LEARNING SPECIAL EDITION
ʻIf you set up the right environment with the right people, then the self-directed learning, realisations, growth or skill building will happenʼ
> consumerist model – buy your education rather than make your education.” At his talks on unschooling he gets parents to reflect on learning by starting with asking them whom among them has taught their children to walk or talk. This is how John Holt started his talks in the 1960s and 1970s – when no one would raise their hands. At a conference in London in the 1990s, Farenga noticed something new – some of the parents did raise their hands. They felt that they had taught their child to walk and talk.
Farenga argues that the whole way we think about learning and education is becoming increasingly specialised and commodified, something which comes from outside rather than within. Because if even walking and talking need to be taught, then what happens if we don’t teach a child ‘correctly’? Do parents need special training courses on how to talk to their children? Moving the focus from the learner to the teacher opens up opportunities for commodification, for parents being sold skills that perhaps they never lacked.
For Farenga, trusting ourselves and our children is fundamental to his philosophy, and something he feels that schools undermine with their focus on grades and assessments. “Our parents didn’t trust us and the school didn’t trust us to learn. Unless we get a gold star we don’t think we’ve really learnt it.”
From Astrophysics to Overseas Adventures Blake Boles, author of “The Art of Selfdirected Learning” was fully immersed in formal education until early adulthood. He was studying astrophysics at Berkeley when a friend handed him a book by John Taylor Gatto, a former New York Teacher of the Year who became an outspoken critic of the education system. It shook the foundations of his understanding of the world.
In his book, Boles describes this process as being ‘a coup in my mind’. He gave up astrophysics and moved over to studying education theory. He told me how he thought about a lot of traditional schooling. “Just wasting kids time, a massive waste of human capital. It’s silly and it’s tragic. And even for people like me who are the winners of the system, who performed well in the school game when called upon, I still felt a massive part of my youth was wasted. That’s just sad and it shouldn’t happen.” Abandoning his plans to be a research scientist, Boles instead set up his own business running trips for unschoolers – and travelled the USA, researching selfdirected learning and writing books. When I talked to him he was in New Zealand planning his next trip. He is passionate about letting parents know that there are real alternatives to school. “There are parents who notice their child struggling; visibly not doing well in school. It could be anxiety or it could be them raging against doing their homework. I want these parents to know: you don’t have to force your kids through that, there are all these other paths from the extreme to the not so extreme, you can still go to college, you can still get a job. They will be able to join normal society and everything will be fine. That’s why I write.” And Boles is clear on what he thinks the alternative is, and what he does on his trips with unschoolers, explaining to me. “If you set up the right environment with the right people, then the selfdirected learning, realisations, growth or skill building will happen.”
Nobody can be forced to learn Returning to Rebecca English, she explained her own philosophy which led her to unschool her own young children. “In my 20 years’ experience, I’ve never seen anybody learn something they weren’t ready to learn or didn’t want to learn. The old “you can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make it drink” adage rings true. Nobody can be forced to learn anything, and, even if you can make them do something, they won’t absorb it deeply.” And this applies to parents as well. No one can be forced to learn about selfdirected education, and we can’t predict why one person might experience a ‘coup’ whilst another is left unconvinced. All we can say is that the more the information is out there, more people will have the opportunity to discover that schooling is only one way to get an education, and for some, this will be a life-changing discovery.
MORE INSPIRATION READ The Art of Self-Directed Learning by Blake Boles, Teach Your Own: The John Holt Book of Home Schooling by John Holt and Pat Farenga, How Children Fail by John Holt, How Children Learn at Home by Alan Thomas and Harriet Pattison, Dumbing Us Down: The Hidden Curriculum of Compulsory Schooling by John Taylor Gatto
Naomi is a clinical psychologist who has two children aged seven and 10. She unschooled them until 2018 when they moved to Paris to attend a democratic school. She works with parents, children and families remotely.
OCTOBER/NOVEMBER 2019 thegreenparent.co.uk