>"Books not Bombs" isn’t the half of it

>(REPOST FROM Tuesday, March 14, 2006)

A pretty interesting write-up on the UN-schooling movement appears in the Jewish World Review (http://www.jewishworldreview.com/0306/unschooling.php3).

This goes beyond homeschooling – an alternative educational system that is even rarer than private schools and thought to be about as radical as it gets. UN-schooling does one even better (or worse depending on your perspective) by not only withdrawing children from state, or state approved, schools, but by refraining from imposing on them any kind of curriculum whatsoever. The idea is that they will teach themselves through sheer self-interest. No getting up at 6am, no standardized tests, and no deadlines. The supposed advantage is that, unlike state schools which force students to conform to a teaching regiment, un-schooling allows kids to find what interests THEM and run with it. State schools instill a disdain for knowledge by imposing it, rather than allowing respect for it to come from within.
For the parents and kids interviewed it has been largely a success, but needless to say no concrete results have come in given its rarity and relatively new style of “non-teaching”.

I can imagine the kinds of households for which this is an option: relatively wealthy and fairly liberal families that share a common interest in knowledge for its own sake. And if not wealthy, then fairly eccentric. Two married professors with children are exactly the kind of group I’m thinking of. The kind of parents that play Mozart to their children while still in the womb. The kind of parents that forgo a television set, and instead build their own computers and network them throughout the house. In this kind of home, especially in a neighborhood with like-minded folks, what exactly would kids do with their time other than build things, read things, solve brain-teaser games on the computer, and exercise?

In the end, the kids who do well under this non-system are the same ones that do well in state schools – those with parents that have an interest in learning themselves. Unlike your typical conservative parent who has a kid that gets A’s because that’s just what he or she is “supposed to do”, and realizes that it leads to future success, these parents value a more open-ended, less goal oriented learning process. And unlike a conservative homeschooler who feels that state schools don’t teach reading, writing and math very well (assuming he or she could care less about “liberal indoctrination”), these parents take it further and ask: “Should they necessarily be learning reading, writing and math on others’ terms to begin with?”.

But I think the un-schooling types are actually “planning” for learning more than they may think, by cutting off options for shitting away one’s time playing video games, watching loads of television, or hanging out at the mall (cliches, I know). Now, I’m not CERTAIN that these un-schooling parents don’t have the same amenities that most other homes have, but to the extent that they are a subset of the homeschooling movement at large, it’s safe to say they are probably a bit more unorthodox than your average state schooler’s abode, reducing the ability to engage in anti-intellectual activities.

Currently reading : Teach Your Own: The John Holt Book of Homeschooling By John Holt Release date: By 15 April, 2003


I’m personally a huge fan of home-schooling (I’d do it myself if I weren’t so career-oriented), and this is an awesome idea … assuming, of course, that you have capable parent/teachers and naturally curious children/students. But that disclaimer makes it seem as though public schools don’t have incapable teachers and apathetic students–and as we know, they certainly have plenty of both.
But I do have to say that this probably isn’t for everyone (not that you’re saying it is), and the fact is that there are many parents who are “too busy” to really take interest in their children’s education–parents who would rather pay some money to have the state take care of that for them, and probably the sort of parents who use cable and an Xbox as electronic nannies (assuming they can afford those things). And I personally like the idea of paying some money to the state to give these kids the chance to become engaged in learning and life at a good public school.
Anyhow, now I’m steering your discussion of un-schooling into a debate about the values of public education, so I’ll shut up now.

-Hey, Hey, Hey

Something like 90% of Americans have cable. And all the dumbest channels are on basic: MTV, Comedy Central, Fox. (But also some of the smartest: C-Span, Democracy Now, cable access.) I can only imagine how many of them have an Xbox or some similar game system.
Yea, the question of socialization is important. That was brought up in the linked article. These kids play with others and go on field trips and what not.
As for the values of publik school (ok, that was cruel), it’s really the value of STATE schools that is in question. Similarly PUBLIC schools existed long before the state got involved. Through voluntary community funding or pay-per-student means, the value of social interaction and the obvious benefits of the division of labor in teaching (because yes, not all parents have the time or the inclination to teach) were achieved. Those that could not afford it weren’t often shunned, but helped out by others. And of course the benefit was that if a school sucked, they could go somewhere else. Sure, it isn’t exactly outlawed to attend a private school now, but competition among school districts is restricted through laws that compel one to attend the school nearest his or her address, and high taxes leave little left over for alternative means of education. Back in the day there were more schools with fewer students, and it wasn’t compulsory. (Though it’s always been more or less compulsory for the lil’ kid; but that brings up the whole other issue of “kid liberation”, which I think the un-schooling movement tries to address in its own way.)


90% of Americans have cable? That’s craziness–it’s so expensive. How depressing.
I’m interested to hear more about these early, non-state public schools; where’d you hear about this? As far as I knew, parents who couldn’t afford to send their children to school just sent them to work.
About the socialization point (which I’m not sure that I actually brought up, but since we’re on the subject): I actually heard a pretty obvious, reactionary, but interesting argument against using the public school system to socialize your children. Rod Dreher, writer of Crunchy Cons : How Birkenstocked Burkeans, gun-loving organic gardeners, evangelical free-range farmers, hip homeschooling mamas, right-wing nature lovers, and their diverse tribe of countercultural conservatives plan to save America (or at least the Republican Party) (jesus, what a title) says: “look at the values predominating in youth culture today: is that really working for us?”
I know this is the sort of remark that conservatives (and most adults) always make about “kids today”, but whenever I come across some 16 year old on myspace, I’m usually pretty appalled about what I see. (Of course, these are the teenagers in my extended network; I’m sure the wholesome well-adjusted kids on myspace aren’t connected to people who dub themselves “noisy masturbation device”.) I don’t think kids are growing up too fast; I just think they’re growing up ignorant. So even if unschooled kids don’t play with others or go on field trips, if they’re being raised as independent thinkers outside of a destructive and nihilistic youth culture, all the better. Overall, I think the “socialiazation” argument against home schooling is pretty damn weak.

-Hey, Hey, Hey

The historical writings of people like E.G. West, Murray Rothbard and others reveal that before Horace Mann came along and started the first compulsory schooling regime in Massachusettes in the 1830s, children often got education through small gatherings of kids in homes, at churches, etc. It’s true that relatively poor kids were more likely to be working rather than attending school full time, but that’s a symptom of the overall wealth of society at that time. The state forcing kids to go to school can’t magically make the need for young farm hands go away, especially when a typical lifespan was so much shorter. I think the origins of having summer off had to do with bringing kids back onto the farm to help out. Another book I just picked up used called “The Irony of Early School Reform” doesn’t come from a libertarian perspective, and is pretty critical of the roots of state schooling. Basically it was rooted in the desire to make certain religious and ethnic groups conform to Anglo Saxon Protestantism and industrialization.

Funny you mention that Crunchy Con book. I saw it at work and read a bit from it. We talked about it at the Mutualist blog too (http://mutualist.blogspot.com/2006/03/white-collar-conservative-flashing.html).

How does that extended network thing work? And what is a “Kudos”? I like what you had to say in your last paragraph. I pretty much agree.



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