“Education is about the production of more democracy, production of peace, production of happiness whereas schooling is often the production of global economic competitiveness.”, Jason Price, an assistant professor at the University of Victoria, as quoted in The Globe and Mail.

I wrote in my last post that I wish I could unschool. I really do. I think there are many misconceptions about what unschooling is. I also think there are multiple definitions as families usually define it themselves. I’m not sure exactly how it would look for us but one very important aspect is being a mindful parent and engaging with your children. It is letting their interest guide their learning while providing them with a rich learning environment so that their interest is sparked by diverse topics.

One of my biggest inspirations to unschool is Miranda’s blog, Nurtured by Love. I read about her family’s life, her thoughts on learning and living a simpler life. It all resonates with me. If you read through her posts on homeschooling, school, mathematics, parenting, etc., you will meet her children who are all very bright and have diverse interests, broad background knowledge (astounding for their age – maybe that’s what unschooling can do), and strong analytical skills. They are also musical, compassionate and well socialized.

Why unschool? Here are my reasons.

Unschooling allows children to follow their interests, which means they will be intrinsically motivated to learn. They want to learn because they are truly interested in the topic and excited about it. In school, the motivation is often extrinsic; please the teacher, please the parents, get the stickers, grades, prizes, get into the best university, get a powerful job, etc. When a person is intrinsically motivated, they learn deeply, gaining a thorough comprehension of the concept or topic.

Unschooling is truly constructivist. Children will have the opportunity to construct their own knowledge. If children are exposed to situations in which they can explore and inquire, they will learn deeply. This doesn’t mean let the children run wild and hope they learn something. It means exposing them to a variety of learning scenarios, often these scenarios need to be set up by the parent/teacher. There is plenty of research to support the constructivist approach to learning. Teachers are taught this in teachers college. Learning takes time, especially constructivist learning. Unfortunately, the system and curriculum (Ontario) does not generally have time for it, at least not all the time.

If we were unschooling, I would be at home, learning with my children. We would learn together. It does not mean they would be running wild. It would mean we could spend a lot of time together, living and learning. Time that is not rushed. We could bake, garden, solve math & logic problems, explore nature, travel, read, debate, analyze, volunteer, create, write, sing, play, play music, dramatize, paint, draw, meet people, converse….the list could go on forever. Maybe in 15 years I wouldn’t be saying, “Where did the time go, just yesterday they were 4”.

There are things about the school system that make unschooling appealing.

“Tell me, and I’ll forget. Show me, and I may not remember. Involve me, and I’ll understand.” Native American Saying.

I have some problems with the Canadian School System:

  • It stifles creativity. Although Ontario has an extensive Arts curriculum, the reality is that it cannot be adequately covered along with all the other subjects. And, it’s too prescribed, imagine, an Arts curriculum that stifles creativity itself, sad but true. Ken Robinson presented a Ted Talk called “Do Schools Destroy Creativity, it’s worth a look.
  • There isn’t much experiential learning in school. Although constructivist theory is taught in Teacher’s College, in reality it is very difficult to implement hands on learning consistently. The dense, content driven curriculum, along with compulsory Ministry directives, leave little time for experiential learning.
  • Schools create an environment in which bullying thrives. This is my impression from being in the school system as a child and as a teacher. I have no evidence yet, but I intend to follow-up this idea with some research.
  • Schools get too academic too soon. In Junior Kindergarten, children are sitting at desks or tables, practicing their letters. Research clearly shows that early learning should be play based yet schools are not implementing this research. It remains to be seen how this may change as Ontario phases in its new full-time Junior Kindergarten program with Teachers and Early Childhood Educators in each classroom.
  • Schools are designed to create cogs for the “Industrial Machine”. They do not help children think critically about their world. According to Ken Robinson, public schooling was conceived of during the Enlightenment and the Industrial Revolution and were consequently designed to suit those eras. The education system has not changed since then. There is an excellent RSA Animate of Ken Robinson’s “Changing Education Paradigms” that clearly explains the current school system and how it needs to change.
  • School are way behind with technology. Most schools only use technology in the most rudimentary of ways. Not good enough.
  • Children do not have much input into what or how they are learning. They are fed extrinsic motivators like stickers, certificates, praise and grades. I think that if they follow their interests then they will be motivated intrinsically, which is way better in my opinion.
  • I don’t think that the needs of children with learning problems are being met.

Until we can change our schools into places that engage critical, creative and independent thought, I think that unschooling is best for my family. Too bad we can’t afford to do it.

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