Monday, April 03, 2006

Our Road to Unschooling

On the subject of unschooling/autonomous education, Ron at Atypical Homeschool has posed this question:

Unschooling my child(ren) has enabled me to see ________

which actually is more of a poser than I first thought, since I'm finding it rather difficult to recall which came first, the actual unschooling, or the knowledge about it. Certainly a key moment on the road to understanding the theory of autonomous learning came in a sort of Eureka moment in the bath. I did, as it happens leap out, though I managed (just) to resist the urge to run off down the road.

It was an extraordinary moment. I had been resisting the TCS formulation that coerced learning involves being forced to enact a theory that is not active in the mind. I had spent several months thinking about it, whilst occasionally pressurizing a very young and hugely resistant son to do workbooks and the like. Suddenly the absolute transparency, honesty and rightness of the definition of coercion hit me fair and square between the eyes and a whole raft of other connected ideas suddenly spread out from this one central idea. It was as close to a Damascene moment that an atheist can expect to go, and it has changed our lives, probably forever.

Since then, it has become abundantly clear that it is easy to fail in this effort to be non-coercive and to facilitate the learning process. We fail, but we fail much less because we know what we are doing and are continuously getting better and better at finding creative solutions and common preferences. Even in the failure, we are clear that we have failed and can say sorry and strive to do better, and in the times we succeed, it is obvious that the children thrive and learn.

I have learned how much fun it can be.

I have learned (even with only two children) how vastly different humans are in terms of learning style and that a one-sized education cannot possibly hope to fit all.

I have learned that structure can be compatible with autonomous learning, just as much as can an apparently completely unstructured form of learning.

I have seen children gather valuable information from the most apparently unlikely sources - Yu-gi-Oh cards, Ratchet and Clank, War Hammer, Angelina Ballerina, Lego City....

I have learnt the value of tentative theories, truth-seeking, exposing one's ideas to criticism, the value of explanation, the value of creativity and of critical rationalism.

I have learnt about tackling entrenched theories in as proportionate manner as possible: OK, so here we are talking about taking Dh down the same journey towards autonomous education! He is now as clear on the efficacy of autonomous learning as any hard-bitten, intuitively unschooling parent, though he would admit, this journey was a long one for him.

We have had the opportunity to meet some awesome people along the way, some of whom would never accept the wider theories of TCS (basically Popperian, and an adapted from of libertarianism), but who nonetheless strive to be non-coercive towards their kids.

And I have witnessed the force of the truth behind the TCS theory of autonomous education.

I have learned so much on this journey and am so grateful for the help that has been given to me along the way.


Ron R said...

Thanks for sharing that. TBH, you are certainly not the only one on the road to Damascus. however often we might fail at staying the course, it is, none the less, liberating in knowing it is there and can be pursued.

Becky said...

Lovely post, Carlotta.

We're not technically unschoolers, at least we're not "supposed" to be lol, but much of the thought processes here are the same, as well as the joy of the journey.

Audrey said...

You really got me thinking with that post. I had not thought of us as unschooling at all, but in the past year it has become abundantly clear that my ds is an unschooler, whether I thought he was or not.

You captured that "sheer joy" element of unschooling that I see and feel with ds when he sits down with his little encyclopedia and actually READS from it! Or, when he tells me something he "figured out" while playing outside. Those moments are endless and priceless.

Carlotta said...


Lol re the unschooling whatever one thinks of the matter! Yes, this is so true I think. Ds certainly led me along towards this particular way of doing things. Now that I think about it again, it was unquestionably his unconventional learning style (very focussed, utterly self-motivated, and not at all suggestible) that meant that I had to look very closely at theories of learning.

And as we have been going along, I have become acutely aware of how much I had actually learnt at home, spontaneously, through conversations with parents. SO much of my knowledge that I really treasure was actually acquired this way, rather than at school.