a community for home and unschooled kids

“It is hard to swim against the current and risk the negative judgments of parenting peers. Yet, some do, and if enough begin to swim upstream, the river may change its flow.” –Peter Gray, Free to Learn

Thats what we are doing. Bravely and confidently we are swimming up-stream, embarking on a new adventure for educating children. We are doing this because we truly believe that the current systems of mainstream education are fundamentally ‘not working’ for the diversity of all children. There comes a time when it become necessary to move away from what has been done before if it doesn’t innately feel right to be moving in that direction anymore.

“Today most people think of childhood and schooling as indelibly entwined. We identify children by their grade in school. We automatically think of learning as work, which children must be forced to do in special workplaces, schools, modeled after factories. All this seems completely normal to us, because we see it everywhere. We rarely stop to think about how new and unnatural all this is in the larger context of human evolution and how it emerged from a bleak period in our history that was marked by child labor and beliefs in children’s innate sinfulness. We have forgotten that children are designed by nature to learn through self-directed play and exploration, and so, more and more, we deprive them of freedom to learn, subjecting them instead to the tedious and painfully slow learning methods devised by those who run the schools.” –Peter GrayFree to Learn

We are beginning a community for home and unschoolers to come together. We are creating such a place  ourselves because there are no such facilities for kids to regularly be together, who are on these new paradigms of education. And even though, I’m referring to this path of education as ‘new’, it’s really not ‘new’ at all. Free to learn schools have been around and successfully operating since The Summerhill School was first founded in 1921.  This model of schooling, whilst now is still seen as ‘radicle’ and alternative, is what I believe our futuristic education models will be based on and the direction they will begin to move in, eventually.  Why do i think this? Because there is a movement towards this. Parents are not content with the old system because children are not content within the system. It has become clear to those ready to see it, just how much children have outgrown the system already and how exceptionally hard it is to keep themselves ‘happy’ within it. This is why they can’t sit still. This is why we have more diagnosed ADHD now than ever before. If children were free to move, speak, play, eat, rest, run and even shout as their bodies needed,  ADHD wouldn’t be a problem. It wouldn’t need to be medicated. It probably wouldn’t even be noticed. Then the masses of children referred to as having “abnormal behaviours” thereupon become “normal” children once again. If you believe there is such thing that is.

Our idea for education is free from conformity, free from authoritarian fear based learning. Our community will fundamentally from a grass-roots level wholeheartedly trust children in their abilities to know what it is they need to learn about  without being restricted by the confinements of their age. Much the same way we trust toddlers will begin to talk by themselves. We don’t sit them down for hours of instruction, to teach them the spoken word. We just live, talk and play with them, and we instinctively know that the words will form by themselves and in time will be mastered, when they are ready of course.   Children learn better through experience, most would agree with this. If you can offer children experience in what interests them, they not only will learn about it more authentically but more important it facilitates the way for a love of learning. So much of ‘mainstream’ school is, consciously or not working against this philosophy.

“Human beings have been sharing information and skills, and passing along to their children whatever they knew, for about a million years now. Along the way they have built some very complicated and highly skilled societies. During all those years there were very few teachers in the sense of people whose only work was teaching others what they knew. And until very recently there were no people at all who were trained in teaching, as such. People always understood, sensibly enough, that before you could teach something you had to know it yourself. But only very recently did human beings get the extraordinary notion that in order to be able to teach what you knew you had to spend years being taught how to teach.” -John Holt, Teach Your Own

There is a saying “If there’s a book that you want to read, but it hasn’t been written yet, then you must write it.” [Tony Morrison] Thats what we are doing. We are rewriting the story. We will do this because we are a small part of an important movement that knows we must because it has become vitally necessary for the well being of our children.

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schools of trust

“Like cattle most humans live and die in passive subjection..We live lives locked into narrow patterns, often filled with great suffering and it never occurs to us that we can actually become free.” -Samadhi

“My dream of course is that we give up these dreadful authoritarian prescribed hateful state systems that clearly everybody agrees.. are obviously failing..”[Derry Hannam, retired school inspector]  We are so afraid of giving children the freedom they deserve in being the driving force for their own education, that we are doing them an incredible injustice in their opportunities for true learning and for their lives.  This is not what children want or need anymore and It is not what is valuable for our futuristic world either.

“We need young people who are independent, who are responsible for themselves,…who can work without strict leadership, we need young people and employees who can think outside of the box. Thats what we need. Everything that our schools don’t allow. It what companies need. It’s what science needs. Its whats needed everywhere.”  [ Jesper Juul, author ]

Why I won’t force my son to stay in school

 

” I think i’m getting dumber”.

This is the statement my 15 year old son made to me one day after walking in the door after school. So my question is, what are ‘they’ doing to make him feel this way about his own intelligence? Why is my son no longer feeling capable?  This is not the way he feels about himself outside of those school walls.

We send our children with enormous amounts of trust into these school domains that have become by law.  We  place our trust in allowing other people, to mould and influence our children’s own innate belief systems because we have been enticed into believing that this is the only way that they will be able to successfully make it out there in the ‘real world’.  We  have been led to believe that they are the better ones or rather ‘only’ ones who know how to provide them with the knowledge and experience that they are going to need.  These notions are ludicrous. This is an old story. And it does not fit our world anymore. Parents are afraid to change it, children are becoming unable to stay within it.

I have seen children unravelling, questioning everything they thought to be true about themselves. I have seen their sense of worth be so diminished by this system that it’s frightening. Our children are never born into this world feeling about life or themselves in this way. So why do they get to 15 and suddenly feel hopeless? Why are they questioning their worthiness within the school domain and worse, then how they’ll make it in their lives outside of school?  Suddenly this place that they have only ever known and trusted (because we said to) since they were five, no longer feels good to them? This place no longer wants them, if they cannot provide them with the highest scores, and grandest achievements and keep themselves from questioning anything. The school domain begins this subtle elimination process early, while young minds are still susceptible to easy manipulation. They question 14 year olds about what path they are considering taking in their educational futures? Are you staying or are you going? As if they are meant to be considering it at all? Aren’t they ALL allowed to stay? The system works out who is worth supporting through to the end and who should be sent packing towards other avenues. These  avenues that are suggested usually feel to the students like the road the ‘dumb kids’ take. Of course, they aren’t but the fact is, that this is the perception that has been created by the system.   The message isn’t even hidden, it’s said directly. [Maths teacher] Are you taking Maths next year? [15 year old]  Yes Why? I’m good at Maths. [teacher] You might want to reconsider that choice.

The system is old, the story is old, it doesn’t work, it most likely never did. We are so far behind our children, that we can’t keep up, and they can’t sit still anymore. Conformity and confinement to uncomfortable conditions in rooms is cruel.  Tables with hard chairs, textbooks and dictation is not working. Trying to control this situation with imposing punishments or worse medication to fit this dynamic, is unquestionably not the answer. The system cannot be reformed,  the story must be transformed.  Learning is innate. Learning and creating is a every human beings right, they will do this without force, if we let them. Possibly, it’s time to begin listening to these young minds and what they are wanting to learn for themselves, instead of dictating an outdated curriculum and insisting that it is what they will need for their future ‘survival’. How can we possibly even know this? We could instead be supporting their innovativeness and their desires to explore and create around their own interests. We could be assisting their learning by trusting them to know what supports it is that they need, instead of compelling them to abide by a support system that is failing to adequately support them anyway.  If our education systems can move towards more agile learning environments with, student-directed programs rather than the enforced dictatorship we currently have; then possibly our young minds operating within these systems can begin to start thriving instead of merely surviving.

 

Fear and Failure

He is not stupid. In spite of his nervousness and anxiety, he is curious about some things, bright, enthusiastic, perceptive, and in his writing highly imaginative. But he is literally, scared out of his wits. He cannot learn math because his mind moves so slowly from one though to another that the connections between them are lost. His memory does not hold what he learns, above all else because he wont trust it. Every day he must figure out, all over again, that 9 + 7 = 16, because how can he be sure that it has not changed, or that he has not made another endless series of mistakes? How can you trust any of your own thoughts when so many of them have proved to be wrong? I can see no kind of life for him unless he can break out of the circle of failure, discouragement, and fear in which he is trapped in. .. Worst of all, I’m not sure that we, his elders really want him to break out. It is no accident that this boy is afraid. We have made him afraid, consciously, deliberately, so that we might more easily control his behaviour and get him to do whatever we wanted him to do. ….They get bold and sassy; they may for a while try to give a had time to those adults who for so long have been giving them had time. So to keep him in his place, to please the school and his parents, I have to make him fearful again. The freedom of fear that i try to give from one hand I almost instantly take away with the other. What sense does this make? –John Holt, How Children Fail, 1962

Fear and Failure. I know this is not how we should be viewing our school system to be. However, it has been hard to see anything else that has been more unvarying than the fear and failure that has been systematically instilled into the belief system of my son during his ten years in the mainstream school system. I know there is nothing unique about our experience, that’s the sad truth about it.   We have been at a cross roads many times. Do we stay, do we to leave, do we try another school, only to return to the one that has had the greatest detriment of all. The one where, the reinforcing has become so great that there’s almost a complacency about it. What he has is a comfortable character there, he is well liked because he is a great person, but they’ve looked passed his innate potential because they have already successfully redefined it. I have watched the influences of the educators on my sons well-being over the years carefully. Trying to counteract the messages i could see being instilled and taking effect.  I have watched them change his mind on what he now believes to be true for himself. There will be so much undoing of school to do, when we finally make it and that is if we do. There has been little to no choice of this playing out any other way. An alternative way has never been an option that we have ever had the means to take. We have had to rely on and trust our State System. There simply is no choice for parents wanting to choose where their children should be educated if finances are playing a large component.  That is our system, and the fact is, schools are funded not children. Possibly the idea of funding children rather than schools would free up this predicament, and give parents the choice to choose the best education facility for their child’s unique learning style. Freedom of choice, is not what we have now. What we have now, is a system in such dire restraint that its powerfully failing Australian Children.

The idea that children won’t learn without outside rewards and penalties, or in the debased jargon of the behaviorist, “positive and negative reinforcements,” usually becomes a self for filling prophecy. If we treat children long enough as if that were true, they will come to believe it is true. So many people have said to me ” if we didn’t make the children do things, they wouldn’t do anything.” It is the creed of a slave. John Holt, How Children Fail

 

true learning

“One is that school and society have programmed us to think our personal worth depends on how we are evaluated by others, and that our status is defined by our rank within an institution or society. Another very important habit that needs eliminating is thinking: ‘Life is a process of graduating from one externally-provided program to the next.’ – Conrad P. Pritscher, Einstein and Zen 

I am at ease with my children taking the lead when it comes to what they are wanting to do. I simply don’t feel that there should be any rush towards any one objective that needs to be reached in a particular time frame. I am not holding their development to any preconceived ideas of what they should know. This is not the way i have always moved. For the most part i have been a follower of the ‘normalised route’ when it comes to educating children.  Had it not been for the witnessing of the unfolding of my older children’s educational experience, it’s highly likely that i still would be following the more ‘traditional’ paths so many are accustomed to. Are we primitive in our thoughts about this process? Are we at the stage where we are willing to question it yet?  Or, does is it seem too big, too hard to fathom, that possibly this system that is so heavy relied upon and trusted, could in fact be far more detrimental to our children’s spirits and abilities to learn than we are willing to admit.  I’m not entirely sure what exactly or who rather that we are entrusting them to anymore.  It seems it is somewhat a political game, and is far from focused on the intricate details of what is required for children to thrive in their learning spaces. Our children are spending the greater part of their childhood growing within this system. It would be somewhat naive, if you believe that during this time, that they’re not being deeply shaped and affected by those who they are surrounded by in their day to day lives.  The greater part of children’s productive waking time is spent within the school domain, and as unsettling as it may be, the predominate influence in regards to what children believe about themselves and their abilities to learn has become that of their educators and peers. Children are taught very quickly that mistakes are wrong to make, that making mistakes will amount to failure, and failure inevitably is how they will learn to feel about themselves. This message is undeniable and very difficult for a parent to convince them of otherwise when the message is reinforced again and again over long periods of time. It’s a familiar pattern in modern teaching now, it’s become normalised and is somewhat expected.  Whether or not we should be accepting it for our children, is the question that we should be asking now.

“Once compulsory systems of state-run schools were established, they became increasingly standardized, both in content and in method. For the sake of efficiency, children were divided into separate classrooms by age and passed along, from grade to grade, like products on an assembly line. The task of each teacher was to add bits of officially approved knowledge to the product, in accordance with a preplanned schedule, and then to test that product before passing it on to the next station.” –Peter Gray, Free to learn

 

raising outrageously tall poppies of a new kind

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I am outrageously passionate about learning but not so passionate about schooling.

I have wild ones, that i am certain of.  Anyone who knows them well enough would find it hard to disagree.  It is true, that my little ones have the freedom to be as they are in all of their delightful and not so delightful shades. And it is true as a mother that i have recognised early what will and will not work for them without greatly effecting their inherent selves.  This has taken us on a path that is  undoubtably moving us away from any of the traditionalism that is usually expected right now at their ages. However, I am no longer really interested into moulding them into something that resembles little to who they are, for the sake of somebody elses idea of what they should be doing. The more I leave them alone, to follow their own guidance, the more i am recognising that they are always discovering and learning exactly what they need to be at precisely the right time for them. I cannot imagine these two little ones thriving in traditional school setting. My youngest would without a doubt conquer her experience if she was to embark on the mainstream schooling path.  She would surly learn quickly to play by the rules and manipulate the system well. I’m certain she would challenge where she deemed necessary and the probability of this occurring more often than not would be high.  She would absolutely, unquestionably survive the system. Except, to survive I’m afraid is no longer adequately enough. In every other part of our lives we are living truthfully, not measuring ourselves or abilities by any other person or methodical method. We are not comparing, justifying or compromising our selves. Most importantly we are not trying to please any one else’s expectations. And so much of education has been built around this calibre. Children are forever trying to please, do it the right way, the way that gets them the most praise and recognition. For what?  They are taught early that what other people think, matters more than their own innate inclinations and i wonder is that really what we are wanting our children to believe? That they don’t matter as much as the one who stands before them. The one who has taken a more conventional path, the one who is older, the one who has a higher degree, the one who has a larger bank balance, the one who was born male?  This familiar notion could go on forever.  Disregarding our own guidance to please somebody elses ideas for what they deem to be right.  I’m clear that my children were not born to please me or anyone else for that matter. Their lives are theirs to mould into what ever shape they desire, even at the ages of four and five. Their ‘wildness’ is inherently their own. Following this path of learning and living has been easier and come more naturally than any other orchestrated path we have followed before. This path is natural learning, a more natural education. It allows my children to show up fully in the truth of who they are. They don’t need to hide behind masks or pretend to be or like anything that they don’t.  It teaches them to speak their truth, and maybe when they are older they will be less afraid of this, especially if their notions lend themselves towards raising a little controversy.