I am a reader by nature, or maybe by nurture (as in, I learned my school-lessons well, perhaps a little too well.) My first instinct, when confronted with a problem, is to read. Then I talk to others investigating and walking the same path or asking the same questions. Then I read some more. I have been accused of over-thinking, and as I grow older I often agree with those critiques of my habits of learning. But I am, at almost fifty, unlikely to eschew reading about a subject to help me in my investigations of life, learning, and love. With that caveat in mind, what follows are some books to read and some videos to watch to help you get into an deschooling mindset.
Please note: I am not listing reading/movies here to convince you to homeschool or unschool in a particular way or for a particular reason. What I am outlining here is a collection of thought-provoking reads (and watches) about how school (and the mindset around school) creates habits in all of us that are debilitating to a life fully-lived, to enthusiastic and joyful learning, and to a basic freedom from other people's thoughts about how we construct our own life. I am also giving you opportunities to explore options to a life lived dominated by school. This list is not complete by any stretch of the imagination. It is merely a list of things that jolted me forward in my deschooling path at one point or another in the last fifteen-ish years I've been on this path. These are works *I* have been reading, people *I* have been following, but should not be considered some sort of definitive list. This is just one person's guide.
Classics on Schooling
Author: Ivan Illich
Book: Deschooling Society, (1971)
It is really hard to describe who Illich was, other than insanely intelligent. Seriously, just read his Wikipedia entry if you want to be intimidated by someone's intelligence. He was born in 1926 (d. 2002), spoke more languages than most Americans will ever hear in their lifetime, traveled widely, lived and studied in Europe, the US, and in Central and South America, and never saw a cultural institution that he couldn't rip apart at the seams. His book, Deschooling Society, should be at the top of your reading list. I once spent six months or so reading all of his major works. You cannot go wrong doing this. Here are some pithy quotes.
Author: John Taylor Gatto:
Books: Dumbing us Down: The Hidden Curriculum of Compulsory Schooling (1992) & The Underground History of American Education (2001).
John Taylor Gatto's Dumbing us Down was the first book I read when I was pregnant with my firstborn and considering homeschooling as a path. He had been a "Teacher of the Year" for New York State at one point, so his street cred was pretty high in my book. The man knew school with all its warts from the inside out. Dumbing Us Down confirmed all of my instincts about my habits of schooling. His second book, The Underground History of American Education, is a scathing look at how compulsory schooling was set up in this country and why. The "why" is the interesting part. And you won't look at the function of school in our culture again in the same way. It is a "red pill or blue pill" moment.
Author: John Holt
Books: How Children Fail (1964); How Children Learn (1967); The Underachieving School (1969); What Do I Do Monday? (1970); Freedom and Beyond (1972); Escape from Childhood (1974); Instead of Education (1976); Never Too Late (1979); Teach Your Own (1981); Learning All the Time (1989); A Life Worth Living (1990)
John Holt had roughly the same lifespan as Ivan Illich. And if you have to pin-point one person who has made the biggest impact on the homeschooling/unschooling movement, I would have to say John Holt is that person. He expands his critique of schooling and moves the conversation to observing children, advocating for children, and seeking understanding about how humans learn, rather than just critiquing the institutions. The books do become rather reiterative at times (I've read them all), but if you only read three of them, read: How Children Fail, How Children Learn, and Learning all the Time.
Contemporary Critiques of Schooling
Author: Peter Gray
Book: Freedom to Learn: Why Unleashing the Instinct to Play Will Make Our Children Happier, More Self-Reliant, and Better Students for Life
Blog: Psychology Today: Freedom to Learn
Peter Gray is a psychologist who specializes in the effects of schooling on mental health, primarily focused on the role of play in learning (and how reducing play has consequences.) He has famously called schools "prisons," and has done some interesting studies on unschooled children. His work is very thought-provoking, evidence-based, and ethnographically grounded.
Author: Ben Hewitt
Book: Home Grown: Adventures in Parenting off the Beaten Path, Unschooling, and Reconnecting with the Natural World
Blog: Ben Hewitt.net
Ben is the most fun you'll have anywhere reading about how kids learn when they are completely free in their environment. Ben is a seriously talented writer. His two boys have almost an unlimited ability to define how and when they learn, roaming the land in the Northeast Kingdom of Vermont. Reading this book, I had daydreams of moving to Vermont and setting my kids free in the same way. I still dream about it. And his descriptions of his home life, his observations, the seasonal work of being a farmer, what his children do with their time, and how it all weaves together to make a life worth living is inspirational and provides an alternative to the life most of us live. His other books are great too. Read them as well. For the short version of his book, read this article from Outdoor Magazine: We Don't Need No Education
Author: Nikhil Goyal
Book: School's On Trial.
Full disclosure. I have not read this book. It just came out, but everyone is raving about it, so I'm adding it to the list.
Modern Critiques of Culture**
Author: Daniel Quinn
Books: Ishmael, My Ishmael, The Story of "B"
If ever there was a book of fiction that could acutely detail our failing cultural story, this one is it. It lands the nail right on the proverbial head. Ishmael is such a "must read" that we read it out loud in my family (when my kids were big enough to understand it) and talked about what it means together. My son then went on to read My Ishmael (which is written for a teen audience) on his own. Reading Ishmael is another "red pill or blue pill" moment.
Author: Charles Eisenstein
Book: Ascent of Humanity
Website: Charles Eisenstein.net
This book will undermine your belief in the dominant thinking that undergirds every cultural institution: history, technology, education, math, economics, medicine, biology, cosmology. The destruction (and re-construction) is so complete that it remakes your interior world. It took me six months to finish; I had to keep setting it down to ruminate on parts that were so shattering to me. (For a point of reference, I blew through the entire corpus of Game of Thrones in under three months…) He has a few other books that are crazy-good as well: Sacred Economics, The More Beautiful World our Hearts Know is Possible, and the Yoga of Eating.
Author: Gabor Mate
Book: Hold On to Your Kids: Why Parents Need to Matter More Than Peers, co-authored with developmental psychologist Gordon Neufeld, (2004)
Website: Dr. Gabor Mate.com
Gabor Mate is best known for his work on addiction. But attachment theory is the baseline of where his interests lie; attachment (or lack there-of) and how it effects neurological development in children, and the impact that development then has on adults. But attachment, while it changes and morphs after early childhood, is still an important feature in child development through the teen years. Mate's book, Hold on to Your Kids, really struck home with me. I wanted to explore attachment theory in later childhood, since attachment theory had been such a profound influence on how I chose to parent my children when young. What this book helped me see was that deep parent-child attachments are normal even in the teen years. Not just normal, but very important. Our entire understanding of tweens and teens is skewed and mistaken, and we are compounding problems upon problems in our young people. This book will make you revisit your ideas about the idea of "teens" and what is normal.
Author: Wade Davis
Book: The Wayfinders
Website: Wade Davis.com
Do you want to value indigenous ways of knowing and learning? This book will expand your mind in ways you didn't even know it needed to be expanded. And it will make you cry for what we have lost.
Movies and Videos to Watch
People & Ideas to Ease Fears Around College and the Early Adult Transition
To begin, get a copy of Grace Llewelyn's Teen-age Liberation Handbook. Read it with your teen. That's your first resource.
So many people don't follow this homeschooling path because of fears about their children's ability to get into college. People feel if they homeschool or unschool they will be unprepared for life and unable to function in college or even get in into college the first place. First of all, I know MANY homeschooled/unschooled teens who have gone on to college. If your teen wants to go, the path is open to them. I don't want to belabor that point, but your teen might actually be MORE desirable to colleges as a homeschooler if they are academically minded in the first place.
What if they don't want to go to college? Or aren't academically minded?
There are SO MANY alternatives to college as well, and every single day I seem to hear about a new one. Here are some various alternatives and beautiful collaborations springing up, available to young people. Many of these are known to me because I know the creator. There are so so so so many I don't know. This is just a sample.
I'm quite sure I have left many many many places out. Feel free to add other resources in the comments and together we can elevate the possibilities for our young people everywhere.
This is part 3 of a 4 part series. Part 1 can be found here. Part 2 can be found here.
Image Credit: Pete/ Flickr Creative Commons.
** I wanted to add that my cultural critiques don't include things like Marx or writings on anarchy, environmental critiques of cultures, as well as archaeological/anthropological writings on the subject not because I am in ignorance to their existence, but because I don't wish to a) write a book on the subject, and b) delve into political/philosophical debates.
My last post on the habits of schooling is not a new topic by any stretch of the imagination. John Holt identified the habits and emotional responses children have habitually to school in most of his books and essays. Here's an essay of his from 1969. John Taylor Gatto's essays and books on school history and culture (here's one) were catalysts for my own awakening about school way back when. This discussion has been going on for a long time. My insights are not new.
Full disclosure, before I move on. I work with a man named Charles Eisenstein. You may or may not have heard of him, but he's a philosopher and public speaker. He's a story-teller. He's a cultural critic and de-growth activist. And Charles has been interested in how school inculcates the cultural story (what he calls "the old story") into people from the very beginning. This old story is beyond broken and is based upon faulty science and reasoning. And we are destroying the planet because of an almost unquestioned belief in its veracity. Charles and I have been walking a similar path for many years, completely unknown to one another. And finally when we met -- by an amazing sequence of synchronicity some years ago -- it was completely obvious to us both that I should work with him.
Like I said, he's been talking and writing about school, our cultural story, and "new story" education for many years. In 2008, he gave a seminar at the AERO conference titled "Deschooling Ourselves…" Sound familiar? When I wrote my last blog post, I hadn't really remembered this and it wasn't until I went back to look up Charles' work on education that I found it ("VOILA") and listened to it again for the first time in 4 years or so. I realized immediately that it is analogous to my last blog post but in no way reiterative, interestingly enough. The talk and discussion is two hours long -- be warned. The sound is pretty bad on the video, but you can hear Charles well because he has a microphone. I'll outline some of the details here and in future blogs posts on deschooling ourselves so you don't have to work through the video if you don't want to.
The most interesting thing in this AERO conversation, at least to me is the assertion -- completely true I think -- that each "habit" we learn in school has a mirror image of rebellion, and that the rebellious act --when done automatically and unthinkingly -- is just as much a habit of schooling as the more obvious trained habits I discussed in my last post.
Here are some examples:
Habit: Needing to be on time Reactive Habit: Habitual tardiness
Habit: Doing all the assignments Reactive Habit: Laziness
Habit: Reliance on External Learning Reactive Habit: Unthinking distrust of all authority
Habit: Wanting to be seen as right Reactive Habit: Wanting to go it alone
Habit: Wanting to measure up Reactive Habit: Narcissistic self-importance
Habit: Learning in safety Reactive Habit: Disregard for safety
It goes on and on -- for every habit outlined, there is a reactive habit… and, um, gulp. Guilty as charged. I sure do see THIS in myself. Charles states in the video, "To unthinkingly reject something is just as much a habit as unthinkingly accepting something." So really, when it comes right down to it, these habits fall into two main categories: Habits of submission or habits of defiance.
(As an aside, when you watch the video, it is also amazing to me how many habits of schooling the gathered group identified and the fact that most of them did not overlap with the list I posted in my last blog post.)
A point came up in a discussion on Facebook about my blog post as well as in this video. The question is summed up as: "But aren't all these habits just part of our culture at large? Where does it start and end?" Well, yes, of course that is true. But school is the primary way that our culture indoctrinates our young into cultural norms. We'd like to think that the family is the prime mover here, and family can be a mitigating influence. But our schools are set up to slowly but surely get our children in line with broader cultural values. That is its role. And the cultural norms are based on the industrial model: training workers and citizens who can read (but who accept their superiors without question) to make them good citizens, and people who will partake fully in neoliberal capitalism. It bids children to conform to our consumerist culture unthinkingly. Don't take my work for it… it is fully discussed in the brilliant book The Underground History of American Education.
This post is really meant to be an addendum to my first post. Upcoming posts will include resources to read, investigate, and explore either individually or in your family to begin the deschooling process. These sources will not be specific to unschooling, homeschooling, Montessori, free-schooling, or any particular flavor of alternative education. I really don't care too much for these labels, as every family is different and has differing resources available to them. I'm much more interested in the dance of self-discovery at all ages, rather than adhering to dogma around one particular way to learn. And…well... I'm allergic to kool-aid. (Maybe that is a reactive habit of a reactive habit…..?) Another upcoming post will concentrate on process work you can do individually, in your families, or in a group to bring some of these unconscious habits to the surface. But in the end, the deschooling process is seemingly never-ending, mostly because it requires healing from the deep wounds of our culture. The good news is, there are multitudes of people out there doing this work, people who are creating networks and a "commons" to help others do this work more effectively and more deeply. And in this reevaluation of self/school, working together is not cheating (that thinking is a habit of schooling)… but the most fundamental skill we possess as humans.
This is part 2 of a 4 part series. Part 1 can be found here. Part 3 is here. Part 4 is forthcoming.
Image: JACK LYONS/FLICKR CREATIVE COMMONS