Friday, December 30, 2005

What Is Unschooling?

Click on the title for the 4real thread. Also, see Leonie's post Unschooling Is.....
I'm trying to figure out a way to say something that is either going to sound blindingly obvious, or completely off-center, I'm not sure which.

I have not changed my educational ideals which are roughly comprised by classical education/Charlotte Mason. I believe in the liberal arts. So, why am I thinking unschooling? In some ways, I don't LIKE it, to be honest. It's like Strider to me: "looks foul, feels fair." I often don't like the rhetoric, I often don't care much for the descriptions of typical days. When we started it, I was very anxious and uncomfortable. But now we have done it for a while and I can SEE how it works. But when I try to describe it, guess what? it sounds like the rhetoric and typical day descriptions that I don't like much!

So, to make a stab at why I'm continuing to do this... perhaps... I have until January 9 to decide.... I've always thought that the only REAL education comes from the consent of the heart, mind and will. Unschooling seems to take that to a radical extreme. Radical, there, not meaning "loony", but etymologically,"from the root."

When I read all the unschooling stories about playing video games or watching cartoons and calling that education, it makes me really cringe. However, I am starting to realize that when unschoolers talk about the role of video games et al, they are talking about their child's world being broadened and enriched. They are not saying it is education; they are saying almost the opposite, in a way. They are saying there is more to life than on task academics and that our society has made education more artificial and compartmentalized than it needs to be.

They are not saying that there is a subject, "Legend of Zelda 101" or whatever. They are saying (I think) that in a "good" unschooling day there is a lot of richness and abundance and opportunity and a good video game can be part of that. It could lead to something else; or maybe not. Either way, it is relaxing and enjoyable and mind-stimulating and that is not such a poor thing in itself. Relaxation and enjoyment and stimulation prepare the groundwork for learning, at least, as fear and boredom tend to inhibit learning (Thomas Aquinas said this -- I'll find the quote later).

Charlotte Mason said that when we look at what a child is exposed to educationally, he may only actually retain about 10 percent of it. Often that 10 percent is connected with what strikes a chord in the child.... "one will find his meat in Plato, another in Peter Pan."

Let's say that video games can be harmless, even beneficial. My oldest ds and I had a discussion about this a few days ago. The studies are certainly not conclusive. When in doubt, I usually go for "moderation in everything." So video games are to some extent part of our life, which means in a de facto sense, I hold that they are harmless and even beneficial.

If we say that, and we also say that to a child learning is not compartmentalized until we teach them to compartmentalize it, then it follows that if a child is playing a video game, his mind is giving him "learning" feedback of some sort.

Video games are not Plato or Peter Pan, of course. But children who play video games, in my experience, aren't excluded by that from interest in Plato or Peter Pan. What excludes them from interest in those good things is (again, from my experience) (1) lack of regular exposure, what they call "habituation" (2) peer ridicule and criticism -- "why are you interested in that lame stuff?" leading to prejudice and aversion, or humiliation (3) an experience of drudgery, eg having to fill out Q & A worksheets to prove you've read the book (4) fear -- slightly related to 2 and 3, but distinct -- they could be afraid of the unfamiliarity of the material, of their inability to understand, of the reaction by others of their failure to understand,... etc. There are probably others but those are some of them.


sixandthecity said...

This is a very interesting post. The issue of compartmentalizing "learning" is an important both for home and traditional school families -- it is a mistake to think that all of our children's learning happens (or has to happen) in "school", whether we are running the school or the school board is. My children lost their great grandmother this holiday season, and in a completely unplanned week of being around extended family and funeral arranging, they have learned more than I would ever have thought possible about their faith, about being there for each other, about compassion. If I tried to parse out the innumerable skills that a 4 year old develops as he walks with a china plate full of cookies to offer one to a great great aunt he has never met before i would be here all day.

The ironic thing for me, though, is that if this hadn't happened to be a holiday week, we would probably not have taken them out of school all week, we would just have gone down for the funeral day, and even then I would have worried about the "learning" that they were missing.

Andrea said...

Cna I use this in the next carnival of unschooling at :D

WJFR said...

Andrea, I'd be honored : ).

Andrea said...

Here's the link to the carnival. Thanks!

Harriette said...

I liken the parallel of unschooling to living our lives as life happens. It is all too unfortunate that "the masses" have become so hamster like, running the wheel governed by someone else's assignment on their lives.

Harriette Jacobs