Tuesday, February 14, 2017

One tiny good thing about the election of the Republican president is that we can now all speak openly about the world of "alternate facts" in which we function. Our education system is built on alternate facts -- the world they created and insist on perpetuating based on their own assertions. It's a very circular situation where the system says: we'll tell you who is good and well educated, and how they got that way, based on our standards which are meaningful because we say so. There is  tremendous administrative resistance to genuine reform. Reforming the system by offering more of what the system already does, or nominally tweaking curriculum, or urging the children to try harder isn’t reform at all. And drilling children to persist in broken systems leads to a society deeply averse to change. Can we all agree this is circular and self perpetuating?

Over the last 10 years, at least, pedagogical research  suggests the system is broken and fixing it would require massive change -- change that is often inline with variations on unschooling. The research tells us kids need more time outside. Kids need more exercise. Kids need a sense of agency and freedom. Kids engage with material that has meaning for themselves, personally. Etc etc etc. These are known things. 

Educational reform is discussed all the time, from New Math to No Child Left Behind to -- I can't even remember what we have now. Society loves to offer the appearance of reforming the school system. All the while snuggling deeper into the alternately factual construct. Right now the thing that seems to unite our country, politically, is a desire for reform. But social movements are clumsy, cumbersome, and slow. Times a factor of 100 when they are mired in alternate facts. 

Most homeschoolers eventually end up somewhat unschoolish. Almost everyone who sticks with it longer than a year softens on curriculum and, abutting their wisdom and authority as parents, sometimes for the first time in their lives, they start letting go of what doesn't work. Time spent homeschooling correlates with loss of faith in standard curriculum and practice. But I think the defining moment for unschooling parents is when we say: 

This stops now. Today, everything changes.

And then everything changes. Which is powerful and rare, as reform goes. It's the moment parents deeply internalize their commitment to what is known about what children need to grow intellectually and emotionally, well apart from the choking fug of alternate facts. And we draw a line in front of the schoolyard and think to ourselves, no child in my purview will be sent to that system. That system holds no authority over us and we give it due respect, which is scant. 

Of course, then we begin the wonderful journey and wrestle our doubt and freedom and all the rest of it. But I can't think of many other social movements available so instantly. You are in the movement the moment you decide you are in. And that moment changes everything. Unschooling changes us and will eventually change society, as well.  

Much protest is naive; it expects quick, visible improvement and despairs and gives up when such improvement does not come. Protesters who hold out longer have perhaps understood that success is not the proper goal. If protest depended on success, there would be little protest of any durability or significance. History simply affords too little evidence that anyone’s individual protest is of any use. Protest that endures, I think, is moved by a hope far more modest than that of public success: namely, the hope of preserving qualities in one’s own heart and spirit that would be destroyed by acquiescence.
— Wendell Berry.