There’s been a lot of hubbub in the blogosphere and in news media, lately, about education. Primarily, the discussion has been aimed at how we ought to reinforce the public education system in efforts to bolster test scores, take back some of the 30% of students (in the U.S.) who don’t make it to graduation, and be able to ensure that children actually get a decent foundation of primary education. To me, it’s all rather like discussing how to mend the fractured hull of the Titanic in order to sail merrily away unscathed.
I believe it’s time to jump ship, People. The “force-feeding” education model is taking us down, and we’d be better off building a new ship at sea than trying to save the one we’re sinking in. Personally, I think it’s so bad that it seems conspiratorial — as if we are being intentionally dumbed down by public education. Certainly the current pedagogy is, at the very least, detrimental to the natural urge kids have to explore and learn. I’ve railed a bit on this subject before, though, so I won’t do it more now.
What I’d rather do at the moment is pretend we’ve already decided to move on and that we are now discussing how to educate our children more effectively from here on out. The funny thing is that I think, for en masse education, we already have better models than the current public one. Why the public system hasn’t adopted a Montessori, Waldorf, or other similar Constructivist model before now is simply beyond me. Having spent a good bit of time in a few different montessori schools, now, I can easily say, the children I’ve seen there look so much more engaged in what they are doing than their public school peers (whom I have also observed quite a bit). Montessori kids are not only known for their superior intellects and advanced social skills, but also for their sustained and potent enthusiasm for learning. Just in case you are wondering, it’s that last one that really propels them forward through not only higher levels of education, but also through a life which is nothing but learning.
So, on the one hand, for “the public”, for all those who can’t imagine doing otherwise, and for those who really are incapable of something else (or so strongly think of themselves as so that it becomes true), and for those who feel that, financially, they must send their children to public school — I pray for an education revolution. May those children have schools that foster their natural love of learning. May they, finally, be given the room they need to explore freely, the access they need to the wealth of information at their fingertips, and the skills with which to interact and communicate about that information with ease. And may they do that without excessive homework. Pretty please!!
On the other hand, I think, if you can, if you are at all able to “afford it”, and if you are “up for the challenge” — I pray that you please, please, unschool your children.
After all, it is the Cro-Magnon Way…
But seriously — humans have been teaching their own kids how to grow up and how to be adults for no less than 99.999% of our history. En masse education of children is only a very recent concept in the consciousness of our species. And the idea that we need to force children to learn is even newer — and, as it happens, also more out of date.
The most important idea for you to understand at present is this: All things being equal, and given being financially able to pull it off, any one of us can “educate” his or her own child(ren) enough to allow the kid(s) to get into and beyond college. Regardless of what they tell you, it just isn’t that hard to get access to and figure out what to do to work with most of the stuff humans have to do everyday. Think about it. Unless you are involved in a specialized field in which you had to get specific training or education that is used everyday in your occupation, (and perhaps even then) you probably don’t do anything all that remarkably difficult for an average human to do.
Don’t get me wrong — I’m not saying that you aren’t important. I’m just saying that you aren’t special(ized). 😉 That is, the majority of us can learn to do most of the things that any one of us can learn and do. We aren’t like bees, who are anatomically specialized. A drone physically cannot be a worker, or anything other than what he is — he doesn’t even have a stinger. We humans can learn to do pretty much anything with some very basic “tools”, such as: the ability to read, the ability to do simple math, and the ability to copy others.
As it turns out, that last one is the most important, and the one that most all of us are born using. That innate ability of humans to reproduce what they see each other doing is the reason I am always harping on you guys about modeling appropriate behavior to your kids. Little kids can scarcely stop themselves from doing it — as if they are driven to figure out what they are seeing, in part by trying to copy it, and simultaneously being driven to follow along with their tribe, in part by figuring out what the tribe is doing. Our “modern” ancestors relied on this simple fact about human nature for roughly 200,000 years (and their ancestors for millions of years before that, one may presume).
We call it unschooling now, which is a funny linguistic retro-fitting since modern “schooling” is not the more original concept — unschooling came first. But it might be most helpful to think of it as Cro-Magnon schooling, because that puts it in a more proper perspective. We don’t have to be rocket scientists to educate our children — even Cro-Magnons did it, and well (as is obvious by the mere fact of our existence).
All it really takes is spending time with them. If you’re doing that, then you are teaching your children — because of the way they naturally work, and because of that copying thing I mentioned above, you can’t not be teaching them. Just by your proximity. Just by your being you. Just think of all the things your kids picked up from you without you meaning for them to, and you’ll have a small sense of what I mean.
Now, imagine if we just spent that time being open to sharing with our children what we know about things as they happen in our lives. And then further, imagine being open to supporting them, as our children begin to express interest in the world on their own, as they all naturally do. And then even further, imagine empowering our children to go and explore and experiment on their own with us ready to resume interaction and help them process what they find upon their return.
As famed unschooling author, Sandra Dodd, put it — to unschool, the parent has only to begin by spending 23 hours each day with the infant, holding, nurturing, bonding, and making sure the baby feels secure. Do this for the first year. On the second year do the same for 22 hours a day. On the third year, 21, and so on, until the child is herself 21 (years old). The parent focuses maximum time in the early years to form the most secure bond possible. This simple focus alone, empowers the child’s nervous system for the most open stance with regard to sense input. And that makes her a more efficient and more comprehensive learner. As the child develops and becomes more and more independent she will be more interested in and have more access to personal time (away from the parent). By the way, I haven’t yet gotten to ask Sandra Dodd, but I do bet those 23 hours include some sleep time — though, obviously, less and less so as the kid ages…
That’s really all there is to it. If they are interested in something — and they will be — help them find out more, or get more involved. When they learn to read — and they will learn — get them tons of books at the library or for your groovy digital reader. Everywhere you go, you can give them some information about what is happening. When they respond, follow their lead. If you’re up for it, it’s a heck of a fun way to see life (again, or for the first time).
And just to add a personal note, our 100% unschooled 3 year-old is actually reading (when she feels like it), doing simple math (for fun), creating and telling her own elaborate stories, communicating like she’s 27, empathizing with adult emotions, correctly calculating the outcomes of complex scenarios, and playing like a professional. She is exceptional, but she isn’t really extraordinary. She’s just been nurtured, raised, and educated Cro-Magnon-style.
It’s worth considering. That is, if you want to be around your children a lot. And you want them to know a lot about living life. Maybe you could start by committing to age 7 as the time when you reassess to see if Cro-Magnon School is working for your brood…
Whatever you do — remember that “empowered nervous system” and be sure to nurture their brains with lots of good bonding, and cuddling, and time spent together. That’s a good bet, no matter what you chose afterward.
Be well, my fellow Cro-Magnon educators.