Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Can you say "unschool"?

Seth Godin wrote about what school is good for in his post on January 31st, and then followed it up with another post on February 8th in which he discussed the fact that many people just stop actively trying to learn the day that they graduate from school.

He points out that even among the people who are curious enough and interested enough in furthering their knowledge that they read blogs like his, very few read the most important non-fiction books. He guesses that less than 10% of the people who read his blog ever read one of his books. He says that for many people, the idea of books brings back bad memories of school, and even if they want to learn, they don't want to spend their spare time doing school stuff now.

He hits one of the reasons that I believe so strongly in unschooling right on the head. I didn't send my youngest son to a regular school until well after he could read and write. The base of his education started at home, and both he and I are looking forward to his days returning to home education again.* My eldest son did the school thing until he was 10, and then homeschooled on and off until he started at Washing State University a short while before his 17th birthday. Both boys are huge book lovers. Both boys study many things that are not part of their regular curricula today, independently and rigorously.

Why do they do this? Because they don't equate studying with strict authority, fear of consequences, or boredom in the classroom. Their curiosity has been tended like a plant, and it has grown along with their abilities to seek out answers. They have been given the tools to explore the world around them, and encouraged to reach out beyond their own boundaries.

There is nothing on Seth Godin's list of what you get from school that you can't get while homeschooling. Learning at home does not mean learning only at home or only with your parents. Unschooling in particular means learning from experience and the world around you and all of the many resources that you have available to you, from books and computers to neighbors and tutors and beyond.

My eldest son learned about business by starting his own small business at age 12 in the UK. And then another in Seattle at age 14. And another at college at age 17. Along the way he asked many adults for help and advice, learned how to do important research on his own and how to get other people to buy into his projects and dreams and to invest their time, their money, or their resources to help him build things. He didn't study in the framework of a specific course, but he did take some classes and workshops along the way.

My daughter goes to an excellent public school, and has been in that school system for most of her life. She likes going to school, and she thrives on it. During the one year that she spent here in Israel, she even shocked her 10th grade teachers with how quickly she learned Hebrew and how well she did on exams when they had expected absolutely nothing from her at all. However, when you take her out of a school-based learning situation, she doesn't reach further. She doesn't follow her own questions to see where they will lead. She barely ever reads fiction books just for fun, and she never reads non-fiction just for fun.

I fear that school squelches creativity and curiosity. It demands conformity and little more. It rewards you for doing exactly what you are assigned, no more or less. It treats tangential explorations as a waste of time.

I'm as proud of her as a mother can be. How could I not be? She plays the viola in the school orchestra, had a part in the school play this past Fall, plays basketball for her school, gets excellent grades and was even invited to a program where she can take courses at UC Berkeley while still in high school! My daughter, as they say, is The Awesome.

I know that she has wide open doors of opportunity because of her success in school. Still, I hope that once she gets beyond her school years she will learn, like I did, to unschool her self, and love the process of learning for its own sake.

* The young one is in public school currently because I've run out of ideas for how else to get him to learn the language of the country where we've been living for two years now. The deal is that when he can read books in Hebrew and understand them the way he does with English books, then he can come back to Homeschooling. Don't tell him this, but it's really only a one year experiment. If he doesn't want to go to school next year, I'm not going to make him, even if his Hebrew isn't at the level I'd like it to be. I'll just have to find another solution for that educational issue.

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