Friday, August 27, 2010

True freedom and some thoughts on unschooling

We found that beautiful beach somewhere in the middle of nowhere in Michigan. The girls stripped naked and jumped in the water! It was beautiful to watch them play, totally free, so beautiful, so unaware of anything else but their play. There was not an once of consciousness of their body image (and so it should be at that age!!). Soon enough, they will be commenting on their thighs, breasts, weight... but for now, it is wonderful to see the real freedom that belongs to childhood. I wish it could last forever.

Nous avons découvert cette jolie plage au milieu de nulle part au Michigan. Les filles se sont aussitôt déshabillées et elles ont sauté dans l'eau! C'était si beau de les voir jouer, totalement libres, si belles, si inconscientes de rien d'autre sauf de leur jeu. Il n'y avait pas une once de conscience de leurs corps (et c'est ainsi que ça devrait être à cet âge!!). Bientôt (trop tôt), elles feront des commentaires sur leurs cuisses, leurs seins, leur poids... mais pour l'instant, c'est si beau de constater la vraie liberté de l'enfance. Si seulement ça pouvait durer toujours.

And here are two great articles on unschooling and homeschooling (learning to let go) that I hope you will take the time to read. They go very well together and are such a great explanation of what we are trying to achieve... I am not an unschooler, but I believe that as homeschoolers, we have a lot to learn from unschoolers, as Sarah Baldwin points out in the second article (link below the first article). Please leave your comments below.

Et voici deux excellents articles sur l'apprentissage libre et l'école à la maison (apprendre à lâcher prise) que j'espère que vous prendrez le temps de lire (surtout vous, chers grands-parents!). Ils vont très bien ensemble et constituent une bonne explication de ce que nous tentons d'accomplir... Je ne suis pas une unschooler, mais je crois qu'en tant que familles qui faisons l'école à la maison, nous avons beaucoup à apprendre des unschoolers, comme Sarah Baldwin le mentionne dans le deuxième article (voir le lien sous le premier article). S.v.p. laissez vos commentaires ci-dessous.


What is Unschooling?
by Earl Stevens

"What we want to see is the child in pursuit of knowledge,
not knowledge in pursuit of the child."

- George Bernard Shaw

It is very satisfying for parents to see their children in pursuit of knowledge. It is natural and healthy for the children, and in the first few years of life, the pursuit goes on during every waking hour. But after a few short years, most kids go to school. The schools also want to see children in pursuit of knowledge, but the schools want them to pursue mainly the school's knowledge and devote twelve years of life to doing so.
In his acceptance speech for the New York City Teacher of the Year award (1990), John Gatto said, "Schools were designed by Horace Mann ... and others to be instruments of the scientific management of a mass population." In the interests of managing each generation of children, the public school curriculum has become a hopelessly flawed attempt to define education and to find a way of delivering that definition to vast numbers of children.
The traditional curriculum is based on the assumption that children must be pursued by knowledge because they will never pursue it themselves. It was no doubt noticed that, when given a choice, most children prefer not to do school work. Since, in a school, knowledge is defined as schoolwork, it is easy for educators to conclude that children don't like to acquire knowledge. Thus schooling came to be a method of controlling children and forcing them to do whatever educators decided was beneficial for them. Most children don't like textbooks, workbooks, quizzes, rote memorization, subject schedules, and lengthy periods of physical inactivity. One can discover this - even with polite and cooperative children - by asking them if they would like to add more time to their daily schedule. I feel certain that most will decline the offer.
The work of a schoolteacher is not the same as that of a homeschooling parent. In most schools, a teacher is hired to deliver a ready-made, standardized, year-long curriculum to 25 or more age-segregated children who are confined in a building all day. The teacher must use a standard curriculum - not because it is the best approach for encouraging an individual child to learn the things that need to be known - but because it is a convenient way to handle and track large numbers of children. The school curriculum is understandable only in the context of bringing administrative order out of daily chaos, of giving direction to frustrated children and unpredictable teachers. It is a system that staggers ever onward but never upward, and every morning we read about the results in our newspapers. Children pursue life, and in doing so, pursue knowledge.
But despite the differences between the school environment and the home, many parents begin homeschooling under the impression that it can be pursued only by following some variation of the traditional public school curriculum in the home. Preoccupied with the idea of "equivalent education", state and local education officials assume that we must share their educational goals and that we homeschool simply because we don't want our children to be inside their buildings. Textbook and curriculum publishing companies go to great lengths to assure us that we must buy their products if we expect our children to be properly educated. As if this were not enough, there are national, state, and local support organizations that have practically adopted the use of the traditional curriculum and the school-in-the-home image of homeschooling as a de facto membership requirement. In the midst of all this, it can be difficult for a new homeschooling family to think that an alternative approach is possible. One alternative approach is "unschooling", also known as "natural learning", "experience-based learning", or "independent learning". Several weeks ago, when our homeschooling support group announced a gathering to discuss unschooling, we thought a dozen or so people might attend, but more than 100 adults and children showed up. For three hours, parents and some of the children took turns talking about their homeschooling experiences and about unschooling. Many people said afterward that they left the meeting feeling reinforced and exhilarated - not because anybody told them what to do or gave them a magic formula - but because they grew more secure in making these decisions for themselves. Sharing ideas about this topic left them feeling empowered.
Before I talk about what I think unschooling is, I must talk about what it isn't. Unschooling isn't a recipe, and therefore it can't be explained in recipe terms. It is impossible to give unschooling directions for people to follow so that it can be tried for a week or so to see if it works. Unschooling isn't a method, it is a way of looking at children and at life. It is based on trust that parents and children will find the paths that work best for them - without depending on educational institutions, publishing companies, or experts to tell them what to do.
Unschooling does not mean that parents can never teach anything to their children, or that children should learn about life entirely on their own without the help and guidance of their parents. Unschooling does not mean that parents give up active participation in the education and development of their children and simply hope that something good will happen. Finally, since many unschooling families have definite plans for college, unschooling does not even mean that children will never take a course in any kind of a school.
Then what is unschooling? I can't speak for every person who uses the term, but I can talk about my own experiences. Our son has never had an academic lesson, has never been told to read or to learn mathematics, science, or history. Nobody has told him about phonics. He has never taken a test or been asked to study or memorize anything. When people ask, "What do you do?" My answer is that we follow our interests - and our interests inevitably lead to science, literature, history, mathematics, music - all the things that have interested people before anybody thought of them as "subjects".
A large component of unschooling is grounded in doing real things, not because we hope they will be good for us, but because they are intrinsically fascinating. There is an energy that comes from this that you can't buy with a curriculum. Children do real things all day long, and in a trusting and supportive home environment, "doing real things" invariably brings about healthy mental development and valuable knowledge. It is natural for children to read, write, play with numbers, learn about society, find out about the past, think, wonder and do all those things that society so unsuccessfully attempts to force upon them in the context of schooling.
While few of us get out of bed in the morning in the mood for a "learning experience", I hope that all of us get up feeling in the mood for life. Children always do so - unless they are ill or life has been made overly stressful or confusing for them. Sometimes the problem for the parent is that it can be difficult to determine if anything important is actually going on. It is a little like watching a garden grow. No matter how closely we examine the garden, it is difficult to verify that anything is happening at that particular moment. But as the season progresses, we can see that much has happened, quietly and naturally. Children pursue life, and in doing so, pursue knowledge. They need adults to trust in the inevitability of this very natural process, and to offer what assistance they can.
Parents come to our unschooling discussions with many questions about fulfilling state requirements. They ask: "How do unschoolers explain themselves to the state when they fill out the paperwork every year?", "If you don't use a curriculum, what do you say?" and "What about required record-keeping?" To my knowledge, unschoolers have had no problems with our state department of education over matters of this kind. This is a time when even many public school educators are moving away from the traditional curriculum, and are seeking alternatives to fragmented learning and drudgery.
When I fill out the paperwork required for homeschooling in our state, I briefly describe, in the space provided, what we are currently doing, and the general intent of what we plan to do for the coming year. I don't include long lists of books or describe any of the step-by-step skills associated with a curriculum. For example, under English/Language Arts, I mentioned that our son's favorite "subject" is the English language. I said a few words about our family library. I mentioned that our son reads a great deal and uses our computer for whatever writing he happens to do. I concluded that, "Since he already does so well on his own, we have decided not to introduce language skills as a subject to be studied. It seems to make more sense for us to leave him to his own continuing success."
Unschooling is a unique opportunity for each family to do whatever makes sense for the growth and development of their children. If we have a reason for using a curriculum and traditional school materials, we are free to use them. They are not a universally necessary or required component of unschooling, either educationally or legally.
Allowing curriculums, textbooks, and tests to be the defining, driving force behind the education of a child is a hindrance in the home as much as in the school - not only because it interferes with learning, but because it interferes with trust. As I have mentioned, even educators are beginning to question the pre-planned, year-long curriculum as an out-dated, 19th century educational system. There is no reason that families should be less flexible and innovative than schools.
Anne Sullivan, Helen Keller's mentor and friend, said:
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 come and go freely, let him touch real things and combine his impressions for himself... Teaching fills the mind with artificial associations that must be got rid of before the child can develop independent ideas out of actual experiences.
Unschooling provides a unique opportunity to step away from systems and methods, and to develop independent ideas out of actual experiences, where the child is truly in pursuit of knowledge, not the other way around.

And the other article I mentionned is this one.


jane said...

Hi Catherine,
If you will be in the Montreal area on September 2, there is going to be a big get-together of Quebec homelearners on Mount Royal

It's been such a treat to follow your amazing summer voyage. As always, I love reading your blog, and it would be a pleasure to meet you if you make it to the picnic!

Anonymous said...

Nous manquons de comparatifs pour l'éducation : nos seules références sortent de notre système.
Robert Lawlor décrit dans "Voices Of The First Day" comment l'éducation se fait chez les aborigènes d'australie. L'amour et l'intelligence de ces gens sont inspirants.
Le fait qu'un enfant soit autonome pour sa nourriture dès l'age de 3 à 5 ans, il ne peut y avoir de plus grand cadeau de quiétude psychlogique comme base d'apprentissage.


ps. Frisée est très généreuse avec son fils et avec sa mère. Toujours aussi fine mais la patte légè

Catherine said...

Thank you Jane for bringing this great activity to my attention. We won't be able to attend this year, but hopefully we will join you next year!

I am glad to hear that you have enjoyed following our voyage. There should be more to come soon!!

Claude! On t'appelle bientôt pour aller vous voir! Wow! C'est vrai ce que tu dis pour l'autonomie alimentaire. Quel apprentissage important!

Carine said...

Le deuxième article a l'air passionnant, pour le peu que j'en ai compris (je n'ai pas déchiffré le premier...).
Grr, pourquoi ai-je autant régressé en anglais et pas le temps pour m'améliorer ?

En tout cas, que de belles vacances vous avez passé, riches de rencontres, d'expériences et de paysages magnifiques !

Claude, qu'entends-tu par autonomie alimentaire entre 3 et 5 ans ? N'est-ce pas même avant cet âge ?

Anonymous said...

pour répondre à Carine :
autonomie veut dire que l'enfant peut, par lui-même, tout en s'amusant, trouver sa nourriture même jusque dans le désert torride d'Australie.
99.99% des gens ne savent pas comment trouver l'essentiel de leurs besoins alimentaires, et sont dépendants du système monétaire pour assurer leur vies.
Comme exemple, un chaton est autonome en quelques mois après sa naissance, apte à survivre sans sa mère.

Penny in VT said...

Catherine - thank you for sharing those articles - they are wonderful. I especially relate to Sarah Baldwin's, our lives are evolving similarly - following our interests with a Waldorf touch and influence.

A blog you may enjoy, if you haven't found it yet - Stephanie is the most amazing unschooler, yet is not defined by that label - she truly is the real deal. The Waldorf label haunts me, in seeking to be true to it I have lost my way many a time, yet and I cannot let go - I think it's brilliant. I think the way Ms. Baldwin let it evolve in her home is truly an expression of the freedom Steiner was hoping for. The freedom I hope for as well.

Then again, that could just be wishful thinking on my part! lol

Best wishes on the rest of your journey!

Carine said...

Merci Catherine, c'est passionnant !
effectivement, en ville, un enfant ne peut pas être autonome de cette manière-là...

Carine said...

PS : par contre, je n'ai pas trouvé d'information à ce sujet sur le (très bon) blog que tu m'as cité : pourrait-on lire un article à ce sujet quelque part ?

PeggyAnne said...

les articles sont passionnants et je suis particulièrement captivée par la notion d'autonomie alimentaire. Connaitriez vous des gens en France qui initient enfants et adultes à cette recherche s'il vous plaît ?
Belle suite à vous, ça donne vraiment envie :)

cathie63 said...

Magnifique ,comem toujours,je ne lis pas l'anglais ,dommage.
merci pour ce partage,c'est beaucoup de bonheur pour moi.

Anaïs said...

Une liberté très difficile à retrouver une fois adulte. Du bonheur simple. Profitez!

Sara said...

Thanks for posting this! Just wonderful.

Mademoiselle Oulla said...

Hi again Catherine,
In case you are interested, I just wanted to mention that the NOt Back to School picnic was postponed from last week to Wednesday the 8th. In formation is here:

Happy Autumn!