Contrary to popular opinion, I wasn’t born with a silver curriculum in my mouth. My first words were not, “I’m going to grow up, have children and unschool them.” (In fact – hold the rotten tomatoes while I duck – I distinctly remember wondering what the earliest age for starting preschool would be.)
When the children were born, something changed. I have written extensively about that elsewhere, so I won’t go into it now. Suffice it to say that by degrees I became a staunch homeschooler.
I was still a homeschooler, however. My ideas of how children learn best were still heavily bound up in curricula, sitting around the table with me giving information to them.
I thought homeschooling would look a lot like school at home. Nowhere in my mind was the idea that unschooling, let alone classical unschooling as a model would be the one that would best work for us.
It was unschooling – when I finally embraced it – that made me see the real reason mandatory public school exists.
Without school, the children are noisy & unruly
Children are loud. Period. Mine are no exception. They don’t hold back their thoughts in fear that they might hurt the person in front of them. A lot of them tell it like it is, so to speak. Biting one’s tongue comes with wisdom and wisdom comes with age and experience.
Children can be mean, noisy, rude, unruly and generally obnoxious to be around. Yes, mine are no exception here either.
Being around them all day long can get exhausting.
Correcting them, guiding them, teaching them to see things they don’t in their brash, veni, vidi, vici way can get very tiring.
It is infinitely easier to give them something – anything – to do, require them to do it and punish them for disobedience.
This is as true for homeschools as it is for government schools – how many times have we heard the term “keeping kids off the streets?” How often has that been directly linked to mandatory public schools?
But then again, giving them something to do shouldn’t come at the price of true living. Zak Slayback, in The End of School writes,
Education and work shouldn’t be easily divisible. Creating and enforcing an artificial barrier between the two just distances education from its application to our lives and makes us view work as a mere necessity. Both education and work are necessary and both have major impacts on how we structure our lives. Balancing work with education makes it harder to compartmentalize both, allowing for applications from one to travel to the other. Studying Bertrand Russell’s philosophy of work can be great when you aren’t working, but it can have life-altering impacts when you are working. Getting a good grasp of economics can appear valuable in the abstract, but it can mean the difference between staying in your current job and launching your startup when you are working.
Yes, the children did need (and want!) to be occupied, but rather than give them busy work, why couldn’t they do meaningful work? Why was my idea of them doing something immediately go to being chained to the desk-and-dining-table? Because even as a homeschooler, I associated education with sit down schooling.
Without school, we are co-learners
Without a curriculum – heck, even with one, I get asked a lot of questions. I say, “I don’t know” a hundred times a day. I look things up.
My children pester me to ask Google how presidents make laws, how to spell an infinite amount of words, Minecraft rules and tricks, and if there are purple trees (not technically, but there are underwater life forms at the bottom of the ocean that are purple and tree-like.)
I don’t get to be the authority, only a guide.
Could anyone successfully replicate this in a mandatory public school setting? Ever?
Why bother with something as paltry as listen to children’s questions anyway? Why not hand them a solid curriculum that gives them all the answers and tests them on if they can remember them? That’ll do the trick.
But then how much is really retained?
I have mentioned that we memorize much of what we call our school work for want of a better word. We do this because we do like memorizing and also because I truly believe that memorizing is important, especially in this era of everything at our fingertips.
But although memorization is something, it is not everything. Memorizing gives us a basis for dialogue, which we take very seriously. This occurs at random times during the day. Recently, we were talking about Egyptian pyramids. It occurred to me that even though we had read about Egypt in various books and memorized the timeline, my children learned more after they had begun to wonder how pyramids were built and their general structure, and not before.
The questions and the dialogue is what made learning occur, not a preplanned, force fed curriculum.
(By the way, if you’re looking for a fantastic book about pyramids, check out David Macaulay’s Pyramid.)
Without school, we are forced to create meaning in our days
My children recently decided that they would take care of the formal part of their learning at night, before bed. That would leave them all day to play.
Perfect, I said. That leaves me with all day to play as well.
If they were in a mandatory public school, this problem would never arise. They would be given a script, a role and the best they could ever hope to achieve with that is the perfect grade.
Well, what’s the fun in that?
I don’t want to separate work and play. I want my children to get a deep satisfaction from their work as well as play. The idea that work is separate from play is redundant. (Refer quote above.) I want my children to achieve what Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi calls “flow” in their daily lives. “Flow” is impossible without personal effort, it is not passive, it is essentially existential but it is also hedonist. And it is beautiful.
Classical unschooling made me see the real reason for mandatory public school and we rejected it.
Is it more work this way? Yes. Does it require more of me? Again, yes. But does it make life worth living? Does it make me come alive? Does it seek goodness and truth and beauty in my daily existence and find it, even momentarily, every single day?
You already know the answer to that.