|This is my first post here. I arrived via a link on http://www.endervidualism.com/ which pointed to Kelly's article.|
We have two daughters, Ayn 12 and Ada 9, who have been unschooled all their lives. I will speak a bit about my experience below and answer some points raised in a few of the posts.
First of all I want to state that I agree with Phil on at least one point. I wish libertarians and objectivists, along with others, would get the facts, and I add, the context, straight. To quote statistics from John Taylor Gatto in support of unschooling is a stretch. Gatto is a strong opponent of state compulsory education but he is against unschooling. He does give references for his statistics in the book, but the context is compulsory state schooling. His argument is that there was plenty of schooling that worked very well, before the state got involved, not that literacy rates were high without schooling.
Secondly, there are very few references to adults that have been unschooled. The only one I can think of is “Homeschooling for Excellence” by the David and Micki Cofax, which, despite the title, is about unschooling. They raised four sons, three of which went to Ivy league schools (a doctor and two lawyers, if i recall correctly) and one who became a chef. Also on the Home Ed list (http://www.madrone.com/Home-ed/helist.html) there are occasional posts about unschoolers being admitted to university, including one about a 17 year old who received offers of full scholarships to both MIT and Cal Tech. All anecdotal. I will add to the anecdotal evidence later.
The statistics relating to homeschoolers being admitted to, and graduating from, university are impressive. These numbers say nothing about unschoolers. Unschooling parents who want a university education for their children are in mostly uncharted waters.
Finally, both Sudbury and Summerhill could help themselves and unschoolers in general by posting statistics regarding things like admission to university, or the number of presidents of major corporations that attended the school, etc. What most private schools do as a matter of routine. If this is not part of the school's goal, then they should post statistics that demonstrate success in the areas they are interested in.
A few people have asked about resources. The list is way to long, but here is a start:
Zome Tool (http://www.zometool.com/)
WFF 'N PROOF (http://thinkers.law.umich.edu/files/HomePage.htm)
24 Game (http://www.24game.com/)
Board games of every description.
Cartoon History of the Universe (3 books) by Larry Gonick, and just about everything else by Gonick
Cartoon collections (Garfield, Sherman's Lagoon, Dilbert, Mafalda, Astérix, etc). These are especially useful for foreign languages so get Mafalda in Spanish and Astérix in French.
The Way Things Work, David Macaulay, book and software
The Eyewitness series, books and software
The Brain Game by Aero & Weiner
We have found most “educational” software and videos to be useless. There are a few exceptions, but most materials that explicitly designed for teaching children insult the intelligence of a half way curious child.
Here are a few replies to questions/statements:
>> 6. You can go back and get your basic math and learn it in just weeks.
> Absolutely false. On what do you base these bald assertions? Have you *taught*
> multiple levels of mathematics - as I have? Several weeks, my ass!!
In “Learning all the Time” the late John Holt says it takes about 30 hours to learn how to read effectively and goes on to give many examples. In the chapters about arithmetic, he say it takes about the same time to learn as reading.
I read this long before my children were ready to learn. When Ayn was I decided to track the time. Guess what? About 28 hours for basic reading, and 32 hours for arithmetic, including long division. This was one-on-one, with a very willing student over a period of three weeks for reading and 11 days for arithmetic. These happened years apart. She learned how to read at age four but did not become interested in math until age seven.
>> "Why can’t he decide what is a better use of his time?"
> don't know, but he can't. I suspect it's because he's a kid. ;-)
>You probably meant "Why don't you allow him to decide". I have experienced week-
>long school breaks, and have seen what Peter does with his free time when he is not
>guided. One thing I do to get him to come up with his own activities is to suggest that
>he make up a List of Things to Do for the day. This seems to help him to balance his
>time and get in some of those endeavors that I consider "productive." Then, at the end
>of the day, he doesn't have that sinking feeling that the day is gone with nothing to
>show for it.
Two other possible reasons: 1) He is so used to having his day organized for him that he has lost the capacity to do it for himself. 2) He needs some down time from having to “do something” all the time.
There is nothing wrong with spending a day staring at the ceiling. Or several days for that matter. Especially when coming off an extended period of school.
> Phil said:
>> If you think children should be given unhindered right to pursue whatever interest they
>> want, what if they want to not eat their vegetables or to eat only sugary foods, should
>> you force or 'encourage' them at an age when they truly cannot grasp the reasons and
>> would only be doing it to please you? And if you encourage them to do something or
>> they do it to please you, what is wrong with encouraging them in the area of education
>> or subjects to read about?
> I think this is an interesting question. Do Kelly and David let their child choose what
> food she will eat? If not, what about volition? Why should they decide what's best for
> the child?
> To continue the analogy, suppose the child only wants to eat food that is not nutritional
> and is fattening? (This is an analogy with the boy who only wanted to fish all day.)
> Then, at age 9 or 10, when she is 4 ft 5 in tall and weighs 300 pounds, she develops a
> passion for running marathons, all she has to do is lose the weight and make up for a
> "lifetime" of physical unfitness (after, of course, learning to read so she can study up on
> how to be physically fit).
Our children have always been able to eat what ever they wanted. Always. Of course this assumes they can get it or prepare it for themselves. Our policy is simple. The person preparing the food decides what we are eating. If you don't like it, feed yourself. For years, especially when they were younger, we never had sweets in the house. It is only in the last few years, now that both of our children clearly understand property rights, that Annie has been giving into her cravings for dark chocolate.
Now that they both earn their own money, they can buy all the junk food they want. They very rarely do. The last time was four months or so ago when they split a big bag of Oreo cookies, which lasted at least five weeks. They know the value of money.
They learned how to cook early on, so they could make their own food. Also so they could eat when they wanted to as opposed to when their parents wanted to.
Now we often have the problem of more than one person wanting to cook.
> "The essence of parental responsibility is: to equip the child for independent survival as an adult."
> Elsewhere in one (or perhaps more) of his books NB has defined maturity in people as
> the ability and the confidence to know that they can find out anything they need to
> know to solve any problem they encounter on their way to achieving their life goals.
> Not that they know everything, but they can can find information if they need it and
> they have the intellectual tools to understand it. Somewhere in between birth and this
> mature state it seems to me that the parents responsibility, to the best of their ability, is
> to provide the opportunity for the child to develop this maturity. Leaving the immature
> child to totally decide themselves, their education is a "sink or swim" attitude that
> seems a little callous to me. It may work in some isolated cases with a particular set of
> parents as role models and certain gifted children but only as exceptions not the rule.
I couldn't agree more. The question then becomes “what is the most effective way of doing this?” I contend the answer is unschooling. Unschooling is certainly not "sink or swim". It is precisely providing the opportunity, without coercion, to develop and learn.
> Jenn, it could be that we're exaggerating when we say that Kelly wants to treat children
> as little adults. To me, it seems to be what she is saying.
I must admit that this is what it seems to me as well. And I do not agree with it. Parents need to provide direction without coercion. This means making suggestions, providing examples, involving children in your activities, encouraging behavior you think is correct, showing disapproval when you don't like something. On and on. All without coercion.
> I think that children need a push to get them going, even when they have stated that
> they have a particular interest. Let's take summertime for schoolchildren as an
> example. I currently telecommute, so in the past I have put Peter into summer
> programs so that I can work without being bothered. At his age now, I wouldn't really
> need to do that; he can entertain himself. However, I still feel that more structure can
> help him to make better use of his time in the summer. This year, I asked him, "What
> are you interested in learning this summer? Any special skills you'd like to pick up?"
> Kids have all this free time in the summer; I figure they should spend it focusing on
> what's important to them. Peter's answer: "I don't know." So I signed him up for a
> writing workshop and some tennis lessons (he's totally not a team-sports kind of guy,
> but I think it would be good for him to learn a "lifetime sport" of some kind). Peter's
> reaction: "OK."
Perhaps he just needs to detox from school. After being forced to go through nine months of school, a break of doing nothing is just what is needed. He may go along with the suggestions because he has be constantly taught (indoctrinated?) to obey adults without question and to follow their lead instead of thinking for himself.
> In a nutshell, I think that young children need some degree of artificial motivation, that
> they should be taught the things adults think are important, that they sometimes are
> naturally lazy.
I disagree completely. Simply by by doing things you are truly interested in and sharing them with children, they become interested. That interest then spreads to other things they find on their own. If they are allowed to. If the initial interest is real. Artificial motivation is a very poor substitute.
> Also, it's not a on-off switch: I will not control every aspect of Peter's life until he turns
> 18, at which time I will throw the switch and expect him to make his own decisions.
> It's a gradual process of increasing responsibility and freedom over the years. We need
> to provide an environment that eases the child into responsible, self-directed, self-
> motivated adulthood. Along the way, there will be artificial motivators. Babies do
> things to make mommy happy. Young children do chores in exchange for money or
> favors. My goal is that once he turns 18, Peter will do his own laundry and dishes
> without me paying him, and will make his own choices and pursue his own goals for
> his own reasons and not just to please his folks. I don't think that Kelly is right in
> thinking that this can't happen unless you let your two-year-old make all of his own
> choices and pursue his own goals.
Our children do laundry, clean house, cook, take care of the rabbits and chickens, kill and clean rabbits and chickens, help in the garden and many other things. All without cash payment. They do not receive an allowance. Their money comes from their own business and occasional gifts, mostly from grandparents. They know very clearly that if they want the benefits of the house they have to work to support the house. This also gives them input into the decisions of the house. From very young they have worked and we have involved them in the decision making process. This is the best preparation we can give them.
> But most kids do not have that fire. To wait for such a kid to discover their own
> direction without "interfering" can not possibly be the best decision. That would make
> parenting years a total bore for one thing. "What's little Susie up to? Studying her
> calculus?" "No, she's just sittin' there. Sittin' in her chair."
I would argue that most do not have the fire because it has been put out by school. That left uncoerced most children will learn naturally. Every once in a while they will vegetate, or space out on TV and computer games. Then they will tire of that and do something else. At least that is the case with my children and most other unschoolers I have known. The fact is that it takes very little time to learn what is taught in schools. A lot of time is simply wasted in schools. Line up for this, moving between classes, listening to announcements, waiting for the teacher to finish with another student, etc.
> I think the best course of action is to clearly present the child with a catalogue of
> options. Soccer, chess, golf, karate, violin, chemistry, whiffle ball, Latin, etc and have
> the child select 3 (or whatever number) of subjects to study intensely. And then
> introduce new subjects as the child progresses. An idle child becomes a wretched and
> needy adult.
One does not have to be busy all the time. Relaxing has value as well. A child does not have to be forced to choose an arbitrary number of subjects. Give them lots of options and your opinion on them, and let it go from there. They may choose zero today, but come back in a month and want to do something you suggested, or they may find something completely different. Let them.
> I wonder if many of the 'unschoolers' have ever had a truly great, transforming teacher
> in a traditional classroom and have viscerally experienced how much difference such a
> charismatic person can make in a young child's or adolescent's life. There are many
> movies and stories that tell of this, from "To Sir With Love" to "Stand and Deliver".
> (And I can attest that it makes all the boredom worthwhile and unimportant.)
I had one such teacher and can attest that it did not come close to making up for all the boredom and pain of school.
However, you are correct. To find a individual like that is worth a lot. It does not have to be in school. For example, Ayn acquired a dog and decided to train him. So she found a dog trainer to study with. Did not like him so found another one. Who she really liked and learned a lot from. So much so that she started assisting him with his group classes.
Note that she chose her teacher. A teacher is just another merchant selling a product. The student is the customer. School places the teacher in the position of a master. This is wrong. The relationship should be client/vendor.
> The reason a good teacher and mastery of a core curriculum -- English, Math, Science,
> History -- is vital (as is finding good schools, which DO EXIST) is that you can't just
> "snap bang" pick up all the stuff you didn't find interesting years ago. It is often
> hierarchical and slow to learn requiring many problems and can't be crammed into
> weeks but takes trial and error, step by step. Hierarchy refers not only to the way we
> store knowledge. It refers to the way we do and logically must -learn- it. You can't pick
> up algebra if you never mastered fractions, long division, certain aspects of logic, pre-
> algebra, etc. You can't learn to substitute letters for numbers in equations until you have
> thoroughly mastered -every single one- of the operations of arithmetic. Advanced or
> formal science won't make much sense unless you mastered general science in
> elementary or middle school. It will just be floating abstractions without concretes.
> Modern political issues in America about religion, race, gender won't fully make sense
> unless you have not just memorized but understand the Protestant Reformation,
> Reconstruction, etc.
We are never going to agree on the above. My experience, from both observation of other unschooling families and from my own home is completely different. I know a young man who was well into calculus without knowing trig. When he realized he needed it he picked up the books and had it down in three weeks. My niece, currently 18, learned US history “backwards”. She volunteered at a veterans hospital and heard about WWII for some of the patients. That got her interested in the history of the war. From there she became interested in the reasons for the war. She worked back through US, Chinese, Japanese and European history to the dark ages. She has a much better understanding of history than most people. Especially those that have attended US public schools. Ayn was well into algebra before she learned fractions. She realized she need them, found a web site and spent 16 hours straight learing them and doing drills. Done, fractions learned.
> The reason you need a teacher to (gently, inspirationally) guide your children through
> this material is that it is too vast and the good stuff too hidden to think you will stumble
> on it via library search or internet googling. And you don't know what you don't know.
> Nor do you know when knowledge is floating or out of context or requires a base.
I mostly agree with the above, but note that it applies to adults as well. As long as it is non-coercive, I have no problems with it, as long as the individual being taught can say, “no, not interested” and not be forced to continue.
> You'll never get a fraction of what you need in order to be well-rounded without
I do not see value in being “well rounded”. Especially since it is such an ill defined concept. Why learn Palmer Ovals and not high energy physics? Why Latin and not classic Chinese? Why the Bible but not the Koran? Social Studies but not Game Theory?
> Parents, themselves not always well-rounded Renaissance people, are just as likely to
> mis-guide the child as not.
I have to completely disagree with this. The job of parents is to teach their children values. Their values. Not your values, not my values, theirs.
> And being well-rounded -is- vital to being as successful, and even as intelligent as you
> can be. (Genius and intelligence grow out of vast knowledge.) While there may be
> exceptions to this, people who need to do nothing but pursue one thing for a lifetime or
> huge sections of one, they are the exception not the norm.
Once again, I disagree, but even if you are correct, an individual can become “well rounded” by reading a great many books and discussing them, either in person or online, with other people. If they really need to, they can hire a tutor. School is not necessary for to achieve this goal.
> Don't let yourself remain a philistine, if you are or refrain from giving your children the
> guidance that will let them remain narrow specialists who, if they are 'creative' types,
> don't deeply and thoroughly understand science and the vast new world it has created
> and, if they are 'technical' types(or professional or businessmen, don't fully and
> thoroughly know who Freud and Herodotus and Constantine and Stowe were or what
> implications Thermopylae had for western civilization and for us today.
I guess I am a philistine. I had no idea what Thermopylae was until I looked it up on Google, although I did know the others. I have read biographies of Freud and Constantine, have read some of the works of Herodotus and if you mean Harriet Beecher Stowe, then have read “Uncle Tom's Cabin”. With the exception of Stowe, all after I left school. Now I know something about Thermopylae as well but admit that I have no idea of what implications the battle had for western civilization. However, if I am really interested I can research further.
However, why the above? Why not Julius Caesar, Han Fei, Schrodinger, von Neumann, Sun Tzu, Celini, Tolstoi, Cheng Ho, Muhammad, Buddah, Wagner, Einstein, Jefferson, Musashi, and on and on. All are worthy of study, and studying them takes time, In other words, has a cost. What is the cost benefit ratio of studying each one, and more importantly, how is it determined?
> 2. On the point about a well-rounded education, my view is not that it is *necessary*, in
> the sense that a happy life, career , etc. are impossible without it.
> My point is that it *adds* to it. And -sometimes- you will miss things, make wrong
> choices without it. It's possible to be happy if you are a narrow specialist, and never
> learn history, develop a love for literature, etc. There are people who, given the nature
> of their career choices are. But it's not the way to bet. And why would you be in -favor-
> of not understanding our culture and other important sections of reality or be arguing
> for it?
Add to a happy life and a good career? Possible. But at a price. As you point out, “no such thing as a free lunch”. Is the price worth it? Everyone has to decide that for themselves, don't they?
As far as making mistakes without it. Maybe. Making mistakes with it are just as possible as I can attest to when one of my “brilliant” degree loaded employees cost me a whole lot of money because of an incredibly stupid decision. But he was no philistine, just a clueless idiot. I have been less than impressed with Liberal Arts “education”. I have met many people that would be better off using their university degrees as toilet paper for all the good it does them.
> David does the same thing in another post when he mentions he would simply pick up
> an encyclopedia to learn things. I suggest that you both seriously underestimate the long
> chain of skills and literacy and factual knowledge in a wide range of areas that you need
> before you can understand fully encyclopedia articles (just to stay on that one example.)
> Do you know what level kids have to be at before reading an encyclopedia for pleasure
> and enrichment is possible to them?
Age 11. That is when Ayn started reading the Wikipedia on a regular basis. Of course others will start earlier, some will start later and some will never be interested. Note that mechanics, farmers and a host of other occupations are also necessary. If they derive pleasure from reading an encyclopedia, fine. If they prefer to vegetate in front of the TV, fine as well. But I am a philistine.
> My eight-year-old son is quite gifted, but if he were "unschooled", he would spend 14
> hours a day in front of the computer playing the free games on wonka.com,
> pfgoldfish.com, etc., etc. He wants to be a writer when he grows up. But he needs
> encouragement to make that more than an idle desire, to actually DO some writing.
> And, in order to have some CONTENT to write ABOUT, he needs to study other
> subjects. Even he recognizes this. We discussed this article, and when I asked him
> what he thought, he said, "I think she's crazy!" An example he gave was, "Who's going
> to learn social studies without somebody making you learn it in school?" He
> understands that it's important to learn about many different subjects, not only to make
> you a competent and well-informed adult, but to help you determine what you are truly
> interested in.
He might spend 14 hours a day playing now. If you take him out of school he certainly will for a while. There tends to be a “detox” period which is different for every individual. After which he will get bored with computer games and find something else to do. However, even computer games teach. To keep people interested they must be challenging. This means the players need to keep thinking.
It is a pity that he thinks Kelly is crazy, but it is a predictable reaction from someone who has had their life arranged by school. He cannot imagine doing some things without being coerced. This is sad. It is also odd. He recognizes something is of value, but will not learn it unless forced. When my children think something is worth learning there is no stopping them.
This message is very long as it is, so I will stop here. I will post another one with our specific experiences and our reasons for choosing this path.