Wednesday, February 15, 2006

Homeschooling with Gentleness: A Catholic Discovers Unschooling

by Suzie Andres, preface by Ralph McInerny (impressive!)
2004, Christendom College Press, 133 pages, Catholic
ISBN: 0931888794

I'm about halfway through this book (it's a quick and interesting read). I picked this up in order to better understand the concept of unschooling in order to fairly represent it on the website and in talks and such. I don't agree with everything (when do I ever?!), but I was surprised how much of myself I saw in the book. A number of the thoughts and ideas are things I've thought and followed and experienced. I think perhaps all (or most) homeschoolers are unschoolers to some degree. Here are some thoughts I wanted to save, or at least think about more:

"Homeschooling is far superior to compulsory schooling because the former can keep the child's welfare at the forefront, while the latter generally sacrifices the good of the individual child for some other nebulous good." (pg. 3)

I, personally, wouldn't have made this statement quite so strong, at least in not quite this way. I would lean toward "Homeschooling, conceptually, is superior to compulsory schooling..."; nevertheless an important concept is highlighted here - the idea of handling the needs of the individual child. Homeschooling clearly has some advantages in this department.

What is unschooling?

"unschooling now generally refers to a specific style of homeschooling, in which learning is not separated from living, and children learn mainly by following their own interests." (pg. 11)

"Unschooling is a form of education in which the child is trusted to be the primary agent in learning what he needs to know to lead him to happiness." (pg. 12)

"The parents assume the role of secondary agents, meaning that they do not forsake their duties in their child's education, but rather they recognize and honor his natural ability to learn. They do not ignore the child, or refuse to guide him. Instead they allow him a leading role in his education, placing more emphasis on his learning than on their teaching." (pg. 12)

"This essential aspect of unschooling is similar to the principle of 'masterly inactivity'...This means not stepping in, taking initiative away from the child. Let the child reap the natural consequences of his actions..." (pg. 13)

"I can sum up in five to seven words what I eventually learned as a teacher. The seven-word version is: Learning is not the product of teaching. The five-word version is: Teaching does not make learning. As I mentioned before, organized education operates on the assumption that children learn only when and only what and only because we teach them." (pg. 17 - quoting from Holt)

"Hence they can become primary agents in their education, and within a nurturing friendly environment they will learn. (pg. 18)

"We can sum up very quickly what people need to teach their own children. First of all, they have to like them, enjoy their company, their physical presence, their energy, foolishness, and passion. They have to enjoy all their talk and questions, and enjoy equally trying to answer those questions...They have to feel in their own hearts some of their children's wonder, curiosity, and excitement about the world. And they have to have enough confidence in themselves, skepticism about experts, and willingness to be different from most people, to take on themselves the responsibility for their children's learning... [children] need access. They need a chance, sometimes, for honest, serious, unhurried talk; or sometimes, for joking, play, and foolishness; or sometimes, for tenderness, sympathy and comfort." (pg. 28 - quoting from Holt)

I really like this last quote. Certainly good parenting advice. Reminds me of my own parents!

Observation and Gentle Guidance (some of this reminds me of Montessori and Charlotte Mason)...

"...In this way children can be slowly drawn, at higher and higher levels of energy, commitment, and skill, in to more and more serious and worthwhile adult activities." (pg. 30 - quoting from Holt)

"Like a naturalist, an observant parent will be alert both to small clues and to large patterns of behavior." (pg. 30 - quoting from Holt)

Note: while quoting frequently from Holt and finding value in many of his writings, the author does have some general caveats and doesn't recommend everything he writes.

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