Thursday, April 07, 2011

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.

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