Today as I was reading my favorite magazine, Outside, I came across a very interesting article. It was titled “We Don’t Need No Education” by Ben Hewitt and it was about unschooling. I had never heard of this before, but being a public school student, I was able to figure out that it must have something to do with not going to school. And, being a public school student, this intrigued me. So I read on, and this is what I discovered:
Unschooling is sort of like homeschooling, in that the kids don’t go to school. But unlike most homeschooled kids, unschooled students don’t follow any curriculum. They choose what they want to do all day, at least in the case of the author’s kids. They go out alone into the forest to build, catch or observe what they want, usually, then eat lunch, and then go exploring again until dinner. The philosophy is, they learn from the world around them and teach themselves; kids naturally love learning, and traditional schooling reduces this love and natural curiosity.
First Impression: To be honest, when I first read a little snippet about it in the contents section of the magazine, I though, “this guy is crazy”. It’s not what I know. I wake up every morning and go to school for six plus hours, then do two to four hours of homework every night. No school is… radical, unheard of and just plain not.
Second Impression: The article was written by a high-school dropout who now lives on a farm in Vermont with his wife and two sons. Both his parents were college graduates and somehow involved in the school district when he was growing up; his mother a substitute teacher and his father worked for the Vermont Department of Education. He wrote that the reason he dropped out was that he was absolutely bored in school. He felt that nothing being taught was relevant outside of the classroom. I hear you! Not all of it is relevant outside the classroom. Not even half of it is. Plenty of people forget almost everything they learned in their high school history or math class a year out of college. Heck, most of us forget what we learned last year! So why do we learn it? Uhh, well. Because. Because I guess it is supposed to develop our minds. That’s the point of education isn’t it, at least through high school? You learn not in order to remember necessarily, but to learn to learn, if that makes sense. You don’t solve that math problem because five years from now you are going to need to know how to do and apply trigonometry, you solve it to train your brain to think in a new way. To challenge your mind to make new connections, and to discover techniques to to solve problems that don’t always have numbers or one right answer.
That is what I’d like to think, at least. Because life’s not long enough for me to be spending as much time on school as I do if it’s not going to help me some way or another. That is why there is so much controversy about the whole “teach to the test” thing. That test probably won’t matter in ten years. But your ability to think logically or express your ideas will. That is what traditional education is teaching, but it’s doing it to a standard. We just all have to re-realize the real point of school.
That is what actually kind of interests me about unschooling. It also makes your brain think in new ways and and make new connections, if you force it to, but unschooling does this with no grades, no teachers (that could sometimes be a problem) and no learning something simply because it is on a test. I’m not saying these things because I’m bitter, I’ve actually been very lucky as far as my teachers and experiences in school have gone. But the idea of having none of those things interests me. Exploring does sound like fun, and so does teaching yourself through trial and error and learning from your mistakes. Being outside, walking around, learning to use hand tools and life skills and interacting fully with your environment. There’s definitely something there to be argued for. Learning at your own pace and according to your own interests. It’s a great philosophy.
I just don’t know if I could do it that way. Well, I just don’t know that I would want to do it that way. You would still learn to read and write and do basic math. And it would be really cool to spend so much time outside, or exploring the city or country or wherever you live. You’d still have structure and intent to your day. But, like I said before, it’s just so different from what I have grown up doing and what I’ve grown up around. And you’d not be having nearly as in-depth of a formal education, which could be a major disadvantage. But you always miss miss something. By choosing right, you miss whatever was on the left, and vice versa.
Final Thoughts (for now): It’s a cool idea. I am open to embracing natural curiosity and learning. But I am going to back traditional education for now. (I just realized: I have been calling my normal schooling “traditional” even though people technically were unschooling their kids for ages before anyone put them in a schoolhouse). I am not saying that our current education system is perfect; not at all. And neither is unschooling. Maybe a little factor of unschooling needs to be mixed with school. Make it more interesting and likely more beneficial to the students. I think I will do a little unschooling of my own this summer, and during the weekends, by exploring my city and teaching myself new skills, between my hours of homework and school.