“Whatever an education is, it should make you a unique individual, not a conformist; it should furnish you with an original spirit with which to tackle the big challenges; it should allow you to find values which will be your road map through life; it should make you spiritually rich, a person who loves whatever you are doing, wherever you are, whomever you are with; it should teach you what is important, how to live and how to die.” – John Taylor Gatto
I was having a chat with Thomas in our new shed the other day. He was struggling with all the writing required to do his Chemistry IGCSE work, and I could see his enthusiasm for the subject dwindling. I was making sure he knew he could stop if he wanted to, that there was no pressure from either Gary or I to continue. It was his answer which has had me pondering once more this whole unschooling thing.
He said, with a quiet determination in his voice, that yes he found the writing hard, but he realised that he needed to do the not so fun stuff in order to have the understanding required for the fun stuff. He said that he wanted to be an engineer and in order for this to happen he needed to take all the sciences up to A Level standard, and that if he dropped chemistry now he would not realise his long-held dream of going to university to study engineering.
And, he went on, he needed to think of his future. He wanted to get married, have children and have a job able to support his wife staying home and homeschooling the children if that is what she wishes to do.
I breathed a deep breath as I realised in that moment just how much ownership he has of his own learning. I am not needed anymore in an authoritative capacity.
A couple of weeks later I was interviewing him and he referred to us as working in partnership. I liked this at the time, and it triggered a memory of something I had read recently. And it made me wonder if maybe we had become ‘real’ unschoolers without me noticing. As I reflected I realised that L13 is spending in excess of seven hours a day creating, and Charlotte’s entire day is taken up with reading, writing and music (all her passions).
This got me a-pondering again. I know, I do it every year. This year I have been reading lots from John Gatto, the original homeschool enthusiast. You probably know him as the man who wrote ‘Dumbing Us Down’, a damning account of compulsory education. Something I read has stuck with me for the past few months, and I keep coming back to it as I evaluate our schooling for next year.
The following describes his ‘Gatto Guerrilla Curriculum’. It contains his ideas for revolutionising the school experience, but I believe it may have much wisdom to offer our family. I read this out to everyone at the dinner table and the response was very positive with ideas batting back and forth.
Gatto believes in every child’s learning experience there should be:
- Substantial community service
- Parent Partnerships on school time
- Team projects (gardens, cross-age tutoring, talent shows, food co-ops)
- Independent Study
- Work/study (including starting a business)
- Solitude (fishing, hiking, contemplation, silence)
- Adventures/discoveries (mapping, exploration, meandering,challenge)
- Field curriculum (furnishing an apartment, shadowing an employee at the job site, analysing the characteristics of good and bad swimming pools)
- Improvisational play in groups without guidance
- Flexi-time, flexi-space, flexi-sequencing, flexi-text selection
I want to unschool. Completely and without fear. I want to trust that we are in a changing world and that the education of my youth can not possibly do the youth of today justice. I want my children to experience life fearlessly and courageously.
I am aware they already have an enormous amount of freedom in their education, but I have been reticent going the whole unschool mile because of that rectangular screen which seems to invade every part of our lives. And you know what? No matter what the die-hard unschoolers say, I can’t get past the fact that the screen is a temptation too far. In the same way I do not want the schools of today to make my children into an academic carbon copy of the next child, I also do not want the screen creating an environment whereby the children are observing others live their lives instead of going out there and living their own. The screen is my Achilles heel when it comes to unschooling.
At the heart of unschooling, according to unschoolers, is trusting your child that they will guide their life with wisdom, using the screen only when they need to find out something. These unschoolers have never met my children, is all I can say! Not that they spend huge amounts of time on their screens now, but I have observed that screen time has become their go-to activity when they have nothing else scheduled. For example, if Saturday is a free day with nothing planned they would happily spend almost the entire day on the screen if I allowed them (I don’t). Any time they finish their school work, the screens come out. In general I am happy because they are all kept fairly busy and productive during their days, so I’m okay with them using their free time in whichever way they please.
And I think this may have to be the crux of our own unschooling efforts. By that I mean offering so many alternatives to the screens that they choose for themselves not to use them. Gatto’s Guerrilla curriculum fits the bill nicely. There are twelve items on Gatto’s list, incorporating all manner of learning opportunities, of which school plays only a small part, in partnership with parents.
Over the next couple of days I will be sharing our thoughts as a family on how we will endeavour to include these elements into our family’s week. If you wish to read my thoughts over the years, especially in regard of unschooling (something which has fascinated me from the start) do feel free to have a poke around in some of my old pondering posts: