Thursday, March 27, 2008

The animals other than man have but little of connected experience; but the human race lives also by art and reason

The animals other than man live by appearances and memories, and have but little of connected experience; but the human race lives also by art and reasonings...
With a view to action experience seems in no respect inferior to art, and men of experience succeed even better than those who have theory without experience.
Aristotle, De Anima

The conversation over at Melissa's blog has taken a turn towards whether unschooling is "child-directed" learning.

JoVE from Tricotomania writes (in Melissa's comment box):

I, too, wonder where people get that idea that unschooling doesn’t involve active parental participation. And I think I agree with Sandra that the nature of that participation might be what is not being understood. Reading to and with your child regularly, doing puzzles together, looking at things, are all participating. We, as parents, don’t have to follow an “approach” like phonics or memorizing sight words or whatever. We can just share the love of books with them
Pam Sooroshian (quoted at Building an Unschooling Nest) writes:

This is why some of us dislike the term "child-led" or "child- directed" learning — unschooling is not child-led or child-directed learning — that makes it sound like the parent should just be a "follower." Not so — parents are active participants and part of the job of an unschooling parent is to keep the child in mind and to fill his/her life with just the right amount of interesting new experience, chances to repeat experiences, down time, and so on.

Jean Liedloff (author of the Continuum Concept) wrote an article called "Who's in Control". She is pointing out something that John Holt often discussed -- that children want to learn from adults and from the world; they need to have their needs met, but they don't want everything to be self-referential and turned back towards them in a reductive manner. (I see that all the time in new catechesis and educational material influenced by the self-esteem movement -- everything's always about "How do YOU feel about this, what do you think of YOURSELF" and in my experience that is mostly definitely not what absorbs children in their growing years. They want connections, rather).

It appears that many parents of toddlers, in their anxiety to be neither negligent nor disrespectful, have gone overboard in what may seem to be the other direction. Like the thankless martyrs of the in-arms stage, they have become centered upon their children instead of being occupied by adult activities that the children can watch, follow, imitate, and assist in as is their natural tendency. In other words, because a toddler wants to learn what his people do, he expects to be able to center his attention on an adult who is centered on her own business. An adult who stops whatever she is doing and tries to ascertain what her child wants her to do is short-circuiting this expectation. Just as significantly, she appears to the tot not to know how to behave, to be lacking in confidence and, even more alarmingly, looking for guidance from him, a two or three year old who is relying on her to be calm, competent, and sure of herself.

In the context of what Liedloff has written elsewhere, I don't think she is talking about using this adult "centering on her own business" as an excuse for neglect. Rather, she is saying something like what John Holt often said, that children have a real need, a true hunger almost physical, to find out more about the real world, and that natural activity in the real world is the best way to have that hunger satisfied.

Also, since I'm following this great discussion so closely, Melissa wrote another thought-provoking post Is Knowledge Relative? and Amy wrote some More Thoughts on her family's decision to try unschooling.


JoVE said...

I am so glad Lent is over and you are back turning your reflective abilities to education. I hope that doesn't sound dismissive of your decision but I have so missed your thoughts.

I think you have raised some excellent points. And I think that some of my own difficulties with the idea of being a SAHM (which I never wanted to be and never was until I started this journey 2 years ago) have been due to some sense that my own activity as an adult in the world should somehow be denied for my child. I just couldn't see how that could be good for her.

You have put this so well. (or the person you quoted has) I think my biggest struggle has been to try to find that balance between focusing on and supporting her interests and needs, and being an adult in the world that she can observe and learn from.

Michele Quigley said...

"In other words, because a toddler wants to learn what his people do, he expects to be able to center his attention on an adult who is centered on her own business."

Yes! That really resonates with me. It's such a clear picture of something so true. It goes back to that connectedness again - family-centered. Doing what we do, living life and everyone just being a part of that.

The Bookworm said...

I'm very much enjoying this conversation, though haven't had time to contribute yet.

I've read a couple of blog posts elsewhere that serendipitously tie in:
Donna Simmons of Christopherus Homeschool on being "child inclusive, not child centred"
Jen at Et-Tu? on on combining daily work and community life

So much to think about!

molly said...

I love your insights Willa, Thank you!!!

Angela said...

Wonderful post. Many great points here. I find that those of us who have worked hard to include our children in our daily lives, especially extended when we continued on to homeschool, often shock others with our willingness to include our children in our "real" lives. We've often been challenged by including them, talking with them about the no-nos like budget and culture. It baffles me how often people can complain about their teens' immaturity yet neglect to give the opportunities with anything but same age peers.