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Unschooling – Reasons for Learning at Home
“Education is about the production of more democracy, the production of peace, the production of happiness, while schooling is often the production of global economic competitiveness,” Jason Price, assistant professor at the University of Victoria, quoted in The Globe and Mail.
I wrote in my last message that I would like to be able to unschool. I really do. I think there are a lot of misconceptions about what unschooling is. I also think there are multiple definitions as families tend to define it themselves. I’m not sure how it would look to us, but a very important aspect is being an attentive parent and relating to your children. It is letting their interest guide their learning while providing them with a rich learning environment for their interest to be piqued by diverse topics.
One of my biggest inspirations for unschooling is Miranda’s blog, Nurtured by Love. I read about his family life, his thoughts on learning and living a simpler life. Everything resonates with me. If you read her posts about homeschooling, school, math, parenting, etc., you’ll know her kids are all very bright and have diverse interests, wide knowledge (amazing for their age, maybe that’s what they can do non-schooling), and strong analytical skills. They are also musical, compassionate and well socialized.
Why not school? Here are my reasons.
Unschooling allows children to follow their interests, which means they will be intrinsically motivated to learn. They want to learn because they are genuinely interested in the subject and excited about it. In school, motivation is often extrinsic; please the teacher, please the parents, get the stickers, grades, awards, get into the best college, get a powerful job, etc. When a person is intrinsically motivated, they learn deeply and gain a complete understanding of the concept or topic.
Deschooling is really constructivist. Children will have the opportunity to construct their own knowledge. If children are exposed to situations where they can explore and investigate, they will learn deeply. This doesn’t mean that kids run around and expect them to learn something. It means exposing them to a variety of learning scenarios, often these scenarios have to be set up by the parent/teacher. There is much research to support the constructivist approach to learning. This is taught to teachers at teachers college. Learning takes time, especially constructivist learning. Unfortunately, the (Ontario) system and curriculum generally don’t have time for that, at least not all the time.
If we weren’t in school, I’d be at home, learning with my kids. We would learn together. That doesn’t mean they would go wild. It would mean that we could spend a lot of time together, living and learning. Time that does not rush. We could bake, garden, solve math and logic problems, explore nature, travel, read, debate, analyze, volunteer, create, write, sing, play, play music, dramatize, paint, draw, meet people, converse.. .the list could go on forever. Maybe 15 years from now I won’t be saying, “Where did the time go, just yesterday they had 4.”
There are things about the school system that make unschooling attractive.
“Tell me and I’ll forget. Show me, and I might not remember. Get me involved and I’ll understand.” Native American saying.
I have some issues with the Canadian school system:
- Stifles creativity. Although Ontario has an extensive arts curriculum, the reality is that it cannot be adequately covered along with all other subjects. And, too prescribed, imagine, an Arts curriculum that stifles one’s own creativity, sad but true. Ken Robinson presented a Ted Talk called “Schools Destroy Creativity, It’s Worth Watching”.
- There is not much experiential learning in school. Although constructivist theory is taught in Teacher’s College, it is actually very difficult to implement practical learning consistently. The dense and content-based curriculum, together with mandatory Ministry guidelines, leave little time for experiential learning.
- Schools create an environment where bullying thrives. This is my impression of being in the school system as a child and as a teacher. I don’t have any evidence yet, but I intend to follow this idea up with some research.
- Schools become too academic too soon. In Kindergarten, children are sitting at desks or tables, practicing their letters. Research clearly shows that early learning should be based on play, but schools are not implementing this research. It remains to be seen how this may change as Ontario moves into its new full-time early childhood education program with teachers and early childhood educators in every classroom.
- Schools are designed to create gears for the “industrial machine”. They don’t help children think critically about their world. According to Ken Robinson, the public school was conceived during the Enlightenment and the Industrial Revolution and was consequently designed to fit those times. The education system has not changed since then. There is an excellent RSA Animate from “Changing Education Paradigms” by Ken Robinson that clearly explains the current school system and how it needs to change.
- The school is very behind with technology. Most schools use technology only in the most rudimentary way. not good enough
- Children do not have much say in what or how they are learning. They feed on extrinsic motivators such as stickers, certificates, praise and grades. I think if they follow their interests, they will be intrinsically motivated, which in my opinion is much better.
- I do not believe that the needs of children with learning disabilities are being met.
Until we can change our schools to places that embrace critical, creative, and independent thinking, I think unschooling is best for my family. Too bad we can’t afford to do that.
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