Why It’s Not Important
What “Those Guys” Think About Homeschooling
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Popular speakers and writers like Seth Godin, Sir Ken Robinson, and Alfie Kohn, to name a few, are known for publicly concluding the educationally obvious: Our school systems are broken. However, as eloquently as they identify the problem, they do not always take their analyses to what I would call their logical conclusion and encourage unschooling and homeschooling. In fact, this type of writer is often downright dismissive about those solutions.
As someone recently marveled to me, in spite of their insights, “those guys” seem not to want to move toward a solution that does more than tinker with schools. They remain perched on the edge of a breakthrough that would recognize children as masters of their own learning – a breakthrough that would accept the abolition of compulsory school attendance as away to help both eager and reluctant learners, both kids who “behave” in school and those who don’t.
I am baffled that people who claim to be innovators and creativity experts can admit that the institution of school provides an extremely poor educational and social experience and yet not be open to the school-free alternative.
There may be a number of reasons why these guys seem not to have the courage of their convictions and are apparently unable to take seriously a world without schools. Those reasons could include anything from plain old academic arrogance, or the common fallacy that compulsory attendance somehow supports democracy, to a concern for the plight of poor kids (which is misplaced if they think schools actually solve that problem), or a perceived lack of scalability…. I overturned all but the last of those excuses in my 2000 book Challenging Assumptions in Education: From Institutionalized Education to a Learning Society. And I’m certainly not the first to write such things.
In fact, non-compulsory, free-range learning could be scalable. But that would mean dealing with some big issues and making some other big social changes, including addressing the daycare function of schools and creating a society where there are enough people who like kids enough to want to have them around all day.
However, I’m not wasting a lot of time trying to figure out why these thinkers stop where they do, because I don’t think it matters. The value in what “those guys” say is simply in pointing out to large audiences the fact that the emperor has no clothes. By doing that, they are challenging people to think, to invent alternatives, to see the world in a different way. And that will inevitably lend credibility to the notion of living without school, along with other solutions.
We life learning families are playing the equally important role of living the change. We’re practicing what John Holt described in his first issue of Growing Without Schooling newsletter in 1977 as “a nickel and dime theory about social change, which is, that important and lasting social change always comes slowly, and only when people change their lives, not just their political beliefs or parties.”
When I started my homeschooling advocacy around the same time as Holt, I, too, realized that deschooling society – like all social change – would be a long, slow process, which I assumed would take place over decades or even generations. Technology has since sped up the rate of adoption of new ideas, so I am more optimistic now than ever that we are irreversibly on the road to liberating kids from the prison of schooling. It’s happening one family at a time…with a bit of help from “those guys.”
Wendy Priesnitz is the owner and editor of Life Learning Magazine. She has been a life learning advocate since the mid-1970s, and is the author of thirteen books, including “Beyond School: Living As If School Doesn’t Exist,” “Challenging Assumptions in Education: From Institutionalized Education to a Learning Society,” and School Free: The Homeschooling Handbook (first published in 1987), and a contributor to many others. She is the mother of two adult daughters who grew up as if school didn’t exist.