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.