Chris Corrigan wrote about his experience of unschooling a few days ago and his post still sticks in my mind. It raises a profound challenge to many conventional ideas about how we learn. Chris is home schooling his children and talks about the value of letting them learn at their own pace and on their own initiative. His daughter came late to reading, in contrast his son started early:
My son on the other hand is the opposite. He hasn’t really cared much for audio books, but for the last year he has been intently handling Tintin books and he’s been read to, and just in the last few weeks, it appears that he can now read some pretty sophisticated stuff by himself. He hasn’t been taught to read. He has just sat with the materials, watched the practice and let it seep in. He wanted to know what Tintin and Captain Haddock were saying to one another, and now he knows.
I love that notion of learning by absorption rather than being taught. Chris says his family are auto-didacts (self-teachers)… I think that probably a lot of us are, but don’t quite notice as we get so distracted by the more accepted schoolroom model. When I facilitate, time and again, I realise how people make very different meanings out of a common stimulus, and we’re actually a long way removed from the notion of empty brains to be filled with expert content.
But I think it depends on your view of education: whether you think that the true end and purpose of education is to help children grow up, compete and face the economic challenges of a global environment that we’re going to face in the 21st century, or whether you think it’s to do with helping them see that they are the true heirs and inheritors of the riches – the philosophical, the artistic, the scientific, the literary riches – of the whole world. If you believe in setting children’s minds alive and ablaze with excitement and passion or whether it’s a matter of filling them with facts and testing on them. It depends on your vision of education – and I know which one I’d go for.