Outside the Box
by Suzannah Harris
In the movie "Sabrina" Audrey Hepburn stars as Sabrina, the wistful
daughter of a chauffeur. Her father is employed by a corporate mogul,
and Sabrina, now a mature young woman, is confidently in love with one
of the mogul's sons. One night she's sitting in her small cozy room,
gazing out her bedroom window at a big, bright full moon. Her father
urges her to stop dreaming, to stop reaching for the moon; she replies,
"I'm not reaching for the moon... the moon is reaching for me."
Imagine growing up in a world which feels like an open book inviting
you to explore, and you have the courage, the motivation, the curiosity
and the concentration to unveil the mysteries which you're drawn to.
Imagine venturing into unknowns without fear, without judgement, without
being graded or grilled on your discoveries.
For unschoolers, the world is reaching out constantly. There is nothing
to fear; failure is unknown, in the sense of winning passage into that
world by completing paper work and attaining passable scores on exams.
Unschoolers don't face this gate of passage. There are no academic rites
of passage which they must complete in order to be accepted here. They
are born and raised as respected citizens from the outset.
Owning The Very Personal Decision To Unschool
The most frequently asked question I hear among parents researching
unschooling is "How will I make them learn anything?". In that question
lies the answer: we don't make them learn. No one makes anyone learn.
The motivation comes from within. Many homeschoolers
come to unschooling after depressing battles and family disharmony over
"school work" imposed by the concerned parent. These are good, well
meaning parents, wanting assurance that their children know "the basics"
and aren't going to be left behind.
We must define "education". Public education as we know it in this
country is only about 100 years old. Over the decades it has been added
to and added to, until now we have a school day looking much like an
adult work day--- and it is where our children are being raised. It
isn't even an academic atmosphere, it is a social group atmosphere.
The result we see, hear and read about is that test scores are low, that
many of these children are developing personal problems and socially
unacceptable behaviors, and so we need to make them work harder.
What we don't hear about is how much these problems are stemming from
weakened families which have no time to themselves, of children who
suffer, often in silence, amidst social dramas of every school day where
dozens or hundreds of children are left to fend for themselves.
This is often the springboard for newcomers to homeschooling. As soon as
they pull their children from school, they face the academic question,
still wrestling with the same omniscient educational institution and its
defined standard of academics. It amazes me that in a society which adamantly
asserts the rights of children, our children receive blame for the failures of this
And yet, the solution has been to put more pressure on the children,
including taking away their childhood freedoms and introducing them to
academics at pre-school and kindergarten. I'm tired of hearing stories
about little children who are labeled slow learners in kindergarten and
first grade--- 5 and 6 year olds who deserve the secure and
supportive environment of home where they are free to be explorers, to
learn through play, to have the guidance and love of an adult who
understands them. If this sounds old-fashioned , so be it.
I don't see emotionally healthy, fulfilled children rising out of the
dust of our society, a society which cuts children off from the outside
world for the first 18 years of their lives. I see teens who are
floundering without any personal skills, strangers to the habit of
self-reliance and decision-making based on self-knowledge and knowledge
of the world around them. They are trying to figure out where they fit
in. I see young adults unable to relate in a comfortable, fruitful and
trusting way with adults, including their own parents.
Like it or not, we have to be alone with ourselves, look within, look at
human history, look at human nature and identify within ourselves the
purpose of life and the capabilities of the human being as a whole---
mind, heart and spirit--- and then begin a "work in progress" definition
of what Education is for not only our children, but ourselves, too. It is
foolish and wasteful to think that these are things our children don't
need to think about until they become adults. The education of a
person needs to be holistic, taking all aspects of living into account;
it begins at birth, and it continues on a daily basis.
As parents we model education by the way we live, by the way we embrace
the world and when and how we leave it alone. The education of our
children is taking place every waking moment of their lives. There is so
much more than "the basics". Ironically, the basics all come, they
unfold with maturity, with normal involvement in the world, and with our
presence to help when needed.
If our definition of education includes our imposition of academic
deadlines, we may have to fight some battles to meet those deadlines.
But we may first want to research and question the origins of these
deadlines and academic menus, along with the efficiency and success of
taking the whole of living and cutting it up into tiny pieces that don't
make much sense out of context.
Like salmon struggling to swim upstream to ensure the survival of their
kind, turning our minds against the grain of the old and tired
definition of education is a struggle. It takes effort to open our eyes
to new ways of seeing. And then we must exercise faith in what we
decide. It takes no more faith in the new way than it does in the old
Unschooling is not just an educational alternative. It is a lifestyle
based on the preservation of the family, in the communal sustenance and
value that comes from working together, in upholding individual freedom
and the continued development of critical thinking, so that
we have not only professionals in the work world, but also good mothers
and fathers, good neighbors and friends, good politicians.
What is your definition of education?