Wednesday, December 19, 2007

How to Classically Unschool -- I Wish :)

I was looking up "Classical Unschooling" on Google. Someone asked me about how we do it and of course! my first response is to go research, not just say how we do it like anyone else would.

I see that my blog comes up third on the search, following Melissa and David. Here's also a post by Nose in a Book and one by Nerd Family.... .all about classical unschooling or the balance between the two in some form.

That doesn't seem to help me with "how I do it". : ). Sure, I could write out a typical day; in fact you can see a bunch of them over at Schola et Studium. It would look like a form of Charlotte Mason, which it is. It would probably look like way too many "requires" for most unschoolers, and way too much freedom for many classical types. Often it's provisional -- it's not exactly what I would want.

My ideal is that:

1. I act as a mentor, coach, guide to help the kids develop their talents and interests.

2. They learn from me and go further than I can take them.

3. They end up capable of living a good, meaningful life and being able to support themselves and reflect on their choices and on the society around them, and change what is theirs to change.

On a given day this is not what is happening on the surface. Most often, it's hidden underneath, at best, with glints of the real thing occasionally. As time goes on, though, more of the real value comes through. It's like prospecting, or fishing (I guess I am an Alaskan!)

Maybe a better approach is to list what I try to keep in mind as I plan:

  • The student is the primary agent in learning; teaching is a secondary role, and often works best informally rather than formally.
  • Inspiration is probably the key to any kind of "teaching" that takes place. "Requirements" are contingent to that. In other words, requirements can provide a sort of map, but they are poor as pilots.
  • The human being has a natural, driving desire to know. All the great educational methods have been based on an understanding of that truth. You can foster, support, develop that desire or you can make war on it. ..."despise, hinder, offend" it. Obviously, it's better to foster it.
  • Plan for strewing -- an unschooling idea that has great value in any kind of family life. Also, "planting seeds" or "preparing a banquet" -- both something like strewing. Basically, giving the child lots of opportunities to learn, while avoiding the extremes of force-feeding or overstimulating and scattering.
  • Non Multa sed Multum -- not many, but much -- seems to be opposed to the strewing and planting and banquet ideas, but isn't. It reminds me to keep my priorities in order. Reminds me that scattering trivialities that distract the child is not the same as planting seeds that flower and bear fruit.
  • As for what the priorities are: they are (1) "tools" (the kind of learning that helps you do more learning on your own) and hmm, I guess I don't really have a word for it -- but (2) "elements" -- the groundwork for the subjects -- the primary principles. So for literature the primary elements are enjoying lots of good books, for science it is respect for and observation of nature, for history -- well, that is a bit like literature actually, and I think the old tradition was to put them together as "humanities" -- wisdom acquired from past events and reflections upon those events. Composition -- comes from expresssion, verbal and written. And so on.

In practice, you see me trying all sorts of things based on this. I look for "consent of the will" -- consent is a nice term that for me means more than passive compliance -- it means an effort combining heart, will and mind.

Obviously you will usually only see bits and pieces of this on a typical day in the homeschool. Say, my 14 year old wakes up and comes downstairs immediately to do his Greek and Vocabulary. This is a nice example of his will being brought to bear on his work. Some of his mind and heart is involved, but not all. He would probably prefer to be doing something else, but he has internalized that this work is important and part of his daily duties.

Again, you see a child who loves to read fantasy books. His motivation is primarily of the heart and imagination. He obviously makes a willed decision to sit and read instead of kick his heels, and he is using his mind to understand. So there's a combination. But he is primarily directed by "delight".

In actual practice, I sit down and look at my kids and look at what I think is important in education. Then I try to get the two together.

  1. If a child has an interest in something or a gift, I try to provide space and support.
  2. If I am presenting something that simply is not working. I try to figure out what is wrong. Is it a matter of will, heart or mind? Often an educator will tend to focus on just one of these and treat every difficulty as a failure of that particular area.
  3. For all the middle ground things --the things that I am introducing but the kids are all right with -- I am tweaking and kitbashing. I am trying to make it work a bit better and also trying to just continue with the follow through (my tendency is quick discouragement and lack of persistence).

My efforts probably go about 50 percent towards thr third scenario; 20-30 percent towards the first; and I try to keep "really not working" to about 10 percent or less. The missing 10-20 percent is my simple incompetence or just personal sloughing-off. Actually it probably measures higher than that. I would like the first to be higher than 30% -- that is I would like to be better at working interactively and responsively with the childrens' own interests and talents. That is why I admire unschoolers. I'm happy with the 50 percent for #3 but would like to be better, more skillful, at it. This is where my interest in Method comes in. I would of course like to keep my sloughing-off to almost zero. But that made me think of a fourth category.

#4 Mother Culture (Charlotte Mason term) -- what Stephen Covey calls "sharpening the saw". Thomas Jefferson Education has a word for it too, but I forget what it is. My own lifetime learning. This probably ideally should infuse ALL the other areas but certainly needs a bit of its own space as well. It is not at all the same thing as sloughing-off, though for me they can overlap. I love to study and so I can use that as an excuse for ignoring everything else.

I would like to think this might be helpful, sigh -- but it is a mess, and my five year old is "really really really really hungry". I need to teach Algebra before it gets too late in the day. Anyway, I'm going to post it so my depressed post stops heading my blog ;-). So here goes.


Almost Lazarus said...

My mission:
Commit to excellence.
Build a learning environment.
Provide only GOOD choices for your kids, so they can't help but make them.
Model learning behavior.
Make learning a habit.

Classical Unschooling

Goal Setting

4 graduates. All in (or done with) college.

Brenda said...

Hi Willa,

I really like the part of TJed where you schedule time not content. We spend the afternoons reading, all of us, and it's amazing how much we do. I found Rachel DeMille's paper on the Core & Love of Learning phase to be extremely helpful.

Willa said...

Thank you for linking to your posts on classical unschooling, Almost Lazarus. Those posts set a high standard. The specifics are very helpful.

Brenda, thank you for reminding me about the "schedule time not content." I find this difficult to do without some "behind the scenes" plan -- do you list options or lay things out for them to do during this time? (that would be a bit like Montessori, wouldn't it?).

cinnamon said...

Hello! Thank you for linking to my blog post on classical unschooling. I enjoyed reading your thoughts on the subject. I have never been able to accurate classify our educational philosophy, but I suppose that is a philosophy unto itself: whatever works for each child works well for me. :)