Friday, December 4, 2009

Unschooling--Radical or respectful?

I never thought I would be writing this. . . I never thought I would be hailing the possiblities inherent in the homeschool movement we call "unschooling." For those "unschooled" in "unschooling," it is the method of education promoted by John Holt in the 60's I believe. He advocated homeschooling, youth rights, and natural child-led learning. Many "schools" such as the Sudbury Valley school and Free schools were based on this same type of philosophy. A quote of John Holt's posted on Wikipedia says, "My concern is not to improve 'education' but to do away with it, to end the ugly and antihuman business of people-shaping and to allow and help people to shape themselves." To many, and Christians, especially, this appears dangerous as if he were promoting rebellion against authority and the willful independence of children despite (as Christians believe) their inborn sin nature. I too, used to think this whole movement was pie in the sky humanist dreams.

However, I am beginning to think differently. I am not an all out John Holt or unschooling advocate, and yet I think we have a lot to learn as educators and parents from the unschooling movement. What you say? Well, it has to do with the rampant sin that teachers and parents are too often guilty of, and that is "MANIPULATION." Teachers sometimes call it "motivation," and parents sometimes call it "punishment" or "discipline." There are good and true examples of motivation and discipline; nevertheless, the line is easily crossed from them into the realm of manipulation, bribery, threats, and guilt-inducing behavior. As Christians we say that God gave us free will, and He is a gentleman--He will not violate our free will. God does not give us the "spirit of fear." And yet how many times do we resort to these low down tactics in order to get our children to obey us? How many times have we violated their free will through fear inducing tactics? Scripture says, "And, you fathers, provoke not your children to wrath: but bring them up in the nurture and admonition of the Lord." It says of children "of such are the kingdom of heaven." And how often is schooling a futile exercise that provokes them to anger and frustration as they are drilled and pushed in directions that go against their will, their personality, or their cognitive readiness? How often are they treated as if they can never hear the Lord's voice for themselves? How often do we model "fear" as we worry over the choices they want to make rather than gently guiding and modeling as we exude confidence and faith in our children's (or students') choices and God's leading. Worse still, is when we manipulate children through an unhealthy emphasis on grades, test scores,punishment, and competition to get children to make us look good or do our will. We are to raise children up to follow the Lord's will--not our own. And with all this, we wonder why kids don't love learning. Scott David Gray, an advocate of the Sudbury Valley Schools (which promotes an unschooling philosophy in a "school" setting) said, "No environment can be called intellectual, when the subtext of everything said is that 'this stuff is so boring that you would never be interested in it if we didn't force you.'" Wow! Now if that doesn't speak to all those workshops we teachers go to titled "Motivating Your Students to Learn."

I have learned through my experience in education that many teachers go into education in order to be the "god" of their own little world where they can command obedience to their own set of laws, indoctrinate children with their own favorite books and lessons and activities, and punish when their will is violated. In fact, I have been guilty of this horrendous attitude. One way that unschooling has opened my eyes to this atrocity, is in showing me the model of a true teacher. One who is a servant, not a boss. One who waits for a child to trust him or her enough to open up the inner workings of their mind to their teacher, willing to be discipled, asking for help, or just watching their model live the mature life before them. The appreticeship model that respects the child as a complete human being with free will, choice, and an ability to be led by the Lord with gentle guidance and instruction---that is what education is missing today. Yes, that requires humility because it requires teachers to change their roles from being the "boss" to being a servant. So I guess unschooling is rather radical; what makes it so is not its over-the-top optimism but rather, its humble respect of the child.

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