Thursday, December 6

Learning IS Natural

I often hear of people worrying out loud that Unschooled kids will never learn anything. (I’m sure this worry must come from the utmost place of concern and compassion…surely there wouldn’t be any judgement involved?)

But they worry that without lessons, without being forced to learn, without rewards and punishments and bribes that a child will never learn a thing!

I’d love to say to those who worry “Think about it.” And leave it at that!

I like to trust that if these people honestly sat down and opened their minds and thought about how the World works; about the true Human condition that eventually they would ‘get’ it.

Maybe they would. But most don’t seem to be open to thinking about it…they want to hear justification.

So here I am to explain the logic of children learning without an Educational Institution or without even a parent who ‘makes’ them learn.

1. Children learn naturally.
 Your child learnt to walk and talk without lessons, without trained teachers. You did not need to offer encouragement, rewards or to punish your baby to ‘make’ them take that next step, to make them say that next word.
You did not need to schedule walking and talking practice for your child or make sure they completed a certain amount of hours practise each day.

You were Okay with the idea that some children walk before they are 1yr old and that it’s perfectly normal that some kids don’t walk til they are 2yrs old.

Same with talking…your child learnt to talk! And as they grew they went from single words to two words, to sentances; their vocabulary improved and their baby-talk fell away…just like that!

Learning is what we humans do!
It goes on for our whole lives. I’m learning as much everyday now at 40 as I did as a baby, a kid or a teenager.

How many adults do you know (and these are adults who went to school) who will tell you that everything of value they learned was once they were out in the “real” world (meaning outside the institutions)?

2. Do you really think that if a child did not go to school they would just stagnate?
That they would still have the same knowledge/ perceptions /skills as a six year old for the rest of their lives?

That by the age of 17 your schooled child will be able to do Algebra and write Essays but my unschooled child will still have trouble reciting the Alphabet…because they never even went to Kindy?

This reminds me of when my first son was a baby and some people assured me that if I co-slept “he would never leave my bed”…
he’s 18 now and yes, he did leave my bed… At least 12yrs ago!!!

Oh, and the time someone assured me that if I let my children self-wean they never would!!! Well the youngest of my children is 4yrs old now and she has almost stopped having booby.
The world does not stand still and neither do children.

3. Unschooling does NOT mean keeping our children from anything that is thought of as learning in a ‘normal’ schooling situation.

We are NOT anti-school.

We are anti-coercion, anti-authoritarian, and anti-bullying (and that definitely includes parents bullying their children) and all of these practises are unfortunately part of the school system.

We do not stop our children from learning Maths and English or from doing text books or from studying History, but we let our children decide when and if they want to learn.

In fact one of the values most Unschoolers have is to provide for their children as many diverse, vast, open ended learning experiences and opportunities as possible.

We do not do the “school” paradigm but most Unschoolers I have met are highly intelligent parents who care very much about ‘educating’ their children.

However we question, not just the school/institution paradigm but the common perceptions about what Education really is. We ask why certain knowledge is pre-requisite for humans; we ask deep questions about what humans really need to learn for their evolution, we ask our children what they need.

We educate/relate to our children in the most loving, open-minded, honest way we can.

We strive to give our children access to the broadest curriculum possible.
The difference is that it is not a forced curriculum.

4. Unschoolers don’t discipline their children.
We do not use discipline.
We do not reward, punish, coerce, shame or humiliate our children.

And the world would be a better place if adults did not act like this to each other either.

It could be argued that a child taught in these negative ways might go on to model/ use these behaviours as an adult. They might grow up to coerce, to bully, to ridicule, to compete. There is certainly not much proof in our society against this theory.

The alternative theory is that by modelling compassion, understanding and freedom we might inspire children to these behaviours.

No discipline does not mean unruly children, it does not mean we don’t have any boundaries, it does not mean a free-for-all.

Children who are truly respected respect their parents.

We have principals and standards that we expect ourselves as adults and our children to keep to as much as possible. BUT we also give our children the same respect we give adults.

The qualification here between normal parenting and Unschooling is that we have the same expectations of all people, children and adults; we also allow that children are young and might not act appropriately in social situations all the time.
BUT we do not shame, punish, smack or humiliate.

We explain, we love, we take a child away from a situation where they might be annoying others and sit with them.

We do not judge or belittle our children; we talk and show by example.

We respect all personal boundaries of Parents and children.

There are no hard and fast rules that apply all the time. Sometimes you can jump on the couch at home because we are having fun; at other peoples homes you can’t unless you ask and it’s ok.

Sometimes Momma is willing to read 18 books before bedtime and other times I am tired and do not feel like it.

It’s Okay to swear in context and when it’s appropriate. My kids all know who not to swear around because they don’t want to offend.

Children respect us because we are real. Because there are not arbitrary rules that appear to have come from nowhere, there are not questions to which we answer “Because I said so!” Because I am the parent and you are just a kid.

And to anyone still wondering if unschooled children will ever learn anything my advice is ask questions if you are truly curious, because most Unschooling folk are more than happy to explain.
Just not the type of questions that imply “I think you are neglecting your children!”

Please don’t approach us with the attitude that “What you are doing is so different to the norm that I find it very confronting, so I need to negate your experience and put you down so I don’t feel bad because if it were true I might have to change long held beliefs.” We really don’t want to indoctrinate other into doing what we are doing. Unschooling is a choice.

In brief…just “Think about it.”…before you judge.


Louise said...

excellent post

Ariad said...

Thanks Lou :)

stephanie thomas berry said...

We are unschoolers, too, and the deeper I look into mainstream ideas about children, the more I marvel at the future unschoolers are creating. We are the quiet revolution!

carole johnston said...

This was interesting to read,we have 6 grandchildren all at school ,all just love it,all go to a different assortment,some Christian school some regular state.One lot were home schooled for a year and begged to go back to regular school.It is all a matter of choice and we should respect people's choices.My close young friend homeschools her daughter and she is like a sponge she wants to do schoolwork all day! however they have a structured time frame,Jessie is way above her age in all aspects as at home there are no interruptions,they just get on with it she is a very bright child,they want to keep her innocence as long as they can and that was the main reason for their choice.
As someone in their 60's I observe a lot,the thing I notice about todays children is the change in life's values.I know this will sound really old fashioned but we all toddled off to Sunday School every week and we loved it,but it was there we learned about the 10 commandments and really that is what life is balanced on( not preaching ,just saying),just those 10 simple rules and if we all followed them the world would be a better place.Life is really simple and sometime,someone decided to complicate it.
Hats off to those who make their own choices and carry them through as long as the children can cope with the world out there,be kind to each other and honour their Mum and Dad and treat others as they would like to be treated,all will be well in their world.
When we have children we all just want the best for them and to protect them and we all do it "our way",neither way better than the other,just different.

Mokus said...

Great Sally, I loved your clarity, sharing and awareness. So refreshing in this world of reactiveness.

Missy said...

I love this so much. This is one of the best explanations of unschooling and would answer a lot of questions and fears people have.
We home school because of all the issues you've raised. Bullying from the teachers being the main one.
No one is as invested in my children as I am, therefore I am the most qualified to care for their education.
We left school behind us and it was the more freeing and rewarding decision we've ever made.

Anonymous said...

Firstly, your right. From a psychological perspective, some aspect of learning - provided the right chemistry and neurological pathways are there – animals - human and non- human, will instinctively learn; walking, talking ect. Though it is the further advancement of specific knowledge and the respect from a group of experts (long time learners) in a particular field or study that are the hall marks of so much knowledge - including the things you teach your children at home. It is the recognition of such knowledge that can be a burning desire in some individuals for whatever reason, a desire to help, find or discover.

Secondly, no I do not think a child who does not go to school would stagnate, I don’t know many people who do that are open to alternative ways of living, but lets face it, not all people are and that is ok. Though, without guidance into a particular area of study, some individuals could find it difficult to recognise what direction it is that they want to take if they do not have options presented to them. Schooling, whether institutional, home or un-schooled, should provide markers of self-actualisation to aid this process of the discovery of the self. The reason for school in the first place was to instil a sense of education, purpose and confidence in young people and to allow for the choice to specialise in an area of interest (in the interest of wider society – ahhh collectivity ). The history of school as an authoritarian model was a result of the millitarisation of civility during the first and second world wars. Since them the educational paradigm has taken many shapes and is not a one size fits all as your post seemingly suggests. I would also say the same for your generalizability of the un-schooling community. That is not to deny that indeed, there are many un-schoolers as you describe, though it is naive to suggest that there is a homogenous group of un-schoolers or schoolers that all behave in the same manner and instill the same principles into their child rearing techiques.
As for co-sleeping and extended breast feeding, of course it wouldn’t go on indefinitely, anyone who thinks that probably just doesn’t like extended breast feeding, it is not a common thing to see in this era we are in. Unfortunately, those who detest it are as warranted to feel that way as you are to think it is absolutely natural! I do believe that BF is gaining back the respect it deserves, though not everyone is brought up the same - therefore, the blanket or no blanket over the head of public breast feeding debate remains. Through behavioural studies, attachment theory has shown that it is not the breast milk that provides the security and attachment (although bf provides many health benefits without a doubt), it is the comfort the mother gives in general; sound of her voice, the feeling of her skin. This study has also brought about the many benefits to toddlers for the process of detachment - in which the child is able to self- console and spend periods away from the mother (beneficial for both mother and child on many levels). In short, different theories bring different ideas and suggestions. Different cultures do different things, different people with different motives do different things- its a matter of choice!

Anonymous said...

Thirdly, un-schoolers are not the only sector of the community that are anti this and anti that; in fact attending school while also having basic concepts of respect and open mindedness instilled at home gives children a great comparison (not knocking un-schooling, just my opinion). Believe it or not Ariad, parents who sent their kids to school also have the ability to share cross cultural experiences (referring to the in-school out-school dichotomy). Children then experience the way that multiple social lives operate. Schooling parents also are able to offer broad learning environments to their children through outside school activities and family time- music, theatre, alternative therapies or just basic parental interests or expertise; engineering, computers, social and cultural understandings, history or travel, sport, art and the list goes on. On this note, it is also appropriate to point out that it is the attitudes of an economically and individualised culture that we live in the West that is the mainstay of intolerance in this society. It is not innate in personal characteristics. It is learnt at home for the mainstay. Many abused and underprivileged children have found themselves in school, through teachers or councillors, or a subject that took them away from the pain of home and family. I think at this point, it is adpt to highlight what many feminist writers have suggested - that approx 85% of abuse, sexual and other, occur in the family home (on that note, thank goodness for schools for some families). Let’s not forget that schooled children and schooling parents are also potentially highly intelligent and let us also recognise that some are not, just as some un-schoolers are not highly intelligent just because they have followed the fad of un-schooling.

Number four of your un-schooling facts did make me giggle, only because you indicate that you are part of one big happy (if not only) un-schooling group. Of course some un-schoolers use discipline, just as some schoolers do not! It is here that your post is quite generalistic. Lastly, not all people vilify un-schooling and if you come across someone who does, maybe it is just their opinion. After all, isn’t acceptance of subjective interpretation indicative of the absence of an 'absolute truth'? Isn’t the insistence on generalizability and absolution the hallmarks of authoritarianism? People who judge you do this based on their own experiences or lack of. It is much more about them than you. I suggest you just be happy with yourself and not try so hard to justify something that people do differently the world over - educating their children. No answer is right and definate- just different.

Yeshe said...

you rock :)

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