One of the foundations of life learning / unschooling is freedom from compulsory schooling and compulsory instruction. Many of the articles in Life Learning Magazine can be distilled down to that, and I personally write a great deal about children’s rights to control what they learn – as well as when and how – and what they do.
Boston College research professor Dr. Peter Gray has written a thought-provoking and important new blog post on this topic, framing this topic in terms of the right to quit in many aspects of life. He wrote, “Schools, like all institutions, will become moral institutions only when the people they serve are no longer inmates. When students are free to quit, schools will have to grant them other basic human rights, such as the right to have a voice in decisions that affect them, the right to free speech, the right to free assembly, and the right to choose their own paths to happiness.”
That harkens back to an article that Life Learning’s sister magazine Natural Life published in 2008 by teacher Jim Strickland, in which he also questioned compulsory schooling. He wrote, “Compulsory attendance laws undermine learning by creating an atmosphere of coercion, mistrust, and manipulation. They do this by their very existence as the faint (or not-so faint) hum in the background of each potentially joyful moment in every classroom. We all know the best way to make anyone hate doing something is to force their compliance under threat of punishment. Learning that is meaningful, lasting and real can only take place with the consent and willing participation of the learner. One cannot teach the values of freedom and democracy using a totalitarian pedagogy. The medium is the message.” (Jim has another insightful article on the topic in the May/June issue of Natural Life Magazine.)
Interestingly, Jim Strickland works in the public school system, trying to make change from the inside, and Peter Gray ‘s new book Free to Learn (reviewed in the May/June issue of Life Learning Magazine) spends a great deal of time extolling the virtues of Sudbury Valley Schools, where attendance is compulsory!
So it’s left to life learners / unschoolers to lead the change toward respecting children as whole people who can be functioning members of society. But as more and more voices join the chorus (and the level of coercion in public schools becomes more egregious), I am hopeful that we will reach a tipping point. And then, the adult-child relationship in our society will change from one of power, hierarchy, and coercion to one of respect and trust.