Wednesday, December 21, 2005

Public Schooling vs Unschooling

This is an interesting post at Number 2 Pencil
It's a tricky question. Will kids learn by being forced to? Will they learn if they are left to do it freely? People seem to divide in two camps when faced with this question. I don't think either extreme represents reality accurately, but I have to say I think the "unschooling" camp has a bead on a more human truth than the "they won't do it unless they have to" extreme.

The fact is that humans DO have a natural desire to learn. This has been recognized since the earliest days of history. Like any appetite it is subject to concupiscience. Why do people like sweet food? Probably because it gives them instant, easy access to energy and is gratifying to the taste as well. In the same way, sometimes people will sometimes choose to "learn" easy, immediately gratifying things over difficult, less immediately rewarding things, perhaps.

But it doesn't follow that "MAKING" a child eat his broccoli is better than just giving him the freedom of the cookie jar. Surely the best method is somewhat of a middle road, but the heart of it is you want the child to eat the broccoli and ENJOY it as much as he can along with some more accessible comfort foods like rolls and pasta (if your family doesn't eat sweets).

From 7th to 9th grade I went to an alternative public school set up as sort of a free, exploratory environment. It is interesting in retrospect to notice how the system had to adjust itself in order to accomodate reality. I took an independent algebra class and made absolutely no progress for a semester. The teachers hadn't checked up on me because I was quiet. The next semester I went into a more structured class and I completely aced the algebra. I guess for that class, I needed the structure and class environment to help me progress.

I still remember some of the classes -- like Children's Lit and Greek Mythology and Logic and Latin. I LOVED them. Some of the kids got credit for things like building imaginary cities and designing a civilization to go with them. The biggest negatives I can think of now were to do with environment and lack of monitoring -- kids were allowed to make out in the halls, my algebra experience, and there were some really trashy books in the library as well as the good ones (I read both indiscriminately!)

Right after this experience I went to a very structured international school run on the British model. It was non-elective and a lecture/take notes/pass essay exam model with final exams at the end of each term. Sort of like a secular university. I learned how to take neat notes, how to cram for an exam, how to write short answers and essays with a time limit. It wasn't all a waste of time. But interestingly, I got commendations and excellent grades for my writing and I was in the class group that got the highest SAT scores, too.

The negatives here were too many to count. The environment stunk and a lot of the kids seemed to have a jaded, cynical outlook "do I need to know this for the exams??"

Both experiences were wholly secular.

This is not meant to be bragging in the least. The point I'm trying to make is anecdotal and subjective. I saw problems with both systems and also advantages to both systems. If I'm making ANY point, it is that commitment to learning, a kind of personal creativity and intellectual drive, is very important. It is both fragile and enduring, like physical health, perhaps. It's important not to quench it or suborn it. Having this, I was able to catch up and even overtake children who did many more hours of disciplined schoolwork than I ever did, but did not have this interior motivation.

Motivating the Teens

On 4 real learning message board.

My husband likes to cite this article
Stanford Accepting Homeschoolers

"So why is the University interested? Admission officers sum it up in two words: intellectual vitality.

"It's hard to define, but they swear they know it when they see it. It's the spark, the passion, that sets the truly exceptional student--the one driven to pursue independent research and explore difficult concepts from a very early age--apart from your typical bright kid. Stanford wants students who have it.

"Looking very closely at homeschoolers is one way to get more of those special minds, the admission office has discovered. As Reider explains it: "Homeschooled students may have a potential advantage over others in this, since they have consciously chosen and pursued an independent course of study."

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