling isn’t so much the not going to school part, but the underlying philosophy of freedom and self-determination. Anyone who studies the history of the American education system can tell you that compulsory schooling was really just a tool of the early industrial tycoons, who needed workers for their factories who were pretrained in obedience and the following of imposed schedules. The more I think about all this, the more I can see the long lasting effects of institutionalization in my own life. The habits of getting up at the buzz of an alarm, so I can scurry off to punch a clock and perform monotonous tasks for eight or nine hours a day, were first instilled in me by the public school system.
Habits are powerful things. We seldom question the things that are forced upon us by our own well meaning parents and surrounding culture, but maybe we should. Maybe the time has come to do things differently.