Our unquestioning trust, our faith in the medical profession and the purveyors of baby products hold us back from moving forward to an enlightened age of accepting responsibility for our own and our children’s well-being.
“In the classroom, knowledge is presented in the abstract and people are expected to demonstrate their mastery of that knowledge in abstract ways. But passive, second-hand experiences can lead to second-hand knowledge. On the other hand, real-life discovery leads learners to find out about the world in an authentic way, which leads to concrete knowledge.n the classroom, knowledge is presented in the abstract and people are expected to demonstrate their mastery of that knowledge in abstract ways. But passive, second-hand experiences can lead to second-hand knowledge. On the other hand, real-life discovery leads learners to find out about the world in an authentic way, which leads to concrete knowledge. Let’s help our children discover life for themselves!”
There is one definition of intelligence that involves speed, results, and competition – getting the right answer to a question quickly and doing it faster than anyone else. That’s the definition used by schools, where the term “slow learner” is a disparaging one that, for all intents and purposes, means “dumb.” Even worse, some children who don’t fit into the school schedule get distracted or bored and are given labels such as “learning disabled.”
Teachers show that they value speed-as-intelligence by praising students who respond well to verbal cues, who can quickly come up with the “right” answer to an oral quiz, who put their hands up first, or who choose the most prescribed answers on a multiple choice test within the allotted time frame.
Unfortunately, performing well in this sort of school setting is no guarantee that one will thrive in the real world. And conversely, many successful and unquestionably “intelligent” people like Albert Einstein perform poorly in the speedy, competitive school environment.
Nevertheless, many parents buy into this definition right from their children’s birth, measuring the speed at which they master skills, and being proud when they have learned to walk, talk, or read before the neighbors’ kids have.
What’s the Hurry?
I’ve been advocating a different way of parenting and helping children to learn for close to forty years now; it was first called homeschooling, then unschooling, until my husband Rolf coined the term “life learning” in the 1990s. Then, about ten years ago, I began to frame this way of learning by living (and without school) in terms of the “slow” movement, which began in the mid-1980s with the launch of the Italian Slow Food Association by a writer upset about the opening of fast food chains in Rome. Most schools, I realized, force-feed kids a pre-packaged diet of “fast food” knowledge – unrelated bits of facts to be swallowed as quickly as possible.
|“Slow learning” involves exploring the world at one’s own speed, enjoying, questioning, and understanding the experiences encountered as well as the ones created.|
“Slow learning,” on the other hand, involves exploring the world at one’s own speed, enjoying, questioning, and understanding the experiences encountered as well as the ones created. It’s not oriented towards quick results or competition with others. Rather, it involves knowing how to create hypotheses and to test them, and it promotes inquiry and dialogue. It provides time for experimenting, making what are traditionally called “mistakes,” backtracking, and experimenting some more. It also allows time for what, in a fast learning environment, is called “day dreaming” or, worse, “wasting time.” It crosses genres and disciplines, rather than separating knowledge up into disconnected subject areas. It’s grounded in the interests, needs, and learning style of each individual. And it doesn’t turn off at three o’clock in the afternoon, at the end of June, or at ages eighteen, thirty, or sixty-five.
Slow learning also understands that answers are only “right” in certain contexts and favors the personal process over the more public – and testable – product. As Harvard professor Ellen J. Langer writes in her book The Power of Mindful Learning (Perseus Books, 1998), “If we can shed [the] outcome orientation, we may discover that the freedom to define the process is more significant than achieving an outcome that has no inherent meaning or value outside that particular setting.”
A child who is fortunate enough to have parents who protect her right to slow learning is in control. She is responsible for what she learns, when, how, and why…and she is free to choose what people and which experiences will help her on her journey.
There is no need for anyone to quiz or question or test such a child’s knowledge because his goals are his own. If and when he decides to undertake something for which he hasn’t built up the prerequisite knowledge base, he will have all the necessary tools for filling that gap.
But more than that, she will be a self-directed, curious, risk taking, intrinsically motivated, innovative, nonconformist leader who will never stop learning and who sees education as a process rather than a destination to be arrived at as quickly as possible.
Challenging Assumptions in Education by Wendy Priesnitz (The Alternate Press, 2000)
Embracing Slow by Wendy Priesnitz, Natural Life Magazine, May/June 211
Wendy Priesnitz is the editor of Natural Life Magazine, a journalist with over 35 years of experience, and the author of ten books. She is the mother of two adult daughters (who learned without school) and the grandmother of two.
Many families who are homeschooling or planning to do so wonder about what the future will hold for their young people. Will they be able to go to college or university? How will they do there? Will they be able to make good choices for their future working lives?
Life Learning Magazine publishes many articles about that topic. Here are links to two helpful articles about college:
- Choosing Balance in a World of Opportunity by Ann Lloyd & Erica Gotow
- Don’t Worry About College by John Taylor Gatto
And here is an article that details why and how unschooled young people will flourish in the working world.
by Wendy Priesnitz, Editor of Life Learning Magazine
There’s an Albert Einstein quote: “Everybody is a genius. But if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will spend its whole life believing that it is stupid.” I thought of it as I read a tiny new Canadian study (overview is here) comparing schooled kids to homeschooled and unschooled kids.
The twelve unstructured homeschoolers did poorly on those standardized tests. Of course! Those fish in a tree-climbing competition were bound to lose the race. The question for me is: Why were they involved in the first place? The whole premise of “unschooling” is that learning happens as a result of the learner’s interest, rather than somebody else’s agenda or timeline, and doesn’t rely on testing or accountability to anyone but the learner. The researchers do give a nod to that, wondering if “the children receiving unstructured homeschooling” might eventually “catch up or surpass their peers given ample time.” But they don’t say if they want to study that. (Nor do they say if the unschooled kids were coached in testing writing techniques, which is important, since testing tests test-taking skill as much as anything.)
Such studies happen because academics believe that academic achievement – that is, the best performance on standardized tests – is desirable. These particular researchers define the goal of both schooling and homeschooling as “accelerating a child’s learning process.” Although they make much of the fact that “very few independent (i.e. nonpartisan) studies have focused on the academic achievements associated with home education” and that their study “was conducted by an independent research body that has no ties to homeschooling organisations,” they don’t understand that they are not “nonpartisan.” They work at academic institutions that are obviously biased toward, well, academic institutions. Like school.
I will be happy when someone designs a study using unschooled kids as the norm and figures out how to measure schooled kids against that. I’m not holding my breath; there’s too much money at risk in the school industry to have someone prove schools don’t need to exist.
(cross posted from Wendy’s blog)