Saturday, September 10, 2005

Self-Direction ramblings

A friend of mine, whose thinking I respect, brought up the "self-direction" thing in another context-- she said that she saw wisdom in not letting kids direct their own educations TOO much. That's what made me start wondering if unschooling kids DID indeed direct their own educations, and ponder more about the role of the parents in unschooling their kids. So that's why I brought the question up.

It's interesting that there are two connotations to the word "self-directed". Of course, our goal for our children is that ultimately they be self-directed to do RIGHT, ie, work out their own individual gifts in union with God's will, etc. But we don't want our children to be "self-directed" in the Biblical sense of "A child left to himself comes to shame." I think non-unschoolers worry about this second aspect; they don't want to bring up "fools" (and who does?) and they think that a child who has veto power in his own upbringing and education is basically in control of the whole situation, ie almost equivalent to a household deity.

But Julie says that unschooling puts the responsibility back on the kids, and that's how I've been seeing it too. That's quite a bit different from raising "fools" -- in fact, it's an expectation that the child be a responsible participant in his own formation. Ignatian pedagogical philosophy calls it "self-activity" -- the child is not passive and not resistant, but as much as possible directly involved and engaged in meeting the goals common to all humans, which to the Ignatians was "Christian perfection here below"

It's hard to explain -- say, I tell my child to do something, and it is something he perceives whether rightly or wrongly as being wrong for him -- eg a boring grammar workbook, or a request to apologize to his brother. In purely secular terms, that gives him two choices: one is to comply, ie give in to me because, say, I offer him praise and rewards if he does and punishments and aversives if he doesn't. The other choice is to resist. Both in themselves are sort of destructive to the character. One is sort of behavioristic, the cooperation of a donkey or a rat in a maze, or the amoral bargaining cooperation of a free market economy -- "I do this and then you do that"; the other is the rebelliousness of a Lucifer who would rather "rule in hell than serve in heaven." Oh, and the third choice: to argue and negotiate and do the minimum, which is a bit of a mix of the two. All three are in some ways a diminishment of the human will.

In spiritual terms, there is more to it than that. Even a small child can obey out of love and duty. I've seen even a small child look at me and decide to obey me because he loves and trusts me and he wants to do right.

I've also seen that when I put the responsibility on the child, and put myself on his team, that frees him a bit to exercise his own mind and heart to do good. I am not trying to "force the issue" or force the child -- my goal is to see the child freely and responsibly CHOOSE what's right.

I'm not saying "rewards" and punishments are always uncalled for, or that one can NEVER give a command -- those things are legitimate -- look at the Old Testament -- but again, look at how God solicits our active choice, how much more important that is to Him than just that we "ideologically" and legalistically do the right thing. He's looking for a transformation, to use Julie's terminology.

Oddly enough, when I backed off this week and tried to see my kids aside from assignments and day to day jobs -- it was incredibly hard for me! -- I could see how it would actually be easier to work on habits and formation rather than just getting through X pages of math or Latin.

I am still thinking too much, I know. Meredith and Leonie were right on target there. Now I realize how powerful a habit I have of swirling off into the atmosphere and how hard it will be for me to just "be there" for the family. I guess if I can just do it for a few moments at a time, that will be a victory at least to start with!

To wrap up this incredibly rambly post, I wanted to mention two bits of the John Holt books I just read that leaped out at me.

One, he said that people "make" knowledge, they don't just impart or receive it. In other words, a teacher can't just transfer X bit of education direct from his mind to his students'. It doesn't work that way. The student has to construct his own knowledge, so to speak; you see that all the time with little kids who make a grammatical model in their minds "me do it" and then later on, refine it "I can do that." and so on. So to use CM's terminology, knowledge is like a table spread with various foods, and the student picks up and eats and digests and grows.

The other thing he said was that people often want to work "on" or "for" kids rather than "with" them. Somehow, that struck me. If you work "on" kids you put them in the role of clay; if you work "for" them you put them in the role of the idle class. But working "with" them is like the Holy Family in Nazareth.

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