Saturday, July 21, 2007

Does interest-led learning promote ignorance?

Well, I'm half-way through the book! Would be farther, but it didn't arrive until almost dinner yesterday. Needless to say I didn't end up cooking. And now UberDad wants a turn, so I thought I'd finish a reply to a little comment about unschooling posted the other day. I rarely get questions from random visitors, but they always seem to be inspiring...

Got here by randomness.
I do not mean any offense, I'm genuinely curious and skeptical about this idea.
What do kids show interest in knowing? Does this not promote ignorance in some level?


Hi Alina, thanks for asking. Kids show interest in all kinds of things! From birth, they are interested in learning whatever they need to know to survive and thrive in their environment. They learn to eat, to recognize their parents, to communicate feelings of discomfort and joy. They learn to pick up small objects with their fingers, to throw a ball, to walk... and the most complex of human activities: to use language. They learn all this simply by LIVING with other humans who do all these things and who respond to their child with care and interest themselves. The incentive is mastery, and the curriculum is anything and everything around them!

On the contrary, ignorance is born when children are taught to forget that they are capable of learning. When we tell them over and over again that they will "never learn" if they don't sit still, if they don't listen to the teacher, if they don't work at it... when we tell them that learning is DIFFICULT and has to be SCHEDULED or else they'd never want to do it... when we tell them that they will "amount to nothing" if they don't finish school... we are telling them that they cannot do anything or be anything without somebody else teaching them how, when, and what to learn.

Fortunately, not every child accepts that message. Some escape with their sense of self still somewhat in tact, with their creative potential as an individual not totally squashed. But how much better if they didn't have to suffer and survive? If instead they remained supported as confident learners from the very beginning and thrived?

Because when children are TRUSTED to learn as they do best, and are provided opportunities to freely and safely explore their world WITHOUT strict timelines, rigid expectations, or one-size-fits-all curriculums -- and WITH input from trustworthy, knowledgable sources such as parents and community leaders, then they will continue to do as they have since birth: learn everything they need to know to thrive in their world -- and hopefully make it an even better place.

Only in very special circumstances is external assistance needed to make the learning process go smoothly. Unfortunately, as more is learned to help these children, educators have begun to find power in assuming that the anomoly is the norm, and that all children who don't fit their ideal are on a spectrum of learning disorder. Much like the medical establishment assumes that first-time moms are "high-risk" until they've "proven" that their pelvis is capable of birthing a baby. But I digress...


Tammy said...

Great post Amanda. I think a common error when people hear the word unschooling, or child-led, is thinking that parents leave thier children alone in a room somewhere, and don't expose them to anything, or take them anywhere.

Although we do buy some workbooks and text books, I don't really have a schedule to go by, and I don't ever force them to sit and do work.

In just living every day life, going different places, and seeing different things, we all learn. In September, we are going to take our first family camping trip, to Yosemite. Learning doesn't get any better than that, hehe!! They have some really great programs about the stars and other things. It will be a great experience for all of us.

It's important to remember that we never stop learning. I learn new things every day, and with the kids when they ask about something, and we look it up.

Amanda said...

Yes!! Parents can be fabulous examples of how there's always more to be learned from life and each other. Thanks, Tammy!! I hope you guys have a wonderful time in Yosemite! :)

Heidi said...

I'm interested in homeschooling and probably will do it. I've never heard it put this way and I love your perspective. My son is almost three and even now we are just learning about the things that he likes. At the library we take out books about trains if he wants or whatever peaks his interest that day. I can see how continuing as they get older in this fashion would really help them to be more self motivated vs. having to force them to complete things they will just push out of their minds the next hour.
Thanks, Heidi

B said...

Great post Amanda! You put things so nicely, I might have to quote you someday when someone asks me some homeschooling questions (or just send them directly here!) LOL!

Speaking of sending people ... I tagged you. I hope you don't mind. If you can do it, great, if not, no problem! =)

lolly said...

Okay, I want to read your post about unschooling but I can't find it.

I am very interested in this right now. My oldest just turned 4 and I'm really making myself crazy over what we're going to do education-wise for her next year. I REALLY don't want to put her in a traditional public school because I think they have a very high potential to just make kids dumb!

But I think I'm too lazy to homeschool, and unschooling is really appealing in many ways, but I guess I haven't learned enough about it. When I first heard the term, I thought, "Well, now, those people have REALLY gone off the deep-end!" But then, I thought that about people who never punished (even "lovingly"), until I read Unconditional Parenting.

But now I see how it could work. At least for sure in the early years. My daughter is SOOO motivated to learn, so interested in her world. She wants to know everything, she has learned so much, and it has ALL been driven by her interest. I have no reason to believe that's going to end anytime soon (unless I put her in a school where they start bribing her to learn, that is!)

But I read Alfie Kohn's The Schools Our Children Deserve and his ideas are fabulous and I can see how there can be great benefit to the classroom setting, with lots of other kids enthusiastically learning around you. I just don't know where or how I'll ever find it. But I don't feel competent enough to do it myself.

Sorry for such a long comment! I'm seriously going to look into this more.

Amanda said...

Hey Lolly, I should have linked that post the first time, cause it took me forever to find!

Alfie Kohn is great, but the trouble is that there usually AREN'T "lots of other kids enthusiastically learning" in schools.

Keep reading about unschooling as much as you can! You are TOTALLY competent! Just like anything else in parenting, it takes time to find your way and develop confidence in it.

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