Creating self-directed learning schools in the public sector is nearly impossible, as the recent example of Powderhouse Studios in Somerville, MA reveals. Education innovation must come from the private sector, with parents, students, educators, and entrepreneurs leading the way.
This episode explores the topic of expanding education choice to more families and why that matters for unschoolers and others who care about parental empowerment, education innovation, and diverse learning opportunities for young people.
Massachusetts led the way in compulsion, passing the first compulsory education law in 1642 and the first compulsory school attendance law in 1852. The story we are told is that 19th century compulsory schooling was to be the "great equalizer" and that force was required for the "public good." The reality is that the chief architect of the 1852 law homeschooled his own children, and the roots of compulsory schooling were deeply anti-immigrant.
Unschooling and... the numbers. Homeschooling numbers have risen dramatically in the last two decades— and unschooling numbers have spiked in just 4 years. Self-directed education is catching on, and unschooling learning centers (like those spotlighted in this week’s glowing Boston Globe article: https://www.bostonglobe.com/magazine/2018/10/02/home-schoolers-turn-boston-area-new-unschooling-centers/j4TB7K54hm7V7ri0yDPTlM/story.html) will continue to make unschooling and self-directed education more accessible to more families.
In this episode, I share details from my recent keynote presentation at the New Hampshire School Administrators Association conference. The title of my keynote was “The Future of Education is Unschooling,” and I presented it to the more than 200 district superintendents, assistant superintendents, school principals, and other school leaders in attendance. In my breakout workshop that accompanied the keynote, over 25 participants talked about how they might be able to integrate unschooling principles and practices into their schools and classrooms, using two of the public “unschooling” schools I described as blueprints.
Is unschooling anti-intellectual? Some of its roots might be, but modern unschoolers know that Self-Directed Education can lead to much more intellectual rigor and academic mastery than conventional schooling and school-at-home educational approaches.
Bailey, Richard. A.S. Neill. London: Bloomsbury Publishing, 2013: pp. 138-9.
Wheatley, Karl. F. “Unschooling: A growing oasis for development and democracy,” Encounter: Education for Meaning and Social Justice 22, no. 2 (2009), 27-32.
Every 40 to 50 years, it seems, there is a surge of interest in alternative education ideas. Beginning with John Dewey in the 1880s, followed by another spike in interest in the 1920s, and then the radical education reformers of the 1960s, we might wonder: Is this just the next iteration of alternative education ideas? Will today's unschooling and Self-Directed Education momentum fade in a few years, and be rekindled again during the next 50-year cycle?
Four reasons lead me to believe the answer is no. The modern unschooling movement is here to stay, and to make a big impact on the broader educational landscape.
This episode describes how unschooling is the preferred education approach, not only to nurture our children's current interests, passions, and autonomy, but also to prepare them for the future of work.
In a world where the majority of children now entering elementary school will work in jobs that have yet to be invented--and when some of today's most in-demand careers and skillsets DID NOT EXIST five or 10 years ago--unschooling prepares young people for an ambigous, technology-fueled future by immersing them fully in the people, places, and things of the present.
Tomorrow's workers need to be able to distinguish themselves from robots. A standardized education only makes humans more similar to artificially intelligent machines. Unschooling creates the conditions to nurture children's natural curiosity, creativity, ingenuity, empathy, and entrepreneurship to set tomorrow's workers apart from their robot colleagues.
World Economic Forum, Future of Jobs report (2016): http://reports.weforum.org/future-of-jobs-2016/chapter-1-the-future-of-jobs-and-skills/#view/fn-1
Fast Company article - "How to prepare your kids for jobs that don't exist yet": https://www.fastcompany.com/40585503/how-to-prepare-your-kids-for-jobs-that-dont-exist-yet
Prediction Machines: The Simple Economics of Artificial Intelligence (Harvard Business Review Press, 2018): https://hbr.org/product/prediction-machines-the-simple-economics-of-artificial-intelligence/10195-HBK-ENG
Changing Times of American Youth, 1981-2003, University of Michigan: http://ns.umich.edu/Releases/2004/Nov04/teen_time_report.pdf
In this episode, we explore the opposing ideas of freedom and coercion, from their philosophical roots to their modern societal manifestations to their influence on unschooling theory and practice.
Thomas Jefferson (1816): “If a nation expects to be ignorant and free in a state of civilization, it expects what never was and never will be.”[i]
In 1817, Jefferson wrote: “It is better to tolerate the rare instance of a parent refusing to let his child be educated, than to shock the common feelings and ideas by forcible asportation and education of the infant against the will of the father.”[ii]
John Stuart Mill, On Liberty (1859):
“An individual] cannot rightfully be compelled to do or forbear because it will be better for him to do so, because it will make him happier, because, in the opinions of others, to do so would be wise, or even right. These are good reasons for remonstrating with him, or reasoning with him, or persuading him, or entreating him, but not for compelling him, or visiting him with any evil in case he do otherwise.”
“Those who are still in a state to require being taken care of by others, must be protected against their own actions as well as against external injury.”
“It might leave to parents to obtain the education when and how they pleased, and content itself with helping to pay the school fees of the poorer classes of children."
“A general State education is a mere contrivance for moulding people to be exactly like one another : and as the mould in which it casts them is that which pleases the predominant power in the government, whether this be a monarch, a priesthood, an aris tocracy, or the majority of the existing generation, in proportion as it is efficient and successful, it establishes a despotism over the mind, leading by natural tendency to one over the body. An education established and controlled by the State, should only exist, if it exist at all, as one among many competing experiments, carried on . for the purpose of example and stimulus, to keep the others up to a certain standard of excellence.”
Camp Stomping Ground - self-directed, overnight summer camp in NY
[i]Thomas Jefferson, Letter to Charles Yancy, January 6, 1816, http://tjrs.monticello.org/letter/327
[ii]Thomas Jefferson, The Writings of Thomas Jefferson, ed. Andrew A. Lipscomb (The Thomas Jefferson Memorial Association, 1904), 423.
Unschooling And…Its Origins
Many people believe that unschooling began with John Holt. While it is most certainly true that John Holt coined the term “unschooling” in the late-1970s as part of his work in the emerging modern homeschooling movement, the philosophical roots of unschooling and Self-Directed Education go back centuries. This is not some new-age idea.
John Locke, Some Thoughts Concerning Education (1693)
“For a child will learn three times as much when he is in tune, as he will with double the time and pains when he goes awkwardly or is dragg'd unwillingly to it.”
Jean-Jacques Rousseau, Emile, or On Education (1762)
"Everything is good as it leaves the hands of the author of things and everything degenerates in the hands of man.”
Sidney Hook (1971): “Only those unfamiliar with Dewey’s work can believe that he rejects the active role of the teacher in planning the classroom experience by properly organized subject matters.” - "John Dewey and His Betrayers." Change 3, no. 7: 26.
Ronald Swartz, From Socrates to Summerhill and Beyond (2016)
A.S. Neill (Alexander Sutherland Neill), Summerhill School: A New View of Childhood (1960);
Freedom, Not License! (1966)
Paul Goodman, Compulsory Mis-education and the Community of Scholars (1964)
John Holt, How Children Fail (1964), How Children Learn (1967), Teach Your Own (1981)
Ivan Illich, Deschooling Society (1970)