Friday, February 1, 2008

School Vs Unschool

Let's start off with a disclaimer: We're not those crazy homeschooling parents (who are out there, we've seen them) that think that homeschooling is something that "all good parents do" or that people who homeschool are the only ones who really love their children. No--we completely respect everyone's right to determine what is best for themselves, their children, and their families. We wouldn't want anyone to berate us for not sending our kids to government school, or force us to send our children there against our wishes, so we certainly don't go around criticising or pushing our "agenda" on other people. We also (for the record) aren't keeping our children home to isolate our children from the world, from society, from people who are different than us, or from their peers. We actually are very dedicated to making sure that our children interact with the community, both older people and younger people, people that are "similar" to us and those who are not.

We are however extremely critical of the government school system. We say a lot of bad things about them, we say them all the time, we say them in front of whomever happens to be standing there, and we aren't sorry for whenever I say something about the government school system try to remember-it's not about you directly. Or your children. I'm sure you're all very nice people and great parents.

There are a lot of reasons why our children will not be going through the government school system, however; and a lot of reasons why our children will not only be homeschooled, but will be unschooled.

"I am beginning to suspect all elaborate and special systems of education. They
seem to me to be built upon the supposition that every child is a kind of idiot
who must be taught to think. Whereas, if the child is left to himself, he will
think more and better, if less showily. Let him go and come freely, let him
touch real things and combine his impressions for himself, instead of sitting
indoors at a little round table, while a sweet-voiced teacher suggests that he
build a stone wall with his wooden blocks, or make a rainbow out of strips of
coloured paper, or plant straw trees in bead flower-pots. Such teaching fills
the mind with artificial associations that must be got rid of, before the child
can develop independent ideas out of actual experience." -- Anne Sullivan

Unschooling has as many different meanings as it does families that participate in it. To us, the quote from Anne Sullivan is something that speaks directly to the reasons we unschool. We believe that children should learn from the world around them, in a natural community environment, and in a way that is largely self-motivated. We believe that the most important thing to teach our children is a love of learning, and that "education" is not the way to do that.

To "educate" implies (to us) that children need to be sat down and forced to study what someone superior to them has decided they need to know. First of all, we don't like the idea of teaching our children that anyone is superior to them, with the notable exception of God. Older, sure. Wiser, sure. Some people are. But we don't want our children believing that just being older, or wiser, or more "educated" makes that person superior to them. After all, everyone-from the newborn baby to the oldest person on the planet-has the same value in the eyes of God and we are ALL learners and teachers. (I don't know about you, but I learn from my son almost every day.)

We want our children to place value on learning. Getting more information, arming themselves with knowledge as it is practical to them in their everday lives, and utilizing their knowledge to better themselves not only intellectually but emotionally, spiritually, and perhaps even financially and vocationally as well. Placing the value on learning not only helps them realize that it is enjoyable to learn new things, but that it is a life long process that is never truely completed. You can complete your education, you cannot "complete" learning. Unless of course you die.

Of course, unschooling is pretty much the antithesis of government schooling. If you'd like to know about the reasons that we unschool, and why we think the government schools (ALL government schools) are so bad, I suggest reading Dumbing Us Down by John Taylor Gatto. He describes perfectly the reasons that government schooling stunts children's ability to learn and is, in fact, harmful to them. And he should know-he taught as a government school teacher for 30 years...even winning acclaim from them being awarded both New York City and New York State Teacher of the Year Awards. Mr. Gatto has been in the institution, and apart of the institution, and he can tell you for certain why it's all wrong for kids.

In the book he talks about the hidden cirriculum of complusary schooling (perhaps that's why that's the subtitle of the book), and in the beginning of the book he exposes the 7 Lessons that all "educators"-in fact the whole system itself-really teach the children in the system. {I am putting the lessons here, followed by my own description. Please PLEASE read the book to get Mr.Gatto's much more complete and eloquent descriptions.}

Lesson One: Confusion
Everything is taught out of order and out of context. The studying of the solar system one hour followed by the studying of European history...the focus on worksheets and violates children's sense of natural order and sequence.

Lesson Two: Class Position
Teaching children to submit to the numbers given to them-their grade number, their class ranking, their classroom number, their seat this children are taught that they are no more important than a random number superimposed on them someone "more qualified". It teaches them to submit to authorities without questioning their credentials or reasoning. It also teaches them to accept their ranking, and that their "place" is predetermined and inescapable.

Lesson Three: Indifference
In government schools children's learning is dictated by the bell. They are expected to care passionately about every subject...for exactly 47 minutes. Then the bell rings, and they must immediately stop caring about that subject and start being fiercely passionate about the next subject of their teacher's choosing. This teaches children that one project is not important enough to why bother caring about anything in particular?

Lesson Four: Emotional Dependancy
Teaching children to trade in their free will to the appropriate authorities and follow the chain of command. In government school, educators teach children that their rights are granted to them by a higher authority, and that their rights-even Constitutional rights such as to free speech or personal rights such as the ability to pee whenever you have to-can be granted or denied to them by people above them in "the chain of command".

Lesson Five: Intellectual Dependancy
Teaching children that good children wait for a teacher to give instructions--teaching them the overall lesson that they should wait for someone "more qualified" to give them meaning in their lives and to tell them what to do. Goodness knows what we would do if we didn't have "experts" to decide everything for us!

Lesson Six: Provisional Self Esteem
Government schooling teaches children to place their emotions in the hands of an educator with a big red marker or a smiley face sticker. When an educator gives a child a check mark they expect that child to have a negative emotional reaction-not only within themselves, but even from their own parents. When they give a child the proverbial "gold star" they do it to boost their self esteem...teaching them that their emotions and self esteem should be intertwined, if not entirely dependant on, this "more qualified" person who will tell them exactly how good or bad they should feel about themselves. That the educator, as the authority, will tell them exactly how much they are worth.

Lesson Seven: One Can't Hide
Government schooling allows children no personal time or space-having them constantly survielled by "the authorities". They are even punished for fraternizing without permission (passing notes or talking too much in class). This teaches children that no one can be trusted and that privacy is not legitamate.

Those are the lessons that government school teaches children...the lessons that I can't stand the thought of my children being subjected to-not to mention I find that most schools have genuinely subpar curriculum-made for only the completely average cookie cutter child, attempting to pawn off the children who need help and completely ignoring the gifted ones-and that many teachers are indifferent at best to the genuine needs of children.

No, I'll keep my children at home. They'll learn math and nutrition at the grocery store, science when we visit the lake, history from stories that family members tell, art in the park, government from visits to town hall, sportsmanship from participating in community activities...and I'll know that my children will have a genuine love of learning, the belief in themselves that they can come to know anything they want to because they are capable, and a sense of self esteem and value that does not come from some omni-present external authority.

My children will grow up as children.