Unschooling and Education

I never liked primary and secondary school. I always felt like there was a better use of my time. That’s not to say that I didn’t like learning. I loved learning. I just thought that school wasn’t a very good place to learn.

College was definitely better. I had a few classes that were outstanding.

Homeschooling… actually Unschooling

We are experimenting with unschooling our children.

I haven’t liked the direction school has been heading with increasing emphasis on homework, grades, and testing.

But homeschooling as a realistic option hadn’t occurred to me until a friend challenged my think. I initially thought he was crazy.

What does it mean to be well educated?

Knowing a lot of facts? Not to me.

In Creative Schools, Robinson succinctly states that the aims of education are “to enable students to understand the world around them and the talents within them to that they can become fulfilled individuals and active, compassionate citizens.” I couldn’t have put it better myself.

A Framework

I started putting together my ideas about how a curriculum might be constructed when Nico was still an infant. I wasn’t sure exactly what the curriculum would be specifically, however I had a good idea what the general outline should look like. This is what I came up with.

1. Critical thinking

I believe that our children must be able to think critically. They should continue asking “why” past early childhood. Curiosity is amazing.

2. How to learn

If a child knows how to read and write then the entire world of human knowledge is opened up to them. But knowing just this won’t get them very far, most adults know how to read but they are still ignorant. We all have our own learning styles and once we figure out what they are we become so much more efficient at learning.

3. An Index

Once we gain external memory we lose the need to memorize most facts. I assert that we only need to memorize facts that must be recalled quickly. If the information can be looked up the we shouldn’t waste our time memorizing it. However, memorizing an index to the world’s information can be very helpful. What resources are available to learn from? What knowledge exists and what problems can it solve? I should be able to go from “I have such-and-such a problem” to “I remember that geometry is useful in solving these kinds of problems” to “I know I can learn about geometry from this resource” to “Ok, I now know enough geometry to solve my problem”.

4. Practical life skills

Practical life skills are seriously lacking in American schools and most parents do a poor job of filling in the gaps. Ignorance allows the population to be manipulated and taken advantage of. Not knowing how to cook creates a dependence on others just to be able to eat. Ignorance of personal finance leads people into a life of servitude. Their debt takes away their freedom to the point where they might as well be slaves. Literacy of mass media allows one to recognize where they are being manipulated.

School ≠ Education

Robinson again: “The assumption of formal education is that young people need to know, understand, and be able to do things that they wouldn’t if left to their own devices”.

Stuff to think about

Further Reading

A few books that have guided my thinking: Free to Learn by Peter Gray, Learning all the Time by John Holt, and Democracy and Education by John Dewey.

While not a book, the essay A Mathematician’s Lament by Paul Lockhart is an excellent criticism of math education.

An animated TED talk by Ken Robinson