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Do We Need Schools?

Do We Need Schools?
Traditional education may be loosing ground as Unschooling knocks the door...Photo by Anja

When I recall my school years, it seems to me that all we, children, were doing is reading, writing, learning by heart, practicing and sitting at the desk either at school or at home while time to spend playing with friends was vanishing with every passing year. I can hardly remember my own self without a book in my hands. Modern children have even less spare time, with school lasting from early morning till late afternoon and avalanching after school activities. Remaining minutes are packed with computer games and web based socializing.

The first teachers of every child, voluntarily or not, are his or her parents, who in turn were taught by theirs and so on back in history of humanity. This would sound logic if I say that anyone can only teach something they know themselves. Generations have been brought up utilizing conventional way of upbringing and education. From time to time there were some outstanding philosophers or innovators, whose views and ideas were little or not understood. They would have been more or less successful in advancing their philosophy, depending on their passion, strength, and ability to convince people in the truth of their statements.

Undoubtedly, most normal parents are concerned with their children’s future, which is in general believed to start with learning. Children are born having only reflexes and here it starts: how to eat from spoon and drink from cup, how to walk and talk, even how to react to different circumstances. We read them the books and fairy tales, we’ve been grown upon. And this lasts until they turn school age when we reassign their education to school teachers, people hardly knowing them and their strength and weaknesses, their favorite colors and flings.

The major question to ask is whether the learning beyond general habits should be the sort we are all used to through the generations: 2+2=4 and mom is spelled as M-O-T-H-E-R? There is no big choice and negotiations are not allowed. Kids are literally forced to accept what they are fed with. We pack our kids’ brains with loads of information, which might not be even needed for their future as an adult. Young children might be not educated per se, but they are naturally curious, intuitively literate and insightful and they learn with ease something they are interested in, totally ignoring the topics, which are out of their area of interest.

Unschooling, which is sometimes called fun-schooling, can be one of such approaches, where learning is not so much of a goal, but sort of a by-product of child’s everyday activities revolving around his or her interests. Certainly it is not about sitting in the classroom with other kids, trying to keep calm and carefully listening to the teacher to make sure you have not missed anything, which might be asked afterwards.

My daughter learnt reading at the age of 4, while I had no slightest idea that she had. I just recall her asking from time to time how to read this or that letter. One day she took a book and said “I am going to read now”. I thought it was meant to be some kind of a game, her turning over the pages and narrating one of the fairy tales I’d been reading to her. All of a sudden I have realized that she was indeed READING. I was astonished and started questioning her and she just explained that she really wanted to know what was written there in the books on the shelves of her older brother room, which nobody would read to her.

Of course it is possible to enthrall children with something they are not really interested in, but then the most important is to choose the correct and delicate approach, for what would happen to children natural thirst for exploring the universe when we chain them to the desk and make them learn by heart from books the way the universe is arranged?

Unschooling, which is sometimes called fun-schooling, can be one of such approaches, where learning is not so much of a goal, but sort of a by-product of child’s everyday activities revolving around his or her interests. Certainly it is not about sitting in the classroom with other kids, trying to keep calm and carefully listening to the teacher to make sure you have not missed anything, which might be asked afterwards.

One of the huge advantages of the unschooling is that children are learning all the time, not only from 9 till 5: they naturally identify their area of interest, find out the best way and resources required for studying, even set up routine if they feel it is necessary…just like any adult, willing to learn something, would do. So, why children should act different?

One of my favorite writers, Gerald Durrell, was practically unschooled when he was a young boy, with his family constantly arguing about the necessity of formal education. Gerald’s older brother would say about Gerald’s passion for flora and fauna that it is “just temporary and will pass when he is grown”, that he needs to learn math, literature, geography, history etc. etc. etc., while their mother would respond, that “his passion for flora and faunal started when he was 2 years old and the end does not seem to be any nearer after so many years”. When they returned to England at the end of 1930th, Gerald discovered how difficult it was to find a job at that pre-war period, but he just followed his interest and started working as a helper at pet stores, zoo, and wildlife collecting expeditions, constantly learning and deepening his knowledge of the favorite subjects.Over the lifetime, he became one of the most famous naturalists and zookeepers. He is known as the founder of the Durrell Wildlife Conservation Trust, and the Durrell Wildlife Park, wrote tens of hilarious books, which, by the way, have huge amount of scientific information in them.

There, certainly, are pros and cons, fans and mortal enemies of traditional education and unschooling. However, recent times demonstrated more and more supporters to the latter. It is not easy, in fact – it is very difficult to break stereotypes and bring oneself to this decision. The major thought to follow while doing so is that your unschooled child is brought up fully prepared for future, for he or she will be life-time learners, teaching themselves, rather than waiting for somebody to teach them.

The only thing needed is to know the criteria, making unschooling a success, such as parent involvement level depending on particular child character and peculiarity, resources availability, involvement of a child or the whole family into socializing activities and access to a broad audience and psychological strength of parents, following their decision regardless of many objections of the traditional education stalwarts to bring up well educated, happy and all-sufficient person.

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