Carol Black unschooled her two daughters, now 22 and 26. Years ago she was in a teacher education program, but when she read John Holt’s How Children Fail the light bulb went off and she dropped out. Since then she has written some wonderfully insightful essays about unschooling, which you can read on her website, carolblack.org, and she directed the fascinating documentary film, Schooling the World.
Quote of the Week
“One of the things that is most disturbing to me — on a level of justice and morality — is that you have an institution that is in place globally that is labelling millions and millions and millions of innocent people as failures.” ~ Manish Jain
Ten Questions for Carol
1. Can you share with us a bit about you and your family, and how you came to unschooling?
2. What are your children up to right now? Looking back, can you see a thread of interests and activities that has brought them to this point?
3. I love the bigger picture lens through which you see and talk about unschooling—through the essays on your website and through your film, Schooling the World. What brought you to explore how children learn across different cultures and incorporate that into your view of unschooling?
4. I’ve seen your wonderful essay, A Thousand Rivers: What the modern world has forgotten about children and learning, being shared in unschooling circles for years. In it you make the point that people today don’t know what children are actually like—they only know what children are like in schools. Your classic quote is, “Collecting data on human learning based on children’s behavior in school is like collecting data on killer whales based on their behavior at Sea World.”
Controlling a child’s learning—content, pace, and style—has such a profound effect on how they see themselves, as both learners and people, doesn’t it?
5. Another great observation you share about unschooling children is that they want their learning to be their own. Can you talk about some of the ways we can interfere with that?
6. You published a new essay on your website earlier this year, On the Wildness of Children: The revolution will not take place in a classroom. In it, you note that compulsory schooling is basically a social experiment originally conceived in the late 1800s to adapt children to the new industrial age—to train them in the skills needed for this new era of manufacturing. Yet in only about seven generations, school has become an integral part of childhood, this background forgotten.
With unschooling, we choose to leave this experiment behind and look at how children are naturally wired to learn. We soon come to see that learning isn’t really a special activity at all, but a natural by-product of being alive in the world, and spending much of their days in, what researcher Suzanne Gaskins calls, a state of “open attention.” Can you describe what that looks like?
7. Now I’d like to shift and talk about your documentary, Schooling the World. Here’s something you wrote by way of introduction: “The film “Schooling the World” asks us to re-examine some of our deepest assumptions about knowledge, learning, ignorance, poverty, success, and wealth. The purpose of the film is not to provide all the answers, but to ask a question, to open a conversation. Our hope is that you will be able to use the film with your friends, colleagues, students, or organization to begin conversations that will be deep, challenging, and inspiring.” I love that your goal was to spark conversations. So let’s do that.
First, let’s talk about the culture of schooling. What are some of the differences between the culture of schooling, which basically defines modern childhood, and the culture of childhood in a traditional society?
8. In conversations about traditional cultures, it is regularly suggested that those who appreciate their ways are romanticizing traditional cultures, downplaying problems like infant mortality and infectious diseases. What the film brings out so clearly is that maybe we are romanticizing our own culture and our version of education when we export it overseas. We’ve seen through experience that the school structure also brings with it consequences like lasting damage to children’s creativity, and branding so many children as failures. We also often fail to consider the depth, breadth and complexity of the knowledge systems that we are displacing.
I love the point Wade Davis makes at the end of the film: “These peoples, these cultures, are not failed attempts at being us—they are unique answers to the fundamental question, ‘What does it mean to be human and alive?’ Their answers have allowed them to live sustainably on the planet for generations.”
How might we move beyond romanticizing either side of this cultural confrontation and have deeper conversations about how we connect and engage with other cultures around the world?
9. Can you share a bit about what the filming experience was like? Your daughters came along, yes?
10. Looking back now, what, for you, has been the most valuable outcome from choosing unschooling?
Links to things mentioned in the show
Carol’s essay: A Thousand Rivers: What the modern world has forgotten about children and learning
Carol’s essay: On the Wildness of Children: The revolution will not take place in a classroom
Carol’s documentary: Schooling the World (You can watch it free at this link for a limited time—if it’s no longer free, I think it’s worth the purchase to watch!)
Schooling the World Facebook page
Hello Pam (& Carol)!
First of all, thank you so much for making your podcasts, Pam! I listen (almost) every week. Or at least I try to, especially when a more specific topic or guest is on 😉 But I just have to say that this was undoubtedly my favorite one so far! I loved the entire discussion, but especially loved the pieces all about “open attention” (and I do intend to read more about this as soon as I’m finished writing!) As a former Early Childhood Educator turned Unschooling mom (of my 4th, and only unschooled child of almost three years now) I was intensely interested in listening to Carol speak about all of the shifting views and discoveries that she’d had while she was planning to go into teaching. It really reminded me so much of how I’d felt (on so many levels) when I’d worked professionally with many different young children for over twelve years, mainly in preschool settings. (I’d also had my own children to raise during this time, almost entirely on my own) I believe that another reason some of the things that you’d discussed had really touched me on such deep levels, is quite likely due to the fact that each of my two (2nd born, now 20 and youngest, who’s 8) son’s live with their own (and very unique) disability’s. The twenty year old was born with an extremely rare physical condition and uses a head controlled motorized wheelchair to get around. Despite his extreme physical limitations, he’s really a very intelligent, articulate and charismatic young man. He graduated in 2014, from Langley Fine Arts School majoring in writing. My youngest son, who just recently turned eight, does not have an official diagnosis as of yet, aside from “developmentally delayed”. I think he might possibly fall into one of either of the”high functioning ASD” or more than likely, Aspergers ‘categories’. And that’s only if and when he ever does receive a diagnosis. (I have a lot of mixed feelings and opinions around the whole topic of diagnosis) Despite all of this, I would honestly have to say that he’s really just traveling through the forest with a different map than most of us were given. I guess you could say that our family is definitely among some of the more rare of the ‘Unschooler breed’, primarily due to the fact that we’ve basically been cornered (for lack of a better word!) into the realization that life is thoroughly about learning all along the entire trail (and not just pieces of it!) This entire discussion hit so many nerves for me, in so many ways and I just felt compelled to share that with you both. I thank you again so much for making this available and for sharing such a wonderful discussion!