Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Why unschooling?

I had a new experience on Friday. After 14 years of homeschooling, and 12 as a committed unschooler--the first two were spent trying to figure out what we were doing--I was in a situation where being an unschooler was applauded. Wow. John Taylor Gatto, former New York Teacher of the Year, was applauding unschooling parents.

That felt good.

I've spent years feeling like I needed to defend what I was doing with my kids. Even as our results have proved that unschooling works, I have experienced a doubling-down of criticism, especially from other homeschoolers. I've never asked for atta-girls, or pats on the back; so I was stunned by how nice it was to get that unsolicited affirmation.

Gatto said some other things that really resonated with me:

We live with "a palette of unexamined assumptions" including the idea that "lurking behind anything worthwhile is standardized tests, GPAs and college." These assumptions have "allowed us to become our own jailers." Wow, again. This is so true, and echoes many of the conversations that I've had in the past few years with people who think about education. Gatto pointed out that it is still true that many highly successful people--names everyone knows: Gates, Jobs, Dell, to name but a few--didn't go to college or dropped out.

We have come to value credentials over learning, and hoop-jumping over knowledge and understanding. And it is imprisoning millions in a cycle of under-achieving when they don't measure up and student loan debt when they do.

The way to break out: "There has to be a substantial amount of your educational program that only fits you." This is the key to unschooling. It is absolutely personalized. And it cannot be done in institutional school. It is not what institutional schooling is for. That has a different purpose.

This doesn't preclude college. In fact, so far both of my unschooled high school graduates have chosen to attend college, because it fits them. Both have chosen to be history majors, one added a minor in English, the other is considering German and political science as possible minors. But that is another post.

I think Gatto's quote also challenges us to consider what is "worthwhile." Our society seems to consider only material or career success as worthy of pursuit. I would argue that there are other pursuits equally worthwhile, which do not depend on tests and GPAs. Parenting, growing food, and working with the hands come to mind, as a beginning.


Elephantschild said...

"Our society seems to consider only material or career success as worthy of pursuit."

Yes. Underneath nearly all education in this country is the mantra of "get a good education so you can get a good job so you can make good money."

I'd like to raise a human, not a consumer.

Bi-Coloured-Python-Rock-Snake said...

Not ten minutes ago, I was having a conversation with my roommate about how, looking back with a couple years' perspective, higher education is so transparently a total racket, particularly in comparison to how real it seems while you're immersed in it.

Don't get me wrong, I loved college, and don't regret it for a minute. Part of that is because I went to a pretty old-school liberal arts college that didn't pretend that their sort of education was supposed to be directly applicable to anything in particular.

For anyone who's just looking for the degree so they can get the job that requires a degree, it would be a much better use of time and money to just work a job and do the bare minimum in online courses on the side in order to get a degree. Of course, the best answer is to break out of the system entirely, but that's only feasible for so many.

Susan said...

I have been noticing, in the last year, that homeschooling is far less joyous for me than it was for many years. And I finally realized that, right now, it's all about hoop-jumping and fitting into the mold. Andrew has to get ready for college (or whatever) and we're trying to play catch-up on the Educational Conformity thing. When the older kids were playing catch-up and look quasi-normal and presentable, there were still the younger siblings around who were unschooling, and thus it was easier to keep our heads on straight about priorities and real learning.

But now it's different.
And it's sad that it's different.

And what scares me is that, with what's going on politically, the hoop-jumping and looking conventional may be ever-more-important. I mean, are we going to be able to become entrepeneurs in a socialist system?