Last year my wife Antonella and I decided to unschool Captain Miles. While thinking and talking about the process I think we came up with a few loose principles that might help guide our approach (though Anto probably has a different, more intelligent take and will hopefully blog her vision soon).
1) We weren’t going to be didactic or preachy about the decision. I want to talk about the practice at the same time I think about its larger cultural and political implications. This is first and foremost an experiment for our family, we want to have fun with it and once it becomes a psychic burden for whatever reason we’re open to reconsidering any and all options.
2) There will be no curriculum. None. Period. To home school seems to me to defeat the purpose of the experiment, and for us allowing as much freedom as possible for all of us to share and learn is crucial. What’s more, we want to make a concerted effort to meet other unschoolers (or not unschoolers) and embed ourselves within a series of networked relations both in person and online.
3) Unschooling for us need not be understood as some repudiation of the public trust, or public schools. Nor need it be understood in the stark, divisive terms of institutions need to be gutted, rather it is an attempt to create some critical distance from one institution in particular we both care deeply about: public education. Fact is, on a daily basis we depend upon all kinds of public institutions to carry out this process: the local libraries (which are amazing), the University of Mary Washington (for both flexibility and my paycheck), as well as the innumerable people at innumerable institutions who share things with us all the time. For too long the annoying “but you’re at an institution” shot lodged at me and many others (with some justification) has failed to take into account just how vital many of these institutions are to the public trust and the future of our culture. I want to think this through, while at the same time moving away from empty rhetoric and stepping into the light of praxis.
Unschooling in our particular cultural moment is often framed as a privilege, and while that is true to some large degree I think it is also a series of choices and sacrifices for anyone who does it. And while some of them are financial, both Anto and I believe this vantage point has become an almost blanket excuse not to consider the alternatives—and it remains deeply rooted in so many of the cultural values of invidious distinctions, conspicuous consumption, and the mortgaged value system of a “comfortable, middle-class life.” So while certainly a privilege, it is also a very real choice about the idea of this thing we call school. And by extension such an occasion provides the opportunity for all of us to explore some of the assumptions undergirding our education system in an attempt to think through things as both individuals, a family, and hopefully a much larger network.
In fact, what inspired me to write this post in the first place is not only how unbelievably awesome Antonella has been with the whole endeavor, but just how this may provide some sense of self, some idea of awareness for all of us, particularly the kids, about what is possible and how education is not a series of protocol, assignments, and grades—but a shared attitude towards the culture and our world. And this video Anto and I watched on YouTube this week brought it all home for me in the brilliant words of an adolescent Emi, who insights and sense of self seem to me to embody the ideals of what all education (institutional or otherwise) should shoot for.
And how #ds106 ties into all of this, well that is space for a whole series of posts 🙂