When we discuss schooling, deschooling and of course unschooling, a lot of people I think are limited in what they view schooling as. Schooling runs far deeper through our society than the institutions themselves.
‘Schooling’ is about all the things we have been taught about learning, about children themselves, what it means to be ‘educated’, what it means to be successful and how we view our own autonomy and freedoms (and those of others).
What this has lead to is so many beliefs – especially surrounding learning – in our society that are at best false, and at worst devastatingly disempowering. It’s so important to ask why.
I’ve come to think of it as schooled culture.
Schooled culture stretches far beyond the walls of the schools. It’s part of media, religion, parenting, politics and beyond.
While I think that you can’t simplify what schools offer down to simply the negatives, I think that the fact that the majority of schools work within a system of obedience, conformity and removing autonomy is still a valid judgement and worthy of being taken seriously.
Schooled culture feeds the false ideas that learning is not a natural process, authority is necessary, force is necessary (not autonomy) and conformity is necessary.
Learning is a natural process
In particular, one of the saddest notions I think is robbed by schooled culture is our trust in children’s (indeed all humans) innate ability to learn. I love the quote and writings from John Holt, who was a teacher who coined the term unschooling and a pioneer who said “By nature people are learning animals. Birds fly, fish swim, humans think and learn.”
The natural learning process is so incredible to watch unfold. I think many people, having not experienced it themselves, think that unschooled children must be gifted or that there must be secret force used. I know I myself had doubts before it was my reality.
Schooled culture has really capitalised on the fears and doubts of parents and made schooling synonymous with learning.
“I don’t think I’ve ever met a child who wasn’t motivated to figure things out, to find the answers to personally relevant questions. However, I’ve met (and taught) plenty of kids who aren’t motivated to sit quietly and listen to someone else talk or to memorize the definitions of a list of words. That lack of interest doesn’t suggest an absence of motivation (to be remedied with carrots and sticks) but a problem with the model of instruction and curriculum.” – Alfie Kohn.
In our society, our learning in particular often isn’t our own, it’s open to judgement (including testing, assessment, expectations, force, manipulation, and control). Or if it is indeed our own, it is belittled and ridiculed. ‘Self-taught’ learning is too often seen as inferior learning.
Many can’t separate the process of teaching and learning. But children don’t need teaching, they need to have the freedom to teach themselves! Life itself is enough, our children’s incredible curiosity and innate drive to understand and participate in the world is enough.
Authority isn’t necessary
It seems as though learning is not valid or valued unless it is controlled by some authority. And I think this notion has to be formed early in schools in order to be accepted.
In my experience, unschooled children, teens and adults really reject these ideas and simply aren’t confined by their limitations. They know their worth, they are empowered learners and they feel capable.
I know the unschooled children I know wouldn’t allow anyone to force them to learn things or be controlled. In a society that tends to prize obedience and conformity in children, this is often frowned upon! These free children rejecting schooled culture and living autonomously goes against all the ways we have been conditioned!
“One of the weirdest characteristics of education in our (western) society… is that our approach to education is extraordinarily authoritarian. It is obsessed with compulsion and control. So the child in the modern classroom may not move, speak, sing, laugh, eat, drink, read, write, think their own thoughts, look out the window, or even use the toilet without explicit permission from an authority figure.”
“In WEIRD (western educated industrialised rich democratic) societies we are so habituated to this appalling lack of personal freedom that it has become functionally invisible to us and in a truly Orwellian twist, many people now consider it a ‘fundamental human right’ to be legally compelled to learn what somebody in authority says they have to learn.” – Carol Black.
Schooling is authoritarian. That much is obvious. There is a clear hierarchy and the student is at the bottom.
I know I don’t want my children being blindly obedient to authority, to the academic hierarchy and curriculum, to the system as a whole and being happy to have no autonomy (bodily, educationally, personally and leisurely).
The only authority that is needed is self-authority.
Force is not necessary
It’s not uncommon to see schooled children with a lack of responsibility for their own learning because the what/where/when/why/how is all dictated to them. They don’t know what it feels to have their autonomy respected in learning. That freedom is foreign to them – but because of this phenomena society boasts that children cannot learn without force. It’s such an underhanded robbery.
Furthermore, quite crucially, they typically don’t know the ways the learning relates to them. Why am I learning this? What does it mean to me? The way it’s forced and controlled and dictated really promotes a shallow understanding of whatever they are learning.
Too much of school is about artificially learning. Two dimensional. Context-less. Written for assessment, to tick that criteria off and to meet an end – not for interests sake or personal intrinsic motives. Is this what we want? Is this conducive to meaningful lasting learning? Or to passion? To success?
Whether people want to admit it or not, most schools are very rewards driven – with grades and awards and charts. The underlying belief that is being sold by this rewards and punishment paradigm in education is that force is necessary.
Indeed, force is necessary if you’re making people learn things they don’t want to. But when you remove the expectations to all learn the same thing, in the same way, at the same time (which is a fallacy to begin with), force becomes superfluous. I enjoyed this talk on rewards and drive which really ties into this.
“The forcible subjugation of children by adults forms the psychological underpinning of every other model of political and economic subjugation. This is not a metaphor; it’s a structuring principle of political reality.” – Carol Black.
Schooling and schooled culture disempowers people of all ages. It doesn’t take long to indoctrinate a generation to believe they need force and coercion to learn. Start young enough and it can systematically belittle children and convince people (including the children themselves!) that it’s normal to remove freedoms and autonomy from children.
“A person’s learning is part of his freedom of thought, even more basic than his freedom of speech.
If we take from someone the right to decide what he will be curious about, we destroy his freedom of thought.” – John Holt.
Many people don’t even know they can question these things. The system itself seemingly removes our belief that we are powerful and our questions valid.
Conformity is not necessary
“You will not reap the fruit of individuality in your children if you clone their education” – Marilyn Howshall.