Monday, April 26, 2010

Unschooling and motivation to do the 'have to do' things in life.

I've just read an excellent post by Kelly Hogaboom's Life in HQX blog, a reaction to the current internet discussion prompted by an inflammatory media article on unschooling aired this week in the USA. My attention was caught by her comment "if I may be so bold to rephrase, she worries a child who is not raised with duties and commitments they “have to do” will develop to be entirely self-centered."

I find it hard to convey to homeschoolers who aren't unschooling yet but look wistfully over their fences at it, that unschooling, or natural learning as we tend to call it hear in Australia, is definitely not abandoning the concept of duties and commitments children have to do. Heck, life just ain't like that - it won't allow us to do that. Children can't handle it either. They quickly show signs of real stress.

Parents who love their children will do anything to alleviate this stress. If a parenting or educational approach or method isn't working, parents make adjustments. We're constantly looking for win-win solutions, which means we're constantly compromising, negotiating and cooperating with our children and our selves.

I've had a problem with the definition 'child-led' learning for a long time because it's a piece of jargon and jargon isn't well understood outside of its niche. All learning is learner-led. You can lead a horse to water but you can't make it drink. Of course unschooling is child-led learning. But what makes unschooling so successful is that context that learning-led learning is embedded within.

The level of permission and freedom to learn in the way that best suits the individual is paramount to that success. We're not putting fences around the learning moments, saying it has to happen in this or that way, but in the best way that suits the learner. We're shifting responsibility of the learning back on the learning and in the process, unshackling their ability to learn. This keeps curiosity, creativity and motivation alive and ticking at full pelt. And not just for children - for any learner at any age.

One of my most poignant memories of unschooling learning is when my son, then 15, consciously tackled overcoming his lack of motivation to do things he 'had to do'. He's always done things he hadn't wanted to do, having found some motivator or other to convince him they were worth doing (which included at time, doing them to please me, whether I had asked him to do them or not). However, at this age, for some reason, he'd come across something he couldn't avoid doing and he simply didn't want to do it. THe goal he'd chosen required him to do it. If he wanted to achieve his goal, he had to do it. Unlike many people, he's a thinker and self-reflector. Unstanding motivation, cause and effect is important to him. He truly wanted to know how motivation works and why we do the things we don't want to do, or do things we know are not right for us, or why we don't do things that are right for us or others, etc.

Each of my children has worked through this personal understanding of motivation, but in different ways. Life doesn't happen to these young people - they are actively and consciously involved in the construction of their daily reality. There are LOTS of things they don't like about life. They do lots of things they don't want to do. They do lots of things they are compelled to do for reasons they don't like and sometimes don't even understand (such is the nature of society and its rules!) But they don't mindlessly do them because someone else is in charge. They make their own choices.

And that's what unschooling has given my children that I see missing in so many of their schooled and unschooled peers.

Homeschooled and schooled families both admire the results and fear the method. Kelly's observation is spot on - us unschoolers all too often promote the results enthusiastically, but lack the perception to fully understand the motivation behind the fear, and to answer those needs. Only then will we be successful in convincing others that it's okay to give it a go, experiment with the unschooling approach, see what works, see what doesn't, build on success. That's what we did. Getting something right or wrong, or incorrect or correct, is nowhere near as important as playing the learning game.

At the heart of their fear is the feeling that they will lose control. We need to help them see that this control is an illusion - they never really had control of their children's ability to learn in the first place.

Monday, April 19, 2010

Are You a Home Educating Activist?

This article was inspired by an article in Fruitful, a regular e-zine by UK homeschooling mum and lifestyle coach, Sally Lever.

As a teenager I wanted the world to change, to become a more child-friendly place. My frustration that generations of wise, educated people hadn’t fixed the world’s problems continued to nag at me and pointed me in the direction of education. Luckily I failed high school, missed my chance at becoming a teacher and became a home educating parent instead!

Teaching my children at home – changing the world one child at a time – was never enough to satisfy me. I needed to share what I was learning with others. My brief foray into alternative schools was disappointing but illuminating. It was hard and often unrewarding work being an activist pushing for change within the education system. I gave up on that and put all my energies into helping other families enjoy an old, tried and proven approach to education, one that within a supportive community works really well.

Activism conjures up images of people chained to trees, lying across roads in front of bulldozers, defying soldiers with guns in poverty stricken or totalitarian countries far away… Those people put their freedom and even their lives on the line to make a statement about what they believe in or to fight for change. We don’t do that, but we do push boundaries and engage in activities that challenge our perceptions about ordinary everyday life; who we are, what we want and how we can achieve our goals.

In her article Sally asks: “How can we follow our hearts and speak out for what we believe in without causing further suffering or hardship? How can we be effective and consistent in how we decide to act? How do we engage in non-violent methods of transformation?” Fortunately for home education the issues we face rarely require radical action, but many of us do face challenges that leave us stressed, disturbed, frightened and sometimes inclined to react rashly, often in ways that can impact negatively on our lives.

One of the side effects of becoming an activist is being more visible in the community – we put ourselves in the spotlight and this means we can become the target of criticism or adulation. Neither is welcome and both are stressful to manage. We can also, as I did, expose our family life to the world, which can be a positive experience, provided our families are happy to have their privacy destroyed for a ‘good cause’. It is difficult to be an effective activist when using a pseudonym and probably impossible in this internet-connected world.

For a long time I wasn’t clear about my abilities as an activist and tried to do too much. ‘Burn out’ is a common symptom; too many of my friends suffered breakdowns, ill-health and even marital problems due to not understanding their personal limitations or the limits set by their circumstances. The need for change is so great and the work required to bring it about so vast it is hard to know where to begin or where to stop…

This means that the first thing to do if you’re thinking of becoming a home education activist is to take inventory of your personal skills, ambitions, limitations, situation and circumstance. Work out what you are a good at, what comes easily, what can fit into your current lifestyle without too much personal or family sacrifice. This will translate into action that doesn’t drain you of energy.

Determine what kind of action suits your personality. Are you a communicator that loves writing. I am, hence I write for my website, edit and produce newsletters and magazines and books. Perhaps you love talking to people; you could find yourself happy giving seminars or training people. Or maybe you are a whiz at debating and love a good argument; working towards legislative change may be your niche. If you are great at persuading people, finding ways to market your goals to a wider audience could be the way you work to change the world. Or you could be a ‘people person’, able to put people in touch with other people; every cause needs a campaign manager.
What life skills do you have that you can bring to support this cause? The home education movement needs book-keepers, lawyers, public speakers, salespeople, writers, child-minders, caterers, managers, teachers, sound technicians, secretaries, visionaries – you name it, there is a job that can be filled by a volunteer at some time now or in the future. Organisations like the Home Education Association have volunteer registers where people can put their names down for helping out should the need arise.

Activism doesn’t have to be loud campaigns seeking solutions to immediate problems; a softer form of activism exists in which ongoing education, mentoring, coaching and training, writing and journalism and facilitation of discussions work continuously to effect change. I take heart when I read that over 400 home educating events and activities were organised by HEA members in the past year – every one a sure and steady statement that home education works and is a viable alternative to school based education. Getting together and sharing our experiences is the simplest but probably most powerful form of activism.

If you’d like to help promote home education, ask yourself what moves you emotionally the most. Are you angry that the law, or how it is administered, discriminates and victimizes some families? Are you passionate about promoting an educational approach that respects children’s individuality? Follow your heart when picking your causes; your passions will motivate and energise you.

Analyse the situation carefully; what needs to change? Research all aspects. Tune into news about your cause. Have others found appropriate solutions that could be adapted to your situation? What can you learn from them that can help you in your cause? Anticipate and understand the obstacles that may stand in your way, be they legislative, bureaucratic, lack of education or training, lack of funding, etc.

Find allies, people who think the same way as you. It is more productive to seek like-minded people and form coalitions than it is to spend endless hours persuading people with opposing opinions to your point of view. Think laterally – you may find allies in surprising places. Don’t be an island; communicate with others regularly. Keep in touch by telephone, messaging, emails, newsletters, online social networks, blogs, etc. Seek out mentors and personal heroes, activists that inspire and encourage you by their stories.

You will need to work out how much time and energy and which of your personal skills and attributes you can dedicate to your role as a home education activist. We are all time-poor parents living busy lives and our first responsibility is to be there for our children and families. Be realistic. Set clear boundaries about what you can do and when you can do it. Learn to say ‘no’ as often as you say ‘yes’. But most of all take care of yourself. To serve others and your cause you need to regularly express gratitude for being, work to stay healthy and enthused about life, serve and take care of others, be interested and involved in your community and what’s happening around you and in the world.

On a personal level, being a home education activist has added meaning and purpose to my life and given me a tremendous feeling of achievement. Feedback from people whose lives I have touched by my writing or workshops – families who were desperate with children falling behind at school, or homeschoolers who felt lost and ready to quit – encourages me to continue. I know that my efforts, no matter how small or insignificant they feel to me, count and make a difference.

© Beverley Paine, 2010
first published in the 2010 HEA Resource Directory -
Homeschooling since 1986, Beverley writes practical e-books for families getting started. See her suite of home education websites at Homeschool Australia.

Saturday, April 17, 2010

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