LIVING JOYFULLY NEWSLETTER
Issue #22 | October 9, 2013
SEPTEMBER’S THEME: Reader Questions
Thanks so much for sharing your questions with me! I enjoyed taking the time to dig into them and tease out ideas from the perspective of unschooling.
In other news, my daughter Lissy came home for a visit last week! She’s 19 and lives in NYC. If you don’t know how that came about, in a nutshell: she fell passionately in love with photography in her early teens, experimenting and playing and learning—completing two 365 projects along the way—and in January of this year her application for a three year US artist’s visa was approved.
This was her first visit home since permanently moving there (she visited for six months last year to explore and see if it was a good match before applying for the visa). As I’m sure you can imagine, it was a lovely time! And the reason this end of September newsletter is out later than usual. 🙂
ON THE BLOG … this month
Wrapped in this question are two perspectives, both understandable: one parent takes on the bulk of the day-to-day childcare tasks, discovers unschooling, and, seeing the benefits, works hard to put the ideas and principles into action; the other parent goes along, but they see an ever-increasing disconnect between the school-style learning they understand and their children’s day-to-day activities, and their concern grows. Now what?
“How much “getting out of the way” and how much instigating would you encourage? I know all kids and families are different but isn’t it just as much our responsibility to teach kids how to work together, respect each other and learn through organized activities?”
“I recently interacted with a family who are following unschooling principles. The biggest concern I see is the lack of discipline; and that children are not taught manners necessary to act in socially-acceptable ways in others’ homes. How do unschooled children learn manners so they know how to act in society?”
Let’s examine some ideas about supporting the interests and passions of multiple children and navigating sibling relationships.
LET’S TALK ABOUT … unschooling ideas going mainstream
A Fast Company article recently caught my attention: 8 New Jobs People Will Have In 2025. One of the eight jobs (number two) is Un-schooling Counselor:
The concept of education as a four-year box-ticking exercise will be over. The future will be more diverse. People will plug in a year of education here and there, a month now and again, and un-schooling counselors will guide them the whole way. “We’re seeing the evolution of the traditional counselor to someone who can hack your life together so it’s unique,” he says.
“He” is Terry Young, CEO of Sparks and Honey, a New York-based marketing company that focuses on helping their clients participate quickly in breaking trends, or as they describe them, “real-time cultural bursts.” A couple things jumped out at me from that description. One was, I hoped that by “education” he meant “formal education” (i.e. traditional teaching/classrooms). The other was, I wondered what led a business to pull together the term unschooling and the idea of “hacking” while talking specifically about the college years. Following my curiosity, a few clicks later I discovered they have produced a series of eight reports this year gathered under the title, 8 Exponential Trends That Will Shape Humanity.
Part of their description of the series: “We eat culture for breakfast in order to understand the value of emerging fringe signals, cultural shifts and explosive doubling patterns. While monitoring thousands of inputs and mapping and scoring them, we have identified 8 rapidly accelerating trends that will shape institutions, governments, businesses and everyday consumers.”
Now it’s beginning to make some sense: it seems that the ideas of unschooling, hackschooling and not going to college have been bandied about online often enough lately to bubble up in their stats and emerge as one of their eight exponential trends. Their resulting report on the future of education is called Drop Out Now: The Economics of Unschooling.
From the report, these are the data trends they are seeing through their monitoring and analysis:
- mainstream education practices are not sufficient to prepare students for a future filled with constant change, and the static curriculum model is out of sync with our world;
- the value of a college education versus the cost: a return on investment approach to the college question;
- computer-based education is becoming a practical option for many students, both cheaper and more flexible than traditional college;
- new programs are appearing, designed as alternatives to college, encouraging lifelong learning and independent thought (for example, the Thiel Fellowship, which Dale Stephens received and used to develop his UnCollege program); and
- the birth of hackschooling, where people piece together their own custom learning experiences based on a mix of real world experience and personalized modular classes (with a picture of Logan LaPlante giving his TEDx talk, Hackschooling Makes Me Happy)
The majority of their data trends focus on the college years, which isn’t surprising. This has become a hot topic the last couple of years as student debt rises while graduates are having a harder and harder time finding appropriate work. These alternative learning ideas are not new to unschoolers, and mixing the word unschooling in there mostly works, but unschooling is so much bigger. And with unschooling families, the focus is on the learner making the choices, with information and support—not direction—from parents/mentors/counselors.
Yet even as awareness of the most basic idea of unschooling—that learning can happen outside schools—grows beyond the “fringes” (this report has over 16,000 views), the process of learning about unschooling and doing it well within the context of family doesn’t change. I wonder though, if in this growing mainstream shift an important piece of unschooling is missing: sure, information gathering can happen outside schools, but is it real learning?
One of the significant challenges of the school system and its curriculum-based teaching and testing style is that the focus is on the memorization of facts and skills. What is often missing is real learning. Real learning is about understanding how those facts and skills connect together to build a picture of the world, a foundation we can draw upon in support of our day-to-day lives.
As this report indicates, more and more people are seeing the growth of access to online information and courses as a viable replacement for classrooms, but it’s still a replacement. Assuming people are free to choose topics, it’s a step away from required curricula (less likely for online diplomas etc), but it’s still focused on the gathering of facts and skills, just through a different medium.
Unschooling is so much more than the accumulation of facts. In unschooling families it’s the time and space to think and process and converse with trusted companions that adds such value to this way of learning. The focus on moving mindfully through each day means that besides gathering relevant and interesting facts, unschooling children learn how to learn, how to reason, how to think for themselves, and how to communicate. These valuable skills develop naturally through living precisely because they are so helpful for day-to-day living. Sure, having easy access to more and more information online is wonderful, but the real learning is found in what the person does with that information, how they fit it into their understanding of the world.
LIVING JOYFULLY … with unschooling
It was especially interesting for me to read Sparks and Honey’s report on “The Economics of Unschooling” now as I’m writing my next book. My first book, Free to Learn, focuses on the individual and learning through unschooling. My second book, Free to Live, pulls up and looks at unschooling at the family level. This third book pulls up again to the community/societal level and looks at unschooling in that context. It’s interesting to see another way that unschooling is being seen and interpreted by others.
Alongside that, I’m in the process of putting the text of my talks from this summer on my website and recording an audio version for those who enjoy or prefer listening. The audio testing is going well and I should be to record it in the next couple weeks. Michael’s helping me as he knows a lot more about this than I, but I’m learning! And, as I mentioned in the most recent blog post, the text of the first talk is now available on my website:
In our society family harmony is a prized goal, promising an easygoing peace. It can be elusive, yet we see some experienced unschooling families in action and we want that joy. “Why can’t you guys just get along??” Yet focusing on the interactions between family members often invites comparisons and discord—the opposite of harmony. Come dig deeper with Pam and see how, though it may seem counterintuitive at first, fully supporting and celebrating the individuals in the family better fosters a long-term atmosphere of joy and harmony.
Wishing you and your family a wonderful week!