Saturday, 25 September 2010

Unschooling :: Put aside the alienation. Get on with the fascination.

A couple weekends back, our Toronto-centric, “nation-wide” newspaper ran a feature story on unschooling. Or was it homeschooling? The article couldn’t really make up its mind. Anyway, no point linking to it here*, it was your typical introduce-the-masses-to-something-whacky-just-to-see-people’s-faces-explode-in-horror type exercise in journalism peppered with real life examples and quotes from the “experts”.

I don’t like to view myself as someone who supports unschooling for everything it isn’t. That is, I prefer being the enlightened one who simply has a viewpoint on learning that is miles ahead, above and beyond that of your typical tow-the-party-line doofus to being that of a school basher(!) So, despite not trying to sort out my own thoughts on unschooling through negative reactions to everything around me, I do get sparked and inspired by such negativity aimed at unschooling. Which is to say that I enjoy having what amounts to pretty much 100% of everything my family is about ripped apart and ridiculed for a nation’s eyes to see. Or better yet, it makes the resolve to fight the good fight that much stronger. That, and it’s fun to laugh at people and their silly little comments!

Here’s a relatively brief compendium of online comments in relation to the article, plunked into handy-dandy categories for easy viewing! Most of these comments came from a position of what one on-the-ball poster referred to as a state of “panic, fear, terror of the unknown, desire to ridicule that which is different from ourselves, desire to insist that the way of conformity is superior...”:

Please, let me bore you with some more ill-thought out, anti-socialization prattle:
”Though unschooled children tend to have highly developed critical-thinking and problem-solving skills, some find it difficult to socialize with large groups of children.”
”Having met several home-schooled children over the years, I must say that they are usually argumentative, and they lack social skills.”
”Growing Tea Partyers right at home. Soon they'll be marrying their sisters so that they don't have to mingle with the rest of the sinful world. Dueling banjos anyone?”
”For every functional adult (that) home schooling ever produced, it created several illiterate paranoiacs devoid of all social graces. The practice must be banned in the harshest way possible.”

Goddamn it, if I spent years and years grooming myself to be a curmudgeony, piss-headed whiner, then they gots ta too :
”I personally find this (unschooling) scary because it will teach kids that if you don't like doing something you don't have to.”
”I am appalled when my coworkers complain that their grade 1 and 2 year olds get homework! "they should be playing". Sorry, but it's time to teach your kids some life-long expectations.”
”Meanwhile, the Chinese children work their butts off 12 hours a day (formal schooling complimented with various extracurricular activities). What a laughing stock this (unschooling) is. The parents should be ashamed.”

Excuse me while I squeeze myself into this tiny little box in which I like to think:
“You don't simply take your child out and let them learn at their own pace, and if your child says "math is boring", you don't just let them play art all day. There are standards and expectations of our citizens and that's how it should be.”
”Way to go parents in crushing your kids futures and dreams!”
”I just wonder how they learn structure and time management, discipline and that they are not, in fact, the centre of the universe?”

You unschoolers are starting to take over the world and must be stopped! Nay, Jailed!!
”Taking him home and letting him learn grade 5 geometry for 6 years because "it's his pace" is a load of crap which should be considered child abuse.”
”Parents who do not send their children to school forfeit their rights as parents. Their children must be seized forthwith.”
”this new "un-schooling" is just the lunatics taking over the asylum.”
“Well, I know I'll get flogged for saying this, as I did in teacher's college, but I believe home schooling is a form of child abuse.”

Brothers and Sisters Unite!
”As a teacher... I'd say that a huge number of parents will simply not have the skills or perspective to push their children in the right direction.”
”People have this weird notion that having a child somehow makes them saintly and all-knowing and qualified to provide education.”
“Most unschooler parents... will be hippies who will teach their kids that flowers are people too.”
“Home schooling is very inefficient. One teacher to three or fewer students.”

I’m not sure what the issue is here, but let us shift the focus to me and how great I am for a second:
”My 3 kids were all schooled in the Public School System in my area, and we have been very pleased with the results. The classrooms were outfitted with the latest in technology and pedagogy, and their needs were never ignored by their caring teachers. All 3 are in University at present, and have grown into strong and happy individuals.”
”Another point (somewhat disconnected because as I type, my oldest is working through math that is three grades above his current grade level and does occasionally need help) is that...”

Brothers and Sisters Uni.... - erm, hang on... let us shift the focus to me and how great I am for a second:
”Teachers also have many years of specialized education that, in general, most people don't have. We are very foolish indeed if instead of the ten - thirteen years of post-high school training in which we teachers invested [supposedly needlessly], we could be equally effective without it. Think about it! There might be SOMETHING about teaching effectively that you don't know. I know that there is a lot that I DON'T KNOW (with my three degrees & 30+ years of experience). That is why my now-successful children went to school when they were young.”

By “unschooling” you mean “unparenting” right?
“Unschooling might work if the parents have good, broad educations themselves, or it might not, but I'm pretty sure it won't work when the parents aren't up to the job. And the kids will pay the price.”

Best I SHOUT out my double BACKhanded compliment:
”I would NEVER be BRAVE enough to educate my children at home nor CONCEITED enough to believe that I was their BEST EDUCATIONAL option.”
”This is one hippie movement I can get behind. Save us all a lot of tax dollars.”

Socialism vs. Individualized Anarchy
”If anything, the homeschoolers are the ones who have ceased to care, since they would rather opt out a system for the sake of their own precious kids than make that system better for everyone's children.”

And on and on it goes... Anyway, good to see what the common folk are saying these days! Best, though, to end on this piece of constructive commentary:

”We really need to stop categorizing and passing judgment on the decisions of other human beings, and just let them get on with their lives. If they and their families are happy and functional, what business is it of ours how they choose to learn? I for one am sick of all this superficial interest in "unschooling." You're either interested in choosing it for your family or you're not, but let the biased, poorly researched newspaper articles, with their false search for "critique" and "balance," stop! Please! Families who choose home-based education for their families live in enough of a fishbowl already without any more negative attention from articles like this one.”

It is easy to react bitterly to much of what is being said against unschooling (ie: our life choice) in these types of forums. Unfortunately, I am not eloquent enough nor quick enough (this article is now “old news”) to do so in any capable and positive way. It’s probably best then to let the horrified masses, the massively opinionated, and the battle scarred "hoist by their own petard". As one poster wrote: “That's why I hate articles like this. They just encourage prejudice and smug superiority from people who don't really want to know, and are written by people who don't really have a clue. It is so easy to judge that which we have no real experience with.”

I have a few thoughts which aspire to be posts one day - such as the relationship between unschooling and anarchism (which I’ve only recently begun to think about), people’s willingness to rethink, for example, their carbon footprint but not life long learning, and conventional society’s drive toward full day kindergarten and other get-em-learning-them-skills-as-early-as-possible schemes (okay, maybe I’m a teensy bit anti-school). But for now, we’ll heed the Neil Peart-penned title of this post and concentrate on the fascination (the underlying theme) while continuing to document the relatively unsanitized goings on of a family living the good life. In other words, more pictures, videos and the odd reference to Goose’s love of fart jokes.

*Er, what the hell - originating Globe and Mail article is here.

**Another thing I need to get better at... a mere 5 out of my past 12 blog post headings have been music lyrics. Piss poor.


Frank said...

You need to get on the ball with those lyrics! 5 of 12 would be a FAILING grade in school.

Oh yeah, the rest of that stuff, with the article and all? I gave up caring what otehr people think about a half a century ago.

mesmith said...

Well, at least I have something to look forward to when I'm older Frank... the ability to say "about a half century ago"!!!

Bob Collier said...


Some of those comments - God help the clueless.

Rachel said...

I..what?...ugh..I have no idea where to start or where to stop with reactions to this, so I won't do either. Here's to more fart jokes and living the good life.

Rachel said...

Oh, and I love the titles of your posts. I'm STILL singing "my timing is off" and I read that one on Friday!

Rebecca said...

I was in there, duking it out. So was Kelly G. (who you may have quoted... smug superiority, etc.) Need a little bit of what Frank's got, apparently.

I love how you grouped the stoopid comments. I wish you'd done that when the fooferah was in its prime. I would have laughed sooner.

mesmith said...

Rebecca - yeah, I'm slow off the mark. I did recognize you in there though... left coast or something like that. I do get a kick out of fighting against these people.

Rebecca said...

They all have tunnel vision, though. It amazes me.

I'm not anti-teacher. I'm anti-stupid.