I don’t really want to get up on my soap box at this time of the evening but I am needing to post in response to unschooling in the media lately. My knees are way too stiff for that and I’m feeling pretty tired but sometimes you’ve just got to push the old knee bones and make the climb to the top of the box and suffer the painful consequences later on.

OK, I’ve made it up onto my box. The climb wasn’t that bad.

I think the frustration I’m feeling has given me the adrenalin to dull the knee pain. So, be warned, I’m going to be having a little rant about unschooling in the media. Have you noticed there’s been a bit of it around lately?  Before Christmas last year unschooling wasn’t really heard of much. But since then something’s got into the media’s little ear about it and now they have the need to share it with the world – through their own coloured glasses of course.

The Project was one of the media sources used to poorly explain unschooling. I don’t normally watch it but as I was meandering my way through facebook one day, a few weeks or so ago,  I happened upon the unschooling report they did. I couldn’t not talk about it. The Project did some heavy duty editing. Of course they did. That’s what the media loves to do. They will taint a report with whatever brush they see fit. Unschooling was never going to be tainted with the ‘good choice’ brush.

My main problem with it was more that unschooling wasn’t portrayed properly at all. It was made to look like parents just letting their kids do whatever they want all day long and the parents not really even knowing what the kids are or are not learning. That’s simply not unschooling. Unschooling is parents and kids side by side. It’s connected.

Unschooling was also portrayed as being a child led approach to learning. That’s not unschooling either. It’s always, first and foremost, family-led. The needs of the entire family are the priority not one individuals. So there’s a lot of discussion and negotiating and problem solving that goes on within the family.

It’s also not a ‘hands off’ approach to parenting and learning. It’s not ‘do whatever you like without any parental suggestion’s’. As unschooling parents we are constantly thinking about our child and their needs and we are always mindful of providing an environment that will help our children flourish and get the most out of all of their learning situations. Unschooling parents certainly don’t think “Oh well, if our kids learn to read or not it doesn’t bother me.’ far from it. We want our children to have the same opportunities as everyone else wants for their kids. Of course we want them to read and write and be able to add up and take away. We want our kids to be able to go to uni if they want to and to get good jobs and all of the things people who send their kids to school want for their kids. It’s just we see that life is so full to the brim of learning opportunities that we know they will learn all of these things and much more without the same measures school takes to get kids to learn stuff.

If our homes are not filled with books and reading material. And if our kids don’t see us as readers and lovers of the written word. If they don’t see us adding up and subtracting and writing lists and letter (emails!) and doing all of those things to help children become literate and able to add up and use maths in a practical sense – well if they don’t see adults in their lives doing this outside of school as well, then they are not going to thrive in this society. Of course. That’s a no brainer.

If we see our kids struggling with reading or writing or anything like that we are quick to help them. We are there to let them know what we are feeling too – if we notice our child struggling with spelling then we suggest a few ideas that could help that child get better and find spelling easier. We certainly don’t leave them to their own devices to figure it all out on their own. We care that they learn to write and read and spell and do maths. We just know they will learn these things much more naturally and happily if it comes from them and not from an imposed position. We know that contextualised learning has far more impact than any other sort of learning does.

I’ve had lots of conversations with Lew about his spelling and reading and maths. He’s never been into the typical academics of learning, though some unschoolers are. He’s naturally more drawn to art and creative stuff and drawing. He loves the outdoors and wildlife. He’s also an avid gamer and movie review reader and watcher. So through all of his interests over the years I’ve made a huge effort to tune in to what he’s doing and see where he’s learning to read and write and add up and notice those developments. I have seen issues for him too when he’s struggled with those things at times. We’ve talked about them. I’ve shared with him ideas that I have about improving those things. He’s tried them. He’s still trying them. Actually he’s more ready now, at 13, to improve  his spelling than ever before. Why? Because he has a greater need to spell and write and convey meaning through the written word.

I’m certainly not the world’s best unschooling parent. I’ve had my days, especially in Lew’s early years, where I’ve  done my share of manipulating and pushing and forcing  when I’ve felt desperate or overly worried – usually  after some well-meaning friend or family member or even stranger in the street has passed a judgement or two about unschooling. I can tell you that when I’m having those not so good unschooling days it  doesn’t help Lew in any way. Pressure doesn’t help him. Shaming doesn’t help him. Forcing doesn’t help him. What does help him is a kind word and sitting by him and helping him work through his stuff. Encouraging him to have a go and not to worry about being perfect. Focussing on his interests and the things he’s good at has helped him flourish and grow and develop. Nurturing his passions and showing a real and genuine interest in his life has been the most helpful thing I have been able to offer Lew throughout his childhood. Again, I’m not always good at it. I’m not always as nurturing as I need to be. I’m not always as supportive and attentive and interested. Life is like that. But on the whole I’ve tried to be all of those things, as much as possible and I can see wonderful results because of it.

I digress.

Back to my hackles. The main reason for me wanting to have a bit of an unschooling rant here though was the statements made by a man called Dr David Zyngier. He keeps appearing on unschooling docos and reports and I have no idea where they found him but I have to wonder what on earth the reporters of these shows were thinking. One of the statements  Dr Zyngier made was a totally ridiculous one where he referred to unschooled children as being ‘prisoners in their own homes’. What? What planet is he on? To refer to homeschooled children as prisoners is just ludicrous. I don’t want to do any school-bashing here. I’m not an anti-schooler and I believe that school obviously has a place in our society but, talking about prisons and all, our local high school, like so many others around the country, has a 7 foot black metal fence all the way around it. The kids have to attend there from 9 am to 3 pm. They have to have a pass to leave the school grounds. They have to have a note to say why they were absent if they have a day off and explain their illness if they have been sick. They have to put their hands up to ask or answer a question or ask to go to the toilet. They have to line up. They have lunch and recess at specific times of the day which are mentioned to them via a loud buzzer. How unschooling gets compared to prison with no mention of institutionalised learning looking a little prison-ified is laughable at the very, very least.

Dr Zyngier also makes some ridiculous statements about learning to read. I was stunned beyond belief to hear a so called Dr of Pedagogy {the method and practice of teaching for lay people} say that children need to have access to a ‘well skilled, well trained professional to be able to do that properly.’ I would be absolutely surprised out of my skin if the Department of Education or the Board of Studies agreed with Dr Zyngier on this one. As a teacher in schools during the 1990’s I most certainly did not hold that view nor did many of my colleagues nor the university lecturers I was mentored by during my teaching training and post grad training. Brian Camborne, one of Australia’s most eminent researchers of literacy and learning, doesn’t believe it. Neither does Mem Fox, well known Australian writer of children’s literature and once Associate Professor of Literacy Studies, in the School of Education at Flinders University.  Paul Jennings has written about learning to read too and he certainly wouldn’t go along with Dr Zyngier.  I could go on listing other university lecturers and ‘professionals’ in the academic field of pedagogy who would also have an issue with David Zyngier’s ridiculous statements about how children learn and in particular, how they learn to read. But I won’t bore you with such a list. It would have been nice to show Dr Zyngier all of the statistics that prove different to his theory about reading.

My own son is an example of a child who was never ‘taught’ to learn to read. Yet, shock horror, he can read! The majority of our local home schooling group are children who were never ‘taught’ reading but all read none the less. What about the kids who learn to read before they go to school? What’s David Zyngier’s opinion on them? And what about the kids who have been taught to the hilt in schools by these well skilled, well trained professionals who struggle to learn to read? I have a lot to say about how children learn. So too does John Holt, founder of the unschooling movement.This is not the post for that. When a so-called ‘well skilled, well trained professional’ gets on national television and makes claims about unschooing and claims about how children learn that are simply not correct my hackles get a little raised and my fingers magnetise to the keyboard until my rant is over. I couldn’t sit back and pretend I didn’t hear it. It’s just that annoying.

Rant over. For now.

Kim x