By Nikkie Gray
Now more than ever before our society is seeing the need to take matters into our own hands and not rely on others to get the job done for us. The topic of un-schooling has become quite popular and with good reason.
According to Wikipedia:
“Unschooling is an educational method and philosophy that advocates learner-chosen activities as a primary means for learning. Unschooling students learn through their natural life experiences including play, household responsibilities, personal interests and curiosity, internships and work experience, travel, books, elective classes, family, mentors, and social interaction. Unschooling encourages exploration of activities initiated by the children themselves, believing that the most personal learning is, the more meaningful, well-understood and, therefore, useful it is to the child. While courses may occasionally be taken, unschooling questions the usefulness of standard curricula, conventional grading methods, and other features of traditional schooling in the education of each unique child.”
I couldn’t agree more. It’s about taking the reigns in our children’s education to ensure that they are not just getting a good one but they have the opportunity to see the great joy of learning. After six years of leaving it up to the system, my son lost that great joy.
All Children Love To Learn
All kids love to learn and my son was not excluded from that. After a couple years of school, I noticed that school didn’t feel like a place of learning for him. Learning was something that naturally manifested into his life. I taught him sign language before he ever said his first word. He loved books, songs, art, counting and all the stuff a child his age liked to learn about.
As early as grade one, he began showing signs that he would prefer not to go there. Recently I saw an episode of The Simpsons titled, ‘Lisa’s Sax’ from Season 9, which shows a flashback to Bart’s first day of kindergarten. Some of you may know the one. In the episode, Bart starts his first day saying, “School will be fun.” Shortly after, his initial enthusiasm is crushed by an uncaring and bitter teacher who says that he would be a failure at life, and he draws a violent sketch of his feelings. I feel that’s what it was like for my son (and many other kids) when they entered school for the first time. They go in with enthusiasm and excitement and end up with disdain and confusion.
In grade four, he began to ask me questions regarding the structure of school. He told me he didn’t like that the kids were constantly being told to be quiet and sit still. He didn’t understand why he couldn’t eat when he was hungry. He was confused why he couldn’t learn about the things that he liked or was interested in. He asked why the teachers stopped using games and songs and kept play time to a scheduled time once a week. Prompted by my son’s inquires, I was compelled to do research about public education and its origins which I will share my findings later in this article.
When my son was in grade 5, I noticed that he didn’t understand basic math concepts. Concerned, I reached out to his teacher who told me that she hadn’t noticed. She said she would look into it and I put my faith in her that she would get to the bottom of the problem. She never did and before I could follow up with her as to why nothing had been done, the teachers went on strike until the following school year. My son entered grade 6 and more problems regarding school began to arise.
The Move That Changed Our Lives
By February of this year, school had created a horrible rift in our home life. When I would try to help my son with his homework, he would become extremely emotional and shut down. This made it almost impossible to help him. Eventually he had an emotional breakdown. He began by telling me that he was not going back to school. After asking him why he felt so strongly about this, he listed numerous reasons over the course of two hours. The things he brought up were that he felt like school was militarized. When asking why he felt like that he said because of the rules, the loud sound of the bell and that they made them run outside in the winter rain and cold everyday even if they didn’t want to. He felt like school was boring because he never had the opportunity to learn what he was interested in. How many of you reading this ask your children what they learned about in school when they come home and they reply with, “Nothing” or “Boring stuff”? My son disagreed with how the kids were treated, specifically that the teachers were above the students and that they were like masters and the kids were like slaves (his words). He didn’t feel like what he was learning about would benefit him in any way, not now, not ever. He felt stupid and the pressure of “competing” with his peers was unbearable.
This incident deeply saddened me. From what I could see, my baby was suffering and as his mother, it was my duty to find a solution to this and I feel I have. I had been toying with the idea of home education for years. Every day after school, I would tutor my son on things he would never learn while attending school which I think was the basis for him to be able to have an awareness that something just wasn’t right at that place. I so badly wanted him to see the joy of learning and how beneficial it is to be educated but felt with the lack of funding and set curriculum that was not possible. After laying out my options with home education and studying the philosophies and methods of un-schooling, I pulled my son from the school.
The Teachers Know That Public Education Is Horribly Flawed
I sent an email to his teacher explaining a bit about why I was taking my son out of public education which prompted the teacher to call me. We had a very long, enlightening conversation regarding the school system. The teacher told me that he completely supported and agreed with my decision to educate my son at home. He knew that the system was out-dated at best and the kids are not benefiting from it in anyway. He stated that most kids in his class were having meltdowns at home and in school regarding it. He agreed with me that the system doesn’t teach the kids how to be critical thinkers and that can be very dangerous for a society as a whole. He told me that he will not be putting his kids in public education. That statement alone was enough to tell me I was doing the right thing. My son was in a split class and had two teachers. Between the two teachers, they shared 65 students. That is unbelievable! The teacher stated that he so badly wants to teach but it’s so conflicting because as a teacher, his hands are tied. He has to stick to a set curriculum and can’t really go outside of it. He said that there literally is no funding. Most teachers pay for a lot of school supplies out of their own pockets. This morning I read a Polk county public school teacher’s letter of resignation. To me it’s more proof that the teachers know that the system is horribly flawed!
How My Son’s Life Has Changed
Since we started our journey of un-schooling, he now understands basic math concepts. His mood has also improved greatly. When I first caught wind to him being behind, I knew that it stemmed from his grade two year and he couldn’t get caught up because the teachers unfortunately don’t do one-on-one help. He got behind in the first place because he was being bullied and his teacher at the time was also doing questionable things like not letting him go to the bathroom. That was a bad year for him. I know that experience had a part in his perception of school and him falling behind. Regardless, nothing was done on the teacher’s part to rectify the problem and how could they if they don’t have the time or resources to give one-on-one help. The principal of my son’s school said that they don’t offer one-on-one help at that school and most public schools.
The change from my son while he was in public school to un-schooling is like night and day. Now, he has complete say in what he learns about and because I know his interests, I can incorporate them into all subjects that he’s doing for that week. For example: he is completely obsessed with Samurais. So he completed math worksheets that had samurais on them, we explored the science of making katana swords, the geography of Japan, the history of the Edo period (time of the Samurais), writing assignments based on monks and Buddhism, the culture of Japan throughout history and now, and lots more. I couldn’t believe how I could incorporate samurais into every single subject.
Eventually, he started having self-directed days where he is his own teacher. He has the reigns and can decide what pace to go at and how much he wants to complete in one day. Some people have asked me if he does anything on the days when were not working together. Through un-schooling he has learned the importance and magic of learning. It’s all centered around his interests, passions, and curiosities so of course he does. He has the awareness that learning can manifest in anything. Whether it’s practicing his archery, tending to the plants, cooking, traveling, engaging in his passions and spending time with the ones he loves; he knows anything he engages himself in can teach him. When he was in school, he never set goals. Since we’ve been working together he sets goals and achieves them all the time. We have no set curriculum; he is in control with me as a guide.
The greatest thing that I’ve learned through this experience is that we must be engaged in our children’s learning. Even if un-schooling doesn’t seem like an option. We can’t expect that all their education needs will be met at school. For example, the things he has learned through un-schooling that he could not learn while attending public education include: cooking, the Japanese language, Nikola Tesla, how to take notes, the power of one, philosophy, philosophers, astronomy, Gandhi (and other greats like him), quantum physics, Buddhism, Jesus, yoga, meditation, critical thinking, archery, how to grow food, laws of attraction, the power of gratitude, wilderness survival, various conscious documentaries like “I Am”, in depth political history and how society was built, natural healing and medicines, knowledge of self and so, so, so much more! As a parent and an enthusiastic student of the universe, I believe all these things and more should be taught through public education! We must fill in the gaps whatever way we can in our current situations. The system is broken and the children are suffering.
The Evidence That Something Needs To Change
Aside from my son’s personal experience with school, there are other reasons that pushed me to make the move into home education. The most important one is the origins of public education. I truly believe that if parents knew what public education was really created for, they would never enrol their children in it.
I wrote an article regarding the origins which you can view here. I highly recommend that you read this article which highlights John D. Rockefeller’s investment of and his involvement in it (to the outcry of parents and education professionals alike) as well as Horace Mann’s (“The Father of Education”) role in it and his ties to Prussia.
A notable person I have come across who has actually taken the time to study the long term status of the un-schoolers is Peter Gray. He is a Boston College research professor who has studied how learning happens without any academic requirements at a democratic school. In 2011, he decided to conduct a study with his colleague Gina Riley regarding a question he had that was centered around the outcome of the 10% of un-schoolers from the estimated two million children who are home schooled. He was prompted to conduct the study after finding no academic studies that adequately answered his question.
“In 2011, he and colleague Gina Riley surveyed 232 parents who unschool their children, which they defined as not following any curriculum, instead letting the children take charge of their own education. The respondents were overwhelmingly positive about their unschooling experience, saying it improved their children’s general well-being as well as their learning, and also enhanced family harmony. Their challenges primarily stemmed from feeling a need to defend their practices to family and friends, and overcoming their own deeply ingrained ways of thinking about education. (The results are discussed at length here.)”
Prompted by his own curiosity about how un-schooled children felt about their education experience and how this may have impacted their ability to pursue higher education and obtain gainful and satisfying employment, he conducted a study in 2013 in which he surveyed 75 adults ranging in age from 18 to 49; almost all of them had 3 years of un-schooling experience. The results and Gray’s remarks on the findings of the survey are quite long. You can read the entirety of the article and results here. Below I will paraphrase some of the points that really stood out for me in regards to questions I have been asked regarding my son’s future (going to college or finding employment).
“All but three of the 75 respondents felt the advantages of unschooling clearly outweighed the disadvantages. Almost all said they benefited from having had the time and freedom to discover and pursue their personal interests, giving them a head start on figuring out their career preferences and developing expertise in relevant areas. Seventy percent also said “the experience enabled them to develop as highly self-motivated, self-directed individuals,” Gray notes on his blog. Other commonly cited benefits included having a broader range of learning opportunities; a richer, age-mixed social life; and a relatively seamless transition to adult life. “In many ways I started as an adult, responsible for my own thinking and doing,” said one woman who responded to Gray’s survey.”
““Very few had any serious complaints against unschooling,” Gray says, and more than a third of the respondents said they could think of no disadvantages at all. For the remainder, the most significant disadvantages were: dealing with others’ judgments; some degree of social isolation; and the challenges they experienced adjusting to the social styles and values of their schooled peers.”
“What stood out, he adds, is that “many more said they felt their social experiences were better than they would have had in school.” Sixty-nine percent were “clearly happy with their social lives,” he says, and made friends through such avenues as local homeschooling groups, organized afterschool activities, church, volunteer or youth organizations, jobs, and neighbors. In particular, “they really treasured the fact that they had friends who were older or younger, including adults. They felt this was a more normal kind of socializing experience than just being with other people your age.””
“Three people were very dissatisfied overall. In all three cases, the respondents said their mothers were in poor mental health and the fathers were uninvolved. Two of the three also happened to be the only ones who mentioned having been raised in a fundamentalist religious home, though the survey didn’t ask this question specifically. It appeared to Gray that the unschooling was not intentional—the parent had aimed to teach a religious curriculum, “but was incompetent and stopped teaching,” he notes. In all of these cases, the children’s contact with other people was also very restricted; moreover, they were not given any choice about their schooling and therefore felt deprived of school.”
“Overall, 83 percent of the respondents had gone on to pursue some form of higher education. Almost half of those had either completed a bachelor’s degree or higher, or were currently enrolled in such a program; they attended (or had graduated from) a wide range of colleges, from Ivy League universities to state universities and smaller liberal-arts colleges.”
“In the words of one woman: “I already had a wealth of experience with self-directed study. I knew how to motivate myself, manage my time, and complete assignments without the structure that most traditional students are accustomed to. … I know how to figure things out for myself and how to get help when I need it.” Added another: “I discovered that people wanted the teacher to tell them what to think. … It had never, ever occurred to me to ask someone else to tell me what to think when I read something.””
Jeff Bliss – A Voice From The Front Lines
Hackschooling Makes Me happy | Logan LaPlante | TEDxUniversityofNevada
High School Valedictorian Speaks Out Against Schooling
4th Grade Student Sounds Off On State Testing
What Is The Solution?
I’m all about creating sustainable solutions that we can start implementing today. I wanted to share my story about my son in hopes that it will help other parents who are watching their children suffer in the school system and to know that there are other options. I believe that our children are the future and as such, it is our duty to make sure they have not just a good education but an inspiring and enlightening one so they don’t make the same mistakes my generation and generations before me have made. There has been a large increase on discussions regarding public education and the effect it’s having on our children. I personally believe that the whole system needs to be changed. It’s outdated and has sinister roots. We have the power to change things and talking about the solutions is a good start.
Recently, I read an article titled, ‘Why every parent should consider un-schooling’. In it, it states that with programs like No Child Left Behind (millions of children have actually been left behind) and Common Core (otherwise known as Common Conformity) in the United States, parents are finding the educational climate so unacceptable that they are willing to take a radically different path. Upon reading that, I was reminded of another article I read regarding director James Cameron (Titantic, Avatar) and his wife Suzy Cameron creating an innovative school called Muse. The concept behind MUSE came about after Suzy, a global environmental activist, mother of 5, and proud wife, grew tired of watching her older children struggle in the traditional education system, and sought an alternative and more environmentally aware option.
I definitely think creating new schools with the basis of the “un-schooling” philosophy is what we need but for many parents that can seem like light years away especially when our children are suffering now. I’ve written many articles on how any parent can adopt the philosophies of un-schooling or home education even if they have to work during the day. There is always a way. It really depends on how much work you are willing to put in. I will list the articles below as well as some other resources about un-schooling. I hope they are helpful for those who are considering like I was. Above all, I think if we work together, we can create a better, happier and more sustainable world for ourselves and generations to come and I believe the key to this is conscious education rooted from passion and expansion with no child ever being excluded or left behind.
For Those Who Are Considering Home Education <- Click to Read Article
Home Education For The Conscious Parent <- Click to Read Article
Dayna Martin is an activist, educator and author of, Radical Unschooling: A Revolution Has Begun. She does Unschooling and Peaceful Parenting coaching. You can learn more about Dayna at her website: http://daynamartin.com/
Peter Gray, Ph. D, research professor at Boston College, is author of Free to Learn (Basic Books, 2013) and Psychology (Worth Publishers, a college textbook now in its 7th edition). He has conducted and published research in comparative, evolutionary, developmental, and educational psychology. He did his undergraduate study at Columbia University and earned a Ph.D. in biological sciences at Rockefeller University. His current research and writing focus primarily on children’s natural ways of learning and the life-long value of play. You can learn more about Peter and his work at this website: http://www.freetolearnbook.com/